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Collage on rag paper, 4x5 inches.
Collage on rag paper, 4×5 inches.
Collage on rag paper, 4x5 inches.
Collage on rag paper, 4×5 inches.
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Vicky & Missy

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Missy (a Nice Lady)

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

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

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

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

Context

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

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

Everyone nods, chewing simultaneously.

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

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

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

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

“Oh…I see…(burrrp),” someone says.

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

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

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

Cutlery clatters on the fine white porcelain dishes.

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

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

– – – – –
Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

Two Views

The dollhouse as it appeared in the multi-purpose studio (two views).

Wood, glue, bolts, paint. Approx. 60 inches high.
Wood, glue, bolts, paint. Approx. 60 inches high.
Wood, glue, bolts, paint. Approx. 60 inches high.
Wood, glue, bolts, paint. Approx. 60 inches high.

Feedback and further things for me to think about here are that it does not criticize whiteness so much as point to it. I think this is fine since the white artists I know also do not think too much about their own whiteness. I also see this as part of my own development. Recognizing that whiteness is a construction and then moving on to criticism. On the other hand, it is a valid consideration since I do not have access to many white artists who are currently active and working within the “art world.” What do they think or know about whiteness? Formally, there might be more contrast between the raw wood and the white interior/exterior as it is currently painted in a manner that mimics whitewash, which is also naturalistic in feeling. I will consider painting another several coats on the interior.

White Women, Race Matters

To pull out a couple of points from my reading today that have “stickability” is Ruth Frankenberg’s brief critique of whites as being non-cultured and the notion of fluid borders between constructed classes.

“…[a] feeling that deep down whites are nothing…” (Dyer 222).

Although the quote above comes from the book White by Richard Dyer written in 1997, Dyer’s exploration on whites and representation had already been published by Routledge in The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations in 1993. Ruth Frankenberg’s essay White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness was also published in 1993. It stands to reason that discourses on the construction of whiteness were well under way. I point this out because Frankenberg’s text opens with a line, printed as follows:

“Fundamentally a relational category, whiteness does have content…” (emphasis Frankenberg’s) (632)

Dyer’s text in using film to illustrate, discusses the notion of whiteness (among other things) as being empty, void, and nothing (Dyer). It is a fear of those things on the part of whites that is displayed in the films he discusses (Dyer). Frankenberg explains that the concept of whiteness at least “generates norms, ways of understanding history, ways of thinking about self[,] other, [and] culture” (632).

Frankenberg adds that seeing whiteness as “no culture” (or empty) would mean the practices within whiteness remain unnamed. White cultural practices therefore become the norm, the default, universal rather than specific, even though dominant (633). What is a (white) person’s identity if on the one hand they have no culture and on the other they are the default? Frankenberg asserts that it is therefore important to name whiteness in order to “dislodge the claims […] to rightful dominance” (633).

Homi Bhabha in The Location of Culture suggests that while groups may find commonality in a shared experience, that the overlap where difference occurs within groups is negotiated in a liminal space. Bhabha, in offering a visual for his concept turns to the work Sites of Genealogy by Renee Green (Bhabha 5). Bhabha describes an upper floor and lower floor separated by a stairwell, which becomes the liminal space where culture is able to flow between the two places (Bhabha 5). It is in this transitional space that appropriation occurs. As Frankenberg says “The borders of white identity have proven malleable over time” (633). She adds that in a similar way “whiteness, masculinity, and femininity are coproducers of one another” (633). So while whites (“white, American, male” (634)) are skilled appropriators they also impose their cultural practices on others by implication of normalcy.

I think Frankenberg’s last point on what to do is also important. She suggests that Americans (I suggest all whites) learn more about the “histories that lie behind that normativity, the multiple currents that came together to make the normative space that white Americans now inhabit, and the processes of assimilation, loss and forgetting that took place along the way” (634).

– – – – –
Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.

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

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. 632-34. Print.

Playing in the Dark

Nov 16, 2010

In the essay Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison two things jump out at me. One is the dichotomy of white and black. The other is that this perspective is US-centric.

I have written previously (quoting myself):

Can we then say that both white and non-white are defined by the spaces where they meet? I have wrestled with this previously in a recent paper. “In works such as Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915) […] the blackness of the square is understood in relation to its white ground. Discussion about Black Square is centered on the black square as the subject of the painting, while the white ground remains unnamed.” What I think is also important here is that the positioning of non-white in relation to white (foreground and ground dichotomy enters the discourse too) provides a way for the white to remain unnamed, not the subject of deconstruction or analysis.

Toni Morrison suggests throughout her essay that the white American(1) imagination is involved with comparisons of the cultured whiteness against the savage darkness.

As far as the essay being US-centric, Morrison explains that for the white American author in dealing with fears as well as trying to find a way to justify or answer questions of oppression that the “fabricated brew of darkness, otherness, alarm, and desire […] is uniquely American” (82). She acknowledges that “European-Africanism” also exists, but here she is not dealing with that.

A final observation by Morrison is given in her discussion of William Dunbar from Voyagers to the West (1986) by Bernard Bailyn. She quotes Bailyn writing “…and feeling within himself a sense of authority and autonomy he had not known before, a force that flowed from his absolute control over the lives of others” (83). This implies his control over the lives of any women he may also have in his life. The American was “new, white, and male” (83).

The idea above stands as another example of whiteness being defined by the blackness around it. That whiteness is what blackness is not, as Morrison concludes, “he is backgrounded by savagery” (84).

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

– – – – –

Footnote

1. For the purposes of this writing American means United States of America, since north and south of US borders is also America.

Cited

Morrison, Toni. “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.” 1992. Critical White Studies. Ed. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. 425-31. Print.

Adrian Piper’s Passing

Nov 16, 2010

As a first thought, the racism Adrian Piper is talking about in Passing for White, Passing for Black is experienced in the United States. She is a US citizen, born and raised. While her perspective (and statistics) is American it is good to keep in mind that many of her experiences cross political boundaries. And yet it is difficult for me to understand in what ways racism is experienced outside of North America, since my experience of racism is contained there. What is the experience of racism like in China, Indonesia or Italy? How is whiteness lived or experienced in these locations? Is it just as privileged?

Piper’s statement that “any proportion of African ancestry is sufficient to identify a person as black” bothers me (427). What I mean is I understand that historically this was written into the law. I am also not so naïve to comprehend that in the minds of many this is still the case. (I only need to think about the websites devoted to promoting the “pure” white race.) What confuses me is the apparent contradiction. If a person has some white ancestors can they not also claim to be white? Again it is complicated by the notion that whiteness and blackness is initially about skin colour, not simply class or economics. A person may indeed have white ancestors, but if they “look” black they will not be identified and treated as white, but as black.

I appreciated Piper’s frankness too. At one point she relates that it is fairly easy to tell if a white person is racist by simply commenting how they look as though they might have black ancestry (428). The person’s face and first reaction will give them away. She admits that she will never do it again.

There are two things about the above notion that I think are important to mention. One is that I admit that I have done this myself. I mentioned this about a relatives family and it didn’t go over very well. The second point is that Piper explains that a person who is truly rejecting racism is not motivated by what they think they can do for black people, but if they can think of themselves as having black ancestors (428). It is the doing here that I think is important. In doing, a person who is white would still remain in a privileged position, still in the position of socially perceived and lived power. However, for a person to acknowledge that they may have black ancestors, to think about and dialogue about those possibilities is the ultimate test to Piper.

As a final thought, the way in which white and black are defined is a problem since these definitions uphold the notion of racial categories. It may be (I hate to invoke him) that this is the reason Tiger Woods explanation of his racial status as “Cablinasian,” a blending of his Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Thai heritage had garnered so much criticism (Kamiya).

In spite of the notion that our identities are fluid (Foucault et. al.) it seems difficult for people to consciously accept changes to an image they have of themselves. Even though daily, however imperceptibly, the reflection in the mirror changes (Noorderlicht).

– – – – –
Works Cited

Kamiya, Gary. “Salon | Tiger Woods.” Salon.com – Salon.com. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <http://www.salon.com/april97/tiger970430.html&gt;.

Noorderlicht. “YouTube – Bekijk De Noorderlicht-aflevering ‘Killing Time’.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. 7 Apr. 2008. Web. 27 Oct. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKsNraFxPwk&gt;.

Piper, Adrian. “Passing for White, Passing for Black.” 1997. Critical White Studies. Ed. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997. 425-31. Print.

– – – – –
Edited: Dec 15, 2010.

Thesis Pondering

As I work, or just sit and sip my tea, I am thinking. Continuously roiling around in the cavern called the Brain of Joyce is the question of my thesis. What great world altering question will I ask – and answer. I keep having to kick myself (secretly I’m a masochist) to remember that I am not required to come up with an answer, and that what may actually happen is that I ask more questions. In all likelihood it should. No?

Okay, okay then – what one question will I ask? Based on the work of the past month, in combination with the work I have done previously I definitely think it must involve gender, specifically the female gender. Because I am also fascinated by the whole construction of whiteness I will need to come up with a focus that involves the two.

At least it is now getting narrower. -sigh-

Paper Model

Monday I spent several hours prepping two canvases. While waiting for coats of gesso to dry, I played with an Elle magazine. First I cut out a model and stuck her to the wet coat of gesso.

Stuck in a field of white gesso.
Stuck in a field of white gesso.

I then glued her on to some card and created a standup paper doll from the model.

Model on the move.
Model on the move.

I will make more and see what comes of them. (My camera converts whites into pinks, and I don’t know if it is trying to tell me something.)

I also shopped for balsa and ply for the dollhouse.

Baby Lips

Looking through a Vogue magazine today – awesome photography, styling and clothes. Earlier in the day I had a conversation with an artist friend about that very thing. She and I both agreed that looking through fashion magazines was a simultaneous experience in pain and pleasure. Pleasure in the glossy pages, the beautiful models, the imagination of the photographers and obvious skill in setting up shots. Pain in the guilt and feelings of inadequacy as we each admitted to gauging our own body self-image against what we saw on the pages. And then feeling bad about having done that. My friend admitted that she first became aware of doing that when she was 13 or 14 years old.

How young does this enculturation begin? Because it is a process of enculturation – I think where a person becomes so comfortable with the ideas that they fail to question them any longer.

Baby Lips, found image and acrylic paint, 2008
Baby Lips, found image and acrylic paint, 2008

As a side note the Vogue magazine (US edition) barely had any models that were not white. One would think that if 37.6 percent of the US population does not identify as white that to be fair there would be approximately that many models within the covers. What I am reading about whiteness being more about class and economy seems like a valid argument. Enter Marx.

White Trash

Introduction:

After several discussions about the concept of white trash in early 2008, I wrote in my notes on October 28 that it appeared to me that the notion of white trash is constructed to distract from the real issue. I noted my thought that if society can talk about white trash, then society can say in a manner “see?…we are talking about whiteness.”

Only days later a printed chapter from the book White Trash: Race and Class in America (1997) was handed to me to read. The chapter written by Annalee Newitz titled White Savagery and Humiliation, or a New Racial Consciousness in the Media.

Navel Gazing?

Newitz writes on page 133:

Partly as a result of criticism directed at whiteness by civil rights groups and minority intellectuals for the past several decades, whites are slowly undergoing a transformation which involves reevaluating racial stereotypes. Not surprisingly, however, this reevaluation is causing an internal instability within whiteness. It has generated a stereotyped white Other which is called, among other things, “white trash.”

Of note in this quote is Newitz’ use of the term “whiteness.” At this point in the book the term whiteness is used as if it is an understood concept. In addition it is used as if it is an accepted term. Something like using the term “bundt pan” to describe a specific cake baking dish. Also, the phrase “stereotyped white Other” introduces the notion that whites too -poor things- can also be the Other. There are two questions here. Is “whiteness” an accepted term, and can those labelled as “white” also be Other?

While there are several ideas in this chapter worth mentioning, one in particular bothered me. Newitz discusses (pg 147) the idea of “new abolitionism.” Most often associated with Noel Ignatiev and David Roediger. Newitz quotes from Race Traitor:

The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of the white skin…The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a predictor of behaviour will lead to its collapse…Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.

She interprets and sums up this passage as “whites must abolish themselves for humanity to be free” (147). Newitz does go on further to explain that this is not her position, but I found the interpretation to be troublesome. I acknowledge here that this literal position is not necessarily that of Ignatiev, Roediger or Newitz.

The idea whispered in my mind for some time simply nagging at me. It took some time for me to work this out, but I may be able to give the nagging feeling some words at this point. It feels to me like a type of arrogance and self-centeredness. Almost as if whites are so important, or at least have made themselves to be so incredibly necessary to the rest of the world that for anyone else to be free “whites must abolish themselves.” It becomes a kind of navel gazing. I could be completely wrong about this at this point, but I think it is worth looking into.

(As a side note, in talking about white trash one is sure to invoke Greenberg’s ideas about kitsch.)

Dyer’s White

Introduction

In preliminary searches on the concept of whiteness the work of Richard Dyer repeatedly surfaces. Dyer has written several books on the subject.

White

There are several important ideas contained within Richard Dyer’s book White (1997). Within this blog format I will pull out a couple. Richard Dyer calls his project one of “making whiteness strange” (4). That whiteness should become marked rather than invisible. Dyer explains that whiteness is recognized in relation to the representation of the non-white1 (11). He invokes both Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark (1992) and Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), since both these authors works “suggest that white discourse implacably reduces the non-white subject to being a function of the white subject” (13). Can we then say that both white and non-white are defined by the spaces where they meet? I have wrestled with this previously in a recent paper. “In works such as Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915) […] the blackness of the square is understood in relation to its white ground. Discussion about Black Square is centered on the black square as the subject of the painting, while the white ground remains unnamed.” What I think is also important here is that the positioning of non-white in relation to white (foreground and ground dichotomy enters the discourse too) provides a way for the white to remain unnamed, not the subject of deconstruction or analysis.

Dyer does express some concerns with the whole project. He lists several. The first he calls the “green light” problem (10). Where writing now gives whites to do “what in any case we have always talked about: ourselves” (10). Then there is what he calls “me-too-ism” (10). A type of navel gazing where whites are able to say in essence “we are part of a group too.” Also contained in me-too-ism is “the sense that being white is no great advantage, what with being so uptight, [and] out of touch with our bodies” (10). In addition to the previous ideas there is also the new oppressed group, the white man who can’t get a job (10). Dyer expresses a fear that “talking about whiteness could lead to the development of something called ‘White Studies’” (10). However, he is not fearful that is will “dislodge [whiteness] from its centrality and authority,” but that it might lead to a new type of “assertiveness” (10). Dyer also identifies guilt as a problem. He does think that the solution is to acknowledge the wrongs, but not allow guilt to become a block since the display of guilt expresses a “fine moral character” (11). Guilt becomes an expression of what whites are and by implication that others do not have such “fine moral character.”

Further on Dyer explores the use of film in asserting whiteness, which he precedes this with the role of photography in asserting and affirming the construct of whiteness. He explains the historical belief that photography could reveal the inner nature of a person (104). He also discusses eugenics before and after discussions on early ideas of whiteness related to high morals, purity, higher thinking (in males, not females). As well Dyer talks about the importance of lighting and positioning the white person in photography and other imagery. What interested me in this passage was the insertion of the term eugenics. Photography “was a central tool of the eugenics movement, whose focus was the improvement of the human race through control of breeding” (105). This passage is a direct reminder of a piece I titled Hitler Would Love You (2009). The inspiration for the piece comes from an image similar to the following that I had seen on the Internet. Both HWLY and the source image also refer to sight (which Dyer also delves into with a discussion on the primacy of sight and its contradictions).

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_R_165_Bild-244-64,_Bestimmung_der_Augenfarbe.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_R_165_Bild-244-64,_Bestimmung_der_Augenfarbe.jpg
Eye colour chart. (Know the source? Please contact me.)
Eye colour chart. (Know the source? Please contact me.)
H.W.L.Y., 2009, Human hair, glass, ply, plaster, acrylic
H.W.L.Y., 2009, Human hair, glass, ply, plaster, acrylic

Choosing/selecting a person, as meeting a standard of worthiness, based on eye and hair colour as an indication of their “fine moral character” is absurd. (Also brings to mind the work of Michael Euyung Oh and his arbitrary choices.)

How can whiteness be deconstructed without turning the discussion into a massive cosmic hole? How can whiteness be shown to be a marked position and at the same time remove racial labels? How can each person, regardless of the race they identify with, feel dignity without being barricaded by guilt or pride?

—–

1 Richard Dyer explains his uncomfortable use of the terms “white” and “non-white”: see the sub-section titled “The Politics of Looking at Whiteness” in White, London: Routledge, 1997, middle of page 11.

—–

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

Normman

Introduction:

In thinking about the previous post More Trash Talk I am reminded about a particular work by Izhar Patkin titled Norman; the Average American Male (1981). The work was part of an exhibition by Maurice Berger in 1987 called Race and Representation (excerpt), which showed at Hunter College Art Gallery, New York.

What I am thinking of are the quotes by Rothenberg, Terry, Wray and Newitz (Castle 4):

  • “It is always whiteness that is centered and assumed. Difference is understood in relation to it.”
  • “To be white in America is not to have to think about it.”
  • [Whites] “stand as unmarked, normative bodies and selves.”

Patkin

Patkin’s piece is based on the published work of gynecologist Robert Latou Dickinson and sculptor Abram Belskie who modeled statues to represent the average American male and female (emphasis mine).

Firstly, “Normman” (the Dickinson/Belskie models) emphasizes the naturalness, the normalcy of the European body/face. Because the models were initially shown in Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History (1945), the models behave as an institutionally sanctioned statement about what normal is. The statement essentially says that if your physique does not look like these models then you are not normal. In addition, they assert that as normal bodies they are centered (not marginal) and unmarked.

Also, I think it is important to note the language initially used by the news magazine Time in describing the introduction of the models to the public at the AMNH as sexualized and objectifying. Time described “Norma” (the female version) as a “taller, lustier type.” The article also compares Norma to the Greek ideal.

Patkin created idealized re-presentations from the statues of the American physique in a series called Norman, the Average American Male (1981). Berger in writing for the catalogue (excerpt) describes Patkin’s treatment as shattering the myth of what normal is. Norman has been displaced from his pedestal.

And still….as I wrote this post I thought of Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth and an image I had seen with a statue on it. After a quick google I find Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo (1999). Fifty-four years after the original Normman and Norma. What does Wallinger say of his work? While there is discussion of the way Christ may have looked, Wallinger apparently says, “I wanted to show him as an ordinary human being” (emphasis mine).

– – – – –

Work Cited

Castle, Charles S. “’White Trash’ Identities, Media, and Popular Culture: Redefining White Hegemony in Contemporary American Culture.” Cultural Landscapes 1.1 2007 3-33. Columbia College Chicago. Web. 2009.

More on White Trash

Introduction:

Exploring the idea of “white trash” further I found the article by Charles Castle titled “White Trash” Identities, Media, and Popular Culture: Redefining White Hegemony in Contemporary American Culture (published in Cultural Landscapes by Columbia College Chicago in 2007).

Invisibility

Castle introduces the reader, with several quotes from other authors, to the idea that “whiteness” is generally invisible. “It is always whiteness that is centered and assumed. Difference is understood in relation to it” (Rothenberg 2 qtd. in Castle 4). “To be white in America is not to have to think about it” (Terry 120 qtd. in Castle 4). [Whites] “stand as unmarked, normative bodies and selves” (Wray and Newitz 3 qtd. in Castle 4).

Castle’s position is similar to that of Wray and Newitz in their assertion that the way to contribute to the dismantling of whiteness (racialization) is to expose the dialogue, the institutionalization, the material, as well as the cultural practices that hide whiteness and essentially make it invisible. The goal is to “make whiteness visible to whites” (Wray and Newitz qtd. in Castle 5). Castle also uses a quote from Frankenberg (in discussing the identity of white trash): “The naming of whiteness displaces it from the unmarked, unnamed status that is itself an effect of its dominance” (29). It is here again that there is an acknowledgement that whiteness needs to be named. This whole process in turn seems to continue to entrench the idea that there are different races.

It becomes a kind of paradox. To talk about and expose the present construct of whiteness (what it means and what it is) in order to again make it invisible. Although in attempting to articulate what needs to happen here, I am tempted to suggest that this should not be the goal (and these authors may also be saying that). What seems necessary to me is to recognize difference (with a sense of the awesome diversity of this planet), but to not use that difference to oppress or dominate.

Pulling a few other relevant ideas from this article it becomes apparent that the whole notion of whiteness is very complex. For example Castle states:

Being white is not something I choose, and the related manifestations of privilege are not something that I consciously take and, therefore, do not have the option of not taking. Privilege is something that society bestows. Unless I speak and challenge the conventions which continue to give me privilege, I will continue to have it no matter how much I try to live my life outside it (6).

Another idea that deserves to be mined is the notion that the elite use etiquette to ostracize and create a lower social Other (white trash) in order to dominate and control (10-11). What comes to mind is the the use of the the term “lady”, as well as the definitions of “Mrs.” and “Miss.” For instance a portion of the definition (Oxford) of lady is “woman belonging to the upper class or fitted for it by manners, habits, and sentiments” (emphasis mine).

Castle also discusses the commodification of white trash where whiteness buys select portions of the white trash identity, which in turn constructs whiteness. It is not a question of being born into whiteness (although I think this still does happen too, which Castle acknowledges when he earlier says that he does not have the option of not taking the bestowed privilege), but being able to buy into it (14,15).

Castle concludes his article by asserting that the appropriation of a white trash identity in popular culture serves to continue to make whiteness invisible. He explains that positive white trash images (rather than stereotypical dirty imagery) serve to embed a positive construct of whiteness essentially acting as a distraction (by becoming a spectacle) to keep societies (white?) eyes away from the the notions of institutional whiteness.

The main question here as I understand it (and this has come to mind many times now) is how to discuss and dismantle the construct of whiteness (as lived and experienced), without continuing to uphold and affirm the same construct.

– – – – –

Work Cited

Castle, Charles S. “’White Trash’ Identities, Media, and Popular Culture: Redefining White Hegemony in Contemporary American Culture.” Cultural Landscapes 1.1 2007 3-33. Columbia College Chicago. Web. 2009.

An Ovum Start

Seminal Text, 2010
Seminal Text, 2010

As an aside, I created this small book this past summer. Daily, weekly I encounter the phrase “a seminal text” or “make sure you include it in your reading, it really is seminal.” To clarify how I see a seminal text, I made one, since the other books refered to as seminal really had nothing to do with semen.

Up To Now

Aside from all the great conversation with fellow students we were treated to talks given by Germaine Koh, Althea Thauberger, Randy Lee Cutler, Folke Kobberling and Martin Kaltwasser (visited the site where they are building a giant dozer near the former Olympic Village), Thomas Riedelsheimer, and a dual-video-link with John Cussans in the UK (we really are digital). Our studios were given by Ken Lum (brilliant), and the team of Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber (doubly brilliant). Chris Jones is leading our thesis class.

Two papers down, mentors and a supervisor to choose yet, a few books purchased (from my working bibliography), organizing research into neat little compartments (I’m sure some wind will blow in messing it all up), as well as trying to find some space to work in my overflowing into the hallway 10×10 foot studio.

Current Explorations

On the wall in my studio right now are three paintings. Each 42 by 52 inches. My aim is to use up every last bit of acrylic paint that I have collected over the past 4 years of school. A sort of homage to my BFA.

These are completely different than anything I have yet done, aside from the obvious tree theme ( I took the photo last year up near Paradise Meadows),

2010_02

A little while later…

2010_04

And finished in April 2010.

One of triptych, acrylic, 42×52 inches.
One of triptych, acrylic, 42×52 inches.
As a triptych. 126×52 inches.
As a triptych. 126×52 inches.

Maria Hupfield

Thursday, I had the opportunity to go to an art talk given by Maria Hupfield. Hupfield has a diverse practice that includes performance and photography. I especially appreciated the work she did called My Evil Twin (as discussed on her profile at ECUAD). The set up, though seemingly simple at first, brings the viewer to a place where they are asked to consider two things. One being the way in which we view images and ideas – through what lenses do we choose to look, and the other being the degree to which we are removed from the “real”. First, the photographer has stepped in between us and the “event” followed by the process of the image making, resulting in a two dimensional representation, covered with glass and set in a gallery. This representation is then filtered further through the sweet little lenses of the bird-house spy-glasses. I enjoyed the whole idea and it’s presentation – well … viewing it as a projected representation, sometimes through a bird house lens, of a representation.

After the talk several students were treated to an on campus studio visit. It was encouraging to hear her fresh take on our work. As students we benefit from the discernment of instructors who know our work and our persons, but fresh eyes and insights can make for better work. Provided the student can hear, of course. All in all, I had a great and valuable time.

See More: www.ecuad.ca, mariahupfield.com
Images: images.google.ca

What Tony Scherman Says

An encounter with the new book Carte Blanche v.2 has given me some new artists to study as well as some new quotes to ponder. For example, a featured artist Tony Scherman is noted with the following text from the book.

Artists are always asked questions pertaining to the ‘what’ and really only want to talk about the ‘how’. The ‘how’ cannot be spoken about without the ‘doing’, and the ‘doing’ cannot be spoken about without ‘being in doing’. This leaves artists at a great impasse in talking about their work, which quite often leads to tedium, boredom and, finally, irritation. This explains at least in part why so many artists in their maturity elect to say little or nothing. I am getting close, but not quite there yet.

On one level, I found this to be very funny. Scherman is not there yet, obviously, because he has made a submission to the book for printing. I did notice a couple of artists with far less to say than Scherman.

My other thought, based on personal experience, is that it is indeed very difficult to talk about my work. How do I put into words what is happening in my mind and my body when I am doing?

Tony Sherman’s site: www.tonyscherman.com

Holiday Art Making

My second born was home from Emily Carr in Vancouver over the holidays. He showed me an artist he is interested in, Dave Kinsey, and we contemplated his process. In my books, the next step is to reproduce the work to learn by doing.

Although, we used primitive tools from my studio (fancy word for spare bedroom) as well as completely forgetting to add any collage (which Kinsey uses here and there), I think we came up with a fair semblance. Our source images, scavenged from the internet are a barking dog and a shot of Walter Gropius.

Gropidog (Kinsey Homage)

Gropidog (Kinsey Homage), 22×30 inches. Acrylic, ink on gessoed paper.

Dave Kinsey images: www.kinseyvisual.com

Design Class Poem

Not sure what poetry has to do with a design class, but I was required to write one. I chose to write in a Burmese climbing style.

The Rim

Design in the pacific
rim, embrace prolific nations
Chile, hieroglyphic Maya idea
to Canada, China, along
through India, Singapore, Vietnam
there’s no damn before
Maori clam. Sharing by
love or defy, bamboo
beside bonsai, cedar foundation
or stilt elevation, hewn
stone fabrication, temple, pagoda
and earthen stupa, sing
beautiful coda for eyes.
Mountain shrine wise/supplies retreat
while prize worthy chiampas
give food grass, again
terraced mass toward delight,
Zen gardens invite serenity.
Early bright gold red
hanfu, ikat thread, batik
kimono wed, aboriginal skin
cloaks to begin, native
cedar thin weaves. Calendar
of moons confer passing
time, occur proceeding new
from old, through marking
deity debut with parade
and sweet laid/prayed on
ceramic trade blue white,
to salmon might and
chocolate excite careful stand,
upon fired sand celebrated.
Indigenous grand who live
within fire alive, god
animals thrive, spirits unseen
superstitiously appeased queen goddess.
From serene Buddha, schism
arise of Hinduism, Islam
Christianity prism Shinto enthrall
hear bugle call, today
no stonewall, the Rim of fire has it all.

Already October

The summer flew by, no post.

Finished the Spring course and did well. Spent time with my youngest son who was home from school and started a reno. I guess having it finished by the time the fall semester came along was far too optomistic. Did not consciously make any art works, which I think means that I did not make any.

Either way, I am into it now. I am taking Drawing, GEVA (a general proposal based studio class), and an online course. This term my instructors are Nancy Bleck, Wendy Doberenier, Sam Carter (who tells us studied with Buckminster Fuller), and Sara Vipond.

Aside from making three “objects” I am also working on three paintings for the GEVA class. Here are two at the current stage.

invaders2

This one is four feet wide, I think.

theBoat

And this one is 75 inches by 34 inches.

So, of the intructors I have, the following have web sites:

Nancy Bleck
Sam Carter
Sara Vipond

A Thought on Simulacra

I have heard a few times recently how we (our society) are engaging in practices that are not real. I have even contributed to such discussions by agreeing, but I have been re-thinking this.

For example, during the last course I took titled, Modernist Visions: Form and Utopian Narratives with Holly Ward, (not the one I am currently enrolled in), we discussed the image by Guy Debord, Couple stretched out on a sofa, Watches television (1968). Invoking Baudrillard’s theories about Simulacra we noted how the couple is dressed in yachting clothes and watching a program about boating on the television set, yet they are sitting on a sofa – not actually sailing or boating themselves. What we discussed was that the couple’s experience of boating is simulated, or fake, in-authentic. As viewers of the work by Debord, we could also say that we have a simulated experience of watching the couple, watch the television program of boating.

If Baudrillard’s Simulacra implies that there is no such thing as reality, then what is it?

In giving this some thought, I would argue that the couple is indeed having a real experience of sitting on a sofa and watching television, and engaging with Debord, as photographer, directing their movements on the set in the studio. Can we really say that their experience is simulated?

A Morning at the SAM

Inopportune: Stage One

This past weekend, my significant other and I spent the late morning and early afternoon at the SAM in Seattle. While being thrilled to see so many works I have previously been observing in ink on paper, such as Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune: Stage One, Do-Ho Suh’s Some/One, Glenn Ligon’s Stranger in the Village (Excerpt), #7, I was especially interested in the work of Titus Kaphar in the show History in the Making.

Again a fascination with the work of non-white males. I thought the work had the best of both worlds: great skill and great ideas. The quality of the painting draws me in while the cutting and tarring keep me engaged with what Kaphar is trying to tell me.

Really you should see it for yourself:
http://tituskaphar.blogspot.com/

Better yet, head over to the SAM while it is still on.

Yes, No (Arbitrary Bible)

Yes, No (Arbitrary Bible), Altered books, rice paper, acrylic paint, 12.7 x 17.8 x 7.6 cm (5 x 7 x 3 in), 2009
Yes, No (Arbitrary Bible), Altered books, rice paper, acrylic paint, 12.7 x 17.8 x 7.6 cm (5 x 7 x 3 in), 2009
Yes, No (Arbitrary Bible), Altered books, rice paper, acrylic paint, 12.7 x 17.8 x 7.6 cm (5 x 7 x 3 in), 2009
Yes, No (Arbitrary Bible), Altered books, rice paper, acrylic paint, 12.7 x 17.8 x 7.6 cm (5 x 7 x 3 in), 2009

About Yes, No (Arbitrary Bible)

In response to an idea in Michael Euyung Oh’s work I chose the Bible to apply an arbitrary decision making process. For example, in Oh’s 200 Sex Offenders (2000) he used his own standard of attraction to rate the photos. His work employs a ranking system that is meaningless and absurd, asking the viewer to question ranking systems.

While I have used my own personal preferences for choosing the text that remains legible in the YES volume as well as the NO volume, I have intended to expose in the physical what a reader does in their own mind when approaching any text, or even object. Promoting those parts that appeal, feeling elitist about those we dislike, and ignoring the rest.

Bogus

Bogus, paper on paper, 22 x 30 inches
Bogus, paper on paper, 22 x 30 inches
Detail
Detail

About Bogus

Many race theorists include in their discussions a quote from Melville’s Moby Dick, “a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink”. Bogus consists of each occurrence of the word “white”, or variations of it, carefully cut from a copy of Moby Dick, glued onto a sheet of white paper.

Pontiac

Pontiac Laurentian, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 or something like that.
Pontiac Laurentian, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 or something like that.
Pontiac Laurentian, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 or something like that.
Pontiac Laurentian, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 or something like that.

Humn 311

I am currently taking a 6 week, 3 credit Humanities course about the physical and the psychical. Although the course pack is ginormous, the readings so far have been very intriguing. I think I am really going to enjoy the learning.

However, I do have a personal beef. There is not enough time in the class to really digest points or opinions that are brought up during the class time. I have decided that I am going to post my own responses here…after they have been rolling around in my head, keeping me awake half the night.

Bell and Ah Kee

The third year is over, the spring has taken hold and I am gearing up for another class to begin next Monday. Getting a jump on some fourth year credits. I have completed some scholarship applications and have my second born home from university (a visual arts and design university no less) for the summer.

Basically I have been re-organizing my studio space (a spare bedroom) and purging much of the past three years worth of exercises. Some of it has even been selected to become under-paintings for new works. I have also been reading a few books, playing games on Facebook, and watching TV.

It just so happened that last night I tuned into an art program featuring Vernon Ah Kee and Richard Bell.  Again non-white males. (I am beginning to have issues with the label white, black etc., but that is for another conversation.) Ah Kee and Bell are Australian Aboriginals and have found their voices by exploring issues through text based works. What is so interesting to me is how pointed some of the work is. I am wondering if I am up for creating work with the same type of strong messaging.

More on Ah Kee:
http://www.daao.org.au/main/read/6995

More on Bell:
http://www.kooriweb.org/bell/man.html

Final Crit

If I had more time, I would write a bit more, but I have to get some sleep before the Crit, which will last from 8:30am to 5pm. I might rearrange them yet.

group1

Sandra Doore

My friend and fellow artist, Cam Reid, is curating a show titled, Human Body: Dependence on the Physical, which opened tonight. While there were some very interesting pieces, the work that had the greatest impact on me was by Sandra Doore. After looking at Quotidien Daydream and taking note of my thoughts and feelings, I read her statement. I felt and thought the things she had intended, or at least she pointed me in the direction where they were lying. Rather than touch the piece, I thought about doing something else to it, which wouldn’t be suitable in a public gallery. Need I say more?

More on Sandra Doore:
www.sandradoore.com

Words

I am in the middle of a project involving the arbitrary approval and/or disapproval of passages in the Bible. Something people, at the very least, do in their minds.

This is the wrong side of the volume cover that will be titled “NO.”

no

Three Non-white Males

Two weeks ago I attended a talk given by David Khang. He discussed his ideas and some of his projects. While he stated that his work deals with language, gender, and identity, I was struck by some of the concepts floating around in those ideas. I find his work to be subtly humorous and powerful at the same time. Though not all of it engenders an internal smile, it is intelligent.

During his talk he introduced Richard Dyer and his White: Essays on Race and Culture, which I thought was particularly interesting since I had just completed a presentation on Glenn Ligon. Ligon used Dyer’s essay as a jumping off point for some of his work. Khang also discussed his feeling surrounding his own ethnicity. Here in North America he is an “Asian man,” but in Japan et. al., he is a “man.”

Today the talk was given by Jackson 2bears. 2bears uses music and cinema and combines them with the notion of scratch video, producing sound and video performances that point at stereotypes surrounding native North Americans. I found some of his work to be thought provoking.

So here I am looking at the work of three non-white males and feeling angry and inspired at the same time. I feel as though this is a topic that is definitely going to need more time, study and research. Have I mentioned yet that my skin has hardly any melanin in it (my legs are virtually transparent), I’m a natural light blond, and female?

More on David Khang: http://www.davidkhang.com/

More on Glenn Ligon: http://www.diacenter.org/ligon/

More on Jackson 2bears: http://jackson2bears.net/

The Center of the Art World

Sarah Valdez writes in In the land of make Believe from Art in America, November 2007, “Antin’s, Hershman’s, and Lake’s challenging agendas and high-quality work make their status as lesser known feminist pioneers bewildering. Perhaps their unjustified lack of recognition stems from the fact that each established herself outside of New York City.”

Reading quotes such as this one, make me wonder if a successful art career (what that means is another 500 posts worth of discussion) is to be had while living on a semi-remote-ish island. Except that the world has changed since then. The Internet gives me the opportunity to share work via my web site and share opinions and ideas through two blogs. Even though I don’t post to them nearly enough. Maybe I don’t physically have to be in New York or Berlin or the next great center of the art world.

Finished Number Three

The third painting in the series. Acrylic on canvas, 34×75 inches. I think there is something funny about the face on her right side (not your right, her right). Since I can’t put my finger on it, I am forced to leave it as it is for now.

shannon3

Water Miscible Oils

A few weeks ago I ordered some Windsor and Newton, Artisan, Water Mixable Oil Colour. Eight tubes: Titanium White, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson, Lemon Yellow, Phthalo Blue, Cadmium Red Light, and Cadmium Yellow Light.  Then they sat there in their nice blue boxes until last night. I set up a pair of scissors and finished a small study in about 30 minutes. It was either paint or study Modernist Visions of Utopia.

I have painted in oils before and these paints were stickier. The result however has the same rich appearance of regular oils. It felt wonderful too to paint into an area and the already laid down paint was still wet. Loved it. Something you just don’t get with acrylics.

scissors

12×16 inches.

About Kathë Kollwitz

Kathë Kollwitz is an inspiration. Through her own suffering, and empathy for those around her, she was able to find expression and a voice through her art-making. Leafing through a book from the library I was very impressed by not only her strength, but the human emotion that she was able to bring to paper.

Particularly outstanding for me are Woman with Dead Child (1903), The Parents (1923), and Call of Death (1934), while her self-portraits record, unashamedly, the progress of age on her face. A striking contrast to the vanity surgeries of our culture. In Woman with Dead Child, which she repeated in several versions, she captures agony and despair. Again in The Parents she does the same, but this time the figures are shrouded and all we really have to gather emotion from is the hands of the grieving parents. She was an amazing artist.

See the Kathë Kollwitz museum:
http://www.dhm.de/museen/kollwitz/english/home.htm

And more at the Galerie St Etienne:
http://www.gseart.com/artists.asp?ArtistID=67

Another Girl

I have started another painting. My goal is to complete one every two weeks, for a total of six. I made a couple of adjustments to the first one, so it has changed slightly, but it was very well recieved by the class and people seemed genuinely excited by it. So it is onward with this series.

zoe11

zoe21

Acrylic on canvas, 34 x 75 inches.

Otto Dix

I first became interested in the work of Otto Dix, when required to write a paper, which was titled, “Iconography & Iconology, Otto Dix: Der Krieg.”

I was most interested in Dix’s unflinching portrayals of war. Although Dix was not a pacifist, if I remember correctly, his paintings and prints told it like it was and certainly did nothing to glorify the horrors of it.

Also fascinating is the fact that Dix was part of the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) show at Munich in 1937. Although when looking at the list of artists included in that show it is really no surprise that Dix should also be included. He created work that criticized the Weimar Republic, was stylistically unique, and raw.

Read more about Otto Dix at:
http://www.otto-dix.de/

See Der Krieg at:
http://www.skd-dresden.de/de/presse/pressearchiv.html?id=276