Monthly Archives: November 2011

Stalking for Art: Sophie Calle, Heather Blackwell, and Willem Popelier

I was first introduced to the idea of stalking as an artform the summer following my Junior year. I was at an art summer camp in Cranbrook, a beautiful school with amazing sculptures, lush gardens, and buildings by the renowned architect Eliel Saarinen. Our dorm dad, Chris, liked to tell us about the school’s alumni; artists who had been known for animating dead birds, creating self-contained rain clouds, running semi-illegal bodegas, and, a piece that’s one of my personal favorites, an artist who lived as a squirrel for a year. A squirrel. For a year.

But moving on from squirrel artist (Even though, I mean, come on. A squirrel! He lived as a squirrel for a year! He turned his studio into a squirrel nest and foraged for food outside!) Chris also showed us work by Heather Blackwell, who I believe graduated in 2008. One of her concentrations included taking photographs from teenage girls’ Myspace profiles and painting them, editing them to add bruises, acne, and general indicators of poor health. [I’d also like to add here that I’m not 100% sure about the info I’m posting on Blackwell. This is mainly from memory and it was all hearsay in the first place. I’m also having trouble finding information about her online. If anyone knows concrete facts, please let me know!]

Blackwell's "Images/Emo" (2008)

The thing that stuck out to me? She didn’t ask the girls for permission.

At first I was confused. “Is this even legal?” I wondered. “How can she be using their images for a commercial purpose without asking them?”

I think that eventually she did contact them, and no one took offense, but I’m not entirely sure how it played out.

Either way, using others’ images for artwork without permission isn’t particularly unique in the world of art. Just the other day I saw a piece about Willem Popelier, an artist who used images of two fourteen year old girls (Why is it so often teenage girls?) taken from a showroom computer for his artwork. He tracked down information on them based on a name necklace one was wearing. Photographs of them and printouts of their tweets became part of a summer show in Amsterdam’s Foam Museum.

Creepy.

I’m uncomfortable with this. I feel as though we tend to view young women as public property, as something that we are allowed to look at freely and without consequence; the textbook definition of the male gaze. We accept images of young women, taken without their permission, as artwork because that’s what we’re confronted with in everyday life. Young women and teenage girls as models, actresses, singers, socialites, and more, we view these women as almost belonging to us. It’s a possessive relationship. We have some level of control over them through the act of looking at them.

I started this post intending to write about Sophie Calle, but, as you can tell, I’ve become somewhat sidetracked by the idea of stalking as art. Calle herself was a stalking artist, and, in fact, following the article I linked to earlier a commenter mentions her work. Calle is often labeled as a photographer but many argue that she is really more of a performance artist. While her work is finally displayed as two dimensional photographs they are created through a very real, very intense “performance”. Her work isn’t an illusion or some form of staged fantasy, Calle follows real people through the streets and photographs them without their knowledge. Continue reading

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Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze

To anyone living in the San Francisco area, there’s a great exhibit currently on display at the SOMArts Cultural Center entitled, “Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze“. This show promotes discussion about women and men’s roles as subject, creator, and viewer in art.

Left: Superman by Molly Marie Nuzzo (2006) Right: Distinguishing Attributes, #2 by Brie Castel (2006)

As a society we are used to women being the subject of art, we are used to women being constantly looked at, the subject of the male gaze. In the words of art critic John Berger, “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”.

This show reverses that process. Men are the subject and the audience is presumed to be women, creating a new dynamic in which the female gaze holds power. This exchange of historical roles seems to have produced some powerful work from female/feminist/transgender perspectives and looks to be a great exhibit. Check it out if you get the chance!

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Women in Art: Kara Walker

‘Presenting Negro Scenes Drawn Upon My Passage through the South and Reconfigured for the Benefit of Enlightened Audiences Wherever Such may be Found, by Myself, Missus K.E.B. Walker, Colored’

During my junior year of high school (2008-2009) I was lucky enough to take an art history class. I was even luckier in that I lived in a Chicago suburb, meaning I had access to multiple museums, galleries, and festivals in which I could view amazing artwork. Work by the greats, just a quick train ride away.

One day, our class took a trip down to the  Museum of Contemporary Art for the Jeff Koons exhibit. Koons’s work was interesting, yes, but in my eyes, didn’t hold a candle to this piece.

It filled the room. At first I looked at it and thought, “They’re just silhouettes”. Then I looked closer and jumped. Surprising work, to say the least.

I had my sketchbook with me and wrote the title of the piece down. Luckily I brought this sketchbook (Finished, but it’s nice to have around) to RIT. Upon deciding to further research Kara Walker I immediately scrambled to find it, breathing a sigh of relief when I was able to locate it and read the title of the piece scribbled inside.

It’s an interesting title, isn’t it? At first its length bothered me; I thought it was kind of pretentious. But it really does work with the piece. It adds more detail to an already intricate narrative and helps the audience better understand the work. It is a little bit silly and old-timey, but that’s part of what makes it so effective.

Kara Walker is most well known for her work with silhouettes; room sized tableaus of cut-paper figures exploring America’s tension surrounding race and gender. She utilizes a traditionally stuffy and orderly Victorian medium to express her opinions on oppression and power, race and sexuality. She takes a “boring” medium and makes it theatrical and chaotic. Her work is full of slaves and black Americans being hurt and abused, complying with and being forced into racial stereotypes and caricatures, full of women and men fighting, fornicating, and running amok. Her work is over the top in its depiction of violence, sexuality, and in the features her cut-paper figures possess. It’s meant to shock the viewer. Make us question our attitudes about race.

Walker’s silhouettes fill the room. They surround the viewer and force the us to think about what is being depicted. The fragmentary nature of the narrative invites viewers to participate in the work, making us complicit in these horrible acts. In fact, Walker sometimes displays work in circular rooms, with the intent of making the viewer question whether there is a beginning and end, if there’s a narrative at all. We are engulfed by the world she creates. Walker says of this effect, “I always wanted to make work that would surround the viewer, to place the viewer in an uncomfortable relationship to a type of imagery that undermines all our fine-tuned, well-adjusted cultural beliefs.” Essentially, Walker is trying to bring us out of our comfort zone so that we will think.

As a black woman born in the late 60s, Walker is no stranger to American issues with race. Raised in a California suburb, Walker encountered a culture shock upon moving to Atlanta at the age of thirteen and experiencing increased amounts of racism in her daily life. While California was far from perfect, living in the South proved to be difficult, to say the least.

Here’s more of Walker’s work, including some close ups in which you can see how she exaggerates figures and features to conform to racial stereotypes (Trigger warning: some silhouettes depict sexual violence): Continue reading

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Art and Dolls: Charcoal Drawings

I don’t generally share my artwork in the main section of this site, but I felt as though these drawings relate to the general theme.

They’re charcoal on rag paper (Arches Cover Cream), 22×30 inches. I bought a porcelain doll at the local Goodwill and have been using it in a number of projects. It’s sitting in my room right now being fairly creepy (But hopefully not haunting me!)

Feel free to leave feedback or any critique you may have! And check out the portfolio page if you’d like to see more of my work.

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