Tag Archives: Art

Disney, you fucked us up.

30 Dec

If, every morning, my every need were attended to by wild birds and a pack of domesticated rodents I’d definitely be considering a relocation. If not that, then at least my health and mental well-being. The likelihood of a small flock of birds drawing a bath for me is slim to none, and I definitely wouldn’t want to these days with cross-species Avian Flu transmissions surely imminent. But evidently this wasn’t a concern for Cinderella in her fairytale kingdom, circa 1950.

Good ol’ Walt Disney sure knew how weave a false dream for thousands of kids around the world. And somewhere within the messed-up mental machinations of these youth, this fantasy was somehow internalized, only to return in years to come as fetishes not so benign. Or so Freud’s idea of the uncanny goes. If those friendly forest creatures aren’t prepared to pamper you when you get up and strip down every morning, then why not put them to some better use? Continue reading

[camera] OBSCURA | LUCIDA

9 Oct

Continue reading

Great Dogs of History

12 Sep

Wishbone, one of the greatest fictional dogs in recent history.

The modern world has reached a consensus; Dogs are awesome. They have twice the amount of legs as humans do, can’t tell the difference between right and wrong (apart from Wishbone), and will love anyone that has food. It is a little known fact that Shakespeare’s well known play Othello may have been originally written about the love between a man and a dog. And I can’t help but think that had Shakespeare kept it that way, things would’ve ended a lot better!

It is also a little known fact that dogs have played a pivotal role in the history of humanity. Here, we retrospectively examine the history of dogs, and look to the future, where, inevitably, they will be our rulers. Three woofs for all!

Jeff Koon's Puppy

Jeff Koon’s puppy is made entirely out of shrubbery. Unfortunately it is also usually inanimate and as such has had a somewhat limited contribution to the world of artistic gymnastics.

It has now been ten years since the Baha Men, in a touching example of post-global disenfranchisement, expressed their concern over the removal of dogs from their natural habitat. Ten years on and we are still left wondering exactly who is responsible for the letting of the dogs (read: human cultural paradigms) out  (the proliferation of McDonaldisation following the technological revolution).

The world's largest dog.

Like humans, dogs are getting larger. It seems like every week our headlines are dominated by tales of huge dogs enslaving their owners. Dogs are now getting so large that Louis Vuitton announced recently that the luxury label’s signature dog bag will be released in larger sizes.

One enslaved dog owner.

Soon dogs will be so large that no bag will contain them!

With every larger dog, humanity comes closer to extinction. I for one welcome our new canine overlords with open arms, with the hope that I may be kept alive during the coming revolution because of my invaluable services to the arts.

Clearly they are plotting something.

You have been warned.

Next week: The Catorialist and the future of Cat-ture.

Getting beneath your skin

11 Sep

Beauty is only skin deep. Or so the saying goes. It’s that well-worn cliché that’s been attributed to Thomas Overbury’s 1613 poem “A Wife“…whose subject matter is probably just that. Adherents to the adage must sleep well at night knowing that even though their ingrown hairs are getting worse, that the embarrassing rash may be here to stay, inside their humble exteriors lies a goldmine of morality, kindness and sincerity. Let’s take things literally for a second….

If you were really to pull back that superficial and supple veneer of skin you’d be kidding yourself if you weren’t left with a pulpy mess of blood, subcutaneous fat and tissue that smells something like a poorly maintained butcher in summer. Not pretty.

Just think of all the euphemisms, symbolisms and turns of language aimed to disguise the putrid intricacies of the human bodies. You think love lies somewhere in the centre of your chest? Just let Clive Owen in Closer (2006) tell ya’: your heart, that poeticized organ of love (no, not the one in your pants), is nothing more than a fist wrapped in blood.

Maybe it’s a rude awakening to the machinations of the world, a welcome home to the muck that we live in as human beings. Sure there’s no harm in being idealistic, but a good dose of cynicism (I like to call it “being realistic”) helps keep you grounded. In fact, there’s cynicism in saying beauty’s superficial because it supposes the trickery of appearances.

But just like Keats’ well-wrought urn, there is truth in beauty, and there is beauty in truth, whether that truth is the metaphysical kind we can only strive towards; or the truth of our existence: flesh, blood, bone and shit. The beauty’s in the fact that out of the base materials of the world, designs of infinite complexity have come into being (with or without the help of some divine force); biological systems survive even in the most hostile conditions; civilizations have been built and have crumbled; old people continue to have sex, much to the horror of…well, anyone.

Considering that there’s a lot of crap out there that’ll ruin you (drugs, sex, alcohol, scientology, etc.) we’re doing just fine. Life always manages to weather the worst, to climb the junkpile of our own filth and history to create ever greater piles. C’mon, we’ve made it through 17 days of political indecision so that’s saying something. And if you’ve seen “Double Rainbow” guy, who says illusions can’t be satisfying?

Yi

Images courtesy of Fumie Sasabuchi, Zhang Huan and \\\.

Size Matters

10 Sep

Peter Paul van Rubens, detail from 'The Disembarkation at Marseille' (Marie de' Medici Cycle), c. 1622-25.

Following up on Josh’s last post, I’m going to look at how the representation of fatness has been handled in Western visual culture for the last few hundred years. Fittingly, I’m writing this whilst convalescing in bed from a knee injury, during which every morsel of caloric food is surely depositing itself to my gluts or artery walls from a lack of movement.

Now there was a time, back in European history not-so-long-ago, when grandiosity was the key to high society: frivolity, excess, not a single trimming spared.  If you’ve been watching the ABC recently it’s what “art historian” Waldemar Januszczak will have been annoyingly reminding you of: this was the age of the Baroque. From excessive augmentation in music, luxurious interior designs, to bold and captivating art slowly wresting itself from the Church yet still highly dependent on courtly patronage, the Baroque in own gargantuan reach across 16th-18th century Europe was an artistic “obesity” of sorts. Of course, the taste for the expansive started to impact on representations of the human body, and nowhere more evidently clear than in the work of Peter Paul van Rubens.

Rubens, 'Venus at the Mirror', 1612-1615.

Remember: this was the time before the flowing streamlined elegance of art nouveau, before tapeworm diets were in, before flappers, and before the Ramos sisters and Ana Carolina Reston all died from anorexia in the name of fashion in 2006.

Aubrey Beardsley's illustration for 'The Peacock Skirt', 1894.

Nothing like tapeworms to help you shed those extra pounds.

No curves for you: designs from a 1928 flappers catalogue

A bit of extra flab on the hips, large, full breasts and a round visage were all signs of prosperity, wealth, good fortune and health (I’m guessing it’s because the rich could afford to eat more..). It was still a few hundred years away before Darwin’s theory of natural selection – think “the survival of the fittest”, “fight or flight” – so exercise wasn’t really on the priority list of the everyday courtly lady. No royal gynasiums. In fact, the less one moved and the more one depended on the movement of others was (and still is) a sign of power and rank.

Rubens, 'The Three Graces', 1636-38. Rubens' fine brushwork can be seen in the attention to detail in the cellulite and skin folds.

Rubenesque women appear to me to have a certain ease about them, a grace and self-possession that elevates them beyond earthly limitations and standards of beauty. Partly it’s because Rubens’ robust women are by and large mythical, from Venuses, to Graces, nymphs to the daughters of Leucippus being raped. (Note that this was in the time when “rape” also meant “abduction” so it sort of explains why no one’s looking too concerned in the following painting…)

Rubens, 'Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus', c. 1617. Fun when everyone's involved(??)

Yet even in his treatment of more realistic subject matter, say of his second wife Hélène Fourment, Rubens retains a certain distance that preserves a sense of untouchable mystery, divinity, luxury and bold sexuality.

Rubens, 'Hélène Fourment in a Fur Coat', c. 1630s.

I’d be kidding myself if I believed that standards don’t change over time, and that the majority now believe that fat is no longer fashionable. It’s not just the extremes of haute couture which set the aesthetic standard (size 0) for society as a whole; the men and women of 2010 participate in and motivate the cult of the perfected, svelt body. Just like World Youth Day in Sydney, 2008,

Gaudy design for a gaudy god

subscribers to this Church of the Fit come decked out with Fitness First backpacks and Zumba bodies to boot. Under this new hegemony, individuals of the more generous proportions tend to become lumped at the fringes, the targets of national fitness campaigns, current affair show exposés and, in some cases as in Japan, the targets of new fat taxes. Space is a definitely a rarity in the land of the rising sun.

Hiding behind the art historical pretense that “Rubens loved fat women” (even though fat fetishes are real) in no way justifies the low-brow and kitsch attempts to make obesity normative. My guess is many of the magazines and ads that cater to a plus-sized category do so by feeding off the insecurities of men and women who fail to fit into the clothes the fashion world sets as the limit of acceptable size. Flying the banner of “Big is Beautiful”, the efforts behind the democratization of the standards of beauty seem quite half-arsed

Is this for real?

and only serve to reinforce the dominant stereotypes of acceptable body images as they awkwardly parody the fetishized objects of mainstream media and visual culture. Even Whitney Thompson, lauded as America’s Next Top Model‘s first plus-sized winner, appears somewhat to “fall below the benchmark”. Honey, you’ve won, you’re beautiful, but try losing 5 before the next shoot, OK? Slight variations from standards of taste tend to reveal those very standards which have, over time, become so internalized that they seem natural. Thompson didn’t so much set a new standard of beauty as much as proving there is a line, and that she wasn’t inside it. Larger-sized women continue to be superficially accepted yet tacitly pushed to the edges.

Whitney Thompson.

Perhaps there are some pragmatic considerations behind the taste for skinny women on magazine covers. I mean, seriously, with all the demands of contemporary magazine covers and spreads, how are fashion houses supposed to sell all their wares if the models are competing for valuable print space?

Agyness Deyn fits perfectly between the text.

…but then you look at the minimalism of an A4 magazine cover and realise that theory’s just shit.

A4's horticultural special: is your tree too fat?

The full-bodied, carnal and sexualized bodies of Western art – from the “Venus” of Willendorf, to Titian, Matisse, Man Ray, Henry Moore, to Fernando Botero – given way to mass media culture’s gross and perverted appetite for sensation, inclusion and commodification. Even though their figures weren’t normatively “beautiful” for their time, there’s still an evident celebration of the formal grandeur of bodies larger than life, a certain fluidity that’s pleasing to the eye in their curving sweeps of line and colour.

Fernando Botero, 'Woman Drinking with Cat', 2002.

Maybe it’s in process of commodifying this aesthetic that high-brow beauty was killed by her kitsch, lo-fi sister? Or perhaps its natural selection played out on the level of high-falutin media gambits?

I should add that even though most of what I’ve referred to concerns the representation of the female body, the male body hasn’t come through unscathed. From classical Greek perfection, to hirsute, brawny and muscular men, the first decade of the third millenium has spawned the rise of the “heroin-chic” man.

Sascha Kooienga and Artem Emelianov

Whilst some guys continue to beef up in the gym, it’s those smaller and weedier few with high metabolisms (or just coke??) that are now at the centre of the fashion world’s gravitational pull. On the plus side, this has led to a realization by media outlets that conditions such as anorexia just might not be so gendered after all

Yi

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