Friday, April 21, 2006

Inspired by Dr. Awesome posting his essay up for the internet to peruse at their leisure, I decided to do exactly the same thing. I wrote my essay in a veritable stupor of questioned consciousness from which I have not yet fully recovered, though I was quite chatty yesterday for some reason. Anyways, here is my essay followed by the pictures/paintings mentioned.

Identity and Globalization in Art: The birth of email art

One of the main issues that plagues and inspires contemporary artists is that of globalization and the creation of one global community with all the cultural, ethnic, linguistic, aesthetic, and, consequently, identity loss that comes with it. In response to these trends, artists, humanists and concerned citizens alike have banded together to protest the entities, legislation and corporations that are making these things accessible, acceptable, and ultimately inevitable. Artists in particular reacted not only as the others, but also by creating a new medium for art, that is email art.

In order to fully understand the motives and actions of the soon to be mentioned artists, we first must understand the context in which these actions were made, in this case, the climate of globalization. First of all, what is globalization? Globalization is a very broad term that is defined differently in every field of study or thought. Essentially what it is, is the free flow of information on a global scale. This in turn results in the mobilization of people, technology and consequently language, religion and culture. These days you can go to any major metropolitan center and find not only people from all over the world speaking their own languages but also designated areas of the city devoted to a particular foreign region (e.g. China town or Little Italy) where the culture is of the home country and not of the host. Anywhere in the world you can eat French Fries, what is considered American food and see people dressed in American style clothing. For this reason, Globalization is sometimes referred to as Americanization or even more specifically, McDonaldization (Rothenberg 2003).

This transplanting and intermingling of culture and language has created much confusion in people. Where personal identity used to be defined by geographic location, language, religion, culture etc, it was now being all jumbled up into one big mass. This led people to wonder how they were to define themselves, what was their real identity and how were they different from everyone else.

Then there was the way in which large corporations and organizations had gained so much power and influence in global affairs that they started being able to impose their way of doing things onto the rest of the world. The most well known protest to this became known as the Battle of Seattle in November of 1999 when thousands of activists flooded the streets to protest the WTO's (World Trade Organization) immoral control over third world debt (Smith 2001). In this protest, many activists (often peaceful) were beaten by riot police, shot with rubber bullets or tear-gassed. The event was highly publicized on all forms of media, most often portraying the protestors as violent insurgents.

An artist by the name of Mark Vallen produced a work entitled Globalization (2000, Oil on masonite, 20" x 26") in which he depicts just such a scene (appendix 1). You can see that all the figures in the painting are completely faceless with no facial features at all visible and in the case of the victim, not even a head present in the work. This shows the artists struggle with the identity of the individual. More than that, this painting’s subject matter is one of violence by corporate powers towards those who disagree with them such as that which happened in the Battle of Seattle. The artist says about his painting, "My painting addresses the excesses of state power and tyranny seen all over the world."” (Vallen 2006) As can clearly be seen, there are four authoritarian figures with clubs for the one defenceless civilian. The civilian has been beaten with the clubs and kicked to death (evidenced by the blood on the leftmost figure’s boot) with a graphic depiction of the bloodiness of the crime in the river of blood which the figures seem to dance around in a symbolic denial of the deed, not wanting to get their feet dirty so to speak. This could be depicted anywhere around the world. The background has been obscured by fog, perhaps teargas, thus eliminating any features by which to identify location. This is another way the artist conveys the increasingly undifferentiated nature of our world. Every place has the same concrete streets and the authoritarian figures all wear the same shade of dark blue. This work shows the negative aspects of globalization, that violence toward opposing powerful corporate dealings is universal, excessive and faceless.

Where the last work was made in a more traditional style (with oil paint on a surface), many artists have decided to go beyond the physical world of representation and into the digital one as a more appropriate means to get their point across (use of the internet, a major tool of globalization). The next artists all express themselves through something called email art, which is art shown through email. These works don’t leave the digital realm and reach their audience through either websites or email and when exhibited, it is via a computer screen. There is some debate as to whether or not this form of art is a valid one since any scan of art can be emailed. Email art can include digital scans, animations, computer graphics etc (Unknown 2006). Also, email artists come from all over the world, yet they are able to view each other's works nearly instantaneously with a few clicks of the mouse via the internet. The global connectivity that makes the art possible, yet speaks so blatantly against it, is very ironic.

In Jean Claude Gagnon'’s piece (appendix 2) entitled Identidad-Globalizacion (2002, digital scan), we see a table and chair with a question mark superimposed. This table and chair could be from anywhere. The design is not unique, it has no identity. The same chair can be found all over the world and it would look just as at home in any place. The chair is missing a leg, making it unstable. If anyone were to sit on the chair they would fall over and hurt themselves. This is trying to say that the erasure of identity caused by globalization is a disaster waiting to happen and that all may look fine at first glance, but eventually it will collapse and many will be hurt. In the background we see a map of the world with things on top of it. One of these things is what appears to be a blown up newspaper clipping of a man’s head with a hat, though his facial features can not be recognized. We don’t know who this man is; he could be any man in any corner of the world which stretches out behind him. Perhaps the one who will try to use the chair and hurt himself or as the title suggests, he is the artist’s father.

R.F. Cote'’s piece (appendix 3) called Shredded World (2001, digital scan) shows a satellite image of the world at night with all the lights shining, cut into strips and mixed around on a background. The world has been shredded and mashed back together in an incoherent and unrecognizable form. In the same way that globalization has displaced people and cultures etc, so has the artist displaced pieces of the world in a chaotic manner.

Fianally, Varney's piece (appendix 4), Globalization (2002, digital scan), deals with the concept of the globalization of commodities. It is references mail art which uses regular mail for its basis as opposed to email with the stamp. On the top of each of the attached 12 stamps is written "Mondo Post"” with the last "o" in mondo being the copyright symbol (©) and the "“o"” in post as a smiley face. The © is mocking the copyright laws as per the extent to which they are abused and generally ignored on the internet. The smiley face is a common symbol used in instant messaging via the internet, but it also is a well known reference to the American corporate giant Walmart. Mondo is a website (found at www.cloud9.net/~drs/) that displays articles and opinion pieces on government corruption, deterioration in post-industrial cities, fraud, scams etc. It brings to light things that people in high places probably wouldn'’t like anyone to see. The most noticeable thing in this work is the cows with the spots shaped like the world. Note that the USA and Canada are positioned in the spot where are all the best cuts of meat are including prime rib, T-Bone, porterhouse and tenderloin steaks, denoting that they are the richest and the ones who will reap all the benefits of globalization.

In conclusion, globalization has had a large impact on many artists from around the world and has led to the creation of new art in traditional forms and to that of email art which remains at all times in the digital realm. The main issue it has raised is that of how identity, or loss of it, affects the artist as a person.


Rothenberg, Lawrence E. 2003. “Globalization 101: The Three Tensions of
Globalization.” The American Forum for Global Education. No. 176

Smith, Jackie. 2001. “Globalizing Resistance: The Battle of Seattle and the Future of
Social Movements.” Department of Sociology State University of New York at Stony Brook. < http://depts.washington.edu/pcls/Smith.pdf> (April 17, 2006)

Unknown. 2006. “Email Art.” Wikipedia. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-mail_art>
(April 17, 2006)

Vallen, Mark. 2006. Mark Vallen’s Site. Art For a Change. < http://www.art-for-a-
change.com/Vallen/vdraw25.htm> (April 17, 2006).






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