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Fantasy is a basic human experience. We toy with it during the smallest daydream and submerge ourselves in it during Avatar in 3D. The industry surrounding the fantasy genre continues to grow, and its continued popularity is guaranteed in part by its regular endorsement to children. Stuffed animals, cartoons, Barbies, Disney movies, theme parks, video games, Santa Clause and the tooth fairy are all part of a routine bombardment that is supposedly meant to help young imaginations flourish. The more accessible such overstimulation is, the luckier the child. But as a kid watches princess movies and plays Pokémon, they see a recurring pattern of success corresponding to physical strength, power and beauty. For some people, it’s unappealing to leave this idyllic world behind as they grow up.
Conventional focuses on individuals whose fantasies occupy a very real place in their everyday lives. Some try to actively live the life of a certain fictional character, while others have jobs that put them in the position of being someone else’s fantasy. Some desperately pursue attainment of qualities that society recognizes as being perfect and desirable, like beauty and power. Their passion often appears to take the form of obsession, but it is also a common theme in the lives of people who do not seem particularly eccentric.
While making this body of work I attended a number of different fantasy conventions, or “Cons”, which typically occur annually. I subsequently came across hundreds of people in the heat of their role-playing, presenting themselves just as they want others to see them. I began to deal with the idea of the convention as a whole, and the sense of confidence that resulted from power in numbers. I found that in isolating a subject even just visually, the artificiality of their persona would start to fade as that of their costume became more visible. They became less a bunch of pageant queens or drag queens, and more individuals who are just as vulnerable as anyone else.
Conventional is about balancing who you want to be with what is expected of you, and the energy it requires to cultivate an image. Many of my subjects have chosen to conceal, expose or otherwise compose their appearances differently than most people would. They are secure in doing so because it gains them membership to a group of likeminded subscribers, which can include friends, fans, supporters, mentors, lovers and clients. But joining any community means living up to some degree of expectation. The work shown here reflects the tension created as individuals function under the weight of both defending themselves to the public and adequately performing within the roles they have chosen.
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Young, Elke, "Conventional" (2012). Senior Projects Spring 2012. 225.
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