Perfect Lovers

This is 'Perfect Lovers'
Created by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, it is not just one of my favorite pieces, it also happens to be one I consider to be pure 'genius'.

Even if your first inclination is to think the proverbial:
"I can do that!, literally take two Ikea-looking clocks and but them side to side."

It is a genius because you would be right, you can actually do that!!!
FGT was a very generous artist because anyone can have his work in their very own home and at times for free! 

Where Felix demonstrates his ingenuity is by injecting humanity into these otherwise inanimate objects by titling the piece 'Perfect Lovers'.

And in turn, he makes the clocks symbolic and gives it meaning.

The object, to begin with, is a marker of time and a signifier of time passing...

Time could be representative of that specific moment a couple met...
or even the time they'll spend together.

He expresses their "perfectness" by pairing identical clocks keeping identical time and starting off with the seconds hand in perfect unison, and as with any object, once you pair it with the same object, it becomes a couple, highlighting their sameness and giving a nod to a (his) same-sex relationship.

Each clock is thereby representative of him and of his lover, Ross, existing in perfect harmony by keeping synchronistic time.

But because it is battery-operated, one of the clocks will eventually slow down and eventually run out of power before the other one and both will eventually cease to mark time....

This in turn becomes an indicator of his and Ross's mortality and an end to their time together, making it a poignant and moving piece for two people who were battling AIDS.

But it doesn't just stop there, the two circular outlines of the clocks touch and in turn draw out a horizontal figure eight...which is associated with the infinity symbol.

A testament to love....everlasting....forever....
that love exists even after loss
and that even the art piece itself can last beyond its usefulness,
for even if both clocks stop marking time, their union remains infinite in itself...



Ana Mendieta is Cubana

Ana Mendieta is Cubana...

Yes, this is well-known...it is right there next to her name in Wikipedia. (Well, it actually says 'Cuban-American' which is not synonymous with my usage of the term, Cuban-American actually referring to first-generation Americans born of Cuban parents). Ana is actually Cuban-born, she just studied, worked and lived most of her life in the U.S.

Regardless, her heritage is no secret and although she described her work as 'earth body' works, her work is unique for its hybridity of media and very often cross-categorized under many art movements of the late 1960s and 70s, namely 'Land Art', 'Earthworks', 'Body Art', 'Performance Art' and 'Feminist Art.' She is perhaps most popularly known for her series titled 'Silueta' or 'Silhouette' in which she leaves a physical tracing or indentation of her body upon the earth's surface. Her work assimilates issues of race, gender, cultural and spiritual identity and although it fits neatly within the definitions of many of the art movements mentioned above, her impetus to creating this type of work is usually not fully stated or perhaps understood. 

But the other day, upon seeing her work, I had an epiphany and put two and two together. It all of a sudden occurred to me that Ana Mendieta is Cubana! In other words, she isn't Cuban and does this type of work, she does this type of work because she is cuban! This late realization perhaps happened because when I first studied and read about her in art history classes, she was imbedded within the context of art movements.

In 1961, at the age of 12, Mendieta was sent to the US. under the auspices of Operation Pedro Pan. This program between the Catholic Church and the Cuban and American governments separated 14,000 Cuban children from their families and transplanted them in the United States. This program was set up because Cuban parents living on the island did not want their children to grow up under the indoctrination and ideology of Castro's Communist regime and therefore sent them unaccompanied to live in the United States. The program ended when all commercial flights between Cuba and the United States ceased after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It is still the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the western hemisphere.

So at an early age, Ana Mendieta and her sister were torn from her family and homeland and sent to live in foster homes in Iowa. Needless to say this must have been a very traumatizing experience, not simply because of finding oneself in a place without friends and family at a crucial period in one's youth, but one of also complete social and cultural alienation living amongst a foreign language and landscape. 

Once one can empathize with the trauma and alienation something like this may cause during the developmental stages of adolescence, it becomes increasingly clear why Mendieta would choose and execute the work that she did. Her ritualistic relationship with the 'earth' can be attributed with a cathartic exercise of salving a longing for place and tierra. With the series 'Silueta', Ana Mendieta finally becomes 'one' with the tierra she more than likely pined for during her youth. The earth not only symbolizes nature/planet but also family/identity.

We can also see the attributes of this feeling of displacement with her much earlier work the 'self-portraits'. Here she puts on the guises of other identities as a way to communicate and question her true self.

Several examples of Ana Mendieta's 'self-portrait' series which extended to include her donning facial hair and distorting her body.

I now look at Ana Mendieta's work and I no longer see work in which the earth and the artworks are inextricably linked but rather I see work in which identity and the land are.


The trouble with Garry...

During my undergrad studies in photography (as in many photography programs across the nation), many professors site Garry Winogrand's work, and many students aspire to emulate his style...and rightfully so...

But there was always something about Winogrand's work that never quite sat right with me. At times I thought it was part of my passive/aggressive rebellious nature to be the anti-thesis of whatever was being revered at the moment (it makes up my devil's advocacy work) and at times I thought it simply was that street photography was never my comfort nor style and I was being dismissive of it in order to make myself feel better about the fact that I'n not good at it. However it was years later that I started to realize what it was that actually bothered me about Garry Winogrand's work and I am still somewhat surprised to never have come across any critique of it from the standpoint in which I view his images. 

I have to emphasize that Garry Winogrand is author to a lot of great images, A LOT! he was very prolific and very proficient, but there is one small component that sticks to me like a thorn on my side and this is especially evident in his portfolio Women Are Beautiful. 

Published in 1975

The problem is not so much the title of the book which could stand for a sly euphemism considering it was published during the height of the female liberation movement, but the problem is actually the images inside (and other similar ones he took) that underscore the portfolio's sexism. 

One well known image from that portfolio is this one….

At first it may seem innocent enough, true to the style of ‘street photography’

it has its language of the snapshot aesthetic in place. But like with many photographs, upon a closer inspection one begins to decipher as to how and why it must have been created which at times unravel the persona and personality of the image’s creator. 

We see a young woman, crossing a street and walking directly towards us. The image is taken not from a face-to-face level but rather from a higher level looking slightly down at her and establishing a unconscious hierarchy and control over the subject from the photographer/viewer point of view. She appears diminutive because of this and despite her (nervous?) smile, her body language suggests she is not comfortable at being photographed. 

It is written that Winogrand was not a shy person to say the least (nor do I think you can be in order to be a successful street photographer) but rather bearish in person and somewhat egotistical in personality. Although the subject is not looking at the camera, we know that given the way this image was taken, she had to be very much aware of the photographer's presence. Yet we must conclude that this image was taken without her permission, if she had agreed to be photographed in this candid form one would guess she would at least look into the lens. 

Her averting gaze suggests otherwise. Now if this were the only case, one can overlook this intrusion, but perusing through his book, one encounters this dynamic over and over again.

For example, in the following three images, the subject still had to be aware they were going to be photographed (This was at a time after all, when people actually looked at where they were going and not at their smart phones) considering the photographer would have been directly in front of them with a camera held up to his eye.

And again the averted gaze speaks volumes.

But lets give this all the benefit of the doubt and say that the subject at hand did not notice the photographer and therefore was not using their averted gaze to dissuade the photographer from taking their picture, afterall there are many instances that the subject isn't truly aware of the camera.

So then lets asks ourselves, what is his intent with this images under the context of 'women are beautiful'?

Is it me, or do you also see a reoccurring theme front and center?
Even when the subject shares equal status with a male counterpart (as in the one directly above), the focus of the light does not make the intent ambiguous.

And just in case, we think Winogrand is simply trying to just show women as beautiful and independent creatures, we come across these images....

The focus is not apparently on ALL women and their individual beauty but rather on the younger sexualized woman in the group. Winogrand's composition in putting the main subject front and center exposes his intent.

Now, I really do not know what was the critical response to this book when it came out, but I can assure you that no photography program in this country today would allow this work to develop as it did. Not only it is narrow and limited in its subject scope and investigation, it can also be critiqued (in my opinion) as racist and ageist besides blatantly sexist. There is hardly any evidence of the ‘subject’ diverting from being young, white and objectified sexually.

To think that he is known as a "portraying the social issues of his time" seems like an overstatement (or perhaps I am viewing these with contemporary eyes). This is America in the early 1970’s. Where is the evidence of the female empowerment taking place? Can it be simply demonstrated in the women's style of dress? Where is the racial and cultural diversity? You would be hard pressed to find a proportional amount of African-americans or Hispanics in relation to caucasians in the book. In New York City of all places! 

I have to wonder if this is just one of the many cases in history in which notoriety trumped reality? Was this accepted because Winogrand had the support of academia? (he was gifted the prestigious Guggenheim several times) and by the time he produced these images he had already established himself. Or is it simply an accepted norm and oversight of the times? Again, it is not to say that he didn’t create images that belong in the canon of photographic history but in my book his name comes with an asterisk.


Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Felix Gonzalez-Torres is perhaps the artist who most influences my work (or at least is in the back of my mind) and this image is the first of his I ever came across. 

One of his better known photographic images: a rumpled bed with two pillows. The image is relatively boring in a conventional sense especially for one you would expect to see on a billboard, but like most of Felix's work you need to know a little bit about it before you can truly assess it.

As part of his Billboard project, this image was displayed on several billboards across the city simultaneously (in this case NYC). This was done way back in the Middle Ages when there was no such thing as the internet (or at least it was in its infancy)...and it was also during a time when GLBT lifestyles were relatively invisible (especially to mainstream America).  Yet with this work he delicately touches upon two highly charged issues that will be part of a national discourse for the next twenty-plus years (and still is today).

The first being the distinction between the public vs. the private, something that will become increasingly blurred and obsolete with the ubiquity of the internet. By displaying an image of the bed he shared with his then recently-deceased partner, Ross, via a highly visible and commercial venue, it begins to question the boundaries between the public and the private... and more specifically to FG-T's intent, the role of government and society in our personal lives.

The second issue this work touches upon is the collective idea of a conjugal bed.

By displaying what is in all actuality an illicit scene (The U.S. Supreme Court had yet to strike down the laws that made same-sex sexual activity legal in the country and would not do so until 12 years later) the viewer is left to ponder the illegality and harm of such a serene site.

This image is not the graphic representation of a criminalized sexual act but a gentle reminder that an expression of love goes beyond the act of sex and unites us all in its commonality regardless of orientation.

You would be hard pressed to find someone that considers this image perverse and offensive regardless of political or religious leanings, yet this image is evidence of the most intimate and personal site of a relationship (in this case same-sex).

It is a tribute to love and loss while existing as a highly-charged political statement.


Law of Desire (La Ley del Deseo) 1987

One of Almodovar's early films and arguably one of his best. It is not so much a 'gay' movie but one that can apply collectively to the universal subject of love and desire. Of course, as with many of Almodovar's story-telling,  this is not your typical story of love, but the more obsessive, all-consuming and self-destructive version, the type of passionate love you wish you would be a part of but glad it hasn't happened to you. It could perhaps be compared in plot to the American film Fatal Attraction. But instead of fearing the obsessiveness of an emotionally unhinged one-night-stand you actually feel sympathetic and understanding of the stalker's motives despite his actions.

Almodovar's genius can be seen not only in the beautifully shot imagery full of color and  layered simplicity but it his writing and wit as well. He is truly a master in his craft, referencing Hollywood classics alongside current parallels, his cleverly chooses music to accompany his visuals. He chose a song performed by a long-forgotten Mexican trio from the 1950s, Los Panchos. Here he superimposes the song's plucking of guitar strings with the pounding of typewriter keys as if to insinuate that what is being written is what is being heard, the lyrics to the song become a surrogate to dialogue. But where Almodovar truly shines (and not just in this film) is with his original screenplay, always rendering an out-of-the-ordinary story with an unexpected outcome. He interweaves comedy and suspense, love and fear, camp and drama seamlessly from one scene to another and with every plot twist and turn. In Law of Desire, he plays with your perception and understanding of sex and sexuality by casting Carmen Maura (a famous Spanish actress) as a transexual woman longing for love and normalcy and an actual transexual actress as a heterosexual mother seeking to break free from the binding responsibility of parenting. Ms. Maura gives an Oscar worthy performance capturing the mixed emotions of a tortured soul celebrating the liberating freedom of gender reassignment with a desperate need for love and acceptance. 

Considering this movie was made in 1987 when many of the subject matter in this film was not only misunderstood but also taboo establishes it as both innovative and groundbreaking. But what is most surprising is the realization that it received wide distribution and acclaim in its country of origin, it had been less than 20 years that Spain had been released from the shackles of the righteous four-decade long dictatorship of General Franco, and this movie's mainstream acceptance in a country with strong Catholic heritage just shows the level of liberal cultural revolution Spain was going through at the time. You would be hard pressed to find a movie similar in plot to be made in the United States even today....lo dudo (I doubt it)!


Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender

I originally wrote this review in April 2011. One star out of five.

If you are interested in examining gay subtext during Hollywood's Golden Age, avoid this documentary and watch the much better researched and entertaining Celluloid Closet instead. 

Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender reads more like a lecture than an analysis and quickly loses all its credibility with highly edited dialogue taken out of context and freeze-framed montages peppered with disputable readings. To suggest that Walter Brennan's character in Westerns was a thinly veiled homo-erotic romance with John Wayne is a stretch of the imagination, you have to be really horny to sense any erotic tension between the old geyser and the neutered cowboy. Rappaport confuses Hollywood's use of the pansy in the 1930's and Bob Hope cross-dressing antics as some sort of social code of acceptance when in fact it served more as a reinforcement of strict gender roles through cheap laughs. He erroneously states the Lumiere Brothers' early stock footage of men dancing was a nod to homosexuality when in fact it was just a product of a homosocial society. Men danced together because men and women did not socially interact during the late Victorian era. Same as why the male buddy system in movies during the mid-20th century was in place, women were considered either femme fatales or vestal virgins and neither shared anything in common with male identity not because women weren't desired. Male-bonding is an embodiment of moral society's way of keeping the sexes separate, just because guys seek to hang out together watching football and avoid their wives doesn't mean they want to hump each other. Rappaport reuses clips from a few movies to make sweeping generalizations and merges the intent of a movie's written character with the rumored lifestyle of the actor playing it. There is enough pseudo-psychoanalytical erroneous hypothesis in these 100 minutes to give Freud a headache when the real truth is probably closer to a director's internalized homophobia surfacing as delusional validation. His thesis seems to be saying, it must be okay to be gay only because everyone else is gay too.....color that self-hating.


Small Town Gay Bar

A rather weak documentary on an important yet under-examined topic. This film highlights how homophobia is alive and well in rural america, however the documentary only focuses on a small section of the Bible Belt (Northeast Mississippi) and the couple of gay bars that exist in the area. It would have been interesting to see how the people in these scenarios differ, if at all, from other rural areas in the country or from larger cities within the Bible Belt. The documentary quickly glides by a horrific case of hate crime in the area and the tribulations that the LGBT community has to endure to survive and mostly focuses on the management, state and status of said bars. However this documentary is still a must see if not simply as a reminder on how homosexuals are still relegated to living in danger and rejection in order to live out their desires (something that is taken for granted by the same community in metropolitan cities). What's is even more scarier to comprehend is to see an actual neo-con religious group in the area that targets G.W.Bush as being too liberal and lenient on alternative lifestyle.