The Raw and the Cooked, 2014–2016
Box: Tourist Item, hardwood inlay, cedar, salad bowl oil, wax
Book: 1907, A Centenary Cookbook, offset ink on paper, plastic binding, original
and facsimile Moroccan recipes, ballpoint pen and Laser print on paper
21 x 15 x 4 cm
Edition of 35
The Raw and the Cooked
The peculiarity of this edition is that it has no subject. In the first place, it is restricted to the study of one myth. And yet in order to do so it must assimilate the subject matter of a hundred others. I am anxious to keep within a clearly defined moment in time. That said, I cannot prevent this book from taking on the appearance of a general treatise on mythology. In other words, this book may well create more myths than it dispels.
I must admit that this generative effect does not alarm me. Rather it seems to be a sign that I have succeeded in depicting certain fundamental properties of my subject. This is thanks to a plan and a method that were not so much chosen by me as forced upon me by the nature of the material. The constant recurrence of the same themes expresses this ineffable mixture of persistence and powerlessness. Mythology has no interest in definite beginnings or endings. Mythology never develops any theme to completion; there is always something left unfinished.
Therefore, it follows that an edition based on myths is itself a kind of myth. If The Raw and the Cooked has any unity, that unity will only appear behind or beyond this edition, and, in the best hypothesis, will only become reality in the mind of the reader.
Donelle Woolford is an African American woman artist of the 21st century. Her medium is wood. Working alone in the remote corner of a lumber reclamation factory in the shadows of a faded industrial town, she rekindles past glories by reconstructing them from memory. Her assemblage paintings, Cubist in spirit, are intentionally made to coincide with and challenge the centennial anniversary of that movement.
From close inspection, Donelle Woolford’s work seems to be postmodernism wrapped in identity politics filtered through memory and personal experience. The question is, on which memories are her reconstructions based? African art? Postmodernism? A manufacturing-based economy? Cubism? When images just come to you, when they just well up out of the debris under your feet as if by instinct, where do they come from? Is Donelle Woolford, having been made aware of the twentieth century’s dominant aesthetic by various institutions of higher learning, merely regurgitating it on their behalf? Or is she reaching back, like a time machine, through Picasso and Braque to a more distant West African ancestry? And given the Postmodern theories of cultural origin and influence that are the basis of Identity politics, is that kind of dissimilation even possible?
As one investigates further, we come back to the beginning of the story: Donelle Woolford is a narrative by Joe Scanlan.
Joe Scanlan has worked with Donelle Woolford as an alter ego for his Cubist paintings. Though lying passively in disguise for years, Donelle Woolford, a character spawned from an amalgam of myth, fact, aesthetics and economics, now rises from the page to become a real, walking, talking artist, the living embodiment of her work.
The essential question posed by Donelle Woolford or, to be more precise, Joe Scanlan is the willingness of the artist to be free, to be imaginative, to do whatever is necessary to construct the best narrative possible. If that narrative is compelling, and if its characters and ideas and material props are desirable, then the commodification of art and politics that ensues has the potential to change the dialogue between art and the consumers of art that is, between art and its audience. If one of the consequences of that potential, that change, is that one artist must recede into the background so that another can take center stage, then so be it. To quote Joe Scanlan: "I try not to let myself get in the way of a good idea."
Donelle Woolford, Narrative artist. Donelle Woolford, Cubist painter. Donelle Woolford, avatar. The possibilities are endless.