Appropriation:

Hubbs,

Whitney

Whitney Hubbs was born (1977) and raised in Los Angeles, California. Her artwork, as she describes in the Gary Metz Lecture Series from 2017, is very much about her personal discovery and specifically concerned with the female body and the historic depiction made for and by the male gaze. Growing up in a family of visual thinkers and analyzers, her mother was, she says, “a wacky artist”, graduated from Mills College, an all women’s school,  and her father, an analytic cinematographer. From an early age, sitting with her father in the Director’s chair, she was taught to frame situations but not live them. Way before she had started making art, “healthy or not” she says, she was taught the removal of her experience from the frame. 

Hubbs received her BFA from the California College of the Arts in 2005 and an MFA at UCLA in 2009. During the 2017 lecture, she also mentioned being involved in the punk rock riot grrrl community in her teenage years, where she already pursued feminist ideals. Inspired by Cindy Sherman, she started photographing herself as a teenager, and although she didn’t fully know what the male gaze was, she played dress up and created images that defied the ways in which she was normally looked at. 

Hubbs’ art practice of self discovery resonates with my own photographic practice, inspiring and triggering discrepancy with some of her decisions of how to depict female bodies. Hubbs explains that in her work she seeks to revert the perception of female bodies established by the history of male image makers depicting women.

The three images I chose to imitate consist of two self portraits of Hubbs titled Body Surrogate #2, 2015 and Untitled, 2017; and lastly Woman no. 6, 2016, where she photographs a model standing in as herself.

At a first glance, the three images depict fragments of female bodies, partially covered by objects, hiding the identity of the figures and lacking an emotional component. In her exhaustive experimentation on how to deviate from the predominant white male gaze, Hubbs questions herself, how can she ever get rid of a lifetime of visual literacy forging the way she perceives herself and all feminine bodies?

However, I find that some of her choices continue to perpetuate conflicting ideas of female bodies. For this reason I decided to recreate three examples of her work employing a different performativity: establishing confrontation with the viewer by looking at the camera, evidencing the identity of the figure that is hiding behind the objects and their emotional presence, aiming to awake a sense of empathy.

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Whitney Hubbs, Body Surrogate #2 (self portrait), 2015​

Florencia Montefalcone, Appropriation of Body Surrogate #2 (self portrait), 2021

Body Surrogate #2, which she did in 2015, is part of her self portrait work. Covered by tin foil paper, she posed in front of the camera in a corner of her studio. Her image depicts a figure covering itself with a roll of tin foil, only exposing its standing legs, arms and a slight view of her nipple. I decided to cut a hole in the paper and show my face instead of the detail of a nipple. The first image I recreated, showcases the face and eyes looking straight back at the camera, an action that gives authority to the performer- compared to the figure hiding behind the paper, this new figure (myself) is taking part in the making of the image and looking straight to the camera. 

Florencia Montefalcone, Appropriation of Body Surrogate #2 (self portrait), 2021

For the second image the figure showcases a smile through the hole in the tin foil paper. The interaction and playfulness of the figure with the tin foil paper breaks the passive stance of the mannequin being looked at, the awareness of a performance taking place is evident to the viewer. While the presence of eyes in the first image creates an emotional engagement with the viewer, I approached the later one thinking about the use of female bodies in commercials. The removal of eyes in this second image though, conveys a sense of satire, reminding us of the exhaustive use of the female entity to sell products.​

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The second body of work I developed appropriating another self portrait: Untitled, made in 2017. Similar to Body Surrogate #2, Hubbs hides behind the seamless paper roll in her studio, this time exposing a sliver of her nude body. Hubbs’ performance calls the energy of a standing mannequin, rather than showcasing clothes, this is a naked mannequin, looking lifeless and accidentally revealing from behind the seamless paper that covered it. The main focus in the image lies in the round nipple in the center of the image. I took on the appropriation in a playful manner that evidences the presence of the figure, in this case myself, purposefully revealing itself. The objectification happening to the undressed body in Hubbs’ portrait is broken by the authority of the figure purposefully acting for the camera.

Whitney Hubbs, Untitled, 2017​

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Whitney Hubbs, Woman #6, 2016​

The third set of images are appropriating Woman no. 6, a body of work that Hubbs did photographing a model she casted by how similar they looked to herself. As she explains in the aforementioned lecture, she would direct the models to move as she would, aiming to photograph herself through them. In a blue all round composition, Woman no. 6 depicts a woman’s back lifting a blue book with her two hands, a gesture that reminds us of the action of either lifting a heavy block or about to throw that book away in an angry manner. The muscular contexture of the model’s body intrigued me, having myself a muscular back as a consequence of years of training in water sports, this always seemed as a not so feminine attribute. My take on this image turned out into three images, the main one, and my favorite, contorting the body into the shape of an eye, giving the nude body the possibility to confront the spectator even when it's facing its back. The accompanying images include the phone I was using to release the shutter of the camera, the modern extension shutter cable and the symbol of control in self portraiture. Overall these two images work with the main eye-body image to prove the authorship and power of making of the main subject: me, the artist.

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As a final observation, my appropriation of the artist’s work was looking to challenge the reminiscing aspects of hetero compliant visual literacy that the images hold. Questioning the decisions taken by the artist of portraying lifeless female bodies and proposing a different performativity to further abolish the established idea of womanhood made by and for the male gaze. Being aware that the sediments of this visual literacy are very much alive, it is interesting to analyze work and question the effect of the depiction outside of the explanations of the artists.

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