Self-Portrait at 19

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Self-Portrait at 19

by Jared Arnold

    "Self-Portrait at 19" is a modified Electronic Seascape, a product of Visiontac, Inc. The Seascape is a box inside of which a plastic sheet with images of fish revolves like a conveyor belt. A backlight illuminates the fish and their underwater environment, while a hidden speaker plays sounds of waves. The entire setup is surrounded by a mirrored frame. In "Self-Portrait at 19," a single modification has been made to this design; the phrase "IMAGE MAY VARY FROM PICTURE SHOWN," taken from the Seascape's packaging, has been added to the backdrop. Also listed on the packaging are a number of selling points:

  • For the Home or Office
  • Enjoy these Tropical Fish Swimming in Opposite Directions within their 3-D Environment
  • Safe Alternative to a Real Aquarium

Beginning with these claims, "Self-Portrait at 19" employs the commercial nature of the Electronic Seascape to explore notions of representation in art. The packaging claims, for example, are deceptive. The Seascape is sold amongst similar fake aquariums, some of which are LCD screens displaying computer-generated fish. Many of the advertised features, in phrases like "high definition" and "3-D Environment," are clearly intended to pass the Seascape off as one of these higher-end digital products.
    Self-representation is further complicated by the product's frame. Unlike many other found objects, the Electronic Seascape already has this obvious signifier of "art" status (though its frame is a part of the product itself, rather than an encapsulation of an autonomous image). The claim "Alternative to a Real Aquarium" and the urging "Enjoy these Tropical Fish" suggest that the Seascape has a purpose; perhaps to soothe the viewer. Yet the frame and its connotations leave the degree of specific functionality unclear, an ambiguity "Self-Portrait at 19" employs to encourage consideration of the function of art.
    Lastly, the title "Self-Portrait at 19," in addition to its implications for representation as discussed above, originates in my interest in identification with subjects of art, a concept I have attempted to explore in this work.

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