“Pictures and words seem to become the rallying points for certain assumptions. There are assumptions of truth and falsity and I guess the narratives of falsity are called fictions. I replicate certain words and watch them stray from or coincide with the notions of fact and fiction.”
Barbara Kruger is one of my favorite artists, known for using found photographs and interlying them with phrases and declarations that challenge viewer’s conceptions of power and control. In popular culture, she’s probably best known for this cover of W magazine of Kim Kardashian. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about her work and how it relates to our discussions in class. The above is a quote from Kruger that illustrates the desire behind her work, and how they are interpreted by the viewer.
Untitled (Your Gaze Hits The Side Of My Face) 1981
In particular, I have been thinking about this work and how it relates to theories of the gaze. The gaze here is externalized – it is your gaze watching me. It allows for the portrait to recognize its too-be-looked-at-ness, its agency. It actively recognizes the look, acknowledging the spectacle it looks upon. Is the portrait’s spectacle fetishized? Perhaps. It is the image of a woman, an image that few real women would be able to accomplish, perfection without reality. Her eyes look away from us, her gaze diverted.
But the gaze addressed here doesn’t just look, for it is active too, hitting the side of the face. The use of the word hit asserts the violence of the gaze, the physicality that it implies. The gaze is not neutral. Hitting the side of ones’s face, the gaze engages with the face it looks upon forcefully, almost overpowering it. Kruger’s focus on female subjectivity, speaking from the view of the statute, allows this not to happen, by calling attention to an agency that has customarily been negated within art history, that of female experience and subjectivity.
As an aside, earlier this year, Kruger recently collaborated with a sunglasses manufacturer to bring out limited edition pairings of sunglasses that quoted from her 1981 work. The product description reads in part as follows: “Presented on sunglasses, the wearer transforms into both a voyeur and an object; a play on themes of looking, power, and the gaze” (emphasis theirs).