The aim of my artistic research is to explore how mass media informs, interacts and engages society with regards to gender, race and ethnicity. Taking a semiotic approach that deconstructs cultural myths, my practice intends to awaken the viewer to the influences of media on the subconscious and our ability to critically and logically process thought and judgement.
My artistic research is founded on these three beliefs:
- Art is engaged in the empirically scientific method; and art is aware of the commitment and social involvement with the social sciences.
-Artistic research should explicitly request tolerance, an open attitude, and the deployment of multiple models of interpretation. Artistic research should be able to manifest itself as a critical reflection on current cultural issues and ideas.
-Art is connected with the search for a critical understanding of our existing conditions, and visual language is involved in the formulation of social prejudices.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, a German philosopher, described the encounter with visual art as an experience corresponding with intently reading a letter, which also implies a certain expectation. Gadamer indeed realizes that every interpretation has a horizon, i.e. is rooted in a temporality, which also counts for human knowledge. However, in spite of such a sense of perspective, Gadamer still believes that, in encountering a work of art, it must be possible to determine a significant meaning.
This statement best encompasses the intent of my artistic research: to explore and understand the effects of mass media on our perception, how it influences and informs our cultural values and biases, and the ways in which it continues to perpetuate a simplified situational reality.
This is accomplished through two approaches:
Through the creation of a painted database of visual minorities in a manner utilizing the same codes of connotation and cultural characterisations of dominant imperialist society, an individuals precognitive memory can be altered to balance out the negative depiction and characterization of ethnic minorities that history has been accustomed to operating. This process calls upon the extensive empirical history of painting and all the inherent codes of connotation and visual symbolism that accompanies the medium. May it be paintings of ‘natural’ history, or the history of cultures, it has always held an active role in the documentation of reality. Italian humanists described painting as ‘natural history’, containing a vague conception of depicting an image as the resurrection of life. Life does not necessarily mean ‘living’, but applies to the degree onto which the image aspires to depict pure being - mixed with meaning, narrative and discourse, creating an adulterated sophisticate. Painting has always run parallel with history, constantly mutating and changing with time. Although this mutation may possess a historically changing subject, the evolution itself is not that of history, but the thing in which history negates to record. Historically, painting has been faced with the enormous task of depicting everything: gods, men, beasts, demons, woods, people, places and things as documentation for the world seen in linear progression. However, what is captured is a world unchanged in its foundation. What is seen is local appearance modified throughout history. History is conceived here as an affair of the surface, only skin-deep. It is painting’s nature of attending to every minute detail that creates the impression of this constant change at the level of content: costume, architecture and the immediate physical neighbourhood around the human body are in continual flux, and it is this flux that will be recorded. The reality painting records belong to any category other than that of the ‘natural’ world. It is this notion of the ‘natural’ from which the substratum underlying superficial cultural rearrangement is apprehended. It is this characteristic that makes portrait painting ideal for addressing the codes of connotation and stereotyping because once the level of content is stripped away (costume, architecture and physical neighbourhood) the viewer also loses their habitual perception and must in turn approach the depicted subject with no stable referents grounding and contextualizing their understanding. This technique of defamiliarization offers up a re-consideration of historical painting and the stereotypes imbedded within them.
Furthermore, painting has been courted by the metaphor of being a window to our world (the four corners of the canvas acting as a window, and the canvas the world we see). It has long been considered that as long as the signified is felt to exist in separation from and beyond the signifier, there exists a conceptual second space, dissimilar in picture place. This is an imaginary space where the codes of connotation catch hold and pull into focus, developing its articulation until a point is reached when the ‘window’ opens up to an alternative world. Behind these silhouettes of figures on the picture place stands a second set of figures identical in depiction, endowed with the additional dimension of depth and information that guides our perception. It would only seem logical, as the codes of connotation that media utilises today were inherited through the process of remediation of media, that painting would be the appropriate medium to alter and address them. Through the documentation and utilization of these codes of connotation the negative depiction of ethnic minorities can be altered and a history of positive representations can be created altering the precognitive body of information.
The second approach deals primarily with mass media, and is thus communicated in a medium properly reflective of mass media – be it film, installation, photography or electronic form. This approach is founded on the belief that our reality has been contaminated by mass media to the point where our current reality consists of an oscillation of the two realities combined to create one. Newspaper, radio and television have been decisive in the eroding of the centralized perspective, or what the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard calls the 'grand narratives'. This view of mass media seems to parallel the writings of philosopher Theodor Adorno in The Dialectic of Enlightement and Minima Moralia, where he talks about how radio and later TV would produce a general homogenization of society. The result would be a diabolic turn, with cultural industries in North America functioning in the same ideological manner as dictatorships and totalitarian governments. Media was seen as a oppressive force, capable of a 'Big Brother' like control over citizens through the diffusion of slogans, propaganda (commercial and political) and stereotypical world views.
If we have an idea of ‘reality’, it cannot be understood as the objective given lying beneath, or beyond, the images we receive of it from the media. For us, ‘reality’ is the result of the intersection and contamination of a multiplicity of images, interpretations and reconstructions circulated by the media in competition with one another and without any central coordination.
This approach entails awakening the viewers to the contamination of these realities. Through that awakened state a shift in their perspectives will begin to move towards a position where they can critically reflect and question some of their preconceived notions about cultural and political issues in our society.
Through the use of installations and inter-media the hope is to critically reflect on the condition mass media has created in enforcing and encouraging stereotyping and a simplified view of conflict and cultures.
Critical to the execution of this study is the writings Brian O’Doherty in White Cube: The ideology of the gallery space and graduate education in I received in Holland where I was exposed to the ideas of artistic research. Brain O’Doherty talks about the gallery as this white sterile space, hidden from the elements of the outside world and isolated. It is viewed as this play space; a space where madness and the odd can take place with little or no effect on the outside world. In this manner the white cube has become ineffective in creating change because of how it is seen as this pure white space sterilized from the outside world. He argues that to counteract the inherent preconceived notions of the gallery the art must move into the world. It must no longer just be confined to a white space but must critically engage with its environment, enrol and engage the viewer in the piece of art, and have them participate in its creation. Through this participation the work increases its chances of creating change in society and affecting the viewer. It increases the reading and the understanding of the piece and aides in the contextualization. Because of this belief, most of my work dealing with this concept has been in the form of installations, enrolling viewer participation and interaction in the piece to either trigger movement or cause affect.
The ultimate goal of my work is to cause change in the fabric of social perception, removing the restraints of stereotyping and prejudice, and allowing for greater freedom of thought and perception.