Project 4.8: White, Richard Dyer

Project 4.8: White, Richard Dyer

A: Note how Richard Dyer uses some of the theories alluded to earlier in the course (hegemony and Satre’s ideas of the self) to analyse the films and make his arguments

B: Over the period of a week, see how racial identity and identities are dealt with in the visual media: film, newspapers, the web, any exhibitions you might visit, advertising images and, particularly, the television. Makes notes, illustrated where possible of your analysis.

A: Regarding Simba – 1955 (info here)

  • “…white power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything at all…” I’m not sure I agree with this entirely. Yes, it’s true here in the west – white might be described as invisible, “revealed as emptiness, denial, or even a kind of death”. But having grown up in South Africa it was anything but invisible. White was clearly defined; as a specific minority with God given rights to rule over the majority and its visibility manifested itself in signs such as the ones in the images below. Dyer suggests that looking at “non dominant groups has the effect of producing the sense of oddness, differentness, exceptionality of these groups, the feeling they are departures of the norm.” And  … “Meanwhile the norm has carried on as if it is the natural, inevitable, ordinary way of being.” (457) It is a bit complicated really because the absence of passbooks which white people were not required to carry, but that non-whites were, seems like an example that makes Dyer’s argument true. But in SA white was definitely visible. And they were dominant in power but not in numbers. And when I arrived in England at 14 I saw whiteness everywhere in places I had not seen it before. It was clear in SA the ‘norm’ was constructed, so much so it was blatantly written into parliamentary laws rather than being covert as it is here nowadays. Many, many people fought the ideology, across class and SA was ostracized although racism continued in less obvious forms in the countries that sanctioned SA. (My father in his ‘act’  – he was a comedian – highlighted the hypocrisy with satire about Australia in particular). However, I am very aware having argued with my peers at the time, that little children bought up in households where apartheid was seen as acceptable openly thought like the father-character in the film Simba did. They believed their whiteness made them closer to God, and therefore more human. Or rather, that ‘blackness’ meant the opposite; less human. But white was not the norm. Much energy was spent on behalf of the white National party, who governed, trying to obliterate the norm and control it. The  demolition of Sophiatown, a vibrant non-white community in Johannesburg, is just one example of this (Its story was made into a play produced by The Market Theatre). People’s homes were bulldozed and they were driven out. And in its place came a ‘white’ suburb called Triomphe – which you may translate as Triumph. Yes, white people were violently attempting  to ‘colonise the definition of  normal’ (458) but it was a blatant response to the underlying sheer terror they felt daily – bought on by the undeniable fact that their whiteness was anything but normal. Whiteness was unusual and the opposite of the norm in that country.
  • ‘We’ and ‘our’ are discussed by Dyer as problematic. Am reminded of ‘vagueness’ as explored in Timothy Williamson’s essay On vagueness, or, when is a heap of sand not a heap of sand? Philosophers argue about language being difficult to define. Racist ideology does exactly that – it attempts to define who is valuable and who isn’t.
  • Dyer says, “it is only avowed racists who have a theory which attributes this [a belief in god-given superiority] to inherent qualities of white people”  and that whiteness is presented more as a case of historical accident, rather than a characteristic cultural/historical construction, achieved through white domination” (459) I think I have trouble with this because having grown up in a country where racist ideology was accepted and ingrained into constitutional law, perhaps I am sensitised to it, not only in others but also myself. We are all tribal and look for similarities in others whether it’s the colour of skin, or the middle class habit of putting white shutters up in windows. Unless people can admit to that and look at possible evolutionary reaons, and I don’t believe we tend to very easily, domination of one group over others will continue without sufficient anlysis.
  • Dyer says it is hard to analyse whiteness, people don’t see it. I suspect are all too busy claiming we’re not racist to see it and analyse it  – when in fact we are all led by feelings of ‘groupishness’ based on various factors as described in the previous point.
  • We are asked to consider the three films that Dyer decodes. “The three films relate to situations in which whites hold power in society, but are materially dependent upon black people. All three films suggest an awareness of this dependency – weakly in Simba, strongly but still implicitly in Jezebel, inescapably in Night [of the Living Dead]
  • Simba – a film which underlies the ‘painful’ realisation of Empire, that its time has ended.  Whiteness, as embodied by the Hero, Alan is seen in the end as fair, capable of growth, ultimately good – even when dealing with the ‘darkness’ supposedly inherent in Africa. (It’s a shocking film to watch today for its open racial assumptions and language – i.e. ‘boy’ when addressing non-white people, something I grew up with.) Dyer quotes Franze Fanon – “colonist sensibility”; and Paul Gilroy – “absolutist view of black and white cultures” (462) Dyer shows us how the “binarism” is evident; white = modernity, black standing for “backwardness”. He explains this can be seen in the meetings – whites in very well-lit scenes, black people in dark, night, ‘jungle’ music, tribal ritual and the brutal killing of anyone who won’t acquiesce to the agenda. White meeting consists of nothing but speech, black meeting “on the other hand takes place at dead of night, out of doors, with all black characters in shadow;…. sub-expressionist, lighting that dramatises and distorts the face, …etc.” (462)
  • “Clear boundaries are characteristic of things white (lines, grids, not speaking until someone is finished and soon)”(463)
  • “Thus whites, and men (especially) become characterised by ‘boundariness’. (464) Important for me to think about in relation to what I have written/submitted for A4 and styles of writing I have begun to explore in more depth (discussed in previous blogs and reflection for A4)
  • “The empire provided a narrative space for the realisation of manhood, both as action and maturation. The colonial landscape is expansive, enabling the hero to roam and giving us entertainment of action; is it unexplored, giving him the task of discovery and us the pleasures of mystery; it is uncivilised, needing taming, providing the spectacle of power; it is difficult and dangerous, testing his machismo, providing us with suspense. In other words the Colonial landscape provides the occasion for the realisation of white male virtues which are not qualities of being but of doing – acting, discovering, taming, conquering. At the same time, colonialism as a social, political and economic system, even in fiction also carries with it the challenges of responsibility, the establishment and maintenance of order, of the application of reasons and authority to situations.” (465) There is not time here but it is useful to think about these words in connection with how photographers have and still do capture ‘others’ as described in this article by Alex Thompson, Otherness and Fetishization (sic) of Subject. He describes fantasy, romanticism and a lack of respect from photographers for the people they photograph.
  • Simba is, ultimately “an endorsement of the moral superiority of white values” (466) even though it pretends otherwise by trying to imply white culture is capable of hieghtened humanity towards the ‘lower’ orders. How have things changed in today’s media? See below…
  • Interesting relevant quote from anthropology book Taboo which I refer to often -“…a conversation of ‘us’ with ‘us’ about them’; of the white man with the white man about primitive-native man… a conversation in which ‘them’ is silenced. “Them” always stands on the other side of the hill, naked and speechless, barely present in its absence.” (Blackwood, 95; 52) (1989: 65,67)

 

B:

  1. Last Man on Earth, 2015 – 2016 TV, Fox, Review and synopsis here (comedy about last handful of survivors on Earth trying  to exist)

Quote from the article.essay titled, Donald Trump and the Fall of Whiteness by Michael Mark Cohen “A startling survey, reported in 2015, revealed that older white American men are dying off at an alarming rate. This demographic, virtually alone in the overdeveloped world, seems to be dying off in increasing numbers. Due to unprecedented rates of suicides, drug addiction, alcoholism and overdoses, the life expectancy of white men has declined by nearly four years since the 1990s. No wonder Trump supporters speak in such apocalyptic terms, because for millions of older white men, their world is literally ending.”

The series Last Man on Earth features a white early middle-aged American male who has little respect for women, rules, and other people, all living in a post-virus world where only a handful have made it following the virtual end of humanity. The few survivors who do meet up, very quickly turn against him because of his behaviour. However, the woman he marries in a pretend ceremony sticks with him after the only non-white male character leaves him for dead in the desert. Both men are called Phil. White Phil had previously attempted to do the same to another character (white) but he was in the end too decent to go through with it. As for the name; the small group of survivors force the white Phil to change his name after he loses a contest which seems unfair and makes us feel sorry for white Phil. Of course, the black Phil attempts to take the white Phil’s ‘wife’ which might be seen as a reflection of what lies beneath the following statement by journalist Abi Wilkinson in a recent Guardian article about alt-right online activity. “One thing I noticed early on is that the community seems to be largely white. And that’s evident because race comes up, a lot. Sometimes, in the form of a kind of racial pseudo-science that advocates use to explain the dynamics of heterosexual relations. The age-old racist argument – that black men are “taking our women” – is made regularly.” (Wilksinson, 2016) Wilkinson describes an online community populated by (terrified?) white men who enjoy sitting behind their screens and denigrating anyone who isn’t a white male. Such men are arguably represented by the character, white Phil, wronged, misunderstood, childish but basically, as framed in the series, forgivable and even loveable despite his grossness.

Given the racial breakdown of the USA it could be statistically questionable the majority of survivors are white, although such a statement invites any number of ill-informed statements one can easily imagine from people who see colour as a sign of seperateness. Nevertheless, Cohen’s statement, “The 500 year old world historical project of racial white supremacy is coming to an end. Slowly, incompletely, necessarily, whiteness is ending” (Cohen, 2016) resonates when considered in connection to the show and Cohen’s statement which opens this short passage.

 

2. The right-wing press’ reaction to teenagers arriving from Calais arriving in the UK before the Jungle was demolished.

The headlines communicating derision, bile and scorn in The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Express as teenagers arrived in the UK from France was a clear example of bias. This article from the Huffington Post features British teens responding by posting images of themselves looking very grown up at 16.

The way the media represent colour and white tends to be different as explained in an essay titled Racial Bias and Media Coverage of Violent Crime : The article starts with “Studies of Americans’ unconscious beliefs shows that most people — white and black — think black people are dangerous and both average folks and police are quicker to shoot black than white people.” (Wade, 2016)

 

References:

Dyer, R. (1999). White. In: J. Evans and S. Hall, ed., Visual Culture: A reader, 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications, pp.457-467.

Cohen, M (2016). Medium. Donald Trump and the Fall of Whiteness – Secret History of America. [online] Available at: https://medium.com/the-secret-history-of-america/donald-trump-and-the-fall-of-whiteness-3a568132ef71#.qh9cwifdi [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

Wilkinson, A. (2016). We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men | Abi Wilkinson. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/15/alt-right-manosphere-mainstream-politics-breitbart?CMP=twt_gu [Accessed 16 Nov. 2016].

Google.co.uk. (2016). photographs of ‘non blankes’ signs in South Africa – Google Search. [online] Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=photographs+of+’non+blankes’+signs+in+South+Africa&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gfe_rd=cr&ei=An0tWKSlJcrU8gf2zIfYDw [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].

Williamson. T . (2016). AEON On vagueness, or, when is a heap of sand not a heap of sand? – Timothy Williamson | Aeon Ideas. [online] Available at: https://aeon.co/ideas/on-vagueness-when-is-a-heap-of-sand-not-a-heap-of-sand [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].

Thompson, A. (2016). Otherness and the Fetishization of Subject. [online] PetaPixel. Available at: http://petapixel.com/2016/11/16/otherness-fetishization-subject/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].

Wade, L. (2016). Racial Bias and Media Coverage of Violent Crime – Sociological Images. [online] Thesocietypages.org. Available at: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2015/04/09/racial-bias-and-media-coverage-of-violent-crime/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].

Blackwood, E. (1995). Falling in love with an-Other Lesbian. In: D. Kulick and M. Wilson, ed., 1st ed. London and New York: Routledge, p.52.

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Notes: A4 Isabelle Mège

Notes: A4 Isabelle Mège

Link to Charles Nègre below; Joel-Peter Witkin’s image of Isabelle Mège is a direct copy of an image by Nègre of his lover from 1850 (Nègre’s image is the one we see here above and below – click link for Witkin’s). Nègre was one of the earliest professional art photographers, originally a painter. He used photography at first to help with studies towards his painting but moved into photography for its own sake.

https://photohumanisinternationalven.wordpress.com/tag/charles-negre/

tumblr_inline_nmj9n0f2be1tntff1_540

Description taken from Photo Humanis International website

“Charles Nègre show us here an almost androgyne body.
The chest of the model vanishes with the pose. Evidently the
intention isn’t to enhance the body of this lady. The position seems
almost painful. The legs are hanging as a pendulum and the leaning
frame makes the image heave. This photography prefigures Charles
Nègre work on movement. The stripes in the floor contribute to the
general atmosphere, that is almost surreal with a strongly geometric
photography. The body as it is presented here does not match with canons of
beauty of the time.” (Photo Humanis International, 2015)

Link to Witkin’s image here: http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Heyward-Witkin.jpg

I will do a formal analysis of this image in A4 and make note of the strange heels which look like they are part of Mège’s body.

Some initial info re shoe fetishism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoe_fetishism

I also need to return to the Freud article we looked a very early on regarding Fetishm (pps 324-6 of the Reader)

Isabelle Huppert is a french actor (actress if you must) who has also been photographed many times by international well known photographers, including Joel-Peter Witkin, and released a book/exhibition showing these. The sense you get from them is very different to Mège’s and they appear to be more ‘starry’. Huppert has an actor’s presence and series of masks which Mège does not have, although of course she has her own but they appear to be less theatrical. In fact, looking at pictures of Huppert and comparing, I am struck by a sense that Mège displays much less psychological fragility, which is what we might be forgiven for assuming we see in actors’ images, where in many case they may be described as objectified. She works with the artist but “she is an artist whose medium is other artists”  (Nancy, Heyward, 2016) which suggests she owns her part in the creative process. She is one of the authors of the work. She has co-opted the artist’s contribution rather than the other way around in a long term project that she drives herself.

Images of Huppert here: http://www.claudinecolin.com/en/465-isabelle-huppert-woman-of-many-faces 

Plus look at Tim Andrews again – http://timandrewsoverthehill.blogspot.co.uk

There is something tangibly different here, other than the male/female thing and number of artists involved. Andrews it seems is less discerning. Andrews also posts individual projects on his blog as they arrive. His project is incorporated into a very modern Internet based monologue, ‘using the medium of other artists’. Mège seems almost entirely indifferent to an audience, not quite as much as Vivian Meier might have been, but her drive to do this project is entirely un-reliant on whether or not anyone else sees it.

Fetishism http://psychoanalysts.livejournal.com/29943.html

Female fetishism https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=S-g8DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA104&lpg=PA104&dq=irigaray+fetishm&source=bl&ots=HTFEGcr1kA&sig=maoqAcO5c9gd4RMv3LS07gVRTV8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwil2vq5u4zQAhWMA8AKHbjKAZoQ6AEIIzAB#v=onepage&q=irigaray%20fetishm&f=false

 

Project 4.7: Blackness

Read the chapter Fact of Blackness by Frantz Fanon on pages 417-420 of the course reader.

  • Fanon is writing from the point of view of a black colonial, a second class citizen in his own country (although in French Law he was a citizen of France.) What are his key points and how do these relate to visual culture?
  • Many artists of Afro-Caribean, African or Asian family origins working in Britain, the country of their birth, make work dealing with their take on, for want of a better term blackness. Find such a work and make notes and annotations to explain this. Chris Ofilli is just one such artist but there are many others.
  • As a black person Fanon describes himself as an ‘object’, by which he means in relation to non-white people who objectify him and everyone else without a white skin, by seeing only his colour rather than his person
  • In a colony he can only ever experience himself as an other, ‘being for others’
  • Being black is the result of not being white, and so in relation to others – one cannot exist outside of that
  • His culture has been wiped out as it did not sit with the culture that colonised him
  • “Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity” (418) i.e. Since I must consider my difference, I can only recognise it in relation to what it isn’t – it isn’t white
  • When we were looking at Lacan’s mirror we thought about how a child looks at itself and then recognises the image as self in the mirror. The child will imagine parts of itself, ultimately reaching/ achieving a gestalt. For Fanon, seeing himself as a black man and what that means for how he relates to the world and how it relates to him is integral to that – “in the middle of a spacial and temporal world”. We also considered the way in which people continue to see an image of themselves reflected in the eyes and expressions of others – a living mirror. Fanon, as with any non-white human being, living especially in a colonised world or where people have been displaced, discusses how his image is defined by the reflection he is faced with in Other. He describes this as a “definitive structuring of the self and of the world”
  • Fanon talks about the reaction he sees in white people who consciously or not imagine the very worst of him, believing in an historical narrative which reaches back to days of Empire when white explorers went off and returned with exotic and frightening ‘tales’ of what they had witnessed. “Mama, I see a negro! I am frightened!” (418)
  • Fanon compares his own plight with someone who is of Jewish descent and sees that a Jewish person has at least some possibility of hiding their ethnic history more readily than a non-white person can (In no way do I wish to diminish Fanon’s sense of separation from the ruling position of white (male) subject, but I suspect all Others feel that their Otherness is so entrenched it can never be reconciled or overridden in another or themselves to greater or lesser extents. However, I do see just how horrifically violent and destructive the legacy of slave ownership, and all that entails, has been for people)
  • Fanon also states that the fantastical tales about other Others who exist in society might not be quite as extreme as the ones that follow him around

It is difficult to see how to begin to practise actual critical writing in this section, as outlined in my previous post. I can never be qualified to argue against Fanon’s statements, and would never presume to do so either, because I am a white British middle class woman who grew up in apartheid South Africa, and who is acutely aware of the privilege all those factors afforded me, along with the degradation and pain involved for the vast majority of people living in that country. I was taught the most extraordinary nonsense in my white only school in history class, which attempted to obliterate people’s culture and background entirely. I grew up in exactly the sort of colonised country that Fanon describes. And even if I’d grown up here in the UK, the fact I have less melanin in my skin than he does means I can only imagine but never know the subjectivity of non-whiteness.

What I can say with certainty is people who don’t have Fanon’s experience, in Britain and the rest of the western world, dominate an economy which includes advertising agencies, photography, newspapers and magazines, Film and TV production companies, as well as the organisations that employ those services. It therefore requires awareness and constant vigilance to ensure that advertising and visual story-telling of all descriptions are consciously inclusive, and actively aim to avoid stereotypes. This has proved incredibly difficult and there is a general sense we fail as a community, even though there are some places where you can see an effort to address these issues. An advert I included in Project 4.5 at the very end which advertises teaching as a profession shows several white children and a white teacher. Other images from the same series can be seen elsewhere, also only showing white people. It is an astonishing failure in 2016.

Sonia Boyce

At Tate Liverpool, artist and professor in Fine Arts, Sonia Boyce is leading a research project aimed at valuing black British artists that have been overlooked. As well as unearthing artists, “BAM’s work, says Boyce, is to demystify Black or minority ethnic artists and bring them back into the conversation.” (Robertson, 2016) Boyce also works herself, and was a painter when she started but now incorporates a range of mediums including sound, photography, video, and live performance. In the 80s she played with stereotypes ‘appropriating them back’ and owning them herself, thereby deconstructing them. She now works with language and meaning. It is of particular interest that Boyce is so concerned with “diffuse individual authorship” (Google). In various videos online referring to her project Exquisite Cacophony, she talks about the process of collaboration, about how different people bring their ideas and influence to a project, and how each of them will take ownership in their own way. This ties in with Isabelle Mege’s project which I will look at in A4 shortly, as well as Barthes’ Death of an Author. Boyce’s interest in race seems less critical in her latest work than it was in the 80s. Nowadays she seems to be looking at more universal concerns but they are nevertheless very much linked to the way in which traditional world views are being replaced by less fixed definitions of power, status, and a move away from individualism.

Exquisite Cacophony” was produced for the 2015 Venice Biennial, at “All the World’s Futures, Central Pavilion, Giardini/Arsenale. The combination of rapping and Dada-inspired poetry may not be an obvious one, but Sonia Boyce’s film of a high-energy performance by the US rapper Astronautalis and the British vocalist and poet Elaine Mitchener reveals surprising parallels.” (Pryor, 2015)

I have only been able to watch a shortened clip of this performance and so the annotations are probably a little scant, if anything at all, but the work is relevant for lots of reasons, even though it doesn’t really deal with blackness, which we were asked to look for. As I said earlier, I do not feel qualified to deconstruct such a work and am also very interested in issues that arise out this one. Elaine Mitchener improvises sounds, song, scatting, poetry alongside Astronautalis who speaks. At the Venice Biennial where Exquisite Cacophony was shown there was a 40 minute live performance as well as the film which was recorded at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The ‘conversation’ is apparently nonsensical but meaning and connections are made anyway – the human desire to find meaning in arbitrary sounds is overwhelming. It is ever possible to remove meaning entirely? What’s more, when there seems to be most evidence or obviousness of meaning, surely this is where we must practise the highest levels of vigilance against imposing or accepting it. Exquisite Cacophony is reminiscent of Dada’s Cabaret Voltaire and Hugo Ball’s sound poem (which my friend David Wotton performed in a re-enanctment of the cabaret for Manchester University alongside three other actors, including me, in 1994 – I have a video but sadly the DVD drive on my Mac doesn’t work so I can’t include a clip on my blog for now). Ball believed “journalism and politics had irredeemably debased the meaning of words and that this was symptomatic of the wider decay of Western civilisation” (Merdre, 1997: 52) In Boyce’s film her collaborators improvised the performance  following a briefing. Unlike Hugo Ball’s performance they are not dressed up in a ludicrous costume, perhaps representing what he thought of politicians and newspaper people, but rather in a variation of formal black tie – albeit a more relaxed version in the film, and in ‘smart casual’ wear for the performance. There is something un-performative in the presentation. There is an element of acting of course, but it seems acknowledged and so there is no mystifying fourth wall. Like Semiotics of the Kitchen, lots of the usual theatrical or filmic conventions are ignored or not made use of, and so there is no invitation to suspend  belief, in the live performance at any rate. This leads to an alienating affect which should allow an audience to focus on the specifics of the piece. I do not know how the recorded version plays out but in photographs it looks as if the audience and equipment are included so it is probably safe to assume a similar set of decisions were made. The lack of artifice prevents a similar interpretation to Ball’s sound poem from being reached. Here the unfamiliar sounds begin to sound familiar and human relating becomes the focus, along with the way in which we communicate or don’t, and they way in which we create something new out of that communication.

Evans, J. and Hall, S. (1999). Visual culture. London: SAGE Publications in association with the Open University, pp.417-420.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/black-artists-and-modernism-there-are-some-remarkable-stories-to-be-discovered

http://theartnewspaper.com/reports/a-cacophony-and-a-symphony-the-musical-biennale/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/P2RDyVB5vr9KMWNXwm15Ly/sonia-boyces-postcard-from-venice

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/u/0/asset/exquisite-cacophony/3AFPMgOyKp7Y6A

https://vimeo.com/5625727

http://www.campiture.com/2015/12/sonia-boyce-host-alla-galleria-a-palazzo-di-brescia/

Gale, M. (1997). Dada & surrealism. London: Phaidon, p.52.

 

Notes: A4

Following a helpful email from my tutor, Micheal Belshaw, yesterday, in response to some questions I asked about critical writing I have a clearer idea about what/how I shall be writing for A4. I asked to clarify the difference between formal analysis and interpretative analysis. He replied, “formal analysis is concerned with the way something looks according to a recognised vocabulary. Interpretation is concerned with meaningful connections (not to be confused with what something means). Ideally interpretation is built on formal analysis.” (Belshaw, 2016)

Additionally, I have looked at the difference between descriptive and critical writing on a page from Leicester University, where everything is laid out clearly and succinctly. I write too descriptively even when I think I’m not doing so. So, my aim should be for more critique, less description although that is still required to some degree.

For A4 we must write a 2000 word essay referring to one or more topics covered in Section 4, analysing and critiquing a visual culture text. The title of the assignment is Visualising the Other. I will be writing about Isabelle Mège’s 30 year project where she has collaborated with fine art photographers, creating a body of work, all portraits of her. See more here – http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-opposite-of-a-muse

Things to consider:

Portraits and self portraits  – history, ‘recognised vocabulary’

Death of an Author – Barthes

Gendering the gaze,  Mège has made use of the male gaze, literally in many cases, although we have established that the male gaze is operative regardless of the gaze owner’s gender – the male gaze is in fact an object, a lens, through which we view things and perceive reality

Does Mège invite  (or incite as the predictive text suggested) viewers to look, observe or survey her?

Identity – (Lacan, mirror stage)

Women artists – Is Mège an artist?

Ways of Seeing – Berger, I’ve not started reading Hélène Cisoux, Luce Irigaray or Julia Kristeva, three influential feminist philosophers all still working, but I am sure something of what they say can/should be included about the female body as Other. Irigaray’s Speculum of the Other Women is on order so perhaps I will be able to include some of what she has to say. I know this is her early work but I feel I ought to start at the beginning. Anyway, Freud and Lacan need to be considered, I’m sure. And castration or lack. (Philosopher Slavoj Žižek is helpful on this whole castration metaphor but I need to watch this again before commenting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtfe4tfOoDM)

Critical writing it seems is an argument against or for something  – I must therefore look at the scant information that has been written about Mège’s project and argue against ideas suggested there, or against something within or about the work. Perhaps about seeing women as others, perhaps about nudity/nakedness in portraiture (which I don’t much like in the main). In relation to flesh, I’ve quoted Germain Greer before but she has quite an issue with it. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/artblog/2008/jan/28/theconnectionbetweenartand Suggestions from fellow students very welcome…

I think I can, perhaps should, also compare this project with Tim Andrew’s self-portrait through-others project which is similar but a lot less subtle in my mind and does not seem to be as profound as Mège’s. Is that because she’s a beautiful French women though and he a middle-aged man from Brighton, I wonder?

Micheal also asked me to think about how someone might do something similar with written work rather than photography? What is about photography that makes this sort of project more possible, as I think a written work project would have very different set of restrictive problems… is ownership over writing more or less tricky to negotiate, I wonder? I’m not sure. Lines between plagiarism, influence and collaboration seem important.

Another project that looks at women in a distinctive way which may be relevant:

Belshaw, M. (2016) Response to questions about analysis (Email sent from Micheal Belshaw to Sarah-Jane Field, 21 October 2016)

http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/writing-resources/critical-writing

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-opposite-of-a-muse

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/artblog/2008/jan/28/theconnectionbetweenartand

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-VOCXimwaQ&oref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DT-VOCXimwaQ&has_verified=1

 

 

Project 4.6 (ii): Sarah Lucas – God is Dad

Project 4.6 (ii): Sarah Lucas – God is Dad

Select and annotate at least four works by contemporary woman artists, including Sarah Lucas. How do these works relate to some of the theories and ‘isms’ that you’ve explored so far? (See here for three women artists – this post only deals with Sarah Lucas)

I have chosen to look at Sarah Lucas’s God is Dad. The exhibition book I bought, produced to accompany the New York show held at the Gladstone Gallery from February to March, 2005, contains an essay by Linda Nochlin which has been useful for this project. Before I explore the work, there is a phrase by Nochlin in the introduction that says Lucas ends up, “…. pulling us inevitably towards interpretation rather than formal analysis.” (5) Perhaps I missed it or wasn’t looking, but never before have I seen these two positions separated out so clearly. It would be good to create a table with two columns, one titled Interpretation and the other Formal Analysis, and underneath a list of bullet points that embody and explain the  differences (I’ve been told it’s there for all to see on the Internet!) Nochlin also tells us she values both, and says each “needs to be considered together, not (to get) at meaning, but at the full impact – the pathos, the power – of these uncanny re-castings of the most ordinary situations”. (5) Perhaps something to discuss at one of our UVC hangouts. I always want to interpret and have found formal analysis extremely challenging so it would be good to know exactly what that term means.

God is Dad

Freud – the father of psychology

Twitter is fantastically informative. Just yesterday an article swept through my feed, “A new study on female orgasms proves Freud wrong once and for all.” (Indy100, 2016). Freud said that women who can only experience one type of orgasm were immature and had some sort of emotional deficit. That is now considered erroneous. In fact, Freud has also recently been proved right on some things, specifically regarding dreams (Malinowski, 2016). Perhaps the arguments about what Freud got wrong and what he got right will continue for a while yet.

A new world

History shows us that Freud’s ideas emerged at a time when the Industrial Revolution either triggered enormous societal changes or were an outcome of them – probably both. A new society required a new form of religion. The old order no longer reflected the society it served. Psychotherapy, with Freud and then Jung at its early helm, was the vehicle that ushered in a new form. Many others contributed to the development of psyche as a science including Melanie Klein, Anna Freud, John Bowlby but it was Lacan who cemented a new definition of the basis for reality with the terms Symbolic, Real and Imaginary, which like the Catholic triad, Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, is shaped in a satisfying three-point structure. They each also represent similar aspects of being and crucially of relationship – Father being key. Father is the symbol that rules the world and is situated at the top of the symbolic order – “Our father who art in heaven…”, “Heavenly father….”, etc. We learn this language from our earliest days.

Lacan’s definition of reality, which emerges when a baby reaches the mirror stage – a metaphor to describe the realisation of self as other – is, he says, imperative in order to begin to grasp spoken words. And the language of psychotherapy itself, just as religious language once was, is deeply embedded in our lives with words and phrases such as denial, OCD, fetish, acting out, self-medicating, projecting, addicted, retail therapy all used regularly by lay people. Even where the term therapy is rejected alternatives have evolved such as ‘coaching’, a less contentious, more palatable version for those who find the idea of counselling or therapy uncomfortable.

Religion died, and as such expressed by Nietzsche, when he famously said, “God is dead”.  But it was replaced by psychotherapy and there was still a father embedding the language with father’s world order. Lucas uses Nietzsche’s  phrase as a spring-board to explore the new order, linking it to the old order, and highlighting the through-line – patriarchy.  This takes us to the position that perhaps Dad is dead, i.e. patriarchy has had its day, or at any rate should have had.  As well as that, the use of the colloquial ‘Dad’ removes the traditional male figure-head from its ceremonial and exalted perch, placing it in the everyday, the mundane, a possible and accessible relation rather than a distant unapproachable entity. Embedded within the title, through a process of association, Lucas identifies the metaphorical nature of a religious father figure at the top of society. She positions the father figure in the present reality. And she manages to kill him off too, creating a level field – exemplified in the androgynous self-identity of her earlier years.

slide1
Diagram 1. shows two orders, pre and post psychology

“Much of Lucas’s early work was autobiographical and aggressively gendered as ‘masculine’, or at least, deliberately ‘anti-feminine’ and androgynous” (13). In recent interviews Lucas says how angry she was that all her male friends were becoming successful and she wasn’t. She was able to translate that sense of rage into work that illuminates the social construction of gender. She does this by identifying signs that exist in our world and re-imagining them in strange and peculiar combinations. Tights, an object usually associated with women, signifying sexuality and an ideal femininity, but also sweatiness and all that entails, for example, are appropriated and used to create suggestions of male and female legs, as well as bunny ears and vaginas. Nochlin ends her introductory essay by saying that Lucas presents us with work that highlights the inequities and power biases in a world “that is still anything but equal”. (15)

Prior to God is Dad, Lucas presented a show in the Freud Museum, and so we can see her relationship with him developing over time. Freud is a societal figurehead whose ideas, regardless of what you think of them, have had an enormous impact on langauge. He is long dead, along with God, but perhaps not Dad, not yet. Freud’s writing successfully informs us about how male and female roles played out in reality during his time, and we can look at his ideas to see how far we have come and how much work there is still to do. Women, it seems nowadays, are at least afforded the chance to experience sexual pleasure without being made to feel they are somehow lacking in something, as shown in the article identified at the start of this post. Lucas plays with objects from our reality which she positions together, in order to give us an indication of how far there is still to go.

https://www.indy100.com/article/female-orgasms-freud-wrong-clitoral-vaginal-7355526

https://theconversation.com/was-freud-right-about-dreams-after-all-heres-the-research-that-helps-explain-it-60884

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/05/sarah-lucas-venice-biennale-i-scream-daddio-review

Nochlin, L, Lucas S. (2005). God is Dad. New York: Gladstone Gallery

Project 4.6 (i) Women Artists

Project 4.6 (i) Women Artists

Select and annotate at least four works by contemporary woman artists, including Sarah Lucas. How do these works relate to some of the theories and ‘isms’ that you’ve explored so far

  • Gillian Wearing  – Fuck Cilla Black (2003) (magazine cover, minimalist white, black scrawl saying “Fuck Cilla Black” in the centre, and in much smaller lettering at the bottom of the cover, the title of the article linked to the image, “TV gets Nasty, Cover by Gillian Wearing, Report by Stuart Jeffries”)While researching Wearing, I came across an article about a magazine cover she had produced for the Guardian’s G2 in 2003, described above. After publication, the Guardian received a mountain of complaints. Both Wearing and G2’s editor apologised. Even so, the cover embodies some of the subjects Wearing is looking at in her work. She explores the dichotomy between our inner and outer selves, deconstructing what we choose to present externally. The cover garnered a lot of complaints because people were shocked by the use of bad language, but also appalled that someone whose public persona, that of  a “cuddly matriarch”, should be derided. (Katz, 2003). In fact, some anecdotes suggest Cilla Black was anything but cuddly as described in an article that appeared in The Daily Mail  in 2007. Perhaps the allusion to inner and outer selves was accidental, given the apologies. But there is something far more interesting than whether Cilla Black was nice or not expressed in the work.  And ultimately the cover wasn’t about her, rather it was about something her TV persona represented. The G2 cover intended to illustrate an article about how mean TV had become lately, especially reality TV. It may have shocked people but it worked as a headline for the article which was exploring socially acceptable insidious behaviour, manifested as entertainment, in some cases funded by the society and individuals it mocked. We accept cruelty on TV towards members of the public but we don’t like it if we see evidence of the same sort of behaviour directed towards certain figures. There is something strange, if not hypocritical in this.Will Black’s recent book, Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires explores the way in which society loses empathy and allows psychopathic traits to dominate. Aside from the way in which certain groups of people are able to exist and operate in positions of power, and exert influence over society, the book looks at how damaging traits spread. TV, and particularly reality TV is a key disseminator of cultural norms as well as being a mirror for society. The reality of Reality TV is pernicious, so much so, it inspired an extremely violent series of books aimed at teenagers called The Hunger Games where children are chosen to fight to the death for entertainment purposes, as well as ensuring a sense of power is retained by the oligarchical leaders over a dystopian society. Wearing’s G2 edition uncovers some truths about reality TV by focussing the aggression in a different direction.  And we so looking back, we might recognise something about retaining control over a society explored in the Hunger Games books too. Also, many of the same people prompted to write in and complain about the cover are likely to have watched the ‘victims’ of TV shows, joining in and enjoying their public shaming without question. People don’t seem to realise what they’re doing when they put themselves forward for these shows. What’s more, it is highly debatable that children should ever appear in reality TV shows at all, especially the ones that disguise themselves as behavioural advice clinics. Such programmes are prurient and all the worse for pretending they’re an important social service. Will Black says in his book, “Once we recognise that psychopathic cultures are as much a reality as psychopathic individuals, we will have considerably more chance of tackling them” (Black, 2014) Whatever you want to name it by, the socially accepted behaviour inherent in reality TV should prompt us to ask questions about ourselves, which is what the article and cover were doing, and perhaps begin tackling what has become a norm. The apologies from Wearing and G2 look like commercially motivated mopping up, and whilst totally understandable, should not detract from the original intent.
  • Agnes Martin Gabriel 1976, 76 minute 16mm film following a lone boy exploring nature, as well as various aspects of the nature he experiences (looking and subjectivity)

    “You are what goes through your mind” (Martin)

    This is difficult to ‘annotate’ – I realise much of what I choose to look at cannot be annotated in the usual way, since often it is video, or even a just pile of sweets, or so incredibly minimalist there is virtually nothing to connect pencil lines of notes to, but this one is even harder since I cannot see the film in time as I have struggled to find it online and would need to order a hard copy (sure others with better research abilities than me will find an illegal copy in seconds). I must rely on reports by others including a WeAreOCA blog. In that case, why choose to do this at all you may ask? Hopefully I can answer that during the following notes.Courtney Fisk in an online article describes a key characteristic of the film, which is the non-virtuoistic way in which it is made. In several places online the film is described as unprofessional, out of focus in parts, shaky, filled with non-sequiturs, and accidental mistakes, mishaps. Fisk says, “Her decision in 1976 to make a film thus seems a digression, an eccentric footnote to a body of work singularly obsessed with line.” (Fisk, 2013)  However, Fisk ends the article with, “Rather than an aberrant, and potentially harmful, addendum to an otherwise faultless oeuvre, Martin’s film illumes the contradictions that structure her art and the anxiety (both the artist’s own and that of her interpreters) that attends its relationship to nature. It’s a film, like her paintings, at once elusive and concrete, that interests us precisely because it is irreconcilable.”A conversation on the WeAreOCA.com newsletter explores whether or not the lack of virtuosity in the filming leads to a valid form of ‘expression’. (WeAreOCA.com, 2016) Martin seems in her work, concerned with the place where language (structure and form) and inner states  (the opposite of structure of form, for want of a better description) meet. The intricate but repetitive calculated lines and shapes in her usual work, painted by hand, can be seen as an example of the symbolic order reduced as far as possible without being entirely annihilated, and where we would expect to see or hear ‘language’ there is only the hint of it. When asked what her work is ‘about’, Martin answers, as reported in the Fisk interview and in relation to the film, ‘happiness’ and ‘innocence’ like all of it.  She describes the film as being about joy and innocence.  You might argue that joy cannot be experienced or known without sadness and pain and so inherent in her work is the very opposite and a nostalgia for a time that can never be revisited, a point at which we embrace language and all that entails. Regardless, the film, from what I understand, is challenging and there are detractors as well as supporters, but I find it a useful lesson in an argument against perfection. Even though the filming may have been subject to, or even made by embracing unplanned mistakes and unconscious eruptions, it, from what I can tell in the reporting, conveys a sense of living, authentic experience and unadulterated emotion. Perhaps it gives us an example of the antithesis of James Elkins’ idea of ‘kitsch and tedious’ when he describes the state of photography found on social media in his book What Photography Is. (2011) Maybe Elkins was justifiably accused of dismissing too much but there is certainly within that term a type of work that is overly perfect and utterly stripped of any joy, life or energy whatsoever. (That is important for me to remember as I struggle with an inner voice that dismisses anything and everything I do as being not good enough).
  • Amelia Ulman Excellences and Perfections 2014 (Identity) https://www.instagram.com/amaliaulman/

    I have touched briefly on Ulman’s work before but will link her work here with some themes I have covered in this UVC project. Excellences and Perfections has been described as “one of the most original and outstanding artworks of the digital era.” (Sooke, 2016)  The project started in 2014 when Ulman started to build an Instagram following of thousands, emulating other accounts where individuals promote a certain type of lifestyle; expensive, perfect looking, glossy, arguably highly narcissistic. The difference was, Ulman was doing this for the sake of a performance art project which only she was aware of, and eventually she unveiled her trick at which point the art critics hailed her as a modern genius. Which she may well be.

    Slavoj Zizek, in his YouTube video referring to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, describes how ‘play’, transforms into reality. “Appearance wins over reality”, ultimately becoming it. (Zizek, 2014) As an actor this concept is familiar and can also be seen in the way a well-known rugby team, the All Blacks, warm up, invoking the aggression required to play well with a pre-match ritual. So, it seems perfectly justifiable to ask, where does the real Ulman and the fake Ulman begin and end?  Her work evokes the sense of an unstable, shifting reality which some might argue permeates social media.It is really important to stress I am not remotely suggesting that Ulman has any form of  personality disorder in the following. I have never met her am not qualified to make any sort of personal analysis, even if I had met her. I am looking here at the questions her work asks about our society. It may be worth considering Will Black’s book Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires again, which explains how society is currently suffering from traits that are recognised as psychopathic in individuals. The traits are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) under anti-social personality disorder:
    A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:

    1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
      a.Identity: Ego-centrism; self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure.b.Self-direction: Goal-setting based on personal gratification; absence of prosocial internal standards associated with failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behavior.AND
    2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):
      a.Empathy: Lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another.b.Intimacy: Incapacity for mutually intimate relationships, as exploitation is a primary means of relating to others, including by deceit and coercion; use of dominance or intimidation to control others.

    Black tells us at some length how deciding on the terms that best describe anti-social order behaviour – psychopathy and narcissism being two such mindsets on a scale – are challenging and part of an ever evolving process. Nevertheless, Black is one of many authors who have suggested society currently suffers from traits that are psychopathic or narcissistic and many of these thesis’ point to the rise of social media as a key element, although they also write a lot of words exploring the advantages too.  This morning I read an article about social ‘gas lighting’, the term that describes how one person deliberately aims to dismantle another’s perception of reality. Ulman was and is certainly playing around with shifting realities. Another term being used in the media to describe social gas lighting is ‘post-truth’, what ever  that may actually mean.

    Ulman’s work is clearly examining some of the outcomes of living today, especially the phenomena of presenting a persona on social media. The Excellences and Perfections images are in the main high key, fluffy, soft, delicate and very ‘feminine’. It is interesting to compare Ulman’s current Instagram images. The latest ones have a more robust aesthetic, are darker, some are very much more abstract, and often challenging. But there is still a very strong sense of performance, and a presentation of a contrived and constructed self. It might be argued all of our online presentations are performative. Presenting a self online as so many of us do nowadays is explored in The Narcissism Epidemic, and there are queries surrounding its helpfulness to society, and individuals.

    Behaviour and acceptance of it changes over time, thank goodness. What was deemed antisocial in the past is now considered acceptable, and in many cases it would be unthinkable to swing backwards.  It is horrific to consider how homosexuality was criminalised until relatively recently. What does this mean if we head further into an era where malignant self love, at the expense of others, is becoming the accepted norm, and are those who query it failing to see the benefits? Are there any benefits or are there only costs?  The thing about Ulman’s project which is difficult to accept is that there doesn’t seem to be much room for exploring what lies beneath the desire to put oneself on show, dress up, compete over looks, money, and material signifiers on Instagram. I may be misinterpreting or even projecting , but it feels like it comes from a position of superiority-complex. In the DSM-5 description above, we are told people with anti-social disorder personalities don’t conform to “culturally normative ethical behaviour. If a trait usually associated with disordered behaviour such as extreme self interest, self love, and self flaunting becomes normalised then how can we determine whether it is pathological or not, helpful to society or not? How can we say it is a disordered trait? Cultural evolution can happen at breakneck speed in comparison with biological evolution. “Cultural inheritance occurs in hundred of species” (Laland, 2016) Animals (not only human ones) inherit “knowledge from their parents” which has an impact on our individual and collective existences. The digital revolution has introduced a host of amazing positive changes to society, not least of all a dismantling of establishment in some areas, the opportunity for everyone to have their say, and much better television too. But some argue is has come with some high costs; narcissism, lack of empathy and perhaps even a greater prevalence of psychopathic traits in society, accepted as ‘normative’ which may have some relevance in the way the west has responded to the crisis of people movement across the globe. A report released by Amnesty International this week describes how the rich west is doing the least to help and the poorest countries have been left to try to take responsibility. “It is time for leaders to enter into a serious, constructive debate about how our societies are going to help people forced to leave their homes by war and persecution. They need to explain why the world can bail out banks, develop new technologies and fight wars, but cannot find safe homes for 21 million refugees, just 0.3% of the world’s population.” (Amnesty International, 2016) If Ulman’s work has any depth at all, it has to be the exploration of an obession with self, and how that is affecting the way society is evolving. The focus and time spent looking inwards as we primp, preen and perform is a stark contrast to the pictures of dehumanised people escaping Africa or the Middle East on a cramped boat.  Ulman’s latest Instagram images explore the violence inherent in humanity more openly. But there is still a cynicism in it, and highly constructed and very, very different Martin’s Gabriel.

I will write about Sarah Lucas separately. There is a thread through this post linking each of the artists and which helps me to explore and compare different approaches to creativity. Each of the artists explores social structures and individual mindsets differently. I was keen to include Martin’s refusal to be cynical, to do away with the structured rules we live by and to explore with as much innocence as possible.

Image Agnes Martin, Untitled (1955), oil paint on canvas, 118.1 x 168.3 (http://hyperallergic.com/219948/agnes-martin-in-two-new-books-a-life-revealed/)

DSM-5 quote © 2012 American Psychiatric Association.

References:

https://www.nowness.com/story/gillian-wearing-your-views

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/9181379/Gillian-Wearing-Whitechapel-Gallery-review.html

https://www.theguardian.com/comment/story/0,,873511,00.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gillian_Wearing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunger_Games

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-444286/Surprise-Surprise–Cilla-nice-think.html

http://www.artnews.com/2015/12/30/women-art-status-in-2015/

Black, W. (2015). Psychopathic cultures and toxic empires. [London]: Frontline Noir..

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/agnes-martin (interview)

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/agnes-martin (road trip video)

http://www.filmcomment.com/blog/gabriel-agnes-martin-1976-stan-brakhage-creation/

https://weareoca.com/fine-art/gabriel/

http://artforum.com/film/id=42362

Elkins, J. (2011). What photography is. New York: Routledge.

http://petapixel.com/2016/01/23/this-artist-got-90k-instagram-followers-with-photos-of-a-fake-lavish-lifestyle/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/is-this-the-first-instagram-masterpiece/

http://www.psi.uba.ar/academica/carrerasdegrado/psicologia/sitios_catedras/practicas_profesionales/820_clinica_tr_personalidad_psicosis/material/dsm.pdf

Laland, K, 2016 Evolution Evolves, The New Scientist

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/10/refugee-crisis-set-to-get-worse/

https://youtu.be/168MsyGJ9yU

Twenge, J. and Campbell, W. (2009). The narcissism epidemic. New York: Free Press.

Project 4.5 (ii) : Nakedness and Nudity

Project 4.5 (ii) : Nakedness and Nudity
  • Make a collection of images of nakedness and the nude, annotating them to indicate which they represent, how and why

 

“To be naked is to be oneself. 

To be nude is to be seen naked and yet not recognised for oneself. …..()…..

The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress” 

John Berger, Ways of Seeing

“The English language, with its elaborate generosity, distinguishes between the naked and the nude. To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition. The word “nude,” on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone.”

Kenneth Clarke, The Nude

Perhaps Clarke’s quote seems outdated in light of the shifts that have occurred in some sections of society western since it was written, or perhaps he is speaking from a certain place that makes what he says true for him. The word nude can signify an excruciatingly uncomfortable state (I find it so), perhaps as Berger describes, pertaining to ownership and power over the person being looked at. Chip away at various layers of meaning and the word might signify societal acceptance of enforced passivity, denial surrounding the silencing of an Other, something hard to grab hold of pertaining to shame, and a culturally sponsored acceptance of voyeurism; whereas naked simply refers to a lack of being covered up. Perhaps embarrassing. Or painful. Or else a lack of artifice, of honesty and of being unadorned.

  1. Naked: Nick Ut’s 1972 image of a girl running down the road during a napalm attack in Vietnam. The image is news rather than art – but it is still made with the intention of showing a naked form to an audience. As a news picture, it reportedly helped to adjust perception of the Vietnam war in a similar way to how a picture of the little boy on the beach in Greece, Alyun Kurdi, went viral last year.  I am not sure the impact was as short-lived in the 70s as it was in 2015 though. The spectacle turns like something out of a Blyton book, and worlds that it introduces society to get moved on very quickly. People who are left behind when everyone else gets off one world, ready to be absorbed for a moment by the next one can start to sound crazy, yelling into an abyss about things that don’t seem to matter anymore. Because of the way in which images lose their impact, along with doubts about their benefits, there is a question over their morality. Recently when Facebook removed Nick Ut’s image repeatedly there was uproar, however, the visual culture blogger and film training group, DuckRabbit, tweeted, “Anyone consider Facebook might be right?” (DuckRabbit, 9 September 2016) The ensuing conversation in the comments below the initial question is worth looking at. This is a picture of a naked girl and cannot be considered a nude.
  2. Nude:Tim Andrews, by Julie Mullin Andrew’s has been engaged in a photo project for several years. He is not the photographer but rather the subject, and ostensibly he seems motivated by his desire to explore the illness he was diagnosed with as well as the process of ageing. He is undressed in many of the images. Some are nudes and some are of his naked self. The image by Mullin is a nude. However, it is not an idealistic image and rather than offering the viewer a shape to lust over as some historical nudes of women appear to do, we are shown a vulnerable man. But in one sense it could be any middle-aged man as his face is hidden. The fact it is part of Andrew’s project circumvents the potential for anonymity due the way he stands , nevertheless, the shapes made by Andrew’s body, the positioning, the lighting and the decision to present the work in mono all point to this being an aesthetic exploration of Andrew’s fleshy human form. He is however, integral to the making of the image, if only because he engages the photographer in the first place. This combined with the fact he is white, middle class and male, as well as the quantity of naked/nude images in the overall project provoke questions to do with art, ownership, gender, form as well as ageing and disease. Imogen Freeland’s image shows a naked man rather than a nude.  I may discuss this project further in A4 as a comparison to Isabelle Mege’s  long-term project.
  3. Naked and nude  Deborah de Robertis  (Translation of voice over in video: “I am the origin (the source). I am all women. You didn’t see me. I want you to recognise me, virgin like us, creator of sperm” (see below) – de Robertis sits open legged in front of Gustave Courbet’s painting, Origin of Man in the Musee d’Orsay, she holds her vagina open for the spectators to see, an installation performance for which she is arrested;
  4. And a painting of a vagina, nude and naked  Gustav Courbet’s Origin of Man – 
    De Robertis’ video, as demonstrated in the comments section on YouTube provokes a variety of strong responses. Regardless of where a spectator is positioned in their opinions, the music, the sustained amount of time she stays in place, the audience’s reaction as well as the staff’s, her position and hands, and the repetitive voice-over combine to make the video extremely powerful and for some of us, moving, despite its poor image quality, or perhaps that adds to the effect. Is de Robertis presenting herself as a nude or naked? She is only partially naked but she is naked in the most private part of her anatomy. And more powerfully she is naked in that she demands to be seen; her rage, her questioning, her intelligence, her willingness to take risks are intensely revealing. Her gesture suggests she is showing the audience what the point of an historical nude often is in reality by removing several layers of signification. She takes away the languid pose, the alluring or submissive look and positioning in her eyes and face, she dispenses with the exploration and representation of visual form – alabaster, soft female shapes – choosing instead to wear a dress. But she invites the audience to take a look at the part of her body that evokes shame in our culture, as demonstrated by the ubiquitous fig leaf on paintings depicting Adam and Eve in Eden. As pointed out by Berger, “The couple wear fig leaves or make a modest gesture with their hands.  But now their shame is not so much in relation to one another as to the spectator.” (Berger, 1972; 49) And yet, most of us will have suppressed the inquisitive desire to see what people have hidden in their underwear, and expressed by young children when they play a game of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”.  Men have historically circumvented that suppression by owning women and putting her body on show.
    The painting by Courbet is extremely difficult to write about as it defies certain assumptions and invites someone like me to slip up and start banging on about an objectified female form. However, the painting is complex and can be viewed as a response to the fig leaves and shame that western art is littered with. In its way it is also an honest and naked expression by Gustave, as it would have been highly risky in his age, and is even now (I have already mentioned in a previous blog, Leena McCalls’ painting being removed in 2014 for showing pubic hair. Of course there is something to be said for the fact that the McCall painting is by a woman whereas the Courbet painting is not. The Courbet painting is also arguably a stronger work of art.) Although Courbet may be asking us to address our sense of shame and the repressed urge to look at genitals, he does it only with the female form and not with the male, as so often happens throughout western art history. However, perhaps that’s the point. He like de Robertis says to the spectator, this is what you’re actually looking for when you come to see a nude in an art gallery, and he too strips away the ‘refining’ and ‘civilising’ signifiers which cloak the reality. The Musee d’Orsay site ends its description with, “The Origin of the World, now openly displayed (do they realise the pun?), has taken its proper place in the history of modern painting. But it still raises the troubling question of voyeurism.” (Musee d’Orsay) Perhaps what makes voyeurism troubling is the fact it is born of shame and repression? (Another pun, not intended though)  The position of the model and the spectator tip this painting over into nude rather than naked, even though some might try to argue the other way. The museum site talks about an anatomical description, however also says that the painting is filled with artistic referencing, which is what places it on the side of nude. Both artists take risks, although I can’t see the he was arrested or anything like that, and place themselves in vulnerable positions though. It is interesting that I have chosen this work since Lacan owned the painting and I am fascainted with his ideas.
  5. Nude: The Birth of Venus by Botticelli 1486. I won’t say very much about this as it’s been written about a lot. (I am extremely annoyed I missed the V&A exhibition which explored many works Birth of Venus had influenced. I do have the V&A magazine from that quarter and no doubt can buy an exhibition book.) The painting was one of the starting points for me with some of the Girlhood work, and I began putting together a scrapbook which included relevant references. The typical submissive downward looking gaze that doesn’t challenge and represents an ideal from an opposite position of power over the other is interesting for me. Venus covers herself and the women to her right is holding the blanket to cover more of her, but she doesn’t make it, not surprisingly. Again Berger can be relied on to say clearly why this position existed for so long: “A man’s presence is dependant upon the promise of power which he embodies. ….()….and is always towards a power which he exercises on others” (Berger, 1972; 46) The painting therefore is a didactic instruction to women; this is who you are, and what you are, as well as being a function of and for the male gaze. Although the painting is not typical with its flatness and two dimensionality of Renaissance art (style wise, although one could say that about the central character too)  (Wikipedia), the posture of Venus is.
  6. Naked, but pastiche nude: Polly Borland  – Bunny
    Borland plays with the idea of the famous Bunny girl, women hostesses who wore an iconic uniform of swimwear, heels and fluffy tail and ears to serve men drinks in the 70s, and shows us its strange and ‘not quite right’ reality. She plays with the symbolic order and aims to penetrate the real by doing so. Her images reveal what is hidden beneath the accepted civility of male female relating, of sexuality between whoever, highlights some of its ridiculousness, and deconstructs its inherent violence and perversions too. The images are of naked people sometimes dressed up in odd and surreal clothing, or represented only by extremely simple symbols, reduced to little more than objects or primitive signs. If any images look like nudes rather than naked pictures, they are so but with an immense sense of power within, rather than the passive nude from western history.

References: 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/02/shocking-image-of-drowned-syrian-boy-shows-tragic-plight-of-refugees

http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/nudes/naked.html

https://twitter.com/duckrabbitblog/status/774242667567996928

http://timandrewsoverthehill.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/arc-of-diver-by-julie-mullin.html

http://timandrewsoverthehill.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/my-right-foot-by-imogen-freeland.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u_VQVggXt4

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire/commentaire_id/the-origin-of-the-world-3122.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/pornographic-and-disgusting-painting-removed-from-top-london-exhibition-because-it-features-a-woman-9592705.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_Venus

http://www.pollyborland.com

https://othercriteria.com/uk/artwork/polly-borland-bunny-book

Image of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (wikipedia as above)

Twitter post