Wrapping Up!

I have learned a great deal over the past 28 months. Two things I learned (among others), which are not discussed in my thesis paper, are related to humour and honesty.

One of my instructors told me that I was really funny and that my work also reflected a sense of humour. One of the things I learned is that this cannot be forced. The moment that I try to make something funny, it is totally un-funny. For my work to draw people in with humour, I in turn, need to make work without any attempt at trying to be funny, and then somehow it comes. In other words, just be myself.

I also learned to be cautious about what others might read into my work. Those readings are valid and important, but they are not where my work is rooted, although they are as sweet as fruit. In other words, in relation to my work, be honest about the roots (my intentions) and the dirt (context they grow out of) that surrounds them.

I would like to acknowledge all the artists who came to visit our three July Intensives, some of whom also visited my studio space. Thank you!

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Update

Update
[…] Studio space at Mitchell Press this past July Intensive.

Working through the latest update, I was very tempted to change and alter writing I have done over the past 28 months. However, I have left most of the writing (including my inconsistent use of “white” and “Whiteness”) in order to demonstrate a progression of thought and have noted dates on most pages [posts]. My complete thesis contains my current thoughts and thinking on the topic of Whiteness.

Micro-site
As part of our program, I set up and published the micro-site for our HERE+THERE Graduation Exhibition at the Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver.

Exhibition
The work I showed at the HERE+THERE Graduation Exhibition is also available to be viewed on Vimeo.

The Cleaning Girl and the Boarder

The Cleaning Girl and the Boarder is the work I presented in the ECUAD Low Residency MAA Graduate Exhibition in July 2012.

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Nov 16, 2011

The Cleaning Girl and the Boarder is a stop motion animation that re-imagines a portion of the narrative in My Mother Told Me, a work I created for the mid-program MAA exhibition UponOccasion in 2011 at Emily Carr University. The original work consists of a narrative that is loosely based on personal memory, and The Cleaning Girl additionally incorporates fantasy and fiction into a fragment of that memory.

The section of the story that is re-imagined from a portion of text in My Mother Told Me reads, “I didn’t notice a lot of blacks in our town, but I recall the Chinese boarders that lived in our bedrooms after the divorce – I thought it was strange how you could see their fallen hairs on the pillows”. The set for the animation is a bedroom made from low-tech materials. The figure and the furnishings are created from white paper, while the bedroom walls are constructed from corrugated cardboard.

The story begins with the girl occupied in cleaning the room of a boarder who lives in her mother’s house. She is distracted from her work and gazes out the window, masturbates on the corner of the bed, and imagines black hairs dancing on the boarder’s pillow. The Cleaning Girl sets memory and fantasy side by side as well as bringing together past and present. I draw upon memories to create the structure of the narrative, and these memories are paired with fantasy, which allow for moments of both humour and disgust to be present in the film. Simultaneously, past memories are brought to the present through the use of live action sequences, such as my own hand sloshing water in a bucket and washing a hot plate, and these are mixed with traditional stop motion animation techniques.

My Mother Told Me…, 2011, Graphite on wall, frame, photo, pillow, hair.
My Mother Told Me…, 2011, Graphite on wall, frame, photo, pillow, hair.
My Mother Told Me…, Detail.
My Mother Told Me…, Detail.

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Film Stills

Still from The Cleaning Girl
Still from The Cleaning Girl
Still from The Cleaning Girl
Still from The Cleaning Girl
Still from The Cleaning Girl
Still from The Cleaning Girl

July 2012
Exhibition version on Vimeo.

Drawings

Project dates: June 2012 – ongoing

My process involves encountering an idea and visually responding to it. The responses do not illustrate the idea, but result from my pondering and grappling with it. One of my research sources for the thesis is Chromophobia (2000) by David Batchelor. Batchelor begins the book by describing his encounter with a particular house:

The uninterruptable, endless emptiness of this house was impressive, elegant and glamorous in a spare and reductive kind of way, but it was also assertive, emphatic and ostentatious. This was assertive silence, emphatic blankness, the kind of ostentatious emptiness that only the very wealthy can afford. It was strategic emptiness, but was also accusatory. […]
Inside this house was a whole world, a very particular kind of world, a very clean, clear and orderly universe […]. There is a kind of white that is more than white, and this was that kind of white. There is a kind of white that repels everything that is inferior to it, and that is almost everything. This was that kind of white. There is a kind of white that is not created by bleach, but that itself is bleach. This was that kind of white. (9-10)

Batchelor’s ideas above, implicate those of Austrian architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933) who famously wrote, “the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use” (168). For Loos the highest form of culture (and defining high culture defines what low forms of culture are, which is also problematic) involved stripping away decoration and ornamentation to expose as pure a form as possible.

This striving for pure forms in architecture, household objects and art during the twentieth century is predated by discussions on what constitutes a pure race by the scientific community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In his discussion of the ideology of Whiteness in White (1997) Richard Dyer adds to the dialogue:

In the quest for purity, whites win either way: either they are a distinct, pure race, superior to all others, or else thay are the purest expression of the human race itself. What is interesting in either vision is the emphasis on purity, and of the special purity of whiteness, for […] this is a theme central to what is implied and mobilised by this group being called ‘white’. (22)

I believe that this quest for purity continues. For example, actual walls are erected along borders (particularly where predominantly “non-White” countries are on the other side), women’s rights to their own bodies are being eroded in some places (to ensure White births?), and neo-nazi groups openly march in Europe (a reaction to immigration?).

Looking at the resulting forms of this “removal of ornamentation” leads me to “minimal” furnishings, objects and architecture. The following drawings are produced by tracing an image with a stylus onto a sheet of white paper through a sheet of carbon. So the resulting image is made with a line of carbon (rather than a graphite pencil mark). Thinking also about purity (and how the ultimate purity ends in a kind of lack or nothingness) I recall how empty contours stand in as symbols in legends, where each symbol is numbered and the corresponding number can be found elsewhere with a textual explanation of the object the symbol represents. In my versions there is no textual reference. The numbers appear to mean something, but lead to nothing.

From "Dwell" magazine, March 2008, pg 152
From “Dwell” magazine, March 2008, pg 152
Alexander Girard design, for Braniff Airlines, produced by Herman Miller in 1967.
Alexander Girard design, for Braniff Airlines, produced by Herman Miller in 1967.

July Week 1 & 2

Drawings were made on craft paper, sketch paper, and vellum. In various sizes with the objects also appearing in various sizes on the paper.

Barcelona Chair desgned by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for German Pavilion, Barcelona, 1929, on vellum, approx. 7″x9″
Barcelona Chair desgned by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for German Pavilion, Barcelona, 1929, on vellum, approx. 7″x9″

July Week 3 & Onward

Drawings were made in the same way, but relatively small in relation to the size of the paper, and each image is the same size. I am also interested in trying this process where each object is scaled to the exact same size on identical sheets of paper.

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Works Cited

Batchelor, David. Chromophobia. London: Reaktion, 2000. Print.

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Loos, Adolf. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays. Ed. Adolf Opel. Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 1998. Print.

Thesis Overview

Abstract

My thesis considers how the ideology of Whiteness is reflected in visual art. I examine how my visual practice flows out from my grappling with the contentious ideology of Whiteness. By considering how I may navigate such a discussion, I take two approaches.
It is necessary to step back, as much as is possible, to provide critical distance. At the same time I consider my own subjectivity and lived experience as a source of knowledge. These two approaches reinforce the ideas I have chosen to highlight in this paper: interpellation, and embodiment.

Additionally, both a clinical approach and lived experience are reflective of two streams of work I have produced throughout the MAA research period. I discuss four projects: dollhouse, Skin Tags, The Cleaning Girl and the Boarder, and Scope. I ground the discussion of these projects with an examination of the ideas of interpellation as discussed by philosophers Louis Althusser and Slavoj Žižek. To support an embodied position I explore the arguments of cultural theorist Sara Ahmed, as well as historians Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison. To provide context for these theories and my work, I also discuss, among others, selected projects by artists William Pope.L, Jenny Saville, Wangechi Mutu, and Izhar Patkin, as well as a collaborative project by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.

Several complications are also considered and in particular how the idea of normalcy is connected to the way Whiteness is constructed. These approaches on the ideas of subjectivity, embodied orientation, interpellation, and normalcy frame the discourse on the ideology of Whiteness in my thesis project.

Rationale

Several years ago I was given a copy of William Pope.L: The Friendliest Black Artist in America (2002) to look over. I found that thinking about his projects prodded me to consider my own White privilege. Pope.L’s work hailed me, so to speak, and prodded me to consider how I might change my orientation in relation to Whiteness. I am interested in how the idea of hailing (Althusser) into a specific ideology requires the individual to turn towards that ideology, and how in turn Whiteness specifically orients (Ahmed) White bodies away from the ideology of Whiteness.

rationaleSketch_04

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Note

For an excellent discussion on the usage of the terms “White,” “Whiteness,” and “non-White” (“Black,” “Blackness,” etc.) see Richard Dyer’s chapter The Politics of Looking at Whiteness (pgs 8-14), in his book White (1997).

As well, Lund and Carr explain their use of the capitalized usage of “White” and “Whiteness” in the article Exposing Privilege And Racism In The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness And Identity Issues In Canadian Education (pg 229), published in the journal Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-234.

Method

As I contend with the discussed concepts of Whiteness my work flows out from my encounters with those ideas, especially the notion of normalcy. Not as illustrations, but as visual responses to them. It follows a general logic rather than a specific medium or set of supplies – taking what is at hand, re-contextualizing, using low-tech materials, employing a diverse set of skills – in response to a particular idea.

My MAA research work can be divided into two main types. Work that takes a more clinical approach, and work that incorporates some aspect of my lived experience. These two approaches are reflective of the ideas I have chosen to highlight in my thesis: Althusser and Zizek’s thoughts on interpellation, and Ahmed’s notion of embodiment.

My Mother Told Me, Detail of removal, 2011.
My Mother Told Me, Detail of removal, 2011.

Methodology

My methodology ties the idea of interpellation or hailing (Althusser) to the odd way in which an individual becomes a White subject by being hailed – turning 180 degrees towards the ideology – while at the same time being oriented (Ahmed) away from Whiteness. I aim to apply this idea to several art works asking how the work hails the viewer as either being oriented towards Whiteness or away from Whiteness? As a person who lives with White privilege how am I implicated? Part of my strategy will also examine these ideas through the notion of embodiment (Butler, Merleau-Ponty, Daston and Galison, Haraway).

map_03

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Notes

For an excellent discussion on the usage of the terms “White,” “Whiteness,” and “non-White” (“Black,” “Blackness,” etc.) see Richard Dyer’s chapter The Politics of Looking at Whiteness (pgs 8-14), in his book White (1997).

As well, Lund and Carr explain their use of the capitalized usage of “White” and “Whiteness” in the article Exposing Privilege And Racism In The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness And Identity Issues In Canadian Education (pg 229), published in the journal Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-234.

organize_03

Heidi

Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone, (1992) by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy

May 21, 2012 – Rewrite

I consider Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone (1992). The work is a 62:40 minute video1 that retells the two-part children’s story Heidi’s Years of Learning and Travel and Heidi Makes Use of What She Has Learned written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri. The story’s English translation is most often published as one volume known simply as Heidi. About the project itself Mike Kelley said, “We chose to work with the novel Heidi because it offered many opportunities to work with doublings (sic) and polarities which seems appropriate for collaborative work. The novel is a parable of the curative qualities of the ‘natural’ life and sets up an overt schism between city and country, with urban life depicted as pathological….” (130). From the novel Heidi:

“My dear, dear uncle! What have we to thank you for! This is your work, your care and nursing—
“But our Lord’s sunshine and mountain air,” interrupted the uncle, smiling.
Then Clara called, “Yes, and also Schwänli’s good, delicious milk. Grandmama, you ought to see how much goat-milk I can drink now; oh, it is so good!” (Spyri n.p.)

Heidi’s cousin Clara, a sickly urban girl, has recovered and become healthy thanks to ingesting the clean mountain air and pure white milk during a visit from the city.
The setting for the film Heidi: Midlife Crisis, is a building based on two forms of architecture. One half of the structure is based on the American Bar in Vienna, which was designed by Austrian architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933) who famously wrote, “the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use” (Loos 168). Kelley and McCarthy introduce discord by basing the other half of the building on the classic highly decorative Alps chalet.

A blogger who goes by the alias of “C Way” has this to say about the film:

If I remember correctly there was a man and a woman, both were manipulating some kind of mannequin torso, struggling to push what appeared to be sausages down its cavity & (sic) which exited the doll’s anus in some kind of basin of liquid. The adult figures went about their activity with haste & (sic) focus and urgency, splashing and slipping and wrangling with the doll in this weird pointless (and simultaneously deadly important) ritual of forcefeeding (sic) that sort of resembled midwifery or operating room surgery in its energy and concentrated involvement with the body. It was a weird tangle of fluid and skin and wet that suggested birth, death, defecation, abuse, parental care, discipline, emergency room, horror movie […]. (C Way)

Kelley and McCarthy’s film takes the idea of wholesomeness and destroys any notion that this Heidi is innocent and pure. The film points to the falseness of the purity ideal of the snowy Alps mountains, and the Whites who live there. The way in which these ideals are represented generally in Spyri’s novel Heidi is countered with abjection. Kelley and McCarthy have effectively exposed the “blank spots” in the ideology of Whiteness (Žižek 26). The construct of Whiteness works to maintain a false mask that it is normal and pure, but in reality it is not (Dyer 21).

Jan 25, 2011

Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s Heidi is a 62:40 min video that retells the two part children’s story Heidi’s years of learning and travel and Heidi makes use of what she has learned written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri. Both novels are commonly referred to as Heidi.

Kelley and McCarthy use a film set and the constructed nature of film (films are experienced as a whole that is created from fragments) to re-tell the classic children’s story. Kelley who has been working with stuffed toys during the late 80s introduced puppets to this work as well. There is a connection between his use of puppets to the use of puppets in Heidi. Kelley initially used stuffed animals a comment on commodity culture, but those seeing his works thought of them as a comment on child abuse (ART:21). Kelley sees this mis-read as a comment on the shared experience within the culture of child abuse which he consciously allows and now encourages (ART:21).

Mike Kelley sees art making as a materialist ritual which harkens back to his interest in Catholic rituals (ART:21). Kelley feels that his work is reactive (to culture/other works etc.). It is reaction, as a directive, that I think his collaboration with Paul McCarthy in their project Heidi (1992), stems from. Richard Dyer in White (1997) points out that Whiteness is associated with purity. It is not simply the colour white, but the construct of Whiteness that is associated with pristine snow, the snow capped mountains, the clean mountain air, the vitality required to live in the mountains, and the nearness to God who lives above the mountains capped with pure snow (21). The film points to the falseness of the purity ideal of the snowy alps mountains and the whites who live there. The way in which these ideals are represented generally in Spyri’s novel Heidi is countered with abjection. The pair of artists work to offer another view of what it means to be part of a white middle-class family (Berger). The White myth of wholesomeness is compromised in Heidi.

If my interest in the ideology of Whiteness involves looking for ways to talk about it or make work about it, then Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy provide an excellent example of how to do so. A blogger who goes by the alias of “C Way” has this to say about the film:

If I remember correctly there was a man and a woman, both were manipulating some kind of mannequin torso, struggling to push what appeared to be sausages down its cavity & which exited the doll’s anus in some kind of basin of liquid. The adult figures went about their activity with haste & focus and urgency, splashing and slipping and wrangling with the doll in this weird pointless (and simultaneously deadly important) ritual of forcefeeding that sort of resembled midwifery or operating room surgery in its energy and concentrated involvement with the body. It was a weird tangle of fluid and skin and wet that suggested birth, death, defecation, abuse, parental care, discipline, emergency room, horror movie […]. (C Way)

The project points to the falseness of the purity ideal of the snowy alps mountains and the whites who live there (see Richard Dyer’s White). The way in which these ideals are represented generally in the novel Heidi and modern media is countered with abjection.

…and Laura Parnes

Ironically, Laura Parnes reacts to Kelley and McCarthy’s Heidi with Heidi 2 (2000). In the first film Heidi, the artists are both male and tell the story of Heidi in relationships with her grandfather and the village boy Peter. Re-interpreted, Laura Parnes in collaboration with Sue de Beer tell a female story. Heidi and her mothers relationship is based on bulimic contests, sexual play, and surgery “reclaiming patriarchal abjection” (Cohen).

In relation to my practice I also see myself as working reactionally. I appreciate both efforts. Kelley and McCarthy for tackling the story of Heidi with racial consciousness, and Parnes and de Beer for pushing the idea further by questioning Kelley and McCarthy’s male take on abjection.

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Works Cited & Consulted

“ART:21 Memory.” PBS, 2005. PBS Video. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Avgikos, Jan. “Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley: Heidi.” ArtForum (1993). Find Articles at BNET. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Berger, Maurice, Wendy Ewald, David R. Roediger, and Patricia J. Williams. White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. Baltimore, MD: Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2004. Print.

C Way. “Art of the Day: Stills from Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley’s “Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone” (1992).” Web log post. Snailcrow. 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

Cohen, Michael. “Heidi 2.” Laura Parnes. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Kelley, Mike. “Heidi (excerpted from Playing With Dead Things) 1992.” Mike Kelley. Ed. John C. Welchman, Isabelle Graw, and Anthony Vidler. London: Phaidon, 1999. 130-31. Print.

Loos, Adolf. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays. Ed. Adolf Opel. Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 1998. Print.

“Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley – Heidi (1992).” Web log post. Art Torrents. 7 Mar. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Spyri, Johanna. Heidi. Trans. Elisabeth P. Stork. Gift ed. Philadelphia: Washington Square, 1919. Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Project Gutenberg, 09 Mar. 2007. Web. 27 Feb. 2012.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. 2008 ed. London: Verso, 1989. Print.

My Mother Told Me

July 2011

The work presented in the interim MAA exhibition, UponOccasion, consisted of large-scale hand-written text with a small photograph in the center of the text and a pillow on the floor. The narrative is personal, and relies on memories. Interspersed throughout the story is a contemporary commentary.

Process
Process
My Mother Told Me – installation view
My Mother Told Me – installation view
My Mother Told Me, 2011
My Mother Told Me, 2011
My Mother Told Me - detail
My Mother Told Me – detail
Joyce, Rosie, "dolly", and Liz having a picnic in the backyard.
Joyce, Rosie, “dolly”, and Liz having a picnic in the backyard.

Text:

When I was being born, my mother says (whose second name was stupid, apparently), she was in labour for three days (eventually they took me out with forceps). While in the labour room at the hospital a black woman was brought in and put in the bed beside her. My mother, a newish immigrant (called damned DPs, I heard), tells me she had never been so close to a black person before (guess that depends where you come from). She felt afraid (of what?). She was suddenly feeling unsure of herself.  How do I talk to her, she thought. She had no idea how she should relate to this woman (like she’s not a person). She tells me, she felt afraid because she didn’t know how to act or what to say (except that’s never been a problem before). No words passed between them. My mother lay there passing the time with contractions. When I was six, my mother says, she was browsing in the downtown hardware store looking at dolls (they sold toys there in those days). She noticed a single black doll (I didn’t notice a lot of blacks in our town, but I recall the Chinese boarders that lived in our bedrooms after the divorce – I thought it was strange how you could see their fallen hairs on the pillows). She decided that she would buy it for me. She thought, she tells me, that if I played with a black doll that I would never have to feel afraid of them the way she had been.

William Pope.L

William Pope.L has trademarked the phrase, “The Friendliest Black Artist in AmericaTM.” As an artist he is mainly concerned with making works that question ideas about race. He has been influenced by Robert Ryman’s work1. When Pope.L first engaged with Ryman’s work in a New York Gallery, he accepted what he had been taught; the work was “extreme abstract minimalist expression” (Bessire 25). Although Pope.L is Black he did not see the works as an expression of the ideology of Whiteness. However, over time Pope.L became more critical, thinking initially that Ryman “must think he’s some kind of super-hero who only eats white food and helps white people by only making white culture” (25). Ryman’s work became a catalyst for Pope.L’s creative practice.  He states, “Ryman’s got a lot of balls, throwing this much white around. Who the fuck does he think he is” (25). Pope.L noted that even if Ryman had not intended his work to be largely about Whiteness, that the works do work to expose the problems with Whiteness (25). Curator Mark Bessire calls Pope.L’s work an “astute interpretation of the patriarchal and racial (White) authority that underpins the audacity of Ryman’s2 white monochrome paintings” (39). In Pope.L’s responsive practice the exploration of race and Whiteness takes form in flour, spoiled milk, and disintegrating mayonnaise.

In White Baby (1992), Pope.L, as part of the Cleveland Performance Arts Festival, entered a performance space with a pink coloured doll dragging behind him and said, “I am being chased down the street by a little white baby with no clothes on. It is  nice baby. A little white baby. I do not like it; yet I am tied to it. Now I want to hide from the little baby. Instead I pull it along the neighborhood like a little doggie” (23). I suggest, that in a way this work illustrates Ahmed’s concept of Whiteness trailing behind a particular body, except that in this case Pope.L is Black. However, where Whites are generally not aware of this Whiteness trailing behind them, Pope.L makes it clear that he is very aware of it. More importantly, the doll in White Baby acts as the subject whose Whiteness extends out into the spaces that it inhabits. Hence, Pope.L’s observation that he cannot hide from the doll, but that he has to “pull it along like a little doggie” (23). The doll creates a point of pressure and restricts what Pope.L’s body can do (Ahmed 161).

In a sudden turn during the performance Pope.L disrupts the whole scene by throwing the doll, which was still tied around the neck, so that it was hanging and swinging from a pipe that was attached to the ceiling, clearly referencing lynchings of Blacks in the United States.

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Footnotes

1. Robert Ryman (b. 1930) is a White painter who lives and works in New York. He is known mainly for his white monochromatic paintings.

2. As a point of personal observation Robert Ryman in a segment titled Paradox in Art 21 Season 4 reified Whiteness by not having much to say about his work.
See Paradox. Dir. Charles Atlas. Prod. Susan Sollins. Perf. Robert Ryman. Art 21 Series: Season 4 (2007). PBS, 18 Nov. 2007. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.

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Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8.2 (2007): 149-68. Print.

Besire, Mark H.C. William Pope.L, The Friendliest Black Artist in America. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.

Paradox. Dir. Charles Atlas. Prod. Susan Sollins. Perf. Robert Ryman. Art 21 Series: Season 4 (2007). PBS, 18 Nov. 2007. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.

Mutu & Saville

Wangechi Mutu’s work Sleeping Heads (2006) was installed in the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2010 as part of an exhibition called This You Call Civilization? Sleeping Heads consists of several individually framed collaged portraits of heads on their sides. In the 2010 exhibition at the AGO Mutu chose to install them onto a wall which she also altered. The wall was painted a shade of blue and was pockmarked with holes that were then painted with reds to mimic a kind of wounding. Mutu uses collage materials from fashion, motorcycle, and pornography magazines, as well as dirt, glitter, and beads.

Mutu is critical of the way that black women are portrayed in contemporary photographic works (“Wangechi Mutu”). She mentions an example where a photograph, part of another artists project, is rejected not because the woman is wearing traditional African earrings, but because she is also wearing a t-shirt; she does not look traditional enough (“Wangechi Mutu”). Mutu contends that censoring works in order to develop a picture of Africa fictionalizes the black woman and continues to perpetrate the idea of the hyper-sexualized black female (“Wangechi Mutu”). In response to popular imagery of African women Mutu looks for ways to place the traditional and the hyper-sexualized into one image (“Wangechi Mutu”). In this way she creates synergy between the two ideas of the black woman (“Wangechi Mutu”). She removes the most titillating parts because she is not interested in replicating the objectification of either the sexualized woman or the exoticized woman (“Wangechi Mutu”).

Artist Allyson Mitchell in a panel discussion about the exhibition for the AGO explains that by putting these bodies in a gallery that Mutu is changing the meaning of pornography in several ways (Mitchell and Brand). Where porn is meant to be consumed in private, Mutu she says, is making it a collective public experience. Mutu, by making it public, takes revenge on the viewer by asking them to look at stumps, missing parts, and bubbling scabs. Allyson Mitchell, as part of the same panel, states bluntly that Mutu is challenging male sexuality by stating “I look like this and you still want to fuck me?” (Mitchell and Brand). Mitchell recognizes the difficulty in representing women’s bodies by referencing violence and porn through her invocation of the essay title from Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” but suggests that Mutu’s works recognize the power of female sexuality and uses it to complicate porn (Mitchell and Brand).

Additionally, Mitchell continues on another vein referring to Mutu’s use of pornographic imagery. She states that “Mutu’s don’t look like pinups, but ruptures” (Mitchell). Mitchell suggests that the work animates the atrocities of colonialism. Yet, “something that is whole comes out of these pieces” (Mitchell and Brand). The exhibition called This You Call Civilization? also questions the culture as well as particular titles that Mutu uses such as Try Dismantling the Empire Inside You. To understand the work Mitchell says, “you have to dismantle your own empires” (Mitchell and Brand).

I am interested in Mutu’s work because of the way she addresses Whiteness. In This You Call Civilization? The subjects of Sleeping Heads, which was part of This You Call Civilization? are all non-Whites. The images in Sleeping Heads and the wall itself are wounded. The heads are bodiless, as if severed, and many of them reference strangling or some other kind of violence. The wall contains divots or gouges that could reference festering boils, bed sores, or some other type of bloody wound in the body. With both of these devices Mutu talks about the effects of colonialism, which therefore invokes Whiteness. So, rather than make work that is about Whiteness, Mutu makes work here that is about what Whiteness does.

I would like to make a brief comparison of Mutu’s work to the work of painter Jenny Saville. I can also be fairly certain that if I were to have a discussion about her work with others, that we could also completely avoid the topic. Whiteness can remain unnamed and invisible. I can talk about body image, surgery, painting, everything but the fact that all her subjects are White. What Whiteness does is render the bodies in the paintings as normal bodies, except where the skin is broken or bruised. A simple search in Google Images for “jenny saville” and you are presented with a window full of pink flesh. She may be aware of her white privilege, but she does not acknowledge it in her practice. Although both artists work with the ideas about the representation of women, Whiteness is where I see the work of Mutu being in opposition to the work of Saville. Where Mutu makes work about what Whiteness does, Saville makes work about Whiteness. The ideology of Whiteness is reproduced.

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Works Cited

Besire, Mark H.C. William Pope.L, The Friendliest Black Artist in America. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.

Mitchell, Allyson, and Dione Brand. “Wangechi Mutu: This You Call Civilization? Panel Discussion (Audio).” Interview by Robert Enright. Audio blog post. Art Matters Blog. Art Gallery of Ontario, 5 May 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

“Wangechi Mutu: This You Call Civilization.” YouTube. Art Gallery of Ontario, 04 Mar. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

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Edited: May 1, 2012

Synecdoche

Synecdoche (1991-present) by Byron Kim

See: http://www.thecityreview.com/colorcht6.jpg

My initial impulse for Skin Tags was to survey the skin tones represented in Vogue, an iconic fashion magazine. I use a hole punch (5mm and 7mm) to take samples. The parameters for taking samples are to take one sample from each person represented in the magazine. The samples come from only colour images and must have an area of skin large enough to fit the diameter of the hole punch. Subsequent surveys involve the use of a template to draw half inch circles from the skin, which are then cut out with scissors. The small circles are then glued onto a sheet of machine made rag paper in a grid format.

There is a connection to Byron Kim’s Synecdoche, which is an ongoing project begun in 1991. He steps out of his studio and asks passerby (as well as family and friends) to allow him to paint an 8×10 inch portrait of the their skin tone. “Synecdoche” refers to a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole. Here Kim takes a fragment, a person’s skin colour, and allows it to stand in as a signifier for the whole person. He also says the “whole piece represents all of us in a way” (Kim). Synecdoche however, does not represent all of global humanity. It represents a sample of people from a particular location (the environment around his studio and those within his circle of contacts) as does Skin Tags (women, and men, selected to represent a particular standard of beauty in the US). Both works reduce a person to a colour that stands in for race.

In the case of Skin Tags, the gridded clinical assessment aims to render Whiteness “strange,” to give it a peculiarity that might otherwise go unnoticed (Dyer 4). In fact the removal of the samples from their original context, and the separation of Kim’s coloured panels from people offers new questions (although he does provide an alphabetical listing names). Are all the lighter skin tones from Whites? Where does White end and non-White begin?

– – – – –

Works Cited & Consulted

Berger, Maurice, Wendy Ewald, David R. Roediger, and Patricia J. Williams. White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. Baltimore, MD: Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2004. Print.

C Way. “Art of the Day: Stills from Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley’s “Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone” (1992).” Web log post. Snailcrow. 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Ewald, Wendy. American Alphabets. Zurich: Scalo, 2005. OpenDemocracy. Open Democracy, 13 Mar. 2006. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.

Gustafson, Diana L. “White on Whiteness: Becoming Radicalized about Race.” Nursing Inquiry 14.2 (2007): 153-61. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone (1992) by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy

http://www.snailcrow.com/2011/12/11/art-of-the-day-stills-from-paul-mccarthy-mike-kelleys-heidi-midlife-crisis-trauma-center-and-negative-media-engram-abreaction-release-zone-1992/
Links to stills from film: http://arttorrents.blogspot.com/2008/03/paul-mccarthy-mike-kelley-heidi-1992.html

Hyde, Katherine. “Portraits and Collaborations: A Reflection on the Work of Wendy Ewald.” Visual Studies 20.2 (2005): 172-90. Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Harvard University. Web. 13 Jan. 2012.

Kim, Byron. “Audio, Byron Kim, Synecdoche, 1991-present.” Edited Interview. Audio post. MoMA Multimedia. MoMA, New York. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.

Lund, Darren E., and Paul R. Carr. “Exposing Privilege and Racism in ‘The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education’.” Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-34. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Marien, Mary Warner. Photography: a Cultural History. Upper Saddle River ( N.J): Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.

McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, 1988. Print.

Minh-Ha, Trinh T. “Questions of Images and Politics” (1986). Art and Feminism. Eds., Helena

“Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley – Heidi (1992).” Web log post. Art Torrents. 7 Mar. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Reckitt, and Peggy Phelan. New York, NY: Phaidon Press, 2001.

Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

N is for Normal

White Girl’s Alphabet (N is for Normal) (2002) by Wendy Ewald
See Google Books: <http://books.google.ca/books?id=NsolmLbz8igC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;.

In 2002, Wendy Ewald produced the White Girl’s Alphabet in collaboration with private school teenage girls. White Girl’s Alphabet is one of several Alphabets she has produced. Her collaborative projects consist of helping subjects produce self-portraits that include having them write on the negatives before printing. White Girl’s is a part of four other alphabets which also include an African-American, a Spanish, and an Arabic alphabet. About White Girls’ Alphabet, Ewald explains that she is interested in “how young women, particularly white women such as myself, used language” (Ewald).

What Ewald’s work brings to my research is manifested for example in N for Normal. In “N for Normal” the girl demonstrates that Whiteness stands in for the idea of what normal is and by implication what it is not (Marien 500). In the rest of Ewald’s studies participants use words that reference race, while in White Girl’s Alphabet there are no explicit references to race. The young women, because they are White, are able to disregard terms related to race. The choice they have to ignore their privilege is a part of their privilege, which is a part of belonging to a group that defines itself as normal (Hyde 183, McIntosh 18, Gustafson 156, Lund and Carr 231).

Additionally, Ewald’s project also points to the idea that Whiteness never stands alone, but in this case is also coupled with feminine gender (Hyde 183). There are many variables that inform identity such as nation, religious community or lack of it, race, ethnicity, gender, class, and vocation. Irit Rogoff in Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture (2000) explains that a pure national identity bounded by a specific border is only to be had through violence (113). Additionally, Trinh T. Minh-Ha in Questions of Images and Politics (2001) asserts that within difference there are similarities, which is why difference should not preclude separatism or violence (245). Taking this idea one step further, I suggest that within similarities (white people as a group for example) there are differences. Within each group, whatever that group is, there are no two identities that are the same.

In conclusion, I think it is important to note that many who have been involved in the critical discourse surrounding the topic of whiteness (see my Bibliography) have already covered this ground. However, for many of those who are seen as White and live with White Privilege as a matter of course, this is still new. White people still live most of their lives seeing themselves as the “norm,” the standard against which others are judged. Whites may also be aware of the notion of intersectionality, but fail to include their Whiteness since generally they ignore it.

– – – – –

Works Cited & Consulted

Berger, Maurice, Wendy Ewald, David R. Roediger, and Patricia J. Williams. White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. Baltimore, MD: Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2004. Print.

C Way. “Art of the Day: Stills from Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley’s “Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone” (1992).” Web log post. Snailcrow. 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Ewald, Wendy. American Alphabets. Zurich: Scalo, 2005. OpenDemocracy. Open Democracy, 13 Mar. 2006. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.

Gustafson, Diana L. “White on Whiteness: Becoming Radicalized about Race.” Nursing Inquiry 14.2 (2007): 153-61. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone (1992) by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy

http://www.snailcrow.com/2011/12/11/art-of-the-day-stills-from-paul-mccarthy-mike-kelleys-heidi-midlife-crisis-trauma-center-and-negative-media-engram-abreaction-release-zone-1992/
Links to stills from film: http://arttorrents.blogspot.com/2008/03/paul-mccarthy-mike-kelley-heidi-1992.html

Hyde, Katherine. “Portraits and Collaborations: A Reflection on the Work of Wendy Ewald.” Visual Studies 20.2 (2005): 172-90. Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Harvard University. Web. 13 Jan. 2012.

Kim, Byron. “Audio, Byron Kim, Synecdoche, 1991-present.” Edited Interview. Audio post. MoMA Multimedia. MoMA, New York. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.

Lund, Darren E., and Paul R. Carr. “Exposing Privilege and Racism in ‘The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education’.” Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-34. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Marien, Mary Warner. Photography: a Cultural History. Upper Saddle River ( N.J): Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.

McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, 1988. Print.

Minh-Ha, Trinh T. “Questions of Images and Politics” (1986). Art and Feminism. Eds., Helena

“Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley – Heidi (1992).” Web log post. Art Torrents. 7 Mar. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2011.

Reckitt, and Peggy Phelan. New York, NY: Phaidon Press, 2001.

Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Blah, Blah, Blahs

But maybe today we have an excess of communication and yet a lack of meaning at the same time. In some ways, people are talking incessantly through blogs and Twitter, but for the most part they’re talking about the inconsequential. It’s like a plague of the blah, blah, blahs.

~Kristina Lee Podesva in “When the time comes you won’t understand the battlefield,” Fillip, Issue No.13, Spring 2011

Thesis Project Update

Thesis Project Update

Introduction
Over the course of this program I have had many moments of doubt. These moments of doubt do not come from genuine critique, but from times where the whole idea of pursuing a topic such as the construction of Whiteness1 is questioned. There is much good work by many who have long ago opened the door to this discussion. My intention is not to duplicate their analysis.

Small(?) Directional Changes
There are two potential courses of action that come from these moments of doubt. I am outed, so to speak. I realize that I have been a partaker of White Privilege. My lived experience is as that of a White subject. Firstly however, it should be stressed that I do not see myself as just a White person; my identity is made up of so much more. Secondly, Whiteness is an ideologic construct, an idea that shapes behaviours, but is not a real thing.

I can choose to ignore the position of unearned advantage2 that I speak from (contingent and at times tenuous) or I can face it, acknowledge it, study it, and/or deconstruct it. If I choose to ignore it or deny it, I will need to recognize that I do so consciously. I become complicit in reifying, reconstructing, and reproducing Whiteness. It is important to note that because I am White I have this choice. Other writers, including Canadians, have pointed out that Whites maintain an obliviousness to the way white identity accords them special privilege (McIntosh 18, Gustafson 156, Lund and Carr 231).

If I choose not to ignore the subject, but to deal with it in a meaningful way, then I need to do so consciously and cautiously. I need to find ways to not reify, to not reconstruct, and to not reproduce the ideology of Whiteness. Although my intention is not to reify, etc., there is a risk that I may inadvertently do so. It is a risk I am willing to take, since doing nothing is unacceptable to me. I am not interested in putting other people on the defensive. Clearly, no one wants to hear that they have been indifferent, reaping undeserved advantages, when all along they have thought of themselves as a “good” person. It is a very difficult topic. For this reason I am shifting my approach to one of auto-ethnography. However, it is not my intention to lay out my personal experiences as the measure for all to use, for that would be essentialising a complex issue. I acknowledge that my experience is just that, my experience. Yet at the same time I am hopeful that those engaging with my project will be able to find in it something to relate to their own experience.

Shifting Methodologies
As my work develops I find it necessary to apply methodology in a manner that also references my research. My strategy is to locate my work in a “re-folded” space, therefore I choose a fluid, rather than static, methodology (Delueze). This means that theories can be dropped, reordered, and/or new ones can be included the project continues to develop.

In order to analyze my current works I am interested in Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory in connection with Charles Mills’ work in The Racial Contract (1997), to understand how I might implicate myself. Gilles Deleuze’s theory of the fold invokes a place for new forms, ways of being, and ways of making. Michel Foucault’s notion of fluid identity is supported by Ruth Frankenberg, as well as being echoed in the work of Irit Rogoff and Trinh T. Minh-Ha. Rogoff proposes that pure national boundaries can only be maintained through violence where the border encloses sameness. Along the same lines Minh-Ha argues that within difference there are similarities.

Two in-Progress Visual Projects
The work that will be shown in the graduation exhibition may or may not exist at this point. By that I mean that this project consists of making many works to explore ideas. Currently, I am making a short stop-motion film. I am also drawing up plans for a viewing scope, which will also be constructed.

The stop-motion film is set in a scale (1.5in to1ft) model of a bedroom. It is constructed from cardboard. The four furnishings present in the room are cut and folded from plain white paper. The furnishings are outlined in black marker. These include draperies, a bed, a cleaning pail, and a table with a hotplate. There will also be a figure in the room performing various cleaning functions. The figure will represent a girl. She is cut from bristol board and is jointed with brass brads at the waist and shoulders. In the film she will clean the hotplate and move to the bed. When she straightens the bed she will look surprised when she looks at the pillow. The camera will zoom in on the pillow and will show black hairs present on the pillow.

The idea for Scope comes from another work from a few years ago, Glasses (2009). Glasses are a pair of eye glasses that are altered with white paint. The paint coats the lenses and is slightly scratched. Scope will mimic a telescope on a tripod. At this time the plan is to construct the scope and tripod from wood, brass fixtures, and two glass lenses. The lens inside the scope will be painted white.

Two Questions
In summary, two main questions for the direction of my thesis project are: How does being White shape my world view, my art making and my thesis writing? How do the lessons I am learning about Whiteness direct my theoretical and practical approach to my project?

– – – – –
Endnotes

1. I am not alone (see Carr and Lund) in choosing to capitalize the terms White and Whiteness in order to distinguish them as referents of cultural constructions. It should also be understood that each instance of the capitalized term refers to an ideologic construction rather than an essential biologic quality.

2. Peggy McIntosh in White Privilege and Male Privilege (1988) discusses her discomfort with the term “privilege,” since it conveys the idea that it is something one would want. She instead suggests using the terms “unearned advantage” or “unearned entitlement” (12-14).

– – – – –
Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Trans. Tom Conley. London: Athlone, 1993. Print.

Gustafson, Diana L. “White on Whiteness: Becoming Radicalized about Race.” Nursing Inquiry 14.2 (2007): 153-61. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Lund, Darren E., and Paul R. Carr. “Exposing Privilege and Racism in ‘The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education’.” Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-34. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, 1988. Print.

White on Whiteness by Diana L. Gustafson

White on whiteness: becoming radicalized about race by Diana L. Gustafson

I especially appreciated Gustafson’s personal approach in the essay. She takes the reader through her journey of awareness of herself as a raced person and how that has informed her nursing practice. While I am not a nurse, there is much that she discusses that I can relate to. I too am a blond, blue-eyed, Canadian.

She asks some questions related to her growing understanding of racialisation. Here I am asking the same questions borrowed from her paper (154), but changing them to reflect my practice rather than a nursing practice.

  • How does being white shape my world view, my art making and my thesis writing?
  • What lessons about Whiteness am I learning (or having reinforced) through the institution of the art school?
  • How, if at all, do these lessons direct my theoretical and practical approach to research, art making, and writing?

Gustafson learns that “knowledge production is a political act” (155) and she writes:

My social location or, more precisely, my white identity influences what I see, the assumptions that focus my attention, the observations that I make, the problems I identify, the solutions that I generate and, more broadly, the knowledge that I produce (155).

This is very important. It is this awareness (along with all the other layers that make up my fluid identity), I believe, that is critical to art making. In my observation, and Gustafson’s (156-158), there is little self-examination by fellow artists whose lived experience is as a White person. I discussed this point in an email to my supervisor in relation to the book Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art after 1980 (2010), that in dealing with the subject of identity that the book uses examples of art and artists who do not deal with the subject of Whiteness from the point of view of a racially marked White person.

Gustafson’s approach to writing is an approach worth investigating as my writing begins to take shape. She, like Erdem Taşdelen, lets the reader know how her thinking developed and shares many of the questions that pushed her research forward. This is a strategy that I can also adopt.

– – – – –

Work Cited

Gustafson, Diana L. “White on Whiteness: Becoming Radicalized about Race.” Nursing Inquiry 14.2 (2007): 153-61. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Exposing Privilege and Racism by Lund and Carr

Exposing Privilege and Racism in “The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education” by Darren E. Lund and Paul R. Carr.

I chose this article (and three others to follow) to provide some Canadian context for my writing. Several points the authors make stand out for me. The authors describe themselves as “White” (229). They footnote their use of the term with the following:

We use a capitalized form of White and Whiteness to distinguish it from the name of the color, and to mark it as a racialized and socially constructed category just as we do with Black and Blackness; at the same time, we wish to reject simplistic binaries as they have no merit as biological categories. (229)

This is important because I too have been attempting to qualify my use of those terms, but I have been confronted with the idea that I may be essentialising. Lund and Carr further on in their brief paper also remind the reader that they are being careful to not essentialise Whiteness, but that they “recognize that group and collective experiences have been shaped, to varying degrees, by racial identification” (230). I think this notion of essentialising is important. First of all, it is difficult to discuss Whiteness without using the terms White and Whiteness and the charge of essentialism comes from, I believe, using these particular terms. Lund and Carr also mention the potential conundrum that exists, where the discussion of Whiteness has the potential to reify Whiteness. Secondly, moving the discussion to the broader topic of racialsation without invoking the terms White and Whiteness (and what they imply even though they are constructed categories) means that Whites can further deflect the charge of racism by claiming that they too have been racialised. I do not deny that this occurs and it is something that I wish to explore in my visual projects, but I do not think that it bodes well if the the discussion rests or stops on that issue alone.

Lund and Carr also make the point that the work of “multiculturalism and anti-racism is permeated with resistance and denial” (226). Throughout their essay they use several examples of personal responses they have had to their work that show this resistance and denial. I have also experienced this in several ways. Most recently, some students in a class where I was a teaching assistant asked me about my thesis topic. I told them I was broadly dealing with the subject of Whiteness. Two (White) students immediately told me that I must be feeling some White guilt. Further on the authors state that “Whiteness is shrouded with denials that give White people yet another form of privilege: the ability to avoid discussion of how oppression continues to benefit White people” (231). Clearly, no one wants to hear that they have been behaving badly, when all along they have thought of themselves as a “good” person and especially when they haven’t been aware of it. It is a very difficult topic.

I appreciate their final statement. “…focus on the twin projects of understanding privilege and social justice [,…] sustained critical interrogation, dialog and action in relation to Whiteness can lead to significant individual and collective change” (233).

– – – – –

Work Cited

Lund, Darren E., and Paul R. Carr. “Exposing Privilege and Racism in ‘The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education’.” Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-34. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Doing

Activities since the last post have included:

  • marking 23 papers written on analysis of an art work with -insert name of methodology here- methodology
  • answering emails from students about why I marked above mentioned papers the way I did
  • reading Pink, edited by Barbara Nemitz
  • watching RIP!: A Remix Manifesto
  • reading about Nate Hill and his project as a White Ambassador at Hyperallergic
  • ignoring a facebook friend request from some guy named Emmanuel Sunday whom I don’t know
  • selling a work from the Skin Tags project
  • participating in a chat with Elisa Yon of QR_U (a project run out of Emily Carr University)
  • watching Jay Smooth – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Discussing Race on TEDx‘s Youtube channel
  • reading about a controversial exhibition in Paris at the Quai Branly Museum called Human Zoos: The Invention of the Savage (and here).
  • reading about PETA not liking pubic hair – weird
  • writing about my dollhouse project
  • updating my thesis blog
  • helping students with their print-making projects – some of the students are so fantastic!
  • looking for a sources for the remaining parts for the stop-motion film
  • thinking about what I really want my thesis to be about (my previous outline should be file thirteened in my opinion and rewritten)
  • learning once again that some people really are disingenuous

Things With Thread

So, thinking about thread and string I took a quick look around. Use thread on window screen, burlap, paper, any material that can be pierced. “Thread” could be rope, cord, wire, etc.

Other people’s things with thread:

Michael Raedecker

We are all part of the same thing & I think it is interesting that the stitching is done on paper.

Michelle Ivory did some research for a project and a lot of what she found is thread and string projects.

Cardboard and thread.

I am only interested in the top image on this post.

An unusual sculpture.

The Ever Present Othering

A portion of an email I recently wrote:

Now that things have had a bit of time to penetrate other parts of my brain, I am wondering if you know of any writers who have boiled down what you mentioned to me in our meeting: that the contemporary art world has moved beyond the study of whiteness (since [it] is treated as an essential – a concrete thing – [see] I understand the difference between lived experience and essentialism) and has moved on to the greater subject of racialization.

This seems like a very interesting proposition to me. That the academic world and the contemporary art world (power players are mostly those whose lived experience would be as “white” people – if I were to guess) have moved on to use the language of racialization rather than “whiteness.”

Why? For what reason has this happened? And, who else is on board with this? Are those in marginal communities okay with this too? And, doesn’t my asking the question create a dichotomy between “us” and “them”?

Intensive

The intensive is at the halfway mark. While there is no new addition to the research for this post there are some relevant and significant notes from the past period that is reproduced below.

anti-ideological -->
                   racialization as opposed to the legitimacy of whiteness

pata-physics -->
                   "essentialim" i.e. that there is an essential whiteness or blackness.

Notes on Artists and Art

Brief posts noting questions or comments related to artists and their work.

  • Eduardo Sarabia
    whitney.org
    “As the creator of fake evidence for his staged, semifictional events, Eduardo Sarabia places himself within a tradition of contemporary artists who mine culture for their performance-based satire…These theatrical situations revolve around Sarabia’s Latino heritage, which he both honors and mocks through his investigation of Mexican cultural clichés about drug smuggling, banditry, and the import/export of tawdry contraband.” Sarabia is an artist who works with narrative, while incorporating fiction.
  • Mark Wallinger
    guardian.ca.uk
    About Ecce Homo: British artist Mark Wallinger produced Ecce Homo (1999) for the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square as part of a program to fill a large plinth that stood empty for over one hundred and fifty years. Ecce Homo is a cast sculpture of an ethnic European male meant to represent the figure of Christ. Of his sculpture Wallinger states, “ I wanted to show him as an ordinary human being” (emphasis mine) (Gibbons). In his statement, Wallinger makes no note of the figure’s race. He assumes European, or White, as representing ordinary humanity.
    Gibbons, Fiachra. “Behold Jesus, Just Another Ordinary Bloke.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 22 July 1999. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.
  • Jennifer Linton
    jenniferlinton.com
    “The idealized view of domesticity that informed my childhood dollhouse is reconfigured by my adult self as a place much more complex, even contradictory, in nature. In stark contrast to the innocuous role-playing of childhood — when one could ‘play Mommy’ — as an actual parent, the actions I take have real life consequences. This simple fact can, at times, be the cause of anxiety.” (Linton’s website)
  • Jesse Hemminger
    jessehemminger.com
    “Yes, Viewing Device #3 obscures vision, much in the same way blinders on a horse obscure vision and at the same time also focus vision. In this case your attention is being focused on a work of art.” (email from the artist)
  • Tom Sachs
    tomsachs.org
    “Sachs cultivates a trashy aesthetic. Each of his sculptures is hand made by piecing together plywood, foamcore, synthetic polymer paint, hardware, and found or scavenged objects such as phone books or police barricades. There’s no Prada Death Camp nor Chanel guillotine in the gallery this time but the titles and content of some of the works are nevertheless sure to get the public’s attention. First there’s Negro Music which you could regard as interactive. It’s a big white-painted box with a retro gangsta-style boombox inside, you insert your hands inside orange rubber gloves, rummage inside the box, select a k-7 of your favourite “negro” music, fiddle with the control buttons and play the music as loudly as you wish inside the gallery.” (Sperone Westwater)
  • mwangihutter
    fence, 2009
    What can I say except that I think this work is absolutely fantastic.
  • Becher and Robbins
    German Indians
    “Also, postwar Germans, discouraged from nationalism and group ritual, sense a permission to find themselves in other ethnic groups. And, perhaps, criticism of atrocities against Native Americans also gives Germans some sense of relief from their own shame of the holocaust.”
    This seems highly ironic to me and almost funny. As Žižek says in The Christian-Hegelian Comedy (2005) Slavoj Žižek writes: “Comedy is thus the very opposite of shame: shame endeavours to maintain the veil, while comedy relies on the gesture of unveiling. More closely, the comic effect proper occurs when, after the act of unveiling, one confronts the ridicule and the nullity of the unveiled content – in contrast to encountering behind the veil the terrifying Thing too traumatic for our gaze. Which is why the ultimate comical effect occurs when, after removing the mask, we confront exactly the same face as that of the mask” (Žižek 56).
    Žižek, Slavoj. “The Christian-Hegelian Comedy.” When Humour Becomes Painful. Ed. Felicity Lunn and Heike Munder. Zurich: JRP, Ringier, 2005. 52-58. Print.
  • William Pope.L
    Broken Column, 1992–95, mayonnaise in jars, packing tape, foil.
    “I wanted to talk to each particular group and have their differences communicate, collide, disagree, augment each other. I wanted to talk about everyone, everything at once as being mutual commodities on the shelf of the marketplace.” and “For me, mayonnaise is a bogus whiteness. It reveals its lack in a very material way. And the more you apply, the more bogus the act becomes. […] What is brownness as opposed to whiteness? Mayonnaise gave me a quirky material means to deal with issues black people claim they don’t value very much, e.g. whiteness. Black folks […] are born into whiteness. On the surface, it seems wholly to construct us, and the degree to which we may counter-construct sometimes seems very limited. […] Mayonnaise was a very useful and fresh way for me to get out of this dead-end: whiteness constructs blackness. Mayo and peanut butter allow me to think about race in a more playful, strange, and open-ended way. For example, the idea that there’s a pure good blackness or a pure bad whiteness is untenable for me.”
    Pope.L refers to whiteness as a commodity that non-whites also buy. Thinking about Breitz’s strategy I wonder if I can also adopt Pope.L’s or Glenn Ligon’s strategies for talking about whiteness.
  • Kristina Lee Podesva
    Brown Globe
    Podesva says: “Brown Globe proposes a chromatically coded world in which the global and the local and the universal and the particular merge as an alternative to binary expressions in black and white.”
    She is offering one solution to the binaries and that is mixture, or admixture. Is there room for difference? Is there a problem with difference? As an individual, everyone else is an Other.
  • Candice Breitz
    Ghost Series
    Breitz, a white artist, says in Candice Breitz and Louise Neri: Eternal Returns: “An artist like Ellen Gallagher – whose work I admire very much – is as likely as I am, as a white South African, to have her work read psycho-biographically, but to opposite effect. Which is to say that as an artist of colour she might be granted the licence to use certain strategies in her work that might be denied to me. Conversely, I am aware of the invisible power and privilege that come with being white. The Ghost Series was precisely about the violence that can be performed by whiteness.” You were criticised for the way you used images of black women? “How dare you cut up and white out black women?” was the question I was asked more than once (Nobody seemed to mind that I was cutting up white women too!). To be interesting, a question like that would have to include the workings of representation: “How dare you cut up images of black women?” To assume that an image can stand in transparently for that which it represents is problematic, especially given the fact that the source images that I was using to make those early works were images that had already been heavily conventionalised and encoded (by National Geographic or Hustler or Cosmopolitan).”
    I have asked the same question. Can I use strategies that are used by non-white artists?
  • Mary Kelly
    Post-Partum Document is a six-year exploration of the mother-child relationship. When it was first shown at the ICA in London in 1976, the work provoked tabloid outrage because Documentation I incorporated stained nappy liners. Each of the six-part series concentrates on a formative moment in her son’s mastery of language and her own sense of loss, moving between the voices of the mother, child and analytic observer. Informed by feminism and psychoanalysis, the work has had a profound influence on the development and critique of conceptual art.”
    Does Kelly, who is white, understand the significance of her work in light of the construction of whiteness? Is there an analysis of how her work either orients herself, or the viewers, away from or towards whiteness?
  • Georg Baselitz
    New show at the Gagosian
    “In his new paintings, larger than anything he has done previously, Baselitz has revisited provocative aspects of his own history, such as the fractured paintings of 1966, reinterpreting them with the experience of hindsight […] In Beginging (2011), and Ist Franz Pforr in Rom? (2011), genderless, abject bodies surge with color and life …”
    Does Baselitz, who is white, also think about the colour of the bodies he represents in his works? Does anyone else (critics and reviewers) think about that?
  • Nate Hill
    The White Ambassador
    Not sure what I think of this project, although he does get a lot of response when he is in ‘black” neighbourhoods.
    White Power Milk
    White women gargle milk to purify it.
    I won’t pretend that my thoughts on this are original. Others have critiqued that it is highly sexual, pornographic, and doesn’t address male power in the project. I am thinking however, of how it might relate to Richard Dyer’s description of white women in White (1997)  as the “bearers of whiteness” (57).
  • Terence Koh
    In Terence Koh’s words: ‘I’m like the captain in Moby Dick. I’m trying to find the White Whale in the white objects, but in the end I find nothing.'” and “In Koh’s work, cultural identity also emerges from a seemingly infinite palette of possibilities: as neither-here-nor-there, as ceaseless change, as transition between Asia, America and Europe, but also as a diversion. This play on the artist’s own existence is reflected in his work in such objects as dynamic, modularly stacked display-case architectures furnished with a varied selection of white objects. On closer examination, these objects appear to be the global jetsam of all places and times, stranded high and dry in a pale, strange and often grotesque beauty. Coated in white by the artist as if by a wise taxidermist, they are presented to coming generations as scrupulously preserved treasures.”
  • Nora Howell
    Cracker Dress

    “The dresses were created to initiate a conversation about race and racism.” and “Whatever the origin of the term, I use the cracker as a metaphor for a person with white skin, hence the name of the Cracker Dress: ‘White Girl’s Birthday Suit.’
    Looking at the photos I’m not sure the dresses do what she hopes they do.
  • Hans Ulrich Obrist
    Hans Ulrich Obrist
    on “The White Website by Hans Bernhard”
    “From the empty image to the empty gallery, from the white painting to the “white cube” (O’Doherty), we see the iconoclastic gesture of modern art.” and “To be able to maintain its significance up against the sciences and their picture-producing procedures, art must look for a position beyond the crisis of representation and beyond the image wars straight into the blind spaces of the black black and the white.”
    Look for a position into the blind spaces of “black black” and “the white”?
  • David Adey
    Swarm
    Does David Adey, who is white, notice that the majority of the skin samples he took are from light-skinned people (also probably women)? While we collectively know that whites are overrepresented in fashion magazines, it is also apparent that racial distinctions are based on more than skin colour. Does he draw a line between where white skin starts and ends? There is a connection between this work and my Skin Tags project.
  • Do Ho Suh
    Do Ho Suh’s ‘Cause & Effect’ Artwork to be Installed at WWU
    This is what is said about it: “The mindset of the individual, coming together as a group,” and “The work is an attempt to decipher the boundaries between a single identity and a larger group, and how the two conditions coexist,” and “‘It comes from a belief that every individual is spawned from the lives he/she may have lived previously. The vertical context of the figures becomes a collection of past influences, and again, begins to define the inherent powers and energies that characterize an individual,’ he [Doh Ho Suh] said.”
    Why are all the figures male? And how much were the workers paid who produced all these tiny resin figures? What does that have to do with whiteness?

– – – – –

Visual Context

These works are related to my project visually, where I have gone as well as where I am looking to go.

Text/Dictionary

  • Barbara Kruger, Power Pleasure Desire Disgust, 1997
  • Joseph Kosuth, Titled [Art as Idea (as Idea)] [meaning], 1967-68
    One and Three Chairs, 1965 (http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=81435)
  • Pierre Huyghe, Disclaimer, 2006
  • Nedko Solakov, El Bulgaro, 2000
  • Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document: Documentation IV, Transitional Objects, Diary and Diagram, 1976
  • Sharon Hayes, In the Near Future, 2005

Installation/Museological

  • Thomas Hirschhorn, Jumbo Spoons, 2000
  • Mike Kelley, John Glenn Memorial Detroit River Project (Including the Local Culture Pictoral Guide, 1869-1972, Wayne Westland Eagle), 2001
  • Pipilotti Rist, Receiver, 2003
  • Marcel Duchamp, De ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rose Selavy (Boite, Series B), Begun in Paris 1941, completed in New York 1942-54
  • Susan Hiller, Dedicated to the Unknown Artists, 1972-76
  • Charles Ledray, Oasis, 1996-2003
  • Joseph Kosuth, The Play of the Unmentionable, 1990
  • Susan Hiller, From the Freud Museum, 1991-1997
  • Carol Bove, Das Energi, 2005-06
  • Nari Ward, Reading Room, 2004
  • Mark Dion, Tate Thames Dig, 1999 (http://narratingwaste.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/mark-dion-and-tate-thames-dig-1999-an-extract/)
  • Aby Warburg, The Mnemosyne Atlas, 1879?-1929 (http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/collected_works/)
  • Julia Scher, Fibroid Reliquary Table #2, 1996

Survey/Grid/…

  • Felix Gonzales Torres, Untitled (Death by Gun), 1990
  • John Baldessari, Prima Facie (Fifth State): Warm Brownie/American Cheese/Carrot Stick/Black Bean Soup/Perky Peach/Leek, 2006
  • Byron Kim, Synecdoche, 1991-present (http://www.nga.gov/press/2009/byron_kim.shtm)

Hair/Body Parts

  • Lorna Simpson, Wigs (portfolio), 1994
  • Kira O’Rielly, Wet Cup, 2000

Substances

  • Vik Muniz, Mass from the series Pictures of Chocolate, 1997
  • Glenn Ligon, Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter Before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You), 1992 (oil stick)
  • Titus Kaphar, “I still don’t know how it ended like this, but it began when one of the older women called her blackness into question,” (2007) (tar)
  • Stephen Shearer, Poems XX, 2005 (charcoal on paper) (http://www.modernart.net/artists/steven-shearer/images/209)
  • Also looking for work related to makeup

Other Visual Ideas

  • Cosima von Bonin, Tudor House, 1997 (use of fabric panels)
  • Nathalie Djurberg, New Movements in Fashion, 2006 (clay doll animations)
  • Tony Oursler, Flood or Fear with Bugs, 2009 (constructed house)
  • Mickalene Thomas, Din Avec La Main Dans Le Miroir, 2008 (use of materials as well as idea of challenging perceptions of black women)
  • Rosemarie Trockel, Freude, 1998 (cross-stitch)
  • Kara Walker, Untitled, 2001-05, set of collages on paper (insertion of black bodies into civil war images)
  • Dash Snow, Untitled (At Least They Died Together), 2007 (collaged image onto newspaper page)

Found It!

A little perseverance leads to a successful outcome. I am now able to reproduce the text in the dictionary with the fonts that are used for the original printing.

Text sizes are noted in brackets and will be relative. Main text: Century Expanded BT (38.5); Bold text: Century Old Style (38.5), Italic text: Century Condensed SSi (38.5); superscript (32); all-caps (26).

digital reproduction
digital reproduction

Miss March, April, and May

"Miss March, April, and May" Collage on paper, 22 x 30 inches.
“Miss March, April, and May” Collage on paper, 22 x 30 inches.

Based on my own subjective perceptions there are eight black, two non-whites (latino perhaps), and six white models represented. A similar number of tags was cut from each model. Some of the lighter toned samples are not from whites, but lighter areas or highlights of non-whites As well, some darker toned skin tags come from whites. Where does one begin and the other end? Is it possible that racial categorization is dependent on more than skin colour? If so, what? What does the answer to that question (as well as how we classify based on skin tone) say about us?

Words + Ideas

Using tags cut from three issues I chose models with skin tones that fall in the middle range. Based on my own subjective perceptions there are eight black, two non-whites (latino perhaps), and six white models represented.

approx. 90 to 100 threequarter inch tags - scattered
approx. 90 to 100 threequarter inch tags – scattered

This reminded me of Rosemarie Fiore‘s work on paper with fireworks. Not exactly of course, but the stacking of the circles evoked her images for me.

three iterations, not glued
three iterations, not glued

First the tags are arranged in random order, then in order from darkest to lightest, then with the very darkest and the very lightest removed. Some of the light samples are not from whites, but lighter areas or highlights of non-whites, as well as some darker tags coming from whites.

Plus

New possible words so far (by far an incomplete project, which the spellcheck marks as incorrect):

“gorgen”

“gorcorp”

“congen”

“concorp”

Culture Wars & Homework

Aside from homework (reading other thesis proposals and a big article) I also checked out a Youtube video called The New Culture Wars: How the Right Stifles Free Speech Through Art Censorship.

The video contains a part of a panel discussion about censorship as it relates to art. I was especially taken with AA Bronson’s following quotes:

I’m not actually a supporter of copyright, I steal images all the time.

I have mixed feelings about being on this panel because I feel that one of the big problems in America is the use of militaristic language and the kind of language that’s being used in the publicity for this event I feel is completely inappropriate. I think that if you’re going to have a “battle,” going to have a “fight” you’re only going to make things ultimately worse.

This is an idea that can also be applied to the language used in discussions surrounding race, whiteness, etc. Using the word race implies division. The word becomes a tool that cuts rather than heals. The trick is to find other ways of speaking and it is possible that this can happen in art. I am hoping…

Word Roots

Thinking about/researching ideas for my Dictionary project I came across the following two sites (and I wonder why no teacher ever introduced charts like this in any of my grade school and high school classes):

prefixsuffix.com and learnthat.org

(Additionally, today I am doing required reading for the class Dialogues and Interactions that started on Tuesday – although I am not looking forward to all the reading and writing that I know is coming – the content does look promising.)

Bigger Tags

Completed late this morning is another in the Skin Tags series. In this case, all the parameters are the same as the previous one except that the samples are three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

Skin Tags (Vogue May 2011), collage on rag paper, 22x30 inches.
Skin Tags (Vogue May 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.

British Vogue

Over the past couple of weeks I have extracted samples from the April 2011 British Vogue issue. My first impression is that it is whiter than the American Vogue, but this may not apply for every month. Italian Vogue produced an issue devoted entirely to black models in July 2008. Obviously it not indicative of the overall trend of the magazine. 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.

Process.
Process.
Skin Tags (British Vogue April 2011), collage on paper, 22x30 inches.
Skin Tags (British Vogue April 2011), collage on paper, 22×30 inches.
Detail.
Detail.

Do I Want to be an Ethnographer?

I read an article in Frieze (Mar 2011) titled Good Intentions by Negar Azimi (pp. 110-15). The article discusses art and political engagement offering the following in the conclusion:

In the end, art that stems from knowing that we actually don’t have all the answers, art that refuses to serve as a moral compass, art that doesn’t “make nice” may be our best hope. (115)

As well, the series on Knowledge Network by Dr Gus Casely-Hayford, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, and the PBS series Black in Latin America with Dr Henry Louis Gates both demonstrated how much of the history we learn is incomplete and so obviously biased. (More on this, the modernist project, and my son’s opinion later.)

I have also been asked to think about my project in terms of auto-ethnography.

Born to war-damaged, immigrant Dutch parents in Canada (who divorced when I was 10), I was surrounded by a strict religiosity characterized by conservatism (so you can imagine how the divorce went over), Puritanical zeal, insulation from the secular world, and labour. Canadian women wore their hair in rollers to the supermarket, we did not. Canadian women walked while they were smoking, while I was taught to sit down while smoking (after my mother reluctantly acknowledged my new cigarette habit). Our Canadian neighbours laughed outloud on their front porches for the whole street to hear, where we were instructed not to be too loud. Handel’s Messiah was on the record player every Sunday before, inbetween, and after the two services we attended.

As a six year old my mother gave me a black doll to play with. I named her Rosie. I liked her and I recall being really angry at my baby sister for pulling some of the hair out of the top of her head. My mother tells me that she saw the doll in the hardware store and decided to get it because of her own feelings about “zwarte mensen” (black people). When she was in the hospital labour room in 1961 another woman in labour was brought in. The woman was black. My mother who had never been so close to a black person was suddenly feeling unsure of herself. “How do I talk to her,” she thought. She struggled with feelings of fear. Not feelings of fear directed toward the woman, but feeling fear of finding herself being in a totally new situation. She had no idea how she should relate to this woman. So when the doll presented itself to her in the shop she decided that she should buy it for me so that I would not have to feel the same way that she had.

Joyce, Rosie, "dolly", and Liz having a picnic in the backyard.
Joyce, Rosie, “dolly”, and Liz having a picnic in the backyard.

Not long after, my parents redecorated the living room and above the stereo hung a print of Rubens’ Head of a Man.

Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a [Black?] Man, 1615?
Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a [Black?] Man, 1615?
What do those examples have to do with whiteness? They are a part of my own personal experience while in a body that is accepted as white. At the time I did not think about the reason I had a black doll when none of my Dutch school friends did, or why I didn’t see pictures of blacks in any of their homes either. My first conscious encounter with racism came when I was 17, holding hands walking down the street in Malton with my Jamaican boyfriend.  A vehicle drove by with a group young men (looked white) who yelled out the window at us “What a waste!” I wondered what in the world did they mean? I had to ask “John” what they meant. In some ways I was so naive. I did not seriously begin to unpack and examine my own whiteness until I saw William Pope.L’s work in the book The Friendliest Black Artist in America.

It’s at this point that I imagine text based works that say things like “serve me nicely because I am white” or ” I know that I am white.”

So…auto-ethnography…I am not yet convinced. It is true that all art I make is informed by my own experiences (all of them), but I am not certain that I want to address them directly at this point. I’m not sure how that would look. Maybe it could simply involve an acknowledgement of my own influences.

A few resources on Auto-Ethnography (it’s a start):

Work

The following image in the Skin Tags series is from the April 2011 issue of Vogue. This time the tags (7mm diameter) are spaced slightly farther apart on a larger sheet of paper. The tags are also sampled without revealing specific body parts such as eyes, mouth etc. Some are therefore ambiguous about the location of the body they are punched from. There are a total of 309 tags.

Skin Tags (Vogue April 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.
Skin Tags (Vogue April 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.
Detail of “Skin Tags (Vogue Apr 2011).”
Detail of “Skin Tags (Vogue Apr 2011).”

 

Indexicality

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.

Collage on rag paper, 4x5in.
Collage on rag paper, 4x5in.

 

Skin Tags Project

Project dates: Jan 2011 – ongoing

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.

Skin Tags (Vogue May 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.
Skin Tags (Vogue May 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.

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.

Skin Tags (British Vogue April 2011), collage on paper, 22×30 inches.
Skin Tags (British Vogue April 2011), collage on paper, 22×30 inches.

May 18

Skin Tags (Vogue April 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.
Skin Tags (Vogue April 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.
Detail of “Skin Tags (Vogue Apr 2011).”
Detail of “Skin Tags (Vogue Apr 2011).”

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.

Intention

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?

Further Thinking

The notion of extraction has been raised in a critique discussion.

“Extract” is defined as (freedictionary.com)
verb:

  1. To draw or pull out, often with great force or effort: extract a wisdom tooth; used tweezers to extract the splinter.
  2. To obtain despite resistance: extract a promise.
  3. To obtain from a substance by chemical or mechanical action, as by pressure, distillation, or evaporation.
  4. To remove for separate consideration or publication; excerpt.
  5. 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.
  6. Mathematics To determine or calculate (the root of a number).

noun:
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.

– – – – –
Works Cited

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

Project dates: Jan 2011 – Apr 2011

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.

– – – – –

Work Cited

Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. Objectivity. New York: Zone, 2010. Print.

Service & Colour

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?

From Life Picture Cook Book, 1958
From Life Picture Cook Book, 1958

Black & White 2

This work is entirely exploratory. I have not yet decided to continue on with painting or not  for the coming year, but I try to finish things I start. The series will consist of two similar sized canvases to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915, 1927), a few odd sized, and several 11×11 inch square paintings. Although my supervisor mentioned the slippage that occurs between dichotomies, I had noted in my book several weeks ago that it would be worth looking at how the black and white paint might migrate into each other. It will be especially interesting with a mixed black.

While painting today I made several notes. Black and white pigments can both be squeezed directly from the tube. I am using a mixed black consisting of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. However, it is impossible to create a mixed white. White must always come from the tube.

Black Square Bounded by White Border. (After Malevich of course)
Black Square Bounded by White Border. (After Malevich of course)
Oil on canvas, 11x11 in. White Square.
Oil on canvas, 11×11 in. White Square.

The Racial Contract

Diving into The Racial Contract by Charles W. Mills is a bit harrowing at first. Especially for a white person like me. (By white I mean that if someone were to categorize me by race, they would surely say that I am white.) Beginning with the first line of text Mills introduces the term “White supremacy,” followed by “is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today” (1). Further on he writes, “The general purpose of the Contract is always the differential privileging of the whites as a group with respect to the nonwhites as a group, the exploitation of their bodies, land, and resources, and the denial of equal socioeconomic opportunities to them” (11). No mincing of words or glossing over in this book. I push on however, because I contend that nothing is gained by disengaging.

As with several other writings on the topic of whiteness, Mills notes that the subject of white supremacy is avoided by whites for the reason that whites “take their racial privilege so much for granted that they do not even see it as political, as a form of domination” (1). He argues that white supremacy is “itself a political system, a particular power structure of formal or informal rule, socioeconomic privilege, and norms for differential distribution of material wealth and opportunities, benefits and burdens, rights and duties” (3). The notion that whiteness remains unmarked, unnamed, avoided is also echoed by Richard Dyer in White (1997), Ruth Frankenberg in White Women, Race Matters (1993), and Annalee Newitz in White Savagery and Humiliation (1997). Mills calls it “structured blindnesses and opacity” (19). He points out that whites generally look to rewrite history in order to deny white domination accusations (27, 30). It is interesting in light of the recent news that Mark Twain’s book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be republished so that all instances of the “n-word” will be replaced with the word “slave” (“Huck Finn”). While there are many discussions over the merits and faults of censorship (protecting children, being non-offensive, dictatorial, etc), removing the “n-word” also rewrites history, effectively removing a salient entry into dialogue. In addition it allows whites to trade truth for myth.

Mills provides an Overview of the remaining chapters of the book which detail the various parts of the Racial Contract, which he explicitly states is an “exploitation contract” (9). He first establishes the basic ideas of the Social Contract, the Moral Contract and the Political Contract. What is important to Mills is that these other contracts are altered to meet the requirements of the Racial Contract. For example, Mills states “The terms of the Racial Contract set the parameters for white morality as a whole, so that competing Lockean and Kantian contractarian theories of natural rights and duties…are limited by its stipulations” (17). In other words, the natural freedom that all people should possess, as described by Locke and Kant, is restricted/twisted in the Racial Contract to whites only.

Global white supremacy did not occur overnight, but as Mills accounts, it is shaped over 500 years through “papal bulls…theological pronouncements, European discussion about colonialism, ‘discovery,’ …pacts, treaties, legal decisions, [scientific] debates about the humanity of nonwhites,…the establishment of formalized legal structures of differential treatment…” (20, 21).

Scheinfeld, Amram, and Morton David Schweitzer. You and Heredity. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1939. Print.
Scheinfeld, Amram, and Morton David Schweitzer. You and Heredity. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1939. Print.

Mills contends that the world as we know it today is a “racially hierarchical polity” that is dominated by European (or white) language, policies, and capital (27, 36). Although he writes this in 1997, it seems that in some ways this may be changing and in other ways white supremacy remains entrenched. For example, China’s GDP has moved into second place behind the US, and is about to become the largest English (a European language) speaking nation on the planet (Francis, Pierson). How China’s economic growth (along with growth in India) can/will change white supremacy remains to be seen. If China’s growth can change white supremacy, one wonders if their new dominance will also be hierarchical/based on dualities in the same sense that whiteness is.

He concludes his Overview with the following paragraph:

Both globally and within particular nations…white people…continue to benefit from the Racial Contract, which creates a world in their cultural image, political states differentially favoring their interests…taking the status quo of differential racial entitlement as normatively legitimate, and not to be investigated further (40).

I must fail to live up to my end of the Racial Contract.

– – – – –

Works Cited

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Francis, Diane. “China Largest English Speaking Nation Now – Diane Francis.” National Post.com. 18 Jan. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.

Frankenberg, Ruth. “White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness.” 1993. Critical White Studies. Ed. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. 425-31. Print.

“Huck Finn Expurgated And Other Censored Books.” Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. 6 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.

Mills, Charles W. The Racial Contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1997. Print.

Newitz, Annalee. “White Savagery and Humiliation, or a New Racial Consciousness in the Media.” White Trash: Race and Class in America. New York, NY: Psychology Press, 1997. 131-154. Print.

Pierson, David. “China’s Economic Growth Quickens in Fourth Quarter – Los Angeles Times.” Featured Articles From The Los Angeles Times. 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.

Skin Tags

Exploring the idea of sampling a Vogue magazine further.

A fresh crop of skin samples from a fresh Vogue magazine (Feb 2011).
A fresh crop of skin samples from a fresh Vogue magazine (Feb 2011).
Each sample is hole punched one time for a smaller "skin tag" sample.
Each sample is hole punched one time for a smaller “skin tag” sample.
More "skin tags" glued into a grid.
More “skin tags” glued into a grid.

Each hole-punch is taken from each and every large enough body or face featured in the February 2011 issue. Some faces are too small to fill the hole punch area (5mm). Some possible titles are Skin Tags or Love in the Trenches.

Orlan

Diving into Orlan: Carnal Art (2004) by Caroline Cros is enlightening. I have a new respect for Orlan’s work. Work that previously I found difficult and disturbing. Following are some highlights from the book.

Orlan’s work titled Origine de la guerre (1989), which translated reads “Origin of War,” directly critiques Courbet’s Origin of the World (1886). It is a cibachrome of a portion of a man’s torso with an erect penis. What a delight (yes, a delight) to see how she handled this reactionary gesture. Not to belabour the point, but it is the humour and wit that is wonderful.

Surprising also, is her work surrounding concepts of the Baroque. “…her interest in the Baroque aesthetic was not motivated by provocation. Rather, the Baroque offered a context for exploring how art uses imitation and artifice to solicit the senses, and provided a means for testing art’s capacity to suggest what lies beneath the surface of things” (85-86). This is tied to the claim that Orlan’s work is “organized according to a dialectical principle…[t]he division between these terms is not conceived of as an opposition, but as a “fold,” as theorized by Gilles Deleuze…the fold that unfolds infinitely (in matter and in the soul) is proper to the Baroque. Knowledge resides in the fold, which is multiplicity in unity, difference within itself, in its unfolding and refolding, the fold engenders form, space, and time” (90-91).

The notion of knowledge lying within the folds is also tied to her surgery works. Régis Durand in Texts for Orlan draws a comparison between Lyotards Économie libidinales (1974) and Orlans surgery. “Here we have a patient unfolding of the ‘vast membrane of the libidinal body’ like an endless moebius strip,”  an “opening out” (208). The unfolding of Orlan’s body during her surgery performances reveals a knowledge in the space of the fold, which is then refolded so to speak. Her action becomes Baroque in style.

She says, “If I am verbally described as a woman with two big lumps on her forehead I’ll probably be taken for an unscrewable freak; but if people actually see me, it’s possible they’ll look at me differently, or at any rate they’ll realize that the lumps are [a]esthetic possibilities – assuming of course, that people manage to free themselves from the models conditioning their judgement” (199). Orlan questions notions of beauty, which in turn challenges identity.

Of interest to my current project is her “Self-hybridation” works. In this series of cibachromes she digitally collages imagery of herself and imagery from Pre-Columbian and African civilizations. Orlan, a French woman, has spoken from a position of “white” privilege. It would be interesting to hear (or read) what those of a non-European background/heritage have to say about this work in particular. Does it constitute an inappropriate form of appropriation? Is there such a thing as inappropriate appropriation?

– – – – –

Works Cited

Cros, Caroline. Orlan: Carnal Art. Trans. Deke Dusinberre. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. Print.

Durand, Régis. “Texts for Orlan.” Orlan. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. 205-213. Print.

Dikovitskaya & WJT Mitchell

Understanding the concept of visual culture is an ongoing pursuit. To that end I read An Interview With W.J.T. Mitchell by Margaret Dikovitskaya in her book Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual After the Cultural Turn (2006).

What stood out for me is that there is no scientific theory of visual culture, not in the same way that there is for language for example. Language is “based on a system (syntax, grammar, phonology) that can be scientifically described; pictures and visual experience may not have a grammar in this sense” (239). Visual culture which includes not just only “art,” but also includes a broad spectrum of media, lacks a scientifically measurable syntax or set of rules. Mitchell suggests that visual culture includes memory, imagination and fantasy too (248). Mitchell sees the process of formalizing a set of rules for visual culture as placing it within a “straight-jacket” (239). Yet he also states that science begins with wonder (242). Science like art begins with a question.

Mitchell explains the difference between society and culture. Society is about the relationships between people, where culture is what makes those relationships possible (245). Visual culture then is “the seeing of other people, and the experience of being seen” (245). What clothes a person wears, how they speak, what they eat, etc. all fit into culture which makes it possible for a person in one specific culture able to interact with others of the same culture in a way that is fruitful. Misunderstandings are kept to a relative minimum.

Other writings mentioned by Mitchell in the interview offer other connections.

  • Oliver Sack’s To See or Not to See
  • Lacan’s The Eye and the Gaze
  • Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method
    (Mitchell says “I prefer an anarchist epistemology, in which the interesting thing is what is in the question” (249).)
  • October Magazine’s Questionnaire on Visual Culture
  • Aristotle
  • Descartes
  • Diderot
  • Bishop Berkley
  • Freud
  • Lacan
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Sartre
  • Kaja Silverman
  • Laura Mulvey
  • Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste

– – – – –

Work Cited

Dikovitskaya, Margaret. “An Interview With W.J.T. Mitchell.” Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual After the Cultural Turn. Cambridge: MIT, 2006. 238-57. Print.

Dress & Undress

Found in Gowland’s Guide to Glamour Photography:
text
(67).

– – – – –

Figure/Scan from:

Gowland, Peter. Gowland’s Guide to Glamour Photography. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1972. Print

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?

– – – – –
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.

– – – – –
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.