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Monthly Archives: February 2016

About Astra Taylor’s “People’s Platform”

In “People’s Platform”, author Astra Taylor suggests that corporate interests are distorting our culture which effect is eroding democracy as a social value because there’s a bigger quest for profit. More, the impact of technology makes culture consume trends, statuses which alter social identities feeding power and complicating even more the “complex cultural ecosystem”(Taylor). She also exposes the idea that we might not be living in such an openness and transparent participatory culture because there are power structures making restrictive policies behind virtual platforms. The author puts an alarm about the power of these corporations whose interests shakes the ground principles of democracy as people’s empowerment. This might be a time when we can ask ourselves: Who’s the “nobody” that controls people’s platforms?

Letizia Balzi

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About Jaques Rancière’s “Contemporary Art and The Politics of Aesthetics”

Author Jaques Rancière’s states in his text “Contemporary Art and The Politics of Aesthetics” that art is not made of techniques but a “spatial setting” that let us perceive a sense of presence which generates identification. He argues that during the last decades, the relation between art, autonomy and modernity has collapsed. The implications for this can be perceived as a sort of loss of traditional legitimation where forms of art are not perceived any longer by its uniqueness. On the same path, contemporary art offers today a mediation between popular culture and art. It ties-off traditional art structures and creates connections among new forms juxtaposing three key elements that creates new fictional spaces in our minds: time, images and signs. Rancière also poses a question about what could the ultimate paradox of the politics of aesthetics be. He argues there’s a redistribution of information through which democracy is denying power structures. However, the information we perceive today is being controlled, and the connection that is perceived between democracy and social issues in art, is vague. Should these new forms of contemporary art respond to create awareness about social issues through critical art, the connection between democracy and equality might be re-established. Otherwise, the indifference gap we experience today in many cultural institutions seems to me that will keep feeding a complex socio-cultural structure that is conditioning our perception and therefore, acts.

Ernie Gehr’s Carnival of Shadows and the Contemporary Galleries at the MoMA.

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Ernie Gehr’s Carnival of Shadows and the Contemporary Galleries at the MoMA (Ernie Gehr. CARNIVAL OF SHADOWS. 2012–15. Five-channel video (black-and-white and color, silent), approx 20 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.)  looks like a big puzzle that your mind has to solve. It’s hard to read the piece as a whole because it makes you feel you are in an electronic Mardigras parade where everything around you is moving. Although there’s an aesthetic arrangement, the composition carefully organized contrasts is the main element that connects the panels. In addition to that, the use of black exposes not just the artist’s choice to generate contrast but also it connects to the theme “Carnival of Shadows”. The stripes produce an almost dazzling effect, just as being in a carnival where everything moves around you with a pacing rhythm.

This works remind me of Kara Walker’s artworks and Michel Gondry’s videoclips for Daft Punk and Disney’s movie “Tron”. For example, Kara Walker uses shadows in her artworks to trick and invite the audience’s eyes to jump into deeper themes. In the case of Tron, although it’s a Disney movie, also touches relevant human themes such as what consciousness is and the impact that technology is having in our lives. There’s also a connection to “The Divine Comedy” of Dante Alighieri since he is perhaps one of the first artists to use mind space as a setting.

I believe part of Gehr’s interpretation is to invite the audience to create a movie in their minds (as he states in Talking with Ernie Gehr about His CARNIVAL OF SHADOWS, MoMA interview). Also, I see there’s a conceptual link to Tarkovsky’s films, where the sensation of space is connected to memory and looks like a “state of limbo”(D. Totaro).

Gehr’s is implying that his process is intuitive, but I am afraid that intuition is conditioned by the information our mind already has. So, he might be using this to give his creation a flow through which the panel’s ideas are connected, yet there’s an implicit strong intention to guide the audience to a “partial” open end.

From a technical perspective, the use of color black produces a visual sound as well as texture that supports the frenetic mood of the artwork. In terms of how the artist uses appropriation, I think he is using the technique of animation and design since the layers are used as an element which is re-contextualized in the space where the artwork is.

I relate this artwork to the industrial revolution and Walter Benjamin’s book “Das Passagen-Werk” (The Passages, edited in 1983). In this book the author explains how the time perception changes because he argues that the transition from a rural society to an urbanized and industrialize one, made people perceive daily life rhythm as speeded. I believe Gehr uses cinema as a media and source because it connects to this particular period of time that Benjamin describes. In this work, Gehr shows burlesque figures that remind me Toulouse-Lautrec’s figures from brothel and circuses. It is a different time, and we are exposed to a different technology that includes video games. However, I feel this is a strong connection from my own experience to analyze what is happening with our society in relation to the current technology.

From a Conceptual and analytical Interpretation, I see the idea of the Carnival as more than a celebration. Carnival was in its origins apagan celebration where people during medieval times, were allowed by the church to do whatever they wanted to do. This pagan celebration has been analyzed by Russian sociologist Mikhail Bahktin who explains that carnival is a way to protest against the power structures. The use of carnival represents a sense of humor through which deeper issues are being brought into light. It is a legitimized and accepted celebration to exorcise our sorrows. Also, having experienced Rio’s carnival, one can tell how the fusion of cultures interact with human emotions and people use their obsession to be happy during these few days in February to forget the social oppression they are exposed to in social contexts such as Brazil. I can’t stop thinking also about Freire and his statement in “Pedagogy of Freedom” as well. If we dissect the re-contextualization and juxtaposition of cultures in carnivals, we can find new forms of identities as it happens in carnivals all through the Americas (The Americas that Alfredo Jaar stands for). Carnival is a celebration that liberates the humans and it is also a political act of manifestation against the oppression that some cultures suffer after colonization. I think in Gehr’s works there’s a connection between the many cultural worlds that collided in the Americas and the use of video, as a familiar media of our times, also connects to how our society was re-arranged in a new social system after the industrial revolution.

To sum it up all, I believe as humans we use art as an intellectual game that hosts a space to perform games as a mean to open a door to expose deeper issues of our “complex cultural ecosystem” (A. Taylor).

Letizia Balzi

Connecting past and present of social audiences as a response to art history as advertising and viceversa

NYU_MLC_Advertising_virgins_campaign2NYU_MLC_Advertising_virgins_campaign “Teint Miracle”  (Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 1507, borrows from the pose of Leonardo’s Leda)

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”Hypnotic Eyes” (Virgin by Antonello da Messina, ca. 1430–1479)

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“Dream Skin” (Angel by Fra Angelico; c. 1395 – 1455)

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 5.41.37 PMNYU_MLC_Advertising_virgins_campaign7“Angel” (Virgin by Jean Fouquet,1420–1481)

Contemporary Art, Art History and Advertising – How do aesthetics choices influence our art? 

In this century, “selfism” has turned our egos into a sort of fetish because we live in a visual culture and advertising bombards us with messages to consume tempting brands. As a former advertising creative, I can state that these campaigns are carefully designed by understanding audience’s social behavior so the effectiveness of being hooked is assured. Then, an idea is created and an aesthetic choice is made by art directors who look for inspiration mainly in art. After the campaign is produced, the message is published, broadcasted repetitively to assure its successful impact on the audience. Now, as a former advertising creative and visual art educator, I decided to look back in art history and found that only advertising creates trends, but also, art did it in the past when creating a sense of social values which persisted in time. These values represented by forms (connections of images, time and signs) generated sensations that stood for freedom, but also, other aesthetic choices supported invented forms that created distance and indifference (J. Rancière) as domesticity. Indeed, social statuses, which produced audiences that marketing and advertising need to start a campaign, were the result of framed spatial settings (J. Rancière). I am convinced that those who held the power, and in compliance with artists used art to design social identities. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.31.38 PM.pngMadonnas

Then, the use of repetition of a theme in the past resembles to the idea of mass produced images because although each painting at museums is physically unique, the repeated images of virgins is an easy-to-share image like photography does today. Therefore, in these project I used contemporary art as way to connect the past with the present, “making fictions” (J. Rancière) to start unraveling the ropes that makes of society’s web. I want to expose what’s underneath ourselves as beings playing social roles with benefits, and from whom advertising takes advantage by nurturing our egos when bombarding us through media, daily. At this point, I agree with author Astra Taylor when she states at “People’s Platform”, that corporate interests are distorting our culture. I strongly believe that “history” through art and like corporations today, has been creating identities that supported social statuses and roles. For example, many women of my generation, and going back up to my grandmothers, were taught to behave and look as pure beings whose main role was to become docile wives. This thematic is exposed at the film “Revolutionary Road” (Sam Mendes, 2008)Where does this social identity that bias domesticity started? I started to ask women from latin social background and they agreed that while attending to religious schools or event through patriarchy rooted in their families, were taught to be -and follow the example- of virgin Mary. Personally, I believe there’s nothing wrong but the opposite to be a pure being in spirit. The problem of Virgin Mary’s images interpretation lies in the fact that because of the blinding beauty that art masters developed through their realistic portraits, being spiritual got lost in translation. I believe this idea is linked to the aesthetic choice that artists made in the past and influenced art because they created beauty standards from which later advertising nurtured the aesthetics of women’s products campaigns.

After some research to see how to start producing critical art in response to these “politics of aesthetics” (J. Rancière), I started to connect where this came from. Briefly, the story begins at some point during the 9th century, where a religious conflict took place at the core of the church which got split into two different groups. Among other reasons, one of the triggers was that part of this power structure stated that visual iconography, when taken into the realistic representation, was leading to confusion of the faithful who were embracing the new christian faith. Before this happened, instead of realistic images, the icon was used in prayer. (But today this practice is not common with the exception of some christian orthodox groups.) During prayer, the believer prays in the presence of the “icon”, but they do not pray to the it. It is worshiped, respected, but it is not adored. As a result, “making fiction”(J. Rancière) rearticulated the connection between sign and images in a negative way. Madonnas became then one of the most relevant and repeated themes in the visual art history, determining that women will be inspired by Mary’s image during centuries. Ironically, artists in the past got inspired in ancient middle east goddesses to represent the first madonnas. But, it took few time to promote the idea of a pure white weak being exposing her suffering in european settings, quite distant from the middle east context where Mary lived. If as author Astra Taylor (2014) states that “corporate interests distort our culture and drown out democracy in pursuit of profit” (as cited in People’s Platform): What are the other values that these images are promoting? What are we, as culture, buying? How did these images promoted stereotypes that made people judge others for its appearance? Indeed, some women are saints because they are tolerant and patient, yet, the female role should not be understood as martyrs by accepting social oppression that happens even today. No matter at what painting we are looking at, the way women has been depicted throughout history sticks to few roles: virgin, goddess, queen, mythical being, spirit, evil, prostitute. With the exception of Joan d’Arc and Saint Helen who are depicting carrying swords.

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“The School of Athens” Rafael Sanzio da Urbino (ca. 1509)

What’s more, most of them with the following characteristics: pure, white and naked. Nevertheless, I own my respects to the technical mastery of artists Giorgione, Tiziano, and Velázquez, among otheres. It is important to mention that Raphael, beside depicting many virgins, paid tribute to an important greek woman, Hypathia, who was included as a character in his masterpiece “The School of Athens” (ca. 1509). Hypathia was a mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who lived in Egypt during the 5th century. In the present, artist Anselm Kiefer also created in his artwork “Women of Antiquity” (2002) a visual response to investigate strong women of the past whose intellectual capacities had been determinant in human progress but erased from the big history book that we have been told. The aesthetic choice he made by using context related elements such as a palm tree and dresses, enhance the message by turning dead objects alive. Digital techniques for reproducing images are mixed with other medias such as painting and sculpture. An earth color palette for some works exposes a sensation of the cycle of life, while for the second work the choice of white freezes the objects and communicates a sensation of absence and death.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.27.13 PM“Women of Antiquity”. Anselm Kiefer.

Finally, going back to the starting point of how art communicates values and social behaviors, I want to state that I believe in the spiritual principles that religions promote to enhance human values such as equality and love, yet, we are far to tie off our egos from the branded perception that power structures created and we have been exposed for centuries. So, as a response to the creation of these oppressive beauty standards that I mentioned before, I made a selection of makeup campaigns where international brands are selling their product as a mean to have a pure angel face. By using the digital technique I made a photo collage replacing celebrities for some famous madonnas and angels taken from paintings all throughout history. When making the photo collage, I discovered that even the words that these brands are using, matched with the virginal attitude that women were supposed to have in the past.

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Another example of how the beauty standards that promote purity are used can be found in the current political propaganda. Candidates like Donald Trump, as part of his marketing strategy, surrounds himself of stereotyped angel face women. Why are we so use to believe that what is desirable, is good? Unlike the past, and most of the women who were taught at religious schools and through cultural heritages, we have internet as a space to create new platforms for people to exchange information. It is true that technology is supporting corporate interests that impact in our culture, but also using these partial democratic spaces to teach about media literacy is important. For example, exposing structures of how power operates, helps people understand important messages such as the fact that being among “angel face humans” will not assure that the main character in the picture is a saint.

Letizia Balzi

Sources:
Contemporary Art and the Politics of Aesthetics – Jacques Ranciere
People’s Platform Astra Taylor

How does the effective juxtaposition of text and image further enhance the desired meaning?

 

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James Elder Christie (Scottish, 1847-1914), “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, 1881

 

It is true that because of the freedom of expression we are experiencing today, the “web” as author Astra Taylor says (as cited in The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age), might look like Robin Hood. But, beside the fact that we can have merciful access to information and knowledge, so we can be heard, read and seen without barriers (Taylor), I believe the web looks much more like The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Rattenfänger von Hameln). The fairy tale tells that the successful Hamelin’s Rat-Catcher of Hamelin, enchants and takes away all the town’s children at the end of the story, because the major refuses to pay him the payment he owed for taking the rats out of the little town, at the beginning of it. In a similar way, I feel that the content in the cyberspace is like Hamelin, invaded by rats that look like some laws which created this “age of prohibitions” (as cited by Lawrence Lessig in “Laws that Choke Creativity”) where we live today. That is why as educators we need to create a spell to help pushing out the rats being careful so we do not lose the children after. In other words, we ought to create a more democratic and balance “Hamlinspace”.

In his TED talk “Laws that Choke our Creativity”, lawyer Lawrence Lessig, shows us how content is used by popular culture to re-write meaning using technology as a tool. In his talk he shows an example of a video remix where George Bush and former British prime minister Tony Blair, sing in duet “My Endless Love”. This viral video is a response from a citizen to the secret alliance these politicians carried out when invading Iraq. The use of yuxtaposing text/sound and image produces a more than just funny content, it is a response to a deeper issue. Lessig also states that the youth uses cyberspace content to speak, understand and relate to other individuals, since the information is how kids are, it’s their culture. So, when thinking about the role of technology and how it is influencing kids, I feel that as educators, we need to put emphasis on teaching about democracy mainly. I mean, it is not a problem of what technology produces because we can’t stop that. It’s about distinguishing what is relevant from what it is not, and how the power structures that regulate a potential cultural trespassing in a non-existent space, manipulate us. By doing so, this fairy tale of creating and using content, remains as a fantasy land with fields of open sources for creativity. This will empower youth up to the point of finding a balance in an open space as a response to the lack of democracy we are experiencing today. But, what does “openness” mean?

After the Davo’s Manifesto “A Declaration of the independence of Cyberspace” (Barlow, P. 1996), “world leaders” were asked to freed the space from profit-driven content, yet, the lack of laws are still promoting an unclear image of “openness and connectivity”. My personal point of view is that being free is not just having an open space where to express our ideas. Freedom it’s having enough wisdom to distinguish between the corporation’s messages and what makes a human spirit free (Taylor). I would rather say then that we should picture Hamelin as ourselves, and start creating content that sounds like the Piper’s enchanting music to repel the rats that profit-driven digital culture has put on us. What’s more, the real problem is that while becoming “only readers” instead of re-writing culture, we might be losing our innocence, appetite for playing and laughing as well as, an open democratic spaces for interaction. Will we, artists, educators, youth and free spirits, enable digital culture through a neutral platform soon? If economy moves organically and shows our behavioral patterns as a global community where regions act as the body parts of an organism: Who’s the head? Where’s the heart? Who’s the Pied Piper?

Letizia Balzi

Sources:

TAYLOR, Astra. (2014). The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age. (Intro + Chapter 1). Random House Canada.

LESSIG, Larry. How Creativity is being Strangled by the Law.
as retrieved from internet: http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html