How important is the title of an artwork? For some artists, titles signify little more than a means of distinguishing one piece from another – Untitled 1, Untitled 2… For other artists, titles act as a complement to the work, a sort of verbal summation of the visual exploration. Rarely, however, do titles simply explain the work. Words, like good art, are multi-layered in meaning and what they define, or don’t define, depends on the context of the work.
What about the title that welds together the disparate nuances of certain words into a co-existent, multi-textured entity? Karine Giboulo is one artist who manages to accomplish just that in both her titles and her work. Whether its her bubbles of life series, her all you can eat series, her electronic city series, or the latest work she’s working on – the village democratie series – Giboulo’s generic titles reflect and inter-connect the subtle complexities of a word’s, or a phrase’s meaning. The subtle complexities of the series’ titles mirror the subject matter. Nothing in Giboulo’s art means just one thing. Giboulo’s works are, in her words: “composed of microcosms of society where reality and the imagination intertwine, where innocence and fantasy and the derisive coexist, all this to question current and important social issues.”
The co-existence of unparalleled realities is evident in Giboulo’s bubbles of life series. Jointly synonymous with frivolous innocence and sinister implication, the word”bubble” swings the pendulum in its associations with fun, frailty, and denial. Nowhere has the complexity of the word’s layered meanings been more evident than in the story of David Phillip Veter, the boy who spent his short life inside a specially manufactured bubble due to a rare genetic disorder that stripped him of an immune system. On one end of the spectrum, the bubble symbolized hope for Veter. On the other end of the spectrum, it questioned the ethics of condemning anyone to such a life.
The contradictory definitions of the word are brilliantly conveyed in Giboulo’s bubbles of life series. At first glance, the works appear like transparent Christmas balls that hang suspended from the ceiling. They are colorful and fun. Anthropomorphized animals are depicted in humorous situations. A polar bear dressed in red boxers tries to scare a business man by simulating a “scary” pose. He raises his paws and presumably lets out a roar much in the same way a small child pretending to be a monster or a bad guy might. In “Living like a groundhog“, a family of groundhogs – who are scavengers by nature – devour a McDonald’s meal while above them the iconic golden “M” stands visible, its predominance in our everyday lives ascertained by the way it towers over a nondescript clothesline. Sculptural and two-tiered (the groundhogs underground, the McDonald’s emblem above) Giboulo’s miniature pieces insist that you peer “within” and that you walk “around”. It is at this level of intimate interaction that the bubbles of life series begins to demand a more complex interpretation – a multi-tiered interpretation literally mirrored by the multi-tiered work.
Giboulo’s series are not about fun and humor. They are about using a seemingly light-hearted approach (accompanied by common-place titles) to explore deeper concerns. They are about using the microcosm of our insulated lives to focus attention on global concerns like climate change and mass consumption.
“Global” is yet another word with multiple meanings. There is the positive universal distribution of ideas, technology, and multi-cultural dialogue co-existing with the negative uneven distribution of wealth, justice, and education. The disparity of such unjust realities is something Giboulo’s all you can eat series seeks to make sense of. Influenced by a trip to the factories in the Special Economic Zone of Shenzen, the series explores the globalization of mass production – mass production being in and of itself an agent of duality in its role as both the product of universal distribution and the cause of uneven distribution.
As with the bubbles of life series, entry into Giboulo’s miniature world of factory life requires that you approach the factory (a series of large sculptures which house the various factories) and peer through “windows”. Behind these windows live two opposing, yet inter-connected, worlds whose traditional roles Giboulo, with her typical understated way, has managed to switch. It is now the Western world, with its insatiable appetite for “stuff”, that is invisible and the rest of the world, with its usually unseen mass production of factory workers, that becomes the focal point.
On the surface, Giboulo’s art is as uncomplicated as her titles. Ironicaly, it this which draws us in and forces us to take a look at the bigger picture.