Carrie Fonder: Poodles, Obrist, and Plenty of Camp

 Carrie Fonder,  Portrait of an Artist as a Dead Man , 2016, Urethane foam, tissue paper, streamers, steel, yarn, airbrushed acrylic, 80 x 85 x 46 inches  This mixed media sculptural installation features an airbrushed acrylic portrait of artist Mike Kelley. A tissue paper wreath, streamers, and urethane foam rocks surround the portrait and are activated by a concealed fan.

Carrie Fonder, Portrait of an Artist as a Dead Man, 2016, Urethane foam, tissue paper, streamers, steel, yarn, airbrushed acrylic, 80 x 85 x 46 inches

This mixed media sculptural installation features an airbrushed acrylic portrait of artist Mike Kelley. A tissue paper wreath, streamers, and urethane foam rocks surround the portrait and are activated by a concealed fan.

by Georgia Erger

Carrie Fonder’s sculptural installations revel in the fluidity of reality and artifice, sentimentality and mockery, the sensuous and the frivolous. Cultural figures and human/animal hybrids are celebrated amid zealously embellished shrines and comically sensuous chaise lounges. Fonder addresses our culture’s relationship to power, sexuality, and celebrity, all through the deeply self-conscious lens of camp. This is, of course, in defiance of Susan Sontag’s claim that camp is a sensibility concerned only with exaggerated and unnatural stylization, and thus politically disengaged.[1] While Fonder embraces the most theatrical elements of camp, she too steeps her work in political and social significance.

The constructed spaces of Fonder’s installations are intentionally stilted. They hover between two and three dimensionality, the real and the represented.[2] Portrait of an Artist as a Dead Man is an homage to artist Mike Kelley, who died prematurely at the height of his career. A kitschy tissue paper wreath and streamers frame an airbrushed acrylic portrait of the artist. The airbrush technique, which intentionally evokes the look of a “bad” reproduction, is consistent with the low-grade materials used by Fonder throughout her practice. The title of the work (as in the mixed media installation piece featuring Louise Bourgeois, Wish You Were Here) is purposefully vague. In identifying Kelley as “Artist” and “Dead Man” Fonder enables the work to be understood simply within the conceptual framework of “celebrity.” It can however, also be considered within the art historical framework of “Mike Kelley,” the artist who despite favoring subculture over elite culture was welcomed into the canon.

Animals feature prominently in Fonder’s work. In the case of Friday’s Poodle and Saturday’s Poodle, the poodles are human/animal hybrids with (motion activated) wagging tails and licking tongues. The composite photographic poodle images are digitally printed on fabric and seductively draped over chairs. Fonder is referencing the once refined, now kitschy practice of “day of the week” embroidery. The blown up images of pubic hair that make up the bodies of the poodles cheekily remind us too of “day of the week” underwear. In discussing the intersection of sexuality and camp, Sontag privileges exaggerated sexual characteristics and innuendo. This is no doubt embraced in Friday’s and Saturday’s Poodle, but Fonder, along with many feminist and queer theorists[3] are broadening this discussion to consider the ways in which camp can complicate the notion that gender is “natural” and sexuality “normative.”

The subject of Fonder’s most recent work OUH HUO is another cultural figure: art historian and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. Here, Fonder inserts herself into the video piece, re-performing and re-contextualizing Obrist’s 2011 TED Talk. As Obrist delivers his speech, Fonder (in HUO character with a matching suit and a farcically bad wig) also delivers the speech, but with the inaccurate YouTube subtitles. The video, with its garbled text and Fonder’s imitative gesticulations that lag just behind Obrist’s, parodies the cultural phenomena of TED Talks and pokes fun at the opacity of art speak.[4]

Fonder’s practice evidences a decade long exploration and mastery of a contemporary, politically and socially engaged camp sensibility. She embraces the exaggerated and unnatural stylization praised by Sontag, not to disengage from the weight of politics, but to explore gender, sexuality, power, and the cult of celebrity.

  Goat Contemplates Its Incessant Need to be on Top , 2014, Mixed media with motion sensor, Arduino microcontroler and motors, 56 x 48 x 50 inches

Goat Contemplates Its Incessant Need to be on Top, 2014, Mixed media with motion sensor, Arduino microcontroler and motors, 56 x 48 x 50 inches

This mixed media sculptural installation features two kinetic elements: a motion sensor that prompts the goat to chew a piece of garland and a motor that enables the goat’s missing leg (which is stuck in the pile of logs) to jerk periodically.

  Recumbence , 2008, Digitally printed silk, acrylic sheet, plywood, motor, sensor, 46 x 57 x 2 inches

Recumbence, 2008, Digitally printed silk, acrylic sheet, plywood, motor, sensor, 46 x 57 x 2 inches

This mixed media piece is created from multiple photographic images and digitally printed on silk. When the motion sensor is activated the figure begins to chomp her teeth.

  Wish You Were Here , 2014, Mixed media, 32 x 34 x 67 inches

Wish You Were Here, 2014, Mixed media, 32 x 34 x 67 inches

  Friday’s Poodle , 2008, Digitally printed silk, mixed fabrics, chaise lounge, motor, sensor, 26 x 57 x 28 inches

Friday’s Poodle, 2008, Digitally printed silk, mixed fabrics, chaise lounge, motor, sensor, 26 x 57 x 28 inches

The poodle in this mixed media sculptural installation is a composite image digitally printed on fabric. The poodle’s face is a photographic mash-up of the artist’s and a dog’s face. The piece also has a kinetic element that prompts the poodle to wag her tail and lick her lips.

  Saturday’s Poodle , 2007, Digitally printed silk, mixed fabrics, welded steel, motor, sensor, 43 x 17 x 18 inches

Saturday’s Poodle, 2007, Digitally printed silk, mixed fabrics, welded steel, motor, sensor, 43 x 17 x 18 inches

  OUH HUO , 2017, Stills from GIF video, Runtime: 10 minutes

OUH HUO, 2017, Stills from GIF video, Runtime: 10 minutes

This project is based upon a 2011 TED Talk by Hans Ulrich Obrist and includes a video, a GIF, and a series of two dimensional mixed media prints.

  OUH HUO Still No. 45 , Gotham, 2017, Digital print

OUH HUO Still No. 45, Gotham, 2017, Digital print

These stills accompany the OUH HUO video and replace the images shown by Hans Ulrich Obrist during his TED Talk. They are reinterpreted and reimagined based upon the inaccurate YouTube subtitles.

  OUH HUO Still No. 9, Touching , 2017, Digital print, airbrushed acrylic

OUH HUO Still No. 9, Touching, 2017, Digital print, airbrushed acrylic


[1] Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” The Partisan Review (Fall 1964), 515-530.

[2] Carrie Fonder, Artist Statement, 2017.

[3] See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990); Pamela Robertson, Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996); and Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998).

[4] Carrie Fonder, Artist’s Website, Accessed 2017.