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Art Through Time: A Global View

Dreams and Visions Art: Revenge of the Goldfish

» Sandy Skoglund (American, b. 1946)

Revenge of the Goldfish

Revenge of the Goldfish
Artist / Origin: Sandy Skoglund (American, b. 1946)
Region: North America
Date: 1981
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Cibachrome color photograph
Medium: Prints, Drawings, and Photography
Dimensions: H: approx. 27 ½ in. (70 cm.), W: approx. 35 in. (89 cm.)
Credit: © 1981 Sandy Skoglund all rights reserved

American photographer Sandy Skoglund creates brightly colored fantasy images.

She builds elaborate sets, filled with props, figurines, and human models, which she then photographs. In her work, Skoglund explores the aesthetics of artificiality and the effects of interrupting common reality. Each element of her constructed scenes, taken individually, is familiar and unremarkable. The juxtapositions she creates among the parts, however, are surprising, strange, and new. Her oeuvre includes photographs of a room full of “radioactive” green cats, a forest of humanoid trees visited by actual people and human sculptures, and a hillside populated by adult-sized babies. The images are uncanny, visually arresting, and often quite humorous.

While many of Skoglund’s images have a dreamlike quality, Revenge of the Goldfish, in particular, emphasizes this aspect of her work. The composition is centered around a bedroom. A child sits, awake, on the edge of a bed where an adult sleeps. The monochrome uniformity of the blue-green room and furniture plays on the idea of the whole scene as an aquarium. The detail, variety, and bright orange color of the 120 goldfish make them the most vivid part of the image. This is ironic as they are also the most irrational part. In preparation for taking this photograph, Skoglund sculpted each of the fish in terracotta. While goldfish are hardly dangerous animals, the title transforms what is already a mysterious scenario into something vaguely threatening.

Expert Perspective:
Sandy Skoglund, Artist

“The inner life for me just comes. But you can’t make it come; you can’t say that I am going to create now between one and two in the afternoon on a given day. The creative process is that you can only create conditions for it to maybe come. And when the ideas come, because they do come—at least that’s what I find—they come best, and freshest, and most exciting in the beginning of the day. So for me that creative part—the vision—starts there. But the vision then, for me, is also coupled with the reality of the making of the objects, and at that point, I have to surrender to the materials, how the materials are working. So that’s why I am constantly in my work going back to sort of square one. I keep my studio, even after thirty years of producing art, I try to keep the activities low tech and doable—easily doable—as much by me as possible.

I’m a little bit more of a chemical, scientific person when it comes to dreams and how they function in our lives. So, since my work is really all about reality—and I think most artists’ work is—reality then has to be about things that are in front of us, as part of the human race. And so using common objects is part of the way that I want to include everyday visual reality that we are all experiencing.

The life of the imagination—the importance of that—is to, in a sense, liberate the entire society with the possibility that their daydreams and their small little visions are, in fact, just as important, in a democratic sense, as any other person’s. The value of the imagination in a world in which science has achieved so much—it almost seems as though the life of the imagination doesn’t make much sense. ‘What good is it? So be done with it and just eliminate it.’ But, somewhere human beings really need it. Why people today create, I think, has a lot to do with the freedoms that we are allowed as members of a democratic society. The ordinary moments for me sometimes feel, I guess, a little bit closer to the truth about what matters. I think the art that depicts the life of the imagination is offering up to everyone the possibility of having internal life.”

Additional Resources

Ganis, William V. “Sandy Skoglund.” In Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography. Edited by Lynne Warren. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2006.

Morton, Robert, ed. Sandy Skoglund: Reality Under Siege; A Retrospective. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with Smith College, 1998.

Muehlig, Linda. Sandy Skoglund. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998. “Sandy Skoglund.” In Collections. Museum of Contemporary Photography Web site. http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?t=objects&type=browse&f=maker&s=Skoglund%2C+Sandy&record=0.

Sandy Skoglund Web site. http://www.sandyskoglund.com.

“Shimmering Madness: An Installation by Sandy Skoglund.” In Exhibits. Dayton Art Institute Web site. http://www.daytonartinstitute.org/learn/youth-family-programs/experiencenter.

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Art Through Time: A Global View

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Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2