A SMALL HISTORY OF ART FOR SOCIAL CHANGE SINCE 1945 CLAUDIA MESCH

ARTA D P Lill

A SMALL HISTORY OF ART FOR SOCIAL CHANGE SINCE 1945

CLAUDIA MESCH

I.B. TAU RI S

 

 

ART AND POLITICS

view comfortably the camera image of the target generated by the smart bomb. \Ve also continue watching after the image turns to video snow, once the bomb and its camera have both been deto· nated. We survive this automated destruction as long as we remain those who control the software programming and hardware it runs on, insuring that we ourselves remain only spectators of the technology’s function. We as viewers can stay out ofaits destroying gaze while we direct it onto others, usually far away from home. Can we trust a world where images are made and viewed only by machines, which then automatically initiate a predetermined response, without the input of any human? Farocki suggests that we cannot, and that our very humanity may be at stake in keeping human oversight over military conflict. which now can be carried out solely by computers. He calls for us to preserve a space for a humanist ethics in modern warfare, even if it is the case that war can now be conducted without humans. He points to our collective responsibility never to forget the human cost of war.

feminisms

A number of postwar artists after 1960 used their art as a means to criticize the institutions and practices that were operative in the art world. Feminist artists certainly participated in such critiques, and introduced a distinct point of view that attacked the marginalizing of women as makers of art, while also insisting on the necessary equality of women in art as well as in all other sectors of social life. Often feminist art had as its subject the representation of women in Euro.American society. It has been suggested that we have now reached a moment of”global feminisms”-that is, when the rep­ resentation and status of women is discussed globally, including in societies outside of the West.• A critique of patriarchy, of the current situation of women, or of the stability of the category of the female gender, is generally advanced in artworks that can be termed “feminist.”

As Linda Nochlin has already pointed out in her famous essay of 197r, “Why have there been no great women artists?,” the “woman question” or the “woman problem” was certainly at the heart of first·wave feminism in the nineteenth century, when political philosophers like John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels began to analyze and question the oppres­ sion of women in modern society as ideology.> (Of course, the writer Mary Wollstonecraft had a century before advocated for women’s rights.) This cultural and intellectual activism finally led to women’s suffrage in many Western societies by the 1920s. In

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the US, the post-colonialist ideas that gave rise to the demand for equal rights for black Americans in the civil-rights movement of the early 1960s also prompted reconsideration of the social and political inequality women continued to face. The creation of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and the National Organization for Women by Betty Friedan in 1966, and the drafting of a possible Equal Rights Amendment in 1967 (which would finally fail to be rati­ fied in 1982), together illuminate a particular cultural turn of the time: that the fact of women’s inequality, alongside civil rights, was being reconsidered in American society by the mid 1960s.

In the key year of 1971 feminist artists and art historians began to recognize that the ideology or “naturalness” of women’s inferiority and oppression had been perpetuated throughout the entire history of modern art and was still actively constructed in contemporary visual culture. Nochlin’s essay marked the epistemo­ logical shift into feminist art history, and the new awareness that the entire apparatus of high art-from the artworks themselves, to art education, to the distribution system of art galleries, to museum institutions-was complicit in marginalizing women as producers and viewers of art In almost all instances this apparatus or system rendered female artists invisible. A call to action closes her essay:

using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which dear thought-and true greatness-are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.’

Generational Feminisms, US and Europe

Artists responded to Nochlin’s call almost immediately. In October 1971 Miriam Schapiro joined the art professor Judy Chicago at

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Fresno State University in expanding Chicago’s “special course for women students” in studio art and establishing it at the California Institute for the Arts. In working and training exclusively female students, Schapiro and Chicago concluded that these students found it imperative that they represent themselves, or rather their own bodies, in their art practice. Chicago stated her intention to “transfer the basis of my artmaking from the male structure in which I learned, into an art with a female core.”� She understood this art as a process that would humanize women by means of rep· resentation, a quality that they otherwise lacked in American society. She also believed that the inherent differences between male and female “iconography” have nothing to do with essential biological differences between the sexes, but rather with cultural difference, an aspect that is learned. In terms of her beliefs, then, Chicago did not adhere to a strictly “essentialist” notion offeminism-that is, that the essence of the feminine is anchored in the biological female body-as she has been accused of in the generational conAict that emerged between second- and third-wave feminists.

Early in the next year, 1972, the team-taught CalArts class worked collaboratively on a large “environment” or installation, one that they realized in an abandoned building in Hollywood in Los Angeles: Womanhouse. This building also became the setting for live performances by individual artists as well as those by the Feminist Art Program Performance Group.; Individual students and teams renovated and reconstructed recognizable domestic interiors of a suburban home: a kitchen, a dining room, or a bathroom. Schapiro, Chicago, and the students also understood the act of collaboration and cooperation between them on this project as another aspect that contributed to its quality as a femi­ nist artwork. Each installation critically rethought domestic space, one that modern visual culture often associated with woman as wife, mother, and nurturer, along with the role and position of woman within them. In presenting domestic space as a framework for art, Woma11/10use thereby also rejected the male-determined space of the ”white cube” gallery for the dissemination of art. It might. then, also be thought of as an early public-art project. The building and its installations were demolished in February 1972.

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Some of the most compelling installations in Womanlwuse associated domestic space with the labor and body of the mother. Many ofaits spaces otherwise staged the viewer’s identification with the female body. Several rooms focused on the preparation and pres­ entation of food, tasks traditionally left to women. Susan Frazier, Vicki Hodgetts, and Robin Weltsch painted the walls, appliances, and most other objects in Nutrient Kitchen in flesh tones. They covered the ceiling with familiar concentric-circle relief sculptures that resembled sunny-side-up eggs, but like an aberrant wallpaper pattern, as the reliefs continued down the walls, they resembled breasts. They placed kitchen utensils above the stove that further echoed these reliefs and the rounded forms of the female body. The team of artists transformed the kitchen space into the mother’s body/breast, the first source of sustenance in everay human life.

In comparison, the Dining Room installation began to distance itself from the mother body; the space was outfitted with formal window treatments, a chandelier, and an elaborately laid dinner table, covered with tablecloth and fabric “china” filled with baked­ dough formations as ”food.” Faith Wilding’s Crocl1eted Environment, another important installation in Wommd1ouse, reworked a room into a womb-like enclosure by encircling it in a web of white crod1et Wilding is said to have based this structure on ancient architecture devised by women. She also pointedly makes use of the craft of crocheting within an artwork. Usually such handiwork is associated with women, not seen as art, and is relegated to the sphere of hobby and craft Her Environment also denies traditional male architectural structure in its softness and malleability. Wilding’s installation is a visionary work that would influence later figures who rethink architectural space, like the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto.

After the conclusion of this project Judy Chicago devoted years to the preparation of The Dinner Party, completed in 1979. The work has, with some controversy, been designated an icon of feminist art.” After traveling to various exhibition venues for years but without an institutional home, Tl1e Dinner Party was finally acquired for the Elizabeth A. Sadder Center for Feminist Art, which opened at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2007. A physically enor­ mous work, it has become the permanent centerpiece of this first

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institution dedicated to feminist, rather than “women’s,” art. It is remarkable that Chicago’s work-largely billed and understood by museums and the public as a piece created by one author, which it is not-has eclipsed the more experimental, cross-generational, collaborative, and ephemeral Womanlwuse as the most important (US) feminist artwork of the 1970s. Perhaps Tl1e Dinner Party’s traditional qualities, including its permanence, have positioned it in this way. The work might be considered an extended rethinking of the Dining Room from Woma11/1ouse; it is furthermore a metaphor for the entirety of women’s history. While the work is certainly an achievement by a larger group or collective of women, and it is a powerful statement about women and history, its lacunae and shortcomings must also be taken into account, and not merely in terms of its “essentialism .”

The Dinner Party in its current installation consists of five com­ ponents; most central are the “Place Settings” and the “Heritage Floor” (Figure 4.1). These settings are arranged on three 48-foot-long

4.l judy Ch cago, Tlic D11111cr Porty (1979), mixed media

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tables that are positioned into an open triangular form; the trian­ gular floor covering between the tables consists of porcelain tiles inscribed in gold with the handwritten names of 999 women. These include both historical and mythical figures, from the “pri­ mordial goddess” to the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. The place settings present 39 additional women, each with a painted china plate, a chalice, and an embroidered napkin and runner bearing the woman’s name. Chicago indicated that she chose which historical figures to include in consultation with scholars.

As was the case in Woman/louse, Chicago rejects male-dom­ inated art mediums like painting in favor of craft production in ceramics and fibers. The plates, with the exception of one, depict the “central core” female iconography that Chicago had advocated as a rejection of male-determined representations of women; these are clearly to be read as stylized depictions of female genitalia (a subject that not only occupied many early-197os feminist artists in addition to Chicago, but continued to concern younger feminists like Zoe Leonard). Chicago also believed that the “central core” is a universal signifier of all women, across history and races; she therefore made it the repeated and unifying element for all of women’s history. However, as some of her critics have pointed out, only one plate, that for Sojourner Truth, the American abolitionist of the nineteenth century and a woman of color, does not feature central-core imagery, but rather a depiction of an African mask. While some feminist art historians have argued that Chicago includes two other settings dedicated to women of color-for Hatshepsut, an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, and Sacagawea, a Native American woman who acted as guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition-and also includes famous lesbians, the Truth setting points to a kind of separatism in the work that is at odds with the feminist unity to which Chicago is otherwise devoted. The work makes several religious references-to Christianity as well as to other faiths-the central and most obvious analogy being to Leonardo’s Renaissance icon, Tl1e Last Supper. The Dinner Party also includes settings dedicated to pagan “goddesses,” another anti-patriarchal subject for 1960s and 1970s feminist artists; it makes numerological reference to other matriarchal theologies

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in including 13 settings on each of the three tables, the number of women in a coven (in witchcraft or Wicca).

To respond to the criticism that Chicago exploited her col­ laborators on The Dinner Party and took sole credit for the work, the Sacl<ler Center installation of the work features “mural-sized” “Acknowledgment Panels” of photographs of 129 women and men working on the project at various stages with the text: “The artist gratefully acknowledges the many people who cooperated in the realization of Tl1e Dinner Party.” Not only physical work was completed by this team; a committee of sorts also finalized the list of names to be included in the artwork. Tl1e Dinner Part}’ is a successful envisioning of what a revisionist herstory might look like; it retrieves important women in history from oblivion. It furthermore urges female viewers to reclaim, as a feminist act, world history for themselves. It celebrates these women of his­ tory through “female” craft, and through a universalized image of female interiority, a transcendent essence that Chicago claims is largely metaphorical. Yet the artwork also constructs its maker as an originator of feminist art, and this originator has been institu­ tionalized along with the work. Hopefully the feminist revisionism that is the content of Tl1e Dinner Party can still be discerned despite the large-scale persona and figure of Judy Chicago.

At the same time that Chicago finalized TIie Dinner Party into her universalizing vision of woman and history, other artists in California were also exploring feminist ideas, this time from the position of multiculturalism. Their art redefined feminist art in terms of ethnicities and cultures that were critical of representations of women of color in white culture, and worked to present positive and ethnically diverse images of women. The African American artist Betye Saar, working in California in the 1970s, used her art to critique the combination of sexism and racism that could be traced on objects and images that she located in daily life; her art might also be connected to the work of California assemblage artists of the 1950s and 1960s like Wallace Berman and George Herms. Her assemblage TIie Liberation of A1111t Jemima (1972, Figure 4.2) includes objects and images of the often,reproduced stereotype of the black “mammy” figure that is connected to the

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Bet ye Saar, T11c L!bcrot,011 of Au,H Jcm,1110 I 1972,, r>11xed media assemblage

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Jim Crow south. The most widely known representations of this figure in American culture remain the character played by the Hollywood actress Hattie McDaniel in Gone with tile Wind (1939) and “Aunt Jemima,” who continues to identify a brand of pancake mix. Saar encloses a large mammy figurine on a bed of cotton in a diorama box, before a backdrop of the repeated Aunt Jemima image; she holds another depiction of a mammy /black woman holding a white child. Before this found image, Saar has placed a dark-skinned fist raised in the “black power” salute: the figurine behind it holds a rifle in one hand to balance the broom she carries in the other. Saar then contrasts white culture’s mythical image of the obedient black servant with signifiers of black radicalism and separatism of the 1970s. Saar’s feminist artwork is a revision of history; she too “corrects” historical distortion and the invisibility of real-life black women in dismantling a dehumanizing caricature of women of color. Yolanda Lopez’s painting Portrait of tlie Artist as tlte Virgin of Guadalupe (1978, Figure 4.3) presents the familiar Catholic image of the Virgin Mary that is so ubiquitous in Mexico that it has become an icon of that nation. Lopez presents herself as young and smiling, striding, in athletic shoes and a simple dress, toward the viewer. She crushes a small putto underfoot, and strangles a snake in one hand while holding on to her billowing robe in the other. As some have suggested, this self.portrait can be associated with the “goddess” subject of early-197os feminist art, but the image is also a clear depiction of the artist as Chicana, sharing in Latino culture.- Instead of rejecting it as other feminists have done, Lopez takes on the medium of painting. shifting it away from its roots in Western patriarchy. She also reinvigorates tl1e image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in rendering her as active and modern, and as an icon of Chicana self.determination.

In a strategy closer to Saar’s empowering and radicalizing critique of cultural representations of women, an entire group of feminist artists used their work to examine filmic or photographic representations of the female body and offemininity more gener­ ally. These images often distance themselves from those of the mass media, and also from images of the female body created by male artists and filmmakers. Some feminist critics argue that these

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performing feminists utilize the mechanism of seduction {of the viewer) to achieve their critique of patriarchal control of the female image.� Not so much motivated by a desire for positive representa­ tions of a universalized female body. these feminist artists present their own often phyasically beautiful bodies in order to gain control over their representation in these mediums, as artists. They are

4.3 Yolanda Lopez, Portrait ofIlic Artist as the V,rgm of Gtiodalupc (1978)

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then able also to become subjects in asserting control over the pho­ tographic/filmic image (of women). For almost all of this group of feminist artists-and the most important of them include Hannah Wilke. Joan Jonas, Valie Export, and Carolee Schneemann-the medium of performance, or performing the body as the feminine subject, is equally important to their art. This practice has been termed body art. These feminist body artists were a great influence on the following generation of post-modern feminists.

The American artist Hannah Wilke created what she termed ”performalist” artworks; her S.O.S.-Starificatio11 Object Series of 1974-9 (Figure 4.4) is a group of 28 black-and-white photographs of the bare-chested artist posing (or mugging) for the camera with various props such as sunglasses, hair curlers, or head coverings. In each photograph small repeated relief sculptures decorate the artist’s face and body. Wilke created these small sculptural reliefs from chewing gum, forming them into vulva] and phallic shapes. She understood these forms as both decorations of the body and markers of wounds that functioned like scars: “African Scarification Wounds(…] the internal wounds that we carry within us, that really hurt us.”9 She enumerated the very situation offemininity, and of female beauty. as a social and cultural construct, and as”wounds.” Thus the exhibitionism and narcissism that was linked to Wilke’s display of her own naked, youthful. and thus “sexy” body-for which she was criticized by a number of important feminist crit­ ics-also had the function of critically revealing female beauty not as an asset, but rather as a wound resulting from the ruthless visual objectification of women inflicted by patriarchal culture, working in tandem with the goals of capitalism. In her equally empowering final artwork. Intra-Venus (1992-3), completed while the artist was in the last stages of treatment for lymphoma, Wilke fearlessly continued to present her withering body to the camera. thereby maintaining her status as a female subject, as maker and creator, even as she struggled with her own mortality. Amelia Jones has argued that Wilke’s art uses a procedure of psychic”feminist narcissism,” along with strategies of seduction, or what she terms the “rhetoric of the pose,” in order to critique the sexism inherent in Western visual culture’s depictions of the female body.’· Wilke

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Hannah \Y/,lke, S.O.S.-Stanjicat1011 01J1ec: Series, bad (1974). b ack,and·wh te ge atin s11•,rer pnnt

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succeeds in turning the male gaze back upon itself as a means of control, and realizes the feminine subject as maker and as a mind, not just as a body/object.

Joan Jonas, another American feminist, has concentrated most of her body-art-oriented work into video practice. Her first performances made use of a mirror that she, along with other per· formers, used to reflect themselves and the audience. Beginning with her performances in 1972, Jonas began to integrate into her performances a closed-circuit video camera, along with its monitor, as an “ongoing mirror.”” In these single-channel videos Jonas then examined the dynamics of the electronic image of woman usually presented in the medium of television. She took on an alter ego in her performances, whom she named “Organic Honey,” and who was often masked or exotically costumed as she performed for/with the video camera in what appears to be an elabo­ rate, slow-moving ritual. In these works, Organic Honey’s Visual Telepath}’ and Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll from 1972 (Figure 4.5),

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Joan jonas, Organic Honey’s Vertical Roi (1972). st

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Jonas’ video monitor functioned as an onstage mirror for the artist during the performance. In Vertical Roll Jonas obscures the electronic image of “Organic Honey” by various means: by using masks and a costume with veils, and by severely distorting the picture, achieved by manipulating the vertical-hold control of the video camera. The latter effect renders apparent the highly mediated aspect of video that is at work in each televised depiction of women. Jonas underscores her visual distortion of the image through the manipulation of the audio track, which is a grating and repetitive thudding or striking sound that corresponds to the black horizontal that rhythmically rolls from the bottom to the top of the video image. This jarring soundtrack further accentuates the element of distortion: this electronic image of woman is no longer pleasurable for the viewer to take in. The work is feminist in that Jonas reveals the electronic image of the female body to be a phantasm, a function of the technology itself-this is also com­ municated in her recuperating of an obsolete and ossified image. that of the exoticized femininity of the “vamp,” which harks back to the silent-film era. Jonas’ electronic image of woman is not an operative, holistic representation that points to “woman” as a stable and recognizable referent. In Vertical Roll Jonas takes on the critical stance of many feminists of the early 1970s who called for the destruction of the sexist visual pleasure that the technologies of film and video offered to their (male) viewers.

Two other body-art oriented feminist artists, the Austrian artist Valie Export (who is also referred to as VALIE EXPORT) and the American Carolee Schneemann, also critique representations of women by making reference to the essentialist site of female difference, or what Chicago called the “central core,” in their per­ formances. Export distinguished herself in what was otherwise the all-male body-art per formance scene in Vienna, dominated by the Viennese Actionists (Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Hermann Nitsch, Otto Mi.ihl. and Gi.inter Brus) and the machismo of their endurance-based works. Export’s assumed artist name, like Judy Chicago’s, is an implicit refusal to use the surnames given to her through patriarchy-that is, by her father and through mar­ riage. Export used street-theater tactics to criticize the cinema’s

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standardized codes for film’s objectification and rendering public of an eroticized female body, representing that body without any aspect of its own subjectivity or mind. 12 In Toucli Cinema (1968), which was performed by the artist and one of her female colleagues in a number of European cities including Cologne and Vienna, Export enclosed her bare-breasted torso in a “theater” -like box with a curtain opening at the front; a second performer would encour­ age passers-by, men or women, to touch her (concealed) body, thereby fondling her breasts. Documenting photographs depict an expressionless Export staring impassively as various strangers chose to participate in this anti-visual “expanded cinema” of tactile sensation. In another cinema-critical performance, Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969), the artist marched between aisles in an art­ film cinema in Munich with crotchless pants, physically exposing her genitalia at the viewer ‘s eye level. Export’s perform ance paral­ lels the passive public consumption of the filmic female image within the apparatus of the film theater, contrasting this passivity with the artist’s aggressively positioned and revealed sex/privacy toward the viewers. Export’s short film Mai1 & Woma11&A11imal (1973) presents filmed images of female genitalia (the artist’s?) in menstruation or coming to orgasm, images that are taboo even in pornography, which famously prefers to focus on the so-called “money shot”-that is, the moment of male ejaculation. Export then uses performance and film to reject the singular norm of male sexual satisfaction-either hetero- or homosexual-that the cinema in almost all its genres continues to serve. She also “reveals” women’s actual invisibility in cinema and its sites of distribution.

Schneemann, who was associated with the Fluxus group, also used performance to expand the female subject’s active or kinetic role in representation, and noted the silence that is typi­ cally foisted upon the female body when it is represented in art history. Schneemann used and preferred the term “art istory” as an alternative to and rejection of this male-defined and -determined discipline. In her performance Interior Scroll (1975), Schneemann first disrobed down to an apron before the audience while read­ ing from her book (published in 1976), Cezanne, Sl1e Was a Great Pai11ter:1 At the same time she painted her body with dark

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ART AND POLITICS

brushstrokes, striking standard poses of the female model in life­ drawing courses. Removing the apron and nude, she unraveled a scroll from her vagina and read from it; Schneemann recounts that this text came from one of her earlier films, a discussion with a male filmmaker addressing his misunderstanding of her art. The text also contrasts stereotypical notions of male creativity as logical and ordered or cerebral, with female creativity as intuitive and connected with the body. Interior Scroll refuses this cliched polarity, along with the Enlightenment mind-body division. In the performance the meaning of the body of the (female) artist is recoded to emphasize its reasoning and logic, and it becomes the site of creativity; the female body comes to speech, breaking the discipline of art history’s insistence on keeping women static and silent, on the margins of that history. Schneemann retrieves the notion of an essential aspect of femininity located in the body, but she is more concerned with breaking down the division between mind and body and elevating the latter-male or female-as an important site of action and creativity.

Feminists in the 1980s brought a new strategy to bear on their critique of the representation of the female body and sub­ ject. In tandem with the rise in importance of critical theory and psychoanalysis within art criticism, this anti-essentialist feminis m rejected the notion that the female body needed to be represented at all in the crucial cultural action of resisting and dismantling sexism. Anti-essentialist feminists returned to an assertion by the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir in her 1949 book The Second Sex: uone is not born but becomes a woman.” This new generatiaon of feminists claimed that the female gender was constructed culturally; they also rejected the idea that there was a “natural” woman who existed outside the constructs of language. Feminist artists and critics then applied psychoanalytic theory, particularly that of Jacques Lacan, along with theories of language forwarded in structuralist and poststructuralist phi­ losophy, to understand how this acculturation process toward gender identity worked.

Mary Kelly ‘s 1974 work Post-Partum Document (Figure 4.6) is seen as emblematic of this shift into anti-essentialist feminism.

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4.6 Mary Ke ·y, Post-Parttun Dowmcnt: D0w111cnta110n I, Anolvsca FoccaJ Staui, and Fccdmg Cham 11974), Perspex ,.m t. \•1h le card. diaper ‘m,rig�. plastic, sheet,rig. paper. 111k, deta,’

Kelly’s large-scale installation, consisting of documentation of her young son’s entry into language, included quasi-clinical observa­ tions about him and about the artist’s own role as a mother; this documentation included bodily traces of the infant (fecal stains on diapers). feeding charts, diagrams, and a record of his first words,

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altogether 135 items.q The installation not only used psychoanaly­ sis to understand her child’s process of socialization-into what Lacan termed the realm of the ” symbolic,” that is, the realm of the “name of the father,” ofalaw and language, a parallel in some ways to what Freud had termed the Oedipal stage-but also critically questioned how female subjectivity is formulated in this process of child-rearing. This feminist rejection of body-art practice and biological definitions of femininity also came about through the growing importance of conceptual art in Western art centers, which considered language and text as another area or medium for contemporary art practice.

The American artists Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger emerged in the early 1980s as post-modem feminists who, in anti­ essentialist fashion, continued the critique of the imagistic objec­ tification of women in mass culture while rejecting the possibiliaty of an authentic or natural representation of women. Sherman’s art features the photographic representation of her own body; at first glance her images appear to be similar to those in Wilke’s S.O.S. Series. However, her photographs differ fundamentally in their post-modern stance concerning codes of representation, concepts drawn from structuralist and poststructura1ist theory. Sherman’s breakthrough black-and-white photographic series, the Untitled Film Stills of 1977-80, all feature the artist in elaborate costumes, and role-playing in what seem to be readily identifiable types of female characters from any number of Hollywood B-movies: the gun moll, the cheating suburban wife, or, as in Untitled Film Still No. 48 (1979. Figure 4.7), the teen runaway. Each photograph in the series presents a different “character;· in different settings. and each exclusively features the artist. Sherman’s titles, of the series and of each image, furthermore suggest that the images are taken from a larger filmic narrative. Therefore, she presents the viewer not with ” real” women or with her ” true” self/body, but with an already-in-place code or language of female types that exists and circulates in the realm of mass media. Sherman represents the female body as a visual convenation, a pre-existing narrative. Many feminist critics have read a critical and feminist point of view being presented in these works, but Sherman has consistently refused

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4.7 C ndy Sherman. Untitled F,lm Sttll No 48 ( 1 979) b ack,and white photograph

to position them as feminist in statements and interviews. The ambiguity of these artworks toward their subject-the question of whether Sherman’s images really critique mass culture conventions of women. or if they just repeat these conventions uncritically-is another aspect that renders them post-modern.

Barbara Kruger is more direct in her feminist critique of mass culture, particularly toward the imagery of advertising. Kruger’s photomontages of images and texts are close to the slick layout of advertisements; she makes use of found photographs and large blocks of color and text. In that they follow the conventions of advertising, Kruger’s works seem already familiar to the viewer, as though they could be found advertisements. In Untitled ( It’s a Small World but Not ifY011 Have to Clean It) from 1990 (Figure 4.8), the words making up the work’s subtitle appear in white text on a red background; this text is placed over a black-and-white found photograph of a well-groomed, 195os·era woman staring out at the viewer through a magnifying glass. In a sense Kruger’s found

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Barbara Kruger, U11t1tlcd (It’s a Smalt \Vo,la but Not 1Yoti Have to Clean It) (1990), photographic s1 kscreen/v111v

photos are representations of representations, and thereby main­ tain the anti-essentialist view of feminism. The text and image together seem to condemn the cliche “it’s a small world” as the voice of privilege that does not belong to women; it suggests that the traditional role of women as housekeepers imprisons them into largely invisible labor for others’ sense of private space. Kruger also produced visually arresting posters to support a 1989 rally in Washington DC that marked the attempt by the US Supreme Court to overturn the Roe vs. Wade court decision of 1973 that legalized abortion. Kruger has therefore used her art to give explicit support of controversial feminist political issues.

Third-Wave/Global Feminisms

As has been discussed earlier in this chapter, as far back as the early 1970s feminist artists of color like Betye Saar and Yolanda Lopez pointed to the assumptions and exclusions of Euro-American feminism. Alternatively the terms “post-feminism” and “third-wave feminism” have been used by feminists of color to argue for the need for feminism also to account for female ethnic subjectivi­ ties. The term “post-feminism” is generally rejected by feminists because of its implication that the goal of feminism to eradicate the inequality of women has been achieved and it is therefore no longer needed, or that sexism no longer exists as a source of oppres­ sion. The filmmaker and theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha. in her essay “Difference: ‘a special Third World women issue”‘ (1989), takes up philosopher Julia Kristeva’s comments in her text About Cl1i11ese \Vo 111e11 (1977) on gender difference as she observed it in China.•; Trinh does so to underscore white academic feminists’ erasure of “Third World” women. Trinh notes an assumption common among feminists-that feminists must choose between their sexual iden­ tity and their ethnic identity. and that generally ethnicity cannot be at play in feminism. Kristeva points out that. in China. there is little difference between men and women in terms of their behavior in many aspects of everyday life. Trinh finds Kristeva’s surface obser­ vations about the relationship between genders in Chinese society

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useful. Kristeva notes that Chinese society then evidences “not a simple repression of a sexual difference, but a different distribution of sexual difference”; Trinh agrees that this difference between genders is a matter that is constan tly contested or renegotiated in Chinese society.”’ Again in agreement with Kristeva, Trinh argues that the constant challenging ofdifference that Kristeva observed in the ” Third World” makes it impossible to set into place sexist “power-based values” supportive of patriarchal privilege there, or to solidify an “authority-based subject.” Trinh’s film Sunwme Viet Given Name Nam (1989) similarly attacks anthropology’s idea that it can establish authentic ethnic and gender identity. an action that the discipline ties to the name of science. In Trinh’s view, these actions are at work in one ofanthropology’s instruments, the eth­ nographic film. In her use of actors for the interviews presented in her film about contemporary Vietnamese women, she rejects the validity of the idea of an authentic ethnic and gender identity that is usually advanced in ethnographic film by Western anthro­ pologists. According to Trinh. feminism must open itselfto many contestations of gender difference outside the West. in Vietnam for example, and to the notion that the difference of femininity is varied, multiple, mutable, and therefore perhaps indefinable.

Shirin Neshat, an Iranian artist living in the US and working in photography, video, and film, further expands and complicates the representation ofwomen in these mediums to consider the role ofwomen in Muslim society. and the rigid gender differences that have come to be realized in her own country after the revolution.’ In her installations. such as Rapture from 1999 (Figure 4.9) Neshat projects two videos simultaneously on different walls ofthe gallery to depict the stark differences between men and women in what has become a fundamentalist Islamic society. Rapture juxtaposes these gender differences in starkly lyrical black-and-white images of figures in the landscape, or in (segregated) worship in a mosque. Women are equally starkly represented in these settings in that Neshat depicts them in black burkhas, but without face veils, or niqabs. In contemplating her works the viewer must necessarily shift her gaze back and forth between these images or even worlds. Neshat then makes it difficult if not impossible to come away

FEMINISMS

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4.9 Shmn Nesh at, Rapture (1999), production st.

with a cohesive picture of women in the everyday life of Muslim society. The alienated i ndividual figures in Rapture-not only women but also men-suffer from these stark gender divisions. Neshat is then critical of certain reforms that have been realized in conservative Muslim societies.

Increasingly Western museums and biennials have come to focus on contemporary African art; within these exhibitions African feminist artists also reconfigure and expand the meaning of botl1 feminism and feminist art. Wangechi Mutu lives and works in New York and was born in Kenya. In some ways returning to essential­ ist roots while standing it on its head. Mutu works in large-scale collage; the human and particularly female body is the dominant form in her composi tions. Agave You from 2008 (Figure 4.10) contains a figure that is simultaneously beautiful and monstrous. It is recognizable as female and human but also animal or botani­ cal. like marine life; growths and protrusions erupt on this body at various points. Mutu manipulates the figure-ground relation so as to fuse the two and almost make them indistinguishable. as though these formal elements were one. In Lizard Love (2010) the figure’s right edge dissolves into particles and stains. Mutu’s

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4.10 W.inge-ct-o Muhi, Agovc �c:1• t’.!oo81, <n1�ed -ned1J co1lagt Or” M � lar, 9J K S4 ,,ic he�

FEMINISMS

women are not “real,” nor do they have a “core”; the body she depicts is drawn from various printed sources, as Mutu gets the raw materials for her collages from magazine clippings. She also incorporates a further accumulation of ink, glitter, acrylic, and plant matter in her works. Her female forms are barely contained by the edges of the Mylar surfaces she works on, and, like Jackson Pollock’s abstractions, these bodies seem to have the capacity to expand in all directions infinitely, spreading out into the universe with centrifugal force. Like the category of woman that Trinh described, Mutu’s quasi.female forms are dynamic, mutating, and hybrid; they seem to include all ethnicities and forms ofalife. Perhaps not immediately identifiable as the “positive” depictions of woman second.wave feminists once desired, Mutu’s fantastical, monstrous, and universalizing bodies suggest an accumulative notion of femininity as an organic force that holds within it the possibility offurther mutation, but no essence. They form a picture of woman as change itsel(

Le Groupe Amos is a collective of Christian.affiliated male and female intellectuals, playwrights, and activists who work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The group formed in 1989 in Kinshasa, and its members include Thierry N ‘ Landu Mayamba, Flory Kayembe Shamba, Jose Mpundu, and Jos Das. The group organizes various cultural events for the public in the DRC, including lectures, video presentations, plays, radio programs, and painting exhibitions.’� As Okwui Enwezor has observed, Le Groupe Amos connects to the anti.object, text.oriented practices of conceptual art but refuses the latter’s general lack of interest in political injustice. ”’ Tl1e collective works to establish a sense of community and independent African subjectivity or “sovereignty” for Congolese citizens in the shifting political climate of the DRC, independent of colonialist institutions that continue to operate there and that include the Catholic Church and non.African NGOs. ln an effort to include all Congolese, the group members, along with others from the public, produce many of their programs in vernacular languages such as Swahili and Lingala, in addition to French, the official national language. They also produce materials for those that are illiterate.

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ART AND POLITICS

Many programs and materials are didactic and positive in nature, to educate the public toward the building of an African citizenry through social and political change. Thierry N ‘ Landu has specified that women’s rights and ”education for life” remain a central and recurring interest of this group. Thus Le Groupe Amos produced and screened Congolese Woman, Woman ivitli a Tl,ous,md Arms (1997), and the video Aud Your Violence Made Me Yo ur Woman, in the Lingala language, in 1997. Didactic material opposing violence against women was also presented in a series of paintings and poems entitled The Stations of the Cross of tlte Congolese Woman. One theater-based project invited housekeepers to participate as actors during their free time, thereby including these individuals not only to take part, but also to become organ­ izers of future events for the public. Public lectures on female sexuality, for example, encourage women to discuss an otherwise taboo subject; these discussions are videotaped so that they can be screened in other venues. A Groupe Amos Ayer of 1994 encour­ ages Congolese men and women to vote and to realize a “free and

H democratic election in Zairea (while this election was scheduled, it never took place).:, In this way Le Groupe Amos uses art, discus­ sion, and other materials to raise Congolese women’s conscious­ ness about customs or laws that infringe upon their equality as citizens, and about the need for positive change to realize that equality. The group includes members of the public as collabora­ tors within this feminist collective. Even though some members of the group don’t consider themselves artists, Le Group Amos’ inclusion in art criticism and in large international exhibitions like Documenta (2002) has recognized the collective as one that relates to feminist art, and also to the recent trend in “participation” in contemporary art practice. Collective and not individual. not only female but also male, counting artists and everyday citizens as its members, and focused on the specific situation of women in the DRC, Le Groupe Amos exemplifies the inclusivity and “glocal” concerns that are likely to characterize feminist art of the future. The group expands the realm of art to realize bell hooks’ important notion that “feminism is for everybody.””

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