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.

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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.

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

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?

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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).

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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.

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-