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Monthly Archives: March 2016

Did you know that your brain can fool you? How do you know you see what you think you see? To see or not to see? These are the questions that resonate in me after reading W. J. Mitchell’s article “There is no visual media”.

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Image from the movie “The clockwork orange” (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)

The author questions the term “visual media” since it involves other senses, such as sound, and more because in this so called “visual culture”, the way we perceive information is being conditioned by our brain.

Visual Culture is a colloquial expression that is why our perception towards different media, changes. For example, McLuhan explains that media is not only a sensory function, but also includes a semiotic and symbolic operation. Having said that, our vision ratio is shortened and therefore, hygienized (Mc Luhan) because according to neuroscience studies, our brain learns how to see. In other words, I believe that being part of a culture implies that we unconsciously accept social norms that often times are broadcasted by mass media.  This includes a terminology through which we learn to see, process information an order it to create a vision. That is how, we learn to categorize in order to build ourselves.

Personally, as one more individual in the world’s crowd, I believe that this generates confusion, but I am not sure what percentage of my “vision” is being conditioned on purpose. I agree with Mc Luhan about the fact that the content of the medium is the medium, and our senses are braided with similar functions such as sound and semiotics.

Overall, as a future educator, I am convinced that it is very important to understand that what we called visual culture is a field of study that refuses to take vision for granted. In the same way author Mitchell explains we ought to review our cultural expressions and I believe we need to teach our students about different points of view in relation to this theme. Perhaps a good lesson will be to open discussions about what do we see and how do we perceive things. Artist Luis Camnitzer stated that art is education, and I think that perhaps in our art class, analyzing the multiple expressions and dissecting what we call “visual media” can be an interesting lesson to widen students’ horizons. Visual Media can be an important theme to be used as a mean to help them grow as individuals because they can be more conscious and less blind about the society they are living in.

-Letizia Balzi

Source:  “There Are No Visual Media” W. J. T. Mitchell

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Long time ago I remember my grandfather taking me to see “Otello” at the Colon opera theatre for the first time. It was a magical atmosphere where the sound of the drums and the violins made you hold your tears in your throat. Years later, wandering in an old bookstore in Buenos Aires city, I bought Wassily Kandinsky’s book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and understood the connection between sound, image and memory. Now, looking back, I can connect Anry Sala’s exhibition “Answer Me” (New Museum, New York) to Kandinsky’s statement because the way this artist uses sound, evokes memory per se by building spaces in our inner self. Sala uses sound to design a space that connects to human emotions and that is how you feel like there’s a sort of harmonic vibration pulling out a memory from you. I felt attracted, immerse, out of my self-conscious self at that exhibition, as if I belong to that space that the artist is creating. As Kandinsky said, sound is abstract and resonates in ourselves without any conscious barrier or judgment, it just penetrates us. In Susan Sonntag’s words, “Art is a form of nourishment, of consciousness”  and sound is a form of art because it creates harmony and puts ourselves facing emotions.

For example, in this exhibition Sala exposes the way sound can evoke memory when narrating social and political histories like the consequences of life after communism. Considering that the artist lives in Berlin, a city where I also lived, I thought about the people I met, the places I visited where you can still witness the consequences of communism in people’s lives. Somehow I find contradictions between a city that is being positioned as an art mecca and fashion tourist destination, as being Germany’s capital, versus a place that is facing social problems such as integrating people who had to live under the soviet uni0n regime. I wander whether people from New York City had a silent gap in their minds and connected sound with inner silence or story from behind Berlin’s walls…

In any case, Sala also connects to Wim Wenders because he is offering a glimpse of the post communism atmosphere but years later after Wenders. So, it turns that when I started analyzing this exhibition, I didn’t feel so attracted to it. Once my emotions where cool down by my analytical mind, I believe Wenders and Part have already walk through this paths years before and with a much strong statement.

One last thing I though about is that his works remind me Arvo Pärt and other musicians who used minimalism as a mean to provoke specific emotions. Pärt states that music is like food and he uses it to evoke sacred spaces which, personally, I believe it connects with what Sala is doing. I highly recommend watching this short video to understand his creative process. Finally, I think Sala’s strongest statement is very effective when creating this memory spaces in connection to the recent and unfortunate Sarajevo war.

Letizia Balzi

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A video still of Cheryl Donegan’s “Cellar Door,” from her 2000 series “

The exhibition “Scenes and Commercials” from artist Cheryl Donegan exposes how media influences our lives and particularly transforms our identity which the artist manifests by using her body as an object which suffers a severe metamorphosis propelled by consumerism. From a personal point of view, I agree with the artist’s manifesto against the use of advertising, which through commercials and music videos, remove humans from a human center perspective. In other words, the erosion of our spirituality is completely distorted by mass media commercials.

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For example, in her  video  “Cellar Door,” from her 2000 series or in many of her other artworks, the female body is, in a parody, completely transformed, renewed, fabricated into a kirsch apparatus that exposes how many individuals are victims of fashion. Another idea that moves around my head when observing these artworks is that we are like a pendulum that can decide, find a center because we have a conscious, yet, the social-context influences often times are so unconsciously rooted in our minds, that I strongly believe many individuals barely decide for themselves but for what consumerism wants.
As an ex advertiser, the most important take away from this exhibition lies in two questions I would love to ask many people around me: Who do you think you are? Who really are you?

Letizia Balzi

Source: http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/cheryl-donegan-scenes-commercials

This video has been done to address the issue of the gender pay gap which is affecting women in the US among many other countries. According to the information retrieved from the United Nations, for every dollar men earn, women earn 0,78. Even though women make up 39% of the United States workforce and hold more advanced degrees than men, they are still lag well behind them in employment. For example, in high-power positions, such as the Congress, only 20% are women. Another example is what Fortune Magazine shows in its 500 successful companies ranking, where just 19% of these high-power positions like board members are occupied by women. Not only that, an average woman loses $434,000 during a 40 year career due to motherhood penalty. In other words, women are protected by law in relation to social benefits but not in the job market where becoming a mother is a common cause to be discriminated against man in the career development. This gets even worse for specific social groups. According to Bernie Sander’s website, where he exposes this injustice as one of his campaign flags, when compared to white men earnings, there are different gaps depending on the women socio-cultural group as shown in the chart below.

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As a woman, I believe we still have to break this prejudice by deconstructing the idea of gender superiority that has been used as a bias to support men’s privileges. By exposing cultural constructions designed to create a domestic image of the women during colonialism, such as the domesticity manuals, we can create awareness about this issue. It is not an easy task to achieve because gender inequality is still not seen as a problem in many countries where the image of the woman is still seeing as a domestic docile being whose only task is to serve a husband and raise children. It is interesting to compare how countries like Sweden have achieve equality in pay and parents share same benefits when they have children. I hope we can understand that there’s no gender superiority but a living myth about power. Having said that, I decided to use this video to help a NGO that empowers latin women’s voices.

Finally, I believe that solving this problem will help not just achieving an equal earning but empowering women to succeed in life without having to be forced to quit their dreams or being victims of domestic violence. 

Letizia Balzi

What’s a big step for humanity?

Is technology, progress? On the morning of July 16th 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins landed on the Moon. Armstrong’s quote is perhaps one of the most remembered ones in our contemporary history. But, how is “That’s one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind”? In this project I am questioning the idea of “progress” that most of us have fixed in our minds. Is our understanding of progress just connected to technological achievements? How does history create a “psychological grounding” (D. Totaro) in our minds in relation to what civilization means? Author Walter Benjamin stated that “there is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” I strongly agree with Benjamin because I believe that looking back in humanity’s history, there’s a timeline that victors write which functions as Tartovsky’s films. It creates a set of stories that happens in locations which produce a state of limbo since they frame an inner world in our minds. In addition to that, history is also enhanced by the power of media because it influences our lives by forcing us to perceive a ready made selection of relevant social topics. Rarely times we stop to think who decides which stories should be broadcasted and why. Personally, I am convinced that human rights must be taught since an early age to have a better understanding of social issues while we mature as individuals. So, by using sarcasm I retrieved Apollo 16 crew (Young and Duke) working on the Moon. The astronaut falls when trying to place the United States flag (Descartes Highlands, April 1972). My intention is to expose that we might be not be achieving giant leaps for mankind because often times, we stumble. An example of this is the misunderstanding we have about what progress is and means. In 1948, after the first declaration of human rights, we have not been able to achieve not even the first three universal ones. Finally, bellow you will find the complete list of human rights declared by the United Nations (1948):

Article 1 Right to Equality
Article 2 Freedom from Discrimination
Article 3 Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security
Article 4 Freedom from Slavery
Article 5 Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
Article 6 Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law
Article 7 Right to Equality before the Law
Article 8 Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal
Article 9 Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile
Article 10 Right to Fair Public Hearing
Article 11 Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty
Article 12 Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence
Article 13 Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country
Article 14 Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution
Article 15 Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change It
Article 16 Right to Marriage and Family
Article 17 Right to Own Property
Article 18 Freedom of Belief and Religion
Article 19 Freedom of Opinion and Information
Article 20 Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Article 21 Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections
Article 22 Right to Social Security
Article 23 Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions
Article 24 Right to Rest and Leisure
Article 25 Right to Adequate Living Standard
Article 26 Right to Education
Article 27 Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community
Article 28 Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document
Article 29 Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development
Article 30 Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights

Sources:

BENJAMIN, Walter, The Angel of History, Thesis on the Philosophy of History, 1920.
TOTARO, Donato. Time and the Film Aesthetics of Andrei Tarkovsky
Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, 1948
Retrieved footage: Apollo 16 crew (Young and Duke) working on the Moon , Descartes Highlands, April 1972.
Retrieved audio: “Jump Around”, House of Pain, 1992.

How appropriation and juxtaposition, when used responsibly and with clear intent, are powerful tools to employ in an effective critique of popular culture / society?

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Barbara Kruger and L.A. Teenagers Team Up to Ask, “Whose Values?”

Every day as a postmodern citizen in New York City, I have the impression I am packed and labeled at almost every place I go. Jumping into crowded trains, waiting on long lines, getting shop’s tickets, cards, receipts, free newspapers, being exposed to dazzling billboards and more. Even If I am walking across Central Park’s Strawberry fields, I have the feeling that in this global city, there’s too many people and brands trying to stand our from the crowd. It seems to me they are shouting its identity so I can spend money on them. But, as a graduate student I am spending my money on my master’s degree which keeps me safe from one of the most common verbs from the american-english language: shopping. Since I arrived here, I feel I am in a sort of sandwich culture but not sure of who’s gonna eat me, or who are the bread slices that are oppressing me in these social structure of the sandwich I am in. On the other hand, I love New York City because this amazing city is the home of many diverse cultures living all together. You can spend hours seated on a bench dissecting layers of information. So, as an artist and educator, this reality we are immersed in it is not just one single story, but a cumulative set of experiences we translate into our artworks when applying the postmodern principles of image appropriation and juxtaposition.

 

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Sex Pistols. Jim Draper.

When used purposefully, a clear intent of image appropriation and juxtaposition can create a sense of awareness about a social issue because a new space is framed and the significance of investigating and representing experience, creates a reflective practice through which people articulate new meanings (Gude). During the 70s, Jim Draper’s posters for Sex Pistols and Andy Warhol’s designs for The Velvet Underground as well as for The Rolling Stones album covers represent the postmodern principles of design author Olivia Gude talks about. Through these aesthetic choices, the unresolved world is being communicated. For example, music like art with its vibrant colors and collage, enhanced the message these artists were communicating to popular culture. They shaped a new identity as a response to the arising control and social decay they were experiencing.

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Barbara Kruger

Nowadays, in contemporary art, artists who use the aesthetic principles of juxtaposition and appropriation, enhance their message because the image is not just taken from popular culture but it’s reshaped generating a deeper inner engagement with feelings, stories, ideas, forms (Gude) that resonate in us because it represents an aspect of our lives and society. Following Sex Pistol’s aesthetic choices, conceptual artist Barbara Kruger produces powerful artworks addressing social problems such as gender inequality and economy unfair distribution, when she employs founded black and white photography from media and bold typefaces for her declarative captions. Another important example are the works of Robert Rauschenberg whose works represent popular culture and therefore his statements include critiques about power and politics.

In the case of art videos, I am still questioning about how effective a message is because often times I have seen many videos shown in Art Biennials such as Bruce Nauman’s, kept away from popular culture access. I believe that Galleries and Biennials are still minimalistic white cubes isolated from mass access. On the other hand, the works of Francis Alÿs are deeply rooted in a popular context where the appropriation and juxtaposition are used responsibly and with clear intent to communicate the idea of displacement. Examples of his works can be found in diverse media such as video, painting, photography and performances. Alÿs works have been shown in musmus such as MoMA, yet they have been made with real people in real contexts creating a bound which result is a strong critical message of popular culture and can be read by a wider audience. Examples of his works are “When Faith Moves Mountains” ( 2002. Color photograph. The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and “The Modern Procession” (Two-channel video color, sound. 12 min.).

Finally, I believe that appropriation and juxtaposition are powerful tools to employ in art as an effective critique of popular culture and society, because we live in a visual culture which creates a layered sense of reality.

Letizia Balzi

Lowenfeld, Viktor. 1952. Creative and Mental Growth, 2nd edition. New York: Macmillan.

Rogers, Carl R. 1961. Toward a Theory of Creativity in On Becoming a Person. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Postmodern Principles: In Search of a 21st Century Art Education Author(s): Olivia Gude Source: Art Education, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 6-14 Published by: National Art Education Association

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Dante’s Hell Map

In “The Author” (Chapter published at Le Bulletin de la Société Française, 1969) philosopher Michael Foucalut dissects from an historical and contextual perspective what an author is and his functions are. He argues that the characteristics of a discourse are important to compare how the authors in the past were different from what we understood after XIX Century.

In the past, authors were subjected to legal regulations when its creation represented an action that Foucault describes as bipolar because it connected a sacred and profane sphere. As an example, elder christian traditions started to authenticate or/and reject discourses and this idea of authenticity that we later associated with the idea of author. Focault also mentions that individuals who wrote canonical texts were not considered as authors. Later, when a system of ownership known as the copyright was created, the author became part of the social sphere of accepted creators. Then, he describes authorship as creative power because an author is an architect who designs the intrinsic connections between context and concept.

What’s more interesting is Focault’s description of an author as a sort of interpreter of life, a mediator of death as a mean to express the creative power and its capacity to inspire individuals. For example authors such as Kafka, Homer, Dante and Whitman have inspired thousands when writing their works which functioned in human’s psychique as a protection against death. Their response pushes individuals to a space that represents one of human’s biggest quest in relation to our existence: Who are we? Why are we here? I believe that these epics, poems, or even a fragment, can also work like black holes in space. They attract, destroy and create life. In the same way, an author stands for a principle of unity and as a creator reactivates and rediscovers our understanding about the hidden layers of multiple discourses throughout human history. Focault also makes a point when he says that his analysis about what author means can also be applied to other areas such as painting, music and sciences. For example, Although Freud didn’t wrote literary works, he is considered an author because his discourse about psychoanalysis makes us go to a kind of empty space where we open our knowledge to another dimension. Ironically and in a similar case, when a nazi officer asks Picasso if he was the author of the Guernica; he denies it by stating that the nazis where the authors of it.

So, defining who the author is might be more than describing its functions in contexts but understanding how an individual can become the source of expression to produce a discourse. Among other important facts, Foucault also describes that there’s an order of things to be taken into account when understanding an author’s function. These elements are the location of rules, functional conditions, the author’s role, and the limits of the creational art. From a personal perspective I would add that when looking back on the etymology of the word, it can be found that for Middle English, an author is in the sense ‘a person who invents or causes something. Then, from Old French autor and from Latin auctor, and augere, connects to the action of increase, originate and promote. The spelling with th arose in the 15th century, and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic. So now, in the XXI century we are facing a crisis where everybody is in a desperate quest for authenticity, but to what extent is an author authentic if we consider that there was a previous discourse from where this individual nourished? What’s authenticity? Isn’t perhaps an author a mediator, an individual whose sparkle can lighten others? In any case, very few humans dare to face an empty space, and without an author descriptions, and therefore this world, would be meaningless.

Overall, I believe an author is a mediator whose creative power is to set bridges of wisdom and knowledge between ourselves and the world we live in.

Letizia Balzi