14 June 2006

What I think of X Playpen



X is a really powerful symbol. To explore some of what an X can do, you can try this exercise: draw a stick man, and instead of using dots for eyes on a stick man, you can give him Xs. And presto! Weather the little stick man is dead, drunk, or beaten unconscious, those Xs means trouble.

Simply put, X is a negation, and this associated meaning is so strong that an artist has to be careful how it is used. Imagine if Gober applied the X to the playpen in a different way:


This use isn’t clever at all, provokes no thought, and communicates something else entirely. To X out a picture of a playpen is very different than to make the pen itself impossible, or inhospitable. What kid would want to be put in Gober’s pen? What kind of adult would think it was a good idea anyway? More than anything else, his playpen seems to be saying “Kids not welcome”. And I think it is great that Gober used the tools of a child’s existence to communicate that message. I like this contrast, because it shows the power of even banal, over-used symbols.

So, does Gober hate kids? I doubt it. To me, Gober’s playpen indicates an environment in which kids ought to have a place, but where they really don’t belong. I think it is a criticism of the politics and society in which many kids find them selves. The world is what we’ve made it, and we’ve made it a place that is generally not suited to children or their needs.

5 comments:

katperkins said...

Um, yeah. I totally meant to say all that I was just waiting to see if anybody else thought of it too. :)

cris said...

Hmmm...It seems to me as though the artist takes a playpen, a symbol of safety, and turns it into an even more isolated, lonely prison... If you put a child inside the X Playpen, he'll be safe, but he'll also be isolated -- not only from the outside world, but also from the child on the other side of the pen.

Is the child any safer in the smaller space of the X Playpen than he would be in a regular pen? Would we, by extension, be any safer in the world by becoming even more isolated than we already are? The fact that it was created in the mid-late 80's makes me see it in terms of America's role in world...

cris said...

And it just occurred to me that I have no idea if Grober is even an American. I'm proving myself to be quite the ethnocentrist today. :)

Mary Ann said...

That's an interesting idea, cris. I think the kid would be safer in a bigger pen. Kids fall over a lot, and they would hit the bars no matter which direction they fell in Gober's design.

I was thinking that the mid-eighties was a particularly bad time to be a kid in the US. I recall something about Regan cutting school-lunch funding. I don't know though.

Anonymous said...

ketchup is a vegetable...right?