Humans are born 'tabula rasa', or as blank slates. It is the gender roles constructed and passed down culturally that create and constrain the social roles of people into easily-understood categories - social masks that are adopted and expected. However, the masks are not static. They can change, and thus these masks are blank slates themselves which have been constructed but exist in a static of deconstruction, melting during their use.
Beeswax is constantly mutating, with no static end. It can be repeatedly solidified and liquefied through time, much like the constant reproduction and changes in cultural practices and beliefs.
Beeswax is used to create cohesion by filling in gaps and creating a seamless surface of disparate elements. The myriad of words and colours on the beeswax masks are given cohesion by the beeswax that holds everything together, much like how gender coding creates an apparently cohesive dichotomy between male and female, and between proper behaviour and attributes versus incorrect gender roles for each.
However, beeswax is also a dynamic material, with a potential for change. Just as society changes over time, beeswax holding together societal gender roles also changes. Humans themselves are warm enough to slowly melt beeswax, and thus any mask worn is bound to undergo change, whether it is simply worn by a human or subjected to more intense illumination.
Masks are signifiers of human absence. They are meant to be worn on the face, and signify an absent face, such as the beeswax death masks of the famous and infamous.
Masks are the different ‘faces’ we wear in life, and are inherent objects of performance and stereotypes. By inheriting and constructing masks, people’s roles are cohesive, and easily understood by other in the community. Masks also create cohesion through dominance and oppression, rejecting anomalous traits that do no fit into categorization. While masks can change and challenge past stereotypes, they still obscure and simplify people into understandable societal roles, denying the existence of an individual behind the mask. Masks constrain people physically and mentally. Society also constrains people into a narrowed, more coherent culture.
The masks are stained with coloured beeswax and typed words that are imbued with gendered meaning. Blue is for boys; pink is for girls. Words themselves, from descriptions and actions to professions and emotional states are stained with gender, and with the correctness of the word for the male or female gender. The four masks represent the four categories: ‘correct’ male and ‘correct’ female words alongside the ‘deviant’ words used to denigrate the wrong traits in men and women. The strict categorization of word association is revealed in the long histories of connotation most words carry, seen in the etymology of words.
Education and knowledge is metaphorically understood as the “illumination” of an individual along with society, and it is through illumination that strict categories of gender roles and appropriate gendered behaviours have begun to break down, paralleling the melting down of the strict gender role masks. Just as education, awareness and rejection of stereotypes illuminates the constructed nature of “innate” gender roles, the illumination of lights on beeswax masks melts the solid nature of masks into a flowing mutable state that is both destroying and reconstructing gender roles.
Some pink and blue beeswax combines into a new and different colour close to green, the colour coded as “neutral” for newborns and children. The words also are freed from their associations to mix and cross boundaries. English as a language is facing a new construction of hybridity and gender neutrality, with transgender recognition as a valid gender choice as well as a push to neutrality in pronouns through the use of “them” or “they” as singular alternatives to “she” and “he”, or even adopting other languages’ neutral pronouns such as “sie”, “hir” and “zir”. Gendered language and social roles are changing alongside the changing masks.
However, gendered behaviour has not been cast aside. Along with the creation of hybridity, trans-gendered identification and neutrality is the reproduction of gender roles. Thus, the beeswax masks melting onto the next generation of blank masks carry the potential for hybridity with mixing of gendered words and colours and the potential for continued gender categories. The masks are not all automatically new or hybrid. Gender roles are carried on, and gendered words and colours are still part of the next generation of masks where no boundary-crossing has occurred. The masks are a continual construction through time, and are part of the long history of society. The paper the masks are on is a scroll, with rolls at the top of time gone by and room at the bottom for the next generation of blank masks to be added. Gender roles are reconstructed throughout time, slowly changing through the meaning of the words themselves.
The masks people inherit and construct for their own understanding of gender, appropriate behaviour and boundaries of their society change gradually, just as the wax drips slowly. It takes time to illuminate people and enable change in gender categorizations, as it changes the foundations of cultural reproduction and transmission – language.
Thanks to AetherLumina (http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/faq.html) for providing the most concise and clear information on gender neutral changes in English language.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Peering into the vault, a single light reveals the chestnut heart suspended above the operating table of catalpa bean pods. The sewn catalpa bean pods form the top layer of the surgery table, while the chestnut heart awaits its transplant, swaying gently with the faint heartbeat of the room.
One Spadina’s vaults were created when it was used as a military hospital during WWI, and continue today to hold organ transplants for the Eye Bank of Canada. The vault is a place of storage and security for transplants. The vault offers protection and security: a sterile environment that can easily be cleaned, with a drain underneath the table, and hermetically sealed with the solid locking door.
Much like the vault, the heart is a container that protects the most precious aspects of human experience: memories, love and loss. The scroll hidden within the chestnut heart describes those protected memories, and the spiky exterior wards off potential harm. The heart is an organ for transplant, and will be given to another in hopes of giving life.
The idea of organ transplant, specifically the exchanging of hearts, exists in written form from 400 AD, when a Chinese physician Bian Que is credited with balancing the nature of two warriors by exchanging their hearts (and thus their intrinsic natures). The apparent interchangeability of organs today exists in tension between the idea of a human as an organic being in nature and a human as a mechanical system. Heart transplants place an individual heart in the context of a machine ‘cog’ that can be replaced by another heart. However, the heart is also a natural material, and carries a connotation of intrinsic nature that is inscribed on it by the person. My chestnut heart has been extracted from the original body, but carries within it a scroll written with the previous owner’s memories and loves. The mythology of an organ having an individual’s nature permanently attached to it has lasted from Chinese mythology over a thousand years ago to pop culture references such as The Simpson’s, with Homer undergoing a hair transplant one Halloween that carries with it the previous owner’s murderous nature. The heart transplant is not a dead organ. It is a living entity that must be carefully protected and kept alive until it is transplanted into the next human body. However, the life of the heart must be maintained. When the heartbeat ceases and decay sets in, a heart can no longer be used. However faint, the chestnut heart still has a heartbeat that can be heard.
The ‘natural’ chestnut heart not only carries an intrinsic nature of the individual it was from, but also carries a foreign nature to the body it is being transplanted into. Just as the heart is a foreign object being introduced into a natural system, the chestnut shells that form the heart are a foreign European transplant in contrast to the Native Catalpa tree bean pods. The sweet European chestnut trees were transplanted into North America after blight destroyed the native chestnut lineage. The chestnut tree transplant has been successful, and shows no sign of rejection. A heart is not merely a piece of a mechanical system that is interchangeable. Instead, a heart is a culturally constructed place of memory that cannot be forgotten, and is particular to one individual. However, just as foreign plants can be successfully introduced into a native environment, hearts also can be transplanted and become natural to a new person.
Shown from Dec. 2-7, 2008 at "The Eyeball", 1 Spadina Crescent.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Now that OCAD's Whodunit has finished (Nov. 19-22, 2008: OCAD Main Floor Gallery), I can't help but wonder whogotit - my pieces, that is. If you're the lucky owner of my flocked pigment biohazard birthday cake or my intaglio figure, congratulations and thanks for supporting OCAD and the arts!
LOT NUMBER: 936
LOT NUMBER: 1146
LOT NUMBER: 936
LOT NUMBER: 1146
Saturday, November 22, 2008
As a manufactured object, ties are strictly regulated. While patterns are varied, the width and length of a tie almost always remain a constant. The tie’s conventions reach beyond merely the tie to include the clothes a tie is worn with, economic class and social situations, and even have a hierarchy of tie knots, with the Double Windsor reserved for high-level meetings, the Half-Windsor as a daily executive choice, and the lowlier variations for casual business.
The ideology of ties is engrained in the business world. As the base material for an artist, ties posit a very interesting set of relations between artist and business.
Ties are objects of restrictions. They began as a royal insignia with Louis XIV, inspired by Croatian fashions, and have remained in the upper echelons of class and economic circumstances. While ties appear to have wide variety, they actually allow very little choice. Ties are in fact useless and functionless, but are considered necessary and symbols of power.
The tie-tunnel is both an object and an environment. The act of journeying through narrowing ties, and the changing context of a person first walking, then crouching and finally crawling through the ties is a shift both in physical context and in symbolic movement. I was inspired by the Buddhist stupa, which is an ideology and an architectural object. The stupa is a physical representation of a mental focusing on Buddhist values of self-awareness in the context of a world much larger and grander than oneself. The tie-tunnel takes aspects of the stupa and recontextualizes them into ironic look at the ‘religion’ of business.
The mental shift between business and art is symbolized in the tie-stupa as a physical move. While the move from art to business appears to be very easy, and the loose knots at the beginning of the stupa allow one to clearly see into the business world, it is much more difficult to enter it and the position one must assume to enter is as highly restrictive, as are ties.
The Tie-Stupa was re-installed in the Case Goods Warehouse of the Distillery District for Nuit Blanche 2008.
The Tie-Stupa was re-installed at the UC Art Lounge, 15 King's Crescent, from Dec. 2-7th 2008.