Enacting Others, Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin
While reading this piece, I couldn’t help building up great anxiety. I feel that’s hard to evade whenever you are an African-American looking at someone of a different skin color performing black face. One becomes extremely sensitive to the performer’s motive(s) and whether or not this performance is meant for humor. It appears to me as if the authors of this piece are in a way defending Antin. They are trying to justify that Antin isn’t frivolously appropriating the physical and social characteristics of this black ballerina, but is in actuality embodying and performing the complexities of racial and ethnic identity. She is not putting on this performance to poke fun at or hurt ‘black culture’.
I can appreciate that only to a certain extent, however. Any identity, be it gender, ethnic, sexual, is extremely complex. If one decides to make a piece of artwork appropriating an identity that is unnatural, it is expected that their will be some questioning from those who are of that identity. Performing black face, whether it be for a minstrel show or high-class performance art, is problematic.
The article kind of deviates away from this ‘problematicness’(?) by in a way emphasizing that the notion of blackness isn’t always related to African-Americans and that other ethnicities can easily appropriate blackness due to collective oppression. One side of me wants to immediately label that as problematic and cast it aside since it diminishes the unique complexities of the African-American experience, and the individually unique experiences of black people throughout the diaspora, and instead globs it into more of collective human experience. However, another part of me is hesitant to jump to that conclusion because a lot constructive bridges are made and differences are cast aside as a result of collective hurt.
This piece is hard to unpack…Antin I don’t think is able to build that bridge with her appropriating blackness. It is all an imagined performance, I don’t feel there’s much embodiment of the experience of a black ballerina. It seems more as if she is able to ‘pass’ physically…any talented actor with the right makeup artist can do that. I think reading her book/journal of her artistic journey may give me more insight into how she was able to truly embody the experience of a black ballerina, but until then, I’m going to remain skeptical.
Dave Hickey on Vanessa Beecroft
This article gives attention to mediums that artist use for their work: painting and tableau. Hickey explains how when an artist uses painting, especially when exhibiting nudity, they are attempting to translate the innocence of their gaze onto the canvas. However, when the product of the artist’s gaze is put in public it loses its innocence. Hickey then gives focus on Beecrofts’ work and her use of tableau. The author states that the women portrayed in Beecrofts’ artwork have more vitality than the female models used in other paintings. Instead of painting these women’s images on another medium, Beecroft instead paints on the women. The use of this type of performance art and the female body helps to display the mysteriousness and opacity of women.
I couldn’t help but keep the article about Antinova in mind while watching this. Her works are extremely varied, you see her dealing with issues with over consumption, gender, and overall human experience. I was particularly intrigued by her works that deal with ballet. If I remember correctly, she likes the art form, but ultimately sees it at totally ridiculous. I found this ironic, again connecting back to her portrayal of Antinova, since she was a ballerina and it probably encompassed just as much of her identity as being, female, and black. Since Antin uses ballet for satire and juxtaposition I’m still confused as to why she would still want to portray this woman…I’m not the biggest fan of Antin…
Pop art. I like how he mentions that is art is accessible and that it is not solely reserved for the elites. He works a great deal with juxtaposition and irony. At first glance, his works sometime appear racy and outrageous, but when you take a deeper look, it is apparent that he has embedded many socially relevant issues and themes. The composition of his pieces are fascinating. Sometimes it’s as if you are looking at a soft, painted portrait and sometimes a still life from a movie. Also, his use of color really helps to grab the viewer’s attention, and causes them to examine his work closely.
Rape of Africa/Beauty and Art Making
Looking at these three posts gave me a load to think about. Within the first few seconds of looking at LaChapelle’s ‘Rape of Africa”, one cannot deny that the composition of the piece is flawless. Especially in comparison to Botticelli’s work you see that the two are very similar, but very different. From watching LaChapelle talk about his views on beauty and art making, you can see how much of that influence this particular piece. The work is full of ‘beautiful’ people, including supermodel Naomi Campbell, some statuesque male model, and undeniably cute dark skinned little boys. According to LaChapelle, the use of this beauty helps to draw in the viewer and in a way trap them into dealing with the heavy issues at hand, rape, race, exploitation, environmental degradation, etc. Even though LaChapelle claims that his work is accessible and not only relevant to intellectuals, this particular piece made me question that. I wondered if an African artist who has lived in the heat of any the prevalent conflicts present in some parts of Africa would be able to use so much irony, beauty, and juxtaposition…I would go as far as to assume, no. I feel like LaChapelle’s use of ‘beauty’ (which is relative) is a mere sugar coating for a sour pill. Even though the pill does what it needs to do in the end, there is a slight distraction or tricking the senses. I feel like an artist who lives through these horrors wouldn’t have time to layer on all of these things and would themselves along with their audience confront the issue head-on.
Ultimately, I feel LaChapelle’s work is reserved for the elite, who have time to unpack the small, horrifying details and then decide whether they would like to do something about it or not. I feel a great sense of privilege in his work, but it’s beautiful to look at nonetheless.
Vanessa Beecroft/Kanye West
Vanessa Beecroft’s piece involving women wearing nothing, but pantyhose I feel is extremely important to our western world in this day and age. It is noticeable that even though spectators for the work may have felt an initial shock and uncomfortability (not only from the nudity, but the barrier established between the models and spectators) they gradually felt a sense of normalcy. This was helped by the fact that Beecroft didn’t only use size 0-2 models, but women of many, but not all shapes. This allowed some of female spectators to see themselves in the exhibition. We all know that there is so much stigma held against nudity in Western culture and that often times it is hypersexualized. This piece stands as a wonderful prompt for dialogue concerning this topic. However, the lack of women of various ethnicities and more body types diminished from this piece’s effectiveness. This probably would have caused even more uncomfortability and may have stimulated more constructive self-reflection.
Moreover, Beecroft’s and Kanye West’s collaboration was another beautifully composed piece of visual art. Prior to watching the video I had heard of the rumors about the video being indirectly dedicated to he and his ex-girlfriend, Amber Rose, relationship. This tainted my viewing. It was like watching a story in a fairytale book unfold, however, there is no happy ending. I tried my hardest to see exactly where Beecroft had the most influence (since there was so much collaboration on the video, not just from Beecroft and West, but also the famous music video director, Hype Williams). Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough of her work to be like, “That is definitely Beecroft”
I feel like an extremely definitive part of the video that helped to set the tone was when Kanye said something along the lines of, “Don’t trust anything the media says” when talking to his new girlfriend, a bird. I didn’t enjoy seeing his girlfriend portrayed as a helpless bird that Kanye has to take care of and sort of educate her in the proper way to behave in society. She however, was unable to conform, and upon realizing this found her agency and ascended into the sky like a phoenix. There was a great deal to take in from the video. However, I feel like an overarching theme is that our modern society is simply not receptive to those who are different than the majority (especially from the allusions to Michael Jackson in the beginning and the KKK).