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To Subvert With Pomegranate (2)

Phoenix's picture



Play in the City 028

Sunday, October 6, 2013

To Subvert With Pomegranate

As a player in the city, I “explore what is permissible and what pushes at that boundary between rules and expectations” (Flanagan 13). For a long time now, I have understood instinctively that art, to me, is a way of surprising people. The first person who put this sensation into words was Dorothy Allison in her essay, "This is Our World." Allison described art as a way to challenge and to cause people to think about the ideas that they prefer to shove aside and pretend don't exist. My reaction to this was an intense sense of "I'm not the only one." According to Mary Flanagan, not only am I not the only one, I come from a long line of artists who see art as their tool to shock and surprise—their instrument of Duchamp’s “spirit of revolt” (Flanagan 3, 10).

I take pictures of pineapples in ordinary places. The juxtaposition between the pineapple, a most peculiar looking object that has become normal, with a familiar location, reminds the viewer of the oddity a pineapple really is. A pineapple in bed, on a shelf next to books, answering the telephone, all have been ways I have played with a pineapple. Subversion, according to Flanagan, is the upending of a paradigm—but one must know what one is trying to upend. I was not sure, then, what I was trying to subvert or what I was trying to say, only that I wished for viewers to wake up to the real world if only for a minute.

This form of play was, although I did not know it, somewhat Situationist. “[T]he Situationists,” says Flanagan, “were interested in the banal, everyday acts of urban life that could be subverted in a radical redefinition of everyday experience.” Although I generally photographed my pineapple around my own house, were I only to leave it where some unsuspecting soul would see it, I would be creating a Situation. My goal in taking the photographs was exactly the same as that of the Situationists: “a brief moment of transcendence from boredom” (195).

My reaction to my assignments in the city has been much the same. On the first day, I tried to think what would make taking dozens of pictures of landmarks in Philadelphia more interesting. Immediately, I remembered the uses of the pineapple, and decided that taking pictures of famous art with a pineapple would be far more interesting than without. This is a type of subversion of tourist photography, for instead of merely recording my visitation of the art object, I would be taking an existing piece of art and making it part of my own.

Unfortunately, I had no ready pineapple. I expressed the desire to my Philadelphia play-mates, and Thea suggested I try a pomegranate. Like a pineapple, a pomegranate is surprisingly colored and rather durable, and it has the added advantage of being rather more portable. In preparation for our next trip into the city, I dropped by the local supermarket. They had a row of pineapples. They also had three rows of pomegranates. I decided it was fate and bought a pomegranate to take with me.

At first, I did the same thing with the pomegranate that I have always done with a pineapple. I balanced it on a bicycle seat, a normal thing, and photographed it. “The introduction of art objects and performance into public spaces, for example,” says Flanagan, “is a way that artists appropriate the cognitive space of public space, of everyday space, and functions in an interventionist fashion” (11). With an ordinary object, I can appropriate public space for a moment, and, photographing it, record it. Since I choose my objects to amuse as they mystify, I am also acting as a Fluxus artist. “Fluxus artists,” says Flanagan, “collected ordinary objects and left them ‘around’ as mere clutter…Other items found their way to the middle of galleries where they could act as a playful surprise” (171).  I had a very handy gallery in which to be an artist: the Magic Gardens and surrounding mosaics.

As we began to wander the mosaics, I began to place the pomegranate inside the mosaic. Sometimes, I could merely balance it on a wall or other object near enough to the mosaic to still be in the picture. Other times, I photographed it reflected in one of the mirrors comprising the mosaic. And finally, I was able to actually put it inside several of the pieces inserted into the mosaic--jars, bottles, statuettes, bowls, plates, and more. Any of these items easily held a pomegranate, allowing me to create and photograph my own art within Zagar's.

The site of the street art, says Flanagan, is all-important (192-193, 201). Such is obvious in the way that interacting with a piece of already-created art is different from appropriating ‘ordinary’ spaces. In this way, not only was I able to subvert the ordinary, but the extraordinary, and make it my own.

Flanagan defines intervention as a direct act of subversion that “engages with social or political issues” (11). The more I work with this brand of photography, the more I understand that my purpose is to subvert people’s perception of things, to cause them to realize that the world is a truly strange place, and we are merely used to it. If this can be defined as a social issue, which I believe it can, then I am proud to call myself an interventionist. “As the connection between art and critical play continues, artists will further explore embodied play and situations in and efforts to ‘unplay’ preconceived notions of…everyday living, and rework them” (Flanagan 148). Preconceived notions are exactly what I have been fighting, armed only with a pineapple and a pomegranate.

Works Cited

Allison, Dorothy. “This Is Our World.” Seeing & Writing 4. Ed. Donald McQuade and Christine McQuade. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.

Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.


pbernal's picture


Phoenix declares that art is a way of surprising peope...but that's all I hear and know from her standpoint. I feel it's a bit overwhelming with so many sources, so many quotes and ideas trying to fit into a small little space where Phoenix's voice is barely heard. It makes Phoenix's ideas and standpoints blurry to me and I can't distinct what she really wants to say. Her first paragraph demonstrates her work as forceful in my opinion. Through her first paragraph I don't believe she's playing, it's the complete opposite, a bit uptight. 

Phoenix's picture

note to Anne and Mark

I do have a longer, 'thicker lens' version, but to finish it that way would have meant 4 or 5 pages.