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.

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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

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.


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?

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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.