about this work

Serial Monogamy

"It really was no miracle. What happened was just this...."
- Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I was in my twenties, and hopelessly romantic. I was looking everywhere for "the one". The problem is, you don't really find out who someone is until you date them for a while. So you spend a lot of time waiting. Then, inevitably, you will go from thinking "Could this be the one"? to knowing, for sure, that they aren't. It sometimes happens like this:

My girlfriend and I are waiting for drive-through coffee at Starbucks. We've been dating for two months. When we get up to the order-box, the guy says "What can I get for you today"?

I lean over and say "I'm not sure yet, but I know I'd like it to cost six-dollars and remind me how I need to be better with money". I think this is funny. My girlfriend does not think it is funny at all.

"Listen, you bastard" she yells, "DO NOT tell me how to spend my money. If I want to spend my money on an expensive coffee, I'll do it. DO NOT try to control my life"!

I thought I'd been making a silly joke, and here I was trampling all over her civil liberties.

Our relationship ended that day. I wasn't even sad about it. She wasn't the one. Once you establish that someone isn't for you, move on and keep looking.

The great thing about your early twenties is you can earn little money, have no real prospects, and still get girls to spend time with you. If you try to pull that off in your thirties you are in for some real grief. By that time most girls have smartened up and become women. Girls are easy to get. Women are much harder to impress, which makes them infinitely preferable.

Gradually, my early twenties slipped by. I found myself in my late twenties and my quest for the one had been fruitless. But I remained hopeful. Each event seemed full of promise: There's a party this Friday. Maybe I will meet the one there? or, I'm starting a new job, maybe the one will work there too? Each social event seemed to hold some magic potential, like a scratch-off ticket from the corner market. Could this one be a winner?

It's Saturday night. I'm at a party. I scan the crowd of people in a Midtown living room, and suddenly realize six or seven of them are ex-girlfriends. They all have boyfriends now. The thought miraculously occurs to me that all of us were doing the same thing: searching for that one through trial-and-error. It seems reasonable to me that we might be designed that way. It's part of our "biological architecture".

I began paying attention to patterns. At various parties in Memphis, I really studied the bathroom floors. The houses in Midtown were all built at nearly the same time, and had period tiles in the bathrooms, mostly from the 1950's. I began to notice variations on a theme: patterns repeating in roughly the same style because they were created at roughly the same time. Each tile floor may be unique, but they are united by their era. Is it possible that I and all my friends are products of our era too?

I began to work on a new set of photos. I wanted to draw a reasonable line through of patterns in human behavior and compare them to patterns in the literal architecture surrounding them, in this case using the tiles in the bathrooms as a backdrop.

It's an homage to a necessary process to finding that one great love: the person you are most compatible with. These photos are about the trial-and-error you go through before you find the great love of your life.

The resulting photographs are part of the series called "Serial Monogamy". They depict the architecture of human behavior, contrasting the similarities and differences of the biological imperative. The various legs operate on top of (and interfere with) the tile patterns below them. Each working in their own way but hopelessly intertwined. The result is a syncopated rhythm, semi-predictable, yet undeniably original.

Each person's romantic journey is unique, but we are looking for the same things: to love, and to be loved by someone great.

I began to refer to the individual photographs as Hidden Flowers. The expression refers to trying to find the one great love among the crowd, or the "flower" in the room. The hidden flower.

An art critic once confided in me that he didn't care for Serial Monogamy because it was "unromantic". I think the word he used was "robotic". I tried to understand where he was coming from, and realized that viewers could interpret the repeated patterns of human behavior as "robotic". But I was really celebrating the free will hopelessly entangled with the biological imperative, which is an important distinction.

Because it's ultimately up to you.

You get to choose, after all, and there are two choices: You can stare it the great and powerful Oz and marvel at his supernatural powers, or you can look behind the curtain. You decide.

-Ian Lemmonds, September 20, 2010