Blog / 2010 / The Dregs at the Art Gym

January 17, 2010

Imagine that you’re dead.

Now imagine that two artists come along and create your legacy for you. Sifting through what’s left after your estate sale, they display the 154 travel soaps you collected over the years. They make collage murals of your old birthday cards, your notes-to-self, and your photos. They even sew things out of the fabric of your mother’s lingerie.

And more. They make commentary about your life based on the leather harness they discovered among your things. They say that only the death of your mother, whom you lived with until she died, freed you to be who you always were.

Brandy Cochrane and Paul Middendorf’s Beloved Mother from The Dregs
Brandy Cochrane and Paul Middendorf’s Beloved Mother from The Dregs

Brandy Cochrane and Paul Middendorf did just this with The Dregs, a show which is up at the Marylhurst Art Gym right now.

And it makes sense that Cochrane and Middendorf might make up the story of a man using the artifacts he left behind. All estate sale junkies do the same, and this would-be super sleuth behavior is part of the fascination of going to a sale. Moreover, cutting up and rearranging the remnants in compelling ways could certainly make for an interesting art piece.

But Cochrane and Middendorf go a step further. They name the man they did this to, disclosing details like his street address and where he went to grade school. And revealing his identity in the context of their creations looks a lot like libel to me.

Of course, even if Cochrane and Middendorf had not used their subject’s name, The Dregs would still be a portrait. And as such it raises interesting questions about portraiture as a genre:

  • How important is the subject’s complicity in the making of a portrait? Does it matter that their subject did not give them permission to make art about him?
  • What does revealing the subject’s name add to a piece like this one? Can portraits be interesting if they’re not associated with a specific person?
  • Is a portraitist responsible for a subject’s image and reputation? Or is telling a good story all that matters?

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