Reading Stuart Hall Through Matana Roberts' album COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee
Jennifer Lorraine Fraser
February 23 2015
This paper is a critical response to cultural theorist, Stuart Hall’s text Cultural Identity and Diaspora, and how it can relate to work by musician Matana Roberts’ and her newly released album COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee. My focus is on what Hall terms as ‘the imaginary,’ and how it constructs the identity of individuals. The paper will consist of three sections, the first outlining Hall’s argument concerning the formation of identity within diasporic, migratory, and scattered peoples. Secondly, I will introduce American artist Matana Roberts, the review of her latest project by critic Jackson Scott[i], and how she vocalizes her own history in performance, art and music, and finally I will discuss how Hall’s theories of cultural identity offer instruction in how to analyze perceptions of identity formation.
Writing in 1989, Hall’s thesis for Cultural Identity and Diaspora remains complex, it signaled a new organization in understanding identity, within individuals, and in what signifies as culture within a group. Cultural identity constantly shifts as representations of politically dominant thought, and these representations are positioned between historical orality and epistemological knowledge. Hall focuses on two primary ideas, termed as being and becoming; being a part of the collective, and of becoming one within the historicity of a group.[ii] Within these two modes of identification, layers of knowledge termed as imaginary, traces and presences, are the basis of representing the binary of us/other.
This binary is not as solid as dominant cultures claim; there are many more factors at play in the positioning of a people within their situated location. The term, positioning, according to Hall is the construction of the past, its memories and how people use it to represent themselves or identify within a larger group. Hall claims, “The past is always-already ‘after the break’. It is always constructed through memory, fantasy, narrative and myth. Cultural identities are the points of identification, the unstable points of identification or suture, which are made, within the discourses of history and culture.”[iii]
Hall positions himself as being a Caribbean man, and discusses types of histories that make up the different cultural groups residing within the islands. Doing so, revealing how these histories signify the presence of the dominating political systems of regulation within individual people. Through education, storytelling, and knowledge, histories are embodied, or embedded into the psyche of the people. The embeddedness of fragmented ‘hidden histories’ into the consciousness of a marginalized group, is Hall’s description of the imaginary and its role in identity, and furthermore, how these histories do not cohere to the dominant culture’s lessons/histories of the people or of the area.[iv] Left out of public sites for knowledge, these hidden histories are those truths of personal experience as being and/or becoming ‘other.”
When there are social revolutionary practices, the people are working through the imaginary system of representation, they are revealing their hidden histories, of which are founded on the peripheries of what Foucault termed, the regime of representation. Accordingly, in, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Hall clarifies Foucault’s regime of representation. Foucault’s theory stems from a constructionist and discursive approach to the making of meaning, as the power structures within a community. Hall writes, “his concern is with knowledge provided by the human and social sciences which organizes conduct, understanding, practice and belief, the regulation of bodies and as well as whole populations…. seeing forms of power/knowledge as always rooted in particular contexts and histories.”[v]
Further, into the article on cultural identity, Hall describes the transposing of knowledge, as systems of power, onto people in order to dominate them. This transposition of knowledge makes up my understanding of Hall’s theories of presence. Over the course of history, bodies, in the Caribbean and in Hall’s position, Jamaica, were regulated by numerous domineering practices. There are those people who were conquered, displaced through systems of African slavery, and suppressed by European and American colonized forces. Each dominant ‘culture’ transposing their own knowledge and history onto the overruled people, negating their previously held beliefs and practices. However, the displaced people still hold partial memories of the pre-encounter and these memories collide and form new traces in their psyches.
To illustrate Hall’s idea of identity formation as a series of memorial traces of presence in the embodied imaginary, I have chosen to introduce the work of Matana Roberts. Roberts is a musician based in New York City, and works as a performance artist, saxophonist, filmmaker, poet and dancer. Her primary practice involves what she has termed as Panoramic Sound Quilting (PSQ),[vi] a process of layering the sounds of her saxophone with her own voice, to create a new sensory landscape of narrative and meaning. Roberts describes PSQ as “an ode to my ancestral history, a siren call to my dreams, and a consideration of a constructional force that amuses, inspires, jars, and incites me.”[vii] She uses music to conceptualize how memories of her ancestral past leave traces in her own body, and how collective memories of African American experiences become ‘tradition.’ She hopes for her work to enter into the historical mapping of a people and to sit as testimony to the formation of knowledge and meaning in disparate American cultures. She states,
“I have a deep interest in American history and old oral traditions developed, deconstructed, merged together often times through profoundly contradictory means. I am charmed by co-existing histories that exist within a single framed event, but yet are not synchronous. I am fascinated by narrative, and the problems that perception of linearality create in a re-telling of victory, triumph, tragedy. I use multi-genre methods of improvisation, alternative composition and performance to explore these themes. I am profoundly intrigued by human trace; the whispers, the secrets, left behind, sometimes by those never given a chance to really claim them. I wish for my work to sit firmly as a historical document of these universal, sometimes forgotten, moments.”
Roberts’ latest album, COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee, was released earlier this month, and is absolutely haunting. Blending storytelling with her use of PSQ, she has created a master-work of emotion, history and of communicative destructuring. The critic Jackson Scott, has reviewed the work as a series of communicative layers. By first introducing his own critical practice as one of ‘conversation,’ highlights an expectation that in conversation with two (or more) people there is an equality of space within the exchange, however this is often not the case especially when led by shifting power dynamics. Scott states, approaching critical criticism through conversation is “flawed because (a) “conversation” implies (often egregiously incorrectly) that each position enjoys an equal footing, and (b) its presentness often belies its members’ storied pasts.”[viii] There is a hint of violence in conversation, for one is usually attempting to sway the other with their own understanding of situations. Realistically, there is also violence in discursive deconstruction, and identity formation.
To approach the work by Roberts, we should do it as a removal of the act of conversation, to decenter the voice. The work encourages a connectivity with listening, in order to truly feel and understand the inherent qualities of sound, narrative. Decentering the voice is also a system used to approach American diasporic studies, and one in which I believe Hall would also attest for. As conversation equates to the discourse of representations, Hall suggests finding a point where we can stand outside of representation, outside of the battle for discursive or theoretical building and unbuilding. In his review, Scott goes on to say,
“American History is present in full, (in COIN COIN Chapter Three: river run thee) its untold diversity presented in intersecting layers rather than in separate vignettes. Critical deconstruction then seems just as asinine as dismantling a quilt into incomplete squares, especially when you consider that this is one made from a history of rebuilding and reconstructing a still broken nation. Of course, ignoring its compositional process would be ignoring what’s beneath these expressions and what ties them together.”
Using Scott’s article about Matana Roberts, to illustrate Hall’s theories around cultural identity and diaspora, illustrates the belief that we cannot deconstruct the embodied imaginary, nor can we ignore it. What we should do is see where there are points of intersection and stand outside of these to reveal what has been forgotten or dismissed.
I chose to speak of a North American artist for this paper, as that is where I fall within understanding my own positionality. Unfortunately, I have not experienced much of the world outside of it. Which is a hindrance when studying the topic of diasporic studies. For, if I were to use Hall’s theory, my imaginary and what I have gained through knowledge is illusionary, and very much one sided. What I understand Hall to be doing is rupturing this positionality of one-sidedness, and illuminating that there are many different positionalities within an axis of what we can consider our cultural identity, and individual identity. The lesson to take from Hall’s text is the ability to reveal systems of language, and knowledge, and to see how they intersect. For, it is within the intersections that we are able to comprehend how or why people conduct their lives in the ways they do. Our beliefs about interpersonal encounters may not be fundamentally truthful. Roberts’ use of PSQ, in how she quilts her voice within storytelling and music speaks to these layers of identity that transpose themselves onto people, and communities. It is through a deep and embodied rupture, where we can find hints of who we can be regardless of overbearing and violent systems of regulation.
Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” Framework 36 (1989). Reprinted in Identity, Community, Cutural Differences, 1990, & Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory, 1994.
Hall, Stuart. "The Work of Representation." Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Reprinted 2010 ed. London: Sage in Association with the Open U, 1997. Print.
Roberts, Matana. "Statement | Matana Roberts." Matana Roberts. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.matanaroberts.com/who>.
Scott, Jackson. "Matana Roberts - COIN COIN Chapter Three: River Run Thee | Music Review | Tiny Mix Tapes." Tiny Mix Tapes. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.tinymixtapes.com/music-review/matana-roberts-coin-coin-chapter-three-river-run-thee>.
[i] Scott, Jackson. "Matana Roberts - COIN COIN Chapter Three: River Run Thee | Music Review | Tiny Mix Tapes." Tiny Mix Tapes. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.tinymixtapes.com/music-review/matana-roberts-coin-coin-chapter-three-river-run-thee>.
[ii] Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” Framework 36 (1989). Reprinted in Identity, Community, Cutural Differences, 1990, & Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory, 1994.P. 393
[iii] Ibid p.395
[v] Hall, Stuart. "The Work of Representation." Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Reprinted 2010 ed. London: Sage in Association with the Open U, 1997. Print. P.51
[vi] Roberts, Matana. "Statement | Matana Roberts." Matana Roberts. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.matanaroberts.com/who>.
March 25 2015
Compelling archival, and curatorial practices have been occurring online for over twenty years, and they correlate to the emergence of cyberfeminism, more commonly referred to today as digifeminism. Contemporaneous to the first online archival process undertaken by The Getty Museum’s Art History Information Program (AHIP),[i] this emergence, found its spokesperson in Professor Emerita, Donna Haraway, and her text the Cyborg Manifesto of 1991. Cyborg feminism is the theory behind the coming together of female bodily connectivity with their environments, online and ‘in real life,’ (now more commonly indicated by the acronym IRL, (URL is the accreditation for online environments) and how these two realities coexist as an embodiment of individual, as well as collective processes of “fiction as lived experience.”[ii] Stating, “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction,”[iii] Haraway is suggesting that through interconnectivity, technology and physicality of the consuming person, we are all becoming cyborgs coexisting on many different platforms of identity, social constructs and political spacialities. With that knowledge, my pursuit is to investigate contemporary curatorial practices online, and to question how the lives of women have shifted from being enhanced virtually as lived experience, to living virtually through an embodied engagement with the Internet. Accordingly, curator, cultural theorist and feminist Jennifer Chan states:
A core tenet of contemporary feminism is to question the definitions of masculinity and femininity when the Internet has become a convergent space for work and socialization. For Internet artists, it is both a medium and an environment. For researchers, it is an informal discursive space where accelerated streams of content inspire a need to examine the patterns and politics of our exchanges online.[iv]
This paper is an examination of contemporary feminist practice, and undertakes an overview of current trends in online archival and exhibition practices. Divided in two parts; a) Virtual Archival Practices and b) From Archive to Exhibition, the emphasis for the paper is on work by Californian writer, artist, and cultural practitioner, Kate Durbin. Her work consists of investigating URL-digital portrayals of women, whether through self-identifying social media imagery to commercialized representations, and how these two polarized ideals of the perfected female body is objectified in ‘real’ space. Furthermore, I have become familiar with two projects; Hello Selfie, 2014,[v] a performance exhibited in the online exhibition Body Anxiety, 2015 and a Tumblr project stemming from 2011-2013, Women as Objects, in situ at http://womenasobjects.tumblr.com/. Women as Objects, is an archival/curatorial project consisting of Durbin reposting Tumblr posts made by teenage girls. Tumblr is a URL blog format for a more individualized practice of diary keeping. To begin, I will be grounding trends in virtual methods of archival practice by the use of two platforms, the text by cultural theorist Hal Foster, The Archive Without Museums, from 1996 and The New Aesthetic object-theory, contextualized through archiving practices by cultural technologist James Bridle, stemming from 2011.  Secondly, my examination of URL archival practices will move towards the URL exhibition space, by focusing on Australian academic, Vince Dzieken’s use of the term Virtuality, and the embedding of curatorial practices into online design codes. As previously mentioned, it is here where I will present Durbin’s project Hello Selfie, as the case study for Body Anxiety.
Virtual Archival Practices:
Writing in 1996, Hal Foster engaged with the idea of the archive, cultural multiplicity in contemporary media, and the movement of information out of the physicality of the museum and into virtually spatialized environments. In which he describes the processes of changing the formats of visual culture “into a system of image-text – a database of digital terms.”[vi] Reviewing the history of image making, production, and distribution, Foster questions the role of the autonomous art object and its relation to epistemological inquiries as it now pertains to computerized data. Previously, art was constituted by its context, and now that it has moved into the virtual realm, it has come up against the decontextualization of the methods of inquiry, academia and discourse. Holding onto decade, and century old information about the construction of social attributions, art begins to attain new parallel identities signifying interrelated optical effects fundamental to capitalist spectacle.[vii] Through this mechanization of recreating the image through the data of the machine, it also “disembodies the viewer from visual culture.”[viii] Critical of this avant-garde(ien) process of disembodying the viewer from the social codes that constitute the art object, Foster states, “the avant-gardist transgression of categories becomes, at the level of "consumption," a hip manipulation of signs and, on the level of "production," a corporate merger not only of mediums but of entertainment industries.”[ix] Meaning, that the autonomy of art has become more vague through its juxtaposition to highly saturated digital media over the internet. Foster is very critical of this process, and yet if we move into the twenty-first century, the vague realities between URL and IRL experiences are mutually dependent; we are dis/embodied with the machine. Our use of virtual images also follows suit; art is also embedded within both social spaces.
Commencing in 2011, James Bridle contextualizes this attestation of binding visual culture within IRL and URL spaces through a research project coined as The New Aesthetic,[x](Fig. 1) and of which is becoming a new theoretical linkage. Science fiction writer and Net theorist, Bruce Sterling describes, “The “New Aesthetic” is a native product of modern network culture. It’s from London, but it was born digital, on the Internet. The New Aesthetic is a “theory object” and a “shareable concept.”[xi] Accordingly, Sterling moves on to describe it as diffused and a “collectively-intelligent theory-object.”[xii] The visuality of The New Aesthetic,[xiii] consists of numerous juxtapositions of seemingly random imagery, text and reposted blog posts into one authored and particular online blog, Bridle’s. Another description of this process can be related to writer, and cultural theorist, David Balzar’s term Curationism; meaning a utopic, consumerist, and value-centered project undertaken by virtually everyone attempting to influence culture in the day-to-day consumption of ideas, stuff and objects; virtual and physical objects in individual and collective online practices and engagements with life.[xiv] However, despite the correlations to popular consumerist engagement with the image, The New Aesthetic takes this one-step further and creates an archive out of the randomness of content, in doing so, structuring this content as something coherent.
As previously mentioned, Women as Objects, http://womenasobjects.tumblr.com/, 2011-2013 by Kate Durbin is a feminist archive (Fig. 2). Consistently, over the course of two years, Durbin created this URL based project by reposting the diaristic blog posts of teenage women/girls. The challenge to Women as Objects, is in knowing how to articulate it for future theoretical discourse, and to see where it fits within the larger cultural scope of contemporary visual studies. My understanding of the project is that it is a feminist manifestation of The New Aesthetic; as a feminist archive of visual culture and how this culture interrelates with the lives of young women. Durbin herself describes it as an intervention into the teen girl Tumblr aesthetic, meaning, “the art “object” extends to the bodies of girls both on and offline; the fetish is not contained in a static image. Even the images themselves are constantly moving and perpetuating themselves on Tumblr, breathing and existing in time and space as a living body.[xv] Therefore, Women as Objects, is Feminist in the way it challenges stereotypical constructs of the American Teen girl in popular culture by recontextualizing their online interactions into a conceptual interaction. Durbin describes, “American pop culture idealizes the adolescent experience, recreating it through nostalgia, hypersexualized female bodies and fleeting, sugary feelings,”[xvi] in practice teen girls revert this sense of hypersexualized nostaligia by posting affected diaristic content, and the reversion is in the act of revealing their innermost fears, joys and confusion through visual images primarily found over the internet. Theirs is an act of appropriation/reappropriation and Durbin contextualizes this practice through the creation of an archive full of random repostings from strangers; a randomness that develops into a coherent social interrogation into the nature of the lives of teen girls in real life and online. Teenage girls are creating visually fictionalized lived experiences through curated imagery, and Durbin examines their fictions as pattern of a coming of age online,[xvii] through an interventionist archival approach. What she reveals are the foundations for social constructions of lived realities. Understood through the URL environments, these fictions transcribe onto the bodily experiences of young women in real life.
From Archive to Exhibition:
As with online archival processes, curating objects in physical exhibition spaces have found their footing online through specialized programs initiated through large institutions, and their counterparts in museums. The majority of museums, art galleries and specialty exhibition spaces have an online presence that also includes archival information of their collections, exhibitions and secondary didactic information for the inspired researcher. My experience with online exhibition practices, before the introduction to Body Anxiety, was just this – a digital tour of iconic museum spaces, and/or through research for numerous scholarly essay-writing projects. In addition, in 2013, I created a very rudimentary online exhibition, which works more clearly as an archive of the process in creating the exhibition. Hence, the majority of what constitutes online exhibition spaces is a more curated archival process than what is traditionally considered an exhibit.
In contrast, Body Anxiety is an exhibition space, through its aesthetic, didactic information and curatorial design, there is no disputing its role as a cultural forum for the dissemination of the art object. However, as differentiated from other online experiments in curatorial practice, its displayed art objects stem primarily from the digital realm, they are not digitized formats of already existing art objects. Body Anxiety, is purely digital, in its inception, its form, function and execution. Before I discuss the exhibition further, there needs to be a grounding of digital exhibition practices to structure and theorize the use of digital space for curatorial display.
Dr Vince Dziekan, the Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Art & Design at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, curates exhibition spaces that move in and out of both URL and IRL environments, and yet stay grounded in the traditional spaces of galleries and museums.[xviii] In his text, Virtuality and The Art of Exhibition, Dzieken postulates on the role of digital design and display through the interconnectedness of online and real exhibition spaces. Digital art objects, according to Dzeiken, are what is known as objectiles. Referencing Bernard Cache, he defines the objectile as “a technological object no longer defined by its essential form. Instead, an objectile is described through its functions and is determined by parameters.”[xix] An objectile, is an artistic/design work which is created through digital platforms, and remains within these parameters through its dissemination into the larger art market/world. Subsequently, art now falls between two distinguishing characteristics; that which is made by an artist and falls within art historical frameworks, and secondly, “art is an activity consisting in producing relationships with the world with the help of signs, forms, actions and objects.”[xx] Some examples of objectiles are imagery created through GIF, digitally processed paintings, drawings and illustrations, and video projects that live online. Accordingly, Dzieken refers to the practice of displaying objectiles in relationship to one another, as Virtuality. Additionally, Virtuality is also a method of artistic discourse within institutions, between the artworld and the publics engaging with the work, he states,
Virtuality describes the character of aesthetic experience influenced by contemporary technologized conditions. This cultural concept is represented by a paradigm shift away from consolidated objects to fluid relationships between objectiles. Enabled to a significant degree by digitisation, the experience of virtuality is tied to viewing conditions in physical space. The exhibition plays an influential role in mediating the interaction between cultural production and viewer experience.[xxi]
Respectively, Dzieken published his findings on the idea of Virtuality; being in and out of physical space, and relying on this physicality of space to articulate the new roles of exhibitions, in 2012, 3 years earlier to the launch of Body Anxiety. Ending his chapter with the call for visual culture practitioners to look beyond the ‘event structure’ that is the infrastructure of the museum,[xxii] and to be adventurous in recontextualizing the space for exhibition. Exhibition meaning the exhibitionary complex of objectiles, space, (virtual and physical) and narratives engaging with fictions of lived experiences.[xxiii]
The urgency and immediacy of the internet has quickly opened up this frame of experimenting with exhibition practices, to a virtuality where the architectural necessity of an exhibition space has been dissolved. Other aspects of virtuality in leaving the architectural spaces of the museum are threefold; the difficulty emerging artists face when showing their work within an institution, the highly structured timeframes of the exhibition calendar, and the museum not taking into account how to adapt their role in displaying art quickly enough to engage with current practice. Jennifer Chan describes,
Artists can no longer wait to be discovered. New media artists like myself are writing and curating to create cultures of work and exhibitions away from the ad agency and the museum. This is not because we object to the museumiﬁcation of net art (to help often unpaid artists to make money from their labour is a good thing). But the museum, nor the auction house, has yet to completely adapt to the informalities and ethics of new media culture.[xxiv]
New media artists engage with platforms of dissemination on a level of nowness; “the quality or state of existing or occurring in or belonging to the present time,”[xxv] However, where the immediacy in access to online environments, even for the net artist, ends is within gendered structures from the physical world following internet users online. Concepts follow the user online and create new ideas embedded within the traditional dominance of male structured social spaces. To expose the gendered space of the internet, women expose themselves as being who they actually are instead of who they could fictionalize themselves to be over the forum of anonymity that is the web. As Chan states, “Sex and gender therefore exists in a continuum of conformity and resistance to traditional ideas of the masculine and the feminine,” resulting in female, and female identified “Net artists and users to deliberate gender in immanent ways by dint of appearing online as themselves. The selfie, the status update, the post – these are scenes of exposure and visibility that constitute an always-becoming self on the Internet.”[xxvi] Revealing the self, in order to reveal the intricate gendered identities of users and the systems of power, (discrimination, oppression etc…) following users online from physical, political, and social realities.
Over the course of the Twentieth Century, many women engaging in artistic practice and discourse had the unfortunate role of constantly needing to reassert themselves as being relevant to the artworld, and its museums. Firstly, their work tends to be necessarily reactionary, to create a revolutionary act to reveal misogynist interpretations of women in society, and secondly, through their individual reactionary expression, to be in the position of having to prove themselves as being autonomous and strong in their own methods of representation. Consequently, the URL status of women owning their representation has been at the forefront of online activity since the inception of the internet. The typical reassertion of being relevant in artistic circles and social situations does not seem as constraining as it has been in physical manifestations of space. Nevertheless, women consistently reappropriate real life situations to online environments and vice versa, resulting in shocking depictions of a continued oppression of their self-images and representation.
On January 24, 2015, curators Leah Schrager and Jennifer Chan launched Body Anxiety, an online exhibit that focuses on emerging female artists and how they approach the question of identity through works primarily created for the internet. Created as a rebuttal for an exhibition by conceptual web-based artist Ryder Ripps, Ho (Fig. 3) and his critique of the role of images of women online. Ripps created large-scale paintings using the unfocused airbrushing trope by reappropriating iphone images taken from model, Adrianna Ho’s Instagram account. Then proceeding to manipulate the images as stretched, and unnatural, with an overt focus on the sexualized body of the figure. Feminist artists and curators were angry at his perverse and sexualized portrayal of one woman’s self-imagery, that the exhibition created an uproar in contemporary art circles of New York, even before it opened. Critic Taylor Dafoe argues, “Ostensibly, Ho engages with the ways in which we portray women, tapping into the long history of the manipulation of images in the name of sex and advertisement.”[xxvii] His critique tries to diffuse Ripp’s male chauvinistic act into one that interrogates representational practices of women. However, the anger over the art is justified, the act itself is misogynist, the action of the male-artists hand reaching into the online environment and taking one woman’s self-representation as his own by placing it in a gallery as a deformed and sexualized figure. The urgency for women net artists was to reclaim their own representational art and highlight their own agency as solidarity for Adrianna Ho.
The curatorial statement for Body Anxiety points to the longstanding feminist act of reclaiming voice from the perceived commodified and/or sexualized images of women throughout art historical practices.[xxviii] Within the virtual space of the exhibition, I was introduced to the Durbin’s documentation of a performance, Hello Selfie, (Fig.4)
Hello Selfie, is a performance piece digitally captured through video, and transmitted on the internet. Durbin invited a wide array of female models to join her in dramatically applying pastel makeup and covering their bodies in Hello Kitty stickers, while wearing only white underwear. The women, then walked out to the walk of fame on Hollywood Boulevard, and proceeded to take selfies for one hour all while remaining completely silent and uploading the images on different social media sites, in real time. The video shows how fascinated the audience of unsuspecting tourists were at the display, and they too began to take their own selfies with the women. When asked her intention in the work, Durbin replied,
I wanted to take what girls do online in the protection of their bedrooms and put it in a public IRL place where people would be forced to confront their reactions—both tender and violent—to female narcissism and the selfie phenomenon. I'm interested in the ways in which violence toward women's images online ties into violence against their bodies in real life. And the ways in which women seem to bear the brunt of narcissism accusations, even though everyone's taking selfies.[i]
Previously, I mentioned Jennifer Chan’s description of the necessity for female/female identified artists to self-represent online. This occurs through numerous formats, but particularly within the selfie, an immediate self-portrait taken through the lens of the digital camera-phone. Numerous cultural critics refer to the contemporary fascination with digital self portraiture as a reflection of the narcissism of young people today. In contrast, contemporary feminist scholars consider the act of taking the selfie necessary, and it acts as a signifier of reclaiming identity from the mass anonymity of the virtual space of the internet. PhD Candidate, Lisa Ehlin considers the selfie to be subversive, and a tool of agency that allows for self-love, self-expression and self-determination to be fostered in young women. Discussing the selfie as feminist strategy, Ehlin suggests, “the selfie opens up for an ability to mimic and play with social roles, pointing towards potential subversion through awareness and agency, rather than self-objectification.”[ii]
The selfie can exist as a form of self-representation that denies the objectification of women. Through the format of instant self-portraiture, young women can constantly construct and deconstruct identity, removing the pigeonholed effect of popular culture and transforming self-representations into specific personal ideals and nuanced expectations of self/identity. Furthermore, Ehlin suggests the selfie is a performance of labour as conflict towards the commodity culture that is our social reality:
the selfie puts the question of the hyper-connected individual (the idea of everything and everyone simply always online) in relation to suggested self-empowerment, self-marketing or self-inflation. More specifically, the selfie arguably also highlights a gendered role within a capitalist society, being a product of labour, not only on the body and on the production of the body, but also how these bodies are treated as commodities.[iii]
The beauty of the online exhibition space, is found in the urgency and speed the curators confronted the violence in Ripps’ art practice. The majority of works in Body Anxiety, are digital self-representations chosen to confront the violence Ryder Ripps engaged in when he took Adrianna Ho’s self-images off the internet and transformed them into distorted sexualized art objects. By creating a commodity out of Ho’s body image, he constructed an environment that reinstated the oppression women continue to face in real life. Chan and Schrager launched the exhibition, before the exhibition by Ripps opened to the public, encouraging a large group of women to come together as an act of solidarity towards Ho the person and not the exhibition. In creating this new political forum for feminist theory to emerge, Chan and Shrager have successfully answered Dzieken’s call to recontextualize public space for exhibition and curatorial design. Curators no longer require the museum or gallery to showcase their work, and to make a footprint in political realities. Surely, to Hal Foster’s dismay, online archival and exhibition practices no longer disembody the viewer from the social codes that constitute the art object, they instead intimately embed the viewer’s experience into the objectile created for the virtual space. The question now is where will curators find funding to create URL exhibitions?
[i] Moreland, Quinn. "The Selfie Aesthetic: An Interview With Kate Durbin." The Hairpin. 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://thehairpin.com/2014/12/kate-durbin-interview-in-progress>.
[ii] Ehlin, Lisa. (2015), ‘The subversive selfie: Redefining the mediated subject’,
Clothing Cultures 2: 1, pp. 73–89, doi: 10.1386/cc.2.1.73_1 p.1 draft emailed to author. Mar. 2015
[iii] Ibid p.2
Balzer, David. Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else. Toronto: Coach House, 2014. Print.
Bridle, James. "The New Aesthetic." The New Aesthetic —. James Bridle, 1 May 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/about>.
Chan, Jennifer. "Notes on Post Internet Art." You Are Here: Art After the Internet. Ed. Omar Kholeif. Manchester: Cornerhouse, 2014. Print. Accessed on Web. 22 Mar. 2015 https://www.academia.edu/7508373/Notes_on_Post-Internet?
"On the Web, Gendered Space Is Gendered." .dpi Feminist Journal of Art and Digital Culture. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://dpi.studioxx.org/en/no/28-gendered-cultures-internet/web-gendered-space-gendered>.
Dafoe, Taylor. "RYDER RIPPS Ho." The Brooklyn Rail. 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.brooklynrail.org/2015/03/artseen/ryder-ripps-ho>.
Durbin, Kate. "Women as Objects." Dpi Feminist Journal of Art and Digital Culture. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://dpi.studioxx.org/en/no/28-gendered-cultures-internet/women-objects>.
Dziekan, Vince. "Virtuality and The Art of Exhibition." VIRTUALITY AND THE ART OF EXHIBITION : CURATORIAL DESIGN FOR THE MULTIMEDIAL MUSEUM. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 2011. Print.
Eler, Alicia, and Kate Durbin. "The Teen-Girl Tumblr Aesthetic*." Hyperallergic RSS. 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2015. <http://hyperallergic.com/66038/the-teen-girl-tumblr-aesthetic/>.
Foster, Hal. "The Archive Without Museums." October 77 (1996): 96-119. Jstor. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/778962>.
“Getty Research Institute Digital Art History Activities: An Overview." Http://www.getty.edu/. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/MBaca_GRIDigitalArtHistoryPresentation2011-11-03.pdf>.
Haraway, Donna Jeanne. "A CYBORG MANIFESTO SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIALIST-FEMINISM IN THE LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY." Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-181. Print.
Sterling, Bruce. "An Essay on the New Aesthetic | WIRED." Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 2 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. <http://www.wired.com/2012/04/an-essay-on-the-new-aesthetic/>.
 The first being The Getty Center Research Project, formally the Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP), as per Hal Foster, in his paper The Archive Without Museums, 1996.
 Throughout my paper, I will be using both acronyms and the phrases, in real life and online as they seem fit to the context. To highlight the confusing attributes of trying to disassociate the URL from the IRL.
 “It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our distant but overlapping realities.” James Bridle Online - see description by Bruce Sterling in the proceeding paragraphs, & endnote
 Yes, the research for online activities has a lot of similarities with how I understand the term ‘down the Rabbit Hole’ from the classic novel/film Alice in Wonderland. Especially when you engage with virtual-only environments. As was my experience when researching James Bridle’s The New Aesthetic – quotes and references linked one to another through circular discussion by a handful of thinkers. To discuss this structure of new knowledge further, would require another intensive research project. However, please be aware that I am attempting to construct a coherent analysis from a dispersed and very dynamic theoretical practice, without much engagement with IRL environments, other than a few conferences. The majority of writings are found on numerous online blogs by academics and thinkers.
 As mentioned earlier, I describe the process of analyzing, critiquing and theorizing The New Aesthetic as a linkage. Everywhere it is discussed, there are numerous URL links to other analyses making up a broader theoretical framework about what it consists of. However, there is not one place, that concisely sums it up – which is the beauty of the concept. It is everywhere, and nowhere at once, living online but also within inquisitive frameworks of information dissemination outside of traditional academic structures.
 In addition, he is affiliated with the Foundation for Art & Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool, UK as a FACT Associate and most recently was appointed Digital Media Curator of The Leonardo Electronic Almanac (LEA). (taken from Dzieken’s online biography)
 Objectiles were first introduced in the 1990s, and were a combination of two digital platforms in creating architecturally designed environments. My belief is that Dzieken is transcribing the term onto all digital objects.
 Canadian Academic and Researcher based in Architectural design and virtual environments.
 Confusingly, Body Anxiety is a URL sited exhibition created in rebuttal of an IRL exhibition created by URL practitioner and artist Ryder Ripps.
[i] "Getty Research Institute Digital Art History Activities: An Overview." Http://www.getty.edu/. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/MBaca_GRIDigitalArtHistoryPresentation2011-11-03.pdf>.
[ii] Haraway, Donna Jeanne. " A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and SocialistFeminism
in the Late Twentieth Century." Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print. P.149
[iv] Chan, Jennifer. "On the Web, Gendered Space Is Gendered." .dpi Feminist Journal of Art and Digital Culture. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://dpi.studioxx.org/en/no/28-gendered-cultures-internet/web-gendered-space-gendered>.
[v] Schrager, Leah, and Jennifer Chan. "Kate Durbin (info)." BODY ANXIETY. 24 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <http://bodyanxiety.com/gallery/kate-durbin/>.
[vi] Foster, Hal. "The Archive Without Museums." October 77 (1996): 96-119. Jstor. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/778962>. P.96
[vii] Ibid p.107
[x] Bridle, James. "The New Aesthetic." The New Aesthetic —. James Bridle, 1 May 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/about>.
[xi] Sterling, Bruce. "An Essay on the New Aesthetic | WIRED." Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 2 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. <http://www.wired.com/2012/04/an-essay-on-the-new-aesthetic/>.
[xiv] Balzer, David. Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else. Toronto: Coach House, 2014. Print.
[xv] Eler, Alicia, and Kate Durbin. "The Teen-Girl Tumblr Aesthetic*." Hyperallergic RSS. 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2015. <http://hyperallergic.com/66038/the-teen-girl-tumblr-aesthetic/>.
[xvii] Durbin, Kate. "Women as Objects." Dpi Feminist Journal of Art and Digital Culture. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://dpi.studioxx.org/en/no/28-gendered-cultures-internet/women-objects>.
[xviii] "Vince Dziekan." Leonardo Electronic Almanac. 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.leoalmanac.org/staff/vince-dziekan/>.
[xix] Dziekan, Vince. "Virtuality and The Art of Exhibition." VIRTUALITY AND THE ART OF EXHIBITION : CURATORIAL DESIGN FOR THE MULTIMEDIAL MUSEUM. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 2011. Print. p. 21
[xxii] Ibid p.25
[xxiii] Ibid p. 31
[xxiv] Chan, Jennifer. "Notes on Post Internet Art." You Are Here: Art After the Internet. Ed. Omar Kholeif. Manchester: Cornerhouse, 2014. Print. Accessed on Web. 22 Mar. 2015 <https://www.academia.edu/7508373/Notes_on_Post-Internet?>
[xxv] Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nowness>.
[xxvi] Chan, "On the Web, Gendered Space Is Gendered."
[xxvii] Dafoe, Taylor. "RYDER RIPPS Ho." The Brooklyn Rail. 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.brooklynrail.org/2015/03/artseen/ryder-ripps-ho>.
[xxviii] Chan, Jennifer and Leah Shrager, Body Anxiety. 2015 Online http://bodyanxiety.com/about/
“Leave off looking to men to find out what you are not —–seek within yourselves to find out what you are”[i]
The beauty of repositioning art’s awe through rigorous research is what the author encountered within the exhibition Camoufleurs, by Kathleen Ritter, displayed at G Gallery in Toronto, September 2014 (figure 1). This paper will be an exercise of objectivist and alethic hermeneutics, an exposition on today’s feminist re-articulations, an affirmation of the idea of the furtive in art practice, and how the deployment of each of these methods describes the probable paths Ritter has chosen to materialize her research within an art exhibition. By referencing contemporary theories in research, this article will hope to position Ritter’s own practice of research as method within theoretical artistic practice. Using research as material within the finalized objects of Camoufleurs, allowing the enhancement of the exhibition in its entirety to have the illusion as one large and singular artistic work. The second sentence in the press release for Camoufleurs states: “The project weaves together research into intersecting histories of war, avant-garde movements in art and poetry, the advent of photography and cinema alongside women’s suffrage and feminism in the early half of the twentieth century.”[ii] (Ritter, 2014) Quoted, as an entry point into this paper, Ritter advances the necessary methodology to conduct research within contemporary art. Understandably, contemporary art has a difficulty to stand alone as something new, innovative and independent. Research enables a new consideration in how an artist should approach art in general, especially considering the common thought of ‘everything has already been done.’
Research in art allows for an opening up of the history of art, of theoretical advancements, and other outside influences. It offers an innovative platform to create something new, away from everything already done. Accordingly, research as method, was described by Marquard Smith, in the collection of essays, What is Research in The Visual Arts, from 2008. In which Smith claims the recognition of research as method was incorporated into theoretical practice from as early as 1992. Utilizing research within the arts is an “act of searching for the not-yet-known.”[iii](Smith, 2009) Ritter’s exhibition employs a multitude of art processes to illustrate research as art practice while documenting the role of women in art, in history and their subsequent issues of feminist theory as practice. These processes include a translation of text, of media and historical analysis materialized through print, digital manipulations of historical ephemera, and large-scale mural painting. The role of research in the context of Ritter’s exhibition used as a form of communication, of code. This codifying practice, suggests to the exhibition visitors that they too have the opportunity to engage with the research and to conduct their own. Accordingly, Smith considers research as method as a powerful tool of “research being used to understand research.”[iv] (Smith, 2009) The exhibition works well when the visitors comprehend their role of connecting the dots of information that intersects the three primary works that make up Camoufleurs.
One can further comprehend the role of research in the visual arts by considering the reading of public engagement through the principles incorporated in the text Reflexive Methodology: New Vistas for Qualitative Research,[v] written by Mats Alvesson and Kaj Skoldberg. In the term reflexivity alone, we understand a malleable relationship with knowledge and its making. In the text, Mats Alvesson and Kaj Skoldberg describe the reflexive method through an in depth analysis of the functions of research. Their reading of reflexivity is the researcher’s “ability to break free from a frame of reference and to look at what it is not capable of saying, a break away from consistency…. in order to not allow the focus to become too narrow.”[vi] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) With the application of reflexive methodology onto Ritter’s exhibition, my opportunity to conduct my own research while discussing Ritter’s research and joining them together in a way to realize a more thorough and immersive method hopefully suggests to the reader they too can and should continue the investigative process. My first entry into Camoufleurs was one that considered all of the parts of the whole as one large installation, one solidified work. The collection joined seamlessly within an immersive environment. I have later found this particular reading to be not what Ritter herself intended. In the past, Ritter has worked as a curator, arts writer and an artist. Submerging myself into the space of Camoufleurs immediately brought to mind the experiencing of something more along the lines of a curator as artist practice. However, after communicating with Ritter, I have come to realize that the lens of Ritter as artist approaches the body of this particular work. Her curatorial practice had little to do with the artistic method. On the contrary, I read the space differently from Ritter’s intention; it had a definite and strong curatorial touch. Therefore, I will touch upon the show in its entirety, but later will extend my focus on the individual works. In doing so, my intention, is to conduct a correspondence between three points of view, Ritter’s, my own and outside trends in cultural dialogue. For Alvesson and Skoldberg suggest an objectivist focus should be incorporated into a reflexive research methodology in that “there ought to be a correspondence between the conceptions of an interpreting subject – the researcher – and an interpretation of something objective, occurring outside of the researcher.”[vii] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) My motive is also to relate each piece in Camoufleurs to the primary intention of the show. That being to engage with the publics in a way that supports further research into the issues of feminism today. Supporting this I quote Alvesson and Skoldberg, “Every world is a ‘horizon’ of meanings, which signifies that it is determined by its outlook at any given occasion, the ultimate limit for the view and the area in between.”[viii] Hermeneutics is a practice of investigating parts of reality, or patterns of metaphor in which we construct meaning within realistic frameworks, framed through overarching systems of language and thought. Each part can also be distinguished between who it is doing the research, for everyone comes to information from their own pre-understood positions and how the research is understood from the position of the researcher.
The works presented in Camoufleurs, strategically placed, with their relevant defined meanings nuanced within the subtleties of material decisions, created a strong environment to look at the nature of feminism anew.
Returning to Reflexive Methodology, Alvesson and Skoldberg consider one aspect of the use of alethic hermeneutics (of which I will discuss in more detail further on in the paper) is the possibility of corroborating the reading with current trends in similar studies.[ix] “Through a corroboration of the text – text to mean the interpretation of social acts given as a materialization of particularities whether in print, sculptural, artistic etc… -- checking it against other texts from the same culture or epoch, whereby the frequency of corroborating texts increases the validity of the interpretation at hand.”[x] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) Concurrently to Camoufleurs, we see the conception of new feminism taken up in other cities around North America. Particularly, this fall in New York City, The Hole Gallery displayed an exhibition entitled Future Feminism.[xi] Future Feminism was constructed by commissioning feminist artists to research and reimagine the future of feminism by re-examining past doctrines of previous feminist theories and practices. Artists, Antony, Kembra Pfahler, Johanna Constantine, Bianca Casady, and Sierra Casady, established a manifesto containing 13 Tenets of which suggest the new paths towards feminism in today`s age.[xii] The fifth tenet is relatable to Ritter’s work with Camoufleurs “Patriarchy works very hard to erase and dismiss the struggles of women to belittle, malign, and disregard their contributions to political movements and social change.”[xiii] (Clements, 2014) A criticism of new feminist art practices, put forth by Alexis Clements, writing for the online arts magazine Hyperallergic, is that it does very little to acknowledge the accomplishments of earlier feminists. She states, “willful erasure of feminist contributions, combined with the tendency of oppressed people to dismiss/downplay their own achievements, strikes me as among the top reasons why feminism is particularly prone to “reinventing” itself…. without that legacy, and an understanding of its evolution, you risk positioning yourself as the new savior of the movement.”[xiv] (Clements, 2014) Feminism today has created a term that irritates a wide variety of people. Shockingly, on November 12, 2014, five days before I am to submit this paper, Time magazine created an online poll (figure 2) asking for their readers to vote on the one word that should be dropped from our collective speech, as we move into 2015. Included in a list of non-words, is the word feminist. This act showcases the rocky terrain feminism is stumbling along right now. So much so, that the entire term, its sign to signify its meaning, is being questioned and positioned in a way to completely erase it altogether.
Validating the strength of the argument through corroborating interpretation. My position is that, Ritter, in Camoufleurs, speaks to this frequent erasure found in feminist theoretical practice, and re-examines it through the first conception of feminism during the suffrage movement, the players that were instrumental in its realization, and the embodiments the feminist wave of the 1960s/70s to today undertake in order to retain past dignities. Considering Camoufleurs as a re-examination and as a meditation upon what feminism today has forgotten or shadowed. Through the subtleties of repositioning past works into a new framework, Ritter bypasses the need to be considered as ‘saviour,’ of feminism. Instead, by utilizing research and allowing for the publics to take from the researched material what they will, literally and figuratively, Ritter asks for everyone to be cognizant of past accomplishments, and to work together in strengthening the erased or obscured history of feminism projecting it into the future. In doing so, illuminating the knowledge that patriarchy does work hard to erase or belittle the struggles women have fought.
This erasure of previous advances in women’s work is the underlining thematic Ritter portrays in Camoufleurs. The act of uncovering past histories can be reflected as a process of reflexive methodology, primarily using the framework of, previously stated, alethic hermeneutics. Camoufleurs is then a reflexive practice to extend into an exploration of hermeneutics, as Ritter herself claims of her own work, “to explore the sensory residue of history, bringing forward material from a distant past as potential ciphers for the present.”[xv](Ritter, 2014)
Accordingly, Alvesson and Skoldberg, frame alethic hermeneutics as one possibility in refiguring “the transcendence of established ideas.”[xvi] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) Ritter incorporated past imagery, text, sound and unspoken collaborations within her work to illuminate what came before in feminist action. The term Camoufleurs represents all of these aspects as one overarching theory. Through her initial research, Ritter came upon the meaning for this word. She explains in her press release that Camoufleurs was the term used for people who painted camouflage onto ships during the First World War.[xvii] Dazzle, is a particular style of camouflage attempted by the British navy, was invented by an artist/zoologist, Norman Wilkinson.[xviii] Invented by a man, however, the artists who undertook the painting project were women.
Ritter presented her exhibition at the outset as one that embraces past feminists, doing so by the painting of the exterior gallery walls in the zebra-like pattern reminiscent of this dazzle camouflage; evocative of the women who created the original works, and also the relationship between systems of private communication used by the navy in war. The British navy was key in incorporating Morse code into their tactics during the First World War. Literally, by enveloping all of the invisible and visible research, and their related codified artistic works under one coherent roof. Using the formula of alethic hermeneutics to describe the embedding of this secret code silently within all aspects of Camoufleurs, as research taken to investigate the role of women within large acts of demonstration.
Somewhat how I envision a spy to have conducted herself during the most crucial and critical moments of war, is how I have come to discover Camoufleurs. Slowly positioning my understanding and Ritter’s pre-understanding in a spherical unison to one another. This act of unity, used to reinterpret applications of objectivist hermeneutics; additionally how, through the revelation of the unknown or dismissed, the reinterpretation can gradually shift towards the alethic. Alethic is translated to “uncoverdness,’ as the revelation of something hidden.”[xix] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) This translation can be applied to Ritter’s work Siren, (figure 3) Siren, is the reattribution of a trio of artistic and inventive practices conducted by two artists, an actress and a musician. Ritter appropriated a scene from the 1933 film, Extase, starring Hetty Lamarr. The scene is a non-pornographic representation of female orgasm. Along with the imagery, Ritter also inserted a musical composition from the avant-garde movement of 1924 by George Antheil’s Ballet méchanique, acting as the soundtrack for Siren. This dual approach to tailoring two separate artistic endeavours into one coherent and new form allows for an entry point into the research methods Ritter herself undertook, and asks the audience to uncover meaning through their own research. It is an action of reminiscence, as we find out in the description of the piece, “with the climax of the footage timed to coincide with the sound of a whirling hand-crank siren, looped endlessly and played back on a streaming wireless network, the installation is affectual response to Lamarr and Antheil’s landmark invention of a “Secret Communication System,” widely known today as frequency hopping, the basis of wireless communication technology.”[xx] (Ritter, 2014) The use of interpreting Lamarr and Antheil’s fundamental work and relating it back to our day with the world co-dependent on wireless technology encourages to constructively rethink historical work conducted by women and how each manifested itself into the fabric of our lives. An equalising reminder that women and men have worked collaboratively on many of our most important societal structures. Feminism asks to acknowledge and shift our fundamental understanding of women in the world, from being submissive and accommodating to men and their particular place in society to being of equal worth and competence to men. Siren is a beautiful and poignant disclosure of the distinct, intense and substantial influence work by women has had on our society for over one hundred years. By referencing Alvesson and Skoldberg, Siren presents what reflexive methodology would consider as a dialectic solution to the discussion of feminism. Alethic hermeneutics is a practice of shifting between understanding and pre-understanding, and represents the moment between the two emphasized by the use of intuition.[xxi] Siren is a manifestation of a unity of truth, as prescribed by the alethic; it is “a focus on truth as an act of disclosure, in which the polarity between subject and object, as well as between understanding and explanation is disclosed in the radical light of a more original unity.”[xxii] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) My reading of Siren reveals a request for this original unity to become one of solidarity. Ritter is encouraging the audience to recognize historical achievements made by women and to work in solidarity to ensure the rewriting of past erasures.
Turning my focus towards the Ritter’s final work in the exhibition, a reattribution of the poet Mina Roy’s Feminist Manifesto, 1914 into shorthand. Emphasizes that the act of creating something entirely new from previous manifestations of spirit, can describe this sense of solidarity. Manifesto, 2014 (figure 4) is a repositioning of alphabetic text into a language most commonly used by women in secretarial positions, during the pre/post war periods. Ritter translates the manifesto, delivers it on large sheets of newspaper and suggests to the public to take copies and paste them around the city. However, asserting this instruction was not seen as a priority during my visit to the gallery. It sat quietly within the artist statement, and was not specified to the publics. We were encouraged to take a copy of Manifesto, but for our own enjoyment not to distribute around the neighbourhood. Personally, had I been made aware of the specifics of the project I would have taken a few copies and followed through on the instruction. For this demonstrative action would have been the perfect amount of delicate rupture needed into the social framing of the west side of Toronto. The work would have sat quietly beside advertisements, and other flyers, enticing the urban publics to take a second and try to decipher its meaning. A ‘new’ language, inserted into the street culture of music and event posters. The pieces distributed throughout the neighbourhood would have encouraged interest and discussion relating to how Ritter describes as, “Sleights of hand, elaborate diversions, hiding in plain sight … An urgent message is distributed en masse—in an all but obsolete language.”[xxiii] (Ritter, 2014)
Each piece in the exhibition tacitly sits revealing themselves to be known and to be understood as entry points into further reflexive practices of larger dialogues. Each working to support dialogues concerning the materialization of research into art objects, art practices and relational aesthetics. Implied as, “tactics to lend the works in Camoufleurs a sly humour and mordant wit.”[xxiv]
The tactic in implying that there is more to know than what meets the eye can be illustrated through the vision of relational art as a furtive art practice proposed by Patrice Loubier in his article To Take Place, To Disappear: On Certain Shifts Between Art and Reality, 2001/2. I hope to classify Loubier’s definition of art under the scope of alethic hermeneutics, art as a site for the materialization of pre-understanding with understanding. He states, “there is a development of a greater indetermination in the form of the art object, projects tend to exist concretely in an enlarged reality, beyond the mere mode of representation.”[xxv] (Loubier, 2000/1) This description can be recognized under a reflexive framework through the use of the terms indetermination, existence, enlarged reality, and modes. Acknowledging that there is a definite frame of reference when creating art, and of which artists need to be cognizant. In that, using the terms to emphasize the illustration of arts ability to move forward, and project itself outside of a determined frame of reference. In doing so, to allow their attention to shift between modes, to prevent the domination of either mode. This prevention allows for a more nuanced artistic practice, and allows for the advancement of discussions into arts’ political abilities. Furthermore, to highlight this attribution, reflexivity is articulated “as an ability to break free from a frame of reference and to look at what it is not capable of saying, to break away from consistency.”[xxvi] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) The furtive, in its definition alone, describes the calculating act of secret making, unveiling and revealing. It does not distinguish between concrete and abstract realities, it allows for all of the ways into meaning be shifted amongst one another in the hope to reveal a more elaborate, or nuanced truth. Ritter, in 2005, discusses this concept at length in an article on one particular relational art practice. “furtive practice neither claims to be new, nor revolutionary. It, in many cases, is not intended to mobilize a public to collective political action. It is not confrontational and does not have the ambition to reach the greatest number of people in the spirit of activism. Perhaps then, it operates both in the real and on the level of representation; it offers up a likeness or a model of the world, while at the same it is actually takes place in it.”[xxvii] (Ritter, 2005)
Fast forward to 2014, and we can understand how the exhibition Camoufleurs represents to us a practical application of the furtive as art medium. It is here where we can understand Ritter and her action of opening up to the creation of the hidden, what I refer to as her secrets of possibility, inherent in the artistic works. Another conception of the furtive as art is the camouflaging instinct of mimetic action. Loubier defines the ‘mimetic dimension of in situ projects’ as, “activities which are completely ambiguous both for the art world and in the larger social sphere,” blurring “the exact nature of the intervention and its integration into a given context have the effect of camouflaging its status as art.”[xxviii] (Loubier, 2000/1) With the project of painting the gallery itself in the namesake piece Camoufleurs, Ritter emphasizes the mimetic ambiguity of camouflage and how in its inherent nature attempts to shadow the players of hunting and war. Placed onto the structure, leaving it in plain sight, but acknowledging the act of camouflaging the inherent secrets or hidden realities one encounters once they walk into the space. Each piece sits quietly within the very public intervention, and asks for solidarity in feminist research as furtive art practice. Accordingly, Ritter defines the furtive further in the statement, “I would like to adopt the term “furtive” in the hopes that it is more apt in describing the surreptitious and complex ways that art today permeates civic and social spaces and conflates our notions of an ideal or expected public.”[xxix](Ritter, 2005) Camoufleurs does just that, it permeates the social gallery structures of Toronto, encourages the audience to go out onto the stage of the public space and covertly engage with the social fabric of the street.
To conclude, Kathleen Ritter has successfully created an exciting and fresh feminist exhibition. Camoufleurs, reveals a temporal study of place, space and intention and with all of the nuanced secrets, such a study can unveil. Reflexive methodology is an important research method to contemplate when one is studying the coalescence of theory, identity, history and the present. It can be used “to study our place in the world, through the structure of care (built in possibilities ie. Freedoms), the element of possibility, and through a criteria of choice.”[xxx] (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009) Ritter has invented a new way at approaching historical art practices, through the scope of utilizing research as an awe-inspiring tool to encourage indirect action. The subtleties of incorporating female sexuality, work and play into one coherent structure allows for further analysis of what it means to be feminist. Camoufleurs is well balanced and reflexive, in that it does not allow the reader or viewer to fall out of its possibilities. It only acts to encourage reflection and discussion surrounding the research, in doing so signifying the need to collectively move forward and rewrite, that which has been erased. Undoing past covert operations in diminishing the strong work women have conducted over a hundred-year span. Mina Loy states in her Manifesto, “As conditions are at present constituted—you have the choice between Parasitism, & Prostitution —-or Negation.”[xxxi] It has been one hundred years of negation. As we have seen by corroborating evidence, Feminist practices have not fully succeeded in coming to terms with this aspect of erasure and renunciation. The research of Camoufleurs can be used as a launching point to reverse this negation, renew it and reveal an innovative need to rewrite a feminist manifesto signalling change. Signalling an opening up of what is and may be.
Alvesson, Mats, and Kaj Sköldberg. "On Reflexive Interpretation: The Play of Interpretive Levels." Reflexive Methodology: New Vistas for Qualitative Research. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2009. 238-57. Print.
Clements, Alexis. "Past, Present, and Future Feminism." Hyperallergic.com. 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. <http://hyperallergic.com/149699/past-present-and-future-feminism/>.
FUTURE FEMINISM (The Hole NYC). http://theholenyc.com/2014/08/15/future-feminism-2/ September 11-27, 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014
Loubier, Patrice. "“To Take Place, To Disappear: On Certain Shifts Between Art and Reality,”." Ed. Anne-Marie Ninacs and Patrice Loubier. Trans. Janine Hopkinson. Les Commensaux: Quand L'art Se Fait Circonstances/ When Art Becomes Circumstance (2000-2001): 201-06. Issuu. Les Commensaux, 2001. Web. 01 Nov. 2014. <http://issuu.com/benskol/docs/les_commensaux/203?e=1938667/5616710>.
Loy, Mina. Feminist Manifesto, 1914 (Literary Movements Manifesto) web November 9, 2014
Ritter, Kathleen. "How to Recognize a Furtive Practice: A User’s Guide." Articles ». N.p., 2005. Web. 01 Nov. 2014. <http://dianeborsato.net/articles/how-to-recognize-a-furtive-practice-a-users-guide/>.
Ritter, Kathleen. Press Release for Camoufleurs, shared by email to the author October 23, 2014
Smith, Marquard. “Introduction” in What is Research in The Visual Arts. Ed. Michael Ann Holly and Marquard Smith. Yale University Press, Clark Art Institute. 2009
[i] Mina Loy, Feminist Manifesto, 1914 (Literary Movements Manifesto) web November 9, 2014
[ii] Ritter, Kathleen. Press Release for Camoufleurs, shared by email to the author October 23, 2014
[iii] Smith, p.xi
[iv] Ibid p.11
[v] Alvesson, Mats, and Kaj Sköldberg. "On Reflexive Interpretation: The Play of Interpretive Levels." Reflexive Methodology: New Vistas for Qualitative Research. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2009. 238-57. Print.
[vi] Ibid p.247
[vii] Ibid p.56
[viii] Ibid p.84
[ix] Ibid p. 59
[xi] FUTURE FEMINISM (The Hole NYC). http://theholenyc.com/2014/08/15/future-feminism-2/ September 11-27, 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014
[xiii] Clements, Alexis. "Past, Present, and Future Feminism." Hyperallergic.com. 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. <http://hyperallergic.com/149699/past-present-and-future-feminism/>.
[xv] Ritter, Kathleen. 2014
[xvi] Alvesson, Mats, and Kaj Sköldberg. p. 247
[xvii] Ritter, Kathleen. Press release, 2014
[xviii] "How Did an Artist Help Britain Fight the War at Sea?" BBC IWonder. Web. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zty8tfr>.
[xix] Alvesson, Mats, and Kaj Sköldberg. p. 58
[xx] Ritter, Kathleen. Press Release, 2014
[xxi] Alvesson, Skoldberg, p. 55
[xxii] Ibid P. 55/56
[xxiii] Ritter, 2014
[xxv] Loubier, Patrice. "“To Take Place, To Disappear: On Certain Shifts Between Art and Reality,”." Ed. Anne-Marie Ninacs and Patrice Loubier. Trans. Janine Hopkinson. Les Commensaux: Quand L'art Se Fait Circonstances/ When Art Becomes Circumstance (2000-2001): 201-06. Issuu. Les Commensaux, 2001. Web. 01 Nov. 2014. <http://issuu.com/benskol/docs/les_commensaux/203?e=1938667/5616710>.
[xxvi] Alvesson, and Skoldberg, p. 247
[xxvii] Ritter, Kathleen. http://dianeborsato.net/articles/how-to-recognize-a-furtive-practice-a-users-guide/ 2005
[xxviii] Loubier, p. 202
[xxix] Ritter, Kathleen. http://dianeborsato.net/articles/how-to-recognize-a-furtive-practice-a-users-guide/ 2005
[xxx] Alvesson and Skoldberg, p. 81
[xxxi] Mina Loy, Feminist Manifesto, 1914 (Literary Movements Manifesto) web November 9, 2014
This essay was given as a presentation - for the images look below the text, Weebly is not the best forum to post large papers with imagery. I am working on creating an online book for this piece. JLF
“Art does not have to become a form of life. On the Contrary, it is in art that life takes its form.” Jacques Ranciere
There is a constant dialogue, within the studies of images of women, that is reactionary and emotionally charged. Questions immediately emerge that signal the commodification of the physical bodies of women equated to their sexualized image and in addition to this equation; images of women are constantly relatable to a religious manifestation of spirit. Blurring the lines of representations between stereotypes of Mary Magdalene or the ‘urbanized whore’ and the Virgin Mary or the purity of the maternal essence in nature. The works by Italian artist Lucio Palmieri are not immune to these representations. Bodies of women are iconized through historical and cultural stereotypes. However, they can be regarded as an aesthetic experience of art through their overt representation and acknowledgement of historical conceptions of women done through the commodity industry of fashion; images created for the fashion house of Dolce Gabanna through their subversive online magazine, Swide.
This paper will develop through a twofold theoretical framework, concluding upon the notion that in order to approach images of women we need to acknowledge in them their inherent disposition within society and history, but also be able to recognize that they act within the political realm of aesthetics regardless of their representational depictions.
The first will be a discussion of the inherency of the commodified image of women through the historical materialist lens presented by Walter Benjamin in his essay the Theses on the Philosophy of History. In using his theory, my purpose is to brush the history of the images of women ‘against the grain.’ Against the commonly held notions that women are constantly subservient to the desires of men. That in fact, by looking to historical representations of actresses, we can decipher that women acted as players in society. We can act as witness to their entrance in to the public sphere, how this composition through the blending of class distinctions done through clothing their bodies and within the dialogue of fashion, has remained inherent in the portrayals of women. By the utilization of Benjamin’s theory on the rules of progress, I question is there something we have missed?
Additionally, the argument will take shape within the framework of the aesthetic regime presented by Jacques Ranciere in his discourse, Aesthetics and its Discontents. In which, Ranciere proposes that, “the work of dissensus is to always reexamine the boundaries between what is supposed to be normal and what is supposed to be subversive, between what is supposed to be active, and therefore political, and what is supposed to be passive or distant, and therefore apolitical.”
Palmieri’s work cannot step outside of its politics. His work, as with images of women are always already embedded in commodity, the first through its placement on Swide – a commercial forum as a lifestyle magazine – and the former within the mere conception of the modern woman. Yet, within the distribution of images over the internet, this action allows for a freedom of spectatorship; the art is available for everyone. The work also allows for a moment of play, a moment in which the dominance of the fashion industry, and therefore the dominance of commodity is no longer holding the reigns.
My proposition is that Palmieri has created a critical art practice by infiltrating the criticality of Dolce Gabbana’s online world of fashion dissemination as lifestyle magazine. His is a work of dissensus, by blurring the lines of fashion marketing in the creation of deviant images of women and utilizing the beauty of the commodified fabric to clothe their bodies, Palmieri has acted as a historical materialist. His work presents an unspoken truth of women, that their commodification is imbedded in their history; along with the history of fashion, celebrity and consumerism, that one cannot be easily separated from the other. However, by way of analysis he presents a formation of art that sits outside of the political realm one in which we are able to distinguish between mere representation and aesthetics.
During the course of modern history, women have been fetishized or dismissed. Their images have remained within the realm of the commercial – no matter what medium is used to depict them – their images remain as a threshold into their truer identities, and as a tool in the tradition of patriotic society. This tool is in the commodified form and its dissemination to the public. Nevertheless, some artists attempt to reclaim the body and its processes by presenting it in its natural state of nudity or enveloping it within notions of labour, class, domestic, gender or theological divisions. Walter Benjamin’s project on the repositioning of historical materialism away from the linear conception of a universal historicism speaks to this process through the need to battle class divisions “by enlisting the services of theology.” Meaning that linear historical time must be emptied of its methods of resistance and its false acclamations of goodwill. For history, is always positioned in support of the ruling apparatus by claiming a positive progress for its victors. However, Benjamin equates progress to a storm and that in it becomes one single catastrophe.
The images, bodies and objects reclaimed through war and repression are only viewed by illuminating the power over the object through the eyes of the victorious. To struggle against this sovereign gaze, one cannot go about it blindly. Benjamin is asking for an opening of the eyes, and the senses to remember everything that has occurred before regardless of its position in support of the subjugation of historicism. This everything is all actions that precede tradition. However, traditionally, we continuously perform the actions of the ruler. When it comes to the bodies of women, we overlook strides in equalizing the apparatus of rule to that of the body. The body continuously remains subservient to tradition. Theology allows for investigations into the underlining and invisible threads that hold tradition together and what Benjamin would call the ‘unrepresentable.’ The unrepresentable is that past image of oppressed peoples and their becoming as so. He words this as such, “the past can only be seized as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized.” However, Benjamin cautions us in holding the image, for it can then become another “tool of the ruling class” to subjugate its objects. This action must continuously occur, regardless of time and it is up to the historical materialist to position oneself in confliction from the progression of history.
Artists have represented the sensibilities of the feminine; either by embracing stereotypes, (as we understood with many performances by actresses such as Mae West), violently emptying the stereotypical image by reverting it to one that is abjected (which is illustrated here by the 1934 depiction of Coco Chanel as Marianne by Paul Iribe), or reappropriating the commonality of a repressive pattern of speech.
For example, the phrase, “A dainty line in underwear went dancing by on Fred Astair.” Spoken by British Comedienne Paddy Browne, in 1936, while performing her sketch describing a dream she had after a night out. The dream was a presentation of performance within a fashion show, and yet the models were the famous male actors of the period traipsing around frivolously in the latest feminine designs.
These examples illuminate the consistency of place or site for the historical, the mythical and the allegorical positioned upon the bodies of women. In Browne’s case, she reverts the allegory of the feminine and places it upon the male body, highlighting its absurdity.
This consistency remains today and is most notable in the world of high fashion. Particularly in the forms of advertisements and fashion shows. My belief is that fashion shows are the site for a crystallization of artistic experience in all its forms. Yet, they are also prime examples of the commodification of physical bodies, not solely those of women. Advertisements are a whole other ball game. They are purposely positioned to create desire in the consumer, and most often through a gag-reflex of kitsch.
But, what of fashion illustration? This form of fashion dissemination has constantly blurred the lines between advertising, celebrity, commodity and fine art.
The advent of celebrity coincided with the commercialization of art object through its reproducibility. Benjamin visits this in his text from 1936, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In which he claims, with the arrival of technical apparatuses to reproduce fine art, they allowed for a more nuanced and revolutionary situation for the discussion of politics in art." The revolutionary aspect is the negation of the time and space continuum of historical artifacts. As once considered the spoils of war, the ways in which the ruling class asserted their power of interpretation over the citizens of state; the reproduced image is able to transcend the space required for this interpretation. Benjamin describes this as, “Even the most perfect reproduction is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence.” This unique existence of a work of art is what holds the history of its subjugation to the whims and rule of the powerful. For it is a demand of authenticity and only the esteemed authority can give the object its authentic essence within the institution of art. The image or object is then reactivated anew, through “the shattering of tradition and of which is connected to contemporary mass movements.” Of which the below image of musician Lana Del Ray by Palmieri can attest to.
The most reproduced image during the 18th century was that of the actress sporting the fashions which were incorporated into the public forum through conversations between nobility and the performers. Accordingly, Jessica Munns in her essay Celebrity Status: The Eighteenth Century Actress as Fashion Icon, lays out the framework of relating the commercialized image of women to women’s placement in modern society. In which Munns argues that during the entrance of women into the public sphere of the theatre, being actresses and patrons, their conversations also entered the public realm. Women took hold of their place in the social fabric through the theatre. Previously to this period, women of the upper class were observed as domesticated and were relinquished to the privacy of the home and women who were forced to perform on the stage were equated to the prostitute. This enforcement was due to the lack of financial means or class distinction to support themselves. The individual and collective voices of women were silent and they remained separated off from one another. However, as Munns states, “by the 18th Century we see them as social performers, trendsetters and fashion plates.” Fashion was key in solidifying Celebrity through the means of reproducing the image, and the detracting of traditionally held sites for women. The theatre was the site in which the integration of conversations between women could begin through “the exchange of roles and clothes between actresses and audiences.” Actresses would perform nobility with an emphasis on their attire through costume, and once this attire began to take shape within new designs, the nobility began to wear the costumes as fashion and vice versa, a dialogue began. Fashionable portraits as marketing paraphernalia replaced the iconography of religious narratives with the more mundane depictions of the everyday. They were images that represented the spirit of tradition, but also reverted this tradition back upon the repression of the female figure. Primary images of fashionable women were created for marketing purposes to entice patrons of the theatre. However, the imagery of actresses in costume were also a part of the art world. They were fine oil paintings shown in exhibitions, and they were the first examples of a mass consumerist revolt towards the art connoisseur done through their reproducibility. Collecting blurred the lines between the wealthy and the middle class. The reproduced image also led the way for the images of actresses to become icons, and in turn the actresses themselves. “Actresses were fashion icons, now discernible from the high society.”
Additionally, Munns describes that this image of Sarah Siddons painted by Joshua Reynolds in 1784, as the site in which the era of the theatre as fashion ended and celebrity as icon exploded. Reynolds positions the figure of Siddons as tragic muse taken from Michelangelo’s depiction of the prophet Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel. By incorporating, the history of the religious into the image of the actress iconizes the actress. It speaks to the nature of the sublime, and tragedy; concepts once only relatable to religious icons, but now as something more inherent in human experience and primarily in the experience of to be a woman. The theatre set up a form of spectatorship and conversation; it was a site for “public culture of social exchange.”The exchange was embedded into the fabric of mass culture as that of spectatorship. Today, spectatorship is in many places consecutively through the dissemination of imagery over the internet. It is ingrained within our society and in which we conduct the act of being spectator individually and collectively.
A dilemma of utilizing Benjamin’s text, Theses on the Philosophy of History, for an investigation into the modern day depictions of women is in the lack of references to women. In fact, there is only one, a slight of hand. Benjamin motions to historians with a suggestion that they should find themselves in a bordello. “The historical materialist leaves it to others to be drained by the whore called ‘Once upon a time’ in historicism’s bordello. He remains in control of his powers, man enough to blast open the continuum of history.” Equating the bodies of women within the cultural artifacts as spoils of war: women too can be seen as these spoils, primarily the whore. Women’s primary place in the course of history, up to that literary moment, and continuing was/is as an abjected figure standing outside of history or as a figure of pure entertainment and imagery. In suggesting to the historian, the man who does not ascribe to the rules of historical materialism, to find himself in a bordello equates the bordello to the drug of ignorance or blindness and the women in the act of supplying this drug of false memory through violations of their bodies. Associating, the desire for history as complimentary to the victorious desire in the viewing of women as objects, objects only available to the men writing history suggests that there is far more at stake in sexually violating the bodies of women, hence illuminating the outmoded methods of historicism. The bordello stands in for the method of allegory, the phrase “Once upon a Time,” is the fantastical role of the allegorical. Christine Buci-Gluckman, in her monumental work on the works by Walter Benjamin – Baroque Reason – has elaborated upon Benjamin’s use of the allegorical within the discussion of mass art movements. The historian is always writing or contemplating about the ‘unfreedom of men,’ allegory is the imaginary tale of freedom. The straightforward direction of history is executed through the lens of the ruling class over the bodies of the oppressed. Accordingly, Benjamin is quoted in saying, allegories are always “allegories of oblivion,” they are such that the course of true history is forgotten, and it is only when a glimpse of the reality of modernity’s triumphs are contrasted against the old forms of regulation, “allegory testifies to a seat of resistance, of representation prior to representation.” Benjamin has discussed the entrance of women into the public market place, primarily through “the recognition of women as the allegory of modernity.” The feminization of the modern is ascribed to Benjamin as that of being the hope for a great upheaval of history. It is through the experiences of women that we would be able to bare witness to the revolutionary forces at play in modern society. As Buci-Gluckman cites, “The feminization of culture could be the trace, the allegory or the theoretical, for we, as yet, have no experience of a women’s culture.” Therefore, women are relegated to the site of the imaginary, the allegory. “Woman becomes one of the privileged sites of the ‘mythic correspondence’ within which the modern technical world and the archaic world of the symbol now operate.” If we continue down the path proposed by Benjamin, we will constantly find ourselves up against the ruling class. Woman as allegory is also as ‘mass produced article,’ as we saw with the forms of reproduced imagery artists were beginning to work with. In addition, with the allegory of the prostitute Benjamin consents upon historians. It does not take philosophy to point out that women have continuously found themselves violently removed from social life. Women are either whore or icon; at times, they can be both. But, is there anything else?
During the 18th century while fashion and celebrity were taking on lives of their own, so too was the world of the philosophical through contemplations on aesthetics and beauty. This period is one in which Benjamin has equated to a transformative power in representation and human change; it is also the period when Kant began an investigation into the world of aesthetics in relation to social and theological politics. Buci-Gluckman claims, Benjamin saw “art as beginning to lose any social role, especially in relation to politics, through the aestheticization of the everyday.” She goes on to point out the period of commodification as understood as, “a culture industry that produced an artificial public arena by combining high and low culture, reiteration, sentimentality, and easy passions that valorize the self.” Ranciere describes this period, “as defining a specific sphere of experience born under the banner of equality: the equality of all subjects, the definition of a form of judgment freed from the hierarchies of knowledge and those of social life.” Ranciere emphasizes that Benjamin was mistaken in attempting to separate the sphere of experience as art from knowledge and social life. However, Benjamin could contest Kant’s theories through the acknowledgement that if an artist reached back into social history and used its myths as allegory one can illuminate its pivotal moments of transformation, “testifying to a seat of resistance in Western history.”
Art and the object of ordinary life can both be represented as a thing that stands under dominance of what Ranciere would call “an absolute other.” Art in the representative regime is dominated by the canons of doing, how an artist should represent their worldviews through acts of mimesis, and ordinary life is dominated by the politics of the state, how citizens should interact with one another in the public forum. Yet, art in the aesthetic regime is not dominated for it stands outside of the rules for domination. It is not dominated by regulations, in fact it disburses the rules of form, sense and experience. Creating what Ranciere would call “the paradoxical sensorium,’ a new manifestation of the sensible.”
However, the modern movement of a revolution towards a new equality remained under the dominance of the ruling class. As we saw with Benjamin, all that remained in modernity, under the trajectory of history and its progression through conquest, was the violence hidden under the shadows of the sovereign. Aesthetics were delegated either to the realm of elite sentiment or to the triviality of beauty. Counter to modernism’s allocation of aesthetics, Ranciere considers it to be of a separate regime, one in which was not legislated by the representational. The representational regime is one that complies to the ‘Law of Mimesis.” In which Raciere defines as “the fine arts as a regulated relation between a way of doing, a poiesis and a way of being which is affected by it – aisthesis.” The autonomy of an art is absorbed by “the plurality of arts.” The rule of fine arts is a social nature that holds within them an entanglement of sites as interpretation, and of imitation. Ranciere classifies this social nature as comprised of three forms of nature, “the productive nature, a sensible nature, and a legislative nature.” Each one holding their own form of dominance over the object as art. Accordingly, Ranciere describes Aesthetics as the practice of separating the various components, breaking them apart through the movement of discourse. By this action the reasons for doing art or its poiesis is stood against its ways of being or its aisthesis accumulating into a new regime, that of the Aesthetic Regime. The Aesthetic regime is one of contrast, division, displacement and rupture, and how, in its polarity, can influence a new formation of life through what Ranciere claims as, “to agree from human nature lost or a humanity to come.” Through the lens of contradictions, we can see where this new humanity to come can be present; it is in the crack between borders of decisive regulations of sense. Ranciere elaborates, “Aesthetics is not a domain of thought whose objective is sensibility. It is a way of thinking the paradoxical sensorium that henceforth made it possible to define the things of art.” Ranciere traces the history of Contemporary Art through an understanding of the Aesthetic Regime of Art, touching upon modernism, post modernism and new relational media. For he confirms, “human nature is always simultaneously a social nature.” In which he speaks to the concept of aesthetics to be political, and adds that art is always political. Even further, we cannot have one without the other. The nature of being social is an investigation into a trace found in conceptions throughout history. The politics as a social site is through the allowance or disallowance of speech in the public forum. As with art, politics works as “a distribution of the sensible.” There are members of society that possess the rule of speech; they are the ones who designate the space for those rendered speechless. However, citizens are no longer voiceless, modernity and postmodernity enabled a multitude of voices to be expressed. Yet, what matters to the progression of civility, is their speech, the formation of what people say and how it is accepted, folded or interpreted into the site of the public politic. My belief is that Benjamin would agree with Ranciere in his analysis. That the sensibility of speech he speaks of, is equivalent to the “spark of making visible the invisible,” as proposed by Benjamin.
Before, I speak to this nature of the political in art as applied by Ranciere, I would like to introduce my case study of Lucio Palmieri’s illustrations for Swide, in order to relate his practice within the previously outlined conceptions of history and how they come into play.
Lucio Palmieri is an Italian artist now working in Berlin. He graduated from the Accademia di Brera in Milan, with a degree in contemporary art restoration, with an emphasis on works paper and historical ephemera. His art practice has included investigations into the world of celebrity as commodity. He seems to work primarily with collage and illustration, and both mediums have been incorporated into his work for Dolce Gabbana. He also works with animated digital GIFs presented online.
Dolce Gabbana discovered him during his exhibition Hollywood Babylon Reloaded, of which collaged representations of pop icons such as Madonna were presented.
They saw in his work a similar visual aesthetic to their own practice, one of presenting the past for the contemplations of the future.
Dolce Gabanna is the house of high fashion of Stephano Gabanna and Dominico Dolce. They have been working together for over 20 years and have designed some of the fashion world’s most esteemed creations. In 1985, they presented their first runway show for Milan’s Fashion Week for spring/summer 1986. Their inspiration for the show were strong female icons of the Italian film industry, such as Sophia Loren and Isabella Rossellini. One fashion reporter has claimed that they “are also to be credited in some part for the way women in the 1980s empowered themselves by reclaiming sexual stereotypes and using them for their own gain.” Removing the boxy masculine fashions of the 80s and replacing them with a more contoured and defined shape. Accordingly, the reporter mentions that, “The duo revamped strong styles that were previously seen as degrading to women, Confidence and irony are key to the Dolce & Gabbana look.” This confidence and irony follows Dolce Gabanna into the 21st century.
However, instead of looking to the era of Italian cinema, they move further into history and reclaim the Sicilian Baroque. Palmieri is too working within the visualization of the baroque period. His extravagated forms and the act of representing figures through the materiality of found historical and contemporary papers attracted Dolce and Gabanna.
Previously, through Benjamin, we traced the history of celebrity, fashion and the spectacle equating it with the imagery of women. We have discussed the roles in which the industrialization of the 18th century had an impact upon all forms of social life. How new forms of reproduction affected the essence of art in the transference of aura and how through this transference the political state of community was altered. Ranciere would discourage our thinking that politics and art as distinctly separated from one another. Art is political, through these very separations and distancing. Politics is the conflict of space, Ranciere states, “politics is not the exercise of, or struggle for power. It is the configuration of a specific space, the framing of a specific sphere of experience and the arguments formed surrounding objects in that space.” Art distances itself from this space of contestation, and in doing so distances itself from politics, which is essentially a political act. This distancing is done through the negation of wanting to overrule the politics of space and can be classified as dissensus, and its form is within a category of the dispositifs or the apparatus of rule. Accordingly, Ranciere would caution us against questioning if something is art merely from the sake of its being an object in a space that represents a political affirmation. Art is political for its use of space, and time not in its representation, but outside of whatever it is discursively presenting. There are four temporal shifts that Ranciere equates to the Aesthetic Regime of Art, in how it conflicts within the space of the political. These four are, The Play, The Inventory, The Encounter, and The Mystery. Subsequently, I wish to speak of Palmieri’s work for Dolce Gabbana under the guise of three of these categories, those of Play, Encounter and Mystery.
Palmieri is quoted in saying, “It’s the material that talks to me, not me to it. Often a story is suggested by its self. I let myself be fascinated by the random materials I find, and let them suggest what to do. I associate things without planning. It’s random. I meander the surface until it finds its way, its story.” This randomness of thought and usage of material is key in the formations of his work. We can also consign Palmieri’s illustrations to the Aesthetic Regime of Art. They are not merely works of imitation. Palmieri approaches his ideas through materiality as a speculative theory of play, and in how playing with found materials can conjure up essences of what it means to find emptiness in today’s modern society. Ranciere explores the concept of a randomness of play and how it can be contrasted to politics through the free appearance of signs and in its separation from methods of modern art. Play is defined as “any activity that has no end other than itself, and does not intend to gain any effective power over things and persons.” Art, which uses play as a medium, is also one that diffuses the need for one rule or method to be subservient to another. The category of play is considered, “through the suspension of the relations of domination and is the antidote to the passivity of spectacle.” Play is a contrast between action and passivity. It asks for unbiased participation, and one that does not dominate the action.
Palmieri’s use of fashion illustration as collage is the site where segments of commercialization and commodity can find a synthesis within conceptions of play. Ranciere proposes that collage is also a method of creating critical art. He states “collage combines the foreignness of aesthetic experience with the becoming-art of ordinary life.” Its criticality can be seen in the burring of borders between commodity, or political aesthetics, and the aesthetics of art.
Palmieri’s art also blurs the borders of spectatorship, in its placement upon a virtual fashion magazine. Swide is a lifestyle magazine created by Dolce Gabanna, in which they have hired artists and writers to speak to the nature of popular culture, but in doing so utilizing their fashions within an aesthetic of the everyday. Palmieri has clothed illustrated saints, celebrities and random figures in Dolce and Gabanna fashions. His figures are not commercially pretty; they are nuanced and distorted from their attachment to the commodity of fashion. They play with the conceptions of the sublime and the beautiful, of history and the present. Images transcend time with their presence on the internet; their period situated in time is no longer inherent in their meaning. The internet allows for a blurring of temporality, in so much that one can switch between images created in different eras by the blink of an eye and a click of a mouse. Doing so opens up a space that is not dependant on the politics of space; it is only dependant on the viewer’s interaction with the visual form in how they can relate the imagery to their sense of history and commodity.
When designers approach other forms of artistic expression, they can alleviate the commercial aspect of their work. Dolce Gabbana are not naïve to the power of the internet in producing dialogue between class divisions and spectators. Their practice of fashion has become one where they are personally disassociated with the everyday market place. Within the 20 years of their practice they have become billionaires.
Gabbana has been quoted in saying that they seem to live in a ‘gold cage,’ away from the commonality of the bond of life. He is also quite aware that people want the illusions, the stories that the multiple worlds of fashion and commodity have given them. A sense of mystery away from their everyday foibles. However, by choosing to commission Palmieri, they also give a sense of the allegory through an experience of art as rupture and of spiritual necessity. In looking to Ranciere, one could classify this action as one of Encounter. Of which he states, “Art no longer tries to respond to an excess of commodities and signs, but rather to a lack of bonds – building new forms of social relations.” By using the open forum of the internet - asserts the artistry of the illustration – in its role of commenting on the system of representation and imaging the repression of the fashion industry.
Consequently, over the course of 'history' we are unable to separate images of women from commercialism because it is ingrained in history. Palmieri’s fashion illustration imbedded into fashions commercialized system of commodity; the similarities of the figures, their somewhat abjected bodies, can be considered a brushing against the grain of history. Acts of deviance in fashion illustration does this brushing, it infiltrates the illusionary, the norm and represents it for what it is.
The historical inherency in images of women are of commodity exchange, fashion, theatrics and spectacular consumerism. Yet, what is also inherent is in the certainty of conversation or dialogue that foretold the constructions of these images. However, this knowledge has been masked or silenced by the commodity industry; in its setting desire above everything else. History has masked the fact that women themselves began to use the theatre, as their place in society, to dialogue with one another. The public forum opened up a positive role reversal and illuminated the actual lack of control male dominated society had on their own self-perceptions. The spectacle of celebrity, which many shun, ignore or dismiss, is actually something to consider as a tipping point for women to engage with the world outside of their private spheres.
Spectacle remains “a tool of the ruling class,’ however, if we return to its inception into the public lives of women, we can grasp the tool for ourselves. The modern to Benjamin was the site in which we lost the essence of an aura outside of ourselves, an aura that can only be maintained in the act of creating art and resisting the powerful. Through an historical trace of aesthetics and their qualities, this paper confirms that the collaborative work between the fashion duo Dolce and Gabanna, and illustrator Lucio Palmieri has successfully created a form of Aesthetic dissemination and illustration, doing so allowing for the historical trend in celebrating the fashion industry through high-end commercial imagery be refabricated as a critique of the very industry they are a part of. Palmieri’s powerful iconic depictions of actresses, muses, religious figures and mythological renderings are not new to the world of fashion. What they do do, is allow for a closer examination into the history of the fashion industry as methodology to describe our current fascination. His imagery ruptures the ideas of how to represent images of women in fashion, in how we can consider fashion illustration as art and furthermore, how women can begin to embrace their own history of speech.
List of figures:
Lucio Palmieri, Saint Mary of Clopas, Feast Date April 24, 2014 on swide (invocation against temptation)
Lucio Palmieri for Dolce and Gabanna, Summer of Sin, 2012 Screenshot of Swide, accessed Nov. 29 2014
Lucio Palmieri, Eyke, 2013
Unknown Photographer, Mae West, 1936
Paul Iribe, Le Cavelier, 1934
Unknown Photographer, Paddy Browne, c.1936 Courtesy of Paddy Jane
Three images from advertisements/fashion shows for Dolce Gabanna c.2012-2014
Marcel Vertes, Shocking for Elsa Schiaparelli, c. 1930s
Andy Warhol, Gloves by Schiaparelli, c.1950s
Alexandre Iacovleff, Callot Soeurs, 1934
Lucio Palmieri, Lana, 2012
Joshua Reynolds, Mrs. Siddons as The Tragic Muse, 1789
Lucio Palmieri, Medusa wearing Dolce Gabbana, 2012
Lucio Palmieri for Dolce and Gabanna, A fashionable personification of constellations, 2012 on Swide
Lucio Palmieri and Dolce and Gabbana
Lucio Palmieri, Madonna in Hollywood Babylon Reloaded, 2012
Lucio Palmieri, Barocco, 2012 and Dolce Gabbana, F/W 2012, 2011
Dolce Gabbana, Geometrissimo S/S 86, 1985
Lucio Palmieri, Arpie in Dolce&Gabbana, 2014 on Swide
Lucio Palmieri, St. Agata, 2013
Lucio Palmieri, Saint Agatha, 2014 on Swide
Lucio Palmieri, Agata, 2014
*** All Images found on the Internet *** (except the image of Paddy Browne, her image is courtesy of Paddy Jane) Lucio Palmieri’s work can be found http://luciopalmieri.tumblr.com/archive or on Swide http://www.swide.com/
To watch Paddy Browne’s sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN-VXF31CYo
“It’s the material that talks to me, not me to it. Often a story is suggested by its self. I let myself be fascinated by the random materials I find, and let them suggest what to do. I associate things without planning. It’s random. I meander the surface until it finds its way, its story.” Lucio Palmieri
Fun Quotes by Dolce Gabbana:
“We are very lucky to have such a beautiful job and we do live in a sort of “Gold Cage” – as I call it. One should go to the public, to eliminate filters by fashion journalists, by the buyers because at the end of the day we communicate directly with the final clients. They decide whether you are successful or not, no one else.” Stefano Gabbana
“We have the luck to be working with the most beautiful; beauty of beauty…” “We were really out of this world – someone really should have calmed us down” Domenico Dolce
Medusa was originally a golden-haired, fair maiden, who, as a priestess of Athena, was devoted to a life of celibacy; however, after being wooed by Poseidon and falling for him, she forgot her vows and married him. For this offence, she was punished by the goddess in a most terrible manner. Each wavy lock of the beautiful hair that had charmed her husband was changed into a venomous snake; her once gentle, love-inspiring eyes turned into blood-shot, furious orbs, which excited fear and disgust in the mind of the onlooker; whilst her former roseate hue and milk-white skin assumed a loathsome greenish tinge.
Taken from: http://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Creatures/Medusa/medusa.html
Saint Agatha; Sicilian Saint, persecuted for wanting to remain celibate, and not wanting to marry or share her body with men. One man imprisoned her in a brothel. She returned and he repeatedly tortured her, he then severed her breasts. She died a martyr to her faith.
Prayer: Saint Agatha, you suffered sexual assault and indignity because of your faith. Help heal all those who are survivors of sexual assault and protect those women who are in danger. Amen