2008 Biennial

Ellen Harvey

Museum of Failure: Collection of Impossible Subjects and Invisible Self-Portrait, 2007

“The piece is called the Museum of Failure.  And it consists of two rooms, or two pieces. One is the Collection of Impossible Subjects, which is a large Plexiglas wall, made out of Plexiglas mirror engraved by hand. Basically a salon style museum hanging, with molding at the bottom and elaborate frames all of which are empty. They’ve been sanded out. And the reason you can see the drawing, or the engraving, and the sanded out frames is that they’re illuminated from behind by florescent lights.

“And the other room, or the other piece, is called Invisible Self-Portrait, and it’s the identical collection of frames, but this time painted in oils and the interiors of the frames show composite views of my studio while I’m making the piece. So the interiors actually show a picture that was sort of sourced by my putting up a whole bunch of mirrors in my studio, taking a photograph and then painting the results. And it’s called Invisible Self-Portrait because you actually can’t see me. I’m obliterated by the flash in the photograph. The mirrored wall shows you a piece where basically context eats up subject matter. All the frames are empty, but you have the museum context. You have the frames. You have the viewer who can see themselves in the mirror.  But what you don’t have is a subject matter. And its kind of my tribute to all the subjects I like to deal with, a lot of which are very politically loaded subjects that I find very difficult to incorporate in a piece that is going to be in a museum context. 

“Whereas, the painting at the back is about a kind of failure of subject matter in a different way. It’s about this sort of idea that you make a piece, and inevitably it ends up being about you. But not really about you, so in the same way you can’t really see me in the piece, but you can see my context. After looking back on many years of art making, I started to think that the one thing all my work had in common was failure. That in some ways, the experience of being an artist, perhaps much like the experience of being an human being, is an experience of failure. You try and do amazing things, and each time you think, ‘Perhaps this will be it.’ And yet it’s never quite as extraordinary as you hoped. Each piece is sort of haunted by the ghost of another piece that maybe you should have made, or if you knew then what you know now, would have done differently. So this piece is really a tribute to that.”