An overview of the production of the work appears below.
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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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
New possible words so far (by far an incomplete project, which the spellcheck marks as incorrect):
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.
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.
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.
Exploring the idea of sampling a Vogue magazine further.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.