How We See Our Selves

How We See Our Selves is a collaboration engaging artist Lizzy De Vita and socio-anthropologist Annabelle Boissier with Fear, Normality, Identity, (In)Visibility, Community, Gender, Narrative, Queerness, Muslim-ness, Whiteness, Correctness, Foreignness, Sameness/Otherness…… ideas which place us in relation to others, and define us in the world in which we live. Who are we? What is our reality? To what extent is that reality (in)dependent? What are we allowed/able to work/think about? Who owns a trauma? What can(not) we do? To whom are we speaking? What are we/they afraid of?

December 2017: a provisional conclusion:
In the current research phase, Lizzy and Annabelle, are preparing a discussion about the impossibility of research, namely concerning ethical issues related the artists’ and researchers’ rights to invoke certain social questions whilst being outside the communities they interrogate.  Lizzy and Annabelle will expand on this topic, including the quiproquos that surfaced during their exchange, deriving partly from the gap that emanates from their disciplines.

Annabelle Boissier is a socio-anthropologist. Her research deals with the transnational dimensions of contemporary art recognition and she worked intensively on the emergence of contemporary art scenes within extra-western countries – including two case studies: Thailand and Tunisia. The political revolution in Tunisia led her to analyse the processes of self-censorship and the impact of political rupture on art worlds. In an epistemological point of view, her main concern is to develop new ways of producing sociological sciences by working on auto-ethnography, creating narratives and exploring style in writing, or working alongside artists in order to produce new knowledge.
She received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Amongst other publications, she published « La négociation entre art et politique. Les artistes contemporains et la bureaucratie tunisienne ». In Les ondes de choc des révolutions arabes, 199‑217. IFPO, 2014; and L’intimité d’un conflit. Récit ethno-biographique du harcèlement moral. Paris: Edition l’Harmattan, 2016.

Lizzy De Vita is a sculptor whose work focuses on the structure and language of relationships. She is interested in how the formation of our many selves, triangulated through our relationships with others, is alarmingly illogical yet also creative of profound, inarticulable empathy. How do we understand the experience of another person? De Vita’s work focuses on how identities shift, bloat or dissipate through physical, linguistic and psychological collisions. Raised in Pittsburgh, Lizzy received a BA from Barnard College in English Literature and Art History, and more recently an MFA from the Yale School of Art.
She has shown work nationally and internationally, including exhibitions at the Carnegie Museum of Art and The Andy Warhol Museum. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn.
Check Lizzy’s website for more information about her work.

Lizzy is a pretty good cook — still follows recipes but is starting to improvise more and more. She likes bringing people together, to talk and eat food. She has doubts about her work and the viability of her career as an artist. She grinds her teeth at night. She has never felt much comfort identifying as a woman, or gay, or straight, or vegetarian. Being an artist has always felt right, and most solidly her. And, after studying abroad, being American also felt right. She is white, from an upper-middle class, educated family, but is also the product of other families that were made and found. She is a little bit racist, a little more classist, a little bit sexist, a little bit less ageist, and a little bit ableist (which makes things difficult with her chronic illness – what she prefers to call her “thing.”). But, she is also a little bit contrary, which helps balance all of the above. Her goal for How We See Our Selves is to remain unsure as to where it will lead.

Annabelle is a woman, born in Paris, from french/white/middle class/heterosexual/educated parents. She is french/white/middle class/heterosexual/educated/mother/married individual. She is for sure reproducing what she’s been taught. She likes to think that she’s a free thinker, and as a matter of fact she doesn’t fit entirely in any category: not an artist despite her education, not an academic researcher, somewhere in the middle, always on the middle. She is normal as much as abnormal. And of course like Lizzy she is a little bit racist, a little bit sexist, a little bit ageist, and a little bit ableist – but who is not. What does she hopes from How We See Our Selves? To be led to another understanding of Our Selves.


This drawing represent the first way we thought of our collaboration, a loop including art-anthropology-society. ©HowWeSeeOurSelves

As a first step, we agreed to work at the intersection of our own interests. Lizzy’s most recent body of work aims to examine how our perception of others shapes our own identities. Most recently, she has been considering what it means to simultaneously be on two sides of an equation: for instance, what it means to be both the victim and perpetrator of a virus, though not literally. She is interrogating viral moments, places where perceived boundaries are blurred: infestation, epidemic, mass migration, etc., moments which often lead to the collective desire for a “scapegoat.” Within this framework, she wanted to focus on queer and migrant populations, because of the indeterminacies that often define their experience/identities. While Annabelle was working in North-African Muslim countries, her main interest was to understand how people have to operate together in order to achieve their goals even if they do not necessarily want to define themselves as a collective. We chose to fuse our interests into one theme: how have queer-identifying Muslims come together in order to negotiate the manifold social difficulties they face?

Our discussions around and behind our project led us to Orlando tragedy and the fear it represented for us in the election to come. We decided to investigate images from the attack. Different types of images were appearing: images of the location, of the victims, of the police officers, of commemorations. In images of commemoration especially, we noticed an abundance of flags. It finally appeared that the way flags were used were slightly different depending on where they were placed, and by whom. Public commemoration seemed to involve lots of different flags related to community affiliation: Americans, Puerto-Ricans, Christians, Muslims, LGBTQIA community members, even Hillary Clinton Supporters. Some chose to combine two flags to make a new flag (American + Rainbow flag, Hillary Logo + Rainbow flag, etc.). Yet, as the tragedy disseminated into the international sphere, the rainbow became the more dominant symbol of solidarity, pointing more to a separation of ideological allies and non-allies than any show of mourning. Still, at the domestic level, use of the rainbow flag points to a separation between the queer community and ‘being American.’

This particular distinction came to light when, for instance, a county in Alabama refused to comply with President Obama’s orders to hang the American Flag at half-mast in recognition of the tragedy, asserting it was not an ‘American’ tragedy, but a queer tragedy. Lizzy had to explain Annabelle what was the difference between an act of hate (hate crime) or an act of terror, referencing Obama’s speech which acknowledged both sides. She felt that using the rainbow on the White House and other important buildings was an inclusion as much as an exclusion. Were the victims of this tragedy more gay than American? In an international lens, why was it more important for Western countries to show their solidarity through the Rainbow flag rather than through the American flag? Were the difference states around the world using the rainbow aware of this slight but very strong distinction? Where individuals and groups chose to situate their solidarity was also indicative of where they positioned themselves in opposition (or unity) with others.

Once the theme was established the question was how to begin the work? We decided to conduct fieldwork together, by using Annabelle skills in ethnography. In the fieldwork, we will interrogate how dedicated organizations were created on the East Coast of the US to support the needs of LGBTQIA Muslims, starting by the history and the activities of those organizations. We never could. Something got in the way. Frightening Lizzy, upsetting Annabelle. Something unexpected that we had to think about, say out loud to ourselves and to other people, and then do something about.

We realized that this was the next phase of our collaboration: examining our own fears and reactions, and finding ways to communicate that to an audience. Coming soon!

Hashtag is a common way to speak of the self and to connect with other people. Hashtag can speak about daily life, growing trends, or to describe what we see or how we feel.

What Is Your #? is an art piece that starts with a survey asking you – our family, friends, internet network fellows – which hashtag would best speak about you today? And, if you have time and interest, why not ask yourself this same question next week and for the full year?

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