Encounter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Johannes Vermeer, Study of a Young Woman, 1665-67

Some man said you weren’t as beautiful as

that floozy in a turban, but at least you have

a measure of gracefulness to offset your plain

features, thank goodness for virtue.

I had a laugh when he compared you to Mona

as if you had anything to do with her Leonardo

amused, together in that imaginary space

the gallery

admiring your pearl face

from the corner of my eye.

what you know that I don’t is worth a moment

the shape of Vermeer’s dirty brush and maybe

not by choice

and how to sit statue-still, a porcelain lady

hide your teeth and your dark womb thoughts

relinquish even your name

for father’s art.

–Nicole

“The Revolution Will Be Designed”

That catchy title is not my own and instead is a comment on our changing culture. Everyday, especially with accessible technology, do we both perpetuate and watch society’s standards, regionally and globally, as they shift and merge.  This is why it is so incredibly important to remember that what we build, break and blog today will have a different type of significance tomorrow.

I began doing informal research on the topics of Gender and Design and how they could possibly intersect on the whole. Design, as a principle of advertising, innovation, architecture and so many other fields is often connected through its partnership with Functionality. Where Design is not always functional, it is itself a dialogue on beauty or aesthetic and, as it seems to go, often consumerism as well.

Considering how Gender is a “function” of society; a convenient way to categorize and communicate cultural roles, I only now thought of it in terms of Design. When it comes to marketing, Gender is crucial for economy and trendsetting.  In relation to inventions and new technology, Gender comes into play largely in ratios behind the scenes, but also in how we see ourselves reflected back by identity politics online. And in terms of architecture, in this case the many levels that overlap to make a society work, we notice Gender as part of the institutionalization of different populations and groups.

Remembering that Gender is a construct that we are socialized into is a key factor towards building a better, more egalitarian culture and future. Notions about how men and women (and every person who identifies in between) are supposed to act and behave is designed. Every part of one’s gender identity is packaged as a way to move in and out of social situations and how to process purpose and place when living a moment is just not enough.

We have to be open to the constant movement of trends, of language and of how we occupy physical and emotional spaces. When we chose to design, or in some cases, redesign, such decisions come with consequences we may or may not be able to determine prior to the switch. By analyzing the worlds in which we live we take the “risk” of become subversive, of going against a grain which seemingly works. What many overlook though is that when someone openly questions such functions, like Gender, they begin to realize that there are others that too are less happy than they could be. Remembering also that functionality is relative is important too if just simply to remind oneself to be an aware participant in the Design process. Because a Design works for one, or many, does not mean that it works the way it could, that it works the best it can or that it is even still relevant.

More to learn, More to grow

-Darragh

Agonizing Ads….

Just last week, I had the pleasure of flipping through an issue of the fashion magazine Marie Claire. According to their website, this publication is: “Your source for information on fashion, style, beauty, women’s issues, careers, health, and so much more. It is the fashion magazine with character, substance and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion and a sense of humor…If it matters to women, it’s in Marie Claire.”

Hmm, sounds promising so far.

Inside I found these two ads:

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What matters to women? Apparently Slimfast diets and breast implants. I particularly love the Slimfast image, with its bait and switch. Women want to lose weight to be more confident, it’s improving their self-image, right….? Oh wait, what they actually meant was women want to look better naked.

Two things:

1. Don’t tell me to diet.

2. I already look good naked.

Why do these ads make me happy? It’s not because I’m looking to drop pounds or get bodywork done.

It’s not even because they expose Marie Claire’s mission statement as blatant hypocrisy.

These ads make me smile because of what happened as I was looking at them. (Glaring in anger, really.) Because at that moment, two other women in the room with me became interested in what was causing my face to twist up. I quickly showed them the offending pages. And what happened next was brilliant. We started a dialogue.

In a very simple way, we deconstructed the hell out of those images. We talked through it. We voiced our different opinions. These stupid, frustrating pictures of faceless women turned into tools whereby we could talk about what it means to be a woman now. And that’s a seed of hope for this society. Women want to talk about what it means to be women. They just need the opportunity. And what is more fitting and more ironic than using  mass media as a diagram of exactly how we don’t want to be seen?

I may even write a little note to Marie Claire, to thank them for making their idea of womanhood so clear to me. It’s useful to know thine enemy.

-Nicole

Media Review–“Accessory”

Jordyn Taylor

Confessions of a Shopaholic

2009

“Fashion defines women” is certainly not a new concept, but I was surprised to learn that by tracking fashion trends, you can track the modernization process of a society. To put this into practice, I’ll do my best to gain some sort of insight into our society by breaking down the messages in “Accessory.” I am indebted to Professor Susan Hiner for her excellent talk on fashion and modernity given at Tyler School of Art, which inspired and provided the background for this post.

Oh, our love affair with inanimate objects.

No, really, she is about to make out with that mannequin. Do woman (wealthy, white) have so much agency that they can afford to love their luxury accessories instead of- or more than- other people?  Clearly, pleasure is tied up in the acquisition and display of “brand name” objects. Now take a moment to appreciate this image.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the handbag did not always carry the meaning we assign to it today. In fact, circa 1801 handbags were seen as ridiculous alternatives to pockets, which were hidden underneath the dress. A handbag, in contrast to the secrecy of the pocket, was promiscuous. The women carrying a handbag openly was immediately “classed down”  as vulgar, letting it all hang out. Unless her bag was a sewing bag, because in that case it announced her prowess at home economics and thus potential wifely qualities. Needlework was acceptable, it showed a woman’s moral fiber. Virtuous needlework would keep a woman from the idle vanity of handbags.

Jump forward to the 1880s. Department stores have entered the scene, trampled small businesses underfoot. We can see all too clearly the developing gendered economy, reflected in the literature of the time. Women, as consumers, are idiots. They drive men to bankruptcy. And who is to blame for this trouble? The humble handbag. Because woman get irrational over them. In fact, it’s almost like your wife or fiancee is having an adulterous relationship with these huge stores full of fashion. Isn’t it? Check out 2:52 in the video again. Stores are seduction machines.

Well, the adultery never stopped. By the 1900s, women had moved into the public sphere of activities. Their defiant use of fashion accessories allowed them to transgress traditional  boundaries that associated women with privacy and the home. Where does that leave us today? The bigger the better! In the video, our girl dances in front of bags larger than she is. Designer bags are now symbols of wealth and status, to a much greater degree than they were in the past.

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See? We’ll even fight for them! How can we go out into the world without an accessory that proclaims our power and marks us as better than the competition?

“He’s my latest accessory. Was he on sale?”

We’re at the point now that we use relationships in the same way we use designer labels: to boost our status. To give us another reason to feel good about ourselves, in the public street and online, through photos and status updates, anywhere. It’s a kind of power trip to be able to claim someone as “your significant other.” “Accessory” is a bit interesting in that it is the women who are making this statement of power, quite blatantly listing men as objects in their collections. I would not call it empowering, however. It comes at the expensive of dehumanizing men, even to the point that men are bought and sold like the shoes and bags. That’s no kind of progress.

We tend to think that quantity makes up for quality. If we own a lot of bags, or boyfriends, our quality of life will increase. Are these things just tools, or are they some fundamental part of our egos? And at that rate,  I wonder at what point does ownership transfer? When do we stop owning our accessories, and they start to own us?

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~Nicole

Fatal Adventures 1.19.13–Mosex Revisited

MUSEUM OF SEX
233 Fifth Avenue (@ 27th Street)
New York, NY

In my head I’d imagined it bigger. Something on the scale of the PMA, or even Philly’s City Hall. From Darragh’s description of her first visit, I’d built up a picture of an endless maze, a pictorial journey through the History of Sex. Standing on fifth ave, my expectations around my ankles, I held back the urge to mutter “Really? That’s it?”

The first floor sex shop was surprisingly less shocking and more, I don’t know, coy? It seemed a little too clean, too well put together, like Barnes and Nobles trying to be kinky. There were popular novels, too, such as 50 Shades of Grey, and shot glasses, and coloring books. Hiding in the back of the shop were the actual sex toys, which were only vaguely intriguing. (Why a cupcake?) The shop itself could have made a succinct exhibit, Commodification of Desire, or The Sexual Consumer. But the next floor above made up for all that.

The museum calls it Universe of Desire. To me it will always be the floor where I first saw porn. Or as they put it,“As human behavior becomes more clickable than physical, we can’t help but wonder what this means for our most basic, biological impulse: sex.” says Mark Snyder, Director of Exhibitions and Co-Curator of “Universe of Desire.”  The black walls really help the screens of copulation to stand out, as if they weren’t going to have all your attention anyway. Out of all the kinks, all the video installations, it was the animated cartoon sex reel that made me nauseous. I think because of how exaggerated the motions were. Come on, cartoon dude, she’s not a kabob. I stood there wincing until I’d seen the video through. At least this exhibit helped me discover what I’m not into. One object that I did like on this floor was the orgasm quilt. It was, as you might imagine, a quilt with orgasming faces on each panel. The images came from this project, The Beautiful Agony, dedicated to the beauty of the human orgasm. It gave your eyes something still to rest on, pleasurable instead of demanding. There was a lot of stimuli in that room.

Beyond the digital sex exhibit, the floor I liked the most was called Sex Lives of Animals. It came closest to fulfilling my desire for information as well as arousal. Besides learning about the shocking and ridiculous ways animals get it on, you also get to look at some fun sculptures and pics. Deer threesome, anyone? Or if that’s not to your taste, how about camel masturbation? People laughed in this room, or snorted with embarrassment, or grabbed their friend to point something out. Not the hushed, dark, weird space of the porn floor at all.

MOSEX is an experience that everyone relates to in some way. But going through it feels more like a carnival atmosphere than a museum. There are huge holes in the structure and content, none of which seems logically organized. Sexy sex in other cultures is omitted (Anime? Manga??). Religious attitudes towards sex are never referenced. This is not a scientific inquiry, ladies and gents. But that’s okay, because its target audience is the 18-25 crowd. Girls taking pictures of themselves in front of the exhibits, guys copping a feel of their girlfriend’s butts….the visitors themselves are sometimes more interesting than the exhibits….galleries….whatever they are. I’m still mentally digesting everything I saw there, not sure if there’s any real insight to be had…other than, as much as we may like to have the sex ourselves, perhaps we like even more the suggestions and the possibilities available by watching others have it?

Turbo boobs

If you’d like to check out their other exhibits, here’s the website: Museum of Sex.

–Nicole