Tag Archives: art

Janelle Monáe, Q.U.E.E.N. of my heart

Screen shot of Janelle Monae's QUEEN music video

Janelle Monae silhouetted in black in the final scene of the music video for Q.U.E.E.N.

How many songs have you heard that challenge racism, sexism, slut-shaming, homophobia… and make you want to bust a move? There are only a handful of artists I’ve encountered who wrap up all of those dynamics in a fresh way (M.I.A., Santigold and Ebony Bones! come to mind) but for whatever reason, Janelle Monáe stands out from the pack.

In late April, the great folks at Browntourage posted a link to a song. When I clicked play, I had no way of knowing it would become my new anthem. Q.U.E.E.N. has been playing full blast non-stop: as I make dinner in my kitchen, in my headphones at work, in my living room as I chill out with my cat, over and over. So when I saw there was a music video for the single, released May 1st, I fell even more in love with the song. So much so that it merits its own post:

Janelle Monáe referencing “Qui etes vous, Polly Maggoo?” Yes please! Janelle rocking a 1960s bob? I never thought she could top her badass trademark pompadour.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.09.50 PM

Film still from William Klein's 1966 satirical art film, "Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?"

Film still from William Klein’s 1966 satirical art film, “Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?”

Erykah Badu has an alter ego named Badula Oblongata? Gold!

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.13.29 PM

Monáe does with Q.U.E.E.N. what she does best, mixing visually stimulating high art, culture, and her very own brash brand of feminism. This song and its accompanying video marries them with deft skill.  Her lyrics reference everything from black NYC drag ball culture in the 1980s (Walk in the room they throwing shade left to right/They be like ooh, she’s serving face) to Philip K. Dick (Will you be electric sheep?/Electric ladies, will you sleep?/Or will you preach?). Visually, her machismo comes across in her posturing and sartorial adjustments, while lyrically schooling you on the state of racial politics in America today.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.15.27 PM

Anyone else see that final scene lighting set-up as bit of a wink to James Bond?

Not to mention the hard femme rebelles who bring their leaders out of art gallery exile:

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.06.10 PM

Now, I shouldn’t be surprised by all the artistic and (sub)cultural references in a Monáe video. First off, I’ve been a fan for years. She consistently prides herself on bring high art – or at least art that is all too often limited to university classrooms – to the masses in her own creative manner. One of her earlier videos, Tightrope, references Maya Deren. Of course, it’s not just her music videos; her concept albums are incisive, subversive, cohesive (not to mention catchy as fuck) – something we see all too rarely in the world of pop music.

What thrills me about a music video like this one, and what sets it apart from the masses, is that although it references these various elements, it remains unique and fresh. For example, as much as I love Beyoncé’s video for Countdown, I was taken aback at how blatantly it ripped off dancer/choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker… without so much as a wink in her direction (let alone questions of financial compensation). There are countless other examples, some of which lead to successful law suits on the part of the lesser known parties who are being “honored” in this fashion. But Monae? No. Her work is thoughtful, intentional, and unique. It just serves as a reminder there is a very fine line between homage and straight up rip-off.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 9.11.57 PM

Sartorial excellence, bravado, and an impressive catalogue of art/film references are all showcased beautifully in this video, but they would be nothing, of course, without politics. Her commentary of race and class is absolutely essential to her oeuvre, summarized nicely in this quote from April 2011:

Heavily inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis, which used an urban dystopia to berate capitalism, she too has invented a not-too-distant future in order to comment on the confines within she is expected to perform and present herself as a black female artist. “As an African-American woman, as an immigrant, wherever I am, I’m always the minority,” she explains.  “So I came up with the concept of the android as the ‘other’ in society.  I’ve been studying the theory of technological singularity, which predicts that as advances in technology become faster, there will come a point when robots will be able to map out the brainpower of humans and recreate our emotions.  I’m posing the question – how are we going to live with the ‘other’?  Are we going to treat them inhumanely, teach our children to fear them?”

Damn. Smart, stylish, talented, critical, gorgeous… you can have it all.

Now go watch the music video. Again.

Recommended Reading:

Recommended Eye-Candy:

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mysterious mannequins and abject objects

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier Bresson,Paris-1933

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier Bresson, Paris (1933)

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge, 1968

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge (1968)

There is something about undressed, outdated mannequins than renders them automatically unsettling. It’s not quite the same feeling as seeing someone undressed you shouldn’t be (and we all know I’m not that much of a prude). Rather, it’s the unnerving sentiment of witnessing an object rendered obsolete. Naked, a mannequin is stripped of its intented purpose – a plastic object whose sole purpose it is to mimic the human body, created for consumers.

Abandoned, unused, immobile – they also happen to make for fabulous photography subjects.

Oct. 16, 1970: The Times chronicled the sale of used display stock at a warehouse on Long Island, an event that the reporter said “would have made a swarm of locusts look like a bunch of lazy butterflies.” The complete dummies cost $10 and $20,  “but the parts were a bargain,” the caption said. “You could get a hand for five cents or buy an arm for a dime.”

José Alemany - Mannequin Head Studies, 1920s -1930s

José Alemany – Mannequin Head Studies, 1920s -1930s

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931

Don’t these two next photos, by John Vachon and WeeGee respectively, look as though they could be the same mannequins?

Two female mannequins stand undressed in a windowshop front in the 1940s. Photographed by John Vachon

Department Store Models, Chicago, Illinois by John Vachon (July 1940)

Mannequins by Weegee (1942)

Mannequins by Weegee (1942)

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Surrealist artist Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1933)

Last year marked the first time I had the pleasure of seeing some of Leonor Fini’s pieces when the exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States was in Quebec City. What a fabulous woman, what strange photos. If only I could have been a fly on the wall when Cartier-Bresson and Fini concocted these images…

Some of the more talented photographers took an interesting spin on the idea that mannequins were designed to be looked at. Designed to stand still, in glass in storefronts, to elicit curiosity, excitement, and desire – hopefully, the desire to be wearing the clothes they were modelling. But when these mannequins are in various states of undress, or better yet missing limbs and wigs, the visual impact packs an even bigger punch.

Being watched…

Hans Mauli

Hans Mauli

…or  watching.

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt

Mannequins, Thieves Bazaar, Bombay by Ferenc Berko, 1938-47

Mannequins, Thieves Bazaar, Bombay by Ferenc Berko (1938-47)

As I researched some of these photographs, spanning fifty years and several countries, I wondered why mannequins are such a compelling subject. There is just so much to explore in the idea that an object, designed to mimic the human body, serving consumers. There is also the simple fact that one of the main reasons mannequins have been a popular subject for photographers and artists is that they are motionless, and hold their poses effortlessly – as opposed to their living, breathing counterparts.

We could easily get into some of the more controversial elements – how mannequins present an idealized version of the human body, how female mannequins are often sexualized, how they have evolved over the years, etc. I could also join the crowds of feminists who have ripped into famous fashion photographers, namely Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, for the visual ways in which they objectified women, and often involved pairing live models with dopplegänger plastic mannequins.

There’s also the curious fact that the word for model in French is, in fact, mannequin.

But really the main purpose me sharing these images with you is the fact that I find them beautiful and intriguing.

Recommended Reading:

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Hands off: Surrealist art and fashion

As of late, I’ve been thinking more and more about 1920s and 1930s design, and about the fact that many of my favourite fashion designers were the ones to blur the lines between art and fashion. Wearable art is a term that is often thrown around when writing about these people, and it’s one of my favourite ways of thinking about well-designed clothing and creative styling.

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli is well known for having been influenced by surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Man Ray, among others. But I would take it even further than to simply state influenced or inspired by – the more I read about her, the more I find these so-called inspirations would more aptly be described as collaborations. The reason these aren’t credited as collaborations I suspect in part has to do with gender, but it is most likely largely due to how much respect fashion vs. art is accorded. Fashion then (and now) is still seen as a lesser  form of art, as a capitalist industry as opposed to one interested in symbolism, deconstruction or self-expression. While Man Ray and Dalí are both respected as some of the 20th century’s most important artistes, Schiaparelli remains a name known mostly in the realm of frivolity and fashion, associated with high society and the colour pink.

A perfect illustration of Schiaparelli’s artistic talents are some of the gloves she designed in the mid-1930s. In Schiaparelli’s collection for winter 1936–37, she produced suede gloves in both black and white, with red snakeskin fingernails to replicate human hands. The black gloves were worn with Surrealist suits with pockets that looked like miniature bureau drawers, designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí (if you come across a photo of those suits, let me know! I’m dying to see what they look like).

Made in Paris, France, Europe. Winter 1936-37 Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, French (born Italy), 1890 - 1973  Black suede, red snakeskin 9 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (23.8 x 8.6 cm)

Gloves by Schiaparelli, Winter 1936-37 collection

These playful gloves were created around the same time as Picasso painted hands to look like gloves for a Man Ray photo. Rumour has it Schiaparelli was inspired to flip-flop the concept and create a pair of gloves to look like hands.

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray,  »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

Man Ray, »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

gloves by elsa schiaparelli

A lambskin belt next to suede gloves with gold metal talons, both made by Schiaparelli around 1936

There’s something about these gold talon ones though that I love even more – isn’t there something about them that screams hard femme? “Look, admire, but I can fuck you up if you cross my boundaries?” Perhaps over seventy years later, I’m queering this a bit too much to my own fancy, though.

This was hardly the only time Schiaparelli incorporated hands into her designs: I’m absolutely enamored by this belt, from two years earlier.

Evening belt Elsa Schiaparelli  (Italian, 1890–1973)  Date:     fall 1934 Culture:     French Medium:     silk, plastic Dimensions:     Other: 29 in. (73.7 cm)

Evening belt by Schiaparelli, Fall 1934 (silk, plastic)

The Met describes it as follows:

An ultimate expression of Schiaparelli’s interest in Surrealism, this belt was shown in the fall 1934 collection along with other pieces featuring the hand motif, such as a jacket, cape and handbag with hand-shaped fasteners. The hand was seen in many Surrealist artworks, such as those by Man Ray, and Schiaparelli used it in remarkable ways to accent her clothing designs. The wearer is literally embraced around the waist by the belt, an image echoed in the well-known jacket from the fall 1937 collection, featuring a woman with her golden sequined hair draped down one arm and her arm and hand wrapped across the body and waist, again embracing the wearer. The design was inspired by a drawing by Jean Cocteau for Schiaparelli.

Glove Hat      Object:      Hat with gloves     Place of origin:      Paris, France (gloves, made)     Date:      1936 (made)

Glove Hat designed by Schiaparelli, 1936

Another artist who also happened to be photographed by Man Ray (Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller, Schiap – which badass creative women of the 20s and 30s weren’t?) played with gloves around the very same time is Meret Oppenheim.

Meret Oppenheim  "Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers" 1936

Meret Oppenheim “Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers” 1936

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

While these were created much later in her career, I find them no less interesting!

And since I am a fan of Man Ray’s portraits, here are some solarized portraits of Oppenheim for good measure.

Meret Oppenheim Man Ray (American, 1890–1976)  1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Meret Oppenheim by Man Ray (American, 1890–1976) 1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Now I’m off to daydream more about

recommended reading:

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new look at à l’allure garçonnière

guess who needed a change around here? i was getting a bit bored with my year-old layout, so i decided to jazz it up a bit. the header features a portrait of me taken by one of my best friends, salima punjani. we met in québec city back in 2009, and even though our lives have taken us in different directions (including some ups and downs) since then, we have always made our friendship a priority. from her traveling all the way from ethiopia to be at my wedding, to sending each other encouraging emails or letters whenever we can, we’ve kept the fire alive even when separated by oceans and borders.

a photograph i took of my friend salima pujani

salima in montreal, october 2012

not only is she a fantastic friend, but over the past few years she has been carving out her own space as a photographer. i’ve been lucky enough to see her talent grow firsthand, to receive cards featuring her latest vibrant photographs, and hang prints on the walls of my home. when we last saw each other this october, she asked if i was interested in participating in her portraits of potential series, since i had raved to her about what a great idea it was. of course, i jumped at the chance!

fueled by a desire to “help people realise their potential” through portrait photography, salima launched this project this summer:

These portraits are meant to reflect that what we desire already exists within, we are what we want to be. When I came back to Canada, I noticed people were feeling very disempowered by the economic crisis, giving up their highest goals out of fear.

My hope is that people will use these portraits as motivating factors, as reminders and reflections of their potential.

i do think they successfully accomplish that. while salima was taking these portraits of me in my walk-in closet, i was typing away on my typewriter in between trying on some of my favourite garments. why was i choosing to put on my very professional 1940s suit jacket, instead of a playful neon 1960s dress? how do the ways i choose to present myself relate to my goals and aspirations? which books did i want in the frame, explicitly feminist ones, or more fashion-oriented ones? the whole process really got me thinking about what i have achieved so far, what specifics are standing in my way, and how to overcome those roadblocks.  it didn’t feel staged, or posed: it felt like processing a lot of my conflicting feelings with a good friend.

portrait of julia in her walk-in closet/bedroom, taken by salima punjani as part of her portraits of potential series

in the end, this black and white one was salima’s favourite. some of the books stacked underneath my remington rand typewriter include:

shortly after our shoot, salima shared this image with me since i couldn’t make it to her opening in montreal. a huge blown up version of her favourite portrait from our shoot, alongside eight others. kind of surreal, to say the least!

Portraits of Potential by Salima Punjani on display at the launch of E-180 this October at La Cenne in Montreal. Photo credit Louis Lavoie

Portraits of Potential by Salima Punjani on display at the launch of E-180 this October at La Cenne in Montreal. Photo credit Louis Lavoie

all of this to say, i feel incredibly lucky to not only have people who support me no matter how lofty or unrealistic my goals are, but who will challenge and encourage me along the way. as lonely as i sometimes get now that a lot of my quebec city friends have moved away, it’s great to have moments like these where i remember how valuable they are, even if they don’t live down the street from me anymore.

check out her website for more of her great photography!

what do you think of the new design? check out the new links, tell me if you think i’m missing anything! love your feedback, as always.

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Filed under politics, quebec city

halloween 2012: kiki de montparnasse in emak-bakia

film stills of man ray films
[heads up: there is an animated gif at the end of this post!]

i must admit, i was feeling a bit overworked and uninspired around halloween this year. i realized about a week before halloween i hadn’t really planned anything ahead of time, and was dogged by the fact that so many of my dream costumes reference ridiculously obscure early cinema or 1970s performance artists. this lead to me briefly debating choosing something super recognizeable as a costume instead… but after looking back at my costumes over the past six years, and remembering what it is i truly enjoy about this holiday (instead of focusing on what i hate about it) i settled on something.

in the end, i decided i wanted to have an excuse to cut my bangs (which no one even noticed!) and to once again not give a shit if anyone “got” my costume. i also spent a fair bit of october re-watching some of my favourite silent films. i don’t know what it is about this time of year that just feels perfect to watch the world in black and white.

it was after re-watching Emak-Bakia that it came to me. Emak-Bakia, (basque for Leave me alone) is a 1926 film directed by Man Ray. “Subtitled as a cinépoéme, it features many new and innovative filming techniques used by Man Ray, including Rayographs, double exposures, soft focus and ambiguous features.” one of its stars also happens to be one of my icons.

so a simple but still creepy costume idea popped into my head: it still fell into my category of dressing up as my dream women of the past, all while still being slightly off-kilter, a bit unnerving. without further ado, here is my transformation from julia to kiki de montparnasse in emak-bakia.

on/off

makeup step 2
steph did my awesome eyelid makeup after i botched several attempts… pretty tough to do yourself

emak-bakia
ta-dam! the end result.

03black

black and white witchy women
steph dressed up as a black and white witch, which was incredibly impressive.

silent film stars and witches collide
silent film stars and witches collide!

we were a bit disappointed by some of the halloween parties we checked out, so we just decided to wander around the city a bit. it was a blustery fall night, so perfect for wandering near our favourite cemetary…

cimetière st. matthew

06steph-julia-cute

06steph-julia-cute2

06moon
the moon was almost full, the cemetary gates were locked, so off we headed home.

the original inspiration:

and the result:

julia dressed up as kiki de montparnasse in emak-bakia for halloween 2012

we were a bit underwhelmed by most of the costumes we saw out and about. aside from one particularly well-done “1980s grade school class picture” costume no one really stopped me in my tracks. a lot of people playfully chide me for choosing obscure costume ideas, but it is tough to find something equal parts creepy and crowd pleasing. i’d rather just go for something that tickles my fancy in the end.

also, if you’re new around here and haven’t seen my halloween costumes from the past, they are all up on flickr. check it out!

what did you dress up as? what were the best halloween costumes you saw this year? leave photos and links in the comments!

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Filed under halloween, quebec city, self-portraits

black and white beaches

a few weeks ago, i came across natasha khan’s latest video via queersforfeminism. something about it struck me as oddly familiar, giving me a minor case of déjà vu… and recently i realized what it reminds me of.

one of my favourite filmmakers, maya deren. specifically, her 1944 film At Land.


you can watch the full film on youtube if you like (i recommend turning off other things and fullscreen that shit!) but here is a description courtesy of Nichola Deane:

In At Land, the protagonist begins as a body washed up on a beach. Then some simple backwards footage: the reversal of a breaking wave. The woman wakes from where she fell—gravity pulls her upright. We see her hands move with seductive slowness over and around a large piece of driftwood. There is a game of chess at the seashore played by two women. A pawn is knocked off the board into the sea and Deren’s camera follows it as it is pulled over rocks and out into the ocean. Twists of water and rock, the innocuous pawn falling away: everything is seen as though it is floating, as though the mind that made the film is floating in what Merrill calls ‘a calm shining sea.’

you can read more in Three Studies for a Triptych: Elizabeth Bishop, Patti Smith, Maya Deren by Nichola Deane if this tickles your fancy.

1944, USA, 16 mm, b/w, silent, 14 min.

Film still from Maya Deren’s 1944 film, At Land (16 mm, b/w, silent, 14 min.)

Maya Deren by Alexandr Hackenschmied [Alexander Hammid]

Maya Deren by Alexandr Hackenschmied

it’s not exactly the same as the music video for all your gold, but there are some quite similar visual elements. the dancing, the fact that both deren and khan are almost always in the shot, being glued to the beach sand and rocks…. when i think of it, it makes perfect sense that natasha khan (or her music video director would decide) and maya deren might go together nicely. even if the references to at land may be unintentional, the music video puts me in mind of a lot of beautiful black and white beach scenes i’ve seen elsewhere. francesca woodman’s powerful self-portraits also come to mind.

Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit (1978)

Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit (1978)

Photograph by Francesca Woodman holding up a mirror on a beach

i wish i remembered/could find the title for this piece! i was lucky enough to see it in person when it was at the mnbaq this summer as part of In Wonderland: The Surrealist Activities of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States exhibition. it completely captivated me, as most of woodman’s pieces have a tendency to.

happy admiring! you can also stream the new bat for lashes album on NPR before it is released. i’m often discovering great music via first listen and highly recommend checking it out often.

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currently: taking a different look at glasses

i’ve been thinking a lot about glasses these days; glasses as a fashion accessory, as a necessity, as a signifier of intelligence, desireability, gender or class. what do your glasses say about you? as someone who has worn glasses since two thirds of my life, how strange is it to hear people with perfect vision say they “wish” they needed glasses? how differently do i feel about wearing glasses now, as a young professional woman, than i did when i was a young girl? i’ve written about it before, but it shouldn’t surprise me that i have a lot of thoughts and feelings about something i choose to wear every single day.

vision as represented in photography has really been ringing my bell these past few months. i recently rewatched two old favourites of mine this past week, man with a movie camera (1929) and la jetée (1965). thinking about the camera as almost a pair of glasses for the viewer, permitting the audience to see things in a clearer way – or even, to see things they would otherwise never be able to.

i’ve also kind of been completely besotted with surrealist photography, something i knew very little about before this summer thanks in part to a fantastic exhibition on at the musée national des beaux-arts du québec right now. to be honest i’ve never been too smitten with the surrealist movement more generally, but this exhibition has offered a different perspective…  thinking about the possibilities the early days of accessible photography provided, combined with an incredible cocktail of creative uppity artists and feminists makes my heart beat just a bit faster.

a new pair of frames are in the mail, and i’ve got some other thoughts about glasses stores i’m slowly but surely processing. in the meantime, here is some eye-candy: literally.

Women with fire masks, Downshire Hill, London, 1941. Lee Miller

Lee Miller, by Man Ray

Lee Miller, by Man Ray

film still from Dziga Vertov’s Chelovek s kinoapparatom (The Man with a Movie Camera). 1929

Vertov, a Soviet film director, redefined the medium of still and motion-picture photography through the concept of kino-glaz (cine-eye), asserting that the recording proficiency of the camera lens made it superior to the human eye. In a double image in Chelovek s kinoapparatom (Man with a Movie Camera), the eye is superimposed on the camera lens to form an indivisible apparatus fit to view, process, and convey reality, all at once.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Parabola optica (Optical Parable), 1931; gelatin silver print; 9 3/4 in. x 7 1/4 in. (24.77 cm x 18.42 cm); Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser; © Colette Urbajtel / Asociación Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Parabola optica (Optical Parable), 1931

WILLIAM WITT The Eye, Lower East Side, NYC, 1948  gelatin silver print, 10 3/4 x 12 inches

The Eye, Lower East Side, NYC, 1948 by William Witt

From Ken Russel's "Teddy Girls" series (1950s)

From Ken Russel’s “Teddy Girls” series (1950s) thanks andi!

Jaromír Funke

Film still from Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound," 1945

Film still from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” 1945

as always, click the photos for more details and links!

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