Category Archives: culture
Since moving to Boston mid-June, I have been working for a temp agency, which has placed me in some really interesting administrative roles. On the side, though, I work for third party marketing companies as a Promotional Model/Brand Ambassador/Spokesperson. It is actually a really fun/interesting gig, as I get to interact with lots of different people and learn about some cool products.
Most recently I was promoting a new men’s shaving product at a wholesale retailer. (I’m not sure how much info I’m allowed to divulge on the internet, so I am going to be as vague as possible.) I was responsible for telling people about the new product and also handing out samples of the same brand’s shaving cream. The shaving cream had the same name/branding as the blades themselves, and was marketed towards men to use to shave their face.
I was handing out 2.5 ounce samples of the shaving cream to customers at the store, which is pretty darn good for free. I was shocked at the amount of people, specifically women, who asked me if the product was for men/sort of got offended if I tried to offer it to them. WHAT? It is FREE shaving cream. Just because it is marketed towards men does not mean that it will not work for you, as a female, to shave whatever you want to shave with it. I couldn’t get over it. Do people honestly think that a product won’t work as well, or even at all, if you are the opposite gender of the marketing target?
It’s amazing/scary just how successful companies are at creating false binaries. For some reason, some people (I am definitely not included in this, as I’ve used tons of men’s products, even men’s deodorant!) truly believe that products “designed specially” for one gender cannot be used by the other gender. Mind blowing. Seriously. Shampoo works on all hair, male or female. So does shaving cream. Shavers, too. And I must admit that the five blade comfort blades that were created for “men” looked pretty awesome for shaving my legs.
The creation and maintenance of false binaries is problematic and has led to the perpetuation of marginalization and oppression of certain groups based on race/class/gender. If products are separated dependent on gender, race, class, etc. it opens the door for value judgments. One product is more effective, better quality, etc. even though they are probably the exact same product in different packaging. Do you remember the old Secret deodorant slogan “strong enough for a man, but made for a woman?” Yeah, I think that pretty much says it all.
So, I just started watching Dexter with Alex. For those of you who don’t know what Dexter is, it is a show about a serial killer who kills by a code of ethics, mostly killing other serial killers, rapists, etc., that “deserve to be killed.” It is an intriguing and well written show, and I’ve definitely gotten sucked in. Don’t spoil any thing, though, because I am only at the beginning on Season Two!
Because the show is centered around serial killers, it often includes fragmented bodies, that are usually cut up into pieces for easy disposal. As a nerdy art historian who can’t get art history out of my brain, what was the first thing I thought of? Relics. Yup. Fragmented body parts of any variety, even the ones on a show about a serial killer, remind me of relics.
When I unintentionally set up the parallel between the fragmented murdered bodies in Dexter to the fragmented bodies of relics, I couldn’t help but notice one large difference: one concept is really, really creepy, and the other is actually rather normal, respectively. The murder bodies that have been cut up in the tv show are disturbing, creepy, and make the viewer feel unsettled and uncomfortable. The alleged body parts of saints, scattered around most of Western Europe and the America, however, is a commonplace, but now outdated, Catholic religious practice.
It fascinates me how a fragmented body can be thought of in such drastically different ways depending on the alleged holiness or power of the specific body. Reliquaries were incredibly popular during the early medieval period up to the Reformation. Lavish boxes made of precious stones and metals were cast to hold a piece of a body part that was thought to have belonged to a saint, which are called reliquaries. Some of the creepier reliquaries mimic the shape of the body part that is inside, and some are shaped like mini statues or Roman portrait busts. Relics gave the churches they belonged to bragging rights, and churches would boast of their relic’s power.
These relics lead to the creation of the pilgrimage church, which was a church or cathedral that contained an incredibly powerful relic that many practitioners of the Catholic faith wanted to visit; to pray to the fragment of the saint in person. A series of pilgrimage churches began to sprout up, all boasting their own powerful relic, which created a pilgrimage trail from Spain to France, beginning at Santiago de Compostela. Hardcore Catholics and art historians alike still walk this trail; I won’t lie, it’s on my bucket list.
I am still left to wonder why the fragmented body part, say, the arm of St. Andrew, is not disturbing and shocking, but is, instead something powerful and worthy of worship. For this is can only assume that the fact that the alleged Saint lived in a much earlier time period, so he is not remembered in his human form by any one who is still living, but instead, his body has become a symbol of what he stood for, and for his religious power.
Murder victims, however, whose bodies have been fragmented by their killer, are much more disturbing, as the bodies belong to sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, etc., of people who are still alive and well. The temporality of the situation is what makes it creepy or not creepy, then. Though I do have to point out that the grave diggers who stole the bones of saints to use as relics were not only doing some shady, creepy business, but also had some questionable motives. Stealing in the name of Catholicism for more PR/buzz around your cathedral? Put in modern terms, the concept of relics really doesn’t seem much better.
also, check out this website for all you could ever want to know about sacred destinations.
During my undergrad studies at UMass Amherst, there was a big media buzz about cultural ownership and cultural heritage, as many United States museums were being told they had to return some of their antiquities to their countries of origin. It also coincided with the publication of The Rape of Europa and the subsequent documentary of the same title. Needless to say, repatriation, restitution, and cultural ownership became hot topics of discussion in my art history courses.
One of the most prominent stories in the media was the so called, “hot pot,” the Exekias Vase that had been part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Collection since the late 1970s. When the provenance of the piece was questioned and the museum was unable to provide sufficient information to prove that the piece was not illegally excavated, the Met returned the piece to the Italian Ministry of Culture. The Met did not HAVE TO return the vase, but it would have been in very poor taste if they had not done so. Because of their eagerness to cooperate with the Italian Ministry of Culture, the two entities have a positive relationship and have agreed to give each other long-term loans.
Another hot story was the media buzz surrounding Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. The art nouveau artist most famous for his iconic work, The Kiss, was a prominent artist who worked in around Vienna. This portrait of a family friend, Adele Bloch-Bauer, ended up in the Austrian State Gallery decades after WWII, when the portrait was originally stolen from the Jewish family by the Nazis. The surviving family members were shocked that the portrait of their deceased relative which was thought to be lost or destroyed was now on display in a museum. The family had to fight incredibly hard to get the piece back, hiring many lawyers and attending long, arduous trials. In the end, the family had to sell the painting as soon as they got it back, just to be able to pay for the legal fees. It is now in a small gallery in New York City.
What I find most fascinating about these scenarios, besides the obvious thievery and shady business dealings, is, especially in regard to the Exekias Vase, is that art as a sign of national identity. Though there are countless vases in hundreds of museums across Italy and Greece, this one particular vase was suddenly transformed into a symbol of cultural theft. I have very strong opinions about cultural ownership and retribution, which would be way too much to fully go into in this post, but I do understand why a country would want a piece back if it was, in fact, proven to be stolen from their soil. I do not think, however, that every piece created in Italy should stay in Italy. Art should educate and start a dialogue. If we, as citizens of the United States, were only exposed to art and artifacts created in our country’s very short history, we’d be missing out on a sophisticated world view.
The power of art, and the connection that people, countries, families feel towards these art works, is most apparent in regard to cases of ownership. If I’ve sparked your interest in the topic of cultural ownership, I recommend you watch/read Lynn H. Nicholas‘s The Rape of Europa and/or search ‘hot pot’ in Google to get countless articles about the return of the Exekias Vase.
In high school I was a self proclaimed anti-feminist. This was because the idea had been planted in my head that feminists were, by their very nature, man-hating women with radical politics who burned their bras. It wasn’t until college, graduate school really, that I finally realized that there is a reason why feminism has been branded this way towards the younger generation of young girls and women: it has the potential to be incredibly powerful.
By making feminism something that you shouldn’t be excited to align yourself with, and my making feminist politics seem removed from the life of the average woman, feminism is contained. Once I finally, reluctantly decided to embrace feminism, I realized that there are many girls and women who are in the same boat as I was. I now feel obligated to share how feminism has changed the way I think and to try to make more women aware of what feminism can do for them and how they think about the world around them.
My fundamental problem with feminism from the ages of 13 – 20 was that I incorrectly thought feminism was hypocritical. I wanted to know why, if women were calling for equality, they weren’t championing humanism. I thought it was ridiculous to even acknowledge that gender divide and instead call for equality for PEOPLE, not just women. This was because I was incredibly naïve and had not yet realized that it is impossible to disregard gender difference. Through feminist art historical practices I was able to finally understand the value of feminism: as a tool to illuminate the ways in which women are oppressed due to the constraints they are forced to work in, which are different from those of men. By acknowledging the ways in which women were/are oppressed by patriarchial power structures, it opened my eyes to the ways in which gender, race, and class play an important roles, not just in the case of women, but in all marginalized groups.
I’m not really a girl power, “I am woman hear me roar,” type of gal, but I definitely do identify myself as a feminist. I think that I should be in charge of my sexual health and reproduction rights, I want to get paid as much as a man does for doing the same job, and I don’t want to support or perpetuate the normalization of domestic violence towards women. Are you with me on one…two… all three of these issues? Guess what, you’re probably a feminist, too! Embrace it!
If I’ve sparked your interest at all, check out Jessica Valenti’s book: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Women’s Guide to Feminism and Why it Matters (I have to thank Professor Kelly Dennis’s office door promoting for this book recommendation!)
I’m a weird person. People have been describing me as weird since I can remember, though I’ve always wondered if it was just because our elementary school vocabularies were so limited that no one could ever think of another word for the “W” in my last name when making those anagram projects. Even still, I’ve always been described as “weird,” though often followed up by a “but in a good way.” One of my weirder qualities is that I don’t really like television and movies. I rarely ever want to go to the movies, and I honestly cannot recall when I actually got excited about a movie that was coming out. I’d often get dragged to midnight showings, but I could have cared less whether or not I was actually there. I also feel asleep in the theater during the most recent Die Hard movie, and no, I wasn’t even tired before I got there. I just don’t care.
I grew up with a father who was on the cutting edge of all technology. I was also an only child. We always had at least 300 more channels that the three of us could possibly watch, but they were there just in case we needed them. In middle school, my parents let me have a TV in my bedroom. What did I chose to watch? The Home Shopping Network and Nick at Nite. No joke. I was obsessed with I Love Lucy, Green Acres, and Mary Tyler Moore, which in my opinion didn’t hold a candle to Rugrats, Hey Dude, and Salute Your Shorts, which I watched with my friends during the day. I never watched a show regularly, except for maybe TGIF, which was a family affair. I couldn’t be bothered to have to sit in front of the TV at a certain time – and I definitely still can’t!
In high school we got satellite TV, and my obsessions became the Game Show Network and the Food Network. Once again, not joking. To this day, I have never seen an episode of Dawson’s Creek, The OC, One Tree Hill, Laguna Beach, or The Hills. I didn’t care. At all. Despite the fact that I didn’t particularly enjoy TV, I still felt like I had to have it on. I think it was for the background noise, or just due to the fact that that seemed like the normal thing to do. Throughout my entire life it has been incredibly hard for me to JUST watch TV. I always have to be doing something else: surfing the internet, making dinner, knitting, eating… anything other than just sitting there. As a result, I barely even pay attention to the TV. It’s become rarely anything more than a box of colors and sounds that I instinctively tune out and don’t pay attention to.
Now that I am living away from my family and with my pretty frugal boyfriend, we decided not to get cable. I think this was one of the best decisions ever, because I am not paying for lights and sounds that I don’t pay attention to anyway. I get the local channels if I want to catch up on the news or, on occasion, watch the few shows I really do enjoy: How I Met Your Mother, Jeopardy, and The Ellen Show. The shows that I enjoy that are not on antenna TV are easily accessed on the internet, and we decided to get Verizon Fios for just that reason. Quality high speed internet > cable TV. Now I just waste my time on the computer instead of as a zombie in front of the TV, but I’d like to think that my time spent on the computer is exponentially more productive. Whatever helps me sleep at night, right?
9. We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
10. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.
It is in Italy that we are issuing this manifesto of ruinous and incendiary violence, by which we today are founding Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides and antiquaries.
Italy has been too long the great second-hand market. We want to get rid of the innumerable museums which cover it with innumerable cemeteries.
Museums, cemeteries! Truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other. Public dormitories where you sleep side by side for ever with beings you hate or do not know.
The above passages are taken directly from F.T. Marinetti’s 1909 Futurist Manifesto.
Marinetti was an Italian poet and philosopher who attacked Renaissance perspective and bourgeoisie values. Obsessed with war, speed, and machines, Marinetti wanted artists to break free from the canon and create violent, radical works that represented modern life. Marinetti’s ideas were impressive, avant garde, and highly political. Like many radical ideas, Futurist works ended up being total failures, as they have been taken out of context and no longer successfully represent the ideological ideals they were created to convey.
Case in point: not many people really understand the (not particularly pleasant) ideologies of the futurist movement, as they are not necessarily visually apparent in Futurist works. For example:
Boccioni States of Mind: The Farewells, 1911
From this Boccioni piece entitled States of Mind: The Farewells, created in 1911, the bright, abstracted shapes are actually sort of fantastic and cheerful. Though the concepts of speed, machine, and modernity are conveyed by the paintings formal characteristics, the angular shapes and the dream-like composition do not convey the the concepts of violence and destruction that are so central to the Futurist’s Manifesto.
Balla: Girl Running on a Balcony, 1912
Giacomo Balla’s Girl Running on a Balcony, painted in 1912 is even less successful at illustrating the Futurists most important ideologies. This painting looks much like Georges Seurat’s canonical pointillist work, La Grande Jatte created circa 1884-1886. Balla’s use of light, bright colors makes this painting anything but ominous and his reference to the art historical canon does not suggest the obliteration of culture. Though it too conveys an infatuation with movement, as all futurist works do successfully, but there are once again no illusions to destruction – especially not the destruction of art or art history.
Boccioni Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913
Lastly, Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a sculpture created in 1913, is the icing on the top of the not so successful cake. This sculpture of is the centerpiece of the brightly lit, ENTIRE ROOM of exhibit space at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Yes, the artistic and social movement that wanted to destroy museums and libraries and equated museums to cemeteries has its OWN ROOM at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s own really beautiful, really impressive, incredibly misleading room…that also does not hint at destruction, war, or radical politics. The Futurists failure by ending up with their own room in one of the most prominent museums, museums being the foremost institutions that they wanted to destroy, is the perfect example of why form needs to meet function, or in this case – ideology. Oh, irony. You’re great.
In both undergraduate and graduate school I was pretty fascinated by the Situationists International. Unfortunately, I never found a practical way to incorporate them into a large project or assignment. Even still, I find them aspects of both the Situationists International and the Letterists International interesting, and as a result, their ideologies have snuck into several smaller projects – i.e., these blog posts.
The reason that I became so enthralled with the SI is because of this one particular image that I saw in my Contemporary Art class with Professor Mario Ontiveros at UMass Amherst in the Spring of 2007. The image was Guy Debord’s The Naked City, and it looked like this:
I’m not entirely sure why I was so sucked into this image, but it was probably because of the system or organized chaos. The network of arrows and buildings that do not make sense at first but slowly appear to be suggesting the free movement of an object or a person through space. Simply put, I appreciate the effort of trying to illustrate how a person interacts with the space around him or her, which is exactly what this image does.
My fascination with The Naked City and the SI led me to explore more about the politics, beliefs, and practices of the SI. I was first led to Guy Debord’s most famous publication, The Society of the Spectacle:
I have to admit that I am pretty much in love with the cover of this publication. The Society of the Spectacle could be considered the manifesto of the Situationists International, who were a group of artists, philosophers, poets, and intellectuals. This publication contains the ideologies of the SI as number bullet points, each one expanding off the last. From here I was led to another of Debord’s publications regarding Psychogeograpy: Theory of the Dérive, which explains the Situationists concept of “public drifting.”
“One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.
In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.
But the dérive includes both this letting-go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities. In this latter regard, ecological science, despite the narrow social space to which it limits itself, provides psychogeography with abundant data.” – Guy DeBord, 1958
The dérive and psychogeography are, as made apparent by the above passage, closely linked, though not mutually exclusive. I found myself interested in the dérive and psychogeography because I often times find myself gravitating towards certain landmarks or walking on an unmarked path. For example, when walking around a college campus, it is bizarre to see just how much power the sidewalks and marked walkways have over the campus’s inhabitants. I’d say that well over half, probably closer to 75% of the campus community does not veer off the designated path. I find myself to be part of the minority who all of a sudden realizes that they are walking through the middle of a field because, well, “I felt like it.” Going with your instinct and reacting to your surroundings, whether you are conscious of it or not, is an incredibly intriguing concept to me.
Because of my interest in these concepts, I find myself sometimes hyper-aware of the space that I am occupying and how I am interacting with it. One space which, to me, felt like a consciously constructed, sort of forced psychogeographically is the interior of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, aka MoMa. Specifically, MoMa’s 2002 – 2004 renovations by Yoshio Taniguchi. It is four stories high, with a pair of escalators on each floor, one going up and the other going down. Each escalator, however, only goes to one floor above or below, i.e. – you couldn’t go directly from the fourth floor to the second floor without stopping and walking through lobby of the third floor, unless you took the elevator. This forces visitors of the museum to sort of be herded along from floor to floor, and also makes it impossible to miss a floor. The artificially constructed psychogeographic landscape made me feel uncomfortable, as I was limited in the ways I was able to interact with the space.
So, the next time that you are walking through a park, around a university campus, to the bus stop, or around a large building, make a conscious effort to think about the way that you are interacting with the space you are occupying. Is the space constructed for you to interact in a certain way? How does the space make you feel as an inhabitant? These are all questions that will make even the most boring trip to the supermarket a thought provoking and possibly enlightening experience.
I’ve noticed that art that makes commentary on the body/involves the body leaves the most lasting impression on me. I guess this post is about unpacking these images, films, occurrences, etc. and figuring out exactly why and how I have such a visceral response to them.
From previous blog posts, I’ve made it largely apparent that I am fascinated with the idea of the spectacle. In this instance, I will also be using the word “spectacle” as defined by the Situations and Letterists International, both examples here taken from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle:
“Though separated from what they produce, people nevertheless produce every detail of their world with ever-increasing power. They thus also find themselves increasingly separated from that world. The closer their life comes to being their own creation, the more they are excluded from that life.”
“The fetishism of the commodity — the domination of society by “intangible as well as tangible things” — attains its ultimate fulfillment in the spectacle, where the real world is replaced by a selection of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same time succeed in making themselves regarded as the epitome of reality.”
I will also be expanding on the notion of spectacle with what it particularly means to me, which is a hybrid between the ideologies of the SI/LI and the dictionary definition of: “something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining; especially : an eye-catching or dramatic public display.” For me, the spectacle, in relation to the body, involves using the body (with or without consent of the person) as something to be viewed or provide pleasure and/or entertainment. The two examples of the body as spectacle that come to my mind are “ethnographic” presentations of people and pornography. Yes, they seem pretty unrelated right now, but bear with me.
The practice of displaying people is centuries old. Particularly after the colonization of Oceania, the Americas, and Africa “indigenous” people were sent back to Europe for display at fairs as “ethnographic displays.” The most well known example of this is the Hottentot Venus, an African woman who was sent to Europe as a “specimen” due to her engorged secondary sexual characteristics and “odd” (not European) aesthetics. A brilliant commentary on this practice is Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez –Peña’s performance piece circa 1997, The Couple in the Cage. This piece, which is one of my favorite performance pieces, shows the injustice and continuance of these practices. We’d like to believe that these practices no longer exist, that humans are not turned into spectacles, but think back to the last time you visited your favorite art or natural history museum. Remember that Ancient Egyptian mummy? Yeah, that is a human body. I know; it’s easy to forget.
Now what do “ethnographic displays” and mummies in museums have to do with pornography? Well, in these adult videos bodies are on display – in this case, not really as specimens, but as objects of pleasure and enjoyment. I guess in some ways it is not THAT much different than the theater or cinema, in which actors and actresses use their bodies and talents to entertain. I think what, in my mind, connects pornography with the display of bodies is the degrading and careless way in which many of its subjects are treated. Discussing pornography also provides an excellent transition to my next topic: the body as commodity.
When discussing the body as commodity, all that I can think of is prostitution and sex slavery. Once again, two very different things, though they are really only differentiated by one, rather important aspect: consent. My first experience unpacking the body as commodity and commentary on prostitution was exploring Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon. In Picasso’s fragmented cubist painting, he is making a harsh commentary on the barbarous nature of selling one’s body for money. Particularly commenting on the crude behavior of seemingly sophisticated Parisian life in the early 20th century, which was rampant with prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases, Picasso uses the notion of primitivism to criticize the Western world, rather than the common practice of using primitivism to denigrate non-European (and therefore inferior) cultures. Though the female subjects of Picasso’s painting, as prostitutes, are choosing to be commodities, their bodies are shattered, their faces are ugly; they are far from beautiful or inviting, which was (and still is) the common glamorization of sex for sale.
I’ve had many debates over whether or not prostitution is a symbol of barbarism for a culture, of whether or not prostitution as an economic function of society, as an unsightly byproduct of capitalism somehow justifies its existence. To me, the body used as spectacle, but particularly turned into commodity can only be explained by this quote by Walter Benjamin: “there is no document of civilization that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism.” In my mind, prostitution is as disturbing as sex trafficking and it is the physical manifestation of a culture’s barbarity. It is the underbelly of a culture that is in denial of its own primitivism.