Posted by: livcacciatore | December 18, 2018

A Review: The Joan Jonas Experience

Walking back into the little room is completely immersive. The echo and expanse of the art museum is immediately shifted to a small intimate space. Even when absolutely packed with people the draw of the projection on the wall is total. Sitting on the bench in the middle of the room is key. From here there is nothing but the screen in front of you, music comes from all around you, and you become a part of the piece.

The screen is dark and deep blue at first a strange figure in the foreground. (I learned later that this is an example of how the piece would function at Jonas’s shows, projected behind her while she performs on the stage. But for now it is just a confusing shadowed figure.) Next the scene changes completely, going from darkness and shadows to bright, bold sunlight. The perspective is strange and difficult to understand, but recognizable forms bring the piece into focus.

Two women dressed in colorful skirts and funny paper hats, and a white dog following them about can be seen exploring and playing in a beautiful pastoral landscape under a bright blue sky. The figures moves at varying paces, the video speed is consistently accelerated, causing them to move in an unnatural way. At different random moments the video is slowed, but if it’s hyper slow or just normal speed it is difficult to tell. Gentle tinkling music accompanies their actions, some kind of chimes and piano, it’s playful and light, but doesn’t seem to following any commanding rhythm. Instead it vaguely informs the emotions of the viewer while playing as freely as the women do. And the women too move about without rhyme or reason, guided by a child-like logic, that we as adults always forget. That that goes there because. Because why? Because that’s where it goes. And that’s all there is to it. This whole piece perfectly encapsulates that feeling. Things happening simply because and the viewer is swept through the action not knowing what will come next. And yet, the scene feels safe. No other subjects enter it except the two women and the dog, and the sunny day and delicate music, and bright colors, promise softness and good things, allowing the viewer to relax into the chaos of this Wonderland.

The illusion is no secret either. On the left of the screen is a camera on a tripod pointed right at us! But not at us. It takes a few moments to realize that the camera is in fact us. That the devise which is allowing us to view this moment is present in the scene. The piece is aware of itself and the viewer, but the camera doesn’t glare at you, it’s not large or central. Instead it merely acts as something grounding in an otherwise nonsensical visual. If we can see ourselves then this must be a mirror, the whole scene being acted out in front of a mirror through which we can see. At this point one is tempted to try to envision the entire set up. How is this happening? How many mirrors are there? What are all of the angels to make this possible? It’s possible to determine this, but if you’re like me, after a few moments, you remember that that’s not the point of art, and go back to enjoying the piece.

There is a moment that seems to be a kind of climax, the music becomes more frenzied and the quick movements match this energy. One of the women turns a sawhorse balanced on top of another sawhorse back and forth, the energy is elevated, the music breaks, and nothing really happens. The sawhorse is taken off the other sawhorse. This is an excellent subversion of expectation. What about this piece requires a climax? Why did the viewer suspect they might get one? This is yet another reenforcement of the piece’s lack of classical logic. But perhaps for the characters that’s what that moment was. It doesn’t really matter. The women go on playing as the dog weaves in and out of frame.

This piece is destabilizing. It subverts the viewers expectation for story and logic and shows them a nonsensical world. But at the same time, the piece is safe, it’s warm, it holds the viewer with the promise that the lack of these things aren’t a concern. The piece will provide you with the experience you’re supposed to have, for me, a nostalgic look back at childhood, exactly how it feels to be a child. And there’s something so wonderful about surrendering these expectations. To be as a child, to be completely immersed in an imaginary world, where all your rules make perfect sense. Why? Because they just do.

 

– On the experience of viewing Joan Jonas’s Mirror Improvisation at the Mount Holyoke Art Museum.

Posted by: simmo22hmtholyokeedu | December 18, 2018

Roger Fenton and Proto Photoshop

In our discussion of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron, we discussed the way she manipulated her images through darkroom processes and by scratching the plates. This got me thinking about how other early photographers altered their images.

In my research, I found out about Roger Fenton. Though he didn’t actually manipulate the photographic process, it seems he changed his images in order to convey a specific story.

Roger Fenton was commissioned by the British government to travel to Crimea to take photographs that would reassure the public that the particularly brutal war was not a complete disaster. In February of 1855, he set out for Russia with his camera equipment. The most famous image he took there is called The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which depicts the landscape following a violent battle. Fenton himself didn’t choose this name, rather it was taken from an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem and added to the photograph during its first exhibition. 

The reason that this photograph is considered manipulated is that there are two versions. In the first, there are cannonballs and shrapnel scattered over the road haphazardly. In the second, the road is clear. This has led many to the question; Which photograph is the “real” image of this valley after a battle? Because no one knows for sure which photograph was taken first, there really is no way to know for sure.

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Cannonballs

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 No cannonballs

What drew me to these images is the idea that even before it was really possible to manipulate photographs via modern means like photoshop, people were still messing with their images to manipulate the information conveyed. Though people in the Victorian era conceptualized photography as a medium that told the “truth,” in reality the images they were seeing were always staged in some way or another.

Sources:

Groth, Helen, “Technological Mediations and and the Public Sphere: Roger Fenton’s Crimea Exhibition and the ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Victorian Literature and Culture, 30.2 (2002), pp. 553-570.

Halkyard, Stella, “Brought to Light’: Roger Fenton, Photography, and the Crimean War’, PN Review, 39.4 (2003), p. 1.

“More than Mere Photographs: The Art of Roger Fenton”, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 56.4 (1999), pp. 24-31.

Posted by: simmo22hmtholyokeedu | December 17, 2018

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mysticism

In my midterm paper for this class, I discussed the ways in which Irene Adler’s photograph in A Scandal in Bohemia retains an aura, despite technically being a reproducible object. As I was looking around on the internet, I found that a Benjaminian aura wasn’t the only power that Arthur Conan Doyle believed a photograph could hold. In fact, he believed that photography could capture images of folkloric beings like fairies, brownies, and other creatures.

Almost since its very inception, photography has been used to ‘prove’ the existence of the supernatural. Death, psychic, and spirit photographs are just a few examples of this phenomenon. This is because to many Victorian minds, photography embodied the liminal space between science and magic. It is at once a highly scientific process, and yet captures something ephemeral. Furthermore, increased availability of photography to the general public coincided with a rise of mysticism in British culture, thus leading many to combine the two. Therefore, the idea that fairies could be photographed would not have been completely alien to British audiences during the late Victorian era and at the turn of the century.

In 1920, rumors began to circulate about the existence of images taken by two young girls named Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths that appeared to show the girls sitting next to a few dancing fairies. I won’t go more in depth into the photographs themselves, as there are a few other posts on this blog about them (I recommend reading those as well!). Instead, what I was interested in was how the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, in which the titular character is highly logical, analytical, and pragmatic, was so swept up in these fairy photographs.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone believed Frances and Elsie’s claims that the photographs really were images of fairies in the wild. Arthur Conan Doyle likewise faced major backlash in the press, with a famous cartoon showing him being looked down upon by a scowling Sherlock Holmes (which unfortunately I couldn’t find on the internet).

I just thought this anecdote was pretty interesting, given that Arthur Conan Doyle’s legacy is so tied to Sherlock Holmes’s deduction and rationalism. It’s funny to think that, even in 1920 when photography had been around for over eighty years, it’s exact powers were still being debated, even by public figures like Conan Doyle.

 

Sources:

McGillis, Roderick, Review of Fairies in Nineteenth Century Art and Literature, by Nicola Brown, Victorian Studies, 45.3 (2003), pp. 571-573.

Owen, Alex. ‘Borderland Forms: Arthur Conan Doyle, Albion’s Daughters, and the Politics of the Cottingley Fairies’, History Workshop, 38 (1994), pp. 48-55.

Sanderson, S. F.,  ‘The Cottingley Fairy Photographs: A Reappraisal of the Evidence’, Folklore, 84.2 (1973), pp. 89-103.

Posted by: acheever19 | December 14, 2018

A Review: “Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment”

Smith College Museum of Art Review:

Recently, I visited Smith College’s Fall Exhibition: Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment. This collection included French art from the Horvitz Collection and played on Simone de Beauvoir’s iconic statement in The Second Sex that “one is not born, but becomes a woman.” The art embodied this sense of “becoming” by traversing the many modes of existing and aging in 18th century France and beyond.

Prior to my visit I assumed that the period collection would yield a static answer to the question of how one can define a woman. Instead, the exhibit categorized womanhood into nine themed aspects of women’s lives: The Fair Sex, Women in Training, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Married with Children, Dressing the Part, Aging Gracefully, Pleasurable Pursuits, Private Pleasures, and Work. Your physical movement around the gallery space becomes a pilgrimage, from young aristocratic girlhood into womanhood and marriage. Yet, assumptions of the comfort zone are complicated with art that challenges Enlightenment aesthetics, social hierarchies, and matters of the female body.

The second section “Women in Training” reminded me of our class discussions on the transition from girlhood to womanhood. The paintings in this part of the collection are inspired by a quote from Rousseau’s Émile: “Observe a little girl spending the day around her doll, constantly changing its clothes… She awaits the moment when she will be her own doll.” Thus, childhood for a young girl constitutes a stage of training, as girls were taught to embody virtue, beauty, and self-restraint and domestic skills respective to her social class. Determining the age of these children was difficult because their representations emphasized maturity in dress and posture. 

As you walk down the light blue outer walls (contrasted by the royal blue interior walls), the girls grow up and play transforms into intimacy.  Etienne Charles Leguay’s “Two Seated Ladies” speaks to the romantic friendships that developed between women while Jean Simon Fournier’s “The Desired Letter” uses narrative play to capture the art of courting. In it, a maid receives a letter from a suitor behind her mistress’ back while helping her dress and it leaves us wondering whether the letter is for the lady or her maid. The love letter is a theme in French literature and art and represents the precariousness of love. Yet, as you continue to walk along the wall of paintings, love is solidified into marriage. This “becoming” suggests a temporal quality to this journey of marriage, motherhood, and sometimes loss.

My favorite “chapter” of the collection, however, was next: “Aging Gracefully.” Set on the furthermost wall from the entry doors, the art explored the “impossible contradiction” of what it means to age well, pulling from accounts of what this “virile age” entailed–some thinkers believed that by forty years old, a woman could not fulfill her two raisons d’être of pleasing men and bearing children, effectively ceasing to be a woman. Yet, the women depicted in the paintings on this wall refused to render themselves invisible.

In Pierre-Hubert Subleyras’ painting of Anne-Marie Zina Durand de Lironcourt (1747), one of his favorite patrons,  Lironcourt looks out with ease and confidence–she leans on her elbow and delicately holds her finger to her cheek, as if she is considering something beyond the frame. I like how composed and regal she is depicted in comparison to some of the other paintings of this chapter, which then proceed to deconstruct aged beauty into its respective stages–a woman tweezing and rouging, gray hair settling in, and gazes of defiance and exhaustion. However, this chapter could benefit from more paintings that depict what aging looks and feels like for the French working class.

Another favorite “chapter” was the hidden alcove on Pleasurable Pursuits, so hidden that I almost missed it. It was an unexpected mini collection of drawings selected from a much larger portfolio of Claude-Louis Desrais’ drawings. These drawings sit in a glass viewing case, shrouded by a sapphire cloth with gold fringes with a disclaimer above. To see them, the viewer must lift the curtain–an act that transforms the act of looking at pornographic images into an intentional, knowing thing and captures the illicit nature of hidden art through concealment and exposure. The drawings included a bearded man with an erection, acts of flogging, a woman receiving an enema, and a couple having sex on a swing, all images that eschew conventional sexual restraints. While I wasn’t really sure how to interpret or read any of these images because I’m unfamiliar with illicit art of the era and its viewership, this chapter of the collection drove home the idea that the rest of the art in the exhibit is not all-encapsulating of Enlightenment pursuits–it chooses to capture some things and leave others out and sometimes you have to hunt for the hidden interiors of past life.

This entire collection frames “becoming” as a cultural force and enables scholars of art to examine the hegemony of womanhood and femininity throughout the many aspects of a woman’s life. It raises questions of “who decides” and how scientific and philosophical thought shaped the way women were defined. In turn, the male artists of the time also created and upheld aesthetic standards for women and children. Reading these art pieces gives life to a mediation of artist and subject, where both of them share in this “becoming.”

Ultimately, this exhibit has a lot to explore but for maximum potential would best be paired with another collection in Smith College’s Museum. The very small “Girl Culture” photographic collection upstairs employs a modern lens at the ways American popular culture has fueled an obsession with appearances and is presented in conversation with the Horvitz’ “Becoming a Woman” collection (even though separated by stairs). In any visit to the museum, these two exhibits together can enable discourse on how the painted woman differs from a photographed one and how the body has become a canvas, a “palimpsest on which many of our culture’s conflicting messages about femininity are written and rewritten.”

**Note: I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the art in this exhibit. My apologies for not having any graphics! But if you would like to visit, the exhibit is up until the beginning of January 2019.**

Book Talk Blog Post

On the evening of December 4, I somewhat nervously entered the Stimson Room of the Library to hear Professor Suparna Roychoudhury discuss her recently published book, Phantasmatic Shakespeare: Imagination in the Age of Early Modern Science. The Stimson Room was warm and bright, with countless volumes of poetry lining the bookcases against the walls. Cozy sofas occupied the middle of the space, and large windows offered a view into the cloudless, starry night. The English department had arranged folding chairs in several neat rows, and copies of the book were available for purchase. People mingled, drinking cider and munching on cheese and crackers before the talk officially began.

I was nervous because being in a room full of intelligent, articulate academics is always a daunting task for me. I was worried that I would not understand the talk, and would have to nod and utter “ah”s of appreciation to feign a comprehension that I lacked. However, I admired Professor Roychoudhury, and as a student in her Renaissance literature seminar, I believed attending this event would give me valuable insights. The atmosphere of the room was so inviting, and the attendees so amiable, that I quickly forgot my trepidation, and chatted with friends, classmates, and professors before the talk began. When we all finally took our seats, I found myself absorbed in Professor Roychoudhury’s words.

Professor Roychoudhury opened her talk by discussing what led her to write the book in the first place. She found that scholarship concerning the impact of 16th century psychology on Shakespeare’s conception of the imagination in his plays did not exist. Surprised, she was so interested in this research problem that she decided she should be the one to investigate it. She prefaced her research by providing an overview of ancient and medieval ideas about cognitive psychology, or how the brain produces “phantasms,” mental images. Professor Roychoudhury also explained how the discipline of science, in the modern sense, arose in the 16th century, and how new notions about the mind influenced Shakespeare, even as classical philosophy remained entrenched in Renaissance thought.

Before she read the excerpts she prepared for us, Professor Roychoudhury outlined the chapters in her book and what they generally entailed. Chapter 1, Between Heart and Eye: Anatomies of Imagination in the Sonnets, examines questions about the head, heart, and eye and their relation to “fancy” in The Merchant of Venice. Chapter 2, Children of Fancy: Academic Idleness and Love’s Labor’s Lost, explores imagining as a leisure activity in Love’s Labor’s Lost. Chapter 3, Of Atoms, Air, and Insects: Mercutio’s Vain Fantasy, focuses on the immateriality of fantasy in Romeo and Juliet. Chapter 4, Seeming to See: King Lear‘s Mental Optics, studies vision as imaginative mental representation in King Lear. Chapter 5, Melancholy, Ecstasy, Phantasma: The Pathologies of Macbeth, analyzes mental illness as expressed in dreams and hallucinations. Chapter 6, Chimeras: Natural History and the Shapes of The Tempest, investigates nature’s relationship to the imagination, particularly in conceiving of the “unnatural.”

Professor Roychoudhury chose to delve into Chapter 4 in her talk. She explained Plato’s ideas about vision; he presumed that the eye sees by shooting a beam of light out onto the perceived object. Plato’s student, Aristotle, held the opposite view, asserting that light enters the eye, not exits it. Euclid, in his Optica, conceived of vision as geometrical problems, providing diagrams explaining perspective and other phenomena. This mathematical rendering of optics endured through the 15th century into the 16th century, with Johannes Kepler illustrating how the eye acts as a camera obscura (using a lens) in 1604. This discovery proved that vision produces pictures. However, Kepler’s theories also proved that vision is inverted because of how rays of light hit the eye’s lens.

Professor Roychoudhury provided us with a handout of significant passages in King Lear:

Gloucester. Dost thou know me?

Lear. I remember thine eyes well enough. Doest thou squiny at me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid. I’ll not love. Read thou this challenge; mark but the penning of it.

Gloucester. Were all the letters suns, I could not see.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Lear. Read.

Gloucester. What, with the case of eyes?

Lear. . . . Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light, yet you see how this world goes.

Gloucester. I see it feelingly.

Lear. What, art mad? A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears.

(4.6.133-37, 140-47)

Lear. Get the glass eyes, / And, like a scurvy politician, / Seem to see the things thou dost not.

(4.6.164-66)

The significance of Renaissance optics appears in King Lear, where Shakespeare plays with the trope of the blind sage. The tradition that losing one’s vision results in an increase in one’s insight was firmly established by Shakespeare’s time. Yet, it was now understood that the eye errs in seeing, leaving the mind to correct what the eye perceives, and the mind is not always able to do that. This revelation thus admits that both the eye and the mind can err, so wisdom and insight no longer entirely belong to either. Shakespeare uses Gloucester’s blinding to explore this problem.

The passages above detail the meeting of Gloucester, who is physically unable to see, and Lear, who is now mad and mentally unable to “see,” or reason. Gloucester, obsessed with the physicality of seeing, does not stop talking about his eyes or lack thereof. Meanwhile, Lear is absorbed with metaphorical eyes, invoking imagination to discuss how the mind works. Finally, Lear implies that one can see with “glass eyes,” remarking on the relative uselessness of physical vision. The appearance of seeing, achieved by wearing “glass eyes,” is, to Lear, equal to actually seeing. Thus, Shakespeare implicates the mistrust of vision and imagination in this scene.

I found Professor Roychoudhury’s arguments convincing. Her assertions were grounded in thorough close-readings of her texts, and she incorporated a number of Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern texts to bolster her conclusions. I appreciate how she identified a hole in the scholarship and filled it, establishing a relationship between Shakespeare and science that I have not encountered before and doubt will encounter often. I regard Shakespeare’s plays, and Early Modern literature generally, in a new light because of this book talk, and I know that the knowledge I gained from it will be invaluable as I continue my education.

 

Posted by: lederniermot7 | December 4, 2018

Review : Crimes of Grindelwald

Outside of the noise surrounding the newest addition to the Potter family, Crimes of Grindelwald, regarding harried plot, frazzled character development, disjunction from the wizarding world as we know it amongst other criticisms, I would like to take a moment to consider the intrigue a film like Crimes holds – not only to die-hard Harry Potter fans but to all those muggle movie-goers alike.

(I would also like to refrain from any spoilers, so please, rest easy. I’ll resist the urge to talk about that thing that happened with Newt and — kidding.)

So what is the appeal here? We’ve got some magic and we’ve got some wonderful and sure as Merlin fantastic beasties running around 1927 Paris while bad things happen in the rest of the wizarding community and the goodies try their darnedest to stop it. Pretty cut and dry as far as plotting goes. Pretty predictable even. Save the details, we can probably guess how it’s going to turn out and who’ll do what. That all being said, not much seems to be rooting for Crimes success – and we are left with the world itself. Because the world of Harry Potter is a big one; it started with a castle and a cupboard under a staircase, some pointy hats and flying broomsticks. Then it grew, and it grew some more. Now it has left us outside the gates of Hogwarts we know and love to fend for ourselves with our wide array of magic knowledge and trivia and learn a new story that predates anything we’ve seen thus far.

That’s where I think the real magic lies: not in the big adventure plots aimed at drawing in the masses, but in the realization that something came before the world we already know. There is more for us to see and more ways to see it than the nearsighted gaze of a teenaged Harry Potter, and a companion series as the Fantastic Beasts franchise has become is a skillful way of expanding that view.

It also matters to us, however, where we can see these things happen, and even when we were at banquet in Hogwarts’ great hall, we were also in the Scottish highlands; boarding the Express, in the very real King’s Cross; and visiting the Ministry’s pedestrian entrance on the corner by Scotland Yard. The films’ (and the original texts) positioning of the magical in the real, in the visitable is an aspect which intrigues us all the more. We are thrilled when the new and different appears in the mundane, making the transformation of a simple brick wall out back of a dingy pub still more wondrous.

It’s funny, then, to talk about illusions in Harry Potter, and most specifically, in Crimes. It is, of course, a world totally reliant on illusion and secrecy, on having two sides and keeping entire existences out of sight from others. The films in turn are forced to make do with this, to show and not tell, to reinvent ways of seeing so as to really convey that element of hidden acknowledgement the stories demand. And so we have enchanted statues which reveal passages only to those who know they’re there; government establishments hidden amidst old office buildings; briefcases to house hordes of wild beasts and whose appearance can be altered based on its audience.

This fixation on multiplicity and alteration of image is something we are inevitably drawn to, especially when those changes are made so easily, are maintained decisively, and act as the means to some end in their deception. It is something we find meaning in and seek to understand ourselves. We want to see all the sides of every picture painted, and only when we realize there is always more to know can we acknowledge truly how many sides there are.

Posted by: simmo22hmtholyokeedu | December 2, 2018

Yayoi Kusama’s Alice

In 2012, world-renowned contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama released an edition of Alice in Wonderland featuring her illustrations. You may have heard of Yayoi Kusama because of her Tate Modern exhibition from the same year, or because of the popularity of her Mirror Rooms on Instagram. Kusama’s illustrations for Alice are completely in keeping with the rest of her body of work. Some hallmarks include a repeated dot motif, plant life, and the use of bold, saturated color. She’s known for her whimsical approach to contemporary artistic practice, and that whimsy makes her a perfect match for this text.

 

Image result for yayoi kusama alice in wonderland

Image via Amazon

 

The above illustration is perhaps the most in line with Kusama’s previous works. The yellow and black color palette is reminiscent of her Pumpkins series, and mushrooms are a subject matter she has used in some of her previous pieces (example below). This particular page shows how artists can apply their own styles to Alice and make her story contemporary.

Image result for yayoi kusama mushrooms

Mushrooms (1995), Yayoi Kusama, via Artnet

Kusama’s illustrations are also just delightful in general. This one, that accompanies the poem about the crocodile tears, really displays how well suited this artist is to adapt the world of Alice. The colors are bright and almost psychedelic, reflecting the vibrancy of the characters of Wonderland. I can imagine that both kids and contemporary art connoisseurs would love these wacky pictures equally.

Image via Amazon

What I most love about Kusama’s illustrations is how well they show just one exciting iteration of the different adaptations of Alice in Wonderland that artists have done since it was published. In class, we talked about the extent to which this weird little book has stayed in the popular consciousness, and has been dissected, updated, and altered for different eras. This artist’s understanding of Alice may be widely different from Dodgson’s or Tenniel’s, but it manages to still be true to the fantastical nature of the adventures, albeit with a more abstract, contemporary aesthetic.

 

Posted by: simmo22hmtholyokeedu | December 2, 2018

Joan Jonas and the Mirror: A Review

The exhibition of Joan Jonas’s works concerning the mirror currently on view in the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum is dizzying. Jonas’s works, in general, are dizzying. With their bizarre combinations of performance, dance, video, and mirrors, there’s almost too much to unpack. That seems to be the point of her pieces, and the museum has done a beautiful job of highlighting that disorder.

On the left wall of the gallery is Wind, a video projection that lasts around six minutes. In it, Jonas, a few dancers and some of her friends perform a strange, ritualistic dance while buffeted by wind. According to what Jonas said about this piece during her talk at Mount Holyoke in October, this piece was initially staged inside but moved outside for shooting. The wind was an unplanned aspect that ended up changing the entire nature of the work. The wind acts almost as another dancer in the piece. Just as the pairs of performers push and balance on each other, the wind supports or topples the dancers in a similar way. As this is an exhibit on Jonas’s relationship to the mirror, reflection also plays a key role in this piece. The dancers wearing mirrored clothing, one of whom is Jonas herself, operate very differently within the work than do the other people. There seems to be, therefore, some kind of power attached to the mirrors, as though the reflection and distortion they cause imbue the wearers with an ability to defy the forces of nature.

Aside from the natural forces at work, the moment in the video which most stuck with me was the one in which one of the performers advances towards the camera with a kind of menacing grin. I thought this encapsulated the mood of the piece perfectly. The smile seems meant to communicate something to the viewer, yet the meaning of that communication seems out of reach. Likewise, the dance seems to be a part of some deliberate ritual, yet the purpose is also unclear. Like many of Jonas’s works, the movement itself seems to take precedence over some kind of coherent message.

The curators of this show have positioned this piece in a really interesting way. First of all, the piece is on the opposite wall as the explanatory text. The reflective panel that frames the text also reflects Wind from certain angles, albeit a slightly hazy and warped version. This is a really effective way of highlighting the distortion of space and that mirrors seem to cause in the piece. Also, though this may be a stretch, I think the choice to seat a metal bench in front of the piece really enhanced my experience. The cold temperature of the metal allowed me to imagine myself within the scene and made me feel almost like I was on the freezing beach with Jonas and the other performers.

The other piece that stood out to me in this show is Mirror Pieces Installation II, which takes up the entirety of the wall opposite the door. This work consists of a conglomeration of mementos from Jonas’s past works involving mirrors, including similar clothing to what was featured in Wind, a triptych of mirrors, and a video of a performance from 1968. In the video, mirrors are placed in the center of the performer’s nude bodies, which duplicates one side so that they are perfectly symmetrical. In front of the group of people doing this action, there is a man who repeatedly dons and removes a mirrored jacket like the one hanging over the mirrors. The layers upon layers of action here are parallel to the multiple mirrors which mediate our experience of the performers. It takes a while to realize that one is not actually watching a video of the performance, only the reflection. Jonas usually claims to use mirrors to distort space, yet here they also work to distort time. We are watching a taped, and therefore mediated, representation of a performance piece which is in turn mediated by the mirror. This distorts the memory of the performance and forces the viewer to watch a strange, false version of the original piece. Also, as the viewer examines the bodies of the performers, the reflection of their own body is shown in the mirror, therefore including them in a performance from fifty years ago.

That this work is what one sees when first walks in is particularly arresting. Almost immediately upon entering the gallery space, one is confronted with a reflection of themselves in the mirror. Viewers are at once involved in the world of Jonas’s works, however disorienting that world might be. From there, one can either enter the icy, turbulent world of Wind, the mediated world of Mirror Pieces Installation II, or the miniature world of My New Theater. The curators at the museum have made Joan Jonas’s works so much more accessible because of the tangible relationship between artwork and viewer that they have facilitated through the placement of the pieces.

 

Works Cited:

Simon, Joan. In the Shadow a Shadow: The Work of Joan Jonas. Gregory R. Miller & Co., 2015.

Posted by: penne22m | December 2, 2018

Joan Jonas: “60 Years Later” lecture

Mount Holyoke’s 2018-2019 Leading Woman in the Arts and very own alumna gave a public lecture titled “60 Years Later” in Mount Holyoke’s Gamble Auditorium. Jonas is a visual artist, who works with video and performance art in experimental and pioneering ways. She is also the first Mount Holyoke alumna to be included in the Leading Woman in the Arts program! Jonas graduated in 1958 from Mount Holyoke with a degree in Art History. The Leading Women in the Arts series has been active for 12 years, and is organized by the InterArts Council and the Weissman Center for Leadership. The program supports artists (in multiple mediums) who’s careers serve to inspire new generations of students. She was welcomed by President Sonya Stephens and warmly introduced by Amy Martin and Tricia Paik.

I found many aspects of Jonas’ lecture to be fascinating, and was excited to learn more about the work of the important female artist. What I found to be most compelling about Jonas’ work, was the emphasis she placed on life and art. Beginning with the lecture title, “60 years later” one can sense that Jonas views her work in the arts as a lifelong journey. Within her lecture, she took the audience with her through progressing periods in her life and how those periods influenced the work she went on to produce. She placed emphasis on the influence she took from experiences such as her childhood – where she learned the importance of play, spent much of her time in nature and found a connection to animals, especially to her beloved dogs. She talked about her early influences on her exposures in New York, Broadway and performance. As well as her own training in dance.

I found it most fascinating that Jonas drew and continues to draw much of her inspiration for her art from her life experiences. A creative medium that I am interested in is writing, specifically writing creative non-fiction and personal narratives. In my own work I write about life, and my childhood often appears, influencing my discoveries in different ways. In my work too I have been thinking a lot about craft recently, a question that was brought up for me when viewing Jonas’ work. The lecture that Jonas gave helped me in understanding the idea of craft in her work, which is so experimental in nature. As I learned about the life experiences that influenced Jonas’ creative decisions, I was able to connect with her work in a new way. It was in this frame that I was able to think about her work Mirror Improvisations that is currently featured in the Mount Holyoke Art Museum. My impressions and appreciation of this piece shifted after attending Jonas’ “60 Years Later” lecture. Previously, I had been unsure of how to interpret the work. But with this new idea of Jonas’ childhood influences I began to appreciate the work as an expression guided by her early life.

I interpreted this piece to be playing with the idea of a lingering childhood. The dress in the piece is striking because the two older women are dressed as children. The attire is definitely whimsical, reminiscent of a childlike interest in a fairy or a princess. The tulle skirts and paper crowns are surprising in this context of adulthood, and took me as viewer into an alternate moment in time and space. The setting also seemed to correspond with Jonas’ own childhood playing in the woods and spending summertime in nature. One could imagine this time spent in nature was made all the more important for young Jonas as it contrasted starkly with her time spent in New York. Through experimental filming, Jonas and the other members of the scene record what looks like a sequence of discovery and play. There are two people as well as a dog in the scenes. The presence of the dog further reinforced my idea that this piece could be a form of expression akin to a piece of personal narrative writing. During her lecture, Jonas stressed the significance of the continued presence of her pets in her life, especially her different dogs. Initially, I didn’t know what to make of the idea of reflection– and the filming and viewing though mirrors in this work. Now I can muse that this may be Jonas commenting on the role her childhood played in creating her sense of self, or that a part of her adult identity holds on to this inner experimental child. There is a definite sense of storytelling in Jonas’ work, which feels deeply personal. There are many ways to interpret the art of Jonas, but I was grateful for her lecture “60 Years Later” for providing me with a new way to consider her work.

 

Sources:

Jonas, Joan. Mirror Improvisation. 2005.

 

 

Posted by: helenabeliveau | December 1, 2018

Nostalgia Marketing in Commodity Culture

 

In conjunction with the rise of accessibility in creating the perfect image, most exemplified through the high quality of an iPhone camera, there has also been a resurgence in the popularity of the disposable camera.  The rise of popularity in products reminding people of their own youth has even transformed into a marketing strategy. This marketing strategy, more specifically, is targeted towards millennials, and is fittingly branded as ‘nostalgia marketing’.  It seems as if the nostalgia of growing up in the 90’s has permeated to almost all facets of consumer culture, as millennials have wholeheartedly embraced the ‘90’s aesthetic’ that has permeated in clothing, music, and the consumption of pop culture.  

This resurgence has also translated to the way in which we take photos.  Rather than with the click of an iPhone, many people are embracing the wind up shutter of a disposable camera as their preferred method to capture moments in time.  An article written in 2017 has cited that FujiFilm sales of disposable cameras have nearly doubled since 2014-15 (Hannah). In a society bogged down by the filtered perfection of social media, the disposable camera allows people to truly capture a memory, uninterrupted by the sitter’s pleas for a picture retake.  In a society that seems to have become so transient, more specifically in the realm of visual culture, this resurgence has allowed people to capture the ‘real’ of real life, in contrast to the edited and filtered version of one’s life, most often seen on social media.

However, this yearning to capture a spontaneous moment seems to have been slightly corrupted by the use of disposable cameras as aesthetic inspiration for various camera filters and apps.  This can be most represented through the development, and subsequent popularity of the ‘Huji’ camera app. The ‘Huji’ camera app, in turn, transforms pictures taken by phone cameras into what appears to be the product of a disposable camera.  The final product is then equipped with blurred edges, uneven lighting, and a time stamp. The commodifying of this product to fit the efficiency of contemporary modes of photo taking poses a conundrum. Are people simply interested in the aestheticized and filtered version of nostalgia or the feeling of nostalgia itself?  In a time where a majority of gadgets are measurable through their convenience, the resurgence of the disposable camera still requires one to wait several days for photos to develop. These camera apps conversely, do not require the time and labor associated with the type of image they produce. So then, can the malleability of these products to fit the efficiency of current times have the same emotional effect as the products they take inspiration from?

Works Cited

Friedman, Lauren. “Why Nostalgia Marketing Works So Well With Millennials, And How Your Brand Can Benefit.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 Aug. 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurenfriedman/2016/08/02/why-nostalgia-marketing-works-so-well-with-millennials-and-how-your-brand-can-benefit/#5cba1a823636.

Hannah, Jaye. “Disposable Camera Sales Are up – Instagram Backlash, or Passing Trend?” Six-Two by Contiki, 29 June 2018, http://www.contiki.com/six-two/disposable-camera-sales-instagram/.

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