Being [No]body

As part of Satellite Gallery’s ongoing effort to provide learning opportunities for students, we are happy to be part of a class project created by five SFU students from the Faculty of Contemporary Art. Sheena Clark, Eliza Nguyen, Sebastian Laskowski, Rachael Nakamura, and Tina Shabani curated a hypothetical exhibition called Nobody at Satellite Gallery. Here is a glimpse of their proposal and Power Point presentation.

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Exhibition Proposal: [No]body

 To be “queer” can mean to feel as if one does not belong or fit in somewhere. It can also imply an identity that is unfixed or in flux. It can mean awkwardness and to a certain degree uncertainty. It is this aspect of “queerness” that we chose to address with our exhibition, entitled [No]body, which focuses on fashion photography and media imagery.

The fashion industry’s ideal model is tall and thin and has a figure that can best be described as a clothing hanger from which the articles being modelled can be draped. This is supposed to keep the viewer’s eye from being distracted and focused on what is up for sale. However, the ideal model also has perfect skin, flawless hair and perfectly white, straight teeth. We are bombarded with such images everyday via magazines, television, billboards, advertisements, music videos, etc. These constant media flashes set the standard for beauty and can affect the perceptions of our own physical images. The media dictates to us how we should appear if we want to fit in and suggests that if we take on this prescribed look we are guaranteed happiness and success. This becomes the definition of “normal.” The struggle to reach this ideal image can distort the way we look at ourselves and if we do not fit the mold, we can begin to feel awkward or “queer” and perhaps less sure of who we are.

We can trace this media trend back to the Middle Ages, to the paintings and sculptures found in Catholic cathedrals. These images were meant to teach moral lessons and centred on the visualization of the human form. The bodies depicted were beautiful and battered, clothed and unclothed and became the bearers of everyday values and meanings. The figures were often decked in the fashion of the age and each image illustrated some moral or political truth, making it accessible to all sections of society, which was important due to the high level of illiteracy during the Middle Ages (Hartley and Rennie 460). This encouraged visual learning and the idea that “seeing is believing.” This changed after the Reformation, which was suspicious of visual beauty especially when associated with the female form and this led to the division between “truth media” such as the newspaper, and “entertainment media” (460). However, Umberto Eco argues, the cinema, TV, games and magazines of today continue to communicate like a medieval cathedral via song, story and spectacle, using beautiful bodies to teach our secularaity the truths, values, morals and ideologies of these days. Media images begin to become truths for which we aspire (Hartley and Rennie 461).

[No]body mainly focuses on female forms. Body image is something that almost every woman faces at some point in life. The average model is thinner than 95 percent of the average female population (Jobling n.p), yet for some reason we are still drawn to such images and perceive them as ideal. According to Elizabeth Wilson fashion images come on rather like pornography. “They indulge the desire of the reader who looks at the pictures to be each perfect being reflected in the pages, while simultaneously engaging erotically with a femininity (and increasingly a masculinity) that is constantly being redefined” (Jobling n.p). Trying to keep up with the constant redefinition can lead to a “queer” feeling, to a feeling of not belonging.

We have selected a series of works that will hopefully make the audience question what the media is feeding them every time they flip through a magazine or switch on the TV and to question this constructed notion of “normal.” We have chosen fashion photographs and videos that match the industry’s ideal: thin and rather androgynous looking models and juxtaposed them with images that satirize this ideal. We hope that these distorted images may reflect back on their counterparts and open the eyes of the viewers to the distortion underlying the images that surround us every day.

Reference:

Jobling, Paul. “Who’s That Girl? ‘Alex Eats,’ A Case Study in Abjection and Identity in Contemporary Fashion Photography.” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture 2.3 01/08/1998. 209-224. Art Full Text. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

Hartley, John and Ellie Rennie. “About a Girl: Fashion Photography as Photojournalism.”  Journal 5.4 01/11/2004. 458-479. Sage Premier. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

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*If you are interested in reading the entire proposal, please contact us at info@satellitegallery.ca

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