SCOPOPHILIA

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Click here to view the single channel of my latest video piece, Scopophilia.

Scopophilia is a single-channel installation looping 6:48 minutes of digital footage. Appropriating film from various sources (including the Prelinger archives and vintage pornography) the piece abrasively collages archival elements of historic and sexualized imagery in order to create a tension between the visual accessibility of the female form and the industrial city.

As a non-narrative piece concerned with destabilizing notions of visual comprehension and representation, Scopophilia is installed in a confined dark space as a means of depriving the viewer of any other sensory stimulation, focusing all perceptual attention on the decomposition of the moving image. The piece confronts the nature of the moving image as a monocular and thus reductive representation of “reality” in its psychodynamically polarized imagery: from the most viscerally sexual to the most outwardly constructed forms. Completely removing its weighted imagery from such a “reality” through spatial and temporal confusion, both the female body and the city resist masculine modes of objectification.

The term “scopophilia” — Freud’s own term for the love or pleasure of seeing — refers to both the overtly voyeuristic pleasure of the male gaze on the female body as well as the touristic pleasure of turning the historical city into an artifact by means cinematic survey, indexed as a memory trace within accessible consciousness.

A LOVE POEM

We the lovers, like in mind,
Reason immaterial, find
Faults in honesty alone — yet
Purity in honesty grown; 

Seized in esoteric clutch, made
Light and docile to your touch —
In that fragile instant holds
Memories of a time grown old; 

Brutal now, unyielding still,
Fingers melt me to your will.
To transcendental ends commit
Such earthly pleasures, we submit. 

Intoxicated, inundated — such
Fears of drowning languor faded,
Leaving only petals — traces
Of beauty sprung from treacherous places — 

A beacon heralding a day
That selfless sacrifice conveys
A promise proper; this does show,
Illuminated in your glow. 

How soft we step in labor of
Assuming burden from our love.

— Mariko

THOUGHTS ON SARAH CROWNER

Images of the work of artist Sarah Crowner remain dominant in my mind both for their aesthetic quality as well as because I recalled seeing her piece Ciseaux Rideaux (2012) on view at the Walker Art Center this past summer. Born in Philadelphia in 1974, Crowner received her BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her MFA from Hunter College in New York City, and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

She is known predominantly for her geometric compositions created through a pseudo-collage technique in which she sews together angular pieces of painted canvas. The facture of her work elucidates questions about the nature of painting in itself: Ciseaux Rideaux, for example, was incorporated into an exhibition at the Walker entitled “Painter Painter,” whose premise was focused around the use of paint as a medium in an era of contemporary art in which artists tend to work without any strict obligation to a medium — an era in which painting as a medium in itself has been put on the defensive. Ciseaux Rideaux is a set of two paintings created by sewing together canvas painted on by oil and gouache, creating a visual field of varying colors from bright to dull and various textures from sensuous to smooth (nearly mechanically so). The asymmetrical yet pleasing composition of both pieces in the diptych allow for they eye to be visually arrested, yet belong to no one focal point, almost democratizing the colored areas of the canvas. Interestingly, the focal effect is much different when the composition becomes symmetrical, as in a 2011 Untitled piece, made as a diptych in the same manner, in which the eye follows the hard edges and suggestive colors of the geometric shapes towards a bright red triangular form at the bottom of the canvas towards the center of the two pieces. Instead of diverting the eye from a focal point, the effect instead is a focus on the wall space on which the piece is mounted that bisects the diptych, including it in its form and therefore evoking questions about the nature of painting in the context of the painted “white cube.”

To me, Sarah Crowner’s work seemed important to me and she immediately struck me as the artist I wanted to focus my paper on upon recognizing her work. In seeing her in the gallery space at the Walker a few months ago, in the context of the “Painter Painter” exhibition, I read the piece as simply an alternative exploration of the effects of painting as a medium. It made me question what exactly was painting, and whether Ciseaux Rideaux could be classified as a painting, a collage, mixed media, or what have you. (My time engaging in discourse in the art department at Cornell has taught me to disregard these questions, as they seem a non-issue in the realm of contemporary art at this point, regardless of the stark separation of media in our curriculum.) Additionally, although I do entirely appreciate the value of temporally or socially significant pieces of work, I have always been inherently drawn to a sort of purist art that deals with aesthetics devoid of time and place. Crowner’s work seems to achieve this, and I believe it to be as culturally significant as any didactic piece that blatantly reads as social commentary.

THOUGHTS ON “ON THE CONCEPT OF HISTORY”

The “soothsayers” to which the author Walter Benjamin refers in “On the Concept of History” acknowledges those who claim a share of knowledge in the future—or rather, end—of the universe. In Benjamin’s words, he asserts that such soothsayers “did not experience [time] as either homogenous or empty,” but instead that they lived in remembrance of the past.

My interpretation of Benjamin’s concept is that “time”—as the general population considers it being segmented into the three categories of “past,” “present,” and future”—is in reality simply a paradigm of “now-time.” Rather than time being a rectilinear continuum of events delineated by those three sections, time is actually existence in itself; rather, the existence of the past nor what is to exist in the future is no less relevant or extant to the universe’s function than the present. In this way, the soothsayers recognize and remember past events in all their consequence, and that consequence is what the present is and what the future will be—in time, all is one.

Therefore, even the Jews who were prohibited from forecasting polar afterlives of heaven or hell, yet were encouraged to delve into remembrance of the past, were still in sync with what was to come. In this way, when Benjamin emphasizes that for Jews “every second was the small gateway in time through which the Messiah might enter,” he emphasizes the prevalence of the concept of “now-time” in Judaism, despite the religion’s highlighting of the past and aversion to the prediction of the future, because for Jews, the currency of time was paradoxically ultimate.

THOUGHTS ON CHROMOPHOBIA

David Batchelor’s essay “Chromophobia” is concerned with the seemingly Western concept of chromophobia—the concept of a “loathing of colour,” or a “fear of corruption through colour.” Batchelor discusses it in the context of traditional Western views on color and the evolution of these views. He notes that the traditional perception of color is as a “foreign” element; he likens perspectives on color to those traditionally towards the feminine, the primitive, and the vulgar.

Regarding the former, he discusses in relative depth the writings of Charles Blanc, a French color theorist who subordinated the concept of color to the “masculine,” which he likened to design and drawing. It seems that Blanc specifically uses the vocabulary of “subordination” to not only illustrate the superior importance of form over color, but to also illustrate the need for color to be contained and controlled, as a woman would be.

Regarding the primitive and the vulgar qualities of color, Batchelor writes of the common metaphors associated with color: those of falling and of leaving or escaping. Citing popular culture references in movies and music, he illustrates how in falling or escaping, chromophobia is turned into a sort of chromophilia. In hallucinogenic drug use, for example, drug users tend to see visions of color that dazzle and confuse them; Batchelor considers this evidence that color is an element of vision and the consumption of art that cannot fully be accessed—especially not without altering your state of consciousness. This piggybacks off a “creation theory” that Batchelor briefly discusses that suggests that color is simply a hint at the “perfect form that is issued from the hand of God,” both elevating its ranks and noting its vagueness and promiscuity.

What interests me most about the chapter is the idea that the conscious needs to regress back to a state of primitive thought, or reduced to its foundations, in order to experience color. As a dual degree in Psychology, this phenomenon is one that I often ponder, and it regards a question I often ask: how does our experience of vision change with our experience of consciousness? Our brain naturally creates hundreds and hundreds of neurotransmitters within milliseconds of each other—these naturally occurring substances are considered endogenous. However, when we introduce exogenous drugs into our bodies—whether they are illicit drugs, certain foods, or even when we have sex—our consciousness is necessarily modified due to the altered activity in our brain. Does that mean that our vision, too, is modified? While the answer is clearly yes for almost any illicit drug you could mention, as evidenced by the references in Batchelor’s writing, could even the everyday, menial things we ingest or experience circularly rearrange our experience of seeing images?

To bring up another point of developmental psychology, I also pondered the section in which Batchelor referenced Le Corbusier’s writings on his trip to the East. The overstimulation of color, Le Corbusier writes, is enough to drive him to abandon and actually actively avoid the use of color, therefore associating it with the hard structure and architecture of his practice. Being from an Asian country, I understand this disparity in the size of the “stomach,” if you will, for color as a developmental aspect of cultural consumption. My first thought as I ponder the countries and the cultures I have experienced is to consider the airports—every country’s hub of international congregation. Every airport in the United States—and essentially, the Western hemisphere—that I can remember is quite monochromatic and industrial. Color is introduced in signs, billboards, and airline logos, but even that color is strictly designed into form. On the contrary, as soon as you step off the plane in my home country, Indonesia, the terminals are lined with rainbows of color outlining abstracted flowers and birds and mythological creatures; the fact that they are unidentifiable only strengthens the concept that it is perhaps a learned concept of Indonesian culture to accept color, not retrospectively, not as design, but simply as color.

THOUGHTS ON “THE WASTELAND”

T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” is a paradoxical combination of the esoteric and the aggressively regressive. In terms of language, Eliot incorporates multiple foreign languages and lofty biblical or historical references that are cryptic to the common reader—he perhaps did so knowingly, considering he himself added footnotes for explication of the references he anticipated could be so completely abstruse to readers who wanted to make an interpretation faithful to the intentions of the author.

However, the dichotomy is evident upon reading the animalistic blabbering noises written out in lines 203-204—which is noted to be a reference to the protagonists of the story of Tereus and Philomela, ironically another obscure literary reference—which add a gentle and seemingly playful childlike tone to the poem. Shortly after, this sense of childlike regression quickly transforms to animalistic regression with the rape scene with ambiguous insinuations as to whether or not the encounter was consensual or simply passive. Furthermore, the scene of the typist’s rape ties into the aforementioned story of Tereus and Philomela, the latter of whom was apparently raped, according to the footnotes. This contrast within several stanzas of the third section of the poem entitled “The Fire Sermon” reflect the division between the intellectual and the thoughtlessly physical characteristics of human nature.

STURTEVANT: DOUBLE TROUBLE

The Double Trouble show at the MoMA exhibited the works of Elaine Sturtevant (hereafter referred to by her preferred name, “Sturtevant”), who recently passed away this past May. Throughout the exhibition space, viewers are inundated with the familiarity of images of some of the most iconic works of the 20th century — yet slightly altered. The dissonant space between such familiar recognition and the very carefully calculated premeditation of the foreign form — what she referred to as “vertigo”— is what I personally arresting about the most successful “repeats.”

The epistemological issues that the works bring to mind are perplexing, and are daunting in their perplexity: namely, her work rehashes the Duchamp-age claims of representative objects as autonomous pieces in themselves in a more layered and self-referential method. Other considerations to ponder are the nature of mimetic exercises as fine art, harkening back to the principles of Greek classicism. More poignantly, however, the work presents a dialogue of the female artist appropriating the works of some of the most seminal male artists of her time. Sturtevant’s oeuvre seems to extend from a staunch social objective to stake her claim as an individual and as a feminist artist. Born Elaine Horan in 1924, the artist married a man named Ira Sturtevant and adopted his last name. Upon their divorce, she became a professional artist, dropped her first name and maintained only her last name — perhaps as an act of usurping the traditionally male claim to the surname, reflecting her similar treatment of male-produced artworks.

Nonetheless, what is particularly impressive about the curatorial forethought of the exhibition is the circumspection with which the works were spatially arranged within the gallery based on the museum’s own permanent collection — choices that inevitably augment the viewer’s destabilized sense of familiarity. For example, the highly graphic Warhol Cow Paper (1996) piece that greets viewers immediately upon entrance to the gallery space mimics the imagery of the original wallpaper by Andy Warhol that lines the MoMA’s Education and Research Building. Moreover, many of the reworks presented in the third floor gallery exhibition are echoes of works present in the museum just one level above in the 20th century galleries, such as Johns Target with Four Faces (1986) and Johns Flag above White Ground (1967-68), based on original works by the artist Jasper Johns.