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“Katie Sokoler- Your Construction Paper Tears Can’t Hide Your Yayoi Kusama Neurotic Grade Underbelly”

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Katie Sokoler-
Your Construction Paper Tears Can’t Hide Your Yayoi Kusama
Neurotic Grade Underbelly

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Okay okay, Tampon commercials are easy targets. So easy that tampon companies, such as U by Kotex in their “Reality Check” advertisement, have chosen to sell their tampons by parodying tampon commercials’ standardized absurdity. That being said, Katie Sokoler’s 2012 Tampax Radiant Tampon Campaign is unique as tampons are sold through Sokoler’s identity as a fun-pushing street artist. This extends the typical tampon commercial persona of an impossibly happy women jumping around without any trace of blood or discomfort into an understanding of the way that Sokoler presents herself as an artist enacting her art. This, in addition to the fact that Sokoler is billed as a “real woman” and not a model, makes Sokoler’s cute behavior read less like a character construction and more like a chosen affect. Sokoler’s Tampax Radiant Tampon advertisements present sophisticated examples of cuteness when unpacked through Sianne Ngai’s scholarship and when placed in relation to Yayoi Kusama’s art practice. This paper will do just that.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Katie Sokoler
“Hi there!” Katie Sokoler is a self described, “freelance artist and photographer living in Brooklyn. [She] create[s], build[s], style[s], design[s], perform[s], direct[s], and shoots. [Sokoler has] an incredible amount of energy, ideas and balloons.” [See Figure 1] 1 Sokoler studied photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology where her thesis consisted of photographs she posted on her blog Color Me Katie of people walking underneath paper thought bubbles she had constructed and placed around Brooklyn. At the center of the thought bubbles Sokoler placed a variety of photographs ranging from hearts to women jumping in bikinis to cats. [See Figure 2] Her thesis project was written about as “The Brooklyn Thought Bubbles” in the Brilliant Highbrow section of New York Magazine’s January 5-12, 2009 Approval Matrix, and replicated on a French television show. Sokoler works as a photographer for the Gothamist, a New York City events and news website, and Improv Everywhere, a New York City based prank collective whose historical legacy can be traced to Happenings, a performance art form that developed in the United States in the late 1950’s.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Fig. 1 Sokoler, Katie. Digital Image. Color Me Katie. Blogger. Web. 30 September 2015.
Fig. 2 Sokoler, Katie. Digital Image. Flickr. Flickr, 9 August 2009. Web. 1 October 2015.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Tampax Radiant Tampons

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Super fun news! [Katie Sokoler] was contacted by Tampax to be a part of their new campaign about stand out girls. They wanted to feature three creative, unique, real women with their art. A street artist, yarn bomber, and balloon artist. It’s the first time they’ve ever used real women in their ads instead of models!

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7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Katie Sokoler starred as the “real woman street artist” in Tampax’s 2012 Radiant Tampon advertisement, while Jessie Hemmons starred as the “real woman yarn bomber” and Jihan Zencirli as the “real woman balloon artist.” Sokoler’s print advertisement features her shielding herself from a purple, magenta, turquoise and canary yellow construction paper rainstorm with a matching canary yellow umbrella. Cloud cut-outs and open paint cans, remnants of Sokoler’s crafting, lay beside her bubblegum pink rain boots as a gust of wind innocently lifts up the skirt of her blue and white polka dot dress. The text superimposed on the photograph reads, “NEW TAMPAX RADIANT HELPS KEEP YOUR PERIOD INVISIBLE. HOW YOU CHOOSE TO STAND OUT IS UP TO YOU.” [See Figure 3]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Fig. 3 Procter & Gamble, Tampax Radiant Tampons. Advertisement. 2012. Print.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 (Side Note: It is important to keep your period invisible because otherwise you may be censored. On March 24, 2015 Toronto based poet and artist Rupi Kaur posted a photograph of her fully clothed sister on Instagram. [See Figure 4] Within 24 hours Instagram took her photograph down and claimed the photograph had violated the site’s community guidelines. Instagram eventually restored the photograph but only after Kaur penned an open letter on Facebook that garnered a significant amount of attention and support. Kaur told The Washington Post, “They allow porn on Instagram, but not periods? How dare they tell me my clothed body, the way I wake up at least once every month, is ‘violating’ and ‘unsafe?’”) 3

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Fig. 4 Kaur, Rupi period. 2015. Digital Image. Rupikaur, 23 March 2015. Web. 30 September 2015.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Katie Sokoler’s Tampax Commercial opens with Sokoler scooting onscreen with paper clouds tucked under her arm. We see Sokoler climb up a ladder in her polka dot dress, polka dot socks and heels, and tape construction paper clouds and raindrops to side of a white brick building. Pedestrians walk by, framed by the camera so they are caught under Sokoler’s Tampax rainstorm. [See Figure 5] Sokoler’s Tampax activities are spliced with shots of Sokoler smiling through torn, cut and thrown purple construction paper, and overlaid with audio from an interview with Sokoler,

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 My name is Katie Sokoler and I am a fun maker. I am a photographer, I am an actress, I am a blogger and a street artist. I wanted to try to try something new with photography. Instead of shooting models, I wanted to shoot real people. I thought of this idea of making interactive street art where I create a piece on the wall, and use my camera to photograph people walking under it. I like doing street art because I love making art, and I love putting art in public places so other people can enjoy them. Making street art helps me express myself. It all comes together when someone walks under it and I sort of almost think of it like they’re falling into this little trap. I have a few times had the cops called on me, and the cops come and they’re like, “Oh! This is just paper!” I think I stand out because I really like doing things that make other people happy.

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13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Fig. 5 “Tampax® and Always® Introduce the All-New Radiant Collection.” Business Wire, 2012. Author’s screenshot.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Katie Mellor, the Art Director of Tampax Radiant’s 2012 campaign, saw her challenge as the fact that she, “had to talk about something no one wants to talk about in an interesting way,” and saw the solution to this being a campaign that, “used young girls who are doing visually creative things in the world and who don’t let their periods get in the way of standing out.” 5 The issue that keeps women who are doing visually creative things from not standing out is not their period but systemic gender inequality. Gender inequality that thinks it’s O.K. to refer to 25 year old women, Sokoler’s age at the time of the commercial, as “young girls.” Gender inequality that prompts websites like Instagram to allow porn, but not periods. Gender inequality that has created a contemporary art world where, according to statistics found on the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ website, 51% of visual artists today are women but only 28% of museum solo exhibitions in the 2000’s were of these women; where, “women earn half of the MFAs granted in the US, [but] only a quarter of solo exhibitions in New York galleries feature women.” 6

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Katie Sokoler’s Cuteness
In Our Aesthetic Categories: Cute, Zany and Interesting, Sianne Ngai observes that one of the hallmarks of cuteness is its infections ability. Ngai writes,

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 the cute/irrelevant object’s charm is powerful enough to be “infectious,” to a point at which, in an act of automatic mimesis similar to that induced by film’s sensational “body genres” (horror, melodrama, and pornography, which, as Linda Williams notes, compel their audiences to reenact the screams, sobs, and orgasms they see on screen), the admirer of the cute puppy or baby often ends up unconsciously emulating that object’s infantile qualities in the language of her aesthetic appraisal.

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17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Sifting through the 109 comments Sokoler received to her blog post introducing her “Tampax Ad” confirms that although Tampax did not superimpose the word cute on Sokoler’s print advertisement, Sokoler did not say the word cute in her television advertisement, nor did she use the word cute in her blog introduction, cuteness is indeed Sokoler’s chosen aesthetic as it has overwhelmingly infected the language with which her users have chosen to respond to her “Tampax Ad.” [See Figure 6]

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Fig. 6 Pie Chart of adjectives used by people commenting on Katie Sokoler’s Color Me Katie blog post about her Tampax Radiant Tampon Advertisement.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Cute comes in first place in the adjective race with a total of 18 mentions in 109 comments. Cool, Awesome and Fun aren’t even close seconds with 13 mentions respectively. All adjectives used in the comment section, in order of their frequency, are Cute (including its variations of Super Cute, Very Cute and Cutest), Cool (So Cool, Really Cool), Awesome (Beyond Awesome), Fun (Super Fun), Great, Adorable, Amazing (Pretty Amazing), Lovely, Real, Sweet, Beautiful, Fantastic, Wonderful, Creative, Brilliant, Addictive, Funny, Perfect, Nice, Phenomenal, Fabulous and Pretty. Furthermore, bloggers mirrored Sokoler’s enthusiasm in their choice of punctuation with no less than 182 exclamation points and 25 smiley face emoticons (:), 🙂 and :D).

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Furthermore cuteness’ infectious nature is not only enacted by the bloggers but also observed by them. In her July 9, 2012 post at 1:05 p.m., Anna L. Roeder wrote, “How amazing! probably the best tampon ad ever made. Actually makes it kind of cute. Love your art and radiance!” 8 By “it” Roeder seemingly refers to one’s period, meaning that Sokoler’s chosen aesthetic of cuteness has dominated over Tampax’s intentions to render one’s period invisible, and instead has managed to make one’s period “kind of cute.”

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 More on Cuteness
In Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, Sianne Ngai examines relatively newer, and in comparison to Art’s favorites of the beautiful and sublime, relatively trivial aesthetics emerging from commodity aesthetics. She traces the history of the cute as,

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 first emerging as a common term of evaluation and formally recognizable style in the industrial nineteenth-century United States, in tandem with its ideological consolidation of the middle-class home as a feminized space supposedly organized primarily around commodities and consumption. The invention of the cute thus tellingly coincides with what feminist historians describe as a crucial midcentury shift in the public conception of the domestic realm- from the site of republican virtue and a moral refuge from modern commercialism- that would in turn enable domestic ideology to play a central role in the making of nothing less than American mass/consumer culture itself.

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23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Associated with infantile physical characteristics and behavior, the feminine domestic realm and powerlessness, cuteness simultaneously triggers a need to protect as well an urge to violate through force, eroticization, fetishization and/or commodification. In Our Aesthetic Categories Ngai clarifies that cuteness is not only a range of objects and objective phenomena but also a quality that plays into and helps,

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 complete the formation of a distinctive kind of [intersubjective] aesthetic subject… [as it] calls forth not only specific subjective capacities for feeling and acting but also specific ways of relating to other subjects and the larger social arrangements these ways of relating presuppose.

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25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 In other words, we can find Katie Sokoler’s rain boots cute, Sokoler makes her eyes so big in photographs of her that she resembles an baby whose face is genetically designed to be cute, and Sokoler can choose to perform cuteness in order to relate to people and be seen by society in the ways identified above.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Sokoler’s Tampax activities are a clear product of cuteness when tracing a history of cuteness to the feminine, to the allocation of who and what occupies private and public space, and to American consumer culture. Sokoler’s Tampax activities are a clear product of cuteness when it is clear Sokoler has reverted to materials, colors and symbols found in childhood to inspire fun in adults. Sokoler’s Tampax activities are a clear product of cuteness as she is trying to sell us a product through her bubbly personality that tells us simultaneously that our bodies need to be helped and our periods hidden.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Yayoi Kusama
Thankfully the forms that Sokoler employs, the Happening history of her “street art,” and her choice of dress point directly to Yayoi Kusama. Yayoi Kusama had her first solo exhibition in New York City at Brata Gallery in October 1959. The exhibition consisted of several white on black infinity net paintings. [See Figure 7]

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Fig. 7 Kusama, Yayoi. No. F. 1959. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. ARTstor. Web. 30 September 2015.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 In her autobiography Infinity Net, Kusama writes,

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 I often suffered episodes of severe neurosis. I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me, clinging to my arms and legs and clothes and filling the entire room.

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31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Already existing for Kusama off the canvas, her infinity nets took spatial form when Kusama formed the nets’ negative space into polka dots that she then attached to soft sculptures, and has been attaching to horses, people’s bodies, walls, her own wardrobe and Louis Vuitton handbags ever since. Kusama’s polka dots’ first adventures off the canvas were for her solo exhibition Infinity Mirror Room- Phalli’s Field at Castellane Gallery in November 1965. Kusama describes the exhibition,

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 The walls of the room were mirrors, and sprouting from the floor were thousands of white canvas phallic forms covered with red polka dots. The mirrors reflected them infinitely, summoning up a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses. People could walk barefoot through the phallus meadow, becoming one with the work and experiencing their own figures and movements as part of the sculpture. Wandering into this infinite wonderland, where a grandiose aggregation of human sexual symbols had been transformed into a humorous, polka-doted field, viewers found themselves spellbound by the imagination as it exorcised sexual sickness in the naked light of day.

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33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Kusama then extended her polka dots into the public sphere through people’s bodies during her 1960’s Happenings. In her autobiography Kusama writes of her intention in using polka dots and their connection to the infinity net,

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots- an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net. How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our universe? In exploring these questions I wanted to examine the single dot that was my own life. One polka dot: a single particle among billions. I issued a manifesto stating that everything- myself, others, the entire universe- would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulations of dots. White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness.

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35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Although Kusama employed the polka dot because it was humorous and prompted the imagination with its childhood associations, in making a polka dot pattern into a field, in covering white canvas phallic forms with polka dots and in issuing a manifesto describing a shared obliteration, Kusama did more than use colors and symbols found in childhood to inspire fun in adults, but rather used colors and symbols found in childhood to ease adults into a conversation around art, anxiety, sexuality, sickness, bodily experience, the sublime, infinity and nothingness. In the introduction to Our Aesthetic Categories Ngai calls out Kusama’s work, in particular the polka-dotted phallus pillows described above, as exemplary of cuteness. 14

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Fig. 8 Kusama, Yayoi. Pumpkin. Photographed by Larry Qualls. Gagosian Gallery. 2008. ARTstor. Web. 30 September 2015.
Fig. 9 Kusama, Yayoi. Digital Photograph. VOGUE. VOGUE, 9 July 2012. Web. 30 September 2015.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Violent Interventions of the Feminine into the Public Realm
Although we are left with naked dancers and white canvas phallus pillows covered in polka dots, there is violence inherent in Kusama’s project. A violence that she enacts by actively assisting in the process of the entire universe being obliterated by white nets of nothingness through painting and taping the negative spaces in the net, polka dots of a variety of colors, onto soft sculptures, horses, people’s bodies, walls, her wardrobe and Louis Vuitton handbags. [See Figures 8 & 9] A more menacing violence when examining how her childlike aesthetics lure viewers into this conversation. Ngai writes, “The affective response to weakness or powerlessness that is cuteness, for example, is frequently overpowered by a second feeling- a sense of manipulation or exploitation- that immediately checks or challenges the first.” 15

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 In denial of the necessity of semi-permanent transgressions, Sokoler chooses to claim space in the public sphere with paper because of its temporary nature. In an interview with Julienne (no last name) from ModCloth, Sokoler explains,

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 most graffiti art is permanent, which I just feel is sort of rude, you know? You’re writing on someone’s property, and I don’t want to do that. I respect people’s places. So when I do something with paper, it’s temporary. It’ll stay up, and then you can take it down.

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40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Yet Sokoler’s street art, although made from “temporary” material, continues to the display the violence prompted by cuteness because of the language used in her chosen medium of photography. During the commercial, we in the audience hear Katie Sokoler say, “ I wanted to try to try something new with photography. Instead of shooting models, I wanted to shoot real people.” 17 To “load” film, to “aim” a camera, to “shoot” a subject, to “capture” an image are all common phrases around the processes of photography that link cameras and guns, images and bodies, representation and warfare.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 (Side Note: Sokoler is not the only Tampax Radiant “real woman,” to speak of her craft in terms of violence. Jessie Hemmons starred as the “real woman yarn bomber.” In The New York Times’ “Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side,” an article that includes an interview with Hemmons, Malia Wollan describes yarn bombing as taking,

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 that most matronly craft (knitting) and that most maternal of gestures (wrapping something cold in a warm blanket) and [transferring] it to the concrete and steel wilds of the urban streetscape. Hydrants, lampposts, mailboxes, bicycles, cars — even objects as big as buses and bridges — have all been bombed in recent years, ever so softly and usually at night.

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43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 In “Craft, Gender and Politics,” Amy Gilligan questions the language used around this act of street art, especially as contemporary craft is interested in, not distancing themselves from its history of “maternal” gestures, but acknowledging and validating an arena where women artists could “stand out,”

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 As a creative form of protest yarn bombing is good for creating striking visual scenes, which can help to raise awareness about an issue. However, even if the identification of craft in protest with women isn’t shouted about, the ‘feminine’ nature of craft is still there below the surface, and used as a contrast to the ‘masculinity’ of war. I do, in some ways, find this problematic as it seems to reinforce the notion that it is an inherent characteristic of women to be soft and caring, and that wars, in part, are due to men’s aggressive tendencies.

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45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Although I have no doubt that Katie Sokoler’s, Jessie Hemmons’ and Jihan Zencirli’s preexisting practices are steering their respective Tampax Radiant ships, I do wonder why Tampax Radiant decided to choose three women who all have craft based practices. And chose two women whose practices define their art through a language of violence, although their art itself is as cozy as a sweater and as colorful as a child’s art project?)

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 In her commercial interview, Katie Sokoler then goes onto say, “It all comes together when someone walks under it and I sort of almost think of it like they’re falling into a little trap.” 20 In the screenshot below, taken during the moment that these words are spoken, Sokoler’s hand movements betray her otherwise charming comportment. [See Figure 10] Her polka dot dress and mismatched patterns can’t overcome her direct stare into the camera, her perch next to a pair of scissors and her claw hands. Sokoler’s statement points to an anxiety behind the violence in photographic processes. In On Photography, Susan Sontag writes,

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge- and, therefore, like power… As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of a space in which they are insecure.

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48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Fig. 10 “Tampax® and Always® Introduce the All-New Radiant Collection.” Business Wire, 2012. Author’s screenshot.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Through incorporating photography into her street art Sokoler is able to assert power in the public realm and take possession of it, and through expressing this need to assert power in order to possess space, we in the audience see an anxiety beneath Sokoler’s enthusiasm. Sokoler’s anxiety around negotiating her power in the public realm is important, especially as Sokoler is a woman using cuteness, an aesthetic born from women’s relegation to the private realm, to claim space in the public realm. In The Human Condition Hannah Arendt, quoting Aristotle’s Politics, describes the ideas behind who can exist in the public realm and who must resign to the private realm,

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 The distinction between the private and public realms, seen from the viewpoint of privacy rather than of the body politic equals the distinction between things that should be shown and things that should be hidden… Hidden away were the laborers who “with their bodies minister to the [bodily] needs of life,” and the women who with their bodies guarantee the physical survival or the species. Women and slaves belonged to the same category and were hidden away not only because they were somebody else’s property but because their life was “laborious,” devoted to bodily functions.

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51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Perhaps this explains Tampax Radiant’s impetus to hide periods. As women are integral to the public realm, hiding them would not only be a gross human rights violation but also would be near impossible, however, what is possible is marketing products that shame women into hide the thing that, in Arendt’s articulation, initially relegated them to the private realm, the regular visual manifestation of women’s bodies’ labor to guarantee the physical survival of the species, their period. Yet before we in the audience can even delve into how important it is to interject the feminine into the public realm through an aesthetic born of the private realm, Sokoler falls victim to another kind of cute violence, a process of dismissal that is asked for by the diminutive, the infantile, the irrelevant and the unthreatening.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Sokoler’s Tampax Radiant commercial features multiple shots of Sokoler smiling through purple construction paper while she tears them, cuts them and throws them about. [See Figure 11] During her interview we hear Sokoler recount, “I have a few times had the cops called on me and the cops come and they’re like, “Oh! This is just paper!” 23 From lists to formulas, scriptures to manifestos, pamphlets to posters, illuminated manuscripts to Erased de Koonings, nothing is just paper. Paper has facilitated the communication of ideas and the spread of knowledge like no other material. On top of justifying her possession of a space because the material she uses is temporary, Sokoler incorrectly depoliticizes paper, her primary artistic material. What would cause Sokoler to do this? Cuteness. Sianne Ngai writes,

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Revolving around the desire for an ever more intimate, ever more sensuous relation to objects already regarded as familiar and unthreatening, cuteness is not just an aestheticization but an eroticization of powerlessness, evoking tenderness for “small things” but also, sometimes, a desire to belittle or diminish them further.

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54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 How has Yayoi Kusama employed cuteness for more than 56 years and not fallen victim to her chosen aesthetic? Even in her 2012 collaboration with Louis Vuitton, Kusama is able to encompass the commodities within her infinity net. Furthermore, this partnership highlights the seductive qualities of cuteness as people are choosing to pay thousands of dollars for their own obliteration.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Fig. 11 “Tampax® and Always® Introduce the All-New Radiant Collection.” Business Wire, 2012. Author’s screenshot.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Articulating the Personal
One main difference between Katie Sokoler and Yayoi Kusama is that while Kusama uses a cute aesthetic, she does not aim for a cute affect in her behavior. In her autobiography, Yayoi Kusama poignantly observes that, “Artists do not usually express their own psychological complexes directly, but I do use my complexes and fears as subjects. ” 25 Kusama is able to use cuteness, but not be used by it, because she is not looking to relate to other subjects and larger social arrangements in this manner, and as such, can articulate how her artistic practice chooses to navigate the personal and the professional without having this articulation ask for its own dismissal.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 In a 2009 interview with the Greenpoint Gazette Sokoler speaks to how her involvement with blogging has asked her to negotiate her private and public life,

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 When I wanted to be a photographer I thought I would be kind of behind the scenes but it kind of flipped. Now people are interested in me and what I’m doing. It’s new, it’s strange. I never know how to balance it exactly. I don’t want people to look at me and be like “Oh, she’s just some girl playing with her cat” or something silly. But I think you can be professional and personal with people, and I think it’s moving into that. Now, with all these websites like Facebook and Twitter, it is personal.

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59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 It is true that Blogger, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook are all personal, but does the personal have the capacity to facilitate the professional? In other words, does the private have the capacity to facilitate the public? In the same paragraph that Hannah Arendt speaks about the modern enchantment with small cute things, Arendt speaks about the implications of this enchantment when it comes to locating oneself in public,

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 The enlargement of the private, the enchantment, as it were, of a whole people, does not make it public, does not constitute a public realm, but, on the contrary, means only that the public realm has almost completely receded, so that the greatness has given way to charm everywhere; for while the public realm may be great, it cannot be charming precisely because it is unable to harbor the irrelevant.

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61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 In response to Katie Sokoler’s blog post about her Tampax Ad, on July 11, 2012 at 5:16 a.m. Maja wrote, “Love the add, it has you written all over it!” On July 21, 2012 at 6:33 p.m., Hanna@CraftsAkimbo wrote, “Congrats, it’s so you!” 28 A 2010 American Way article identifies Sokoler as five-foot-one. 29 Her ModCloth interview begins by identifying Sokoler as petite 30 Glamour.com wrote an article on Sokoler’s art titled, “Why Is This Girlfriend SO Awesome? Find Out, After the Jump…” 31 Even when speaking about her art, commentary and press around Sokoler’s art practice have to do with Katie Sokoler; her identifiable personality, the notably diminutive size of her body, and her boyfriend. In adopting a cute affect and in communicating with her audience through social media sites that foreground the personal, it is clear that Sokoler’s lack of articulation around the boundaries between the personal and the professional in her artistic practice have caused the greatness possible in her violent interjections into the public realm to recede into charm. Maybe Sokoler’s paper is just paper.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Why Are You Picking on This Poor Fun Loving Girl in this Silly Commercial?
I began this paper dismissing Tampon commercials. Then I followed that up by dismissing the effectiveness of Katie Sokoler’s her chosen affect of cuteness. In following the path of finding power through dismissal, I join Sokoler in falling victim to cuteness’ tendencies to compel a desire to belittle or diminish further.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 In Our Aesthetic Categories Sianne Ngai writes,

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 There is no judgment or experience of a object as cute that does not call up one’s sense of power over it as something less powerful. But the fact that the cute object seems capable of making demands on us regardless, as Lori Merish underscores- a demand for care that women in particular often feel addressed or interpellated by- suggests that “cute’” designates not just the site of a static power differential but also the site of a surprisingly complex power struggle.

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65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 In attempting to speak of Sokoler’s interventions into the public sphere by promoting them as something other than intentionally unthreatening am I dismissing Sokoler’s knowledge of her own project, or am I pointing out that her project would mean more if she herself did not dismiss it? It is hard to know where the power struggles inherent to cuteness begin and end.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Creating Publics
I, and now you, are part of both Katie Sokoler and Yayoi Kusama’s publics. In Publics and Counterpublics Michael Warner writes,

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 A public is a space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself. It is autotelic; it exists only as the end for which books are published, shows broadcast, Web sites posted, speeches delivered, opinions produced. It exists by virtue of being addressed.

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68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 Katie Sokoler uses the distance that her camera allows in order to trap people and shoot them. Another example of one of Sokoler’s art projects that reiterates a similar combination of physical violence and the violence that comes from the dismissal of one’s material is her Pac-Man photographs. In May 2010 Katie Sokoler taped large poster board Pac-Man cutouts on buildings in Brooklyn. In New York Daily News’ article “Brooklyn artist Katie Sokoler turns her Greenpoint neighborhood into Pac-Man game, Sokoler is quoted as saying,

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 I would wait for people to walk by so it would look like the Pac-Man’s going to eat the people. Then I took the photos… I had one person actually think that I was graffiting the walls. They were upset. But I was like, “Trust me, it’s not paint, it’s paper. It’ll come right off.”

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70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 On the other hand, Yayoi Kusama addresses her public with her psychological complexes clearly by her side, seeking their obliteration and through their obliteration, her own obliteration. In her autobiography Infinity Net, Kusama writes,

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 by covering my entire body with polka dots, and then covering the background with polka dots as well, I find self-obliteration. Or I stick polka dots all over a horse standing before a polka-dot background, and the form of the horse disappears, assimilated into the dots. The mass that is ‘horse’ is absorbed into something timeless. And when that happens, I too am obliterated.”

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72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 While neither being obliterated nor trapped, shot and eaten seem like ideal options, if I have a choice as to what publics I would like to be in a space of discourse with, I’ll go with the public generated by an artist who speaks to me like an adult, who does not subjugate me through cuteness, an aesthetic that perpetuates cycles of dismissal that coerce a state of powerlessness, rather than the artist who jumps on the bandwagon of period shaming in order to sell an agenda of fun.

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 Notes:

  1. 74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0
  2. Katie Sokoler, “ABOUT ME,” Color Me Katie, Blogger, Web. 30 September 2015.
  3. Katie Sokoler, “Tampax Ad,” Color Me Katie, Blogger, 9 July 2012, Web. 30 September 2015.
  4. Caitlin Dewey, “Why did Instagram censor this photo of a fully clothed woman on her period?” Thee Washington Post 27 March 2015, Web. 30 September 2015.
  5. Business Wire, “Tampax® and Always® Introduce the All-New Radiant Collection,” Online Video Clip, YouTube, YouTube, 8 May 2012, Web. 30 September 2015.
  6. Katie Mellor, “TAMPAX RADIANT,” katiemellor, Web. 30 September 2015.
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