A Uvic art student creates a collage of modified celebrity nude photos
Framed in condensation, Scarlett Johansson steps from the shower and leans into a mirror. Jennifer Lawrence arches against the centre of a sofa, elbows propped against the couch back. Both actresses are naked, both images were leaked to the Internet and both are tacked to Hannah Golding’s workstation at UVic’s independent art studio. In a place where lumber stands vertical on tabletops and the floors are easels of dried paint, I do not notice the images at first. But as I sit down with the Calgary native, intent on having a discussion about her creative process, my gaze keeps reverting back to the collage of nudity which is slightly jarring even for a contemporary feminist like myself. The moment I ask her about the images, she sits up on her knees and her speech quickens.
Hannah Golding grew up amidst creativity. “My grandma was an artist,” she says, “so it was something that had always been encouraged in my house.” Golding previously dabbled in poetry, but now, midway through her fourth year of the visual arts program, she clearly committed to the right discipline. Her artistic style favours photography and the reanimation of existing images, and she often draws on her own life when conceptualizing her work.
Recently, Golding has been examining the relationship between censorship and celebrities as a foundation for her newest project. In August 2014, hackers posted hundreds of nude images of female celebrities to the Internet, where they quickly spread through social media. In response, Golding began altering the leaked images to reflect her statement. While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would normally censor explicit images with a black bar, Golding has been censoring them with cut-outs of the same explicit body parts. The difference, you ask? The new cut-outs have been taken from magazines or films that have received the celebrities’ consent to publicize.
For Golding, the problem is not the nudity, as the FCC suggests, but rather the circumstances in which the images were shared. “Butts are fine,” says Golding, “as long as the person wants you to see it in that time and in that context.”
Here, the road deviates between those who agree with Golding on the importance of context, and those who see celebrities as an exception to privacy. Many believe that celebrities forfeit all privacy the moment they choose a career that will put them in the public eye, but Golding insists that there is an important distinction between nudity in a film and nudity in a private photograph. For her, the public’s interest in celebrities does not justify blurring that line. “We feel like we have ownership over their bodies because they sometimes choose to show it to us,” says Golding. Despite their cultural prominence, celebrities should still be able to choose how they present themselves to the public.
The controversy around these hacked celebrity photos has even had Golding questioning the ethics of art.
“To make these images, I had to see their bodies and I felt bad,” she says, “Am I doing it with just cause?” Golding ultimately decided that the stimulation of a discussion through her art would be worth the criticism, especially if she succeeds in making her statement without discouraging female sexuality. “Some people are not going to like it, some people are going to disagree,” she says, “but hopefully they’ll start thinking about it more.”
Golding’s fiancé, Katherine Thompson, agrees that art has great conceptual power. She describes Golding’s project as “politics of the body,” a term that accurately reflects the artist’s purpose. The potential to change opinions and teach open-mindedness to generations both old and young is one of Golding’s favourite qualities of art. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of self evaluation.
“I think people should question themselves and question their assumptions,” she says. “Never assume that you have something right from the get-go.” She also believes that art is the perfect platform for discussion because it is a self-generating system that welcomes the contribution of others. In fact, she thinks that art depends on the reactions and interpretations of the public, and grows best when presented to the world for feedback.
As for next year, Golding has applied to Vancouver’s Visual College of Art and Design to study Graphic Design after graduating from UVic. She has also been submitting to various art magazines, specifically Baldhip Magazine, a publication of poetry and visual art. Recently, she was the photo editor for UVic’s fall issue of Concrete Garden. Her work will be showcased at the annual BFA Visual Arts Exhibition in April.
Golding knows as well as anyone that a degree in visual arts does necessarily lead to a financially secure career. While projects like the celebrity nudes are certainly worth the uncertainty if they succeed in stimulating change, being educated in more commercial forms of art like Graphic Design will make her the money to sustain her practice of art. She has no intention of giving up visual art, but her approach to career planning is a practical one. “That’s what I’m aiming to do: make money creatively, but also pursue the art thing as much as I can.”