The Servants, by Karen Schwenkmeyer and Lisa Mann (2019)
Presented by ArtNight Pasadena, City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs, at the Gamble House.
In The Servants, the collaborative team Schwenkmeyer & Mann explore the economic underpinnings that created the Gamble House. David Gamble had inherited wealth from the Proctor & Gamble Company. Ivory Soap was its best-known product and the company pioneered innovative advertising strategies in promoting it. One way to reach their target consumers–"housewives"–was to create daytime radio programming so that housewives would tune in every day to hear the continuation of a never-ending drama. Proctor & Gamble advertised their products, including Ivory Snow detergent and Ivory Soap. The "soap opera" was born and profits soared.
While the wealth behind the Gamble House came from the manufacturing of soap products, the Gamble House was designed to house two differing social classes. Architects Charles and Henry Greene planned for two rooms that would accommodate servants with a separate stairway leading from the kitchen. The two live-in servants (a cook and a maid-of-all-work), a gardener, chauffeur, laundress, seamstress, and occasional waitresses permitted the Gambles to devote their time to charities, leisure activities, and travel. This was a common arrangement in 1910. Most servants were immigrants coming from countries with a rigid class structure and ironically hoping to find new freedom and opportunity here in America.
It is these workers who have cared for and preserved the artistry of the Greene brothers over the years. With a desire to give voice to the under-represented, Schwenkmeyer and Mann project servants’ shadows enacting household tasks on the sleeping porch. Their activities are occasionally interrupted by animated Proctor and Gamble products or detailed motifs designed by Greene and Greene for the Gamble House. On a separate screen the artists researched the writings of American domestics communicating their thoughts and experiences of working as servants. These impressions (that do not derive specifically from Gamble House servants) are combined with Proctor and Gamble print advertising. Underscoring these visuals is sound from Proctor and Gamble radio ads and soap operas forming a cacophony that weaves in and out.
Lisa Mann and Karen Schwenkmeyer have been collaborating intermittently since 1997 when they formed M.A.M.A. (Mother Artists Making Art). Lisa Mann is an installation artist and Associate Professor of Cinematic Practice at USC School of Cinematic Arts, John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts. Karen Schwenkmeyer teaches photography at many community college campuses.
The Servants Credits:
Artists and Performers – Karen Schwenkmeyer and Lisa Mann
Videographer and Editor – Kathryn L. Beranich
Sound Designer and Technical Support – Googe
Projection Mapping Technical Support – Ana Carolina Estarita and Ankita Panda
Production Assistant – Renee Rubalcava