Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to Destroy A Belt Buckle

Bang-On, iron-on pop culture, sells belt buckles. Heavy, solid, licensed, genuine belt buckles. Aztec calendars, bull skulls and snakes, heart-breakers, pirates, and dead Indians in feather head-dresses.

I mentioned to Nick, their delivery driver, that I didn't like it, and he shot me down with an argument as well-crafted as any of Sarah Palin's. Bang-On is a store selling an image, but once an image is in pop culture it's separated from its origin, and therefore this Indian Skull was pretty much meaningless and my opinion was not important.

The idea that imagery doesn't mean anything is a funny argument to bring up for a store which is so heavily based on image.

Having been stonewalled at Bang-On, I called the manufacturer, Bergamot Brass Works. I punched in the extension for the first name on the list, and left a message.

"Hello, my name is Katana Barnett, and I had a problem with one of your belt buckles. Thank you for calling me back at--"

I got a phone call shortly after from a salesman. He said he wasn't brushing me off, but that he'd approach his manager and get back to me.

I'm snowboarding the next day when my phone rings. It's Bergamot Brass works, and I sit down at the side of the run and explain.

This belt buckle reinforces stereotypes- especially that of the Noble Savage- that Indian people were primitive warriors and then they all died. That point of view is detrimental to social change.

"That certainly wasn't our intention at all."

Of course it wasn't. The reason these stereotypes hold power at all is because they are not intended, but subtly reinforced. That's why I called.

He says, "You know, I already made my decision. I've already decided we're going to discontinue the buckle, destroy the mold, and we won't fill any orders that have already been placed."

I tell him he's made my day.

So there's no more of this particular belt buckle. Bergamot Brass Works is a very nice company- they were extremely prompt with their follow-up and they were very open to hearing my opinion and very quick with the follow-up action step. Sometimes you just don't know any better.


PS. for more information, see Marcia Crosby. Also, tagged all of you because I think you are smart, intelligent, or artistic people and am curious as to what you think. opinions welcome.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Impression of Good Art

Context: the Vag
subject: Monet to Dali

for one the title of the exhibition does not adequately represent the
period that the works in the exhibition encompass. it's lesser known
artist A to lesser known artist B and I can see the pictures in my
mind but I can't remember them.

as soon as i walked into the room busy busy busy everything I knew -
dates, however frailly held in my mind- names of artists- styles- the
only thing I knew was that Impressionism got it's name from
Impression: Sunrise......... everything I knew was gone.

There's a peony, and I'm looking at the peony, and I'm thinking, it
looks like someone cut out a picture of a peony and made this painting
into a diorama.

Oh. Wait a second. That shadow is paint.

i've never seen a better shadow in my life. This shadow was GRAY.


And these artists with their distinctive,
one-track-mind-brilliance.................. oh my god.
i've heard of most of these artists, and seen images of their work--
They had Gustave Courbet in there.

some of these paintings what seems to be one layer of paint one layer
of paint that creates this perfect piece of reality. All of those
paintings; they could not be differently painted from how they were
and yet this one subject has been done by the artist in ELEVEN
different versions.

I can see why critics of their time wouldn't like them, some of them I
don't like but I'm awestruck by it, I'm awestruck, I can't say a word
I can't even THINK about the process that's going on, I want to cry or
move or dance or something and instead I am quiet and respectful and
stuck listening to these AWFUL pleasant nice older ladies saying,

"Now if you squint at the canvas, see how everything becomes more clear?"
"Oh, that's neat that you thought of that. I wouldn't have thought of that."

And it's a whole painting and each small portion has a detail that
reads as a tree or a blade of grass but the brushstroke's nearest
cousin is a kindergarten scrawl. And these scrawls are clouds! Fuck
careful applications of brushstrokes and fuck paint directly out of
the tube and fuck paint by numbers and people who say "I can't draw"
because honestly, it doesn't matter if you can draw if you can't SEE.
I feel blind.

And I want to stop and stare at all of them but, conflict, I want to
run and see what all they have in there and then- this clear loud
voice says, "Oh, in five minutes there will be a talk." And I want to
listen to this too so I go up to the forth floor and sit still for
half an hour, and by sit still it's careful quiet fidgeting and she's
talking about the pieces I haven't seen quite yet and I want to
run-run-run downstairs and see them and there's a Dali painting and
It's all I can do to sit still because!!! If this pretty, articulate
girl would ONLY stop talking I could see it- its

oil on canvas cracked finished varnished perfectly blended
chrome-oedipus-man-ant black shadow blended brown and teal and paint!
but can you tell there's paint when what you feel is


who dreams that?
what the fuck is wrong with this man and this kind of brilliance?
i feel drab........ inadequate.

And there's more and you know there's an incredible amount of work by
all of these artists that isn't here- it's a travelling exhibition- I
mean there's a WHOLE FUCKING GALLERY of Van Gogh in Amsterdam and it
was hard enough seeing that in only a few hours and harder still to
remember it when you're back from that visually-intensive high.

There's too many peope, there's too much paint, its all so different,
all these different visual VOICES and they all, every single one of
them, want me to look at each single brushstroke and imagine the

layers of paint spaces pencil and ink and thought and process and politics

i can't do it i can't do it and i can't even begin to PAINT like that
but I need to I HAVE to do it the only weapon I have are my
paintbrushes, I ruin them, I fail at painting, I have no voice, I have
no OUTLET, I want my paintings OUT of my house, and i need to move I
need to paint, but I'm shaky right now and frightened and I can't, I
really can't....

After seeing good painting, it changes the way I look at things and
right now everywhere I look I'm seeing reflected highlights saturated
colours and dark dark hues and negative spaces and subtle shifting
lines and i feel exhilerated, ruined, wrecked, stunned.........

exonerated from any expectations of achieving anything with my art but
I want to punch something because right now

THAT IS ALL I REALLY WANT. (to achieve something intangible, not to
punch something)

And they had Mondrian there- one of those beautiful simple utopias
I've been affectionate towards since they remind me of my margin
doodlings, with the grid pattern and primary colours like Bic pens-
and i was shocked! it's just a shallow thin surface with the grain
showing through the red paint- and a frail wooden thing 'round it- the
presentation would hardly get one anywhere in contemporary art's
Clean-cut Glass Hook and Eye Mounted Presentation Is Everything. But
it must, I mean, it's Mondrien and it's in a glass case now, but it
looks so quick-and-dirty. In my mind it was MADE of glass. I knew it
wasn't, but one can't help the subconcious.

If I had to go to work right now I would provide the worst customer
service because I honestly cannot think past my sockets right now and
i'm gonna paint, i'm gonna try, because that's what i DO, but

beyond the SHEER VISUAL ADDICTION, there is more to subject matter
than just paint and I want to think about that but it's almost hard to
get over that too.......

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Quote

Only a born artist can endure the labour of becoming one
Comtesse Diane, 1908

Nestor Kruger ... an artist whose work somehow impressed me

Orientalism's Fashion

Orientalism's Fashion:
John Galliano's Spring 2007 Couture Collection
critiqued through Edward Said's Orientalism

In Spring 2007, following a tour of Japan, John Galliano created a collection for Christian Dior which pulled elements from Japanese culture into couture looks. This is a clear example of how Orientalism functions in contemporary times in the same way that it did 100 years ago. This Oriental world which was displayed in museums or defined in theories is now walking the runway. Galliano takes the part of the colonialist explorer, owning and taking credit for the Orient, while maintaining the view that the people are 'other' and making an exotic fantasy out of the actual geographic place.

The collection contains a variety of couture gowns and dresses, but they have unifying elements which makes it easier to look at the collection as a whole, instead of an individual look. From the fabrics, to the folded origami shapes, to platform heels, an exotic, foreign look is established through appropriation of Japanese cultural representations. Looking at a piece individually may make the Oriental influences less apparent, since there are also Western influences in the design, but the thematic elements that give the collection unity are all Oriental. To begin with, the models all have white-face makeup in the geisha style, with anime eyes of exaggerated eyebrows and large swatches of colour. They wear heels with shapes influenced by geisha geta sandals. Hair is always pulled back in round pompadours and hairpieces are intricate ovals like Japanese sun-hats. The gowns themselves are brilliantly colour silks with floral designs, and are very sculptural, incorporating origami folds and shapes into the structure and sculptural elements of the clothing and sashes referencing the Japanese obi.

In fashion, designers create two lines of clothing. Couture is a theatrical production with extravagant, unwearable clothing that only a few very rich or well-connected people would purchase, while ready to wear lines are more practical and wearable. The corresponding ready-to-wear collection for Spring 2007 had none of the colours or silhouettes that the couture collection did. Galliano reinforced the otherness of Orientalism by basing his couture collection around the Orient, because that collection is the one that draws attention to the clothing, adding to the construction of Orientalism as an exotic curiosity. The situation of the Orient in the couture collection reinforces the divide between east and west.

In colonial times, the Orient was viewed as an experience. Said writes, "When Disraeli said in his novel Tancred that the East was a career, he meant that to be interested in the East was something bright young Westerners would find to be an all-consuming passion (132)." Galliano seems to be a part of this; he tours Japan and comes back to create a huge spectacle of Japanese cultural appropriation, featuring everything from origami to basket-weaving in his fashion career. Said says that the ideas of Orientalism were influenced by those who went to the Orient, as explorers, missionaries, or merchants, and Galliano has become one of these. This fashion inspiration parallels the Orientalism of the 1890's, where similar inspiration dressed Victorian ladies in 'Oriental' dressing gowns and fabrics.

Said uses the example a wealthy, foreign, male who speaks for an Egyptian courtesan, and refers to her as 'typically Oriental' (133) to show who perpetuates the stereotype. Galliano, a man with similar characteristics, is speaking the visual language with 'typical Oriental' elements in his runway show, about models. The comparison could also be drawn between the models and the Egyptian courtesan.

The models showing the clothes on the runway are not Asian. They are either black or white models; Asian women are rarely seen on the runway. This correlates with the way that the construction of Orientalism places the dominant culture in a position of power over the Orient, where the Orient is not a contributing part of the framework. The ethnic subject is absent and a new non-existant construction has replaced her. Galliano takes credit for the entire collection, although it is all reworked from Japanese traditional elements. The Galliano collection doesn't use any traditional silhouettes. Instead of the cylindrical shapes of traditional kimonos, the Galliano collection still show a female silhouette. I think that this shows that he is using the elements of Japanese culture to create something that is more about the person looking at it from an outsider's perspective.

The couture collection is a fantasy in clothing. Said says that "One ought never to assume that the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies or of myths which, were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow away." In the floaty, light-coloured clothing of the collection, this myth seems personified; it creates a fantasy land of exotic origami feminine creatures, but behind this, there is a 'body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been considerable material investment (133)." This phrase can be taken on two levels- fashion houses as institutions of design and the point of view imparted by Orientalism. The whole Galliano collection is a European fantasy, which is what creates Orientalism, according to Said. The politics of fashion underneath the design house support the myths of Orientalism.

Many of the elements in the fashion line are not the everyday life of the Japanese people- kimonos are formal, special-occasion wear, samurais are a thing of the past. Anime is media which is also consumed by Westerners and isn't a realistic part of life in any culture, although the collection is ostensibly based upon Galliano's observances of Japan.

Said states that Orientalism depends on the assumption that the Westerner has the upper hand in his relationship with the Orient. Indeed, Galliano's tour of Japan is the manifestation of this, where he goes to the Orient and comes back with these ideas for a collection in the same way that the scientist or scholar or missionary "could be there...with very little resistance on the Orient's part (134)." The most blatant manifestation of the colonial in a foreign place comes when Galliano steps onto the runway. He is wearing a costume complete with what appears to be a British or Spanish military jacket, tricorn hat, gold braid and red sash, white trousers and over the knee boots. After his Japanese appropriation, he walks in looking every inch the colonial explorer, complete with a curly blonde wig, becoming the colonial master with success based on his interpretation of an absent culture.

This couture example of Orientalism in contemporary times shows that the politics and political framing of the Asian other is still functioning behind the Western view of the Orient. The purposes of fashion is to create something exotic, something alluring, something different from the banal everyday as a commodity, and this purpose is served by the construction of Orientalism, according to Edward Said. The comparison is so blatant it is almost funny.


Mower, Sarah. "Christian Dior Spring 2007 Couture Collection." Style.Com. 2007. 26 Feb. 2008 .

La Belle Epoque at the Vancouver Museum

Women's Fashions of
La Belle Époque 1890 - 1914

I went and saw La Belle Époque which showcased real clothing from the 1890 - 1914. I was surprised that much of the clothing was from Vancouver or British Columbia, because with all of the research I've done on the internet, the fashion center was France. But these clothes were worn by real women, which is amazing because the silhouettes range from high busted, narrow waisted figures, to even the non-mainstream fashions of women who refused to wear corsets. Everything was exquisite, and would easily cost a thousand dollars to reproduce today. There was a teal corset, black boots with dozens of straps but no tongue, brightly coloured accessories, and dresses with pleats and draping and painstaking details. Although the exhibit was not large- you could walk around the room in three minutes- it's easy to spend upwards of an hour peering at the beautiful textiles, seaming details, ornamentation, and comparing the evolving styles with each other and with contemporary clothing.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Postmodernism Essay/Musings.

Postmodernism is old art done in a new way. In order to explore the aesthetic and social issues of postmodernism, the resulting schools of thought in the art world can be divided into a 'postmodernism of resistance [and] a postmodernism of reaction' as proposed by the group around the journal, October. (Hopkins).
Dividing postmodernism is like splitting a plate of spaghetti into two halves with a spoon. It can be done, but it is neither clean nor exact, and it is hard to differentiate one pile from the other, at first glance. However, this contrast is an important distinction in art because in order to keep a fresh edge on new artistic pursuits, old ideas should not stagnate, but be reinvigorated through the practice of new artists. This can be done in two ways: a postmodernism of resistance is the appropriation of imagery, demonstrated by Cindy Sherman; and the postmodernism of reaction, which is the amalgamating of the old and new, as in the work of Yasumasa Morimura. Both of these artists are photographers who are using the visual language of what has come before them to say something on their own terms, with their own self-portraits but are approaching it in these two different postmodern ways.
Postmodernism is a term that describes the paradigm shift happening in the world after modernism. Postmodernism is the change from the tenets of modernism that occurred not just in art, but also architecture, literature, and other disciplines. This shift takes place from shortly after 1945 and World War II, until contemporary times (Bertens, 162). In the art world, this meant moving away from the modernism canonized in institutions like New York's Museum of Modern Art. (Connor, 5) and this movement can be divided into the postmodernism of resistance and the postmodernism of reaction. According to Usher, a postmodernism of resistance and a postmodernism of reaction play off each other.
The postmodernism of resistance is esoteric, self-referential work, which appropriates the imagery of other artists and the work of modernism. The postmodernism of resistance is to 'deconstruct modernism and resist the status quo' (Usher, 16). By subverting what has come before it, the work begins to reference itself, becoming more inaccessible for people who are unfamiliar with its allusions.
An example of this is the photography of Cindy Sherman, who counters Hollywood culture with her series “Untitled Film Stills” (Connor, 89). Cindy Sherman is deconstructive; she is not original in her compositions or the way she sets up her props or her body; she appropriates "Hollywood film stills” and so she puts herself into the stereotypical characters that are often present onscreen: the housewife; the sex-pot; the ingénue.

"The… inscribing is as evident as the subverting challenge in, for example, Cindy Sherman's early self-posed self-portraits modeled on Hollywood film stills… they are hardly innocent or uncompromised.” (Hutcheon, 13)

Her body is the thread that pulls together her series of film stills, which are also self-portraits. However, by copying the visual language of movies, and placing herself in the female roles, she removes the individuality a self-portrait usually carries. This lack of individuality, the appropriation of visual language, and this theft of voice are key components of postmodernism of resistance.
The postmodernism of reaction plays off of the postmodernism of resistance. The postmodern art of reaction is the combination of old and new ideas into an eclectic mode of expression in hopes of shocking or unsettling the jaded postmodern person.
Instead of stealing and subverting, as the postmodernism of resistance does, a postmodernism of reaction is the product of an amalgamation of both old and new ideas. This repudiates Modernism, which was completely about the avant-garde. This amalgamation is a reaction to modernism, as well as a return to old traditions (Buchloh, 40). It is the sudden return to old traditions such as representational painting after the modernist departure from these more traditional modes of artistic production that Buchloh criticizes.
An example of old ideas combined with the new is Yasumasa Morimura, who is a Japanese photographer who inserts himself into art history, using iconic paintings and combining them with his own self-portrait. Unlike Sherman, whose body is a stand-in for the character, Morimura imbrues his presence in his photographs. Instead of trying passively, to pretend to be the character, he remains himself, complete with his Tran sexuality and his Japanese heritage, and this combination creates a rich vocabulary that gives his work a strong voice.
For example, Morimura converts Manet's classic painting Olympia into a photograph titled Portrait (Futago), and mixes himself in, with the postmodernist's ladle. This stirs the subtleties of his own identity in with the art history that the painting Olympia already carries (West, 211).
Buchloh thinks that this return to old ways of thinking also returns value to the male gaze. However, Yasumasa Morimura uses this male gaze for his own purposes. He pretends to be a woman in the same comical fashion as a man dressed up for Halloween- still obviously a man, but self-confidently appearing in the part of a woman.
The appropriation and the amalgamation of postmodernism is a circular process. Since postmodernism uses what has come before it, eventually postmodern art turns into an ouroboros, endlessly referencing itself. For example, Morimura's work, "To my little sister: For Cindy Sherman" (1998) sees Morimura inserting himself into Sherman's appropriations (Balkema, 98). This work is a perfect example of how seemingly opposing postmodernist approaches play off each other and artists recycle each other’s imagery.
Neither form of postmodernism would stand without the history of the work they are appropriating. Postmodernism is nothing and everything: nothing, because by its existence it is unoriginal. Postmodernism is chewing modernism's cud; the difference between resistance and reaction is which of the cow's stomachs this digestive muck is sitting in; it all ends up in the same place.
Essentially, postmodernism in the art world is the manner things, which have already been done, are incorporated into contemporary works. On one hand, there is the postmodernism of resistance and the work of Cindy Sherman, which is the appropriation of the old, and on the other hand is the postmodernism of resistance and the work of Yasumasa Morimura, which is an amalgamation of the old. In the postmodern world, there is really no new way to do things, but there are always new individuals to insert into the big picture.