In writing two letters of love and longing to my apartment – that I lived in for nine years, left for six months, and have since returned to – I have chosen to examine my own relationship to the space and place of “home”.
The censorship – however temporary – of Rupi Kaur’s strikingly beautiful and authentic image lays bare how deeply our Western culture has internalized the wagging heteronormative finger aka preferences of the misogynist male gaze, and how the Western dominant hegemonic foe of artistic censorship becomes so embedded and normalized into the websites that were initially heralded as differential spaces for freedom of expression.
Kaur is an artist who is interrogating what makes her uncomfortable, what she works with as her own embodied experience through which she perceives, lives, moves, and creates in the world. By placing an authentic representation of her body and its real, lived experience into an online social space, she has expressed herself in creating both a multiplicity of empowerment and a representational space for the blood of all women, just as many great artists have done before her. As Jason Farman suggests, “The virtual is not the opposite of the real; instead it is a component of experiencing the real. The virtual serves as a way to understand the real and as a form of actualization that serves to layer and multiply and experience of that which is already realized” (22). I feel her swollen agony, the pulses of nausea that ravage her from the back of her throat down to her knees, the twisted cramping of muscles that often render half of the world’s population horizontal in order to just navigate the social and private spaces of each day as a woman.
Is it that Kaur’s image embodies so many cultural taboos in its pose and colours that we would prefer not to acknowledge its authenticity as signifier of reality? Is Kaur’s pain and blood so unbearable to witness – or is it that many would prefer not to be reminded of such bodily workings, while numbed to, say, images of war? Have we really regressed into a post-millenial form of porn-shaven puritanism that an artistic exploration into what has become encoded into our culture as engendered taboo, stigma, and pain is not an appropriate subject for viewing in a public online space? As another classmate posited, if this photograph were a snapshot of a painting or drawing hung in an art gallery, with its representation of reality one step removed and recontextualized, would it be garnering such support or divisive discussion? I find that Kaur’s photo encompasses all of these questionings.
Kaur’s photo claims its embodied space, as a culturally- and a sensory-inscribed body, both material and virtual, on Instagram, Tumblr, and now on many other sites since the controversy began to break (Farman, 33). To paraphrase Terri Senft, I find Kaur’s work compelling as a re-frame of her desire to gain back some of her lost agency in this surveillance-networked age (Senft, 28). In doing so, designed or not, Kaur’s photo has also seized on the power to incite discussion – which, to my mind, is what socially challenging art should inspire.
Farman, Jason. “Embodiment and the Mobile Interface”. Mobile Interface Theory. London: Routledge. 2012. (16-34)
Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space”. The People, Place and Space Reader. Eds. Jen Jack Giesing, William Mangold, Cindi Katz, Setha Low, Susan Saegert. New York: Routledge. 2014. (289-293)
Senft, Theresa. “Chapter One”. Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2008. (15-31)
I first wrote about the floatation baths at Ovarium. People come to this place of business to attend a treatment session or to work there, so in this sense, the Ovarium environment has been constructed as a public/private space for its users, yet it is not an openly public space like a public swimming pool or a beach. It does not constitute an entirely public space because it has been produced and shaped as an experience “product” for a certain demographic of bodies, which is then reproduced by its staff and reproduced again by its users. A spa environment is, by nature of its capitalist business model, a space that entices a mostly middle- to upper-class clientele with disposable income to purchase its therapeutic treatments, products and services (and is usually the kind of place where I feel very uncomfortable, as if I don’t belong there). If you happen upon this space and have the economic means to enter as a client, then you are welcomed in.
It’s interesting to consider that the floatation bath at Ovarium is all about embodying an inward experience of gaining access to your own representational space while floating in a private, liquid, womb-like enclosure, but it now makes me think about how this state of “doing” intersects with the concept of phenomenology to turn such an experience into a commercial product. Given the steady commodification of health and wellness as a luxury service instead of a state of “doing” to achieve or aspire to, perhaps it is telling that Ovarium is located in a building that used to be a bank.
Ovarium is a place designed to be a healing and quiet sanctuary from the hectic pace of daily life, yet there is a noticeable behavioral practice in place. The staff gently enforce the behavioral dynamic code between producers and users of what Henri Lefebvre would term this representation of space by speaking in hushed tones and maintaining the smile of therapeutic calm at all times, thereby imposing and shaping the owner’s ideology of tranquility and sensorial wellness in its spatial practice as to how a body is to behave in this space, as well as the desired experiences and/or outcomes of spending time here. Anyone who is loud or boisterous or arrives intoxicated would certainly be directed to tame their behavior and actions or would not be permitted to engage in this environment, thus reinforcing to which bodies and characters this space caters. Two people using one floatation tank at the same time is not at all allowed.
This environment hosts a very mixed clientele; no bodies that I have seen in this space are discriminated against on the basis of skin color, age, gender, or sexual orientation, yet the massage therapy is reserved by law for bodies aged 11 years or older. Although the entrance and many of the services at Ovarium are located at street level and assumedly accessible by most bodies, its spatial arrangement now makes me question how a person with physical mobility limitations, i.e.: a body in a wheelchair, could assert their independent agency to access these services as they are intended to be experienced in this space. In research, I discovered that the floatation baths are in fact not accessible to bodies in wheelchairs, although massage therapy and pulsar light treatments are accessible with advance notice to accommodate. I originally thought about how floating weightlessly in a tank of water for an hour would be a pleasing sensorial experience for any type of body, but just as Sarah Ahmed asserts in her essay A Phenomenology of Whiteness, I’ve now realized that “spaces also take shape by being orientated around some bodies, more than others” (157). If certain bodies are restricted from being able to indulge in a space like the floatation pods based on physical ability and economic stature, I have now begun to think critically and liken these simple floats to an exclusive amusement-like ride for a few privileged bodies among us.
Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory. Vol. 8, No. 2 (2007). 149-168.
Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.
“In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.” – Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
Our mis-guide is a random pathway to somewhat hidden or overlooked quiet places and contemplative corners that are scattered around the Loyola campus. This is not a guide to the stillness of demarcated study spaces; in fact, our only aim was to let our bodies intuitively lead us to wander towards/ be attracted to unexpected environments where one happens to find that you can exhale and grab a moment of calm before further letting in the bright light of creativity. Our purpose was to chance upon emotionally stabilizing spaces in the Loyola Campus environment, which we feel are important (or perhaps lacking), if only for a moment, in the implicit whimsy of Guy Debord’s concept of the dérive.
by Tatiana Kalantzis and Lorrie Edmonds
Hi. I’m Lorrie Edmonds, a second-year student in the Sound stream of Communications Studies, returning to university to blast open my mind and upgrade my skills. I’m a longterm community-radio maker, hosting/ producing/ programming a weekly music podcast called I Will Not Return Your Records for an international online freeform radio station (Radio23.org). I used to do a music radio show on CKUT-fm here in Montreal for many years, but have taken a leave of absence to do this school thing. I’ve also worked as a music director at CKUT, a music researcher and writer for radio, magazines (remember those?) and websites, and as a booking agent for underground musicians. I also do volunteer work for the Suoni per il Popolo festival that takes place in Montreal every June.
My time is eaten up by schoolwork, listening to infinite realms of music, reading, putting together my podcast, going to music shows, and sleeping.
My goal for this class is to rethink the way we each situate ourselves in any environment. I’ve always been fascinated with the potentiality of spaces: how traditional and non-traditional spaces can be used or subverted for varying purposes (performative or otherwise), how environments actively participate with the senses, and observing the outcomes of engaging/ being engaged in differing places. I’m very sensitive to the feel and sound of particular spaces, and I’m interested in creative, unusual, liminal, or subversive uses of space.
One wild place I’ve discovered is the ‘pods’ of salt water at Ovarium. You enter a room that leaves you alone with a pod full of Epsom-salted water that is heated to body-temperature, and you simply get in and float on its surface as if returning to the womb. You enter naked or in a swimsuit (I go raw), you can leave the pod open if you prefer (I close it), you control whether you have soft light illuminating the pod or float in pitch-black space (I choose darkness), and whether to have piped-in new-age music or pure silence. In there, I “get back to the id”: I feel smooth, weightless, perfect in my imperfections, not quite human, both small and large… at one with the soft water, like a speck in the oceans and in the universe itself. After 60 minutes, the end of your float is signaled by a chorus of angelic singing; never underestimate the sonic amazement of underwater acoustics! I usually emerge from the pod refreshed and somewhat zen.
Five things faculty do that make learning hard include:
- Vague and unclear instructions for assignments.
- Long, dense, arduous readings that are not unpacked and discussed in class.
- A lack of timely communication outside of the classroom between instructors and students.
- Professors who act aloof – as if they are above both the material and the students – and race through important material too quickly.
- Unrealistic loading of deadlines with all assignments due within the same week.
Five things faculty do that make it easy to learn include:
- Those great instructors (profs and T.A.s) who are enthusiastic about a subject, are open to dialogue on the topics, and only want their students to succeed.
- Instructors who engage with students while appreciating differing levels of comprehension and imagination brought to the table.
- Concordia’s vast online resources (when they work and are available).
- Staff who reach out when they see a student struggling or having difficulties.
- Having practices/ policies in place to accommodate different learning abilities.