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  • Writer's picturePlaying House

Domestic Artifacts

Anthropology is “the science of humanity,” which studies human beings in aspects ranging from the biology and evolutionary history of Homo sapiens to the features of society and culture that decisively distinguish humans from other animal species. (according to

I've always been a people watcher. I was probably 4 or 5 when a grown-up (grandparent or teacher? I don't remember) told me to "stop staring" or "don't point" and questioned my ability to keep straight in my chair without looking behind me. I learned very quickly that if I was going to pay attention and learn anything, I had to sit at the front of the classroom with my buns glued to my seat or my mind wandered while I observed the hair, clothes and gestures of other Homo sapiens. I've learned that I can't sit in the back 3 quarters of a church because I judge the appearance and actions of everyone in front of me, making the whole point of going to church a bit counter-productive. I don't mean to judge, but at heart, I think I'm an anthropologist.

This is probably the reason I love to travel and not just travel but immerse. A week in Paris trying the food, spending the day at L'ouvre, walking through the Notre Dame Cathedral, taking a stroll past the Eiffel Tower, wasn't enough for me . Enjoyable yes, but mostly tiring and overstimulating sensory intake. The only anthropologist who comes to mind at the moment is Jane Goodall and she didn't just take a tour through the jungle, she lived with the apes. To me, traveling is unpacking my suitcase, going to grocery and hardware stores and following the locals to their habitats.

I thought this would be a good time to write these thoughts because we are currently forbidden to travel, even to the habitats of our closest neighbors. However, before the Coronavirus outbreak . . . . excuse me, side thought: the virus is called this because of the way the buggers look in a microscope; Corona is latin for crown which they look like they are wearing. Beautiful name for an ominous creature . . . . anyway, before the virus, I already felt like I've been on lockdown. I haven't been able to travel much for many years. No complaints, just my time in life to nest and care for little ones, save money and have no expendable income. Despite lack of mobility, the Anthropologist in me lives!

For years now I have felt like I am the outside observer of these creatures I call my family. The domestic life has new things to show, new discoveries to unravel and I am Jane living among the apes. These beings leave artifacts behind that I feel the need to document. If I document, maybe I will understand as the years go by. So far, they just make me laugh (deep inside).

The following are photos are not altered in any way and are legitimately snapshots of wonderment over the past 6 years.

What are these things that are being left behind? A doll trapped and left to suffocate in my favorite cookware? . . . Some "Cholo" figures (this is a real toy, check out Homies) dropped into someone's rejected milk? . . . The last of some sad bar of Irish Spring fusing with what was left of my farmer's market oatmeal soap that I was suckered into buying? . . . . and is that a chest hair attached to it?

I am the one who put that "watch it grow to 4X its size" robot in the glass of water because it was a gift to my kids and wanted to put it to use. However, why does the robot now have a very large penis and why has it been sitting there so long without attention that a housefly found its demise in its murky waters? Ok, thats not anthropology, just an unfortunate biology experiment and evidence of a toy designer with a deviant sense of humor.

The point in bringing this all to your attention, is to say that anything can be fascinating. One doesn't have to go far to find beauty, irony and a sense of adventure. Despite the chest hair, there's something pleasing about the cobalt blue glass bowl cradling the yoke-like marriage of 2 different colored soaps. There is something noble about racially innapropriate plastic figures dancing facedown in a crescent shadowed moon of milk in their foggy sippy-cup spaceship. There is romance in the desperate watery separation of house-fly and her angelically lit, well hung android lover. Lastly, the strange items that kids and husband leave on the platform of my half partition wall, always baffle me. It is the place where all the unidentified objects that don't seem to have a place go to rest. Find a place for them dammit! That creepy two toned naked man doll doesn't need to sit on the threshold between my dining room and kitchen!

Don't assume that I'm one of those awesome artists who took advantage of this "stay-at-home" time to spring forward some prolific body of work. The following paintings have been in my studio since fall and now that I'm a homeschool teacher, I have had only about 6 hours of painting time in the past 2 months. However, I'm hoping for a surge of motivation in the near future.

Pictured first is just a section of a large oil painting (60" X 48"), that is possibly only half completed. This derives from a photo that I shot when I was cleaning my last home to put up for sale, and features oblivious inhabitants who had no idea that I was documenting the peculiar behavior of these pre-mature homo sapiens. This particular young man was so bored, he draped my vacuum cleaner over his body and held it like a guitar. His vacant gaze either says defeat, or transportation into another world.

Next is a small painting which began over a photo transfer that documents one of the collections that happened on afore mentioned half wall. Not sure if this is a painting that feels like part of my vision, but at least part of my anthropoligical journey. I chose to document the painting amongst genuine play to amplify the point of this blog post.

Nakedness is also an instinct to the natives of my habitat. Even in colder temperatures, clothing is merely a social construct to endure, and whatever minimum that they can get away with is the preferred wardrobe. The following painting illustrates this, as well as the subject's homage to renaissance paintings of the Pieta. This is my shout-out to religious iconography with a feminist twist. Honestly, I was most excited to paint the juicy purple color of my new sofa but the human subject also served to be just as interesting. I think I will call it "The Couch Pieta". I'm still working on placement of legs and figuring out the anatomy of the fingers and toes, so I suspect I have many more hours until I feel this is complete.

Showing unfinished work to the public makes me very uncomfortable but here I am. Knowing me, these canvases will be painted over at least 2 more times. Perhaps others artists can relate this and I'd be curious (as any anthropologist would) to know if others are willing to show when results are uncertain. I don't know if showing my awkward progress is a good thing, but I'm hoping for accountability and a peer pressured drive to move forward. Days like these make me want fold into the universe of monotony and give up on accomplishment. After all, there are so many episodes of Netflix originals that many people on Facebook have told me I need to watch.

Anthropology is "the science of humanity"; and I will add - with an attempt to find reason within action of everyday life. I don't know if I will ever find the reason to much of what we do, but I know I will find beauty. I don't just mean conventional beauty, but the delight found in the absurdity of our habits; the random results of our intentional actions that make each human different, but connects us to the whole.

My daughter's bath was evidently a sorority party gone wrong.

If you are in survival mode like me, music becomes a life boat. Just thought I'd share my musical inspirations along side my visual inspirations. My spring listen is Rare by Selena Gomez. Don't judge her pop status or me for liking her - She was a Disney channel star and dated Justin Bieber, but her sound is sultry and jazzy with Latina flair so forgive her beginnings. She struggles with depression and much of her lyrics are pensive and sincere. Mostly she just reminds me of what it was like to be young.

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