Penumbra Holding Group Collection Artist's Statement
Money. For many, the word itself conjures a wide spectrum of emotions that swings between elation and loathing. People often find money and markets confusing, perplexing and frustrating. Their irritation is aggravated by their personal ignorance concerning the inner mechanisms of the financial industry—an incomprehension the industry does little to alleviate. The lack of transparency within the business sector and my own personal uneasiness with closed-door deals lead me to question the American financial system in general. Who were the people shaping the economies of our and other nations? Those few who influence the market make decisions that impact our daily lives, yet little is known about them. I imagined a group of people, who knew, did business with, and socialized with one another. Perhaps they were members of a secret association gathering regularly with the goal to manipulate the corporate sector for their own agenda.
The Penumbra Holding Group Collection is a series of works created to reflect the imagined tastes of such a secret society, exhibiting the artifacts of their ceremonial and social functions. Influences from the military, the church, and nobility indicate the yearning for power and the realization of common idealistic goals. Graph imagery, market icons, and currency are used extensively, revealing chief interests of the organization and the need for symbolism to reinforce belief systems within the group.
The collection can be divided into three separate series; the masculine, the feminine, and the sacred. The sacred pieces are constructed of mostly wood and metal, mimicking objects from the Catholic Church. Their form gives hints to their use and purpose within the group but the actual rite is left uncertain to non-members. Many of the sacred pieces illustrate the parable of the bull and the bear- a stock market creation parable. The tale centers on the meeting of the bull and bear and their journey together through mountain ranges seeking golden acorns. This legend, unique to the Penumbra group, dictates much of the imagery within both the sacred and masculine series. The piece, Market Altar, incorporates many symbols from this tale. The tabletop altar is made of walnut and contains a richly decorated interior that can be viewed after pulling open the two center doors. Within, a brass oak tree dominates the center, and supports a movable sterling silver wheel. This disk is etched with stock page text and displays bull and bear pierce work. At the base of the tree, money-encrusted stock graphs create layered levels reminiscent of mountain ranges. Along the doors’ interior, silhouettes of brass oak leaves and acorns with cut money help support stock page candle holders.
The pieces from the feminine series are more decorative in nature and are made primarily of silver and paper currency. The graphics and green patterning on dollar bills are used to advantage in Princess of Finance Parure, a jewelry set consisting of matching tiara, cuff and earrings. The etched silver tiara has a draped garland design that supports a green bloodstone at every apex. Above each of the three main stones is a plume made of cut currency. The shape and placement of the plumes mimics egret feathers traditionally worn on formal tiaras. Money is repeated again in the wrapped support band. The corresponding earrings and cuff bracelet also carry the same garland design and wrapped currency elements. Silver was used not only due to its physical properties but also for its history as coinage and presence on the commodity markets. Currency was not chosen for inclusion in any of the work within the Penumbra Holding Group Collection because of its inherent connotations to value but rather as a representation of power and aspiration goals by those in the financial sector.
Military design is used in the masculine line with Western historical decoration and European heraldry utilized in the motifs. Medals are a particularly good format for inclusion in the collection, not only due to their associations with reward and ceremony but also their common history with money. The Penumbra Ceremonial Medal illustrates the use of market symbolism and traditional regalia design. Brass, a metal associated with the military both physically (buttons and regalia) and in language (“top brass’) is used as a back plate that supports a half dome encased in woven money. Floating above the dome is the Penumbra coat of arms. The heraldry on the medal adheres to very specific European conventions in color selection and image placement. Two figures, a standing bull and bear, support a shield located under a helm and oak tree. The shield displays images of bull and bear heads with red and black backgrounds. The presence of heraldry reinforces the group’s desire for legitimacy.
All of the work in the Penumbra Holding Group Collection is also greatly influenced by the temple collections of the Freemasons, Illuminati-style conspiracy theories, my past museum employment, and the idea of visual fictions. I see the objects of my work as stage props supporting the greater narrative not unlike the installation, Museum of Unnatural History by Elaine Bradford. Her work, like mine, displays artwork in a museum format familiar to the public.
When viewing artifacts from secret societies and fraternities, I am constantly struck by the peculiarity of the decorations, symbols, and design appropriation. Regalia and ceremonial objects viewed out of context from their ritualistic setting seem strange, overblown, and absurd to those outside of the participating group.
The installation emphasizes the exclusivity of the financial sector by forcing the viewer to be a outside of this particular society.