Where my interest towards ambiguity in art started

The theme of ambiguity wasn’t something that I was immediately drawn to when I started studying for my B.A in Fine Arts, but I was rather completely infatuated by anything that had to do with gender, especially anything male related……..and as you can see from my previous blogs…that obsession hasn’t left yet. Around the Second year, we had a specific unit that was completely dedicated to finding a sense of artistic identity. As a starting point we had to choose one theme from the themes of Contemporary Art, namely; Identity, The body, Time, Memory, Place, Language, Science ,Spirituality. As paranoia, doubt and an obsessive need for control weren’t an option, I chose Memory.

The unit also composed of another task which comprised of researching artists that we identify with. It was during this research that I came across the artist that really changed my views about what art I want to produce, he was the American figurative Artist Eric Fischl. When you search Fischl online the probability is that you’ll come across his famous Bad boy series, but it was actually another series titled the “Krefeld Project” that really caught my attention.

In the “Krefeld Project” Fischl used a method where he hired two actors, asking them to act out problems which were given to them by the Artist himself, in a house which he had refurnished. He kept going with this method for around 4 days constantly capturing moments from the acted scenes that mostly interested him. He then started to digitally cut, paste and manipulate these photographs to recreate new scenes from them. As an example, the first picture below is the actual digital manipulation that Fischl created which he then reproduced as a painting, titled “Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4” (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), 2012).

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Eric Fischl, 2002 (image Online). Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4. [Oil on Linen].

While creating each painting of the “Krefeld Project” series, Fischl kept coming up with questions regarding his characters, such as; Whose house is this?, Is it her house or his house?, Are they married? Are they having an affair?, trying to understand who they are and what type of relationship, hoping that his questions will be answered in the next painting (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), 2012). Through the Artist’s Project, I had discovered the element of Ambiguity, and how it can be used in relation to characters to generate it further. The ambiguity in this series is mostly created through how the two characters interact with one another, their body language and how they fit in their surroundings, which in turn gives rise to more questions and hardly any answers.

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Eric Fischl, 2002 (image Online) Krefeld Project: Bedroom, Scene 1. [Oil on Linen].

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Eric Fischl, 2003 (image Online) Krefeld Project: Bathroom, Scene 2. [Oil on Linen].

You might be asking how does the Theme of Memory fit into all this? Basically, after having chosen a theme and doing the research about Artists I mostly related with, I started my brain storming to then progress to my body of work. I did this by putting down all the memories I could remember, in a form of automatic writing, ranging from childhood to more recent ones, including memories that are still very personal. Due to this, I wasn’t confident enough with completely putting these memories on display…..soooo, I said to myself…….why not use the element of ambiguity just as Eric Fischl has done. This would have allowed me to visualise these memories, but at the same time, only hinting suggestions without any actual answers. With that established idea as a foundation, I could then advance to actually creating these memories from paragraphs into actual images. Influenced by Fischl, I did this through the medium of collage, with the only difference being  that I made mine the old fashion way with a craft knife and a glue stick, while Fischl did his digitally, as shown above. Out of various compositions, of varying memories, three collages of three different memories, that have gained significant meaning throughout the years, ended being chosen and  turned into a triptych of paintings;

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The triptych’s title “Via Del Anamnesi, 165, Gzira, Reggio Calabria, 1709” is actually a hybrid address made up from mixture of an Italian and Maltese address, which in a way aided to create more ambiguity . This decision was simply taken as two of the memories have been created in Malta, while the other one in Italy. The primary method in which I created a sense of ambiguity within the paintings was by placing these “characters” within a domestic environment, which represents the “familiar”, while their actions create the contrasting effect of the “peculiar”.  By doing so, this allowed the viewers to create their own assumptions and stories, as I only gave suggestions of what each individual painting, or the three altogether, could possibly narrate. As viewers are not told what the memories are, it allows them to perhaps relate to the works more easily, as any possible narration by them, is as equally valid as another one from a different person, which in a way makes it more personal.

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Bibliography:

An up-date

In my second blog post titled “A good decision”, I discussed how for once, I took the right decision being to use digital Photography, instead of painting, as the main medium for my dissertation project. I also mention how I managed finding three of the most co-orporative guys who have volunteered to pose for me, making my life a little bit easier. Before reading this blog post I would suggest you read the previous blog post so what I’m about to blab about.

Since my second blog post, I managed to pick up momentum and conducted another three individual “photo-shoots” and I though by writing a blog post about it would help to re-evaluate on what the hell I’m actually trying to do. So far things have been going smoothly, but self-doubt appeared again, so I decided to become friends with it and give it a friendly new name, which is Sem, short for “self-evaluation mechanism”. Basically the idea has officially shifted towards creating an ambiguous narrative revolving three males, where their relationship in constantly on edge, making it questionable as I give no conclusions, just subtle hints. The new paranoia my head that is to not create cliché photos which you can easily find plenty of on tumblr and pintrest but rather create unique images that can stand strongly within the context of contemporary photography.

To try and achieve this I went back to an old technique which I commonly use, that being automatic writing, which simply consist of writing whatever comes in your head. In my case I tried to write random sense which would then be reacted by the three models, ranging from “a male standing in a stiff manner on the dinner table” to “a hand can be seen on the floor behind an arch way” and many other pleasant things. I’m also playing with this idea of using object to create more ambiguity, such as placing female object within a scene, but no female character never shows. I also got the idea of adding a child in the mix of the scenes which would question her/his relations with the three main characters.

I still think it’s too early to say where this project might take as I still have the rest of March and all of the month of April to develop it. I want to create a photographic series that has a story and a meaning but will be presented in an encrypted manner that will make you itch to find out…that is my goal. In the meantime, enjoy the three sneak peaks attached below.

 

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I watched Moonlight and I feel inspired

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A24, 2016 (image Online). Moonlight (2016). [Digital Poster].

I usually don’t watch films during a busy week as I become crippled with anxiety surrounded by voices that shout “YOU’RE WASTING TIME !”, But I was in a mood where not even a collapsing ceiling would make me nudge, so I decided to watch Moonlight and I’m so happy I did.

First things first, let’s talk about the content of the movie which is already so powerful on its own. The story revolves around the main character who’s birth name is Chiron, divided between three chapters of his life, as a young boy, a teenager, and a young adult. As a young boy, Chiron (who is nicknamed Little) is shy and an introvert living in a bad neighborhood in Miami with his mother who is a drug addict and who eventually neglects him. As he becomes a teenager Chiron (who is still called Little) is still shy and struggling with constant bullying which doesn’t help his situation. As an adult, Chiron uses a given nickname “Black”,and has now somehow become more  comfortable with himself (Huggo, 2016).

One of the other overwhelming factors about this film is how masculinity, race and sexuality are tackled in one single film, and if you have read my previous blogs you know that I’m very passionate about these topics. Within the first chapter Chiron (Little) as a young boy, builds a beautiful relationship with Juan, who gains his trust by shows him support, love, care and patience. I also have to admit that I judged the character Juan a bit too quickly as someone who was going to act stereotypically macho, but I was caught off guard as he started showing, ever so naturally, a deep sense of care for Chiron (Little) and an open minded mentality. There are two scenes where Juan challenges toxic masculinity, the first scene is when Juan takes Chiron (Little) go to the beach to teach him how to swim. Juan is seen to hold Chiron (Little) ensuring him that he can trust him and who tells him “Give me your head, ok..let your head rest in my hand, relax, I got you, I promise..I’m not gonna let you go….Hey man I got you, there you go”. I found that scene a beautifully captured moment where a man is showing genuine love and care for a child, Chiron, promising that he will not let him go. I personally refuse to call Juan a father figure for Chiron, but simply a figure/role model that showed him unconditional love and compassion, which the role models gender has nothing to do with it.

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A24, 2016 (image Online). Moonlight. [Digital Image].

The second is when Teresa, Chiron and Juan are sitting at the dining table, then Chiron (Little) asks him “What’s a faggot ?” to which Juan replies “A faggot is..A word used to make gay people feel bad” which Chiron asks again “Am I a faggot ?” and Juan replies with “No, no..you could be gay but you ain’t gonna let nobody call you a faggot”. I found this piece of dialogue so refreshing, it was so beautiful to see Juan break a stereotype telling a little boy that he could be gay answering in a manner that Chiron (Little) could understand, it’s completely fine to be gay, but it’s not fine to be bullied and ridiculed about his sexuality.

The second topic I want to discuss is the film’s cinematography which is so unique. As an artist who is mostly interested translating image to painting and painting in general, I couldn’t stop thinking how every single second of this movie can be turned into a painting, as every single second had such a well thought out feel of compositional balance. Two examples of this are the scene when Chiron (Little) is preparing his own bath, followed by a zoom shot of Chiron (Little) in the centre of the bath, which can be seen in the youtube trailer attached below at around 0:51. The composition is balanced with Chiron sitting still in the middle of the tub, the colours all dull, which create a sense of harmony and quietness, this works well with the captured moment of melancholy that the little boy is going through. Another example of this is the scene present in the youtube trailer attached below, from 0:48 to 0:50 where Chiron’s mother is shouting at him, follow by a jump cut of Chiron lowering his head as he closes his eyes. Again if you stop at each second you achieve an image which can be translated into a painting. All the paused three seconds depict a balanced composition, with both characters in the centre of their frame. What I find striking is the neon colour behind his mother which emphasise her aggressiveness, while behind Chiron everything is out of focus emphasising his passiveness. I have also attached a great youtube video titled “Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More” by ScreenPrism, which explains better the thought behind this masterpiece that can help you understand and appreciate it more.

 

Moonlight YouTube Trailer:

Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More:

Bibliography:

I’m all in for equality! But let’s talk a bit about men rights

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This poster was inspired by an article I read online on nytimes.com dating back to 2011, in which it discusses a group of activists, which proposed banning circumcision in San Francisco. At first, many didn’t take them seriously, but they soon managed to gather 7,000 signatures to ban the “practice”. In agreement with the activists of this cause, they state that they want to implement measures to protect young boys from an unneeded surgery, calling it male genital mutilation (Medina. J, 2011).

From the poster you can already see what my opinions are, and as I stated before I’m in full agreement. I just find it funny that when it’s done on young girls it’s called mutilation, which I agree with that statement and find completely appalling…on that note watch the movie Desert Flower, but when it comes to young boys, it’s simply called circumcision. As Europeans (with most of us uncut) I find the way Americans are obsessed with circumcision strange, immediately stating that it’s for hygienic purposes, which let’s be honest, is simply a capitalist tool of making money out of parents who have been indoctrinated thinking it’s the right thing to do. I also find that statement a bit offensive, as it indicates men who are uncut are dirty….which I can assure you we are not.

Rather than focusing on that part of it, I want to bring forward the issue regarding circumcision…which is that, if it’s your body, shouldn’t you have the right to make decisions regarding it? Shouldn’t men be able to make that decision, rather than parents making it for them without their consent? I understand that due to some medical cases some young boys need to get the procedure done and with that, I see no issue, same goes too if a man is of a certain age and THEY decided that they would like to be circumcised. I have spoken to a few men, that have been circumcised as babies or young boys and all of them feel as if they had no part in a decision that regards their own body, most still feel some remorse about it and wish it actually never happened, especially when they can still remember getting the circumcision done……..Rant over.

Bibliography:

The Effects of the Stereotypical Ideology of Masculinity in the Twentieth Century

The idea of what “masculinity” is, is in reality a collection of ideologies that have been developed and passed throughout history. These ideologies have stuck with us to this day in  the form of stereotypes which act as socially enforced rules for men to follow or else face ridicule and judgment. It is currently evident that these stereotypes have affected men, as well as society, in a negative way resulting in problems such as violence, depression and addiction etc. As better explained by the American Playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who stated

“Well, the tyranny of masculinity and the tyranny of patriarchy I think has been much more deadly to men than it has to women. It hasn’t killed our hearts. It’s killed men’s hearts. It’s silenced them; it’s cut them off.” (Schnall, 2011)

As society progresses, we are starting to become more aware of such problems and injustices that men face and in turn, this realization becomes a catalyst for individuals to rebel against such prejudice through different fields, from psychology to the Arts.

To fully understand how masculinity developed one must trace it back to its origins, as the author George L. Mosse does within his book “The Image of Man” Mosse states that “modern masculinity” is a result of historical events which played a crucial part in forming these ideas into modern society. Mosse states that such events were shaped by a collection of what was considered to be normal patterns of morals and actions that were socially acceptable for males in relation to their century (Mosse, 1996, pp. 4-5). For example, in the medieval ages we see the chivalry ideology composed of noble honour and courage, along with the tradition of duels which were fought in order to acquire them, which would also imply that the competitor has courage to compete and defend his title. Honour was important as it also implied a manly ideal, as to be label a coward was deemed dishonourable, therefore unmanly (Mosse, 1996, pp. 17-18). The idea of chivalry later required that physical strength to be just as crucial due to the reason that physical strength and dexterity would be fundamental in defending ones honour (Mosse, 1996, p.23). Today it can be still evident that such stereotypical ideas of courage and strength are still expected in men.

In the eighteenth century we see an important step that is a crucial building block to modern masculinity, the idea shifted towards men acquiring the absolute necessity of a system of morals, as the conquest of a nobel lady became the new version of knighthood that was applied in the institution of marriage. Proper behaviour wasn’t the only important factor anymore as physical appearance took a more critical place unlike before. In turn this importance towards physical appearance paved the way for the formation of modern male stereotypes based on the perception of the physicality of men.  Such an all-rounder collective male stereotype created a structure of standard of masculine appearance and comportment. (Mosse, 1996, p.19).

Mosse also stresses stereotypes acquired a negative connotation in our modern age, due to their use to “provide justification for discrimination”. Even if negative stereotypes were part of the development of the modern idea of masculinity, positive stereotypes played an important role too as they acted as a motivator that pushed cultures, society and civilisations forward in their development (Mosse, 1996, p.6).

Today, these ideologies have become part of our socially constructed version of the stereotypical masculine, composed of similar and different behaviours that define how a man is supposed act. This socially constructed behaviour is not one that naturally occurs in young boys but, it’s rather taught as a set of rules to be followed in order to accommodate the masculine expectations of their given society or face ridicule if not followed. The boundaries of what masculinity is can differ from one man to another, due to the differences of their personal experiences, upbringing and their social environment, and  other factors such as class, ability, race, gender and sexual orientation but, the most dominant version of masculinity is known as “Hegemonic Masculinity”. “Hegemonic Masculinity” is constructed of key regulations, namely: have no relations with femininity, restrain emotions, act aggressively and tough, avoid any signs of vulnerability, be seen by other males as highly sexual with females and prove one’s heterosexuality buy acting in a  homophobic manner. (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).

Young boys can easy learn these rigid rules of how to behave according to their gender from family and friends, just by being told simple phrases like “boys don’t cry” or “man up”. This “process” that young and adult males go through is known as socialization, and one version of this is the “Man Box”, illustrated below. Within the confined box one can see adjectives that are socially used as rules that set the standard of masculinity, such as being strong and emotionless while the words outside the box, which are usually “feminizing and homophobic slurs”, are used to ridicule males, usually by other males. This works as a policing system to reinforce the borderline of what is socially acceptable for males  restricting them  within the box of a “narrowly constructed definition of manhood” (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).

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Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016

During his talk on the TEDx platform in 2013, titled “Unmasking masculinity, helping boys become connected men”, psychologist Ryan McKelley tackled another type of socialization process which teaches young boys to mask their emotions as well as being separated for attachment. Mckelley states that this is a direct result for the stereotype of males being less emotional than female, but as a matter of fact a recent research suggests that new-born boys are actually more expressive in intensity and range than female new born, and even at the age of three both female and male children will equally display the whole spectrum of negative and positive emotions. At around age 6 a separation occurs between males and females regarding the type of emotions they exhibit and the reason for it can be explained with “the Male Emotional Funnel System” created by Long in 1987.  “The Male Emotional Funnel System” states that, humans, irrelevant of which gender we come into this world, have a whole range of vulnerable emotions such as embarrassment, fear, loneliness, anger etc, which can be seen on the left  below. With time, young males are taught to instead of displaying these emotions, because they are not considered to be masculine, suppress them, and in doing so only display anger and aggression, as can be seen in the diagram below, which are masculine associated emotions.  In the long run this creates negative effects such as, men becoming disconnected from their emotional state and well as losing the ability to detect others emotions, and also sequentially creating a difficulty in building strong relations with other members of society ,which usually rely on reciprocal vulnerability (TEDx Talks, 2013 .a).
                                                                                    mAnon, n.d.

Educator, author, activist, pastor and coach Joe Ehrmann, in his talk titled “Be A Man” on the TEDx  platform in 2013, also addresses how boys from a young age are told to “stop with the tears”, “don’t be some kind of “sissy” and “Be a man” and with such phrases young boys are taught to detach themselves emotionally and repress the very thing that makes them human. Ehrmann then progresses to explain the bigger picture of various stages along with their negative effects,  that come after the socialization process (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b).

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Joe Ehrmann, 2013

In the above version of the socialisation process that men go through, Ehrmann also states that it starts from social mandates, which translates to social instructions that boys are made to believe to be masculine, they have to follow them,  this is exactly the same as the “manbox” socialisation process just with a different title. The first negative effect is known as Alexithymia, Latin for a = without, lexus = words and Thymos = emotions, which mean the inability to put certain feeling or emotion in words and according to the American Psychological association up to 80% of American men have some form of Alexithymia (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b). Alexithymia was firstly used to explain the characteristics of an acute emotional construct displayed by psychosomatic, drug dependent and post-traumatic stress disorder male patients. The type of Alexithymia most commonly exhibited by men is the subclinical version, “normative male emotional restriction” which is a direct effect of boys who were brought up in a stereotypical version of masculinity, where the expression of emotion is restricted, a direct result of the “male emotional funneling system”. Along with the disability to build important relations, “Normative male emotional restriction” means men are detached from their vulnerable emotions as well as from recognizing, reasoning and discussing their state of emotion, in relation to trauma and stress, with close family members, instead dealing with stress and trauma with the only emotions that weren’t suppressed, subsequently resulting in males developing “abusive and violent behaviour, sexual compulsions, stress related conditions and even early death (Kimmel, Aranson, 2004).

Ehrmann then continues with the next step that is Covert depression. In this book, titled “I Don’t Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression”, family therapist and author Terrance Real explains in detail the dynamics of Covert depression. Real states, that due to the different socialization path the females and males undertake in relation to emotional suppression, males express depression differently than female, as female internalize pain while males externalise it, relieving distress in a more physical manner. An example of this externalized pain can be seen from the higher rates of violent events in males while internalize pain can be seen in females in the form of self-mutilation which exceed that of males (Real, 1997. pp. 22-23). This again is due to the “male emotional funneling system” thus rendering males incapable of intimacy which is needed for strong relationships, which in turn causes the next step, that of isolation.

A symptom of covert depression is “substance abuse” and addiction. A covert depressed man will seek for stimulants raging from Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex etc. to boost his damaged self-esteem as well as a means to deal with distress in the form of self-medication, but this sense of boosted self-esteem or relief act as an illusion. An example of this can be seen from the difference between normal and addictive use of substances and activities. Non-depressed males don’t rely on such external factors to feel good about themselves, but just for normal relaxation. At the beginning of such activities their baseline feeling about themselves is normal and positive and if we relate this to alcohol it just enhances the above mood. On the other hand suffers of covert depression start from a baseline of shame or internal pain, and if we relate this to an alcoholic male, after the effects of alcohol and the self-esteem boost that comes with it fade, he finds himself back on the same baseline, if not worse (Real, 1997. pp. 60-61). The “pott study” also examined around 23,000 volunteers, suggested that mental health professional also tend to over diagnose women with depression and under diagnose man with depression and this is simply due to the idea that males are not as prone to depression, ending with male suffers not properly  being treated (Real, 1997. P.40).

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Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016

The last step in Ehrmann diagram is violence and throughout this essay is has been mentioned a couple of times and this is because it’s the last manifestation of any socialization process and their rules that don’t allow men to process grief (TEDx Talks, 2013 .b).This can be seen as the reason why the larger number of acts of violence are perpetrated by males, such as murder, assault, domestic violence, dating violence, child sexual abuse and rape, not only towards women but toward males as well, as its estimated that one in six males under the age of 14 will be sexually assaulted, often and not only by another man (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016).

Today we are also experiencing the beginning of awareness regarding the effects of masculinity being aided further by the different men of the twenty-first century generation, who are choosing to live by the strict rules of hegemonic masculinity, proving that to be a male doesn’t need to be proven with violence, or homophobic behaviour, challenging masculinity in other male members and the suppression of vulnerable emotions (Colorado State University, 2008 – 2016). As stated in the intro of the essay, this challenging puts into question what is masculinity? It has also started to make its way in the art scene where it being examined and manifested by artist.

Bibliography:

A good decision

As I briefly mentioned in the previous blog post, in my dissertation I’m analysing ambiguity in artworks, of a recognizable nature. This basically means an artwork that is somewhat “realistic” and the viewer can make out what the depicted objects are. Ambiguity, as many other things, has its own spectrum and can manifest itself In different ways, but to keep it simple I’m more interested in “what is happening ?” rather than “what is that ?”.

A few months ago I was still undecided regarding what medium to choose for the final artwork in relation to the dissertation, which would then be exhibited at the end of the year exhibition…….I hope. I wasn’t sure if to create a series of painting or a series of photographs, but after realizing how much I wanted to include the element of the narrative and how much of a slow painter I actually am, I decided to go with photography.

It was Saturday 25th February, around 3:30pm and I had just arrived home. I had a glass of water (because I’m still struggling with the body weight issue), opened my laptop, put in my SD card and realized I had taken the right decision. I had just gotten home for a photo shoot I had planned with three of the friendliest and cooperative guys I have ever met. With their help, and the fact that two of the guys who are a couple volunteered their house, I was able to start creating this ambiguous narrative featuring these three characters within the same house. Playing with the idea of relationships, sexuality and discomfort.

As they have never done a project of this sort and I haven’t either, the beginning was a bit of a test and adjust kind of scenario. Things quickly changed when I stopped being such a control freak and left them act as they normally would within certain boundaries…then things started moving smoothly. Below you can see a picture of me acting as if I had an idea of what I’m doing.

This is actually another reason why I’m glad I chose photography, for the first time I’m working with people rather than being closed within the walls of my small makeshift studio. In a way, I see more as a collaboration between me and them as they complete the image with their unique characters and facial expressions which make the image look more natural and unplanned. I honestly can’t wait to see how this project will shape up after I complete all the shootings, in mid-May. In the meantime enjoy these two behind the scene photos.

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