Jack Butler: 20×24 Polaroid Photographs, Uncovering Hidden Social Issues

From the 20×24 Archives, Jack Butler’s provocative exhibit from 1991:

The images in this group of 20 x 24 Polaroid’s are conceptually related to the subjectivizing power of domestic life. They are indicative of an investigation into the cyclictic nature of life and familiar (family) mores. The systematic association of 40’s and 50’s societal imagery with contemporary media based phraseology accomplishes what has been described as “time-bridging connections”.

My childhood serves as the experience for the emotional and psychological foundation of this work. Each piece is physically made up of four 20 x 24 Polaroid photographs. The images suggest “instant photograph” yet the scale and content deny that fact. Each piece is intended to pose a question, “to what extent have we internalized the rationalizations of false hope and expectations, and with them, the self-victimization that entails” and how does this manifest itself now in our current social existence.

The work has been critically described as “a valuable contribution toward demystifying a social climate in which a “return to family values” has coincided with an unprecedented and unimagined trend toward domestic maladies” and “opening the tightly sealed Tupper-ware world of socially supported physical and psychological violence within the American family”.

JACK BUTLER
at Fahey/Klein and in With the Media, Against the Media at the Long Beach Museum of Art

Jack Butler’s recent Polaroid works provide us with a visual groundwork toward a genealogical investigation (in the Foucaultian sense) of the subjectivizing power of domestic life. White, middle-class family spectacles of private acts, tacit negotiations, and child abuse are among Butler’s concerns. In perceiving the cyclical quality in the evolution of social mores, Butler links imagery from the ’40s and ’50s (culled from Life and The Saturday Evening Post) together with a passive latter-day phraseology to draw time-bridging connections, as in “Getting Past the Present”. Collectively, the pieces mount a visual polemic against the uses of typecasting, from the stereotype to the Weberian ideal type. The quaternary panels reconfigure the relations of power required in sustaining social essences and ideal and general types (Words of Fantasy/Melody of Truth ) At stake are the forms of rationalization embodied in the deployment of ideal types. In its own way, each piece poses the question: to what extent have we internalized the rationalizations of false hopes and expectations, and with them, the self-victimization they necessarily entail?

These pieces represent a sustained attack on what Foucault has called “the government of individualization,” that is to say, those social practices that impose a determination on the individual and tie him or her to a constraining identity. In juxtaposing images and text, Butler draws out the operations of “disciplinary technologies” within the workshop of the home, in the production of the “docile body” (in both genders, as he points out, and with special emphasis on childhood and adolescent development) concurrently with the “productive body” (both sexually as well as materially). The texts are imbued with a contemporary banality (The Mind of a Failed Father ) and must be read not as illustrative of the images, but as equally symptomatic of the strategies of, rationalization in relation to excesses of power. Overall, Butler’s work makes a valuable contribution toward demystifying a social climate in which a “return to family values” has coincided with an unprecedented and unimagined trend toward domestic violence and homicide.

—G. Daniel Veneciano
You can see more of Jack’s work at Jack Butler’s Art.

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