Two essays inform this exhibition. In Charlie White’s Minor Threat from 2008, the writer examines the depiction of children in popular media and art. He identifies Richard Prince’s Spiritual America (1983), a soft-core photo of a 10-year-old Brooke Shields appropriated from Gary Gross, as crucially identifying a complex network of prohibition and power. Following Prince, the threat White describes is not that children might be represented or even objectified, but rather that the power of the viewer is mutable, and forever diminishing.
Seth Price’s Teen Image (2009) describes forms and conditions that occur online. He compares the search engines, whose vertical orientation suppresses their horizontal array, and the children whose smooth flesh is optimally represented by the pixel. Price speculates that the erotic charge of child pornography (which possesses an ethical dimension) corresponds to a desire for simplicity. Yet consider an alternative: that digital images of children recall pure technology, perennially new, rapidly consumed subjects that might forever be replaced with more agile producers.
The teenager is memorialized as the rebel without a cause, the post-war American subject liberated from work, left perilously indolent and apathetic. Successfully or satirically, the age group seems to connote resistance. Subsequently the condition has been medicalized and exploited commercially. By contrast the designation “tween,” introduced into the fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary in 2004 to describe children aged 10-12 (with some variety in age and temperament), was always seen as a commercial demographic.
A Wikipedia entry stylishly describes some qualities of today’s tweens. A crowd-sourced definition is not intended as authoritative. Nonetheless, the generalization suggests a generation of young people who contradict the passivity presumed of children. These competitive consumers regard themselves as working parts in a community.
- Highly Participative – Tweens enjoy things that are fun and interactive.
- Highly Connected – Use of Internet, cell phones, etc. Seeing electronic devices as an extension of themselves rather than a medium of communication.
- Achievement Oriented – 80 percent of tweens say they feel stress/pressure, with the root of their stress coming predominately from themselves, followed by their peers and then their parents. Stress factors include grades, pleasing parents, having friends/fitting in/popularity and looks.
- Will fight for social time.
Today some 20 million people in the US fit that description. The mere categorization of a child into some group raises old questions about representation and subjecthood; that this is in part a self-identifying group raises new ones. The characterization above could not differ more from the stereotypical, alienated postwar teenager. Today’s tweens, so eager to function, to compete, to make work, will use images to test the limits of their subjectivity.
Opening Saturday June 30 / OHWOW / 937 N. La Cienega Blvd. / Los Angeles / CA 90069 / United States