Sunday, November 4, 2012

Olympia By Everyone

Olympia by Everyone

Olympia by Everyone
“Chicano Man as Manet's Olympia” Photograph by Claire Bain with Alfred Hernandez.
With his painting “Olympia,”  Édouard Manet broke with the tradition of the reclining female nude as object, and all the trappings which depict women in subordinate, subservient, male-pleasing roles. While Alfred Hernandez was making “My Name is Alejandro!” Claire Bain was working on a photo/film series of variations on “Olympia” and the politics of representation. This photograph mirrors the themes that Hernandez was exploring, and bends the lines and rules of class and race as well as gender. Here we have a nude brown man waited on by a white servant, and like Manet's Olympia, he confronts the viewer with eye contact.  Eye contact or the diverting of eyes is a subtle but large part of maintaining class, race, and gender roles.

Manet's "Olympia"

Claie Bain, test photo for "Olympia Installation"
Super wide angle lens of GoPro camera shows studio setting.
Meaning is in the eye of the beholder. For example, in the test photo of myself above, I was simply trying to see if I had the scale and location of the background curtains and wall paper patterns; the white armature for the cat is at my feet. The photo can be seen to make a statement, however unintended: here is a middle-aged white woman reclining in a strange, industrial/art environment, hardly glamourous, and not the proper behavior or attire for a person of that demographic. It is an inadvertent self-portrait of me in the context of an art studio, surrounded by a fake scene, and some art works that have nothing directly to do with Manet's Olympia, yet if you think of art as a trade, parallels can be found between it and the work of a courtesan. 

Test photo (iPhone4). Nita M. as Olympia with Gaurav N. as Servant. Nita and Gaurav have studios near mine. I needed someone to model so I could check the scale and proportions of the installation, they each were passing by, so I asked them to model. They were aware of the meaning and controversy about the original Manet painting, and I asked them to choose which roles they wanted to play in the photo. Gaurav identified with the Black servant; Nita wanted to be the Odalisque. I told them that I felt a bit odd as one of the points of a triangle in which I was the unseen white person photographing two people of color, in roles of prostitute and servant. The politics of representation felt weird.

Test photo (iPhone4). Claire Bain as Olympia with Gaurav N as Servant.
I asked if either Gaurav or Nita wanted to change positions; Nita wanted to take a photo. I asked Gaurav if he would want portray be other than a servant to a white person, and he said, "No, I'm used to it!"
I am trying to find information about the servant in the original painting, but it's difficult to find.

I used an app called PhotoChop on this iPhone pic to put two of me into the picture. I find the sagging cheek quite becoming, don't you?

Cricket U. with Cricket U. He chose his costumes and planned it all out, growing stubble to pose as the guy in the Union Jack suit, then went and shaved before donning the black slip and pink hair of the maid. Artists make fine models. I love the ideas that the participants have. It's important to understand that the model in "Olympia," Victorine Meurent, was also an accomplished artist. She modeled for several of Manet's paintings.

Cricket's pink-haired gal as Olympia, me as the servant. Cracked is the word that comes to my mind! ha ha ha!

Raven and Sam. Sam has a studio nearby; Raven was visiting and walking by; I introduced myself and explained the project, asking if he'd like to participate. He happily agreed and was out of his clothes in a jiffy. Sam posed as the servant, and they commented on his office attire. Later, Sam told me that the roles were reversed from 20 years ago when it was Sam who would take off his clothes at the drop of a hat, and Raven was more reserved.

Your Participation is Requested! Join the fun: I am staging the Olympia painting, and invite people to pose as characters in the painting. I then photograph or film the participants. 

Please contact me at: {artistabain at yahoo dot com}, 415-789-7299 if you would like to participate. You can act as any of the characters: Olympia the courtesan (prostitute), the Servant (whose name I wish I knew), and the Black Cat. This is a collaboration with you, so I am interested in your ideas of roles, meaning, etc. For example, one person wants to be the cat; another wants to put body tape on her chest to re-shape herself to look more like Olympia. I am interested in your ideas. 

If you don't want to pose nude, I have several body suits available to wear, and props are available for you to use to adjust your gender, if you like. I have a costume for the Servant available, or you may have an idea for other costumes. Through the magic of trick photography, you can even play all the roles in the painting.

Keep in mind that the original painting has layers of significance and meaning: the model was herself a painter named Victorine Meurant. I am searching for images of her paintings; she showed in the Paris Salon, too. She modeled for several of Manet's paintings, including the scandalous "Picnic in the Grass/Dejuener sur l'Herbe." The painting is full of race, class, and gender issues that can resonate in the 21st century just as well as they did in the late 1800s when Manet presented the painting. 

Of course, meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so people have many interpretations. of art. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. No need to over-think it: whatever you feel like is fine.

I hope you will participate! If you cannot come to the studio, you can send me photos of yourself in any of the roles, and I can trick them into the scene. Here are studies of the poses for you to refer to:

Note that the necks of Olympia and the Servant are both almost vertical, as is the axis of the cat.

The axis of Olympia's torso leans to the left, while the Servant's leans to the right.
Neither pose is very easy to imitate, as is often the case with paintings of figures.
For more information on Manet's Olympia, see the following. Please note that I provide these as resources and do not necessarily agree with the opinions that may be expressed:

A general overview--about the painting and the uproar it caused:

A paper on Olympia. I love that the page about the author has her interests ranging from Jimi Hendrix to sports.

Oh, so much more about the painting.

About the Servant:
Please excuse the use of "Girl" in this page. I am including it as a source of relevant information.

Victorine Meurent, the model who was also a painter.
Getting closer to honor due
All kinds of stuff, true or not

About the Cat: An artist's blog.

Take-offs of this painting are almost a genre--see some examples by others

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