Forgive me, dear reader, if you find this post a bit confusing. What we are about to embark on is a mind-numbing tour of Otherness. If you have to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, do so now. I’m not stopping this tour bus until we reach our destination.
Otherness, as far as Art is concerned, describes marginalized groups. Simply, the other is anyone who is not like you (Republicans, the Amish, MTV Reality Stars, etc.). You, whether you like it or not, define yourself against the Other. For example, you are only white because others are black, brown, taupe, fawn, beige, eggshell, mother of pearl–you get my point. In some circles, the Other is related to language, to Sign/Signifier. When I say: Apple, you develop a distinct image of an apple that is likely unique to you. Now, when you go to the grocery store intent on buying an apple, you are likely to pick an apple that best fits your idealized concept of an apple (perfectly red, smooth, no-bruises, firm, etc.). Once you have found your apple, you disregard the rest. This is the essence of Otherness.
If you are still with me, then consider societies treat of nature for a moment. We strive to conquer nature, right? Why? Is it a re-imagined Manifest Destiny? Possibly. Our we afraid of nature? In most literature, especially Medieval and Renaissance, the forest is a place of great unknown, of great transformation (For a more contemporary example think: Potter, Harry). It is a place feared because it is unknown. It is unknown because it is unlike us–because it is the Other. So, naturally, society wants to subjugate what is not like it. It creates maps, travel guides, the Travel Channel, and Bear Grylls to tame the wild. It creates hunting rifles with a one-mile range, camouflage, and the NRA to ensure its dominance over beasts.
French designer Nelly Ben Hayoun would call this the domestication of nature. Her work “The Other Volcano” is a commentary on how society comes to terms with reality, how it confronts the fact that nature is untamable. Why endure the madness that is a living, breathing, living room Volcano? Or, as she asks in the video, “How we can cope with a sleeping beauty at the side of our couch?”
In an interview with www.we-make-money-not-art.com, Hayoun expands her questioning, asking “How can we live with someone that we hate and that we need at the same time?” (To read the interview, go here). In affronting the viewer with this question, Hayoun is posing the quintessential dilemma of Otherness. It is a question that is not easily answered. Hayoun’s participants do it for the sake of art and entertainment; they do it because they know it is temporary. Yet, how, in our everyday lives, we cope with difference is an altogether different question. But, then again, maybe it isn’t.
To see her other projects, go to http://www.nellyben.com.