30 October 2017

FROM HARVEY WEINSTEIN TO THE MUSEUM: ART FOR LISTENING & HEALING

SHE'S MY MUSE

BY: KATHLEEN LEW

Trigger Warning: discussions surrounding sexual violence 

Writing about the recent spotlight on sexual assault in the media is going to be difficult.
Graduate school has taught me the importance of challenging myself. We need to work through our confusion and frustration to move forward. I am going to give it a shot, and it’s not going to be perfect; however, with the privilege of this platform, as a future professional in a creative industry, I need to try. 

There have been many high-profile sexual assault cases gaining public attention over the past month. Social media has been filled with statements and activism.

Source.

The recent news is not just one case. Multiple industries are being forced to look inward in a very political and public space. Statements from women and men are revealing the troubling power dynamics in creative industries. Some of the most publicized cases have involved Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, director James Toback, Olympic gymnast doctor Larry Nassar, photographer Terry Richardson, web series creator Andy Signore, and Toronto musician Ethan Kath. The list continues.

I want to make it very clear that sexual assault is not a recent phenomenon. Victims of the recent high-profile cases are valid and should be heard. But these headlines are not unfamiliar instances. Abuse of power has been a reality long before, and outside of, the Harvey Weinstein “scandal”. There is a reason victims were silent about Weinstein for years before speaking out. Many experience gendered power and violence as they walk down the street, go to work, within their homes.

#MeToo. Source.
How do we react when a large number of people are shocked about something that most women have been aware of since birth?

Online, this question has been answered with hashtags—most familiar to English speakers is #MeToo. In French #BalanceTonPorc (snitch out your pig), in Italian #QuellaVoltaChe (that time when…), in Spanish #YoTambien (Me too). There are many versions in different languages based internationally.

Using hashtags, women and men have been sharing their experiences, demonstrating the prevalence of sexual violence. The online movement forces people to confront sexual violence and the impact it has on everyone from famous actresses to their Facebook friends. 

French posters calling gatherings to support victims of sexual harassment. October 2017. Source.
I feel both solidarity and confusion when I read #MeToo

What about those who cannot post, or who cannot bear to read? What happens to the victims who are still in danger, who are not emotionally ready to share publicly, who do not have access to the internet, or who did not survive their experiences?

#MeToo creates a highly politicized environment that lacks context and complexity. Can gendered power and violence be reduced to a hashtag? To an extent, hashtags can engage those previously unaware of gendered violence. But who do they isolate?

When and how do online campaigns become action off our screens?

These are the questions that have informed my museum visits this month. In the context of my confusion, I present two museum muses to you.

1) Amalia Pica’s Ears to Speak of at The Power Plant (curated by Carolin Ká˝…chling)
Ears to Speak of opened before recent events; however, I found it an extremely thought-provoking exhibition that provided insight into my current struggles. 

Amalia Pica, Ears, 2017. Ears to Speak of. The Power Plant. Photos courtesy of Kathleen Lew (2017). 

Pica’s work, Ears, addresses the “failures and impossibilities of communication and obsolete technologies.” The exhibit features monumental re-constructions of 1920-1930 acoustic radars. These radars were quickly proven outdated by new technologies, now “monuments of failure.” Pica highlights this failure by re-creating them in cardboard, a material that absorbs sound. 

Pica’s art demonstrates the complexity of communication, and questions how interpretation can be productive. 

Amalia Pica, In Praise of Listening, 2016. Ears to Speak ofThe Power Plant. Photos courtesy of Kathleen Lew (2017).

The exhibition also shows In Praise of Listening, large hearing-aid sculptures in marble, soapstone, and granite. Pica demonstrates the personalization of listening, and human attempts to communicate despite increased difficulty.

Ears to Speak of shows us the complexity of communicating, listening, and connecting. How can we listen to each other? How can technology help and hinder that listening? How is communication dictated by power hierarchies?

I believe Pica’s art provides important considerations for interacting with #MeToo and each other. I highly recommend attending before it closes at the end of December. I did not know that silence could be so loud.

2) Walking With Our Sisters, travelling art installation

Not a museum exhibit but very much a muse, Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation for the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. It has been travelling across the country, most recently in Toronto at the Aboriginal Education Centre. It closed a week early in Toronto because of instructions from elders, so unfortunately, I was unable to see it in person. However, I have heard and read so many wonderful and important things, that I thought I would still share it with you.

A crowd-sourced project, the installation features over 1700 hand-made vamps (moccasin tops) to represent the unfinished lives of Indigenous women and girls. The space is set as a lodge that you move through clockwise to see the vamps installed on the floor. The space includes smudging, an Indigenous cleansing ceremony.

Below is an interview with Metis artist Christi Belcourt on Walking With Our Sisters



The installation gives attention to the lives that are often not spoken about. Each vamp is unique, representing the distinct voices and identities of missing and murdered women.

Walking With Our Sisters will not let victims be forgotten. The installation creates an Indigenized space for silent healing, involves Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and takes action against missing and murdered Indigenous women. It empowers visitors to speak and to act.  

Source.
What can we learn from these museum muses?

Ears to Speak of teaches us to listen to the voices and the silences. It inspires us to question the power of communication, and how technology influences interpretation. What does it mean to share experiences on the internet and what are the limitations?

Walking With Our Sisters teaches us about healing. It honours those who cannot post #MeToo. It brings individual voices to community spaces. It shows how anger and sadness can become art and action.

I do not want the conversations surrounding recent media coverage and #MeToo to be another movement lost in the online archives. I’m far from knowing all the answers, but those who are able should try to work through the confusion.

The museum might be one of the places that we can do that.

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