In The Servants, the collaborative team Schwenkmeyer & Mann explore the economic underpinnings that built the historic, 1909, Arts and Crafts masterpiece, the Gamble House, in Pasadena, California. The Gamble House was designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene to house two differing social classes. The two live-in servants (a cook and a maid), as well as a gardener, chauffeur, and laundress, permitted the Gambles to devote their time to charities, leisure activities, and travel. This was a common arrangement in 1909. Most servants were immigrants coming from countries with a rigid class structure and ironically hoping to find new social freedom and opportunity here in America. It is these workers who have cared for and preserved the artistry of the Gamble House over the years.
The Gamble family inherited their wealth from the Procter & Gamble Company, whose most lucrative products were Ivory Snow detergent and Ivory Soap. The company pioneered innovative advertising techniques to promote their products and reach their target consumers, "housewives." They created daytime radio programs for housewives to tune in to hear the continuation of never-ending dramas, and interrupted them with soap commercials. Hence, the "soap opera" was born and profits soared.
With a desire to give voice to the under-represented, Schwenkmeyer and Mann projected the servants’ enacting household tasks on the sleeping porch. Their activities are occasionally interrupted by Procter & Gamble soap advertisements, as well as abstracted and animated architectural details of the Gamble House. On a separate screen, the artists projected quotes of American domestics voicing their feelings and experiences. These impressions (that do not derive specifically from Gamble House servants) are combined with Procter & Gamble print advertising. Underscoring these visuals is sound from Proctor and Gamble radio ads, soap operas, and popular music of the early 20th C., forming a cacophonous sonic backdrop.
"Delightful rear projection video "The Servants" created by Lisa Mann and Karen Schwenkmeyer entertained us as we waited to tour the Gamble House last night – part of the [semi-] annual ArtNight Pasadena. They mimed tasks and duties household servants of the early 1900s would perform. Images were projected from inside the second story windows, a witty take on silent era flicks."
~ Scarlet Cheng. @scarlet.oh Instagram.