Projects from the Visual Culture & The Human Body Class

Visual Arts

Projects from the Visual Culture & The Human Body Class


Sarah Beattie artist statement

The topic I chose for my research essay deals with gender performativity and the ways in which sexual differences are both reinforced through and portrayed in visual culture. The task of taking on such a complex issue was a difficult one, and it was hard to narrow in on a subject for my creative piece. However, I was inspired by this year's popularity of the charity known as "Movember," established to raise awareness of prostate cancer, wherein men are encouraged not to shave for the month of November. Facebook has been flooded with pictures of all sorts of moustaches, not only photographs of males, but photo-shopped images of females adorned with moustaches. Although most people probably don't think much more than a joke of these photos, all of the extensive research I've been doing on gender ideals and representation has me thinking further. Updated 'statuses' of females asking questions such as "how would boys like it if girls didn't shave for a month?" demonstrate gender ideologies regarding body hair, and what is considered appropriate etiquette for makes and females. What if a female were to post a picture of the real hair on her upper lip? Would that still be funny? Would people be shocked or disgusted? It also shows evidence that women feel that they are being excluded from something, and therefore choose to present themselves as men, by opposing their femininity.

In my creative piece I chose to paint a rather famous image of Audrey Hepburn, a classic female icon who exudes femininity, from the film Breakfast at Tiffany's. However, I've altered the image by replacing her quellazaire with a paintbrush, and depicted her painting a moustache on her face. This is meant to represent the act of performing, in this case, to take on a role that contradicts her gender, just as one would put on a mask to disguise themselves. She looks as though she could be looking into a mirror, doing her make-up, which is usually seen as an act of performing femininity. I used a moustache as a symbol of power, calling attention to connotations of male dominance. This piece references aspects of feminism; the fact that women want to be seen as feminine and sexy, but still have the power that comes with being born as a man, not only to be considered equal, but to have the best of both worlds. 


Michelle Chan Artist Statement

Television has become our guide, our mentor. It is where we receive our news, find our social and cultural influences in North American living. It is our favourite pastime, it babysits our children, and it teaches us. Often times learning is implicit - we know nothing of the things we are learning without consciously reflecting on them, but leisurely, as far as we are concerned, time in front of the good old "Idiot Box" is time well spent. What we see on television can be extrapolated and applied to real life, but should it be? "Reality TV", popular culture, soap operas, dramas, sitcoms: they all glamorize these ideal images of human bodies. Men tend to have more leniency in image because what matters is the woman, the eye candy, on their arm. Women are sent in all different directions trying to find and achieve their ideal body, but as seen in my piece "Through the Idiot Box", a play on "Through the Looking Glass", it takes trial and error. Women buy into body image hype as if it is a trend, and it becomes an investment to change the body in such a way that it suits what society is looking for as an "attractive" woman. Whether that woman is, as shown hanging in the closet, something akin to a blow up doll; a "real woman" who has curves; a gracefully aging woman; a tanned woman adorned with sun spots; a pale woman; a woman slathered with makeup and glitter; or as the reflection shows, an incredibly thin woman, likely one suffering from an extreme eating disorder, the media makes it look good. We learn to want what we see, regardless of potential consequences, as long as we are able to fit in.
The anonymous silhouetted woman in this image - representing an "every woman" stance as she could be anyone, and she is ultimately a blank slate - stares longingly into what appears to be a mirror, but is in reality a reflective television screen tries on these glamorously coloured skins - coloured by general colour-word association - and collects them as they go in and out of style. How will she decide to look this month? Will she decide to stick with the thin skin? Without those skins, she is blank and she is nothing. Her image has become everything that defines her.

This type of conditioning, based around scientific research and case studies involving women and their body image perception as noted in my research paper Women's Body Image as Affected by Twentieth to Twenty-First Century Advertising, has taught women that what is shown in the media through visual culture is what they should strive to be. Small groups may believe that all woman are beautiful regardless of their differences, but the overarching media standpoint is that beauty is a commodity, that average North American women are never beautiful enough.
Mainstream visual culture is partly at fault for the deep rooted issues with women's body image perception. This piece addresses the powerful message sent by North American visual culture through television viewing and shows the impact it is capable of, tearing away the identities of women and pressuring them to be someone they are not, to please those whose opinions should not matter. Women are depicted in oversexualized, objectified ways to please the heterosexual male audience and in essence, this has become the definition of a visually appealing woman.


Alicia Lorenz Artist Statement 

This creative piece is a project of experimentation as were many of Leonardo da Vinci's works. I specifically researched his plethora of anatomical drawings, sketches and notes that come from a series of his journals. The work I created focuses on the accuracy of those drawing of the human body, both outer and inner forms. I chose to replicate his sketches in the same medium that da Vinci used (prepared paper, charcoal and ink) to give it a more "true to nature" feeling as well as to get a sense of how da Vinci would have worked. The spirals of prepared paper have the notes and writings of da Vinci scrolled across them and are meant to portray the many, many ideas that were born inside da Vinci's head and the haphazard way he went about writing them down as to not forget or leave any idea out. My drawings and paper spirals have been attached to a very old book meant to represent the old journals of da Vinci and to really convey a sense of this abundance of information. The project is meant to look full of life, as if you could turn the page to follow one of the spiral ideas through out the pages and see more of the heavily detailed imagery pop out from the pages. 


Rachel Lowe Artist Statement 

For my creative piece to accompany my essay, I chose to write a letter. I tried to create an old effect using ink, blank paper, a lighter, dirt, and tea bags. My letter is written by one of the famous patients Charcot worked with, a woman named Augustine. I wrote the letter as Augustine writing to her mother. I began with nice, neat writing that gets increasingly messy. This was an attempt to show the anger that builds up in her as she writes the letter. I felt this was an effective means of conveying emotion in the letter. After researching this patient I tried to imagine what it would be like to walk in her shoes as I often find myself doing using the insights gained in VISA 2P52. I found this particular woman fascinating as her life story relates to my paper significantly. She was abused physically and emotionally as a child, and was then put into Charcot's care where she was exploited further - used as a living, breathing experiment to be examined, photographed, and drugged. Her mother allowed her husband to take advantage of Augustine as a child, which is why I added some sarcasm and anger to the letter. I feel it is possible that she may have had some built up aggression towards her mother given the situation.

Augustine escaped the hospital by dressing up as a man, which is why she has become a universal feminist icon. In addition to sexism, I bring up ideas from class such as authority and image/text relationships. It is evident that Charcot and his associates had immense authority over Augustine as she was treated somewhat like a prisoner. She was ordered around and given a set schedule to follow. Moreover, I write about how the pictures taken of her might have made her feel if she was to look at them. I write how the text under these pictures change the way they are viewed and the context they are put in. Although I am not Augustine and I do not know how she felt, I think the letter was a good way to bring her story to life and to make it more interesting. We often do research as the investigator looking in on past occurrences; it was fun to pretend that I was part of the history. Thus, I dove into an aspect I found interesting and created a piece I found equally fascinating. This creative piece was a fun way to go off in a direction that suited me and made learning about it fun. I appreciate this aspect of freedom given in the project to create my own learning. 


Rebecca Madamba Artist Statement 

My creative piece titled, "Organized Insanity," comments on how human nature tends to organize and assign names attached to visual images in an effort to obtain control and understanding of the unknown. This image is a photograph of me, referencing the historical pose of a medical patient from the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in the 1850s, taken by Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, titled "A Possible Case of Epilepsy." I found this image to be one of the most captivating when researching medical photography for my essay on mental illnesses.

The text that is written throughout the background is a variety of medical terms related to illness. I used these to demonstrate the importance of image/text relationships in medical photography. The final piece has been cut up into three fragments of the original image. This comments on how doctors during the 19th century were attempting to piece together a perfect picture, which is impossible to do when each individual case varies. Therefore, the fragmented images reflect how no story can be pieced together perfectly. The image has been manipulated through editing enhancements to give it a dark tone. Not only does this set up the dark mood for a topic that tends to be on the depressing side, but it also reminds the viewer of the issues of authenticity and objectivity in medical photography. The combining of art and science has been a theme often analysed by art historians who demonstrate these issues of representation in the photographic medium, and their construction of illness. This piece is meant to provoke critical thought regarding these items.


Joel Therrien Artist Statement 

In a quest to pin down the ideal male body and also to explore questions of my own masculinity, I have juxtaposed idealized yet superficial male bodies, eliminating their faces to erase their identity and to leave the viewer focused solely on the bodies being depicted. The ideal male body has changed over time and has become an unattainable and unrealistic form, which reflects the excessiveness of our society. In addition, as best explained by Steve Neale, the male body has become simply and overblown spectacle for scopophilic consumption. We are meant to consume these bodies as objects of erotic pleasure and not as individuals. The male body has become so overly sexualized that men question their own masculinity, which in turn can cause a state of sexual confusion.
In order to view the piece one must peer through the opening of a pair of boxer shorts, amplifying the voyeurism of the piece. The piece is also done on photographic paper which will, over time, reflect the society that views it as it is exposed to light. Through this piece and the research I have done, I have learned much about my own masculinity. I was always unhappy with my body and hoped for a more masculine and what I thought as more ideal body. I have learned, however, that the ideal body does not exist and that I should be happy with the body I possess. It is sad that this is what has become of the male body and that we as a society have created a phenomenon where the everyday man can not feel comfortable in his own skin and is forced to question his own masculinity which causes him to question his identity as a whole. 


Andrew Arkell Artist Statement

My research paper Selling the American Dream analyses key issue involving racial, social and cultural dominance through advertisements from the early 20th century. Throughout the paper 3 separate (yet very similar) advertisements are analysed. As I discuss in my essay, ads from this decade contain notions of racial hierarchies. As an extension of this research I chose to create a visual representation of such an ad, one containing elements similar to the ones I researched. I chose to create an advertisement based upon a popular Kentucky Bourbon brand from this era. This piece is a blend of text and imagery. The imagery includes a scene depicting 2 white gentlemen sitting and having a conversation while an African American man waits on them, bringing them a tray of drinks. This visual reinforces ideas of racial hierarchies. The text includes the name of the product along with a slogan. When combined the image and text is intended to reflect ideals and standards found in early 20th century America. 


Carina Magazzeni Artist Statement

I am intrigued with the use of the human body as the main subject in a piece of artwork, so my creative piece is reflective of Lucy McRae's grotesquely beautiful human architecture. Bold, bizarre, and an intriguing example of beauty are all words that you could use to describe my piece, Sale at the Hardware Store (2010). These elements capture the viewer and allow them to reach their own opinions and conclusions about the role of the body in art. I wish to challenge the spectator to face the artwork and find its meaning.
I begin a piece by contemplating interesting materials to use. For this particular work, I use hardware store items (screws, washers, and hooks) to adapt to human skin. I am curious about the juxtaposition of these features; the hardware store items are very tough, unnatural, and metallic substances and strongly contrast to the softness of the flesh. I wanted to maintain an organized pattern, in attempt to attain a robot-like, artificial skin. Eyelash glue was an important component of my work. I also used the medium of photography to document my project.

My overall goal with this piece is to gain spectators' reactions. I made the decision to print large poster images of the piece, one portraying the direct gaze of the subject, the other with the subject looking in to the distance. By posting them against the wall alongside a Tim Horton's lineup I was able to attract public attention to the piece. Without any title or description text I presented an unbiased and extremely confusing piece. The immense curiosity this piece received in this context is reflective of the human obsession with the abnormal. As we studied in "Visual Culture & The Human Body," people have always been fascinated by "freak-shows," and my piece addresses this.  


Lauren Regier Artist Statement

This portfolio documents a piece I performed on Thursday, November 26, 2010. The performance was titled "First and Last Supper," and was an exploration of the challenges many lower class families face in our society - oppression, hunger and sometimes homelessness. In my performance I sought an experience among those who are living in the shadows of poverty. In an attempt to keep the performance as realistic as possible, I spent ten hours working at a job that paid minimum wage. Later that week I used the money to buy a day's wardrobe at Goodwill. The goal was to find warm clothes that would shelter me from the cold, as I planned to spend the next day as a person living in poverty, perhaps with no shelter. After finding the warmest clothing, and having to face some humiliation as I had to return some articles that were too expensive, I was ready for the street. I had $4.29 left to live on.

The final part of the performance started at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday and ended at 5:00 p.m. While I spent some time outside, my main objective was to stay warm. I traveled from store to store in St. Catharines, staying as long as the clerks would approve. When I reached a mall, I sat on a bench for two and a half hours. As part of this performance I removed my contacts, an act which prevented me from seeing further than a few feet. This act also heightened the feeling of the gaze always being upon me, without my ability to gaze back. The only possessions I had that day were a clear plastic bag with my money, a warm blanket and some free newspapers. This clear bag also allowed others to gaze at me in another form. By being able to see through the beg that held everything of mine, they were also able to gaze into my personal life. 


Victoria Roberts Artist Statement

"Measuring Up" is the title of my creative piece. With the depiction and representation of the human body as a major focus of this course, the central theme of this project is the significant influence exerted by the fashion and advertising industries in constructing the twenty-first century image of ideal female beauty in North America. The purpose of this piece is to illustrate that fashion and advertising set up standards for beauty that can not be achieved, thus forcing many women into a perpetual state of internal conflict - wanting to meet this expectation, while at the same time fully recognizing the barriers and limitations to reaching that unattainable standard.

The corset is a signifier of constraint, and one that women must submit to in order to try and conform to this notion of ideal beauty. In this project, the corset is created with measuring tapes to reinforce the notion of never being able to measure up. I intentionally chose white measuring tape to further represent the whitewashing that is found in media advertising. The corset is displayed in a shoebox to convey to the viewer the strong link between "ideal beauty" and consumerism. It's all about size - we buy shoes by a size, clothing by a size. Size is everything and size defines a sense of identity for many women. The frame of the corset is filled with various coloured measuring tapes to represent that a woman becomes literally filled and consumed with "size."

The second part of this project is photographic. I had a model wear the tape measure coset to further initiate discussion about how no one can measure up in society. In the photographs the model's face is cut off to further emphasize that society's expectations for "ideal beauty" devalue the individual. The visual presentation also reflects "body cropping" techniques used in advertising.

These photographs are transparent and are glued on to a mirror. As the viewer sees the image of her self in this piece, in essence becoming part of the artwork. As she looks, her own identity and feelings of self worth are called in to question. Does the viewer continue to try and conform to notions of "ideal beauty" or does she reject the unattainable. It is a matter of choice. 


Sara Stuart Artist Statement

My work is inspired by contemporary Polish surrealists. Zdzislaw Beksinski believed that paintings had no meaning on the surface and, as a result, attempted to create an impenetrable surface to hide everything of the soul beneath. I tried to do something similar: to create a surface that hides the soul. Transformation is a theme in this work. The female figure is emerging from the black swampy grasses and the male figure is fading in to the sky. Both are natural transformations; both figures are partially combined with the world they inhabit.

Many of the artists I researched for this project created pieces that had a mood suggesting something sinister and dark on the surface and something more hopeful within. All of the artists I studied had an incredible distaste for realism. I've warped the human body in this piece to suggest my own distaste for realism and to create my own dream world while still trying to suggest something sinister with the mood of this piece. I attempted to mimic the styles of the artists I studied as well. The female figure is meant to appear as though she is a photograph from a dream. The male, on the other hand, is clearly a drawing. The world they inhabit is somewhere between the two styles.

The female figure in my painting is very influenced by the work of Beksinski, but the male figure is entirely from my own mythology. The female figure is decaying and so is the shroud she is wrapped in. The male is translucent and ghastly. Despite both being representations of death and the land being entirely devoid of life, this painting is not all about death. The painting is intensely personal; it is sort of a spiritual portrait of myself and my love, who I have not physically seen in over a year. Though scary on the surface, this is a dream world for me. Art becomes a meeting place and a tool for my imagination. I chose to do a digital painting because this medium very much reflects the symbolism of the piece. I attempted to capture a relationship where, at present, all contact is electronic.