Tag Archives: whiteness

Drawings

Project dates: June 2012 – ongoing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July Week 1 & 2

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

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

July Week 3 & Onward

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

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Works Cited

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

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

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

Thesis Overview

Abstract

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

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

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

Rationale

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

rationaleSketch_04

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Note

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

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

Method

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

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

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

Methodology

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

map_03

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Notes

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

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

organize_03

Heidi

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

May 21, 2012 – Rewrite

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 25, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and Laura Parnes

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

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

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Works Cited & Consulted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Pope.L

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

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

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

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Footnotes

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

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

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Works Cited

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

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

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

Mutu & Saville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Works Cited

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

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

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

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Edited: May 1, 2012

Synecdoche

Synecdoche (1991-present) by Byron Kim

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N is for Normal

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

Works Cited & Consulted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thesis Project Update

Thesis Project Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – –
Endnotes

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

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

– – – – –
Works Cited

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

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

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

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

White on Whiteness by Diana L. Gustafson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

Work Cited

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

Exposing Privilege and Racism by Lund and Carr

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

Work Cited

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

The Ever Present Othering

A portion of an email I recently wrote:

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

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

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

Do I Want to be an Ethnographer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skin Tags Project

Project dates: Jan 2011 – ongoing

EDIT: Sept, 2012 – This series of works is discussed in my thesis paper. Currently, I am collecting issues of Vogue (the latest being a 900+ page issue) in order to continue the project.

Jun 1 (Two new works)

All the parameters are the same as British Vogue except that the tags are three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

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

I followed the same parameters for this work as for the last one, Skin Tags (April 2011) with one exception. In this case, the samples are in order top to bottom, left to right as they appeared in the magazine. The samples from this issue were, to my eyes, noticeably lighter than American Vogue issues.

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

May 18

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

In this case, I took samples from bodies with large enough areas of skin that did not include recognizable features, although initially appearing the same as the previous works. The tags as a group become slightly more ambiguous as to their nature. Folds present in some of the tags also bring to mind Deleuze’s theory of the fold, as well as the sexual nature bodies. The sheet of paper is also larger allowing the space between each 7mm circle to expand. There are a total of 309 samples.

Intention

My initial impulse in this project was to survey the skin tones represented in Vogue, an iconic fashion magazine. I use a hole punch (5mm and 7mm ) to take samples. One sample is taken from each person represented as long as there is enough skin visible to fit the dimension of the hole punch and/or the photo is not black and white. The small circles are then glued onto a sheet of rag paper in a grid format.

Context – Ongoing

Through the act of cutting and hole-punching I begin to de-contextualize one of the devices that is normalized within whiteness in order to render it strange as opposed to normal or ordinary. The skin tones stretch the meaning of a black/white binary. Are all the lighter skin tones from whites? Where does white end and non-white begin?

Further Thinking

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

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

  1. To draw or pull out, often with great force or effort: extract a wisdom tooth; used tweezers to extract the splinter.
  2. To obtain despite resistance: extract a promise.
  3. To obtain from a substance by chemical or mechanical action, as by pressure, distillation, or evaporation.
  4. To remove for separate consideration or publication; excerpt.
  5. a. To derive or obtain (information, for example) from a source.
    b. To deduce (a principle or doctrine); construe (a meaning).
    c. To derive (pleasure or comfort) from an experience.
  6. Mathematics To determine or calculate (the root of a number).

noun:
Something extracted, especially:

a. A passage from a literary work; an excerpt.
b. A concentrated preparation of the essential constituents of a food, flavoring, or other substance; a concentrate: maple extract.

Some of these meanings can offer something to what is happening in Skin Tags. The skin tone sample is being pulled out and separated from its source for consideration. Because a hole punch is being used there is not only implied violence to skin, but the skin must be obtained despite resistance. Information and meaning is derived from the each sample, but also in context of the samples grouped together in a collage.

In relation to violence to skin Claudia Benthien in Skin (2002) offers the following: “In contemporary art, the surface of the body is defined as a projection surface and a fetish, a place of wounds and stigmatization, and individual dress or a cover to be modified. The display of female skin, in particular, often involves violence or self-inflicted wounds, cuts, burns, …” (3)

I am also now thinking about the work in other terms as well. I am thinking about dissection where part of the process involves extraction of organs etc. (historical anatomy theatres and modern day views of dissection in programs like CSI and Bones). Peter Moeschl in Images of the Body: On Sensory Perception in Medicine and in Everyday Life (2000) discusses the idea that when the interior of the body is viewed that it invokes the perception of injury. Not only that a human being is injured, but that the aesthetics of the body have been disrupted. While Skin Tags does not deal with the interior of the body, it does invoke a sense of injury. Other possible referents might be Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror (2002). Although this goes in a different direction than my thesis.

Barbara Fischer in Love Gasoline (2001) reminds me that there is no longer any looking without being looked at, so it is important to also consider how I am being implicated in the work.

– – – – –
Works Cited

Benthien, Claudia. Skin: on the Cultural Border between Self and the World. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. New York: Columbia Univ., 2002. Print.

Fischer, Barbara. Love Gasoline: an Exhibition of the Body in Sculpture, Performance, Video, and Photo-based Works of the Later 1960s and Early 1970s. Toronto: Mercer Union, 2001. Print.

Moeschl, Peter. “Images of the Body: On Sensory Perception in the Medicine and in Everyday Life.” ReMembering the Body: Body and Movement in the 20th Century. Ed. Gabriele Brandstetter and Hortensia Voelckers. Vienna: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2000. 286–300. Print.

Dictionary

Project dates: Jan 2011 – Apr 2011

Dictionary is a work that needs further research and development. Initially my intention was to explore the way words and meanings behave when removed from their official context- the dictionary. Individual words are cut from a dictionary and pasted onto a small card. This work begins with a clinical approach. However, as Daston and Galison point out, objectivity is contingent on the observer. As they say, “nature, knowledge, and knower intersect in these images, the visible traces of the world made intelligible. […] Ways of scientific seeing are where body and mind, pedagogy and research, knower and known intersect” (53, 369). In other words, what appears to be a medical or clinical type of looking is dependent on my body and my knowledge. Why choose certain words? Why glue them onto small cards? What other ways can signifiers be dissected from their context? How does the context affect the meaning attached to the sign? There are many ways this work can still go.

– – – – –

Work Cited

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

Service & Colour

Since my recent brief hiatus I have been busy catching up on writing a thesis proposal (draft due Thursday), adding my voice to the current course forum, and working on an upcoming critique (no date confirmed yet). Yesterday, I spent most of the day working in the studio. I finished the series of black and white paintings for which I will post photos after I do a couple of retakes. I’ll also have thoughts on those when I post them. In the evening I worked on my Skin Tags project. It’s amazing how long it takes to glue down a few little circles!

In the meantime, I want to share a couple of thoughts on my recent holiday (putting aside the obvious criticisms on not going on an eco or volunteer holiday instead of an all-inclusive resort in Mexico).

On our tour to Chichen Itza (Mayan temple ruins) our guide (Mexican-Mayan) talked about how “anybody” could play in the sport arena, which often ended in death for the captain of the losing team. Anybody! I asked him if when he used the word “anybody” if that included women. Oh, he says, the sport was played by warriors (inferring that women were not warriors of course), but there were some cities that were ruled by a woman… sigh…

Sure, the fact that I spent money in Mexico gives job opportunities to local people, that is true, but I left with the feeling that this kind of travel still entrenches whiteness. Almost all of the patrons were what I would call “white.” I saw maybe three or four non-white patrons the entire week of our stay. (See Richard Dyer’s White (1997) for an excellent discussion on the use of the terms “white” etc.) While many Mexicans have European (Spanish) heritage, I doubt that they would be counted as “whites” anywhere in North America or Europe. Many of the employees were also indigenous Mayan.

Whenever and wherever I looked, I saw non-whites serving whites. Does a place where the opposite is true exist anywhere?

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

The Racial Contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

He concludes his Overview with the following paragraph:

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

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

– – – – –

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skin Tags

Exploring the idea of sampling a Vogue magazine further.

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

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

Orlan

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

Works Cited

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

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

The Location of Culture

Currently the most useful portion of The Location of Culture (1994) written by Homi Bhabha in regards to my research is found in his description of Renee Green’s Sites of Genealogy (1991) used to illustrate his concept of liminality.

Bhabha quotes Green from an interview she conducted with Miwon Kwon where Green is talking about the difficulty with fixed categories (4). What is noted is that the idea of a group or a community is not fixed. Green asks “What is a black community? What is a Latino community?” (4). Questions such as this can be applied to almost every group and sphere that a person moves in and out of. Where does one end and the next one begin?

Bhabha then goes on to describe a work by Green as an “in-between moment” (5):

Green’s ‘architectural’ site-specific work, Sites of Genealogy …, displays and displaces the binary logic through which identities of difference are often constructed – Black/White, Self/Other. Green makes a metaphor of the museum building itself, rather than simply using the gallery space:

‘I used architecture literally as a reference, using the attic, the boiler room, and the stairwell to make associations between certain binary divisions such as higher and lower and heaven and hell. The stairwell became a liminal space, a pathway between the upper and lower areas, each of which was annotated with plaques referring to blackness and whiteness.’ (5)

The stairwell has become, as Bhabha explains, a “liminal space” (5). It becomes a space where mixing occurs. Because the stairwell is open at either end, neither location is required to be fixed. There is movement between the two places and therefore there is an exchange of ideas. Bhabha states “this interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (5).

The idea that there is such a thing as a “homogeneous national culture” is precarious (7). With the recognition that our economies are interdependent upon each other (recalling the recent debt crisis) it quickly becomes apparent that internationalism is unavoidable. It stands to reason that cooperation and sharing between cultures becomes desirable. Ideas of nationalism are being redefined. “The hideous extremity of Serbian nationalism proves that the very idea of a pure, ‘ethnically cleansed’ national identity can only be achieved through the death, literal and figurative, of complex interweavings of history, and the culturally contingent borderlines of modern nationhood” (emphasis mine) (7).

Yet while there is apparent proof of redefinition there is still contention. Resistance may take more subtle forms (or not). In the Netherlands, there are two words that have recently come into use. “Autochtoon” meaning “authentic” Dutch and “allochtoon” literally meaning “from another country” (Essed and Trienekens 53, 57). A person who is born to parents who are autochtoon, but is born, raised, and a citizen of another nation would also be autochtoon. In contrast, a person of Japanese heritage, for instance, whose family had lived and worked in the Netherlands for three generations would be considered allochtoon (see the hyperlinked figure).

Opposition or not, national identity is not fixed. If national identity is fluid, then is it possible that racial identities are also fluid? What does it mean if they are? What does that look like? How does it function? Is there a place for racial identities? What about ethnic identities? How do they differ, if at all?

– – – – –
Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Essed, Philomena, and Sandra Trienekens. “Who Wants to Feel White? Race, Dutch Culture and Contested Identities.” Ethnic and Racial Studies. 31.1 (Jan 2008): 52-72. EBSCOHost, ECULib. Web. 22 May 2009.

– – – – –
Revised: February 13, 2011.

Vicky & Missy

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Missy (a Nice Lady)

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

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

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

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

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-

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?

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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.

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/