"Greeting cards touch and enrich the lives of millions of Americans every day. They allow us to share our thoughts and emotions with others. For more than 150 years, greeting cards have been one of our culture's most popular and cherished means of connecting with others."1
For sale (on display): shared thoughts and emotions for connecting with others. They are hearts, flowers, trees, leaves, clouds, pillows, sun, blue skies, dogs and puppies, roughly equivalent to love, life, comfort, happiness, loyalty, friendship, and all things cuddly and cute. The words in these cards are written by anonymous writers writing to anyone. But they all address "you." In the 7 billion greeting cards purchased in America each year, you are the attention of all the sentiments of the world. This is the lexicon Anthony Fuller employs to explore genuine longing and sentimental contrivance. In his varied practice, from photographing greeting cards or interior domestic spaces, to his performative acts for the camera and video, Fuller subjects these semiotic equations of sentiment and love to subversive twists. He slips between them and creates disjunctions in what is seen and what is actually meant. What looks like a working fireplace contains plastic "logs" and a neatly arranged mess of fake ashes. Flower bouquets and romantic trees become flattened substance-less signs of sentimentality on paper and plastic. "Cuddle" becomes "cud" and fragments of letters sit on the edges of images, as though stuck there by a stutter, unable to deliver their message.
Fuller's images operate between the expression of the most basic human disappointments and the manifestation of those disappointments. Here, rejection and heartbreak are played out through cultural clichés of rejection and heartbreak, and culminate in complete emotional emptiness.
Flowers (Greeting Card), 2006, 40" x 40", C-print - From a distance the implied embossed colorless flowers seem flat and washed out. Moving closer to the image, you are drawn in. The closer, the more seductive. Shadows emerge. A modeled chiaroscuro seems to move across the surface with you. You shift back and forth between the texture of the flowers and the texture of the paper they are made of. You are caught. The delicate, loving, cared-for object-ness, the hardness and softness, the white crispness, seem easily touchable. You can almost feel the pockets of air behind the pillowy soft embossed paper. You know it is just a surface but you could stay there forever and loose yourself in its vacancy.
Bricks (Greeting Card), 2006, 40" x 40" C-print - From a distance, the subtle tonal shifts from pure white to light grays provide a structured field your eyes might comfortably rest on. Moving closer to this one, this soft white contemplative field becomes a gritty thin white paper surface revealing its embossed construct. A blankness defies all attempts to move beyond the articulated surface. You are up against a bleached brick wall, at once impenetrable, flimsy, hard, soft, and very flat. The closer you get to the surface and the more you are able to see of it, the more impenetrable it becomes, and the more flat. You are being pushed away. No comfort here.
The greeting card, with all its promise of hope, comfort and encouragement, in Fuller's hands reflexively articulates its own inability to express anything. In anxiously recursive play Fuller uses the language of sentimental seduction to question its own seductiveness. If kitsch is the debased simulation and denial of genuine culture and emotional experience, then Fuller inverts this equation and points it back at us. He makes us both subject of, and subject to, these economies of desire, romance and love as played out through kitsch. In this empty exchange of the genuine for the simulated, Fuller at once de-personalizes the personalized, and personalizes the depersonalized. He is working in double negatives, where expressions of sentiment become deflated stand-ins for the stand-in. In his close attention to the surfaces of things, and the impossible promises embedded there, he refuses to reveal anything behind this surface, which ultimately creates a kind of reverse psychology, insistently hinting at the underlying disturbances of an obsessively desired idyllic world.
"Right" (one hour take) 2005, DVD: Anthony Fuller is gazing out of the video monitor, nodding at you: "...right...right...right...uh huh ...right...right...right...uh right...right...right..."2 You find yourself nodding back in agreement (though no idea why), "...right...right...right..." incorporated into his interior dialogue. What are you agreeing with? Why his compliance, as though to make things better, all right. No conflict here. It's hard not to feel uneasily implicated in his exercise; uneasily because he really seems to be saying: "everything is [NOT!] all right" - with the "NOT!" concealed, but unmistakably clear.
Open the card. Behind the bleached brick wall, the words: "Warm wishes" perhaps, or "With Love" or "Thinking of you" or "I miss you"...3