May 18, 2021

Feminism in Modern Contemporary Art 3 | Performance & Body Art

The third week of the Feminism in Modern Contemporary Art Course run by Citylit and taught by Irina Chkhaidze.

‘The Personal is Political’: the Politics of Performance Art in the 1960s-1970s

Talking about female artists whose early performance work became an important source of inspiration for the development of Feminist Art.

From this lecture I am particularly intrigued by Ana Mendieta – Silueta Series, I love her concept of the absence of the body and how she’s created that in her photography. I also thought Martha Rosler’s two videos Semiotics of the Kitchen and Vital Statistics of a Citizen were very impactful and captivating to watch. See below

Niki de Saint Phalle – use of media – bags of coloured paint and spray cans – shooting at them with a rifle to paint the all white canvas. Inviting viewers to participate.

Amelia Jones – author/professor/artist – feminist artist – body art and portrait photography – mentioned [need to follow up with additional research]

Ana Mendieta – Rape Scene 1973 – violence against women, use of blood in her photography. Her otherness as a Cuban born woman in North America. Facial hair transplant (series of images) – hair can both been seen as alive and dead. Glass on Body Imprints – Face.

Ana Mendieta – Silueta Series – Absence of the body.

Carole Schneeman Meat Joy 1964

Carolee Schneemann, Meat Joy (documentation of performance, 1964); 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound; 10:35 min. Or

Flesh as a medium. Raw chicken & fish, later paint.
Desire and experience.
Excessive, indulgent, sensual, joyful, repellent.
Sexual revolution – gender dynamic very traditional.

Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll, 1975-1995; video, color, sound; 7:30 min.

Extracting knowledge from interior body “other mouth”
Vagina – sacred knowledge, birth passage, ecstasy and transformation (Judy Chicago used similar ideas)
Indulgence, painterly mess, gestalt, primitive techniques
“Critical and practical film language – it exists for only one gender”
”It’s pleasant not to be manipulated”

Martha Rosler, Vital Statistics of A Citizen, Simply Obtained;

originally performed live (1973) and reenacted as a video (1977); black-and-white video, 38:00 min. Excerpt: 01:11-04:50 and 16:00-21:00

Scientists measuring a woman and commenting “below standard” “above standard”
Tyranny of expectation. Judgement and scrutiny.
Looking at the self from the outside.
Mind thinks of her body as something other than herself. Manufacturing oneself as a product.
Anxiety, ambiguity and uncertainty built in.
Constantly scrutinising the self and changing in response to the feedback and judgement.
”Those who measure are not innocent”
Context of capitalism.

Transcript of video between 00:22:00 – 00:25:00

To lick ones lips to make them wet
To cross or uncross ones feet or legs
To sit forward or back upright or compressed
To think of sitting as disposing ones limbs
Keep thighs and knees pressed together
To tighten the muscles of the stomach
To cast the eyes down
Not to look to often into the eyes of the otherNot to glance sideways
To keep the brow smooth
To smile
To refrain from moving the mouth unnecessarily
To keep hands together
To keep hands in the lap
To keep hands at the sidenot let them dangle
To check stray hairs of the head. 
To tighten or untighten the muscles of the scalp
To remember the line of the neck
To pluck stray hairs
To draw on one’s face
To add paint on top of flesh 
A liquid mixture of thin mud, coloured material, grease, tar derivatives and other unknown derived and artificial substances.
Add coloured powder
To learn what is called the colour of flesh
To see ones features from up close
To regard them as invisible as in a raw state
Until outlined or painted over
To see some hairs as important and needed 
And others as bad, unwanted. 
To approximate an ideal
To add black paint to the eye lashes, to the eye brows
To think of changing the colour and shape of ones hair
To judge the body always finding it faulty.
To separate the idea of thigh and give it meaning.
To need to be less or to need to be more.
To have more appealing flesh.
To see the body as a vehicle for the attainment of an imposed desire
To want thingsTo have to get them
To see ones part as toolsAs armourment to be deployed strategically for the purpose of attaining things. 
The mind has learned to thirst for a private self
To suppress the desire and fail to acknowledge the thirst.
To welcome the restbit provided by the privatised domestic space
But even here she is not immune from judgement
The totem woman remembers to bathe every day
To manage her image in such a way that her personality disappears and her ability to absorb and to be projected upon to present herself for delectation substitutes for private desires of the self  as self. 
In which masochism is the definition of fulfillment.
They say women are masochists by nature
What is nature?
I say masochism is a crime against women.

Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975);

black-and-white video, 6:00 min.

Woman another symbol amongst all the other implements in the kitchen.
The idea of the personal being the political is something she criticised as it has limitations if we get too caught up with our own small personal worlds.

Further Reading I’ve not yet got to.

  1. Wark, Jayne, 2006. “Art, Politics, and Feminism in the 1960s” in Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America. Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2006, pp. 11-26.
  2. Allan Kaprow’s short 1961 text ‘Happening in the New York Scene’.
  3. Phelan, Peggy, 1993. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London and New York: Routledge.
  4. Shigeko Kubota
  5. Mary Kelly – Conceptual artist

Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema, Brechtian alienation effects and feminism.

Griselda Pollock essay 1988. Brechtian distraction as a key strategy for 1970s feminist art that worked to disrupt and reveal the ideological operations at work within the normative codes of representation (disrupts narrative of gender ideology). Elin Diamond 1988 study between Brechtian and feminist theory.

Brechtian alienation techniques – spectators to question the interactions and representations played out. When theatre is assumed to be a mirror which reflects/imitates “real life” the polarized and hierarchical gender system it reflects is also presumed to be real. Male spectator active subject and female performer passive, invisible, unspoken subjects.

Vivian Patraka defined “Binary terror” – the terror unleashed when binary social or cultural categories are collapsed.

Inner scroll – Rebecca Schneider – naked female body an object of work and active creative agency. She doesn’t seek to make her gender invisible but embraces both her female body and artistic agency.

Yoko Ono Cut Piece – invited audience to cut off her clothes. Tension between exhibitionism and voyeurism, victim and assailant, sadist and masochist, subject and object.