Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Aftermath of Postmodernism

I think as artists we are all curious to know in what period we are practicing. Is this post-modern still, or post post-modern? If we even decide at what time we are practicing will this influence are work at all? As artists we are impacted by the imagery from our past and in our contemporary space no matter how much we would like to deny it. We are depositories for this onslaught of image saturation that permeates our practice as artists. In the first years of my image making, not only was I influenced by modernism but postmodernism as well. It has always been interesting to see how aesthetics is measured when art is being presented and how the concept in certain cases is more important than the sensory beauty. So to do something new that isn’t a recycled version of what has been done is a difficult task. How does an artist do this while it seems everything has been photographed, most of the time better than you? What can you say in your work that’s new and thought provoking when it seems everything is just a reaction to something else, all the while creating an aesthetically pleasing image? Widespread aesthetic saturation in contemporary society has diluted the aesthetic from having special status at a time when there seems to be a revival. So instead of “opposing the aesthetic and the conceptual, think of the two as mutually sustaining.” This appears to be the balance of the beautiful and the sublime.

What’s interesting is Jeff Wall’s work is criticized for being banished of all contingency. Contingency meant in a way to carry with it aesthetic significance. Wall claims that lack of contingency, or aesthetic significance, “is manifested by a kind of emptiness “. Wall continues to say “society contains this emptiness and its opposite, and both appear in the work of art.” This lack of aesthetics that give the work of art this emptiness is a kind of artistic sublimation that Lacan referred to as “The Thing”. The Thing is what occurs when an object is represented in an image, and through this representation the viewer becomes aware that their unconscious attachment to the real is lost. The first image I thought of is A ventriloquist at a birthday party in October 1947,1990 by Jeff Wall. Its staged banality runs in conjunction with what i think is going on with this whole "The Thing".

Going back to the idea of widespread aesthetic saturation, Ross explains how in postmodern image culture the line between the culture and the commercial sphere is blurred. The methods of the avant-garde have been appropriated by the established art market to the point that we as consumers are desensitized to its shock tactics. Cultural groupings occurred out of the modernist movement of new technologies such as photography, film, television, and radio. The media mobilized these groups and cultural forms started growing out of the cities these émigrés resided in. These were international anti-bourgeois artists. Williams essay explains how modernism became integrated into international capitalism and lost its anti-bourgeois status. These elements of modernism became essential to the market especially in advertising and cinema.

This reminded me of a certain store ive seen a couple times in relation to anti-bourgeois being sucked into the market place

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Race, Postcolonialism, Globalism, and the idea of the other...

In “Only Skin Deep” By Coco Fusco, there were several points made about race and its impact in our culture through the photograph. Race is not a biological fact, it is a social construction that is still deeply imbedded in our culture whether we like to admit it or not. Race is a theoretical system of human classification, and the best method of recording this classification is through photography. Photography made racial distinction between people a fact though its objectivity as a recording device. One point made in this essay that I found interesting and agree with is the entertainment industries blatant commodification of ethnicity. Racial differences have become a multimillion dollar culture industry that has been reduced to a spectacle. Fusco states that “photography renders and delivers interracial encounters that might be dangerous, forbidden, or unattainable as safe and consumable experiences. Mass-marketed photography in the second half of the nineteenth century made racialized viewing into a form of entertainment.” Even though the individual might not consider themself racist, race is paid much attention to though the mass amounts of racial imagery that is produced for private consumption. Fusco brings up the example of the television show COPS, in which the producer admits that audiences don’t want to see white collar crime, they want to see police officers chase black men. Race is being reduced to a spectacle in a negative way that reinforces this as normal in these communities which will perpetuate this behavior. In a more historical example of ethnic minorities being made a spectacle of through being treated as second class human beings is the photograph of the elderly Navajo and the white nurse. This is a beautiful example of how white superiority is produced by the white nurse having the technology and education to heal that the Navajo lacks. Fusco called this “cultural termination via assimilation.” Photography’s ability to capture the fantasy of an individual is met in the power of the marketplace. Fusco speaks of racial fantasy experienced in photography from exotic places. Steichen altered the look of the Hawaiian hula dancer to provide a more primitive look in his photographs. This would appeal to the white American that fantasizes about the ethnic differences seen in the “Other”. Steichen was aware of the commercial commodification of theses photographs and capitalized upon it. The photographing of racial differences was a lucrative business, and is still out in force today.

Speaking of racial stereotyping in media

In the film “Trading Places”, brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) make a bet that a black con man, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) is incapable of learning to be a high society business man because its in his blood to live his life in poverty.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Subjectivity: Psychoanalysis, Identity Formation, Feminist Critique

Jacques Lacan: “The Mirror Phase”

Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory”

Jonathan Weinberg, “Things are Queer”

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”

Margaret Olin, “Gaze”

The readings for this week are associated with the ideas of subject identification and that of the “Gaze”. These seemed like to aspects of theory that would differ in many ways but after analysis I came to realize their connection with one another. Lacan’s essay was a bridge between a few of the essays that seemed like they had no connection with each other, so I’ll use his as a starting point.

Lacans essay is an interesting take on how a subject at a young age learns to identify itself though a mirrors reflection. Referred to as the “Mirror Phase” a young child will notice its own reflection which then allows for the realization of its own complete form. Lacan thinks that this is crucial for the subject’s development or maturation. Through the gaze of looking in the mirror the child will form an idea of themselves as an “Ideal –I” which creates the instance of the ego. Lacan uses the term “imago” to better explain how an insect’s maturation into a complete adult form will derive from the visual action of a similar self, which then will create a socially ready being. The function of the “imago” and the function of the mirror phase “is to establish a relation of the organism to its reality” It is the transformation of the subject from its innerworld (Innenwelt) to its surrounding world (Umwelt).

After reading Mulvey’s and Olin’s essays I had a better understanding of Lacans analysis of the mirror phase. It was interesting to see how it was referenced in “Visual Pleasure of Narrative Cinema”. Mulvey describes in her essay “cinema’s skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure”, that of which Hollywood arose. She described the pleasure structures of looking which consisted of scopophilia and the grouping of narcissism and the ego. Cinematic scopophilia is when another person is used as an object for sexual stimulation through sight. Narcissism and ego in cinema is the subject’s fascination with the identification of a character that is in its likeness. This character in the film or on stage is holding the gaze onto the object of desire that the audience member is also holding. The woman on the screen functions on two levels, the erotic object for the characters and the erotic object for the spectators. The woman character is unimportant to the development of the story and is only crucial in how she inspires the hero through love or fear. The gaze of the “screen surrogate” is more powerful than the spectator’s gaze, which gives the illusion of control over the woman to only feed the ego ideal of the audience member. Mulvey claims that this display comes out of an anxiety of castration and the two ways of dealing with this is active scopophilia and fetishistic scopophilia. Although Mulvey doesn’t use the term active scopophilia, I felt it necessary to use Olin’s terminology for clarity.

For active scopophilia, or the demystification of the woman, “Vertigo” was a good example of how a woman is put under the magnifying glass and examined to the point of finding guilt. Fetishistic scopophilia silences the woman for worship and isolates her from happening. The narrative stops and the man hold’s the gaze.

Olin had many parallels to Mulveys essay which allowed for a better understanding of the gaze and how it functions across not only in cinema but in other media as well. Im interested in the gaze of the spectator and its impact on itself as subject and on the object being gazed upon. Olin evaluates the impact the gaze has back onto the subject as spectator. The gaze is a double sided term, someone to gaze at and someone to gaze back. Through all the negative connotations that the gaze implies it was interesting to see that the gaze of a work can have positive meaning. The photograph “The Sharecroppers Wife” was an example of how the gaze differs from generation to generation. The gaze of a pin-up girl and “The Sharecroppers Wife” might look the same but they have different meanings. Her look is an empowering gaze that allows us to offer her respect. Im glad the use of suture was brought about because how often are we in control of the gaze. Our own gaze is denied if through the editing process it reveals that were are looking through the gaze of the character or even director. “Suture” is the viewer’s unawareness of the gaze that is constructed for them. Though the suture can be broken if the viewers are aware of their gaze on the screen if the character acknowledges the audience. Olin takes Mulvey’s analysis of scopophilia a step further just in clarification of vocabulary in the diagram below.

Weinbergs essay “Things are Queer” is an interesting analysis on subject identification with sexual identities. He uses Duane Michels example that “the world is queer” to show how terminology and labels of identities that are socially constructed are used to group people in specific circles in which there are no boundaries. It seemed important to note that the term heterosexuality came after homosexuality. That “the dominant culture needs an Other”. The term Queer should encompass a large group of sexual identities. Weinberg states “that queer studies potentially shifts the emphasis away from specific acts and identities to the myriad ways in which gender organizes and disorganizes society.”

While on the subject of socially constructed labels of identity, Butlers analysis of gender formation makes several points of our role in perpetuating this. Gender identity is constituted through a stylized repetition of acts. The gendered subject is the product of actions that provide an illusion of a gender that is socially constructed. One has to become a woman as opposed to just growing older. To become a woman a person must follow historically what has been done to gain that status of woman as opposed to the natural fact of just always being a woman. There is a set of social constructions that one must obey in order to cross the threshold into becoming a woman. That’s where the idea comes from that the body is a “historical idea” as opposed to a “natural species”. If the body is a historical idea then it will reproduce the historical situation. This occurs because in contemporary culture gender is a performance that if not portrayed within the confines of societies standards, the body is punished. Acts of gender creates the idea of gender.