2018 #16

The Bully Pulpit

by Haley Morris-Cafiero

Selected by
TJ Boulting,
London, United Kingdom

Twirl Girl

Selected by TJ Boulting,
London, United Kingdom

"‘I don’t know what the passerby is thinking. But my goal is to start a conversation about the gaze and how we use it to communicate our feelings towards other people.’"

Wait Watchers captured strangers’ reactions as they passed the artist in locations all over the world. The images reflect a microsecond of a disapproving look or chastising smile directed at Morris-Cafiero’s body. Three muscular men stare blankly. A skinny teen in a bikini gawks. ‘I don’t know what the passerby is thinking. But my goal is to start a conversation about the gaze and how we use it to communicate our feelings towards other people.’ Once posted on various digital platforms, these images invited further condemnation, ‘I started receiving hundreds of hateful messages from bullies telling me how ugly I am, how fat I am and how I am going to die very soon due to my obesity. I knew that cyberbullying existed but I never thought that so many people would spend so much time trying to spread hate.’

As a witty retort to the hostility, Bully Pulpitis a continuation of Wait Watchers. Steam – the first image of the series – parodies a “wet t-shirt blogger” who posted: ‘You’re fat and gross. Your arms make me want to puke’. Dressed in foam fake abs, white towel and a plastic nose, Morris-Cafiero rewrites this message into a foggy mirror, snapping a selfie inspired by the blogger’s own profile. The flimsiness of this costume engages with the fragility of ego, whilst the mirror literally and figuratively reflects the critical gaze. Bully Pulpit recontextualises agency, bringing an unwanted message into the artist’s control. The project documents a digital age where conversations are conducted between strangers who subscribe to false infallibility.

The typed word has a short lifespan online; users are easily deleted or blocked, but reproducibility awards an image with longevity. Bully Pulpit offers up a creative, longlasting and analytical means of challenging internet trolls, posing a question of damaging body image back to the assailants. Outside the museum or gallery, the photograph is imbued with meaning beyond aesthetics alone. Morris-Cafiero treads the line between artist, social commentator and provocateur. Referencing a lineage of feminist photographers and activists, performative elements add a dynamism which stretches the boundaries of empathy and perspective. In her work she symbolises any individual who does not conform to society’s expectations, and in this way, her images become a source of reaffirmation and refuge.

Read more (1 min read)

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Haley Morris-Cafiero

Tennessee, US

Progress

Haley Morris-Cafiero

Tennessee, US

Acting as artist, performer and social commentator, Haley Morris-Cafiero (b.1976, USA) explores the ‘critical gaze’. Her 2013 project Wait Watchers received colossal attention online, where she became the subject of polarising vilification and admiration. Using numerous feminist photographers and activists as a source of ideas as well as the inclusion of herself within many of her pieces, her works takes on a performative nature that alters the spheres of empathy and perspective. Cast into the viral spotlight, she returns with a new series in 2018: Bully Pulpit.

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