Monday, August 9, 2010

Proenza Schouler & Girls of Color: Go Together Like Black People and Stray Shopping Carts, Apparently.

Still from Harmony Korine’s collaboration with Proenza Schouler
via Nowness and Tavi

I’m not sure what’s bad and what’s the worst. I hate being put in a position where when I see any people of color in a fashion campaign, I assume funny business is involved. I assume Proenza is propifying. I’m confused as to why there is no six-foot-tall white girl standing in the foreground of that 8mm still in front of a row of functionally identical girls of color. These girls of color are shorter, not thin, therefore not the fashion object.

But that white girl isn’t there.

The film hasn’t premiered yet, but it seems like there are, so far, at least a few things going for it: It seems that the girls of color are at least the subject, not object. It seems like they might receive the same degree of characterization that any girl does in a fashion campaign (that is: not a whole lot, but some). It seems like they’re privileged to the fashion itself: usually the Girls of Color are not seen as the ones that actually are wearing/would ever be wearing the fashion we’re trying to promote. In that sense: Proenza isn’t doin’ it rong, right?

But still (and, having not seen the film): why do they have to be in the projects? OH YEAH, I GUESS IF YOU’RE GONNA GIVE A BLACK GIRL THE SPOTLIGHT THEN IT CAN ONLY BE IN THE CONTEXT OF ‘URBAN WASTELAND’ WITH DERELICT COUCHES AND HOMELESS SHOPPING CARTS. I get it. I get the aged (read: not soft-focus, but read as dated) filmography, linking people of color with another time, never current in themselves. People of color, in fashion, can never be themselves current and relevant, but designers and models and white editors and people in power can mine their unaware culture for things and make them relevant. I get it, Proenza boys. I see what you did there.

I get it, you got Harmony Korine. It isn’t racist to slumify essentially the only people of color you’ve ever used in your work if you get the writer of Kids to do your filming. And sure, from what I remember, Kids wasn’t too racially unsettling (was it?). But really, you couldn’t just put a black girl in a regular campaign, could you? You have to get a renowned slummy director to legitimize your use of people of color, because that’s the only context we’re ever allowed to show people of color in.

Here’s how it went:
Proenza boy 1: Let’s use black girls in our new short film.
Proenza boy 2: What?!
Proenza boy 1: No, no, listen. It’s cool. They won’t be tall or skinny or fashion insiders. That would be silly. No. We’ll get some white artists and filmmakers to help us out. Stay with me here. White filmmakers and artists famous for making urban tough-life--frequently involving black or brown people--appealing to relevant fashion insiders and art-types. Like the guy from Kids. Not Clark but the other one. And one of those white 80s street artists, or something.
Proenza boy 2: I think I follow…
Proenza boy 1: And then we’ll find some short and notskinny black girls, and we’ll put them in our clothes, and we’ll make a film that makes it look like we discovered some somehow-fabulous people of color in their natural habitat and traditional dress.
Proenza boy 2: And then we can tell people that we’re telling a story about girls who are “part of the system, yet still outsiders.” Because black people are never true originals like our inspired white NYC it-girls and fashion bloggers.
Proenza boy 1: Exactly. In the press release we will tell people how we were inspired by girls who “skulk around schoolyards, spray graffiti, drink, smoke, pose and embrace, evoking the loneliness, confusion and overwhelming wonder of growing up” and “girls who sleep in abandoned cars and set things on fire. It’s about the great things in life. The stars in the sky and lots of malt liquor.” Malt liquor, get it? ‘Cause they’re black.
Proenza boy 2: Chloe Sevigny is gonna love it.

Proenza Schouler Fall 2010: inspired by the slums. Which is why black people are allowed to wear it! Proenza Schouler Spring 2010 was all about the beach. And everyone knows black people hate the beach! That’s why there were no black girls in PS SS2010’s runway show. (But then, it’s not like we saw black girls on Proenza’s runway in Fashion week FS10*. Because no matter how many girls of color are in your campaign, your sewing room, your ethnographic “inspiration” photos, the names of your collection, your iPod, your Facebook friends, your fans on Facebook, the shops that sell your clothes, or your graduating class at design school—it’s never appropriate to include girls of color on your runway. It cheapens your aesthetic, right?)

*Upon inspection, PS FS10 included three models of color (from what I can tell), though no black girls. They were Lais Ribeiro (Brazilian, likely of some African origin but still somewhat comfortably within the boundaries of what Fashion Week would call the Not Too Black space), and Liu Wen and Shu Pei Qin. I don't pretend to know a lot about these models, or the models in the film, or anyone's casting process. But I'm pretty sure that the "inspiration" behind each collection was the major factor in that tiny tiny increase in models of color between Spring and Fall 2010. That is, like I said, "beachy"= always, always white, whereas "inspired by uniforms and street culture" allows more room, in High Fashion, for people of color. And don't think this escaped me:
Proenza boy 1 or 2, whichever: Our collection is inspired by school girls. Let's cast two Asian models!!!

(I originally posted this on Tumblr on August 9th, 2010)

Here's an addition, about Fabian and "the persistent and systematic tendency to place nonwhites and nonwesterners in a Time other than Vogue or Galliano or anybody else in Fashion’s present."
And some application of these process in Native Appropriate & Hipsters

A Scale to Help You Determine What Type of Sexist the Hip-Culture Canon Work You’re Looking at is

There is a scale of 1-10. At the left, at 1, is the honest-asshole-misogynist writer/artist/collector. He is Henry Miller, arguably Charles Bukowski. At the right is the I-pretend-I’m-sincere-but-I’m-an-asshole-misogynist-too. He is Rivers Cuomo. Every book, writer, album, movie, songwriter that hip boys have told us to like since the beginning of time has had a narrator or a protagonist who falls somewhere on this scale—though sometimes at even more extreme ends. Every Pinkerton, Catcher, Tropic of Cancer, Women, Garden State, Psychotic Reactions, (fuck, even Rushmore or Almost Famous) can basically be classified in this way.

These are, I admit, some of my favorite books and albums and movies. (Though some of them are also my least favorite books and albums and movies—I’m lookin’ at you, Braffy.) But they are all defined by 1) Their being positioned in some way as The Best 2) Their having a male male protagonist/creative director 3) Their lack of any women that really have any control over their own portrayal. The nature of these works’ relationship with women and cultural control places them somewhere on this scale.

Consider the foundation for this theory Sady Doyl’s piece in The Awl: “Rivers Cuomo Messes You Up Forever.” Everyone on Earth has read it, I know. But let me use it to define what I consider the extreme right end of this cultural spectrum:
1. Boys consider Pinkerton to be Weezer’s Best Album
2. It is Better Than The Blue Album because it is about a more Sincere experience: that is, the Experience of Males Specifically
3. Pinkerton is creepy
4. Pinkerton is about how Rivers Cuomo can’t get the ladies, because they don’t understand him, and because he is very Self Destructive and Sensitive. Pinkerton is about how Rivers Cuomo can’t control himself sometimes, because he is flawed. However, he expects you to love/be impressed with this flaw because ultimately, his lack of self-control is a loss of self-control. When Rivers Cuomo loses control of his ability to cheat on you, he does it because he is so flawed. He is also very conscious of the times when he has control and when he does not have control. This is in contrast to every woman Rivers Cuomo is in love with. Women Rivers Cuomo loves are only in control of the following things: being a Bitch, breaking his heart, and occasionally (I guess, ideally) being impressed by Rivers Cuomo. Take “Pink Triangle.” “Pink Triangle” is about how Rivers Cuomo is in a relationship with a woman who turns out to be a Lesbian. He was basically convinced that they were going to get married because he never asked her. And then he’s fucking crushed that she’s a Lesbian. We’re supposed to feel bad that his whole romantic future is over, and feel a little pissed at that bitchdyke for leading him on. We leftist Alt kids know that gayness is not a choice, so of course the Lesbian didn’t choose to not love Rivers Cuomo. This is, again, something this woman did not control. However, she totes could control breaking Rivers’ heart, rite? She broke his heart. Nevermind the fact that he never asked her if she wanted the relationship to begin with, because basically he assumed that it wasn’t her choice. Relationships, to Rivers, are not a mutual decision as much as they are defined by how girls react to his being in love with them, and usually he is not in love with them because they are People, but because they are some sort of quasi-spiritual-sexual-psychic-spaces-that-he-wants-to-live-in. (For more on quasi-spiritual-sexual-psychic-spaces that interesting boys want to live in, read: Natalie Portman’s stupid character in Garden State.) And when Rivers wants to live in your space psychically, the only thing you can do about it is Be a Bitch and Ruin Everything. That is: In Rivers Cuomo’s world, women only exist as vapours, and the only control they could ever have would be destructive. It’s also important to note that never once does Rivers say, “I know I’m just projecting my shit on you, ladies. That’s fucked up.” Instead, he says, “I’m so fucked up, I’ll never understand ladies because I don’t regard them as real people that I can actually speak to like humans. Obviously this is because I am so Sensitive and have a Social Anxiety or something. Mostly I just interact with girls by reading their diaries behind their back. For some reason this sneaking around doesn’t ignite my anxiety.”
5. The vast, vast majority of males who worship Pinkerton (especially before Sady’s piece) have no awareness of any of these dynamics and would be really really pissed at me, and Sady, for saying these things, and would probably think in their head that we don’t understand it because we are girls, we are annoying feminist bitches, and that our girlness/lack of peopleness would never allow us to understand these Sincere Deep experiences.

This is the first part of the way that we, as women who are kind of Alt and listen to the things our Alt guy friends have told us to listen to since forever, are portrayed in almost every established production of our culture. (Disclaimer: I really do love Pinkerton.)

The next defining feature of the Rivers Cuomo 10, though, is more important to what I’m trying to say. Like I said, these girls have no control over anything. What that means, though, is that they also have no control over Alt culture, and generally wouldn’t understand it. Case in point: “El Scorcho.” Basically, it’s a song about Rivers Cuomo’s crush on a half-Japanese girl that doesn’t know who he is, another classic in Weezer-Style-Gross-Orientalism. In it, he asked his Asian woman to go to a Green Day concert. She said she’d never heard of them. In 1996. And you know what? Rivers Cuomo thinks, “How cool is that?!” Girls, in his world, are totally Naive. They listen to Puccini and play the Cello because they’re girls. They wouldn’t ever know something as hip as Green Day. And he loves this. He wants to continue living in a world where girls are totally Naive about things like music and other areas of his interest. Because God forbid she be as good at his culture as he is.

So that’s it: the closer you move toward a ten on this scale, the less girls are expected to know about or participate in a goddamn thing related to Alt or Hip or Knowing or Respectable culture.

Before I explain the other end, let me share the criteria that I’ve developed to grade works. It’s based on Sady’s piece, and the Bechdel Test, and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl concept. They are all ideas that you will think about every time you watch a Wes Anderson movie or read/listen to anything on Pitchfork for the rest of your life. Contrary to the general conceptions about feminists, we still like things that kind of suck, even when we write long essays about how they are sexist. Because, you know, we’re people. (In fact, generally speaking, my favorite movies involve brutal mutilation/murder of, mostly, females. Especially the murder of sluts. But I’m still a feminist!)

Here are the criteria.
When I say “Criteria,” I’m not arguing that there is a good or bad in this spectrum. Like I said, I love Pinkerton. It’s just that, in order to love something, you have to be able to determine how much bullshit is involved in it, how much of that bullshit is sexist bullshit, and what type of sexist bullshit you’re looking at, exactly.

Ask yourself these questions of the book or movie or album or body of acceptable music:
1. Are women seen as people, and not just projections of our hip-sensitive male’s own insecurities/spiritual quests?
2. If women are, in fact, only used as literary devices or as blank space for projection, is it clear that the male is aware of this and acknowledges its flaws? (I would say even Lolita probably falls into this category)
3. Are women given voices and a certain degree of control over their own depiction and/or fate? If not, is it clear that this is the author’s intention—a la Catcher in the Rye?
4. Are women seen as valuable producers in the male’s universe—beyond filling his psychological void and/or making sammiches? Otherwise, again, is this an acknowledged flaw itself?
5. This, in many ways, is the most important: Are women seen as people that are able to fully contribute and participate in the man’s ideal culture (ie, Alt culture, hip culture, good literature, punk, record collecting, not being phony, etc.)?

The more confidently you can answer “yes” to these questions, the closer to 1 the work lies. If you know there’s a lotta “nos” up there, you got yourself a Rivers Cuomo on your hands.

I’ll talk a little more about what I consider to be a “1” after the jump.

Blogs? Blogs.

There's something a little scary about Blogger. I think I'm afraid of commitment. It's not that I'm not writing, I am. I'm writing a lot of a research project. I'm writing a lot about Degrassi (it's therapeutic not in its mindlessness, as you'd think, but in its comfort: Degrassi knows me better than my best friend, and I know Degrassi better than I know the research I've been working on for six months. The fact that I feel legitimately good and talented at Degrassi snark and legitimately welcomed and respected in the Degrassi snark community is a boost to my ivory-tower-embattled self-esteem. Frealz.) It's almost embarrassing to Tumbl, but it also allowed me more an impermanent feeling. Less pressure. Less commitment. Less on-topic. I write, comment, and link to a lot of things I like briefly. No worries.

But you know, occasionally, I'm pretty good at writing those fleeting moments. (A lot of what I Tumbl is about fashion.) In order to rescue them from Ephemera and start this thing back up (like, eight days before this project is done and I have time to post book photos !), I'm gonna transfer the things that are good writing here. Sometimes I write really good things and I fantasize about being famous for them. But, like, if they're just on Tumblr, how will anyone ever know? Tumblr isn't real.

Also, I watched Bravo's Work of Art the whole way through, and after the premier this week I will maybe post a few notes on the gender-in-art-representation as it manifested in reality TV. And maybe that one challenge they had about book covers. Hell yeah!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sans Serif Superman

Oh, I'm back. All-that-research-project-I-gotta-finish-be-damned.

With a Typog-nerd snippet from McSweeney's:
Guess the fuck what, Picasso. We don't all have seventy-three weights of stick-up-my-ass Helvetica sitting on our seventeen-inch MacBook Pros. Sorry the entire world can't all be done in stark Eurotrash Swiss type. Sorry some people like to have fun. Sorry I'm standing in the way of your minimalist Bauhaus-esque fascist snoozefest.
Yeah, you know I'm that girl. On a cheap-ass Compaq-Whatever with Picasso stickers, though.

It's a great read, an imagined monologue of Comic Sans.

(via Copyranter)

Alvin Lustig, 1949, "I Want a Thin Gothic..."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Medium & Message: The Female Form (and also death.)

So Louise Bourgeois died.

I don't need to tell you about her. (But if I do, there's a nice NYT obituary, an excellent reflection on Jezebel, a succinct retro at The Guardian. Tavi posted some pictures.)

I don't need to write about her, or about how she "advanced feminism" or how "other people" were impacted by her. But of course there's something intrinsic and silent and overwhelming about her "womany art" that is mine, as a woman. That is, the body--my body--as a medium and a voice, the language of our parts. It's so much like what I said about Motherwell and Lustig, right? All those shapes that carry essence? Well, my shape carries an essence. And Louise distilled that language.

Harmless Woman, 1969

Untitled, 2002

Let me explain better in my own words from a year ago:
(Don't worry, I wouldn't try to chug through that handwriting either)

A transcription of this, and more discussions on body-ness and art, after the jump.

Plus, Artists Can Die?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Cat Ladying--it was only a matter of time.

So today I bought a ceramic cat.

Really, it's a pepper shaker. I don't know how old it is, as much of a midcentury wunderkind collector as I am, I don't know a goddamn thing about salt & pepper shakers. I think they're, generally, kind of a stupid thing to collect.
(me? judge people for irrational collecting? Ask me how many copies of Lolita I have. Ask me how many times I've read Lolita.*)

It's got a "Japan" sticker, placing it after 1952 ('cause it's not "occupied Japan," you know), and I don't think it's that old anyway.

I have to wonder, was the salt shaker white? Or were they designed for black-cat enthusiasts?

No matter, I just initiated my destiny of Cat Ladihood. As if my tapestries hadn't already marked me, I actually didn't own any ceramic cats. Until today. It was five cents at a garage sale.

Did that nickel make me more or less a caricature? A pepper shaker is really just too perfect of a geriatric cliche , right? Though I swear I'm an old person, I'll never be that old, salt-and-pepper-shaker old. ( But then, I did photograph my ceramic cat with my actual cat.) Yesterday, I was pointed towards the horizon. Today I am picnicking on the mountain. It's a whole new journey for me from now on.

Look at squid. She looks like she thinks she's being replaced for a slimmer model.

*Answers: 1) maybe three or so, two of which are the same edition, but one's a later printing of that edition, but it's in better condition, so I just had to keep all of them.
2) never. I actually can't even read. True story.

Friday, May 28, 2010

1960 or so

Shish Kabobs and Royal-Ironstone "StarGlow"

Kuhlman in New Motion Picture Technology

I was googlin' about for a good page of Roy Kuhlmans to link to, and I stumbled on Gwarizm, a very excellent blog that features this page of Kuhlman-ing. He's interested mostly in the Beckett covers, and he features a lot of great covers that are hard to find around the web. I own a few of them, covet the rest. A few I've never seen--and I've seen lots of Kuhlmans.

He mentions Obscene, the documentary about Barney Rosset. It's a film I've wanted to see anyway: Of course, it's about the owner of Grove Press which, in my world, is the publishing company. Even if it wasn't for my lubsession with Mr. Kuhlman's covers and all things Evergreen, I mean, we're talking about the man who fought to publish Lady Chatterly and Tropic of Cancer. As a Person Who Doesn't Read All That Often, I love reading Henry Miller. A champion of perfect book design and raunchy modern literature? A man after my heart!

But now, I have to see this film. He features screen captures from a segment in the film where Alex Meillier animates Roy Kuhlman's covers. I don't know what to expect, other than dying of excitement! I'm renting the film soon, I'll give feedback and look around for the clip itself.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Guide to Well Designed Products: Pt. 1(?): Essences: Motherwell & Lustig: Modernism & Abstraction: Form

"On the book jacket, the essence of the book is translated by means of type selection, color and significant form into an immediate visual impression."
From "Alvin Lustig: His Work" in Everyday Art Quarterly, Spring 1950.
(I don't know who wrote this one.)
"The design of a book is an extremely subtle problem; as compared with the design of a magazine, it suggests rather the workings of a string quartet than those of a symphony orchestra. It involves a series of delicate relationships such as type selection, scale of type to the page, area of type on the page, width of margins, proportions of the book, choice of paper. These and similar nuances add up to a total that somehow must seem organically related to the material."
-Alvin Lustig, poet of margin, type & line
From his essay "Contemporary Book Design: 1" in Design Quarterly No. 31, 1954.
(I don't know if it's available for free on the internet, but I would highly recommend you hunt it down, oh faithful lovers of eloquent lines)

"The attitudes towards the surface on which the artist works, the use of the multiple axis, the breaking of the classical frame, new concepts of space--all of the working vocabulary of the contemporary architect, designer, painter or sculptor--have made their way, slowly and painfully, into the art of book design."
Hells yes, Alvin Lustig! You break that classical frame!

I love it when artists are so sincere and emotional when they write about things like margins and size-of-type.

Robert Motherwell, "Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 57," 1957-60

Read: Robert Motherwell's "On the Humanism of Abstraction," which isn't available on the internet to my knowledge but which is well excerpted here. Motherwell, being that eloquent master of, well, humanism and abstraction; that sincere and beautiful and ever-honest seer and prophet and voice of brutish nonfigural Gods like Pollock and so-on; his ideas are so applicable to us lovers of forms and lovers of things.

Let's talk about that.

Tavi & Terry

Tavi Gevinson wrote about the Terry Richardson Controversy (and the Do Terry Richardson's Photos Suck Controversy) better than I did.

Girrl knows what she's doing. I don't think I've read any better condemnation or discussion or musing on power-relations in fashion than her original post on the subject.
"It's fun! Uncle Terry said it's fun and everyone likes it!" Know who didn't say it's fun and everyone likes it? The people who had the opposite of fun and did not like it at all!
I wish I could be as great as she is.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Graphic design: visual comparisons

I went to some book sales today. At one, I'm sure a graphic designer donated a lot of books, most of which I bought. You know, I frequently buy whole collections that belonged to people I never knew.

I will romanticize said probable-designer for a long time, just like I have mental ideas about the owners of all of my stamped mid-century lit crit books (the most beautiful books I own), or the set of 25 or so Time Reading Program editions I bought all at once, or even all of the Ian Fleming pulps that we bought (they were all the same edition, 17th printing) and then sold because we got sick of Ian Fleming pulps.

For the moment, a few of my discoveries:

Problem Schmoblem

Bought some new books today. Squid does not approve.

"I paint with shapes" - Alexander Calder

I went to Grand Rapids last night, this is the best I could get in a downpour driving by with the windows up. It's La Grande Vitesse, and you can still feel its force even through this, right? Alexander Calder, one-and-only.

Here's how it looks in full:


She loves books, too. NOT.