Monday, December 6, 2010


Jean Léone Gérôme, The Snake Charmer, 1870

The West considered themselves superior to those they conquered.  A power-relationship exists whereby the West is more powerful because they bought ideas and civilization to these less civilized and "barbaric" worlds.

Joan Scott's "Multiculturalism and The Politics of Identity" 
-  criticizes conservatism AND minority groups for essentializing themselves
-  the idea of a "true" inner self is problematic because in identifying a person with an individual self, it prevents the person from being anything else (essentializing)
-  discrimination against groups is a result of their difference (relative: white vs. black)
-  criticizes ideology of individualism.  Individualism stresses experience as the necessary prerequisite to criticism; therefore, a man cannot be a feminist, because he has not had the experience of being a woman.
-  the overprotection of identity is problematic because identity is always in flux.  Scott argues that identity must be out in the open and be susceptible to socio-cultural influences.
-  must always think collectively

Identity is fluid.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Stephen Nelson's Diaspora: Multiple Practices, Multiple Worldviews"
  • Septuagint: first use of the term, "diaspora", as means to describe exiled Jews from Palestine/Babylon; "dislocation from a place of origin and relocation in a new setting"
  • comprised by immigrants, migrants, refugees, exiles and travellers
  • W. E. B. Du Bois: double consciousness (1903)
  • James Clifford: diaspora deals not only with the migration of individuals, but their transnational experience (of living in two different cultures)
  • Nelson wishes to explore diaspora in conjunction with contemporary art practices and "diasporic art has challenged homogeneous fictions of nation, nationality, and citizenship"
  • diasporic artists exist "outside" in the margins of society; artists are always seen as "diasporic artist" and always regarded in terms of ethnicity and race
  • postwar-Britain: descendants of immigrants from Britain's former colonies began to challenge the presumption that identity is natural; instead identity is always in flux and considered as "discursive constructions", in which race, gender, sexuality and class all play a part
  • Third Text, journal publication first appearing in 1987
  • "Writers on the work of African American artists have rightly explored the ways in which ideas of diaspora have informed the artist' visual choices, motivated by the desire to convey notions of "home" and the possibility of recuperating a lost "African" past."  In this way, it can be argued that African American artists romanticize Africa as a means to come to terms with the racism and oppression they experience as diasporic artists living in the West.
 Chris Ofili, Holy Virgin Mary, 1996


Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life
The merging of modern aesthetics with traditional Jewish rituals and life fits within the discourse of diaspora; artists are exploring Judaism using modern modes of representation.  In this exhibition, artists aim to refashion traditional Jewish objects by fusing it with modern materials and aesthetics.

Ross Barney Architects, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. Evanston, Ill.

New Works/Old Story: 80 Artists at the Passover Table

 Amy Klein Reichert, Seder Plate, 2008

(See also: Walid Raad.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stephen Leuthold's "Introduction" deals with the problematic term "aesthetics" in reference to indigenous artists and individuals.  The problem lies in the fact that indigenous aesthetics and what constitutes native art is more often than not seen from the non-native, Western perspective.  (Indigenous "refers to people who are minorities in their own homeland, who have suffered oppression in the context of colonial conquest, and who view their political situation in the context of neocolonialism".)
-  problems with definitions (aesthetics, indigenous, art, representation)
-  important to understand how indigenous aesthetics functions in intercultural context; must acknowledge that when studying "others", one is looking from within a certain socio-cultural framework that dictates certain knowledge
-  could be problematic to use the word "art" in relationship to native expression; "art" needs to be redefined to be more all encompassing before it can be applied again

Claudette Lauzon's "What the Body Remembers: Rebecca Belmore's Memorial to Missing Women"
Rebecca Belmore's Vigil (2002)
performance as memorial to over sixty women - sex trade workers, predominantly Aboriginal - that have gone missing in the Downtown Eastside neigbourhood of Vancouver
-  sex workers are members of a marginalized social group whose discourse invariably presupposes that they should not be given a proper place in society.  Claudette Lauzon suggests that this discourse needs to be deconstructed.
-  postmodernist thinking
-  Belmore's The Named and the Unnamed offers a discussion on identity politics and representation
-  demands to make the absence present by creating material manifestations of the absent women (blood-stained clothes, torn dress, etc.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Postmodernity and Identity: Identity Politics

Architect Charles Jencks saw the demolition and destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe urban housing complex (modernist architecture) in St. Louis, Missouri on March 16th, 1972 as the end of modernism.  Postmodernity - in the 1960s (late post-industrial capitalism) - saw the dissolution of meta-narratives (large ideological structures and comprehensive ideas that explain the world to us).  What is Post Modernity?  "In a cultural sense, post modernity is a reaction to high modernism and some of its main ideologies."
(See, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Fredric Jameson).

 The atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 marked the end of the Enlightenment Project.

In 1968, student and social riots, revolting against moral degradation and social injustice happened across the West.  There was a increasing disgust with democracy, capitalism and festishization of objects.  All of these movements failed and as a result, a new generation of thinkers, who were aware of what happened before and how things could, surfaced.  Postmodernity is not interested in reaching conclusions and making logical assessments; the aim is to have an understanding of the plurality of answers and the discourses available for research.

Identity Politics
The notion of identity itself is only first put into the question in the 1980s.  Identity politics recognized the emergence of marginalized social groups and the attempts by the members of these oppressed groups to fight for equality, political power and a place in society.  Criticism:  1)  Essentializing takes priority and pressure is placed on individuals to identify themselves with a particular social group.  2)  Stereotypes and generalizations are made about social groups and thus, do not do justice to individual identities.

Films that Deal with Identity Politics

 Memento (2000)

Fight Club (1999)

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Coco Fusco's "The Other History of Intercultural Performance"
Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit... was a performance piece by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena.  "Our plan was to live in a golden cage for three days, presenting ourselves as undiscovered Amerindians from an island in the Gulf of Mexico that had somehow been overlooked by Europeans for five centuries.  We called our homeland Guatinau, and ourselves Guatinauis."  The exhibition of indigenous people in Western society has a been long tradition stemming nearly five centuries ago.  With the performance, the artists had originally sought to create a "satirical commentary" on Western notions of the Other and the primitive Noble Savage.  Although they were actors playing the role of Amerindians, this was never openly declared to the public and many people never stopped to question their authenticity.  Fusco's article documents the varying responses by people who saw the show when it travelled to various museums in the world.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Museums/Institutions and Cultural Representation

Modernity saw the public push for public institutions organized by the government.   Museums, galleries and other public institutions are public spaces (see: Michel Foucault) which organize knowledge and construct individuals and by extension, identities.  This organization of knowledge is made possible using ideological apparatuses, such as catalogues, didactic panels and manners of display, all of which serve to create a cultural identity.  In a museum or gallery, the object does not stand alone.  Rather, it acts as a signifier in conjunction with the didactic texts that are placed alongside it.

As Carol Duncan mentions in the introduction to "Art Museums and the Ritual of Citizenship", the Louvre became the first modern art museum when it was transformed from a old royal palace into a public museum of the French Republic.  The museum, in many ways, stood for the same wealth, power and political authority that had once been attributable to the Church.  It is important to note the differences between how France and England saw the public museum.  Whilst France saw the museum, first and foremost, as equality for the masses, England saw the museum primarily as an educational museum - no different from a correctional facility.

Carol Duncan sees the museum as a public, secular ritual.  Museums, through its grand architecture - often evocative of classical Greek temples and churches - and opulent display becomes a secular ritual site.  One is overwhelmed when entering a museum and almost instantly, one's body language changes.  In a museum, objects become separated from everyday life.  This removal of objects from their original context and the natural environment in which they were created invariably means they have to be recontextualized within the pristine walls of the museum.  In museums, the focus is on visual display.

The more art becomes abstract, the more museums simplify their architecture.  Hence the neo-classical temple has over the years evolved into the pristine "white box".  Take for example the National Gallery of London (top image) and the White Cube Gallery located in East London (bottom image):

Annie E. Coombe's article, "Museums and the Formation of National and Cultural Identities" deals with the problematic issues surrounding the display of ethographic collections in museums and the attempts made at revising the current methods.  There appears to be a dichotomy between western high art and ethnographic art - the latter more often seen as artifacts, not art.  Colonial order was supported by the development of capitalism, festishization of objects.  Objects are removed from their natural reality and thus knowledge about these objects given by museums is decontextualized.  Gayarti Spivak suggests that we need to renegotiate and reorganize the categories by which ethnographic collections are displayed in museums - often in sections of their own, thus only further reinforcing the sense of otherness and exoticness.

Exposition Universelle Paris, 1889
-organized at the height of French colonization efforts
Timothy Mitchell.
-representation of Cairo, Egypt in the exposition:  recreated a street Cairo by bringing in stones and people and donkeys from Egypt = similar to a film set, artificial world; visual displays with no sense of reality (see: Jean Baudrillard's Hyperreal)
-European organization of cultures further proves colonial order; see the world as a picture.
-feel close yet removed simultaneously/ push-pull effect  

Artists Whose Work Deals With Museums

Sophie Calle's Last Seen (1991) offers a wonderful dialogue on museum display.  Shortly after works were stolen from the Isabelle Stuart Gardener Museum in Boston, Calle took photographs of the empty spaces where the paintings once hung and asked the museum staff to describe the missing paintings to her.  Beside the photograph of these empty spaces, Calle recorded the descriptions she received of the missing work.  Last Seen is a commentary on museum display and its use of didactic panels.

 "Last Seen: Vermeer The Concert"

 Sophie's description of "The Concert" 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning (1990)

Directed by Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning documents the lives of African Americans, gays and transgenders in New York City.  The documentary deals with the marginalized social groups of the United States and how the members of these socially oppressed groups struggle and deal with their identities.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Into the Modernity

Modernity is most often made synonymous to the Enlightenment Project which had seen a development of more rational and objective science, universal morality and autonomous art.  The Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason, aimed to dispel religious superstition (beliefs with no basis in logic) and political tyranny (absolutist rulers and exploitation of lower classes).  Its main doctrines include: rationality, reason; innate goodness in humans; individual equality; art should play on the intellect not emotions.

The American Revolution and the French Revolution were direct results of Enlightenment thinking.  The proletariat (workers and farmers) united to fight against the bourgeoisie.

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793

Jacques-Louis David was the official artist of the French Revolution and The Death of Marat (Jean-Paul Marat was a friend of David's and an important political figure in support of the revolution) is in many ways an embodiment of the bloodshed and terror of the revolution.  Napoleon had come out of the French Revolution and subsequently went on to conquer Europe.  Modernism came out of Enlightenment philosophy as many artists were uneasy and critical of Enlightenment thinking.

18th Century: Immanuel Kant
-  people have full capacity to will their way through life
Autonomous Ego: will is within oneself; dependent on imposing rules on will; subject possess free will, free from religious and political tyranny; transcendental self; collaborate with others in order for everyone to be free; independent but still in relation to society
PARADOX:  Those were weren't enlightened were seen as children that need to be enlightened.  The paradox lies in the fact that enlightenment thought championed freedom, yet imposed their ideas and knowledge on others.
Hegel:  selfhood is dependent on others and society. self-consciousness

By the 19th century, it was clear the onset of modernity and industrialization could not be stopped.  As a direct result of the Enlightenment, the 19th century saw the advent of suburbs (picturesque landscapes) in the outskirts of cities.  The middle-class conducted themselves based on rules of behaviour, etiquette, morals and values that were written out for them in manuals and catalogues (See: Eaton's Catalogue).  The private and public sphere were under scrutiny, especially that of the women's.  

The Victorian Parlor - living room - became a semi-private space in the home.  The opulent decor and designs was a means to show comfort, wealth and status in society to those who came to visit.  It was seen as improper to show uncovered furniture and wallpapers, draperies, textiles, carpets served to cover the space.

Brotherhood of the Pre-Raphaelites.  These groups of artists were against the modern industrialization, mass production and consumerism and sought to embrace religion and Medieval spirituality.  William Morris attacked both Victorian fashion and gave social criticism to factory working conditions.  As a result, he started Morris & Company (1861) and perpetuated the Arts and Crafts movement.  Morris & Company was a workshop where artists and designer worked collaboratively in a machine-free environment.

Unfortunately, the hand-made furniture, in direct competition with mechanically-made goods, proved to be too expensive for the middle-class.

Katherine Hoffman - "The Nineteenth Century."
-Bohemianism: unconventional; outside mainstream society became popular
-Romanticism was reflection of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophy that emphasized inherent good in people.
  -mystery, imagination, exotic, nature, individualism

Hoffman details the constant struggle between individuals and society and the strong emphasis put on the private sphere during the Victorian Era.  The image of an ordered family and domestic life became increasingly important.