Life as a Void Consisting of Only Time and Eternity
An exploration of Emptiness, Nothingness, Inner and Outer spheres/realms of being
Do women occupy the inner sphere/sanctum of purity? Is the enclosed female space a sign of sanctity whereas the open hinged male space the spirit of adventure? Are women contained by societal definitions of femininity resulting in us being “Birds in Gilded Cages”. What is the extent of the power we have as women to define ourselves?
Katrin Sigurdardottir’s piece “Boiserie” explores many levels of existence. The enclosed room a replica in white of the Hotel de Cabris located in the Wrightsman galleries of the Met brings to mind a sense of the finite and infinite. As I observed visitors who thought they would be able to see their friends on the other side of the windows, they quickly realized the panes were security glass, meaning one could look in but not out. The mirrors in the room gave the impression of infinity by reflecting endless images. Like the worlds of many French society ladies and nobility they seemed to have everything, yet they had nothing as they were just “birds in a gilded cage” with their pleasure and privilege brought to an end with the French Revolution in 1789. This first walled in room gives a sense of arrested development. Its progression halted within the pure white room encased in what appears to be rather dingy plywood.
Viewing this exhibit is like looking into a surreal kaleidoscope minus the rainbow, where white is not just the absence of color but has the ability to reflect all around and within it.
Because I as voyeur and viewer share the same gender as the artist this exhibit propelled me into rethinking what it means to be a woman in our society. Gender has been defined as a social/cultural construct. Gender can be said to be the attributes and aspects which society says make up the male and the female. Women even women of wealth and privilege who resided in the royal courts of Europe have always been considered inferior beings.
How are we taught to see masculinity and femininity in our society? John Berger in Ways of Seeing, writes that, “A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. His presence may be fabricated, in the sense that he pretends to be capable of what he is not. But the pretence is always towards a power, which he exercises on others.
By contrast, a woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, and clothes, chosen surroundings, taste – indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura.” (p 45-46)
A woman’s space like that depicted by Sigurdardottir’s white room replica of the Hotel de Cabris, is closed and everything about her is directed inward. Men keep her physically, financially, and emotionally. Women’s gestures, attitudes and social discourse has been developed and defined within very narrow parameters. However not only does she watch herself but she watches herself being observed. She becomes both the subject and object of the male gaze. As Berger says, she is both the surveyor and the surveyed (p. 46). In Berger’s definition, men act, women appear (p. 47).
This brings up the issue of stratification of different types of social classes of women. Women young and old often seek to emulate or embody the concept of glamour. The behaviors of movie starlets, models, entertainers, and socialites no matter how vulgar, demeaning or degrading have become the order of the day. However the glamour of media stars is without substance. Many women failing to reach these unreachable aspirations die ignoble emotional, mental and physical deaths grasping for the brass ring but coming up empty.
Even female garments are designed to create restriction. Foundation garments such as girdles, corsets or spanx, garters, shoes too tight to be comfortable or heels too high to walk in, suggest a type of captivity. All are attire that suggest bondage and domination. A woman is encouraged to be a walking work of art in our society. Fashion magazines tell her how to dress diet and style her hair.
And what of the women disenfranchised by physical, emotional abuse, domestic violence and sexual harassment. What of their space. Can it be recreated or refashioned to include them in the dialogue or are they forever locked out via twin fiends named shame and guilt. I speak for those women whose space is closed, confined, where the doors are locked and the keys are in the possession of the oppressor. Once I was a captive of my abuser who physically left me Thanksgiving Day 2007 but the damage he did to my mind, emotions, spirit and psyche has never left me. He left his imprint on my soul. The brutes of shame and guilt entrap me by refusing to grant me the ability to trust or love completely. My only hope at this late stage of my life is that once I transition from this realm into whatever lies beyond I’ll be granted the gift of forgiveness.
I know my absolution will never come from the church or the so-called “body of Christ” as the “church” as a religious entity sanctions male dominance thus the abuse and violent behavior that stems from a patriarchal system.
At present I longingly look through the bars of my prison at those women given pardon and liberty all the while awaiting my next evolution into that great beyond where I will be exonerated, set free and love will once again make an appearance in my life. But in deference to my ex-boyfriend I dedicate this song to him.
Alice in Wonderland—Bigger, Larger, Smaller, Tinier
Grace Slick & Jefferson Airplane
The extended accordion like rendition of the Hotel de Crillon room also located in the Wrightsman galleries gives a sense of expansion yet all the while the free hinges connecting the smaller and larger doorways gives the viewer the perceived ability to fold up and pack away in a suitcase this wonderful display of abstraction.
The larger doorway is a portal to the imagination, the rooms or cubes within our own minds. Have I like Alice in the story eaten the cake labeled “Eat Me” and grown too large, then drank the potion labeled “Drink Me” and shrunk too small. Or like the Alice in the Grace Slick song taken the pills that trick my mind into thinking I’m continually expanding and contracting. But I like the many visitors to the exhibit calmly walk through happily appreciating the aesthetic qualities of the piece.
These two exhibits are located on the Mezzanine of the Modern Art section of the Met museum. And just what is the definition of Mezzanine: “A partial story between two main stories of a building. An intermediate floor between main floors of a building.”
The interpretation of the two Wrightsman rooms is an intermediate, betwixt and between what is real and what is contrived. Similar to the Alice’s trip into Wonderland where reality changes from moment to moment and fantasy is the order of the day.
Can reality be perceived only through the five senses or is reality much like sexuality and/or gender roles only a social construct which time, space and cultures eternally deconstruct and evolve to fit each generations needs.
But I have journeyed from 16th century France, where kings and queens once ruled by divine right only to be deposed through revolution into the 21st century where we read in the papers, on the web and see on television current megalomaniacs and dictators forced to cede their power and authority to the once frightened and enslaved masses who have reclaimed empowerment. Perhaps since both pieces are constructions of wood paneling or plywood that in itself signifies the falsity of temporal riches.
These two rooms pose questions on gender, race, class and social inequalities than possible answers or solutions to aforesaid dilemmas. Or perhaps queries that come to mind have within them never-ending possibilities and infinite resolutions.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art