D E F A C E D explores representation and dehumanization using several strata of codification. All sonic material for this piece was sourced from a photograph. The data from the photograph (.jpg) was converted into text (.rtf) and the resulting text was compartmentalized based on certain criteria. Alphabetic data was isolated and, using several different tools of analysis including text-to-speech and ‘eye-rhyming’, was transformed into a parseable and abstract language which was then interpreted into the voiced text. The sonic material was then inserted into a randomizer using the numeric data of the photograph for its parameters. Thus, what you are hearing is a photograph sung.
The photograph is an infamous photo of pop superstar Rihanna. The photo documents extensive injury to Rihanna’s face as a result of a battering assault by Rihanna’s boyfriend and fellow pop star Chris Brown. Rihanna has stated publicly that she does not wish to be a spokesperson for domestic violence, and both she and Chris Brown have experienced increasing success in their careers despite the assault. Domestic violence is ‘off-brand,’ so it went away.
Do I have any right to use this image for my artwork? If I have the right to use this image, should I? Is there a place for morality in art? Recently, Kenneth Goldsmith read the autopsy report of Ferguson, Missouri’s Michael Brown as a piece of poetry — to widespread outrage. Goldsmith is a white man using a black man’s death to make his work, and I am a white woman using a black woman’s battered face to make my work. Questions of race, privilege, and violation SHOULD arise in both works.
Appropriating Rihanna’s face and tragic experience for my purposes dehumanizes her, as ubiquitous media representation dehumanizes and plasticizes, as domestic violence dehumanizes and reduces. Yet I am also a survivor of domestic violence, and this image of Rihanna resonates with me in a way that is ineffably painful. By codifying her image, I am codifying my own experience, and making audible what is largely unspoken. Rihanna may not want to be a spokesperson for domestic violence, but in her subsequent silence despite the infamy of the assault — she is. Everything that surrounds this image, including Rihanna’s stern dismissal of it, IS domestic violence; that which is widely seen but not discussed, that which is quieted and shoved into dark corners to gather dust, by the abuser, the world, and often most surprisingly and adamantly by the victim.
As one in a series of many to come, I hope to show that violence against women (emotional, physical, sexual, psychological) is a horrifically common practice that does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, social status, beauty, income, education, or geographical location. I will use photographs of many women, including myself, in this series.
Although ostensibly dehumanizing via their reduction to code, perhaps giving voice to a silent image will also restore some power to victims, helping to memorialize and immortalize those of us who have been defaced.
About the music: Like most of my work, this piece is comprised exclusively of voice. Generally the vocal timbre and melodic lines are distantly indebted to traditional Russian folk wedding songs — essentially musical weeping in which the women of the village mourn the loss of the bride to her husband.