Week 5 — Notes

This week we focused on the ways in which (conceptual) artists conceptualize and think about space and bodies, with space and bodies, specifically two artists Sophie Calle and Francesca Woodman. We also included Guillermo Gomez-Peña. These artists use performance, site-specificity and space in interesting ways to call to question “which bodies? Which spaces?” and interrogate the notion of public/private; public space/private home space —How does each artist produce space? How do bodies co-constitute space?

First we focused on the concept of home. Home, both a place and an idea, is intricate and complicated. It’s deeply embedded as a spatial metaphor in everyday conversations—“home is where the heart is” or “there’s no place like home”. While some research suggests that home has such potent meaning because it is the locus of everyday family life and a repository of objects and memories, other accounts question whether this experience is true for everyone. Home operates at a variety of overlapping scales indicating how and where people feel a sense of belonging. At the same time, issues of homelessness and migration contribute to how we understand the impact of deracination (forced migration) and alternate ways of feeling attachment. This is foregrounded in Gomez-Pena’s Manifesto interrogating borders, maps, power. For him home is “here” and “there” “somewhere in between” and “nowhere”.  Today, we consider how home is lived and experienced sometimes with conflicted or variable meanings. We looked at the ways in which Calle interrogates notions of Berlin as ‘home’ for particular identities, particular communities of people, as well as the ways in which experiences of home are denied or inhibited. These readings show that while home possesses a deep significance as a space where habitual and thoughtfully created life goes on, there are many ways in which these meanings emerge and are experienced.

Sara Ahmed also focuses on the home in Queer Phenomenology: “The question of orientation becomes, then, a question not only about how we “find our way” but how we come to “feel at home.” If orientations are as much about feeling at home as they are about finding our way, then it becomes important to consider how “finding our way” involves what we could call “homing devices.” ways of re-orientating our relation to our homes, ways of returning home, ways of moving home. In a way, we learn what home means, or how we occupy space at home and as home, when we leave home.” Reflecting on each artist might allow us to pose again the very question of orientation. As I have claimed many times in earlier classes: phenomenology reminds us that “spaces are not exterior to bodies; instead, spaces are like a second skin that unfolds in the folds of the body.”

We defined conceptual art to help us frame the work of Sophie Calle, Francesca Woodman, and Guillermo Gomez-Peña. We discussed in-depth various images and projects of each artist to see how all these artists focus on space and bodies in distinct yet similar ways.

We had a engaging presentation by artist/curator Francesca Tallone who thinks a lot with spaces and bodies. She helped frame some of our more theoretical ideas and gave us more inspiration for how to use photography and our bodies to analyze environments. You can see her portfolio slide show here. A comprehensive interview for The Great Discontent here.

Questions to Consider

  • How does each artist analyze the environment? Be specific. (for example: think of the orientation of their bodies, of the gaze, identity, metaphor, etc.)
  • How do you analyze the environment? With what tools? What do you notice? How do you notice?
  • Calle is trying to interrogate the ways in which power controls how memory, bodies, and spaces are socially produced.  In The Detachment, she does this by putting into question how objects/monuments are either erected, not erected or removed for political purposes. Considering all this, demonstrate Lefebvre’s Space Triad.
    • How does Calle inscribe spaces with multiple layers of meaning?
  • How does the work of Sophie Calle interrogate the binary of public/private space? Be specific and detailed.
  • Describe how Francesca Woodman creates differential space.
  • The phantasmic content of Woodman’s work is in some ways somber, existing in the liminal space between life and death. Do you agree with Armstrong when she claims that Woodman’s space is also a ludic space. Why or why not?

COMS324-5 PDF slideshow


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