Category Archives: identity

I am a loyal J. Crew customer. I get super excited when the new catalog comes, flipping through the pages lusting after the fashionable clothes. I found the Spring issue particularly adorable, because of the cute little boy getting his toenails painted by his mom, with pink Essie nail polish – my favorite!

This ad, which I was melting into a puddle of goo over, apparently made many people upset. Upset enough to air ridiculously ignorant stories on major news networks.

John Stewart put together some great clips of ridiculous pink toenail polish news stories, which can be seen in this amazing video: Toemageddon 2011 – This Little Piggy Went to Hell, which I highly suggest watching. You’ll laugh and possibly even cry.

I’m a life planner and I am fascinated with gender studies. Obviously I’ve already decided that I am going to actively try to raise my future children as gender neutral as possible. If my son’s favorite color is pink and he asks for an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas, you better fucking believe I’ll buy it for him. If my daughter wants a bug farm and a Creepy Crawler maker, she’ll get that too. There is an inexplicable and incessant need in U.S. society for clear gender boundaries and gender roles. They are learned behaviors, perpetuated by a patriarchal society that needs to separate out of fear of the possibility of equality.

Now I’ll discuss a couple of the most discouraging comments made about this ad. As reported on CCN, Erin Brown from the Media Research Center called the ad “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” I see two major problems with this statement. 1) painting a 5-year-old boy’s toenails hot pink does not make him transgendered. 2) why the fuck shouldn’t transgendered children be celebrated?

Another excellent quote comes from Glenn Beck’s sidekick Keith Ablow, who is somehow an M.D. He states, “gender distinctions have a place in society. I think it is a message she meant to send – it’s an attack on masculinity.” Once again, two major issues. 1) gender distinctions in society function only to oppress and alienate. It creates a false binary. Yet Mr. Ablow would like to perpetuate gender stereotypes and roles. 2) This boy is FIVE. He is basically asexual at this point in his life. Yes, he identifies himself as a boy and pees standing up. He does not even understand what this mystique of masculinity that people like Ablow try so desperately to maintain. This myth that men need to be macho and powerful and can’t like the color pink or paint their toenails. I hope for this little boy’s sake that he doesn’t grow up to be one of those types of men. The world doesn’t need any more of those.

The controversy surrounding this ad makes me realize just how difficult it will be to raise children gender neutral. There is constant pressure from everywhere, especially from the media and pop culture, to adopt “gender appropriate” behavior. I am upset about the controversy surrounding this ad, too, but for incredibly different reasons.

My favorite aspect of writing, as discussed in my most recent blog post, is process. Sorting out my thoughts and ideas, writing them down in my notebook, crossing out the awkward parts, replacing words, and adding and subtracting punctuation until I am pleased with the finish product, is what makes writing so rewarding for me.

My favorite part about being an art historian is the ability to make and negotiate connections while looking at objects of visual culture. Studying art helps me make sense of the world, by realizing connections and bridges between things that may, at first, seem very different. If I can borrow the words of artist Alfredo Jaar for a moment, “that’s the magic of art—and i think it’s extraordinary—the power to create connections, make bridges. it fascinates me.” This is a case where someone else’s words describe my thoughts better than I possibly could myself.

My love for the process of writing is very similar to artist Charles LeDray’s love of process in the creation of art, specifically in relation to his recent exhibition at the ICA/Boston, entitled workworkworkworkwork. The exhibition just closed this past Sunday, and is currently being de-installed and packed  up for safe travels to the Whitney Museum in New York.

To be honest, I love pretty much everything about LeDray’s work. Born in Seattle in 1960, LeDray’s mother, a seamstress, taught him how to sew when he was just four years old. With no academic artistic training other than working as a security guard at the Seattle Art Museum, LeDray’s work and career are even more impressive.

Fixated on commodity, repetition, and identity, and obsessed with process, LeDray’s works are systematic and powerful. Hand throwing thousands of tiny ceramic and porcelain pots (over 8,000 in this exhibition alone), hand sewn miniature clothing, delicately carved human bone – at the most superficial level LeDray’s pieces are impressive based on sheer skill alone.

LeDray’s work, however, is anything but superficial. His pieces raise questions about gender identity, work and process, and loss. Traditionally considered “women’s work,” sewing is usually considered more of a craft than an art. LeDray challenges this traditional notion, as he is a male artist who uses sewn textiles as his most prominent medium. Overcoat, a piece that consists of a and sewn, navy blue miniature men’s overcoat stuffed with even tinier male and female clothes makes a commentary on gender identity and the sometimes blurred line between male and female, a false binary.

LeDray’s obsession with process and work leads to the dismantling, re-appropriating, and re-creating of objects. A piece entitled Small Suit made from Larger Suit, LeDray created a hand-sewn miniature plaid suit, complete with jacket, dress shirt, tie, and slacks. He then cut out from this suit the pattern for a miniature suit, which he sewed hanging off the right arm of the larger suit. He went as far as to punch out tiny, pin head sized, pieces of the larger suit’s buttons for the smaller suit.

Several macabre pieces carved from human bone illuminate the permanence of some aspects of the physical human body versus the average human lifespan. One piece, a miniature orrery, a mechanism used by the ancient Greeks to track the alignment of the planets in the solar system, reiterates the discrepancy and relativity of time and space.

One of the most moving and beautiful pieces, in my opinion, is the muted gay pride flag, entitled Pride Flag. This piece makes a harsh but realistic commentary on the politics surrounding gay rights. Many times, just as changes are being made, something happens to set back the progress. This is illustrated by the muted colors of the traditionally bright and vibrant gay pride flag. With miniature gray, white, and black men and women’s clothing sewn to the sides of the flag, the lives lost during the AIDS crisis are remembered.

The human body is not present in the exhibit, not even in miniature form. On display are only the objects that people use and/or wear. The absence of people, of the physical body, creates an eerie lack, an absence that makes the viewer long for the things, the people that are no longer physically here. The piece that conveyed this feeling the most for me, and that I could relate to the easiest was the work called Hall Tree. This piece includes a miniature coat tree, fabricated by the artist, with miniature hand-sewn coats hanging on the hooks. This piece reminds me of the death of my mother, and how things just sort of sat in places, as she had left them, until we were finally forced to move them; something that we put off for as long as possible, as them staying where they were was a reminder of her and the way things were when she was alive.

The miniature objects remind the viewer of doll clothes, of childhood, of the past. Though they appear at first glance to be innocuous and perhaps even a bit cute, these pieces are the symbols of the untold, silenced stories of the past, of the people who are no longer able to tell them.

This is an abridged version of a paper that I wrote for a History of Photography course I took in Fall of 2008.

The mysterious Countess di Castiglione, who commissioned hundreds of photographic portraits of herself from prominent Parisian studios, left a very prolific record of her life. In this paper I will discuss the way in which the Countess’s peculiar life gave her the agency to commission these photographs and control her self image. Due to her eccentric and fetishistic behavior, her photographs are generally bizarre and provocative. Using the ideas of feminist theory and gaze theory, I will discuss the way in which the Countess was able to use her social status and agency to obsessively construct her self identity before any one else could construct it for her.

Pierre-Louise Pierson, The Game of Madness, c.1863-1866

I argue that the motivation behind having so many photographic portraits taken was her narcissistic and seemingly neurotic desire to preserve and document her beauty. Her apparent narcissism certainly stemmed from the fact that she was constantly receiving positive attention about her looks from both men and women. She was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women of her time as Frederic Loliee says in his history Women of the Second Empire, “She was perfection. She enjoyed getting dressed up and making her presence known at exclusive functions such as royal balls.” She also took advantage of her sexual appeal by using her beauty to seduce some of the richest and most powerful men. Her frequent affairs with prominent men of the mid to late nineteenth century were clear indications of the power of her beauty and the way in which she affected men. Perhaps her obsession with documenting herself was a way of taking claim of her image and objectifying herself before any one else could. Being a prominent member of the court since the age of sixteen must have made her slightly jaded. Especially due to the fact that she was known more for being an object of desire than for playing the important political and social roles that she wished to play.

Though it was not uncommon for elite members of French society to have their portraits taken conveying different identities, the Countess’s photographs stand apart. They were not used for advertising or monetary gain and as Elisabeth Brofen says, “the photographs show with extraordinary clarity how self staging, apparently a safeguard and immortalization of the I, is accompanied by the destruction of the self” (156). La Castiglione’s obsession with her own self image led to a unique artist and model relationship that produced prolific amounts of fascinating photographs of a woman trying to define her self image using the medium of photography.

The advent of photography created an environment of quick and easy commodification. Instead of sitting for a painted portrait, patrons could go in and have their photograph snapped in a few minutes time. With the creation of the carte-de-visite, or calling card, people could disseminate images of themselves to whomever they chose. Though it appears as if the Countess never actually intended to circulate the unconventional portraits she deliberately pose for, she was undeniably concerned with making her own identity.

Photography also aided in the wide dissemination of pornography. Instead of taking photographs of the entire body, sometimes these illicit photographs would commodifying single body parts, like legs. In later photographs of the Countess’s legs as an old woman, the Countess overturns the notion of sexualized body parts by emphasizing her de-sexualized, aging body.

There is a tradition of women with some sort of agency, particularly political agency, commissioning their own portraits. As strong willed women with political agendas, these women used their agency to commission portraits of themselves in order to have control of the way they were depicted instead of letting other people have to opportunity of defining them. This, it seems, is very similar to what the Countess di Castiglione did with her series of self portraits. Instead of letting other people, particularly male artists or her male family members, decide how she would be presented to the public, she wanted to be in charge of her image. She, as a Countess, was also in a similar position of the possibility of accessing political power.

Though there is not a strong tradition of women with agency (the ability to act as she chooses) to commission unconventional or risqué portraits of themselves to create and solidify her own identity, there are some unique cases. This shows that, though the Countess is a particularly intriguing case, she was not the first woman to commission portraits to self-consciously create her identity.

Arguably the most intriguing photographs of the Countess are the photos in which she consciously makes the viewer aware of engaging in the act of looking. By countering the viewer’s gaze, the Countess questions exactly who is the subject and who is the object. Although she is the object of the photograph, in the photos where she is holding a half mask in front of her eye, titled Game of Madness, the Countess in turn makes the viewer both the looker and the looked at. The subject is almost always the person who has the power in the subject/object relationship. It is no surprise that the Countess would want to actively engage in the subject position, even in a situation where she is inherently objectified.

The radical and particularly intriguing aspect of the gaze photos of the Countess are dependent entirely on the time period in which they were created. During the Second Empire women in France did not have many freedoms and their agency in the arts depended entirely on their access to money. As a woman for whom money was not an issue, the Countess was able to commission portraits of herself that were not necessarily conventional or socially acceptable. Another reason why she could have these portraits taken of herself was due to her very intimate relationship with Pierre Louis Pierson. Perhaps if she had not developed such a strong friendship with Pierson she would not have been able to convince another photographer to take these risqué or scandalous photographs of her, regardless of how much money she offered.

In many ways it seems as if the Countess was ahead of her time. She was unknowingly, or perhaps very deliberately, engaging in a critical discourse that involved questioning the gaze and the position of women in 19th century French society. As a member of female aristocratic minority with agency in the arts, the Countess and her hundreds of photographs give scholars insight into the life of a woman who did not always play by the rules and was a product of almost every aspect and intersection of life in 19th century Paris, not just that of the upper class elite.

I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts which, though different in scope and concept, work off the ideas presented in the previous post(s). By doing so, I hope to emulate my thought process – to manifest the series of connections that are created in my brain while thinking about a certain topic. Specifically, this series of posts will discuss different facets of the concepts of agency and the power of the gaze.

I have already discussed the concept of agency, the ability to act/do, in previous posts. The gaze, however, is something that I have only mentioned briefly in my discussion of the spectacle. “The gaze” is an important concept in the art historical discipline. While teaching the introductory surveys, I would often ask the students where the figures (if there were figures in the painting) were looking. Though it may seem like a rather superficial, perhaps meaningless, question, the gaze of the figures is important in both formal and conceptual analysis. If the figures are looking directly at the viewer, they may be inviting of challenging the viewer’s gaze. If the figure(s) are not looking at the viewer(s), the viewer(s) can be spectators, voyeurs, or active participant(s) in the scene.

The gaze is inherently powerful. The act of looking is, in some ways, a privilege, and it can be a display of dominance or an attempt at intimidation. Though not particularly relevant to contemporary American society, there have been, and still are, places and time periods where only certain people could look at certain people/things. The privilege of looking was dependent on race, class, and/or gender. Generally, “the gaze” refers to the male gaze, particularly the heterosexual, privileged, white male’s gaze. This dates back to ancient art. Think ancient Greece – Aphrodite of Cnidos, in particular. Though the Roman copy is not as beautiful, the nude statue of the “goddess of love” (dubbing her a goddess made her nudity more acceptable), was adored by many men. There are ancient accounts that some men got so excited that they “left a stain on her.” As she coyly tries to cover her genitals in the Venus Pudica pose, she is actually drawing attention to her nudity and vulnerability. The fact that she does not look at the viewer head on puts the viewer in a position of acting as a voyeur, which adds an element of excitement and scandal to the viewing experience.


There were dozens, hundreds of male nude statues. The nude male body, however, was not an object of desire. Male nudity, instead, was a symbol of both athleticism and herocism. Even statues of nude men were created for the gaze of other men. To the heterosexual man they were a symbol of what the man should hope to be. To the homosexual male they were the same symbol, and, perhaps secondarily, objects of desire. The statues had commanding gazes which met the viewer’s eyes. They were confident, self aware, and proud. They were not created as objects for women to lust after, but as reminders of the Greek emphasis on and appreciation for athleticism, youth, and beauty.

The male gaze has always been the most powerful gaze, and it still remains the most powerful gaze… which will be the concepts expanded upon in the next blog post.

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.

my favorite little relic, St. Foi (Faith) at the Abbey Church in Conques, France.

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.

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 a public lecture discussing the conclusion of his work on the Rwanda Series currently displayed at the UConn Contemporary Art Gallery, Alfredo Jaar (Chilean born “architect that makes art”) stated that his two main objectives when making art are exploring: 1) public desensitization to images and 2) the limitation of art when trying to express/manifest genocide (trauma) and its effects. Discussing his involvement in three arenas” 1) the “privileged” museum/gallery space (art world) 2) public interventions including the community, and 3) teaching and learning from the new generations, I noticed a common theme – the spectacle used for accountability.

Jaar uses the spectacle to create a sense of shame and shock in order to make its viewers accountable for their (in)actions. His works – which will be discussed later – provide possible and temporary solutions/answers to societal problems. His pieces are active, creating experiences that require the viewer to engage in a tremendous amount of self reflection. In this way, Jaar uses the spectacle in an unconventional way that makes people aware of their humanity.

In regard to art/art history, “the spectacle” refers to the ideological concepts of Guy Debord and the Situationists International. In Debord’s 1967 publication of The Society of the Spectacle, he states:

#5: “The Spectacle cannot be understood as a mere visual deception produced by mass-media technologies. It is a world-view that has actually been materialized, a view of the world that has become objective.”

Here, Debord explains that the spectacle is not merely a creation of the media, but that it is actually the manifestation of the dominant world view of the society in which it is created.

#18: “When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become dynamic beings – dynamic figments that provide the direct motivation for a hypnotic behavior. Since the spectacle’s job is to use various specialized mediations in order to show us a world that can no longer be directly grasped, it naturally elevates the sense of sight to the special pre-eminence once occupied by touch: the most abstract and easily deceived sense is the most readily adaptable to the generalized abstraction of present day society. But the spectacle is not merely a matter of images plus sounds. It is whatever escapes people’s activity, whatever eludes their practical reconsideration and correction. Wherever representation becomes independent, the spectacle regenerates itself.”

In this statement, Debord emphasizes the way in which the bombardment of images (the spectacle) of mass media has created a separation between reality and how people experience reality. All human experience is now mediated by images – representations of “a world that can no longer be directly grasped” in other words, directly experienced.

Debord’s ideas in The Society of the Spectacle mixing Marxist and Situationist ideologies, is relevant to and manifested in Jaar’s work. Jaar’s interest in “the public desensitization to images” is an interest in a societal phenomenon many years in the making. Due to the fact that images are simply mediations of reality – not reality – they are easy to dismiss, regardless of subject matter.

The invention of photography started this desensitization. When the first photos of exotic animals, people, and places were disseminated they shocked and entertained. The first ever motion picture caused people to scream and shout in the theatre due to the shocking “realism” of the crudely constructed scenes. With rapid industrialization, technology advanced at an alarming rate, and within a century these novel, impressive advancements became commonplace, banal, boring. Today we can sit in a 3-D IMAX motive theatre watching the latest blockbuster action movie without even blinking an eye. No shock, no awe. If anything, we are underwhelmed, under enthused.

This is the very reason why we (the Western viewer) can see photographs, watch videos of heinous scenes – genocide, war, famine – happening a world away and say “oh, that’s so sad,” think about it for a few minutes, push it out of our minds, and move on with our lives. Despite “seeing it with our own eyes” these images are not real too us – they’re merely another mediation of reality – of a world we cannot, will not, do not want to experience, which is, therefore, not real.

Jaar’s work is so effective because indifference is not an option. His works are connected to real people and real situations that are too important and too personal to ignore. If for only a moment, his works overcome the public’s general desensitization through their poignant yet shocking messages. His Rwanda project from 1994 to 2000, makes people acknowledge the devastating genocide that the Western world tried to ignore. In his final installment of this series, a 26 minute video now on view in UConn’s Contemporary Art Gallery, Jaar points the finger and finally calls the world out for its collective delinquency.

In early 1994, Dallaire (a Canadian UN Ambassador in Rwanda) discovered from an informant that they were planning to exterminate the Tutsi. Despite Dallaire’s best efforts, after the deaths of 10 Belgian soldiers, Western governments began pulling their troops from Rwanda, stating that it was merely a “tribal conflict” and that they did not want to lose and more of their soldiers. Once Western troops were evacuated, over 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in three short, terrifying months. This genocide could’ve been stopped, but instead of sending more troops, troops were evacuated. Africa didn’t matter – it was nothing more than what the Eurocentric media depicted it as: poor, unhealthy, insignificant.

Regardless of the amount of images and videos depicting the situation in Rwanda or direct pleas from Rwandan Tutsis, it was all too easy for the world to turn its back and ignore the devastating genocide taking place in this “far away,” out of sight out of mind, place. To this day, the guilty parties that removed troops and ignored the cries for help will not admit to their mistakes and injustices. Jaar’s work makes the viewer, simply as a human being, feel like a responsible party – which is essential to ensuring that this type of delinquency does not happen again.

Jaar’s work is not “art for art’s sake.” It is an art of purpose. It’s thoughtful, calculated, and it purposely puts the viewer in an uncomfortable position, where he/she has to come to terms with his/her accountability as a human. His works have important social purposes which focus on the societal phenomenon of public desensitization to images and he uses “the spectacle” as a way of making images powerful again by forcing the viewer to have a reaction that is difficult to forget.

Welcome to my Art/Art History blog! I am a second year master’s student at the University of Connecticut, and I am looking to start a museum career upon graduation in May! I would describe myself as tech savvy, quirky, intelligent, fun, helpful, and insightful. I am interested in engaging with and utilizing social media tools to make a memorable and lasting impression on possible employers.

I am an incredibly driven and motivated person. I graduated an entire year early at the age of 20 from UMass Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in Art History with a minor in Classics. From there I dove straight into the Art History master’s program at UConn, Storrs.

I have had awesome work/internship experiences in the midst of all the schoolwork. I am currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant at UConn, teaching two sections of 20 students and assisting with the survey courses: Ancient to Medieval and Renaissance to Present. I also coach long, high, and triple jump at my high school alma mater for the Indoor and Outdoor Track seasons. I have also been interning in the American Painting and American Dec Arts Departments at the Wadsworth Atheneum for over a year. The project that I am most proud of was my work obtaining copyrights and rights/reproduction permission for the exhibition catalogue American Moderns on Paper: Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art which is currently on display at the Amon Carter Museum.

At UMass I worked in the Image Collection Library, maintaining the slide collection as well as helping create a new, online image database using Luna Insight and Inscribe. I absolutely loved this job, and it left me with a passion for slide libraries and fascination with catalouging cultural objects. I also worked as an executive assistant at a local bank, as well as a gallery guard and docent.

My combination of teaching experience, museum experience, library/meta data experience, paired with my enthusiastic outlook and unwavering motivation make me an excellent addition to any museum staff.

In this blog I will write about my experiences while teaching, working with, and thinking about ART! I hope you enjoy!