Counter/Current

WIth the culmination of our graduate Art Education program and NYU Steinhardt my classmates and I presented artwork that related to our individual theses. All of the work presented had an emphasis on social justice, with which our program is aligned, and contemporary art. It was amazing to see how far we’ve all come as both artists and educators. Official photos from the show can be found at the Barney Commons Blog and the Rosenberg Gallery Blog.

In short, my thesis dealt with gender, specifically the perpetuation of gender roles that have the potential to adversely affect women and girls. For the exhibition I presented all digital work. The videos I created played on continuous loop and can be found on YouTube:

But it was just A Few Small Nips…

My Artist Statement

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USDA Certified: Inspected for Wholesomeness, Digital Photograph 4″x 6″ each

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Video Compilation played on continuous loop: A Few Small Nips, A Worn Path (audio), Don’t Be a Sucker, Battle of the Bulges 

(Click links to view individual videos: A Few Small Nips, A Worn Path, Don’t Be a Sucker, Battle of the Bulges)

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Overall, I’d say the show was a success, and I could not have chosen a better group of humans to power through this transformative graduate experience with! Big thanks to everyone who came out to support the show and everyone who supported me emotionally through this grad school process 🙂

#slangalphabet

#slangalphabet is a collaborative project designed to incorporate modern slang into classroom activity and to create teachable moments through media. With #slangalphabet we used Tumblr, and easily accessible, popular blogging platform to collaboratively upload a malleable, contemporary version of the English alphabet. Each letter corresponds to a slang word or concept using a hashtag format. Corresponding imagery is used to emphasize the word. The imagery which is appropriated must be credited to its source. By crediting the imagery used we can better inform our students of the ethics of appropriation. By using slang words and imagery that is easily found on the internet we can create teachable moments about what is appropriate to use and upload on a public forum especially regarding the elimination of the perpetuation of negative stereotypes, internet bullying and harassment, racism, homophobia, sexism, and etc.

A Worn Path

A Worn Path is an audio art piece I created to convey an exaggerated feeling of anxiety that can be felt by females often while simply walking down the street trying to get from point A to point B. Often when we leave our houses we become targets for male street harassment. The ogling, psst’ing, smooching, unwanted comments on our outfits and bodies, requests for smiles… being a woman who already suffers from anxiety sometimes it can be too much, and that’s what I wanted to convey with A Worn Path. All audio was appropriated from various sources and arranged to create a short narrative. We’ve all witnessed, experienced, or perpetrated street harassment at some level, A Worn Path is a vignette into my, her, your, and our collective experience.

The title A Worn Path is appropriated from Eudora Welty’s short story, which has long been a favorite of mine. Welty tells the story of Phoenix Jackson, an elderly African American woman in the deep South. A Worn Path is an allegorical tale of Phoenix making the obstacle laden trip into town from her home. Phoenix Jackson is a symbol of strength, resiliency, and sacrifice – a trail blazer, and one of my all time favorite characters in American literature.

Don’t Be a Sucker.

This is a video I created by appropriating from various sources, mostly vintage, and juxtaposing audio from other sources. I like the idea of creating a video series delving into the “female experience”. I feel personally connected to this video and wanted to use it as a way of transferring flashes of thought. I intended it to convey a sense of immediacy married with self-reflection.

 

Covergirls: Easy, breezy, beautiful…

Covergirls is a photography series I created in response to the beauty industry. Women and girls are told that they need to “enhance” and even change their features in order to fit the ideal… but what is ideal anyway?

   COVERGIRLS 1

COVERGIRLS 2

I used a self-portrait (selfie if you will) replicated it 6 times. I edited each photo successively making the second lighter than the first, the third lighter than the second, etc. and experimented with a few layouts.

COVERGIRLS GRID

Originally I pieced the images together in threes and intended it to be viewed in a grid type layout, but upon critique discussion I thought I’d also try a linear format which I’m happier with because the graduation from start to finish is much clearer.

Covergirls 4

 

Easy.Breezy.Beautiful…

The Day I Had the Guggenheim All to Myself.

I student teach on the Upper East Side at Hunter College High School on 94th and Madison, and I had a short teaching day where I finished around 9:45 a.m.. I left the school and was walking south on Madison and thought to myself that it was a nice quiet morning to go check out the Carrie Mae Weems exhibit at the Guggenheim. I had intended to see it since it opened on January 24th for my birthday, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I have been somewhat familiar with Carrie’s work was really looking forward to seeing the exhibition.

I walked into the Guggenheim at exactly 10:02 a.m., they opened at 10 a.m., so I was basically the only person there other than museum employees. They were setting up for the Italian Futurism exhibition that will open on February 21st, so it was a little chaotic, but I beelined it straight to the second floor where the Carrie Mae Weems exhibit began. I first walked into a room that was wallpapered with a black and white motif. Black and white photographs and silk screen prints hung on the walls, and in the center of the room was a table with white “fine China” style plates with phrases in the center of each plate that started with “WENT LOOKING FOR AFRICA…”.

The first thing I was drawn to when I walked in to the room was the table with plates on it, and of course I got out my phone to snap a picture. Much to my dismay, the guard stopped me before I could take a photo. But how was I supposed to remember this moment FOREVER?? I snapped a few sneaky photos while he wasn’t looking, so pardon the poor quality of the images. I was able to snap a photo of one of the art pieces in this first room that I found particularly moving:

Carrie Mae Weems, The Ebo Landing (From the Sea Island Series), 1992

The text reads:

“One midnight at high tide a ship bringing in a cargo of Ebo men landed at Dunbar Creek on the Island of St. Simons. But the men refused to be sold into slavery; joining hands together they turned back toward the water, chanting, `The water brought us, the water will take us away.’ They all drowned, but to this day when the breeze sighs over the marshes and through the trees, you can hear the clank of chains and echo of their chant at Ebo Landing.”

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This piece along with the other pieces in the room were strong commentary on the history of slavery in America. Each piece in the room had its own narrative silkscreen print that went along with photographs. Being form the South myself, I particularly liked this piece with this idea of resistance to slavery. This is a very real commentary about what the first African American experience really was and the trauma surrounding the African diaspora. This art piece illuminates America’s dirty past dealing with slavery and race relations in general. As a child grown up in the South, we learn “white American History”, but we often do not talk about the dark side of American History in detail. We don’t discuss the African diaspora or the gross injustices of our forefathers on the Native Americans. What this series of photographs does is give a voice to the suppressed or hidden narratives in American History that are still often left out of the history books. Weems opens the dialogue for discussing what the African American experience has been not only in America’s past, but also in the present.

I wandered into the adjoining room which housed the Kitchen Table Series. I was already familiar with this series and eager to experience it in person. This series tells the story of love, loneliness, parenthood, solitude, and sexuality, all taking place at the kitchen table. Each image is a vignette from every day life, scenes that we can all relate on some level. It is this aspect that makes Weems artwork so emotionally gripping. We are voyeurs, but we are also in some ways in this kitchen ourselves. It is this commentary on the female experience, the African American experience, the American experience, and ultimately the human experience which makes us all relate to this series. Weems is able to create a strong narrative for each photographic series both with accompanying text and without.

Next, I went up to the fourth floor of the Guggenheim to view the remainder of the Weems exhibit. I first arrived at a bench in front of a television screen that was playing a film titled Italian Dreams. The film featured shots of an African American woman in Italy walking through Italian streets and weaving through classic Italian architecture. The film also played shots of white women laughing while wearing Afro wigs and riding in a car. This to me was a commentary on appropriation of African American culture. The film also showed an African American woman lying on a bed, wearing lingerie and red lipstick. She talking on a phone to a white man. In another scene an African American woman was lying on a table with her legs spread open with a white man sitting in a chair staring not at her, not exchanging glances with her, but staring into her spread legs. Both of these scenes are a commentary on the long tradition of African American women’s bodies being objects for white American men.

Next, I viewed Weems’ Museum Series.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Louvre (From the Museum Series), 2007

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In this series of photos Weems is clothed in a long black dress, standing in front of a museum or similar chosen destination, with her back to the camera. These photos are a commentary on Weems feeling like an outsider to the art world as an African American and female. What makes this series particularly powerful within the context of being viewed in the Guggenheim is that Carrie Mae Weems is the first African American woman to have retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. This series on view within the museum setting is telling us who is “left out” of museum culture. It’s a great exchange. We ask ourselves why it is that there is so little representation of female and minority artists in museums and art curricula in general?

From here wandered into the next room and was totally unprepared for what I encountered. In front of me was the series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995 – 1996). I had only viewed half of the series before I had tears streaming down my face.  I was able to snap a couple of poor photos of the first and last picture in the series, which were mirrored shots of an African woman with text silkscreened on each.

From Here I Saw What Happened…

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And I Cried.

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In between these were a series of photos in a circular format. They were red and black photos with white text silkscreened phrases on them. Instead of the narrative accompanying the series, it was printed directly on the photographs.  The narrative was commentary on the African American experience in America and the African diaspora. From start to finish these photos take you through as if you’re a part of the journey.

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(http://www.drosteeffectmag.com/carrie-mae-weems-photographer-subject-muse-stanford-universitys-cantor-arts-center/)

The entire series can be viewed on Carrie Mae Weems’ website here:

From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried

I would definitely suggest taking a look through the series, it is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking pieces I’ve experienced.

In the adjoining room I found myself faced with a grid of colorful, individually framed pictures. In some frames the squares were just solid colors, and in some frames were portraits that were monochromatic, each a different color.

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Colored People Grid), 2009 – 2010

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The way the piece is arranged is both lighthearted and serious with the commentary being fairly obvious. The portraits within are of African Americans with Weems using varying vibrant colors for each photograph. We should ask ourselves why were dark skinned people in America labeled “colored”? This piece makes you think a little bit harder about the labels white society placed on African Americans (and even immigrants from other nationalities) from the time they stepped foot on American soil. This piece comments on who was considered to belong, and who was considered “the others”, and makes you question why. This piece also makes us think about how much of this has actually changed, and how much farther we have to go as a society.

Overall, the Carrie Mae Weems exhibit did not disappoint. It is an exhibit that I would love for my own students to experience. An exhibition like this is important because it provides a voice that has long been silenced by society, and a voice that has been left out of “mainstream” museums and traditional art curricula.

So… What is Media Literacy, and Why is it Important?

Media literacy is absolutely mandatory in today’s world. We are in an age where the passing of information over various media platforms happens so rapidly that those who are not media literate are left behind and simply not fully participating in our educative culture. When I say “our culture” I do not necessarily mean American or Western, I refer to our global culture. In the past, even recent past, information was not as accessible as it is today on a global scale. With the rapid recent development of the Internet and media platforms, our culture has become increasingly participatory. The Internet has become an information super highway where we can now see what is happening on the other side of the globe as it happens. Desired information is as accessible as the Internet is. That being said, it is vital that we strive to provide accessibility to everyone in order to ensure that our youth learns to be media literate, and also so that there is not a divide among the media literate and non media literate population of students. Media literacy means that we are able to educate ourselves and our students on a level that was not available even to the generation before ours. Media literacy also means taking responsibility and ownership for our ideas in a public forum. With social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and etc, so prevalent, as a culture we have only recently learned and experienced what it means to be media literate in the sense of taking ownership. Platforms like these are certainly important for getting the ball rolling on media literacy. Students who are media literate have a decided advantage and in turn have more opportunities to be well-rounded, multifaceted students who are knowledgable about the world and how it works.

As educators it is important to become familiar with media platforms and popular so that we can relate to our students. It is also important to understand that there may be some students who are not afforded the opportunity of media literacy in the home. We must not assume that all students are able to access the internet or certain media platforms. When that is the case we must find a way to teach media literacy and research skills to those students in an effort to keep them from falling behind. Students who are not media literate will miss opportunities to excel.

Along with training our students to be media literate, we must also teach our students to be critical of what they consume, view, and post. With media being more participatory than ever before, and with us all being media creators, there is more opportunity for non-scholarly articles, blogs, websites, posts, etc, that are purely opinion based. The Internet can no only be a place for vital information, but also a Pandora’s box, which is why we must teach our students media literacy skills and how to decipher the difference between scholarly information and opinion based information. Ways we can enable this type of learning without it seeming like counter manipulation is to allow students to conduct individual research and proper research techniques.

By preparing our students to be media literate and critical consumers of media, we also teach them critical thinking skills. By allowing our students to be critical thinkers, we offer them the sort of education that is not “prepackaged”. When students use their media literacy skills to become active researchers and critical thinkers they learn that they also bring something to the table in the classroom and continue this trend into their lives beyond the classroom. By training our students to be media literate we are developing within them the desire to learn and the skills to do so.

A Day at the MoMA… Response to Eleanor Antin’s From the Archives of Modern Art

As I was wandering through the MoMA’s Contemporary Galleries I stumbled upon an old box television with what looked like black and white Vaudeville silent films being played on it. I was immediately drawn to the television and continued to watch the film. What I first observed was a ballerina dressed in black dancing for a man dressed in a lavish suit. She appeared to be teasing him and seducing him, but when he wanted her she refused. As she danced away from him, he grew angry drew a gun and shot her. As she fell slowly fell to the ground he followed weeping and mourning. I didn’t know exactly what to think of this film, but I thought it was beautifully tragic. I also thought that it was a feminist commentary on how when men of power do not get what they want they seek to destroy it.

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As I continued to watch, more ballerina videos played, each black and white with a title in Vaudeville style. There were headphones that could be used to listen to the music being played, so I put them on. In another clip the ballerina is on a train with two men. We see the mean in two different adjacent cars through the windows. The ballerina is serving, seducing and dancing for both men, but neither of the men know about the other. In this clip I think the commentary being made is how normal in society it is for men to play multiple women without their knowledge, but women are not supposed to do it. Women are “supposed” to be with one man.

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I stayed and watched a third clip. Again there was a Vaudeville style title and music playing throughout. This film was titled, The Ballerina and the Poet. In the clip the poet is in his home and appears to have trouble with inspiration then the ballerina appears at his doorstep. The poet sits and the ballerina dances for him lasciviously. She seduces him and he joins her on the bed. They are intertwined and the camera zooms in on their feet, which go from rubbing slowly to very quickly and is obviously indicative of an orgasm. Then the deed has been done, the poet is now inspired and the ballerina dances out the door not to be seen again. This clip is a commentary on how men use women for their purposes then send them on their way. The poet needed “inspiration”, the ballerina came right away to “inspire” him, and then he had her leave. The purpose of the ballerina (woman) is solely for man’s pleasure.

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At the end of the video a clip plays that says that they video compilation was found at an abandoned film studio. The videos of the ballerina Eleanora Antinova who, during the Great Depression, appeared in “questionable” Vaudeville films.

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The absence of color represents the nature of the film dealing with sexism historically and in film and media. Women have historically been portrayed as sex objects to serve men’s pleasures. Eleanora Antinova was an “alter ego” of the artist Eleanor Antin. She was a black ballerina in the Great Depression era who was celebrated, but forced to return to American and dance in Vaudeville films which are historically both racist and sexist. Eleanor Antin created this work called From the Archives of Modern Art in 1987. It was meant to look like Vaudeville films and is a powerful commentary on sexism in film and in American culture. My assumptions from watching the film and what it was supposed to represent were pretty closely aligned. I was not familiar with Eleanor Antin previously and had trouble grasping the “alter ego” concept at first. Information about the artwork only further emphasized the issues of sexism in our culture, which I greatly enjoyed. 

Art as a critique/resistance to mass media and popular culture…

One of the most exciting, alluring, and sometimes off putting functions of contemporary art is to serve as a response to modern society. Being that mass media and popular culture are integral components of our modern society, it is imperative that art reflects and critiques both. Mass media has been known to present a one sided popular opinion or a “watered down” version of current events and contemporary artists use media to present another, often hidden, side to the story. For example, we see this in documentary film and photography. Artists use contemporary media to critique popular and celebrity culture, which has become increasingly ingrained in our society, as well as cultural ideologies and social justice issues. I chose a few of my favorite art pieces that demonstrate how art functions as a critique of mass media and popular culture:

Erika Rothenberg, Freedom of Expression National Monument, 2004

“Inspired by the concept of a soapbox, Freedom entices passersby to climb its gently sloping ramp and embrace the megaphone to voice their thoughts, poetry, grievances, and hopes. Providing a public forum for dialogue on the dynamics of free speech, power and powerlessness, and a multiplicity of social and cultural concerns, the artwork engages individuals and groups to use the space in the tradition of a town square. The artwork is both celebratory and ironic and directly addresses public frustration over getting its voice heard.” http://erikarothenberg.com/pubproj/freedom.shtml

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Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967

“By using the mediums of mass culture (neon-signs) and of display (he originally 
hung the sign in his storefront studio), Nauman sought to bring questions
 normally considered only by the high culture elite, such as the role and function of art and
 the artist in society, to a wider audience… by using a form of communication 
readily understood by all (neon signs had been widespread in modern industrial society) and by placing this message in the public view, Nauman let everyone ask 
and answer the question.” http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/naumans-the-true-artist-helps-the-world-by-revealing-mystic-truths.html

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Jenny Holzer. Truisms, 1977–79. Spectacolor electronic sign. Times Square, New York, 1986.

“The location of the sign at the very crossroads of Broadway and 42nd Street marked Holzer’s texts’ entry into the world of entertainment as well as news … her texts had to bear up in the context of bright lights, night life and low life that demand the attention of a mass of pedestrians and motor traffic.”

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Richard Prince, Spiritual America, 1983

“Shot at the outset of the American ‘culture wars’ of the Eighties, Prince’s most famous and controversial re-photograph carries the title ‘Spiritual America.’ Prince’s ‘Spiritual America’ is an appropriation of Garry Gross’s lascivious photo of a nude, ten-year-old Brooke Shields. The all-American girl stands in a deep bathtub, with thick, almost seminal, steam swirling at her feet… Shields’s face, as critic Michael Newman describes it, captures the contradictory nature of American spiritual values and longings, showing ‘both the fearfulness of the child and the total control of the temptress.'” http://freq.uenci.es/2011/10/21/richard-prince-spiritual-america-1983/

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The integration of art and media in academia is absolutely vital in our contemporary society. While art is relatively participatory, mass media and popular culture are no longer something we can opt-out of participating in. In order to link and contextualize current and historical cultural themes, contemporary art, media, and technologies together can be used to emphasize critical academic points, strengthen lessons, and relate to youth culture on a deeper level. Diversifying lessons by adding elements from contemporary art, modern technology, and non-traditional media can not only make lessons more relevant to today’s students, but also help students learn to think more critically about the information they are receiving and the sources they are receiving it from. In this way students learn to form their own opinions about the world around them.