Working Title: Neighbourhood Secrets
Conceptual framework: The staging for the short scene is in a building of home apartments currently under construction in a predominately conservative, working class suburb, where gentrification is occuring. One room of the building would be used for filming a performance of a person undressing and dressing. As an artistic gesture and to symbolify the voiceless, the unspeakable within the community, the performer(s) mouth(s) will be taped shut. The performer(s) silence will enhance their listening, so becoming aware of toes curling, housewives weeping, dust settling, mumbling, gagging, isimsiz, on the tip of oneâs tongue, dripping, twitching Mollas, pissing, mutterings under one's breath, violence, teachers sighing and pens scratching. The body stands as an empty canvas allowing the dust particles to settle on it. In the distance, the viewer is aware of other windows, other lives in the travelling landscape and also aware that this surface is one dimensional from the viewers' point of view, and that from other windows other dimensions are being envisioned, acted out and upon, breaking what is verboten within the community, who and who cannot speak.
Clothes submerge our bodies into the landscape of the metropolis and people can pass unnoticed. Our nakedness is the only real claim to our bodies within the city. Nakedness establishes the body as visual territory. What is being documented is the performer(s) position within the community. The unspoken discontent, a murmer of anarchy inviting the viewer to step into the frame and cast off their clothes so provoking any onlooker who happens to catch a glimpse, that they are given power to decide if this is, or is not, art. The onlooker owes something to the ghost of Duchamp, who championed the fact that anybody could be an artist, everybody has the right to decide what is art. The performer(s) subtly effect change by their silence, the ghost-of-action seeps into the communities consciousness. To quote James Baldwin: 'Life is more important than art, that's what makes art important'.
Visual cues: The camera will be positioned in the hallway, facing inwards, towards what will be the main living area. The doorway will act as a frame for this static long shot. The performer will be center of the frame, standing sideways. Behind the performer is an unbuilt wall where, eventually the window will be. This will act as another frame, giving a panoramic view of the outside. The room is completely exposed to the elements of the weather and passersby, the boundary of what is outside becomes distorted as the performer can feel more than just the space of the room.
Aural cues: The performance will be made at the time of the mid-afternoon prayer, Salatu-I-Asr. Local mosques blast out the calling to the community, bringing all listeners nearby into its timeframe. The performance is a resistance, creating an opposing timeline within the community. No non-diegetic sounds will be added.
Note: The performance can be made by one or more people. If there is more than one person involved in the performance, then an orderly que should be made, standing 2ft behind the first person.
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Silence is important in our daily lives, as is spoken language. How we look at ourselves in relation to art and society are equally important. The following three essays hope to raise awareness of issues surrounding these topics. The essays are aimed at A-level or TOEFL students interested in the fields of Cultural Studies, Art and Philosophy.
This essay will examine how artists from the U.S.A. and Europe have challenged conventional views concerning identity. This includes:
1. How individual artists work within the scope of otherness.
2. How the artist perceives their own self in relation to how society deems them.
3. How the audience both perceives and relates to the otherness within the artist.
As early as the 1950s, performance artists have enshrouded their identity in 'otherness' which has provided a platform on which to express their ideas. This platform has also allowed for marginalized groups such as artists, cross-dressers, sex workers, lesbians, queer, gay, the chronically ill and disabled to express their ideas. Roland Barthes wrote about the petit-bourgeois person being “...unable to imagine the Other… the Other is a scandal which threatens his existence” (Durham and Kellner, 2006, p.157). Subcultures offer new looks and sounds that one cannot find immediately in the mainstream. They always represent noise rather than sound, always “...interference in the orderly sequence” (Durham and Keller, 2006, p.153).
Throughout the twentieth century performance art was seen as “...a permissive, open-ended medium with endless variables, executed by artists impatient with the limitations of more established forms” (Goldberg, 2011, p.9). Performance artists take their often anarchic art into public spaces. According to Lea Vergine, they refuse “...to allow the sense of reality to invade and control the sphere” (Vergine,2000, p.7) of their emotions. They choose the body to express and question personal and cultural repressions in the surrounding space. This can lead to anguish “...that results from the impossibility of finding a real relationship with it” (Vergine, 2000, p.15).
Maurice Merleau-Ponty believed he had “...no way of knowing the human body other than by living it – which means to assume responsibility for the drama” (Vergine, 2000, p.15) that flowed through him, to which he merged his identity.
Two thousand five hundred years ago Herodotus, a Greek historian, believed xenophobia was “...a sickness of people who are scared [...] terrified by the prospect of seeing themselves in the mirror of the culture of Others” (Kapuscinski, p.19, 2008). Non-Greeks were called barbaros by the Greeks. Its meaning: “...those who speak gibberish and cannot be understood, so it is better to keep a distance” (Kapuscinski, p.74, 2008). Herodotus also “...realized that to get to know Others you must set off on a journey, go to them, and show a desire to meet them” (Kapuscinski, p.19, 2008).
For all artists there is a conflict between public and private. Both cultural and moral values can be challenged. The artist's realization of this can lead to a “...wealth of possibilities” (Cooper, 1994, p.134). The French artist Maria Rosalie Bonheur challenged the male-dominated academies of France and England and was the first woman to be awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. In 1865 as the Empress Eugenie presented the Honour, she murmured to Bonheur “Genius has no sex” (Cooper,1994,p.43).
In 1852 the French Police issued Bonheur with a permit giving her permission to “...wear male attire in public, with restrictions against attending ‘spectacles, balls or other public meeting places’ in such attire” (philosopedia.org). The permit was given for health reasons and had to be renewed every six months. Bonheur claimed that she did not wear trousers as a symbol of emancipation, simply stating that trousers suited her sex.
Men’s suits in the last third of the 19th century had become the “first ruling class costume to idealize purely sedentary power. By the turn of the century […] the suit was mass-produced for mass urban and rural markets” (Berger, p.38. 1991).
Before the First World War, it had only been some lesbians who had worn the male suit as a statement of their sexual identity but, by the end of the First World War, “such an appearance was more easily accepted” (Cooper, 1994, p.156). As a wider range of women began to wear a suit it lost its association with lesbianism.
During the First World War women in England took over some of the work and responsibilities of men. Though the changes were at first forced on women, the emancipation turned into conscious self-liberation.
For Americans and Europeans in the 1920s/30s Paris was a desirable place to live. For women, new opportunities enabled them to follow their own careers and “...gave greater freedom to explore and express their sexuality” (Cooper, 1994, p.156). In 1915, Djuna Barnes (1892 – 1982), an American artist and writer, first published a book of poetry and drawings entitled The Book of Repulsive Women and indirectly concerned itself with lesbianism. The work can be seen as “one of the first modern literary works to deal with the theme of women’s ‘bitter secret’.” (Cooper, 1994, p.158). Barnes published again in 1937: Nightwood was written over several years and was based indirectly on her own lesbian experiences. In the New York Times Book Review 1937, Alfred Kazin “described the characters as ‘freaks’.” (Cooper, 1994, p.160).
In 1933 Hitler came to power. German culture and German ideology emphasised the happy family. Artists like Jeanne Mammen (1910 – 1976) were banned. Mammen's portraits were a representation of Berlin's lesbian sub-culture. They showed women with cropped hair wearing collars and ties. Three new phenomena emerged in Europe in the first decades of the last century:
1. mass society
The writers, Erich Fromm and Theodor Adorno tried to comprehend and define this new world writing about it in terms of mass culture, mass enslavement, mass hysteria and mass paranoia.
The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas grew up in Europe at a time when mass society was forming. He was thirty-three years old when the Second World War began. Kapuscinski believes that Levinas's philosophy was a reaction “...to mankinds experience in the first half of the twentieth century [...] the transformations and crisis of Western civilization” (Kapuscinski, p.33-34, 2008), the crisis of the self and the other.
In the 1960s and 1970s women artists explored self-expression using their physical bodies to express their difference from men. Since the 1960s Hannah Wilke had been concerned with “...the creation of a formal imagery” (Warr, 2000, p.256) that was specifically female. Her art was trying to fuse the mind and body. The concern behind Intercourse with (1976) was to create positive imagery “...to wipe out the prejudices, aggression [...] fear associated with the negative connotations of pussy” (Warr, 2000, p.256) and cunt. In an exhibition of self-portrait photographs, Wilke appears naked except for high heels, posing with a gun in some run-down spaces. The photographs had quotations overlaid on them that were taken from male philosophers' texts commenting on Art and Society. Wilke's idea was that her naked body seen with the text would force the viewer to question their assumptions of the female body. After being diagnosed with cancer, Wilke began documenting the stages of her illness by posing in photographs that mimicked the classic nude. The photographs showed her bloated and bruised body.
In 1974 a photograph of Lynda Benglis was used as an advertisement for a gallery. The photograph was intended as an artist statement. It shows Benglis naked with a huge dildo by her groin. Her “intention was to mock the idea of having to take sexual sides – to be, either a male artist or a female” (Warr, 2000, p.262). In fact the controversy that followed accused Benglis of penis envy, which further emphasizes the social taboos that surround the representation of the female sex.
An exhibition at the Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, entitled Transformer art (1974), looked at androgyny and brought to attention the Feminist theory which put forward the suggestion that male and female roles could be equalized. A Zurich artist named Luthi, who was short and round, impersonated his beautiful girlfriend who was tall and thin.
Martin Buber, the theologian wrote “It is said that man experiences his World […] Man travels over the surface of things and experiences them […] extracts knowledge about their constitution […] wins experience from them” (Buber, p.2).
Peoples identities are constructed by various contributing factors: masculine and feminine stereotypes, individualism, collectivism, biological and social. According to the cultural anthropologist R.E. Lenkeit, stereotypes are culturally assigned roles that are “prescribed and perceived ways that males and females are expected to behave” (Lenkeit, 2001, p.159) within their given culture. Western society assumes two gender roles: male and female, while in some societies “three or four genders are often accepted” (Lenkeit, 2001, p.159). Third gender can be found in the Bora Bora, one of a group of Islands known as the Society Islands of Polynesia. There, within each village or community, lives a mahu. The term “mahu” is given to a young boy who adopts “the female role by his own choice or that of his parents, performing female tasks at home and eventually finding a job usually performed by women” (www.tahititours.com). Mahus are fully accepted within Tahiti society. In Thailand the third gender is called Kathoey/Ladyboy and although they can be found in every village, town and city, some Thai people “believe that being a kathoey is the result of transgressions in past lives” (Totman, 2004, p.57). This would be directly associated with karma within both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism and would be shared thought amongst many practising Buddhists throughout South East Asian countries where ladyboys can be found living. In China, Ladyboys from other Asian countries go there to work as prostitutes due to both local and International demand. They can be seen to flout the law often working from the street or using hotel lobbies. This can be seen as problematic as boundaries are blurred between what is public and what is private. The ladyboys’ body is borderless and transcends any form of national culture. They can be seen to occupy a grey area, one which challenges both the heterosexual and formal society. The imagined community to which they may or may not intentionally belong is in constant flux as society’s acceptance changes either leaning towards a more liberal viewpoint or towards fascisms or religious moralistic intolerance where only the heterosexual is seen as a norm.
Assigned genders have been explored by the British Cultural Engineer Genesis P-Orridge, who became famous in the late 1970s for his part in the COUM art group. COUM “practised a form of communal living” (McCallum, C. 2008, p.2 ) that allowed members to break the boundaries between art and life, creating “modern primitive rituals that were about freeing the mysteries of the body” (McCallum, C. 2008, p.2). COUM was described by the Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn as “wreckers of civilization” (McCallum, C. 2008, p.1). Genesis P-Orridge since the 1970s has developed an androgynous persona. He and his late wife, Lady Jaye (1969 - 2007) in a pandrogyn project had over 17 plastic surgery operations so that they could look alike. He believes “ we live in a world where the environment is very modern and our behaviour is prehistoric … until the human species changes which includes its body we will not survive” (Youtube,2006).
Nomadic tribes have not existed in Europe for thousands of years, though individuals have continued to wander through the landscape. The name given to this section of society has been Vagabonds, who often been romanticised by authors like George Orwell and Jack Kerouac. Both of these writers invoke images of freedom on the road. The vagabond can be seen as masterless, “and being masterless (out of control, out of frame, on the loose)” (Bauman, 1996, p.28). Bauman states the “Elizabethan legislators” wanted the vagabonds to return to “the parishes ‘where they belonged’ (but which they left precisely because they did not belong any more)” (Bauman, 1996, p.28). The vagabonds' history can be seen as living by ones wits, living amongst the fruits of the earth with options open, where he “ wandered through the settled places; he was a vagabond because in no place could he be settled” (Bauman, 1996, p.29). The vagabonds’ identity is blurred as he wanders in a post-modern Wasteland. Post-modernity has created fewer settled places. Deep within the heart of the city dweller beats the vagabond as he moves “because of the scarcity of settled places” (Bauman, 1996, p.29). According to Lasch, people and objects “have lost their solidity in modern society, their definiteness and continuity” (Lasch, 1985, p.32) and been replaced “with disposable products designed for immediate obsolescence” (Lasch, 1985, p.34).
The Gorilla Girls posed the question: “Do women have to be naked to get in the Met. Museum?” (Jones, 2000, p.22). Statistics at the time showed that “5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections” (Jones, 2000, p.22) were women and that 85% of the nudes were female.
The late David Wojnarowicz, was a performance artist, photographer and filmmaker involved in The Cinema of Transgression. The term Cinema of Transgression was coined by the filmmaker Nick Zedd in 1985 to describe his own films and those of his peers who were also making films in New York. Using the pseudonym Orion Jeriko he self-published The Underground Film Bulletin. It is here that the Cinema of Transgression published its Manifesto: “We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over. Legitimizing every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centres and geriatric cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank – such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, […] a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man” (Zedd, 1985, Manifesto). Wojnarowicz said “For a period of time I entered a circle of people who were attracted to forms and expressions of violence and bloodletting because these things contained some arguable truth when viewed or experienced against a backdrop of America” (Wojnarowicz, 1991, p#. not available). The Cinema of Transgression was a socio-political response to the era of Ronald Reagan.
Kembra Pfahler, an underground artist, appeared in Kern's film Sewing Circle (1992). In her own words: “I made the movie called Sewing Circle at a time when I was experiencing a lot of controversy with other people’s feelings about, like, owning my own body. ... I was so angry about the unacceptance of the loved ones around me that I decided to reclaim my very own body and I sewed my vagina shut” (Metzger, 2002, p.79).
Modern media including web based text has challenged tradition both in terms of grammar and uncensored content. An example of this is Gash Girl, an internet project to do with the “awareness into another psychic persona” ( da Rimini, City of Dreams ) exploring “if that persona could manifest her own drives, needs and desires” (da Rimini). For da Rimini this “was an experiment, a game” which manifested “through collaborative writing, mainly with people who were unknown to me in my embodied life” (da Rimini). Using a number of avatars and spaces including Gash Girl, doll yoko, The Realm of The Puppet and GenderFuckMeBaby's da Rimini challenged the traditions of text.