I have been looking at the work of several artists recently who, in different ways, extend the idea of “gaze of the other” through various media.
Under the condition of modernity the artist was a rare, strange figure. Today there is nobody who is not involved in artistic activity of some kind. Thus, today everybody is involved in a complicated play with the gaze of the other.
But what exactly is the subject of so many gazes? What is that which the gaze registers as it surveys the landscape of the “complicated play” that Groys describes?
Much of the work that comes to mind as I think about this question is inexorably tethered to the particularity of the artist’s life; this a trope of contemporary artmaking. We see such registration in the work of artists such as Elizabeth Peyton or Nan Goldin, whose subjects are often outsiders and seemingly hyper-conscious of the framing of their own narrative via the artist who is the intermediary to the gaze of the viewer. Or, in the case of Nayland Blake, the “subject” is the artist’s own life; the personal is made at times, painfully public.
The work of contemporary artists whose focus is on making visible what is otherwise not (especially in the context of art) relies on a particular kind of show and tell; it illuminates (shows) and narrates (tells) stories that relate the experience of the individual to those of the group.
Pamela J. Peters, is a Los Angeles-based photographer, poet and filmmaker who belongs to the Navajo Nation. Much of her work explores the legacy of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, that saw, between the 1950s and 1980s, some 750,000 Native Americans move from reservations to urban population centers. Her multimedia documentary project called Legacy of Exiled NDNZ looks at the descendants of that first wave of indigenous migrants and subsequent migrations to the city of Los Angeles. Her work unearths the “lost” histories of her subjects and re-makes the narratives of the city where Peters works.
Heidi Latsky is a New York choreographer who works with performers of variable abilities and body types. Her recent work On Display is a “deconstructed art exhibit/fashion show” and commentary on the body as spectacle. She is concerned with the cultural obsession with body image. In On Display viewers are placed in an intimate relationship with a group of diverse and extreme bodies in public spaces. It becomes clear throughout the durational performance that there is a tacit invitation to look; that disability is “on display” as a method of diffusing the alienation of such difference and that, in the end, the work explores and demonstrates inclusion through art.
The artist’s book I am My Family is a project by Toronto based artist/photographer Rafael Goldchain. Some of Goldchain’s Polish-Jewish ancestors emigrated to South America in the 1930s, and many others perished in Poland during the Nazi regime. As one might imagine, also lost were most of the portraits of his extended family. Goldchain transforms himself into his ancestors across fifty-two black and white images. He “performs” each for the camera, effectively sitting for his own self-portrait and making visible the aura of each of his lost relatives.
From the early 1920’s until the eve of World War Two, most of my family members emigrated from Poland to Venezuela, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, or Chile. A few others sought a new life in the United States or Canada. Some left Poland intending to come back with funds to help their families but were prevented by the outbreak of war. All of my extended family members who remained in Europe after the beginning of World War Two perished in the Shoah.
Goldchain puts contemporary autobiography theory into practice by literally stepping into the album through the photographic self-portrait. By performing the identities of his ancestors in the photographs, Goldchain tells the family’s history by showing alternative versions of himself.
Chair of Art