Artist Nicola Vruwink, whose own work is confoundingly, even perversely obsessive, took a two-month tour of duty into Martha Stewart projects, which involved such activities as sewing ribbons into belts, fashioning a cute striped tote bag for extra plastic bags, and, naturally, making candles. Vruwink filmed herself working in a format as close to Martha's television show as possible. She adopted Martha's baggy, indistinct style of dress, and turned her home into a simulacrum of Martha's world. When I recently visited her house, Vruwink's fireplace was festooned with paper stars and flowers, and her coffee table covered with knickknacks, some of which I couldn't identify. ("That's a confetti bag," she informed me, as I stared blankly at a patterned pouch.) Vruwink also cooked a number of Martha's recipes; one video features her dog, Flea, eating some failed cookies.
In the past, Vruwink's projects have included tatting plastic Easter basket grass into doilies and gluing marshmallows into intricate mosaics, and the point has in part been the laborious transformation of humble materials into objects of a more sublime nature. So you might think that there would be affinities between the two women. But Vruwink found these projects unsatisfying, shopping for them infuriating ("I had to go to eight stores a day," she said), the directions maddening and sometimes incomplete, and the experience on the whole, unrewarding.
In the end, the installation tells us something about the difference between making art and slavish "housemaking" (as Stewart has cleverly dubbed it), about the difference between a doily that ambivalently expresses the use of time in the creation of an object (however beautiful) and an envelope lined with handmade paper that unambiguously demands recognition and appreciation. Creativity, largely invoked in our culture simply as the act of expressing oneself, is here examined as a set of fantasy standards that, once perfectly invoked by Martha, are impossible to match, even by an artist with a great deal of manual skill. While there's no harm in fantasy, Martha's "you can do it" rhetoric hides a pointed impossibility.
In an unguarded moment, when we were talking about those homemade candles (Vruwink's look very Vruwink--pink and frosty like little candy cakes), Vruwink had a little explosion. "Why would I want to make candles?" she said. "For God's sake, I have a life." Which would not, it turns out, include Living.