NEW YORK, NEW YORK
ABS video, mixed media
Courtesy of Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Coconut Grove, FL
Much of the charm of Troy Abbott’s works derives from the tension between the sleek flatness of the videos, containing miniature avatars of song-bird cuteness, and the polished, sculptural quality of the authentic, antique cages in which the digital birds reside. Although the cages provided seemingly safe havens for the animals, they were essentially decorative prisons—ones that are now only virtually occupied. The artist asks us to consider whether the pleasures of color, song, and movement provided by a video pet will satisfy and free us of the questionable ethics of keeping a live one trapped in a cage.
Despite their obvious charm, Abbott’s works are metaphors of power. Well-off Victorian women frequently found their roles to be primarily aesthetic and were constrained by both custom and law. As Alison Collins’s giant bustle, shown nearby, is a reminder that women’s clothing was a cage for female anatomy, Abbott’s art recalls the sexual dynamics in the wildly popular 1904 song “She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.” Its poignant lyrics about a beautiful, young heiress married to a rich, old robber baron struck a deep chord of recognition with the public late in the Gilded Age:
She’s only a bird in a gilded cage,
A beautiful sight to see,
You may think she’s happy and free from care,
She’s not, though she seems to be.