State of Grace by Catherine Dong

State of Grace

Catherine Dong
The Main Gallery . August 6 – September 10, 2015
Opening Reception: Thursday, August 6, from 730 pm – 10 pm
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 St, Edmonton


State of Grace is an exhibition that examines the visual culture of shame in relation to the body, subjects and power in contemporary art.  Over the past two years, Dong has been creating a series of works related to shame that integrates performance, photography, video, and installation. Her focus is exploring the visual culture of shame associated with vulnerability in its personal and socio-political dimensions, deconstructing the experience of shame through gestures, moments and audience participation. In her practice, she considers feminism, globalization and psychoanalysis, positioning shame as a feminist strategy of resistance—an ethical practice that seeks altered states of consciousness that possibly leads to restore dignity and humanity. She questions how shame is encouraged within today’s society—a society that reproduces capitalist and patriarchal power relations—and how it enables power to marginalize certain members of society, sustaining control over the body. Her work seeks to intervene in these dynamics.

Shame is a complex, universal and often painful affect connecting subjects to social relations. It operates on the relation between self and other, between the emotional and social. The dynamics of shame revolve around the world of sight and of being seen. Freud suggested that visual pleasure is related to shame, as the physical gestures of blushing, downcast eyes and slack posture are projected on another—the subject imagining herself as seen by the gaze of the other. This aspect of shame as located at the interface between a vulnerable self and an outsider, between cover and discover, makes it significant in visual art.

But Freud didn’t consider eastern cultures. Asian societies are associated with “shame culture.” In this context, shame can involve honour and positive change. On the other hand, it is also an insidious social control mechanism playing on the emotion’s negative aspects. Despite the rise of feminism and many acts of aesthetic and cultural transgression that challenge taboos, the hegemonic structure of shame persists. Shame is, therefore, a central feminist issue, and an important one within Dong’s work.