The Location of Culture

Currently the most useful portion of The Location of Culture (1994) written by Homi Bhabha in regards to my research is found in his description of Renee Green’s Sites of Genealogy (1991) used to illustrate his concept of liminality.

Bhabha quotes Green from an interview she conducted with Miwon Kwon where Green is talking about the difficulty with fixed categories (4). What is noted is that the idea of a group or a community is not fixed. Green asks “What is a black community? What is a Latino community?” (4). Questions such as this can be applied to almost every group and sphere that a person moves in and out of. Where does one end and the next one begin?

Bhabha then goes on to describe a work by Green as an “in-between moment” (5):

Green’s ‘architectural’ site-specific work, Sites of Genealogy …, displays and displaces the binary logic through which identities of difference are often constructed – Black/White, Self/Other. Green makes a metaphor of the museum building itself, rather than simply using the gallery space:

‘I used architecture literally as a reference, using the attic, the boiler room, and the stairwell to make associations between certain binary divisions such as higher and lower and heaven and hell. The stairwell became a liminal space, a pathway between the upper and lower areas, each of which was annotated with plaques referring to blackness and whiteness.’ (5)

The stairwell has become, as Bhabha explains, a “liminal space” (5). It becomes a space where mixing occurs. Because the stairwell is open at either end, neither location is required to be fixed. There is movement between the two places and therefore there is an exchange of ideas. Bhabha states “this interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (5).

The idea that there is such a thing as a “homogeneous national culture” is precarious (7). With the recognition that our economies are interdependent upon each other (recalling the recent debt crisis) it quickly becomes apparent that internationalism is unavoidable. It stands to reason that cooperation and sharing between cultures becomes desirable. Ideas of nationalism are being redefined. “The hideous extremity of Serbian nationalism proves that the very idea of a pure, ‘ethnically cleansed’ national identity can only be achieved through the death, literal and figurative, of complex interweavings of history, and the culturally contingent borderlines of modern nationhood” (emphasis mine) (7).

Yet while there is apparent proof of redefinition there is still contention. Resistance may take more subtle forms (or not). In the Netherlands, there are two words that have recently come into use. “Autochtoon” meaning “authentic” Dutch and “allochtoon” literally meaning “from another country” (Essed and Trienekens 53, 57). A person who is born to parents who are autochtoon, but is born, raised, and a citizen of another nation would also be autochtoon. In contrast, a person of Japanese heritage, for instance, whose family had lived and worked in the Netherlands for three generations would be considered allochtoon (see the hyperlinked figure).

Opposition or not, national identity is not fixed. If national identity is fluid, then is it possible that racial identities are also fluid? What does it mean if they are? What does that look like? How does it function? Is there a place for racial identities? What about ethnic identities? How do they differ, if at all?

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Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Essed, Philomena, and Sandra Trienekens. “Who Wants to Feel White? Race, Dutch Culture and Contested Identities.” Ethnic and Racial Studies. 31.1 (Jan 2008): 52-72. EBSCOHost, ECULib. Web. 22 May 2009.

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Revised: February 13, 2011.

Vicky & Missy

PVR is a great invention. Yesterday, days after the fact I watched the Victoria Secret fashion show for this past season.

There were 34 female models in the show (along with some male gymnasts and dancers). At first blush the show is about sexual fantasy and celebrate the female body. Clearly the models, the stage handlers and the audience were invested in promoting a party atmosphere. The frequent close up crotch shots however, point to the female body as a sexual object.

All the models had long hair. Of the 34 I counted, 10 women with light blond hair, as well as three non-white women. This counting is a problem. Who do I count as white or non-white? What about the issue of counting the difference in the first place? Can that be done objectively? Like counting all the maple trees in a forest along with noting the number of pines. Obviously we can count biological differences among people (penis or vagina?), but can/should “race” be counted as biological difference?

It is apparently quite an honour to be able to wear a pair of wings in the show. One of the models commented that she fantasizes more about the wings than she would about her wedding. While the idea of putting a wedding fantasy in its place is a good one, I was disheartened to hear what it had been replaced with. A stylist added “giving a girl her first wings is a really special experience.” The model Chanel, when receiving her first wings, cried saying “I’m so excited this is a total dream come true.”

The Wild Things segment was stereotypically racist. The idea of wildness in this segment is paired with a jungle setting, Maori style tattooed dancers, aboriginal style motifs, and big cat inspired prints on the lingerie. The Pink segment featured Katy Perry singing Teenage Dream, while the lingerie colours and motifs referenced innocence, girlhood, and children’s toys. Pedophilia anyone?

Hair and makeup
transformation
hearts beat faster
lights cameras
pounding
anticipation
going to burst
it’s my moment

And Missy (a Nice Lady)

Miss America 2011 featured 20 blonds of 53 contestants (37%). By the semi final round seven blonds of 15 (46%). While the winner is not always blond, this year she is Miss Nebraska, a blond.

“ There she is…your ideal…how fair she is…”

The competition offers the contestants scholarship opportunities, but these prizes are available to those in the pageant. Physically beautiful and young women. In essence the money is awarded for looks. Some might argue that the women need to have talent. Yet the “talents” are all performance based. Singing and dancing are the skills most prized.

Miss America reminds me of Barbie. Mariel Clayton is an artist who works with Barbies.

Context

The Doll House Dinner Party
Twelve guests are seated all around a large dining table set with the host’s best linens topped with dinnerware and a freshly roasted suckling pig. One person speaks while the rest serve themselves from the abundant dishes and trays.

I hope everyone does not mind, but our dinner host has requested that I continue to share more about my work. In order for you to truly get the most out of my discussion I have decided to tape my talk which will be transcribed later and you may request a copy. For $10 a copy you understand, since I am a poor artist. Do you have any idea what studio space costs in this town?

Everyone nods, chewing simultaneously.

I will talk about three artists works that are similar to my project dollhouse. The work of artists Jennifer Linton, Heather Benning, as well as the collaboration of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy will be discussed.
Briefly, miniature houses have been in use in various cultures such as the Egyptian culture as long as 5000 years ago. The doll house of the sort that most of us are familiar with has been in use in Europe since the 16th century and were quite elaborate. Most doll houses were not intended for children’s play, but were used to display wealth and possessions.

‘Oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from several at the table.

Jennifer Linton’s project is called The Disobedient Dollhouse (2009-10). Linton’s doll house is a mixed media installation consisting of a large area of gallery wall covered with an illustrative wallpaper and a small scale doll house hanging just off center within the field of wallpaper. While the house is constructed from thin board the interior furnishings are made entirely from lithographed paper. Linton reveals her childhood experiences with doll houses as a place where she could act out her fantasies about motherhood and domesticity (Linton). Linton goes on the explain that she now sees the site of domesticity as “much more complex” (Linton). As a child she saw the doll house as an idealized site, where she now identifies the contradiction between the reality of being an imperfect parent and the home as a refuge (Linton).

In the same way the empty dollhouse opens the door to recalling memories from childhood. What are the things thought about/fantasized about as children play, acting out various scenes in the three sided rooms. Commercially idealized narratives where mommies cook and have babies while daddies tirelessly work at their jobs. Or visions of the dominant images of heterosexual sex might play out if a male doll is handy. Or renditions where the child’s violent reality is acted out as a way to release and resolve tension. The barren rooms of dollhouse invite memory, while concurrently referring to Richard Dyer’s idea of whiteness as representing emptiness (Dyer 222).

“Oh…I see…(burrrp),” someone says.

Artist Heather Benning also plays with toys in her work. Doll House (2007) is a human scaled, renovated doll house reclaimed from an abandoned farmhouse in Manitoba near the Saskatchewan border. Benning turned the actual farmhouse into a “doll house” by clearing trash, repainting as well as repairing and outfitting the house with a complete set of 1950s themed furnishings (Merkle 60). While there are no actual dolls for the house, a notion of doll house is invoked because Benning removed one complete side of the house opening the interior to an exterior view. Benning is also the creator of Field Doll (2009), a larger than life-sized replica of a childhood doll once owned by her. In talking about Field Doll Benning says that “dolls are little miniature notions of humans that children carry with them, they create fake souls for them” (quoted in Markle 62).

Similarly Bennings life-size Doll House and the dollhouse project both work to invoke a sense of reality for children. It is in these places that the child can practice at being adult within a specific culture such as how to dress, how to act, practicing various roles, genders, and identities. The doll house becomes a tool of enculturation. In contrast, both Linton and Benning do not write about or express a consciousness about racial identity. The notion of whiteness may be implicit since both artists are “white,” but it is not overt. dollhouse on the other hand is referring directly to the construct of whiteness through the method of its fabrication as well as through its colour.

Referring more directly to whiteness is Heidi (1992) by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. Through a video that narrates an abject re-telling of of the classic children’s story Heidi (written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri), Kelley and McCarthy seek to dislodge the dominant image of white middle class normalcy (International). Kelley and McCarthy’s reinterpretation includes incest, abuse and a preoccupation with bodily functions (“Paul McCarthy”). Significantly Kelley and McCarthy have chosen to use a popular children’s story once again pointing to the early enculturation of children. Heidi challenges white normalcy by “making whiteness strange” (Dyer 4). By pointing to its white interior and exterior dollhouse similarly questions the notion of whiteness.

Cutlery clatters on the fine white porcelain dishes.

In conclusion, while the five works discussed each address childhood conditioning, Heidi takes one step further by offering an open door to question whiteness. dollhouse begins to do the same.

The little girl, feeling bored, then reaches her hand into the miniature house tipping the table, unseating the dolls and scattering dishes along with the tiny plastic suckling pig. Lilliputian size potatoes and beans roll under the 4 inch buffet.

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Works Cited

Bignell, Jonathan. Postmodern Media Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. Print.

International Center of Photography. White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. International Center of Photography. Web. 26 Jan. 2011.

Linton, Jennifer. “The Disobedient Dollhouse.” Jennifer Linton’s Web Portfolio. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.

Markle, Andrew. “What’s Left Behind.” Galleries West 8.2 (2009): 60-62. Print.

“Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley – Heidi (1992).” ART TORRENTS. 7 Mar. 2008. Web. 10 Aug. 2010.