Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part series on the intersection of fan art and contemporary art. Read part 1 here.
CHICAGO — Falling in love with an image isn’t easy. Images are unattainable, removed, and physically distant, yet they feel so real and right there with you. Images of people are also the teen crush embodied — an opportunity to fall head over heels for an idealized illusion of someone you may never meet. For part 1 of my series about the intersection of fan art and contemporary art, I wrote about the exhibition Love to Love You at Mass MOCA. In part 2, we look at two artists who own their fandom as a form of fluid adolescence.
Chicago-based artists Stacia Yeapanis and Marie Walz take fandom even further in their art, forgoing a toe dip in favor of diving right in. Their perspective suggests a continuation of adolescent desires, and their ongoing fan art performance projects suggest that we are never quite divorced from the teen and tween desires that fuel art making on deeper subconscious and psychological levels.
In all fan art, fiction, and video, there exists an important commonality: the work functions in a kind of fantasy space, a meeting of imagination and reality. Is it that really so different from contemporary art, wherein the artist delicately walks the line between art and life, never quite separating the two?
Walz’s adolescent fascination with Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran is what initially and continually fuels her art making. Her ongoing Rhodes project began eight years ago, after Walz had a child and an existential crisis about her artwork. She began wondering why she was making it at all and then realized that, indeed, it was all Nick Rhodes’s fault — he was the reason she began in the first place, as a teenage girl. And so she returned to her initial inspiration to start creating again.
For the performance portion of the multifaceted piece “Nick Rhodes Outer Space Waffle,” Walz asked friends and acquaintances to perform as Rhodes (full disclosure: I did so once), adding up to five different “Nicks” who are served waffles made from a recipe by his ex-wife, Julie Anne Rhodes. The performative component took place at the Food & Performance showcase and was documented on video.
Marie Walz, “Nick Rhodes/Outer Space/Waffle” from Food & Performance on Vimeo
Walz also made accompanying Photoshopped images of Rhodes in outer space with flying waffles, which exist as both printed photographs and on a Tumblr blog that has attracted many female Argentinian Nick Rhodes fans. The outerspace waffle has meme-like qualities to it, with the waffle becoming Rhodes’s object of desire, far off in the distance, and also mimicking memes of people with food, such as women laughing alone with salad or phones replaced with sandwiches.
At one point, Walz was even involved in a Nick Rhodes cover band.
For Walz, the point of this work isn’t to become Rhodes; it’s to get him to notice her. “It’s a little creepy, but I like the stalker edge,” says Walz. When Walz does finally meet Rhodes, the back-and-forth between fan and fantasy object will stop — the loop will close, and the ongoing Nick Rhodes fan artwork will end.
At one point, fans on a Duran Duran online message board came across one of Walz’s other works, and they were weirded out. “All fan art is really stalkery, so I don’t know how the fans can be like ‘this is really creepy’ when they’re on message boards all the time,” she says. “I’m not on message boards all the time … ”
Walz has had several close calls with Rhodes, but as of yet the two haven’t actually crossed paths in the flesh — though his PR person has alerted him to some of her online projects. When she meets Rhodes, however, everything will change.
“The aura will be gone because I’ll be faced with the real,” she says. “I’ll probably at some point have a drunken conversation with him because he likes to hang out in hotel bars and blab to his fans, and then I’ll be like, ‘oh wow, you’re just a drunken old man.'”
Interestingly, Rhodes has a penchant for allowing fans into his pop-star world and is known to date them. His latest love interest, a 32-year-old Italian woman named Maria Suvio, who has since changed her name to “Nefer,” began as a fan.
Will Walz ever meet Rhodes? As with most durational performance works that veer between life and art, the answer is of course left to kismet.
Similar literal and metaphorical threads run through the work of artist Stacia Yeapanis. Since 2004, she has been working on Everybody Hurts, an embroidery series that takes stills of emotionally charged moments from television shows and then turns them into hyperdetailed thread portraits that capture the fleeting scenes. Yeapanis grew up as a latchkey kid watching television regularly, and this series is inspired by her childhood. She continues to avidly enjoy shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, and Mad Men, just to name a few, all of which means the series may, in fact, never end. For Walz, the moment of “loop closing” would happen when she meets Rhodes; for Yeapanis, that would happen when one of the creators of a television show she features buys her work.
Yeapanis notes the labor-intensive process of the works: “Each stitch is a badge of endurance, of the glacial process of art making and of the pain shown in the image.
“The art world and the fan world kind of do a lot of the same things underlying their structure,” she says. “The reasons why I’m interested in and participate in fandom and art are the same in what they give me as a human being. It’s about being in a text, engaging in a culture, connecting with others.”
But, Yeapanis adds, “There is good fan art in fandom, but it would never be considered good in the contemporary art world. The people in the art world are not interested in this emotional need being filled.”