I love pop culture. That’s not a secret. I have always wanted to hyper-analyze television, radio hits, and movies. I love figuring out why we consume what we consume. When a US history teacher taught me that monster movies were cultural attempt to grapple with the unconstrained violence of atomic war I was fascinated. I talk friend’s ears off about the underlying messages behind super hero movies and crime shows and the ways that we invite fear and terror and saviors into our lives in easy bite-size ways. What makes us like what we like and incorporate it into our worlds?
When I started watching “The Bachelor” in 2016, I wasn’t expecting to fall into a hyper-analysis of what makes this show what it is. I was embarrassed. I was waitressing and waiting for a two-month residency to begin and I was bored. I found “The Bachelor” and thought the leading man looked like a Ken Doll and I wanted to prove that no one could really look like that (I was wrong. He did look like a Ken Doll). And I was hooked.
I was about to embark on a four-year nomadic existence and this silly reality television show offered a strange level of comfort. The structure was stable when my life was not.
My two-month residency began in March and I realized with some dread that the finale of “The Bachelor” would air during my first week living in a dorm at a craft center. I was about to meet a whole new group of amazing artists and I didn’t want to admit to them that I needed to take 3 hours out of my studio to watch the bachelor choose between JoJo and Lauren B and propose to one of these women on a beach during a sunset.
I mentioned that I wanted to watch it to a few of my new friends. They laughed. It was ok. It felt silly and superficial and I didn’t blame them for not being interested. I laughed too and then stayed up until midnight and watched the 3 hour finale alone in my bunk on headphones.
And I kept watching. The show is smart and it keeps people hooked season after season by building a history and a cast of characters. I was fascinated. In grad school I would catch myself going on mini monologues about my feelings surrounding the show. It was a microcosm of modern dating and gender stereotypes. Culturally we worshipped celebrities and created mythological figures out of reality television starlets. I followed these women on social media and watched them live their lives outside of the show.
I was a part of the phenomenon but also attempting to critique it.
A good friend tapped me on the shoulder during one of these dissertations and asked me why I wasn’t making work about this since I felt so passionately about it. He was right and I started owning this obsession and researching it and built my thesis around it. I got my MFA thesis committee to seriously critique “The Bachelor” with me and I was proud. I had conversations with academic scholars about the role that reality television plays in our lives and had them all read an 80-page thesis detailing the history of dating shows and the relationship between modern reality television and Greek and Judeo/Christian mythologies. I contrasted screenshots of women in cocktail dresses with Raphael tapestries and I wove a nine-foot weaving of a screenshot comparing these women to goddesses. I was excited about where this research could take me.
But coming to Arrowmont the summer after I finished my thesis I felt that same nervous embarrassment I felt watching my first season this show. I was nervous I would look like a superficial reality-tv obsessed superfan and I didn’t know how to represent this research I had developed. I tried to overcompensate when I arrived and gave my first slide talk- I was overly academic and tried to really emphasize my research and my heady analysis of pop culture. The crowd was bored and I felt inauthentic.
A big part of this work for me is how much I loved the show and how much I wanted to critique myself as participating in this new mythological system. I am as much a part of it as I am an observer. I see it’s flaws, but I am also deeply invested.
So I started talking about it like a secret I was revealing. I was inviting people into this world with me, and it worked. Arrowmont students and faculty came up to me after my talk excited to have found someone else who understood this strange reality television universe. One of the instructors invited me to join her “Bachelor fantasy league” where we create lineups and earn points like fantasy football. Another instructor skipped karaoke to watch the newest episode with me. I found a new community who was excited about the work I was doing. When the finale of one season aired while I was giving my slide lecture I announced to the audience that I was taping it and that I would let them know tomorrow if the Bachelorette picked the guy I was rooting for or the guy I hated. Several people found me at lunch the next day to ask what happened! (The terrible guy won.)
So when the new season of “Bachelor in Paradise” started over the summer, I invited the other Artists-in-Residence to join me. It was casual, I would send a group text announcing when I was watching it and sometimes they joined me and sometimes they didn’t. But slowly a few of them got hooked too. They asked me questions and I brought out some of the reality television research I had collected and left it on the coffee table. When the franchise picked the new bachelor from the “Bachelor in Paradise” contestants, it was someone we as a house had come to hate for his wishy-washy decision making but we were invested ready to watch him lead the next season.
We all gathered together to watch the premiere of “The Bachelor” in January and watched religiously through the season together.
During the lead-up to the installation of our final show, I didn’t have enough time to take a break from my studio to watch an episode and I texted the group that I’d be watching it in my studio instead. We reconvened the following week and I learned that they had each watched in independently in their own studios so as to not fall behind. I was quietly really touched. This goofy show that I had been so embarrassed by was something that had brought us together. We watched the finale all together the evening we finished installing. I thought about how far I had come from watching it under the covers at 3am in a dorm.
I wanted to develop a language and a series of symbols that defined this reality television universe. I focused on the image of the rose as something that people who watched the show understood. It is as a symbol of choice and validation: each episode of “The Bachelor” is punctuated by a “rose ceremony” where the lead offers a rose to the women he wants to continue dating and sends the rest home. But the rose also carried a lot of other mythological connotations that helped new audiences connect with my work. I loved discussing connections to societal ideas of femininity, romance, purity, and sexuality that associated with this simple flower.
I found a screenshot of a character often portrayed as a “villain” from “The Bachelor” where she looked like an image of the Virgin Mary with her hair like a veil around her head. I rendered her image in black lace surrounded by roses. She was evil but she was pure. The roses represented sexuality and innocence, strength and vulnerability. I called her “The Martyr (Here for the Right Reasons).” I used catchphrases from “The Bachelor” to title all of the work in this show because I wanted this work to be funny and real and ridiculous and true.
I felt comfortable embracing what made this work what it was and how I found myself in it. And Arrowmont helped me get there.
Sasha Baskin was born in Ridgefield, Connecticut. She received her Bachelors of Fine Art in Drawing from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2014 and her Masters of Fine Art in Craft and Material Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2018.
After learning to weave in 2011, Baskin changed her focus from classical drawing to using weaving as a drawing medium. Focusing on the integration of analog and digital weaving processes, Baskin’s practice includes ikat, natural dye processes, hand-controlled damask, hand-manipulated glitch, and computerized weaving.
Baskin has participated in exhibitions in Texas, Washington D.C, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, and Florence, Italy. In 2015 she received the Niche Award in Decorative Fiber and in 2017 she received the Outstanding Student Award from the Surface Design Association. Her work is included in private collections in California, New York, Maryland, and Virginia. She is currently an Artist-in-Residence at Arrowmont School of Crafts.
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