Control and Creativity: Julie Rrap’s unsettling new exhibition ‘Remaking the World’

Julie Rrap ‘Remaking the World’.
Until November 15 at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne.

Rrap continues to explore her career-long themes of objectification and manipulation of body in her latest exhibition, Remaking the World. The exhibition also extends Rrap’s ouervre to consider the conception of creative thought.


The exhibition is staged in two cavernous black rooms; the walls are black, the lights are off, and pitch-dark claustrophobia is palpable. Rrap has trapped her audience, burdening them with her own self: an imposing video of her eyes gazes over the scene, which contains bronze casts of her own hands. The artist is omnipresent in this discussion, a creator watching over her works and gazing at her audience. Her body reminds us artistry cannot be divorced from art; the creator is not dead.

In the first room, thirty rectangular video screens hang precariously from the ceiling in clusters of four. On each screen is a sleeping artist; Rrap invited them into her studio and filmed them as they slept. We intrude into the artists’ private spaces, straining our necks to scrutinise their dreams. We are voyeurs, watching while Rrap films these sleepers, all upside down, stripped of power. But then Rrap is not simply studying the objectification of the artists, but the moment of creative inspiration, for it is in sleep that we most vividly conceive art and creative thought.

In the second room, Rrap takes us into her own mind, into her subconscious dreamscape. Stepping into the room is a sensory overload. This is the interior of Rrap’s own mind, an insight into her own artistic genius. The room contains yet more video screens, alongside aluminium casts of Rrap’s own hands. “They’re all called instruments,” Rrap said in an interview with Sydney Morning Herald. “They’re my hands … they’re like characters in the show who are also spectators. There’s one peeping and spying. They’re quite performative so someone can go up and peep through it.” Rrap is omnipresent in the discussion, a creator watching over her works. Her body reminds us that the artist cannot be divorced from their art; the individual creator is not dead.


  Presiding over the entire room is a huge video installation of Rrap’s eyes, whose irises change in colour from brown, to orange, to black. The change is accompanied by a jolting, shocking sound: Rrap is unsettling us, controlling our reactions. Lining the walls, enormous black screens show Rrap’s lips blowing an endless, swirling whirlwind of tiny dancers. The dancers are powerless in the dense cacophony that has entrapped them; they are set to endlessly travel around and around in the vast space. The dancers are objectified, devoid of identity. As each wears a primary colour, they all blend into three large, homogenous groups; none is individual, all are objectified.

A sensory overload and a troubling gallery experience, Remaking the World by Julie Rrap is a must-see exhibition. 

Until November 15 at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne.

Advertisements
Rupi Kaur period

The narrative behind Rupi Kaur’s disquieting photoseries

A powerfully disquieting narrative permeates Rupi Kaur’s photographs, and her poetry alike. Both very simplistic in form, they actually offer the viewer pervasive discourses about disparate power relations. Her evocative messages are distilled into the most compact form: a piece of lyrical verse, or a visual snapshot of social disturbance.

Recently Kaur’s passion for her message was made evident when parts of her photo series, an honest and straightforward depiction of menstruation, was twice banned from her Instagram account. Her photo series Period shows a woman with her period: curled up on her bed; in the shower; clutching a blood-stained piece of toilet paper. Instagram pulled the photo of the woman lying on the bed, purporting that the image did not “keep Instagram safe,” and flouted the “Community Guidelines.”

Rupi Kaur period

Kaur’s response is powerful for what indeed is “unsafe” about menstruation. Kaur abhors the societal discomfort and taboo we feel towards the natural bodily function, instead shying away from it.

She is especially perturbed that, while we cannot accept menstruation, we readily find near-solace in pornification and  objectification:

the sexualization of women. the violence and degradation of women than this. they cannot be bothered to express their disgust about all that. but will be angered and bothered by this. we menstruate and they see it as dirty.

Exploring the deep intersection between the image and the idea, Kaur produced her photo series for a visual rhetoric class at the University of Waterloo, Canada. The ideas in the series extend those of her lucid poetry, which elegantly explores issues of violence, covert social taboo, sexuality and gender power. She scrutinises social containment, and the issue of implicit social rules dictating our actions.

poetry from Rupi KaurAt once, society thrusts us in two conflicting directions: telling us we just act strong, yet chastising us when we do. Kaur’s poetry, like her photo series, is an exposition on this very topic.

Her artistic form is simple as it exposes the world for what it is, yet her message is powerful. Kaur’s blog offers visuals of her spoken word poetry which, although brief, incorporates a vast narrative structure, which is embedded in a destructive social arena. Her passion for storytelling is evident in her art; despite the short-form of her poetry, it features a set of well-defined characters, who are intriguing in their depth, and bleak in their veritable flaws.

Rupi Kaur poetry

if you want to know the type of man he is names no one specific, but the male character is a grotesque representation of a person who lies to achieve his selfish ends. Kaur’s writing, alludes to a tense discrepancy between appearance and reality, wherein the the man conceals his personality, veiling himself in pretence, and deceiving those around him. Kaur’s poem speaks of the toxicity at his core, which can never be over-riden. Her poem prompts us to avoid complacency, to act against the oppression.

Kaur’s feminist discourse compels women to perform gender in their own way, separate from traditional definitions. Her poetry disparages the glass ceiling: the invisible force constricting social movement and confining feminine identity. That it is transparent means society pretends everything is ok.

Ultimately, Kaur’s poetry and photography celebrate strength and diversity. Rupi Kaur offers an honest and powerful voice. Her simplicity speaks volumes about what is otherwise covert: social taboos, constricting gender rules and implicit violent tendencies. The more Kaur’s passionate words are heard, the more we can normalise safe and healthy relations between each other.

For further reading, please turn to this beautiful interview between Rupi Kaur and Huffington Post’s, Erin Spencer.

All images copyright Rupi Kaur, under the Creative Commons licence. For more images, see Rupi’s website and Instagram

 

inspiration by design, state library of victoria

Inspiration by Design – Exhibition at the State Library of Victoria

Showing now until June 14 – State Library of Victoria, Keith Murdoch Gallery (directly off the foyer)

The State Library of Victoria is proudly advertising its vibrant exhibition, Inspiration by Design. And rightly so; this exhibition is a fabulous collection of the intricate history of design as a cultural commentary, a literary aid and as an art piece.

Inspiration by Design opens with a stunning selection of art that displays cultural meaning. The calm minimalism of Grammar of ornamentation  (artist: Owen Jones) questions the meaning and structure of aestheticism. Decorative objects are sometimes written off as vapid; meaningless but for their trivial beauty. Pretty objects are trivialised and reduced merely to their appearance, with barely a thought to their intrinsic meaning or function.

Owen Jones’ the Grammar of ornamentation positions various aesthetes in their cultural context to remind us that objects create our identity. His Egyptian No. 1 reminds us that, although they are vacuous, beautiful items are important to who we are.

The grammar of ornamentation is the perfect precursor to the thoughtfulness of the entire Inspiration by Design exhibition. The State Library of Victoria is currently hosting a collection of modern graphic design pieces, borrowed from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition is showing now, until 14 June. With an amount of acerbic wit, the exhibition is a fun, thoughtful meditation about graphic design in our culture. Lilting and (mostly) happy, it is a vibrant and deeply thoughtful celebration of graphic design’s history.

Inspiration by design primarily plays with the colourful nature of graphic design, the way it is able to convey meaning though type, colour and layout. It tracks design through literature—from Charles Dickens to Beatrix Potter—and modern design schools like Bauhaus. The whole exhibition is a visual reference point: a set of visual guidelines for how to design and how to approach art.

The exhibition also forays into the deeper and more philosophical nature of imagery, which jolts us from being complacent in our modern world, but to question everything for its hidden meaning.

Charles Thurston Thompson’s Venetian Mirror forces us to consider the reality of a photograph, which we often forget in a constant photo stream on the internet. We are cynical towards pretty images, given that they accompany branded Instagram feeds or covert marketing attempts. Even images of war are subtly constructed, relying on photographic mechanisms to convey a message. Here, Thurston Thompson is placing himself into the image, reminding us that photographs have been constructed, the emotions we feel chosen by the photographer.
Thurston Thompson’s photograph reminds me so much of the stark contrast between Paul Hansen’s two photographs, taken in Haiti. As a group of photojournalists crowd around the dead body  fifteen year-old Fabienne Cherisma, their emotional detachment is palpable. If we only look at the first image in this set, we forget that it is a construct; the emotions we feel are not natural. As well as being reminded of the horrors of human destruction, in the first image, we must also be told about who is creating that image: what is their angle, their meaning. Without knowing the photographer, we are led to blindly believe a visual argument. We don’t know how the argument is constructed, so we don’t know how to refute it. Thurston Thompson, in referencing the construction of a photograph so, is a needed reminder that there is a person behind the camera, constructing the image.

As well as being a stunning discourse of design, Inspiration by Design forays into the more philosophical meanings embedded in art. The exhibition was a joy to explore. Next stop, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London!
Vladimir Nabokov Lolita

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Of course, my reading of Lolita was prefaced with dire warnings from my friends. Not one person who had read the book could avoid mentioning the grotesque nature of Nabokov’s excursion into the mind of a paedophile, Humbert Humbert. And they were right, the subject matter is often gruesome and difficult to read. I did at times, like the friends who had embellished warnings into my mental construct of Lolita, consider just stopping reading midway. But I persevered.

What moved me to the end of the novel was Nabokov’s beautiful prose. His metaphor, his description and the way in which he so completely entered the mind of the most despicable character. His writing is not anywhere near too verbose or lavish, but it is simple, clear and beautiful: exquisitely intrinsic with meaning and word play.

As a lover of language, I am captured in Nabokov’s curse. After all, how can we readers be so interested in the paedophile’s mind. But, just like Humbert Humbert seduces Lolita, he attempts to seduce the reader, constantly justifying his evil intentions. We are drawn into his mind, a very uncomfortable place where we would definitely rather not be. He pleads with the reader to accept him for his evil ways.

We cannot accept his despicable acts. But Lolita does not invite us to. Nabokov is merely contemplating the mind behind such a vile act.

Virginia Woolf, Oxford Street Tide

Oxford Street Tide, by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf vibrantly conjures a busy shopping scene in her essay Oxford Street Tide: an exploration of consumerism in London’s busiest shopping strip. Woolf juxtaposes the London’s crude and dirty shipping docks with the glamorous glitz of the Oxford Street shopping strip—or so it appears on the surface. Actually, Woolf writes, Oxford Street itself is a mixture of brash sensations: gluttony for objects and of intense materialism. Woolf vividly represents brash, yet glittering consumerism.
Woolf concedes that consumerism is empty and vacuous. But, in the end, she also concedes happily that this is not a bad thing—don’t we all enjoy a little retail therapy? After all, even Virginia Woolf does.

I have also written about Virginia Woolf’s thought-provoking essay, Thoughts On Peace in an Air Raid.

Adichie the think around your neck stories

The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short stories are full of vibrant characters dealing with issues of race, sexuality and gender.

Adichie’s writing is so fresh that the issues are never staid; rather the vibrancy offers an insight into other people’s lives: the cross-cultural tensions and colourful celebrations as her characters shift between the very different worlds of Nigeria and the U.S.

Slip into this fluid and beautiful prose, and watch as Adichie’s characters dance out the confusion and chaos surrounding all of our identities.

Raymond Carver essay

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, by Raymond Carver

“I implore you to come,” she said and then quickly gave him the address and hung up.
I implore you to come, “ he repeated, still holding the receiver. He slowly took off his gloves and then his coat. He felt he had to be careful. He went to wash up. When he looked in the bathroom mirror, he discovered the hat. It was then that he made the decision to see her, and he took off his hat and glasses and soaped his face. He checked his nails.
– from Are You A Doctor, short story by Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver’s minimalism is simply superb. His writing provides the perfect, clean canvas for a strong social commentary that exudes realism. I was first introduced to Carver’s simplicity in his short story collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please (1976). All the way through this volume, mundane characters grapple with the realities of suburban life.

 

Somehow the stories in Quiet, while dry and simple, manage to jump off the page with their sheer truthfulness about issues of gender, money, control and family. Carver’s robustly connects his stories with their common themes. Here, I’m talking about a connection in gendered power which winds its way through this volume.

 

Symbols

One of the last stories in the short story collection is Symbols, details Caroline’s birthday dinner with her husband Wayne. On the surface, everything is perfect within the elegant restaurant that flaunts its exotic aviary. The world-class waiter dotes on the couple under the sparkling lights, serving them expensive French champagne and inviting them on an exclusive tour of the cellar.

But the tension between Caroline and Wayne is palpable, and the superficial glamour turns out to mean nothing. Under the surface, their marriage is hanging on a very tense string. Wayne is jealous, and attempts to control Caroline, almost viciously deflecting the famous waiter’s attempts at (innocently) flirting with her. He is an unlikeable character, seeming to act as he thinks a man should, but falling short of his ideal due to his less-than-polite manner.
I think the most interesting point of this story was the subtle power that Caroline brought; although we often assign power to those who vehemently display it, a more subtle approach is more effective. As Caroline remains in control of the situation, Wayne attempts to control her. Despite this, he flounders in the sophisticated restaurant and must resort to brute force against Caroline, who is more used to the glamour and sophistication.

The Father

In The Father as well, Carver displays the hopelessness of the unnamed male character. In The Father, a proud family is gathered around a newborn baby, lavishing praises on it. Conversation soon turns, though, to who the baby most looks like. It does not much look like its father. Neither does this man look like his own father. The implication in this tiny story (only one and a half pages long) is that two generations of women had affairs and gave birth to men outside their marriage.

The title of The Father wryly mocks the man sitting in the next room. Carver implies that the man knows he is not the father, and is rubbing this fact in through the story’s title. In doing so, he is removing so much power from the man, “turned around in his chair and his face was white and without an expression.”
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please was his first short story collection, and the one that I am drawn to most. It has a freshness and a simplicity that is wholly unparalleled.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami

Subtly and patiently delving into the troubled mind of his title character, Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, The Colorless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage, beautifully explores isolation, abandonment and confusion.

Tsukuru Tazaki was twenty when his four closest friends inexplicably abandon him.

In school, Tsukuru and his friends “were a perfect combination.” They felt complete together and formed deep emotional connections.

However, Tsukuru did sometimes feel left out, as he experienced an undercurrent of worthlessness. Tsukuru was the only one without a colour in his name. His friends’ strong personalities all matched their colourful names: Aka, red, boldly exuberant. Ao, blue, quietly brilliant. Shiro, white, beautifully elegant. And Kuro, black, who always made the group laugh.

When Tsukuru is the only member of the group to attend university in a different city, he assured himself that his group was so close, they would not crumble as a result. But, returning to his hometown, Tsukuru is inexplicably ostracised from the group. He barely seeks an explanation; instead, he slips into darkness:

“From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying…Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution.”

“Something must be blocking the normal flow of motions, warping my personality. But Tsukuru couldn’t tell whether this blockage came about when he was rejected by his four friends, or whether it was something innate, a structural issue unrelated to the trauma he’d gone through.”

In his late thirties, he begins dating Sara, who notices an emotional deficit in him. Although he is convinced that the intervening years have resolved him of torment, Sara notices that this pain is still present:

“Maybe inside the wound, under the scab, the blood is still silently flowing.”

The novel details Tsukuru’s “pilgrimage.” Sara encourages him to meet each of his old friends, who reveal the shocking truth about the soul-wrenching abandonment in their youth.

Regular Murakami readers would recognise the themes; everything Murakami writes seems to be tinged with isolation, abandonment and confusion. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994) and Kafka on the Shore (2002), the protagonists are deeply affected by their abandonment, which acts as an impetus for the novels’ plots.

But while Wind-Up Bird and Kafka are tinged with Murakami’s typical science fiction style, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage relies far less on the fantastical. Tsukuru’s encounters with old friends were sincere and emotional. In the absence of the staples of Murakami’s literary canon (talking cats and parallel universes, as slightly absurd examples), the characters’ raw emotions are revealed without much pretence.

My favourite scene involves Tsukuru’s visit to Kuro’s home in Finland. Surrounded by white birch trees and a mustard-coloured fishing boat, Kuro’s secluded lakehouse home exudes a patient and reassuring silence. Here, Kuro explains the past, slowly and delicately touching on naivety, fear and mental instability.

Tsukuru’s visit to Finland is a perfect juxtaposition of past and present, with the uncertainty of old propelled into a comforting and safe family life. In the present, Kuro regrets her actions. Like Tsukuru, she still has pain coursing through her, though she is years removed from the source. Meeting Tsukuru again allowed her to begin resolution.

Of course some unresolved plot lines were irritating: an unsolved murder, questions of sexuality and unanswered questions about a relationship. To me, though, the novel is simply a slice of the protagonist’s life. By leaving questions left unanswered, it mirrors the uncertainty in all of life and the questions that remain unanswered in real life.

Feminism Essays

We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Essay Review

With deft humour weaving in between her passionate contention, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful essay We Should All Be Feminists implores us that we need feminism. Despite all appearances to the contrary, the genders are not equal. Adichie works to break down the barriers and to dissolve the negativity we place onto the term ‘feminism,’ putting the onus on men and women to rectify the inequality.
Adichie writes about stories from her home country of Nigeria, but her stories could be transposed to other countries as well; the language of gender inequality is universal, and engrained. She mentions tipping a valet with her own money, only to have the valet thank her friend Louis, not her. “The man believed,” she says, “that whatever money I had ultimately came from Louis. Because Louis is a man.”
At first I thought that I would not be able to relate to her experiences; although I knew I would connect with them emotionally, I predicted that my situation in Australia was far removed from Adichie’s Nigerian experience. But I noticed themes from Adichie’s essay transcended national borders. Although, perhaps, I have never experienced such overt inequality as she describes, the fundamentals of the experiences are the same. As such, Adichie’s essay was reassuringly fresh and vibrant. It was a pleasure to be reminded of the fundamental knowledge, to help me grapple with questions in my own head.
According to Adichie, the perpetual problem is that repetition leads to normalcy: “If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal.” When behaviours or social hierarchies are repeated without question, they are naturalised and, when they are naturalised they become a social norm. I have experienced bothering issues, but I have struggled to vocalise why they bother me, to explain why something that seems natural is not in fact right. For me, the power of Adichie’s essay lies in its fluent ability to both expose hidden norms, and provide us the language with which to rectify them.
Some people argue against feminism ignores humans plights, by just focusing on women; instead of advocating for women rights, we should instead encourage universal human rights. Adichie’s argument follows that feminism does not exclude human rights, rather incorporates them into the debate. When we encourage progress on women rights, we are doing human rights a huge favour as well. Adichie argues that we need to include women’s viewpoints and include the feminist stance. Ignoring it is problematic and ignorant: “for centuries the world divided human beings into two groups, and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.” She also acknowledges that speaking about women is necessary: “of course I am a human being, but there are particular thing that happen to me because I am a woman.”
The solution, according to Adichie, involves rethinking the way we construct gender. “We define masculinity in a very narrow way” (italics in original). To reconstruct gender identity, to remove gender biases and stereotypes from our vocabulary, to teach children that there are many ways in which they can perform their gender.
She does not point out how to do this exactly. It would not be easy, given that the gender inequality is so engrained. We internalise gendered norms and, even when we are consciously aware that something is not right, we can’t shake the hidden feeling that traditional gender patterns are safer. It is refreshing to read Adichie’s views on the matter, as she gives a face to the problems I experience: “I am trying to unlearn many lessons of gender I internalised while growing up. But I sometimes still feel vulnerable in the face of gender expectations.”
I believe beginning a dialogue such as Adichie’s, using the power of our speech and conversation is the best way to rectify this, and this is what Adichie is trying to achieve. The more people we speak to, the more awareness there is, and the less the problem is hidden. This is Adichie’s message: everyone should be able to speak about gender inequality. Everyone should be feminist.
Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminists helped me to debate my own opinions, reminding me that feminism and femininity can peacefully coexist. Adichie ends her essay by invoking our responsibility to change the culture we live in, and not just live under culture’s power. We think too often that, because something is naturalised, it is natural and so do not make an effort to change it. Adichie’s essay adds to the much-needed dialogue around reclaiming feminism, and offers a fresh and inspiring perspective.

A Hanging, by George Orwell

Working as a journalist provided George Orwell with an immense body of first-hand experiences from which to draw his ideas. A Hanging, written from Orwell’s own perspective, is a philosophical nonfiction narrative which questions a very weak justification for murder.
In A Hanging, Orwell writes about an experience in Burma in which he witnessed the hanging of an Indian political prisoner. We are not told if the prisoner is innocent or guilty. We do not even know the crime. However, Orwell runs a strong sense of injustice through this essay: the prisoner should not be hanged.
Orwell’s attention to his surroundings means that he writes with such specific detail about the scene. We are alongside Orwell and the prison guards as they walk to the shed for the hanging. He starts his essay by describing Burma, the “sodden morning of the rains” when the hanging occurs. His narrative opens with him walking with a group of prison guards who are accompanying a prisoner on his way to a hanging.
 
We see the events through Orwell’s eyes, through his dextrous use of first-person perspective and evocative language. We are deftly transported into a desolate prison landscape in which a human life is unjustifiably cut. It is a location where the guards’ selfish indifference is normalised, where they forget the murder they are about to commit, in of having a drink. When another prisoner struggled against his captivity, one guard reports imploring him to “think of all the pain and trouble you are causing to us!”
Orwell walks behind the prisoner and the guards to the location of the hanging. He is jolted when the prisoner sidesteps a puddle. Orwell suddenly realises the man’s humanity. Even though he is a prisoner, even though he is marching to his death, he is human enough to avoid the discomfort of walking through the puddle. “It is curious,” he writes, “but until that moment I never realised what it meant to destroy a healthy, conscious man.”
Here is the crux of Orwell’s story. This man does not deserve to die, to be treated so unjustly. He is a human being.
That we don’t know the details of why the man is being hanged speaks for the injustice of the situation. The reader concentrates on the act of corporal punishment, on the murder taking place before their I suspect that not even the guards know the reason they are hanging this man. But they do not care.
Orwell’s A Hanging is a straightforward yet evocative and powerful essay examining a case of corporal punishment in Burma. I read A Hanging in the collection Shooting an Elephant, published by Penguin Classics. You can also find it on The Literature Network.