t r aces of t he o thers
Marcella Ernest | Deanna Pizzitelli
July 21 – September 30, 2016
t A d proudly presents t r aces of t he o thers as part of Outskirts: Bodies, Places, and Identities, a project that brings together artists from diverse background to explore women’s issues and politics. Remarkable and impactful works by two contemporary artists are featured in this exhibition: Marcella Ernest is an award-winning interdisciplinary video artist and scholar. Her rhythmic, filmic images echo Native American language, revealing and amalgamating emotion of life, loss, love, sexuality and culture as a complex structure. They often serve as a catalyst for discussion on gender performance of identity and Native American cultural politics. Her recent work has been presented in Venice Biennale; Deanna Pizzitelli is a photo-based artist and writer who explores the emotional landscape of desire, eroticism, longing and loss. Her collaborative work questions the boundaries of selfhood, and the tenuous relationship between identity and portraiture. Deanna is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto. She currently lives and works in Ottawa, Canada.
Premiered in this exhibition is Marcella’s new film Odayin (Heart), joined by her other film AMALGAMATION : Beyond Gender. Her moving images embody the tension, peril, and desire arisen from one’s experience in traversing and trespassing between gender and sexuality. Summoned up is a kind of adventurous strategy or a strategy of difference that breeds a doubly displaced identity and practice. This double displacement is effective. Not only that it decodes the binary opposition in gender and sexual identities, but it opens up a transformation (or deformation) space where the double-displaced identity is, of necessity, deviated from in order to be assimilated into Native American culture. That’s a contradicting nature of the binary concept in our language and consciousness. And its fuzzy boundaries are also reflected in the films, in the cutting and splicing of the images.
In fact, “double displacement” is termed by Gayatri Spivak in her writing on “Displacement and the Discourse of Woman”, where she discusses Jacques Derrida’s method of deconstruction; woman — her identity and her self- (re)presentation — is doubly displaced in the phallocentric system of difference and relation. Untitled (intimates) is a series of 16 still photographs by artist Deanna Pizzitelli. The work, in its grid formation, invites us to read it as a gestalt configuration of self-portrait, in its unity and as a collection of its parts. It also represents a kind of system, network, or field of relations, portraying an identity marked by the traces of things that are other than the subject herself, and at the same time formed through a process of synthesis, experiences, incompleteness, (inter)dependence, derivation, and difference. The collection of images resembles an index of some semantic and semiotic signs, and it brings to mind this particular thought found in Jacques Derrida’s writings:
What will the index be? On which words will it rely? Only on names? And on which syntax, visible or invisible? Briefly, by which signs will you recognize his speaking or remaining silent about what you nonchalantly call sexual difference? What is it you are thinking beneath those words or through them? (“Geschlecht: Sexual Difference, Ontological Difference”)
Curatorially, this exhibition is rendered as a gesture to call attention to a space of deconstructing relations, where Jacque Derrida’s idea of difference and différance is inscribed. It traces the two artists’ works, similar yet inherently and creatively different, to the underlying question they both share and attempt to deal with. That question is “Who, me?” It becomes “But who, we?” (borrowing Derrida’s words) when uttered from the subject positions that the artists occupy in society and from the different sociocultural groups where they belong and represent. Their sex, gender, race, sexuality, and ethnicity matter, yet they matter and are meaningful as such only in a system of différance.
The question of who we are is actually central in Derridean deconstruction. It makes us ethically and politically question who we are by exposing structures, concepts, and beliefs that seem self-evident and self-given but, as often as not, are hidden from our eyes. It reveals, among other things, that as much as we struggle against the hierarchal structure of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and racism, we are inherently bound up with and implicated in it. This is paradoxical, precisely because identity requires difference, while difference requires identity. And . . . we still have to speak his language.
Visually effective and alluring, the works by Marcella and Deanna reveal how our being is never pure and self-identical; it’s always generated, displaced, and differentiated. Who we are is always something other than it is. Just as we may think how the two artists are different — as far as their identities, sexualities, and cultural backgrounds are concerned, we may end up seeing that they are only inseparably divided; the borders of their self-experience are always porous and marked by the traces of the otherness and the others.
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