While working on some dictionary collages, I was looking for the word indexical or indexicality. Of the two old dictionaries I am using there was no entry for indexical. So, I decided to cut portions of text from other words to make indexicality. It is now several weeks later and while photographing my dictionary collages I thought about the way definitions/meanings change over time; how culture is constantly changing; how looking for ways to make art about whiteness might require me to make up my own words.
EDIT: Sept, 2012 – This series of works is discussed in my thesis paper. Currently, I am collecting issues of Vogue (the latest being a 900+ page issue) in order to continue the project.
Jun 1 (Two new works)
All the parameters are the same as British Vogue except that the tags are three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
I followed the same parameters for this work as for the last one, Skin Tags (April 2011) with one exception. In this case, the samples are in order top to bottom, left to right as they appeared in the magazine. The samples from this issue were, to my eyes, noticeably lighter than American Vogue issues.
In this case, I took samples from bodies with large enough areas of skin that did not include recognizable features, although initially appearing the same as the previous works. The tags as a group become slightly more ambiguous as to their nature. Folds present in some of the tags also bring to mind Deleuze’s theory of the fold, as well as the sexual nature bodies. The sheet of paper is also larger allowing the space between each 7mm circle to expand. There are a total of 309 samples.
My initial impulse in this project was to survey the skin tones represented in Vogue, an iconic fashion magazine. I use a hole punch (5mm and 7mm ) to take samples. One sample is taken from each person represented as long as there is enough skin visible to fit the dimension of the hole punch and/or the photo is not black and white. The small circles are then glued onto a sheet of rag paper in a grid format.
Context – Ongoing
Through the act of cutting and hole-punching I begin to de-contextualize one of the devices that is normalized within whiteness in order to render it strange as opposed to normal or ordinary. The skin tones stretch the meaning of a black/white binary. Are all the lighter skin tones from whites? Where does white end and non-white begin?
The notion of extraction has been raised in a critique discussion.
“Extract” is defined as (freedictionary.com) verb:
To draw or pull out, often with great force or effort: extract a wisdom tooth; used tweezers to extract the splinter.
To obtain despite resistance: extract a promise.
To obtain from a substance by chemical or mechanical action, as by pressure, distillation, or evaporation.
To remove for separate consideration or publication; excerpt.
a. To derive or obtain (information, for example) from a source.
b. To deduce (a principle or doctrine); construe (a meaning).
c. To derive (pleasure or comfort) from an experience.
Mathematics To determine or calculate (the root of a number).
Something extracted, especially:
a. A passage from a literary work; an excerpt.
b. A concentrated preparation of the essential constituents of a food, flavoring, or other substance; a concentrate: maple extract.
Some of these meanings can offer something to what is happening in Skin Tags. The skin tone sample is being pulled out and separated from its source for consideration. Because a hole punch is being used there is not only implied violence to skin, but the skin must be obtained despite resistance. Information and meaning is derived from the each sample, but also in context of the samples grouped together in a collage.
In relation to violence to skin Claudia Benthien in Skin (2002) offers the following: “In contemporary art, the surface of the body is defined as a projection surface and a fetish, a place of wounds and stigmatization, and individual dress or a cover to be modified. The display of female skin, in particular, often involves violence or self-inflicted wounds, cuts, burns, …” (3)
I am also now thinking about the work in other terms as well. I am thinking about dissection where part of the process involves extraction of organs etc. (historical anatomy theatres and modern day views of dissection in programs like CSI and Bones). Peter Moeschl in Images of the Body: On Sensory Perception in Medicine and in Everyday Life (2000) discusses the idea that when the interior of the body is viewed that it invokes the perception of injury. Not only that a human being is injured, but that the aesthetics of the body have been disrupted. While Skin Tags does not deal with the interior of the body, it does invoke a sense of injury. Other possible referents might be Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror (2002). Although this goes in a different direction than my thesis.
Barbara Fischer in Love Gasoline (2001) reminds me that there is no longer any looking without being looked at, so it is important to also consider how I am being implicated in the work.
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Benthien, Claudia. Skin: on the Cultural Border between Self and the World. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. New York: Columbia Univ., 2002. Print.
Fischer, Barbara. Love Gasoline: an Exhibition of the Body in Sculpture, Performance, Video, and Photo-based Works of the Later 1960s and Early 1970s. Toronto: Mercer Union, 2001. Print.
Moeschl, Peter. “Images of the Body: On Sensory Perception in the Medicine and in Everyday Life.” ReMembering the Body: Body and Movement in the 20th Century. Ed. Gabriele Brandstetter and Hortensia Voelckers. Vienna: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2000. 286–300. Print.
Dictionary is a work that needs further research and development. Initially my intention was to explore the way words and meanings behave when removed from their official context- the dictionary. Individual words are cut from a dictionary and pasted onto a small card. This work begins with a clinical approach. However, as Daston and Galison point out, objectivity is contingent on the observer. As they say, “nature, knowledge, and knower intersect in these images, the visible traces of the world made intelligible. […] Ways of scientific seeing are where body and mind, pedagogy and research, knower and known intersect” (53, 369). In other words, what appears to be a medical or clinical type of looking is dependent on my body and my knowledge. Why choose certain words? Why glue them onto small cards? What other ways can signifiers be dissected from their context? How does the context affect the meaning attached to the sign? There are many ways this work can still go.
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Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. Objectivity. New York: Zone, 2010. Print.
Since my recent brief hiatus I have been busy catching up on writing a thesis proposal (draft due Thursday), adding my voice to the current course forum, and working on an upcoming critique (no date confirmed yet). Yesterday, I spent most of the day working in the studio. I finished the series of black and white paintings for which I will post photos after I do a couple of retakes. I’ll also have thoughts on those when I post them. In the evening I worked on my Skin Tags project. It’s amazing how long it takes to glue down a few little circles!
In the meantime, I want to share a couple of thoughts on my recent holiday (putting aside the obvious criticisms on not going on an eco or volunteer holiday instead of an all-inclusive resort in Mexico).
On our tour to Chichen Itza (Mayan temple ruins) our guide (Mexican-Mayan) talked about how “anybody” could play in the sport arena, which often ended in death for the captain of the losing team. Anybody! I asked him if when he used the word “anybody” if that included women. Oh, he says, the sport was played by warriors (inferring that women were not warriors of course), but there were some cities that were ruled by a woman… sigh…
Sure, the fact that I spent money in Mexico gives job opportunities to local people, that is true, but I left with the feeling that this kind of travel still entrenches whiteness. Almost all of the patrons were what I would call “white.” I saw maybe three or four non-white patrons the entire week of our stay. (See Richard Dyer’s White (1997) for an excellent discussion on the use of the terms “white” etc.) While many Mexicans have European (Spanish) heritage, I doubt that they would be counted as “whites” anywhere in North America or Europe. Many of the employees were also indigenous Mayan.
Whenever and wherever I looked, I saw non-whites serving whites. Does a place where the opposite is true exist anywhere?