On a San Francisco Gallery's web page, the artists are listed by media. At the end, like an afterthought, is the category "Other". What does other signify? An outsider? Some one or thing that does not fit, does not belong, and is therefore foreign, alien?

I remember thinking once that old people were "Others", as though they lived in a country with a nontranslatable language and uncomfortably strange customs. But at 73 I am now one of these Others and still find the terrain forbidding. How did I suddenly catapult from part-of to outside-of? I feel no different from last year or last decade, and yet I am thrown on a heap of discarded oddities. As Jacques Barzun has said, "Old age is like learning a new profession. And not one of your own choosing."

In a New Yorker article on the artist Kara Walker, Hilton Als writes, "What became clearer was Walker's less provocative but equally poignant theme: our desire to be dominated by someone else, whom we will always call Other." (October 8, 2007, p. 78)

The reverse image of this is the Other that needs to dominate. We delude ourselves by putting up walls, trade barriers, immigrant deterrents. We regard the Other with suspicion and ourselves with mangled pride. We are always better than someone, we hope. But in an Internet age of online socializing, we are now the someone and that someone is always on view. We can always be seen and yet remain essentially invisible. Perhaps that is why we idolize celebrities: they are the someones who can project fake personnas and convince the rest of us to pay for the fairy tales.

And then there are artists who stubbornly refuse to give us fairy tales but instead force us to look at ourselves as the Others. Artists hold an unrelenting mirror up to us and insist that we acknowledge the harshness reflected there. If we then become the Other, there may be no one to lord it over, no outsiders, no eccentrics, no nonbelievers. All are equal, and equally able to prevail. On the Internet, this means that a whole new cultural and political ball game is being played and white European males no longer write the rules.

We have ways to disguise ourselves, of course. Plastic surgeons will enhance our lips, anorexorcise our torsos, remove our wrinkles, even alter our fingerprints. But anyone with half a mind can see through the costuming, can in fact find the empty shell clothed in someone else's idea of glamour. Now we can be seen as a fiction, while in truth we remain more invisible than ever.

At the Tate Modern in London, Colombia's Doris Salcedo has created a crack in the floor which gets wider and deeper as it penetrates the Gallery. Looking into the gap one sees faces cast from rocks with chicken wire ensconced in each one. The installation shocks as it epitomizes what happens to Others in society, specifically to the gap between haves and have-nots, the West and the emerging cultures, the powerful and the powerless. It makes clear that to be other-than is to be ostrasized and in fact suffocated.

The Chinese artist Zhang Huan has told his son, "You always have to create a new self." In Zhang's case he began as a performance artist sitting on a public toilet in Beijiing, covered with honey and fish oil. His enthusiastic audiences consisted of flies. Now he has three major shows scheduled, in New York, London, and Berlin. His works are composed of incense ash, which struck him as a potent symbol of the hopes and desires of the millions who burn incense sticks in Buddhist temples. He has recast himself as a successful Other.

Once I created a stainless steel sculpture called "My Other Self". It was stolen from a gallery. So I recast it in frosted polyethylene, calling it "My Translucent Self". Now you can see right through me. Or can you?

c. Corinne Whitaker 2007