Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mexican Being(er)

Mexican Culture is Performative... At least in the U.S. 



       Stereotypes create culture as culture creates stereotypes. To be Mexican outside of Mexico is all a performance because there is no knowledge of what it means to be The Other. Mexican cultural elements are deculturalized when taken by other countries like American (or any other country). The value of such Mexican cultural elements only hold an economic value for Americans and the Otherness of the Mexican culture becomes a show, a performance.

Take for example, the Mexican Mariachi hat:


The hat is being used completely outside of context in a way Mexicans would not use it. Truth to be told, those hats are worn only in cultural and national festivities (includes Soccer matches when the national team is playing), it is part of folklore, part of a dance composed of a wonderful and colorful costume which includes the Mariachi Hat. It creates patriotic feelings, and group belonging.

Why does the Mariachi hat have to be taken outside of its culture, lose its cultural value as part of the Mexican culture? And become a joke, a show, an Other?


James Luna has responded  to these questions in his art:


 James Luna observing Columbus Day 2010, 
front of Columbus Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Take a Picture with A Real Indian


Link to YouYube

I want to take this project a little further. And present two performative pieces from my culture.

La Danza de los Viejitos de Michoacan.

Here is an example of the dance in its more traditional way:

YouTube Link here

And
El Chuntaro Style de El Gran Silencio.

YouTube Link here

     These two performances encapsulate two different subcultures within the Mexican culture. And I wanted to perform those dances outside of their traditional context. I also focused on the costume and the process of becoming a performer in these subcultures. The following performances are composed by one dancer or performer. The dancer performs in a non-conventional space, the performance is in front of a camera only, no audience. The performance is somewhat improvised and not following completely the traditional style of each piece.
     
I show the masking process of my identity to take different performative identities. In the end showing how I react to the idea of performing  instead of being who I am. Here is the final product:

Mexican Being-er


Link to YouTube here







Friday, May 10, 2013

Robert Gober, Inside the Real Outside



More Real than the Real
 
Robert Gober was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, in 1954. Graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1976 he moved to New York, where he lives now as a retiree.
His art incorporates sculpture and painting mainly. Gober works with objects that are somewhat domestic such as sinks, beds, cribs, doors an others, he distorts these pieces and usually puts them together in one space where he incorporates his painting. He explores sexuality, relationships, nature, politics, and religion. His work is often based on memories from his childhood or on familiar subject matter from around his home or studio. He has a variety of solo exhibitions that date from 1988 and has won several awards.
 
His practice: the distortion of objects that belong to a materialist/religious/domestic society. “Radical shifts of tone, the interpretations of illusions, juxtapositions of high and low, nature and culture, sublime and banal.” His distorted objects are believed to be anti-modernists.                
Example of pieces:

                                                                                 Untitled, 1999-2000
Conceptual art: Each piece individually is a reaction to concepts explored by artists throughout history. Each piece holds a social commentary.

Although his work can be appreciated and analyzed as segments or individual parts it is necessary to analyze it as it is presented in galleries and museums, as a whole exhibition. 

Example of Exhibition: his installation at Dia Center for the Arts, NY. 

                                                                          Untitled, installation view, 1992
Video link to this installation: Here.

The pieces together in one room are carefully arranged to have the audience experience what some critics call “postindustrial despair.” A struggle to interact with mass-produced industrial materials due to the imprisoning space that does not allow the audience to escape from the reality constructed with unreal objects. 

Symbolism:

The door promises scape from this reality, but the doors do not lead anywhere or lead to a space that is part of the same reality.
Window shows outside that is fake (lighting is artificial).
There is a real sink (it functions) that is taken outside context. It reminds the viewer of a home that is outside of that room. A home that does not exist in this reality.
A real nature exists somewhere, however it’s lost and barricaded since all you see is a painting of a forest.
Nothing in the room is real “we stand ‘inside’ a room that puts us ‘outside’.” It is a private room and we become more alien within it.

For more on Gober I recommend the San Francisco MOMA website.



Monday, April 29, 2013

Resurection of the Difference

From the "Other" to the "Us"

"We all become living specimens under the spectral light of ethnology, or of anti-ethnology which is only the pure form of triumphal ethnology, under the sign of dead differences, and of the resurrection of difference." Baudrillard.

                         Jean Fouquet, Melun Diptych.
 
We exist in the real because we identify the unreal. By describing, discovering/uncovering the "Other" we define ourselves. But how does this relate to religious imagery and more specifically, to Virgin Mary? In the following I will apply Jean Baudrillard's philosophy (or my understanding of his philosophy) in collaboration with my Religious Studies to understanding the multiplicity of the imagery of Virgin Mary and its massive (re)production.  

Representations of Virgin Mary (from paintings to statues) are "real" because they are physical manifestations (constructed by society) of the ideal woman. The paintings and sculptures that become sacred are real because they are signs or symbols that hold "dead differences." In other words, we construct Virgin Mary by establishing her as the Other. We construct differences between ourselves and Her. 
     -She is what we are not.
     -She is who we want to be, or from a patriarchal (and sexist) perspective what males want women to be.
     -we cannot be like her.
     -Social punishment happens to those who do not follow Virgin Mary's example.

Virgin Mary is real because we need to establish what we are not in order to prove that we exist. Nevertheless, when we describe her, imagine her, think of her... we create her based on what we want her to be, or most likely, what we need her to  be (that which we usually are not, or that which we want to be).

Her image is "real" then, because it becomes Her, a manifestation of the ideal woman or ideal self.

I have developed a sort of thesis that is clearly influenced by my experience in Mexico and Catholicism. Where Our Lady of Guadalupe has a strong presence and importance. But this does not mean that cannot be applied to other countries (Italy's Maddona is one example) and their reproduction of religious images and statues. 

Where do we go from here?

To Google Search "Sexy Virgin Mary." But actually. I highly recommend it. You will be surprised at what you will find. The representations of Virgin Mary in the United States and perhaps other more liberal or non-Catholic countries can be very challenging to the conservative representation of Our Holy Virgin Mary. You can find artist's representations of Virgin Mary that present just the opposite to what you can think of that relates to the biblical Mary mother of Jesus.

-Virgin
-Pure
-Nurturing
... the list goes on

In other words, you get something like this:

                    Joe Coleman, Virgin Mary.

To me, any representation of Mother Virgin Mary is "true" to its creator. Whether it is a collective construction or an individual's. This allows and motivates anybody, who is interested enough, to come up with whatever "Virgin Mary" they want to create.

This is where the other element fits in: the rapid mass production of pop cultural representations of Mary.

To avoid getting into another topic I will just add that as a response to all these observations and problems I came across when thinking about this project I produced the following video:

Making Mary Mother


Here it is again in YouTube.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Simulating Religious Imagery

I am finding new thins that I relate to my art. I do not know how this inspires me yet, but I want to share it here and wait to see if it affects my development as an artist in future projects.

<p>Josh Iguchi (1964- ), <em>The Last Supper</em>, 1995; Ektacolor photograph, 48 x 96 inches (Frame: 58 x 106 inches); Gift of Wade Stevenson, 1998</p>
Josh Iguchi, The Last Supper (1995).

I found the picture here: 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bill Viola's Artless Art

How can art be artless?

                                                                           Bill Viola, Becoming Light (2005)

The answer is simple, create art without restricting yourself. Use the media, the tools you have and do, create, be creative. Or at least that is what I think Bill Viola is trying to say. He has an understanding of the world that he obtained through understanding himself and who he is in connection to others.

In his lecture at Lawrence University he talked about two things that resonated with me. One is the importance of technology in our generation and how it is just a tool that can be used for the "good, or the bad." Viola states that we have been using technology for the wrong things and he encourages us to give it a new purpose and to teach the older generations how to stop "screwing it up." I have read McLuhan's emphasis on the media and how "the medium is the message." I am reading Jean Baudrillard's Simulations and his focus on the masking of reality through media, transforming our world into a simulated reality. I was processing all of this into a negative feeling against technology and the media. Nevertheless, after listening to Bill Viola's comment that technology just exists and what matters is how we use it, I started to question how I relate to the media. I cannot focus on my discontent of technology (specially because I use it every day), but in the way we use it for things that I do not appreciate. This gives a new direction to my artistic development.

The second thing that Viola mentioned in his lecture that interested me is his muse or inspiration, Religion. I am interested in the role of religion in human life. Viola prefers to call it spirituality, I still think he is referring to an aspect of religion. He has traveled and studied different religions capturing religious traditions. He presents religious views that can be labeled somewhat Buddhist, but that does not matter because it is about the message and spirituality, not about the religious institution or denomination. I am inspired by the way he connects his religious views to his art.

Here is the work that most fascinated me:
 
                                                                                         Bill Viola, Emergence (2002).

Link to YouTube video of Viola's Emergence: YouTube video

Monday, April 15, 2013

Religious Simulacra

Religion, Religion, Religion 

Religious Imagery

Religious Imagery has been used and over-used for almost any purpose that might not even be religious. The phenomena that interests me is the power these images might have over people. Artists have been inspired by religion, or I dare to argue, Religion has been inspired by art. One way or the other, religious imagery and iconography have been expressed through different media such as the 12th Century Italian painting of the Virgin Mary (The Madonna as Advocate), to the 2002 high-definition video inspired bythe representation of the placing of Jesus Christ in the tomb, Emergence, by Bill Viola (you can find the video here: YouTube).

An interesting phenomena occurs when religious images are reproduced in various and infinite ways. The images become the "real" thing and not what they represent. Jean Baudrillard's Simulations develops this concept further.

I originally wanted to capture the idea that a portrait of religious figure becomes that which it is trying to represent. In other words, a portrait of the Virgin Mary becomes the Virgin Mary in the sense that people attribute sentimental and some times spiritual value to such portrait. One of many examples if the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe which is now The "Mother of the Americas" (Latin America) and holds more than a religious value, becoming a religion of its own or a cult where the Virgin of Guadalupe is more important than the Catholic God Himself.

In the following still I tried to convey the idea that any picture can become the "real" representation of the Virgin Mary as long as the right conditions (institutionalized propaganda from the Vatican, a religious narrative, and a group of faithful worshipers) were presented.

Here is my first attempt to capture the New Holy Virgin Mary:

Holy Virgin Mary's Secret
Model: Katy Abdul

Pictures in:
Flickr

To be honest it did not work. There could not be found any relationship with Virgin Mary so I had to take a new set of pictures. 

I stumbled upon a picture of Miles Aldrige that inspired me and gave me a new direction. 
  ImmaculĂ©e by Miles Aldrige

I captured images that spoke on my behalf, but the images themselves have a language of their own and are not limited to my own interpretation. 

So here is my second attempt to capture my version of Virgin Mary:


Holy Mother Virgin Mary
Model: Katy Abdul

Pictures in:
Flickr

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sonja Thomsen

The Artist's Art

http://g.virbcdn.com/_f/cdn_images/resize_1600x1600/27/PageImage-471712-3656055-4621-Screenshot20120923at110002AM.png 

   I have always wondered about the relationship between the artist and his or her art and what is the importance of this bond. As an artist Sonja Thomsen has inspired me to think harder about what my art means to me. 

    Her photography is more than the subject matter, more than the process, it is herself. At least that is what I observed about her when she was giving her lecture at Lawrence University. When she thinks of a concept she starts by thinking what is her relation to that concept, she engages with the process always relating it to herself creating wonderful pieces that engage her audience not only at a psychological level but also at a physical level. 

    I am looking forward to apply these ideas to my own artistic development.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wisconsin Darkness & Picturesque

Wisconsin Death Trip: Continued

 

On March 9, 2013 our Digital Processes Class in collaboration with some Lawrence University Faculty members put together a multimedia performance in which our short films were projected simultaneously into two screens as improvised music accompanied the films. 

The part that I enjoyed the most is that the artist-filmmakers got the opportunity to interact with the audience and perform in relation to some of the films. 

Although we do not have record of the whole performance as of right now, 
here is a YouTube video taken by one of our professors of my film and performance at the event.




Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Wisconsin Death Trip


Adam's Death Rib: Eve's Trip to Genesis

A response to Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip.


Michael Lesy's Wisconsin Death Trip in my opinion, goes beyond ideas about death. The pictures are put together to follow a narrative, a message that goes beyond representing Wisconsin daily life. I focused a lot on the representation and construction of gender in this book. I was not surprised when I found pictures of men at bars, working, doing daily activities, and women at home, siting, holding babies, etc. It is a representation of what life was like in Wisconsin on the 70's.



What I found interesting is the lack of pictures of "active" women. The women are sitting next to men when they are in the outside, as if only being able to be captured as long as they are accompanied by men. The one picture where a woman is outside she has snakes on her shoulder as she is laughing in front of an upside-down bench giving the idea of chaos, representing the woman as crazy to a certain extent.

Before I continue explaining my response to this book, I would like to present my video titled:


Adam's Death Rib: Eve's Trip to Genesis

                                                   
     Here is the link to You Tube


I wanted to (re)present gender constructions as non-traditional as possible. I create this piece observing what elements we consider representational of a gender, yet using such element in connection to other elements to have a loss of understanding about what representation is being made. The woman in this video is represented in different ways juxtaposed with images of a man who seems to be represented in a way but towards the end we know that there is more beyond what is presented.

The title makes reference to Adam and Eve in the Genesis since nothing is more traditionally conservative in our society than religious texts, just as our ideas of gender binaries, and the construction of what makes a man, a man, and a woman, a woman. To me, male characteristics in Wisconsin Death Trip were stressed by differentiating the pictures of men with the pictures of women. In other words, men are men because they are not women.

And as a reaction to that, I observe that:  if we still think that Adam's "Rib" is what made Eve, then we should think that such bone does not exist or is "Dead" for Adam and as a result, for men, because what made Eve is 'that' which we lack.
I suggest that we reconsider our ideas about what make us, us. Do "men" wear lipstick? Do "men" cry? Are "women" pretty only when they smile or laugh? Should they look at the camera/viewer when "she" is supposed to be the object of the film?



Evan Baden


Photography is the Message: Evan Baden the Messenger

A response to Baden's work

I am inspired by Baden's work yet leaving room for criticism. His use of the available media is fascinating, and his understanding of the technological world is definitely present in his work.

Here is the link to his works.

                                                                  Photo in Illuminati by Evan Baden

In his project Illuminati, one of his earliest works, is the most fascinating project to me because of his use of lighted and dark spaces. A juxtaposition that contributes to his message about the social and isolating aspects of the media.

Another element that I appreciate is the fact that in Illuminati, he does not categorize the use of media as a positive or negative aspect of our society, or at least the viewer can create his or her own opinions about the subject.

His work reminds me pretty much of the idea of the "Anti-social" observed by McLuhan in his work "The medium is the massage." In the picture above specifically there is a sense of physical isolation but a virtual social interaction with a somewhat metaphysical world that can be shared with other individuals or with oneself. Although I would disagree with the idea that media cannot produce a social "physical" space where people interact with other people in the non-virtual world (to avoid saying the 'real' world), I would recognize that Evan Baden does a wonderful job presenting an "anti-social" element of a medium that is some times considered as globally social.

(I know I focused on one of his projects, I am still thinking over what to make of his later projects, Technically Intimate, and Under the Influence. But I think that will require more research from my part).



Monday, February 25, 2013

Meister Eckhart: His Missunderstood Doctrine


 Eckhart was not only a scholar, a preacher, a spiritual leader, but also a man who believed in the importance of the individual experience. 

His doctrine was about academic freedom which invited individuals to not being constrained in their knowledge by educational institutions. Knowledge for him goes beyond written words and books. He tells his readers in the prologue of one of his major works, the "Opus Tripartium," not to rest on the apparent sense of his words, but to extent great effort to apprehend the true meaning.
Religious Freedom, in the sense that spiritual experience should be individual, free from human agencies where the only relationship to the outside self is God.
And Pluralistic Society, that invited diversity because "we are one with God, and nothing without him."

McLuhan in The Medium is the Massage quotes Eckhart, and I would argue that this passage does not demonstrates Eckhart's doctrine. The quote goes,

"Only the hand that erases, can write the true thing"

Before I continue I have to say that this quote is taken out of context (form sources that I could not find and therefore wonder if is even Eckhart's). It is important to know the context because in the Medieval times Eckhart was accused and condemned for preaching against the Christian Doctrine and what happened was that he was not understood, they were only taking sentences instead of looking at the whole paragraph.


Going back to the quote. If Eckhart said this (giving McLuhan the benefit of the doubt for not citing his quotes), I think he would most likely mean that the hand, representing the human individually, that "erases" or moves away from preconceived constructions can "write" construct, build, or create the true thing. In other hands, to be able to know the truth, you need to move away form what exists and go beyond that. And the only reason he would promote writing (the true thing) anyways is to teach. Although he differentiated educated from intelligent (meaning that everybody is intelligent and is able to reach pure knowledge), he thought important to teach this "pure" or true knowledge to everyone.

The reason why I think McLuhan is not using this quote appreciating Eckhart's doctrine/ philosophy is because Meister Eckhart would say that the message itself is the most important than the written words, than the text, than the book, than the medium.

The other thing to do is to use Eckhart's work to theorize this quote above in McLuhan's terms.

In that case I would say that In order to "write", construct, and create the true thing (the thing that is validated as important, or becomes the framework of understanding) you need to be able to "erase," delete, or deconstruct. And that is where the media comes handy. You need a powerful tool that can delete constructed/preexisting conceptions in order to be able to create new ones. In that way, the medium massages your brain to get the message by erasing the old and writing the new, or making enough space to add in what it wants to add in.

Even if what I just wrote makes sense, I still wonder if McLuhan understood Eckhart's message, or if he just applied it in a secular way. Part of me wonders if he just knew this popular saying and had to add it on his book because it made sense to what he is saying.

The world will never know. In the mean time I had fun reading tons of sermons by Eckhart trying to find that stupid quote and understand his philosophy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Naturally Human Sound


What is the most naturally human sound? 

I asked this question to 11 Lawrence students and recorded their sound with a digital camera. Their first reaction was captured and I used almost every sound I obtained from them. Here is the the piece:


Naturally Human Sound 
Here is the link to the YouTube Video

        For the video I decided to use my own picture drunk laughing as I walked around Time Square in NYC. That area is all about the visual and the only sound you can hear is that of the people hanging out taking pictures. I did not focus in the visual because my interest is in the sound. Yet it can captures the type of faces I got when people were recording their "human sound".
 
     In this version I wanted to create a conventional piece of music using human sounds only. Nevertheless, after trying different ways to mix the recorded sounds I realized that human sounds do not have a beat that could be used to create a conventional song unless you distort the sound until it creates a rhythmic beat or unless you add a beat that is conventionally accepted as music (such as what I did in my other version of this piece). 
     I preferred to keep the recorded sounds as close to the original sound as possible. Therefore I put all the sounds together repeating the sounds that were more pleasing to my ear, juxtaposed with sounds that disturbed my hearing.
     This piece does not have a specific rhythm or a conventional musical element but, who can say it is not a piece of music? John Cage said, "everything we do is music." People talking, laughing, screaming, whistling, crying and (why not?) making animal sounds, are sounds that can be considered music.


Human!!!!!!!!!!
I added a Garage Band drumbeat to this piece to achieve what I originally wanted to do in my other version: to create a conventional piece of music using human sounds.
Naturally Human Bass 
Here is the link to the YouTube Video

     The image I used in the video is a picture I took in NYC. In this image you can only think of sound coming from cars in the street just as the overwhelming sound of the drumbeats interacts with the human voice.  The water seems to come off the car at the end of the street and made me think of a non-stopping element that originates from an unknown place, time, which comes from a metaphysical construction in the human mind yet is so physical that we can feel it or even see it as the things around us change. The female voice is important for the music just as the woman is in the picture and therefore this picture was perfect for the video.

     The fragmented female voice and the repetitive drum beat work together to create rhythm, a musical tone. These elements create a space where the human voice interacts with the controlling drumbeat throughout the linear continuous time. In other words, it becomes what I would call a conventional piece of music or song. 
     I had to challenge this construction of sound by disturbing the linear composition by inserting a unit of multiple spatial planes that uses layers upon layers of different recorded sounds crammed into a limited time frame. 
    The piece continues with the drumbeat and the repeated word "human" to mock the listener and challenge the individual to think of his or her own understanding of music and his or her role as natural producers of sound and music.

Hope you enjoy or hate both pieces, and I hope it challenges you or takes you to an uncomfortable place. 


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Moving Forward
Where is Forward?


When we think of society and its movement from the past to the present, we like to conceptualize the future. Society moves, some people think. The question is, where is it going? 
To explore further this idea, I need to quote Marshall McLuhan,

"Many of our institutions suppress all the natural direct experience of youth, who respond with untaught delight to poetry and the beauty of the new technological environment, the environment of popular culture" (McLuhan, The medium is the massage).

McLuhan is referring to the educational institutions and the restricted possibilities of the younger generations to explore their own conceptions of their world adopting the old and traditional paradigms that exist to understanding the world. Nevertheless, I want to take this further to convey that not only schools as institutions limit the individuals to conceptualize society in a unique (free from traditional structure) way.

In this project, I approach public signs that are present in every street, road, and highway as representative icons of the social institutions that we as individuals have to follow in order to belong, and keep traditions. I challenge the original meaning of the public signs to comment on social issues that are always present such as child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, but just as these signs on the road, are never paid attention to.



Here is the link to Flickr pictures.
And here is a link to my Snapfish book.





Monday, January 28, 2013


Lynda Barry: An Exemplary Artist