Self Love

Contemporary Art, Lesbian, New Zealand art, photography, Selfies

I am not sure I even remember my first selfie. It was definitely taken on a 35mm semi-automatic film camera, and definitely using a timer. It probably involved precarious balancing – both of the camera, and of me. I was probably 19. While I may have taken self-portraits at most twice a year, millions of people now take multiple self-portraits daily. As a genre, selfography bloomed in the 2010s. It found a home in social media, travelling from MySpace, to Facebook and beyond. But it’s not the internet that makes today’s selfies different from the self-portraits I took as a young woman; its little things like face recognition, auto-focus, and the ability to reliably take photos at close range.

Charlotte Museum Trust poster girl

Charlotte Museum Trust poster girl

The bathroom or public toilet has become a ubiquitous setting for selfographers worldwide. Well lit, often private, with a nice big mirror. Why weren’t we all taking photos in bathrooms when I was in my teens? Because most of us couldn’t afford the macro lenses that allowed you to take a photo in such a small space, and even if you could, you never knew what the camera had focussed on while you were smiling hopefully into its big black eye. Digital cameras and their user-friendly technology have created a new genre in photography that plays to the advantages of auto-focus, auto-exposure, face recognition, and close range. Selfies quickly became a visual style, where subjects often photographed themselves looking upwards at the camera creating a flattering distortion of the face. Then came the duckfaces.

With informal, popular standards for selfie taking, comes the possibility for selfie subversion and selfie play. For at least my first year as a facebook user, I rebelled. I tried to look bad in selfies to break the monotony of smiling eyes and strategically blown out complexions. I used tomato sauce and chicken feathers to create a Halloween selfie for my profile picture that was also a tribute to Anne Noble’s photography. And I don’t even celebrate Halloween.

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Tribute to Anne Noble, 2009

In 2013 the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, at the Moving Image Contemporary Art Fair in London, became one of the first exhibitions to take selfies seriously. Two years later the Charlotte Museum Trust is doing the same with our ‘Me Myselfie I’ exhibition, due to open at the Charlotte Gallery on 16 August.

As many in our community know all too well, lesbians don’t always get the opportunity to define themselves for the world: to put their real selfies forward. Lesbians have been medicalized, stigmatised, pathologised, categorised, and misunderstood for years. In 1886 Richard von Krafft-Ebing published Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study where he identified lesbianism as pathology. For Kraft-Ebing, sexual inversion (the reversal of gender roles) was the result of poor breeding and poverty. A little later in 1897 Havelock Ellis published Sexual Inversion. Ellis associated lesbianism with sadism and bestiality as sexual deviations. For Sigmund Freud, who began writing at about the same time, all humans were born bisexual, where proper healthy psychological development resulted in heterosexuality, not homosexuality. When teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme conspired to kill Parker’s mother in New Zealand in 1954, their apparently lesbian relationship was used as evidence of a medical illness during the trial. Internationally, this postwar period saw women who loved women medicalised as promiscuous, predatory, and psychopathic. Many of us live and have lived under this shadow.

In a world where others have always had the job of defining us, the Charlotte Museum Trust believes the selfie is an awesome medium for reclaiming ownership of what it means to be a lesbian.

And selfies are also a whole lot of fun. Let’s not forget the fun.

And thus The Charlotte Museum Trust wants your selfies! As an added incentive we are also offering a tidy little competition. Our judge Jac Lynch will select two selfies to be professionally printed and mounted by Imagelab, to be sent to the winners at the close of the show.

Selfographer and CMT judge Jac Lynch avoiding the paparazzi

Selfographer and CMT judge Jac Lynch avoiding the paparazzi

Entries for both the exhibition and the competition close 29 July. Email us at charlottemuseum@gmail.com for an entry form, but do be quick!

Open to New Zealand residents only. Terms and Conditions apply.

Colour glaze and venereal disease: food for thought

Art, Contemporary Art, Crown Lynn, Herstory, Museums, New Zealand art

Recently I had the pleasure of playing tourist in the fine city of Auckland, casting aside my commuters’ hat in favour of walk socks and sandals – metaphorically speaking – I don’t actually wear sandals. As such I defied the laws of nature to attend the dawn blessing and subsequent opening of Te Toi Uku (destined to be known as ‘the Crown Lynn Museum’). Later that day I heard Lisa Reihana in conversation with Rhana Devenport (Director of the Auckland Art Gallery), participating in an event scheduled for the opening of Reihana’s exhibition, In Pursuit of Venus [infected]. Both were worth the early start. And because you never really stop being a museum director, both got me thinking.

Te Toi Uku is The Charlotte Museum Trust’s sister museum in New Lynn. Currently it is open as a research centre only, and sports a flash building in which to house its collection. In time it hopes to be open to the public, as we in our less flash building already are. Small display cases show iconic swans, and colour glaze tableware. Having been a collector of Crown Lynn for over ten years, I am embarrassed by how excited I was to be able to attend the opening of a Museum which to be fair, I had only just heard existed.

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In Te Toi Uku is housed a collective heritage that we can all understand – who hasn’t eaten off Crown Lynn dinner plates?! In my family, being bought a Crown Lynn dinner set upon leaving home was a rite of passage. And at the same time, Te Toi Uku is an integral part of a distinctively New Lynn heritage: Crown Lynn isn’t called Crown Lynn for nothing.

After attending both Te Toi Uku’s dawn blessing and opening, I pulled my socks up, and dashed back into town in an attempt to make that afternoon’s event at the Auckland Art Gallery… in spite of traffic.

Lisa Reihana’s talk about her work In Pursuit of Venus [infected] was also well worth attending, albeit I arrived late and missed the beginning. I did however trip over a number of people in the dark which I think made up for coming in late. In Reihana’s panoramic video, spanning an immersive 26metres of gallery wall, the artist recreates Joseph Dufor’s 1804 scenic wallpaper. The original wallpaper focussed on the savages of the Pacific for its design motif, and Reihana’s video recreates this through a series of vignettes using actors, which is shown at approximate life size. It’s very impressive and worth a visit. In her talk, Reihana drew attention to her desire to be both respectful and inclusive in her use of Pacific culture in the work. While Dufor’s wallpaper told the story of an exotic, utopian Pacific, a fantasyland awaiting discovery, Reihana rewrites that history into something more substantial, human, and, well… ‘infected’. Listening to Reihana, I was reminded of how contemporary New Zealand art so often utilises New Zealand history; how our past is regularly being written by historians, but also by artists.

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Part series of the 1904 Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique

What does this have to do with lesbians, or the Charlotte Museum Trust? Both events raised issues of respect and inclusion, and speak to the question of how we might best represent the past in the present. Te Toi Uku preserves a predominantly Pakeha New Zealand treasure. It tells a national history through crockery. In Pursuit of Venus [infected] also offers a history, one which aspires to Pacific inclusion and respect. And this made me think, is it possible to tell a national history through lesbians at the Charlotte Museum? Can we do that and also be respectful and inclusive? When sometimes, respecting lesbians means keeping them invisible?

Reihana’s work is on show at the Auckland Art Gallery until 30 August. For more on Reihana’s work see http://www.inpursuitofvenus.com/

Te Toi Uku is open by appointment only. For more on the Crown Lynn Museum see http://portageceramicstrust.org.nz/