In the last year, I’ve been hearing a lot about building a “personal brand” or “branding oneself.” I joined Twitter recently in part because I was advised at a non-academic careers session that doing so would make me more employable, though precisely how it would accomplish this was more mysterious—apparently it would involve writing blog posts about my nostalgia for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, of which I have very little, and so am thus nearly doomed, I suppose.
In a recent post, blogger Alina Kulesh, a new Twitter acquaintance, suggests she enjoys apps like Gowalla and Foursquare because they allow her to publish her presence at specific restaurants, clubs and shops, thereby building her brand, an advantage she’s found overrides the oft-spouted fears about eroding privacy or potential security breaches. She’s had some success too, which I very much applaud her for—recently gaining an opportunity to write a weekly arts & culture column for photojunkie.
The notion that one must brand oneself also drives the proliferation of so-called lifestyle blogs, many of which dedicate lists, posts or even entire blogs to enumerating “things I like.” To brand oneself seems to mean that one should associate oneself with particular items, shops, products, adjectives, colours, destinations, restaurants, depths-of-field, styles, foods, choices, habits and, yes, brands. This accretion of characteristics, whether purchased, coveted, or simply noticed, allows one entrance into particular identities—urban homesteader, avid locavore, dedicated maker, fashionista, all-of-the-above, etc. On the whole, I don’t disagree that such a strategy can prove immensely successful. I’ve seen some bloggers build impressive online personas quite rapidly and earn some not insignificant profit by selling their personal brand to bigger brands. Others find communities of like-minded brands with which to mingle, converse and broadcast. And of course, whether at career-building sessions or gossiping with friends, we’ve all heard branding success stories: those who’ve found employment, creative opportunities or niche-lovers through their successful consolidation of an online persona.
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The past couple of weeks are the first since I started this blog, or at least semi-figured out the art of posting, in which I didn’t meet my goal of blogging something every week. I apologize to those few regular readers I know are out there (thanks to you!). I’ve been busy conferencing, writing dissertation chapters and working on some creative writing for an upcoming gallery show two of my dear friends are curating.
Yes, that’s right, some creative writing. Obviously, I love writing—if I didn’t, I’d have made some very questionable life choices (and perhaps I have, but at least in the name of passion). Like many creative people, though, I’m protective of and self-conscious about my work. It’s such a strange quality, really, to be embarrassed about something you (think you) have an aptitude for, but perhaps it goes back, like many things, to childhood, a time when to stand out is to be different and to be different is to be prey to ego-destroying teasing, exclusion and sometimes violence. I’m sure it also comes from the fact that writing feels like it comes from the part of me that is really me; the part that isn’t playing a role, trying to make friends, working to get ahead and that part feels vulnerable. I’m generally cautious about who gets to know her. But, one of the reasons I started this blog is to push that part of me out there, blinking into the sun, realizing that the days of being wild are limited, that childhood is long gone, so, to that end, on with the show!
Sneak peak at some of the images for the show. Designed by Jamie Lawson.
The exhibition is titled Zoo, or a Motley Menagerie of Magnificent Mammalia and the idea behind it is to work through the kinds of sensations, adjectives and assumptions that inspired the first zoological gardens and menageries, with the tongue-in-cheek perspective that comes with looking backward. There are some really great pieces coming along—’50s pulp influences, a bit of Victorian-esque attention to detail, a few Dada-inspired juxtapositions and even a dose of the crazy ’80s. The roster of artists, each tackling the theme in their own way is: Jen Hsieh, Jamie Lawson, Dushan Milic, Steve Newberry, Jacqui Oakley and Kyle Reed. Along with my pieces, Judith Scholes will also be writing what is sure to be some amazing poetry. The show will be mounted at the Loose Cannon gallery on James St. North in Hamilton and will open on July 8 as part of the July Art Crawl. In case you hadn’t heard, all the cool kids go out to see all the new gallery shows on the hip & happening James St. North on the second Friday of each month. For non-crawlers, never fear, the show will be up for the whole of July.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by such a talented and creative bunch of friends and I’m pretty honoured that they asked me to write some words to accompany their pieces. Even more so because I’m a nature documentary addict and was a kid who grew up traipsing around in forests, so a sense of wonder at the world is something I’ve got in spades, perhaps a few too many spades, as friends might attest who’ve had to listen to be diatribe about the amazingness of sloths and hippopotami. (Did you know that a hippo can produce its own sunscreen? I know! Amazing!) I probably should have been a zoologist.
I want to share one of the pieces I’ve been working on, but, first a few more words to buffer the blow to my ego… Zoos are much more than just collections of animals—they have a long, often brutal and sometimes sordid history. Going back to Rome and Greece, animals were not only displayed as curiosities, but were pitted against each other in battles in which sometimes thousands were killed in a single day. And even as zoological gardens were blooming across Europe in the early 1800s, colonisers took people like Saartje Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, to be displayed alongside chimps and orang-utans for the titillation of European visitors.
At the root of this exploitation, we find not only power and paternalistic hierarchies, but also curiosity. We are curious about our own limits, and sometimes work to reinforce or deny those limits in ways that are as violent as they are disingenuous. And yet, the unknowable gaps remain. In preparation for this show, I’ve been thinking about some of the incommensurable gaps between humans and other animals, both the gaps we try to close: through myth, science or popular culture, and the gaps that are impervious to our efforts, the gaps that continue to confuse, frighten and spark our curiosity. I think I live in one such gap, between my ongoing consumption of anthropomorphized and cartoon animals and a the perpetual kill shot of the nature doc, now in high-definition vision!; the gap between Lion-O and the lion, who is, oh, just ripping the neck out of that juvenile water buffalo.
In the end, for Zoo I decided to write several one-way conversations with animals, conversations which at least in theory could be sparked by a visit to the zoo, which describe the blurry space we insert between humans and other animals, the smeary Plexiglass barrier that separates one from the other. Necessarily one-sided, these pieces, I hope, will capture some of the feelings of incomprehension, curiosity and amazement that perpetuate at least my own pursuit of the inscrutable animal.
To give you a sneak peak and to get you excited about the show, I want to share one piece: a conversation with a star-nosed mole… » Read the rest of this entry «