Amy O’Neill


“I am interested in the Tournament of Roses and specifically its floats for their temporary status as monuments of popular culture because their guise is so ridiculously whimsical in contrast to the propaganda that is transmitted (a very powerful thing).”
This simple sentence by Amy O’Neill on the thematic that inspired her the new project that she will present at pinksummer contains the essential of her work, aimed at discovering the remains of a delirious baroque that in the past was the expression of the popular conception of world and life.
The Tournament of Roses is a flower parade taking place on new year’s day since 1890 in Pasadena Valley, California. Originally, it was organized by the local hunters’ club, a member of which seems to have attended the Flower Battles of the Nice carnival.
Over time the thematic carts, entirely made by flowers, have assumed a strong nationalistic connotation, of an idyllic/commercial sort, with titles as ‘America the Beautiful’ and have been sponsored for advertising purposes by companies such as Kodak, Union Oil Company of California, Panda Express Gourmet Chinese Fast Foods, to mention some.
Briefly stated, reversing Goethe’s thoughts on the Roman carnival, the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena has ceased to be a show the people gives to themselves to become a party offered to the people, for which the people are expected to show gratitude buying and consuming the products that are advertised.
In general the work of Amy O’neil is decidedly unliterary, opposed to the dominant aesthetic of ‘cool’ or sublime; it resembles in art to what is the paradox in logic. O’Neill’s chalets Switzerland, accompanied by a rustic pinewood frame, which we may see for the first time at the Basel Art Fair, are made with the craftsmanship of the manufacturer of souvenirs, are charged with ‘typical’, but it is a ‘typical’ that, colouring the world with strong tones, at the end denies it.
The work of Amy O’Neill, an American who lives and works in Geneva, rotate around the B culture, that is not the fascination of the kitsch itself on the snob intellectual, but is more a philological dissertation on folklore, very effective from a visual standpoint, in case of either drawings or installations, of the folklore of Switzerland or of the vast American province, of ‘no man’s of highways’ and small towns’.
Folklore is for O’ Neill, within her particular investigation on evolution of mores, as a progressive reduction and deformation of the grotesque realism, which – with its monstrous forms, temporary and floating – was showed in the street and represented the authentic expression of the people to exorcise fear.
When the popular culture got loose at the margin of officialdom, in its own islands in space and time, it was opposing with all its disruptive charge to the dominant authority, debasing truths and hierarchies.
Of those carnivals and fairs only the hyperbolic shell of the parody remains, drama and irony vibe only in the representations of O’Neill, while she demonstrates that even searching in the local folklore a dualistic conception of world and life – that of the people – no longer exists and life: it is the economy to split and to become myth and fairy tale for the low income layers, the popular audience.