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1 HER CHARMING HAND: ESSENTIALISM, ARTISTIC TOUCH AND FEMINIST ART FROM THE 1960S AND 70S By LESLEY GAMBLE A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2010
2 Lesley Gamble
3 I give myself permission to reinvent this history. Carolee Schneemann, Imaging Her Erotics
4 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I find it difficult to articulate embodied experiences within western epistemic systems, where writing still remains the primary guarantor of ones existence. Thus I wish to acknowledge the emotional, spiritual and physical as well as intellectual support and encouragement offered to me by a great many people without whom this project would never have come to fruition. With deep gratitude I thank my chair Melissa Hyde, who encouraged me to apply to the program and has supported my endeavor throughout. I will always be gra teful for her bright, munificent spirit; intellectual and critical acumen; vast patience and unflagging wit, as well as her calm and sensible approach to my moments of anxiety and manic bravado. Without her support this dissertation would not have been wri tten. I would also like to thank Eric Segal, Victoria Rovine, and Trysh Travis for their valuable comments and critical insights; their accessibility and willingness to engage have been instrumental to my ability to advance through this program in a timely fashion. I wish to acknowledge the support of the University of Florida, from the Ruth McQuown Scholarship during my early graduate studies to the University of Florida Graduate Alumni Fellowship that allowed me to complete my degree. The invaluable assi stance of Laura Robertson, Senior Associate in the College of Fine Arts, kept me reassuringly on track as I trod the institutional labyrinth. I would also like to thank Shannon Jackson and Trinh T. Minhha at the University of California at Berkeley for th eir intellectual generosity and feedback, and Shannon Flattery, the 2006 UCB artist in residence, for inviting me to join her Touchable Stories project in Richmond. My life is far richer for that experience and the surprising camaraderie I discovered when I became a foreigner right down the road. During my time in California I also had the good fortune
5 to meet, play with and be inspired by Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens. Donning a white coat and a hubcap to create a healing ritual for the Love Art La b has been one of my happiest professional moments. Other California friends and cohorts I wish to acknowledge and would really prefer to hug right now include: Nancy Leatzow, Vicki Noble, Jennifer Berezan, Joan Marler, Arisika Razak, Max Dashu, Celeste Hi rschman, Danielle Harel, Caroline Smart, Danielle Kitt, Steve Curley, Beth Senger, Erin Walsh, Dev Juventin, Annette Gates, Rocky and Robin Anderson, Ed Ehrgott, Lee Glickstein, Henry Kaiser (who sends me big surprises in little packages), Rhiannon Welch, Alutha Jamancar, Nicole Daedone and the slowsexploradors at OneTaste San Francisco. Ah California. Here at home in Gainesville I am deeply grateful for my sustaining local correspondents, the many people who have conspired in one form or another to nurture me through this project: Michelle Gould, guiding light astrooracle, night light fuzzybunny and love monster supreme; Bill Stephenson, mysterious Zen chortler of the greater and lesser headscratchings; David Ogorman, not good at turn here but always up for a finger pull and a movie; Stu Crosby, boy hero, super man, benevolent heart holder and dispenser of painfree necks; Ella Vasallo, Tender Mist Dragon Lady charged with collecting Gil Hedleys ashes for future tantric use, a sublimely generous and gif ted therapist on levels too magical and numinous to mention; JJ Buchholz, man of a thousand scintillating distractions just when you need them; Jenn Downey, acupuncturist, which sounds impressive enough and then incredibly it works; Erol Kazanci, the irre pressible, who lives in Istanbul but traveled to New York to run through all six levels of MOMA with me to prep for my comps; and Elizabeth Adams, aka Lola Glittercheeks youre the best! Hugs and kisses all round.
6 For support slightly further afield I tha nk Pete Whitridge, Jeannin Thibodeau, Layne Redmond, Mary Kelly, Michelle Lekas, Becky Wiseheart (who also finished her Ph.D. this year), Manny Martinez, Audrey Holt, Zot Szurgot, Kana and Randy Handel, Doug Klepper, Angela Gould, Michael Broas, Frank Meri llat, Adam Silverberg, Josie Davenport and especially Paul Davenport, whose devout irreverence for reverence keeps all my organs smiling. I would also like to thank all the folks who so graciously allowed me to set up extra domestic encampments at their respective business establishments: Laura, Jules, Shaun, Div, Susie, Gracy, Siavash, John, Maeve and Adam at Civilization; and Anthony, Janet, Natalie, Sara, Llewellyn, Daniela and Ally at Volta. An additional nod of appreciation to Eugene, manager of the NE pool, who lets me free dive under the bridge and across the entire long length of the pool; where endless meets disappearing undulates sanity back into my body. I am also indebted to Courtney Stich, Birdie Taylor, Carol Bergdoll and Ally Gamble for cari ng for my mother, Emma, during this period; I cup with trembling fingers the precious gift of my mothers love. Lucy van de Wiel, thank you for whirling into my life, luminous and liquid, fragments of another, brighter world falling to earth to glow in my hands. And finally, I trill my heartthroated gratitude for the deeply affirming friendship, love and support of Caron Cadle and Ralf Remshardt, without whom this journey would neither have commenced nor concluded, having found at last the just right be d. The forest never stays dark for long when secret baskets appear on the doorstop, wafting the encouragement of a delicious home cooked stew, hearty wine, and tablet of Maglio chocolate. As if the nourishment of body and soul werent enough, there is no f iner, brighter or more committed friend and interlocutor than Caron, whose critical insight and scrupulous proofing carried this project forward like the
7 strike of a raptor. Speaking of which, I am also indebted to Carons mother, Inge Cadle, whose invalua ble advice, Just write darling, and get it over with, has spurred more than one academic down the graduation aisle. It is at best a small token of what they actually gave that I dedicate this swath of life path to my dearest cohort Caron, who firs t knew it, and to my beloved aunt Mousie, who has always known and hasnt forgotten. Together, true north.
8 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT ...................................................................................................................................10 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................................................11 2 A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE THEORY VERSUS ESSENTIALISM DEBATE, PART 1 ...................................................................................................................................28 2007: A Resurgence of Early Feminist Art ............................................................................28 The Problem of Essentialism ..............................................................................................29 1990s Theory Reexamines Essentialist Concepts: Touch, Embodiment and Experience ...........................................................................................................................31 Art History Reengages with the Theory versus Essentialism Debate .................................37 A Brief Digression on Theory: Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art ........................43 Broude and Garrards Take On Essentialism .........................................................................48 Attempts to Reframe (Re enflame?) the Debate: Octobers Questions of Feminism ........51 3 A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE THEORY VERSUS ESSENTIALISM DEBATE, PART 2 ...................................................................................................................................64 Responses to October s Questions: Refusing the Polemic .................................................64 Further Attempts to Reframe the Debate: Molesworth, de Zegher, Pollock and Kwon ........67 Old Wine in New Bottles? Antiessentialism: A Critique ......................................................76 Miwon Kwon Grapples with the Theory versus Essentialism Debate ...................................81 Essentialism, Theory and Interpretive Desire .........................................................................89 4 ESSENTIALISM AND DESIRE ...........................................................................................99 Sexu al Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History: Essentialism, Desire and the Problem of Female Experience .............................................................101 Critical Reception of Sexual Politics ....................................................................................125 Sexual Politics : Some Conclusions ......................................................................................134 The Polemic Persists: Emily Apter .......................................................................................136 Touch and the Proper Distance: Mona Hatoum ...................................................................143 Departing From Kelly: A Reexamination of Early Feminist Art .........................................146 5 ARTISTIC TOUCH, GENDER AND GENIUS: THE PROBLEM OF ESSENTIALISM, AGAIN .................................................................................................163 Touch, Gender and Essentialism ..........................................................................................169 Pollocks Genius: Transcendent Touch ................................................................................178
9 6 EARLY FEMINIST ARTISTS: ARTISTIC TOUCH, TRANSCENDENCE AND IMMANENCE ......................................................................................................................197 Yoko Ono ..............................................................................................................................198 Valie Export ..........................................................................................................................210 ................................................................................................................213 Carolee Schneemann ............................................................................................................216 LIST OF REFERENCES .............................................................................................................245 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .......................................................................................................257
10 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy HER CHARMING HAND: ESSENTIALISM, ARTISTIC TOUCH AND FEMINIST ART FROM THE 1960S AND 70S By Lesley Gamble December 2010 Chair: Melissa Hyde Major: Art History This dissertation offers a critical analysis of how feminist art historians, critics and curators in the 1990s established new ground for reengaging with 1960s and 70s feminist art by challenging the theory versus essentialism polemic, a series of debates in the 1980s that excluded earlier feminist work from historical discussion and record by denigr ating it as essentialist. It goes on to recontextualize the problem of essentialism within a broader history of artistic touch that has, since at least the Renaissance, relied on gender to figure artistic skill, identity and value, re examining the work of several early feminist artists whose work explored, exposed and often critiqued assumptions about relations between touch (artistic, physical and affective), the body, gender, and acts of making as well as viewing. By focusing on touch at a time when dominant aesthetic practices and critical interests were retreating from the hand as a signifier of artistic identity, early feminist work, this study contends, anticipated the deconstructive practices of the 1980s and, more importantly, remains highly rel evant to contemporary social and aesthetic projects dedicated to furthering the development of an ethics of difference.
11 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Is feminism a useful descriptive term for art that employs radically different modes of address, aspiration an d genre? The difficulty of answering these questions helpfully reminds us of the sharp difference between the conceptual possibilities and limitations of art discourse and the often anarchic specificity of art. Or to put it slightly differently, these pers istent questions remind us that rationality gives us ways to make categories while art gives us ways to resist them.1 Peggy Phelan In most art historical narratives, the turn from modern to postmodern practices, like the earlier shift into modernity, is figured through a change in artistic touch. Citing Marcel Duchamps readymades, the Pop sensibility of Andy Warhols mechanically reproduced silkscreens, minimalist Donald Judds reliance on prefabricated industrial materials, conceptual artist Lawrence Weiners turn away from the object toward language, and the development of an aesthetics of administration, these narratives credit the replacement of the hand, the traditional signifier of an artists presence in the work through mark or style, by a ready made, machinistic or conceptual process, not only with questioning the relationship between artist and artwork, but also with precipitating a radical shift in the parameters defining both. As the decade of the 1960s unfolded in a context of burgeoning capi tal, consumerism, and anti war, civil rights and womens liberation movements, identity politics were born, a condition which pressed the discourses of art, philosophy and theory to find languages capable of thinking and speaking about new experiences of s ubjectivity.2 At the same time, poststructuralist theories, primarily imported from Europe, were gaining an increasing audience in the United States. In general, these theories involved or could be motivated toward critiques of Cartesian subjectivity, th e idea of a full or coherent and self present individual distinct from his objects of contemplation or study. Within the art world, these critiques of subjective presence and objectivity paralleled artistic challenges to the tenets of Modernism, parti cularly critic Clement Greenbergs version which, in part, defined the modernist artwork as autonomous (self -
12 referential and separate from life), yet maintained a notion of the artist as genius, a coherent subject whose self expression and access to transcendence guaranteed the value of his work. The figure most associated with Greenbergian Modernism is Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. Although it may be argued that Pollock participated in the 20th century trend away from the artists hand b y relinquishing the brush for methods of production that no longer touched the canvas directly, neither he nor his critics abandoned the notion of the artists subjective presence as transmitted through his gesture into the work. In fact, the substitution of Pollocks active gesturing body for the traditional artists brush attempted to reinforce an essentialist notion of artistic genius as a direct transmission of transcendence (or the realm of the divine) into the artwork without mediation (here, the pote ntial mediation of the brush, including its various historical connotations). This conflation of Pollocks body, gesture and work in his famous drip paintings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, figured by critics as the apotheosis of high Modernism and heroic male artistic genius, was challenged in the following decades by artists seeking to distance themselves from expressionist psychology and subjective intentionality. For example, Warhols distance from the objects he produced (his assistants at Th e Factory made his silkscreens) and his cultivation of a flat, affectless persona, coupled with declarations that he saw himself as a machine, could easily be read by later scholars as exemplifying certain key aspects of nascent poststructuralist theories such as the death of the author and the exteriorization of subjectivity. In most art historical narratives the decline of the modernist artistic subject is linked to a negation of artistic touch, a move that is then retroactively figured as presaging the transition into poststructuralist appropriation art and the deconstructive practices of the 1980s.
13 Beginning with this premise, that the undoing of the universalized subject of Modernism coincides with a demise of interest in artistic touch, my resear ch offers an alternative to that narrative by reframing the question of artistic touch through an investigation of protoand early feminist artwork from the 1960s and 1970s, a body of work that actively engaged with touch as a concept, an artistic traditi on and an embodied, thus historicized, source of personal, aesthetic and politica l epistemology and invention. This project explores how early feminist artists such as Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Judy Chicago used various form s of touch to critique modernist notions of autonomy, critical objectivity and artistic genius, concepts and practices that promoted and maintained ideas, beliefs and systems of valuation that were, and continue to be, deeply gendered.3 In the process of working through connections between personal experience (emphasized in the consciousnessraising techniques developed at this time by the womens liberation movement), representation (aesthetic and popular theories and forms), and gender politics, it is my argument that these artists researched and developed new forms of artistic practice, theory and history making which bridged and thus defied the Cartesian separation of subjects and objects of knowledge that had informed and supported Clement Greenbergs version of modernist art. From this perspective, early feminist artists anticipate one of the most important developments in poststructuralist theory, the deconstruction of subjectivity. However, as New York Times art critic Holland Cotter has observed, fe minist art, the formative art of the last four decades has been perversely hard to see. 4 This is in part due to the vested interests of a patriarchal art world that had neither the desire nor the lens through which to engage with such work. But it is also the result of feminist critical discourses in the 1980s which retroactively labeled and denounced the work of earlier feminist artists as
14 essentialist, a term with meanings that have shifted over time but is generally defined as: the belief that gen der is biologically based rather than socially constructed; an ignorance of the fact that female bodies are articulated through complex codes of representation, primarily language; and the attempt to universalize female experience by generalizing personal experience into larger, theoretical claims, or by trying to fix embodied experience as an absolute or unmediated referent. Accusations of essentialism were often most often directed at 1960s and 70s art that involved the imaging or performative display of the female body, typically the body of the artist. For 1980s feminist artists and critics influenced by poststructuralist critiques of Cartesian subjectivity, earlier feminist work demonstrated a nave belief in the actual experience of the body, an ess ential self possession that Mary Kelly equated with Cartesian subjectivity and presence.5 For Kelly, artistic investments in direct experience were ultimately masculinst and regressive because they sought to use the body and artistic touch as forms of unmediated representation, thereby fulfilling the modernist prophecy of the painted mark.6 She conflated artistic touch with the body, la Jackson Pollock, and so read into early feminist art an essentialist belief in unmediated presence. This disserta tion argues, in part, that anti essentialist critiques such as Kellys have overlooked the highly significant ways in which artists like Schneemann, Ono, Ukeles and Chicago used and developed various forms of artistic touch precisely to explore their exper iences of embodiment as mediated, as deeply figured through forms of representation which, as artists, they were well prepared to intervene in and redefine. In fact, much of their work was made explicitly to counter the notion of embodiment and subjectivit y as fixed and unmediated, ideas that would later be called essentialist.7
15 The art historical record, however, has largely echoed the antiessentialist arguments of Kelly, Griselda Pollock and other critics, establishing what Peggy Phelan calls false p olarities pitting the ostensibly essentialist feminist practices of the 1960s and 1970s against the theory based feminist art of the 1980s, work such as Mary Kellys which, like Warhols, lent itself more easily to the increasingly popular academic discourses of poststructuralist theories and thus appeared more sophisticated.8 By retroactively applying the label essentialist to early feminist art and denouncing it as theoretically nave, the position of anti essentialist artists and critics like Kelly and Pollock aligned, paradoxically, with the sensibilities of the masculinist art world, effectively dismissing an entire corpus of early feminist work as irrelevant to contemporary art practices and discourses. With a few exceptions, for example the work of Louise Bourgeois, art made by women in the 1960s and 70s virtually disappeared from the art world and critical discussion, popping up occasionally in an independent gallery or small museum but existing primarily as a kind of dim and disowned mythical past. The year 2007 witnessed a reversal of fortune, a revival of academic and museological interest in early feminist art culminating in the inauguration of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. This augurs well for the future of feminist art history and would not have been possible without the confluence of a number of factors and a great deal of effort, stretching for well over a decade, on the part of several feminist art historians and curators with whom this dissert ation will be in dialogue, most notably Peggy Phelan, Helen Molesworth, Catherine de Zegher, Norma Broude and Mary Garrard, who in the 1990s attempted, with varying degrees of success, to refute, loosen or deconstruct the theory versus essentialism debat e. Any contemporary reading of 1960s and 70s feminist art must take into account the terms of both its dismissal and re emergence. Chapters Two, Three and Four track
16 these developments, offering a critical and historical analysis of challenges to the theo ry versus essentialism debate by feminist critics and historians from the 1990s to the present, outlining what is at stake as I begin to develop a new understanding of early feminist work through the lens of touch, specifically discourses of artistic touc h that have, since the Renaissance, resorted to various definitions of essentialism (biological, semiotic, poststructuralist, etc.) to constrain, devalue and/or dismiss women artists. Chapter Four focuses on the 1996 exhibition Sexual Politics: Judy Chica gos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History curated by Amelia Jones, as a pivotal moment in the revitalization of interest in early feminist art. Extending the scholarship of Broude and Garrard, among others, I will show that Jones particular deconstruc tion of the theory versus essentialism debate (in the context of historicizing and reinterpreting The Dinner Party) proved controversial in the eyes of many artists and critics, but persuasive for a small yet pivotal group of art historians, curators an d patrons such as David Joselit, Connie Butler, Maura Reilly and Elizabeth A. Sackler, who would go on to further the work. For it was after seeing The Dinner Party for the first time in Jones show that Sackler became interested not only in its ambitious aesthetic and historical program but the historical significance of the work itself, which included problems of conservation and public access.9 This eventually resulted in Sacklers purchase of The Dinner Party in 2001 and the creation of the first major institution in the United States devoted to collecting and exhibiting feminist art. The 2007 opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum featured Global Feminisms an exhibition of contemporary feminist art curated b y Reilly and Linda Nochlin, while on the west coast Butler organized WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution, the first international historical survey to track the emergence of feminist art in the 1960s as a world wide phenomenon.
17 Given the history of the theory versus essentialism debate, it is no gentle irony that the focal point of the Sackler Center is The Dinner Party which Peggy Phelan credits with single handedly triggering the essentialist backlash when it first appeared in 1979.10 In terms of my own project, it is important to note that this collaboratively produced monumental mixed media installation (which had the audacity to rewrite history by documenting the lives of real women and goddesses from pre history to the 20th century) turns on re motivating various forms of touch as they have traditionally been gendered, valued and sited. In a series of clever crossings, The Dinner Party dared to challenge and redefine artistic touch by utilizing techniques and materials historically associated wi th womens domestic handwork or craft labor (i.e. embroidery, weaving and china painting) to create a work of high art designed for a museum setting. Chicago pressed the traditions of artistic touch further by culling processes from the Los Angeles f inish fetish art scene, a macho, individualistic and blatantly maleidentified hightech yet labor intensive aesthetic characterized by critics as erotic and lazy (the synthetic materials, abstract forms and machine aesthetic belied the painstakingly handsprayed lacquer surfaces), to produce The Dinner Partys overtly handmade, low tech ceramic dinner plates.11 The result was a surprising, powerful and humorous juxtaposition of form, content and process, as the delicately wrought folds of the large and inc reasingly three dimensional vulva form plates, bathed in glowing, translucent colors and thick, glossy surfaces, attempted to publicly affirm, eroticize and redefine female genitalia as beautiful, delectable and in your face while also suggesting that it is through such collective labor that one produces and performs both femaleness and history. As the product of intensive historical research as well as Chicagos central core theory (a feminist theory she and Miriam Schapiro developed to interrogate and test relations between personal and social experience, embodiment, gender and aesthetic representation), it is my
18 contention that The Dinner Party is an argument for the power of artistic touch to function, in its various forms, as a rich interface for surfacing intersubjective desire while combining art, theory, history and gender. Like the work of such other early feminist artists as Ukeles, Ono, and Schneemann, Chicagos playful remotivation of touch through its conceptual, affective and historical c onnotations as material, aesthetic, social and gendered, suggests new forms for integrating subjects and objects of knowledge as well as artistic and traditional (language based) forms of historymaking. Such inventive combinations may prove to be just as efficacious, if not more so, than compartmentalized forms when it comes to producing knowledge, interrogating social problems, and spurring creative responses that re imagine and reconfigure the world. Although refutations of the theory versus essentialis m debate cleared the ground for new interpretations of 1960s and 70s feminist art, Chapter Four ends by confirming that despite its recent institutionalization, critical and historical investment in this body of work is by no means secure.12 As commentary in the 2006 anthology Women Artists at the Millennium reveals, there remain a few influential critics who refuse to relinquish the terms of the old polemic.13 Thus continued analysis of both the debate and the artists who were dismissed by it is crucial to expanding the art historical record. This dissertation is a contribution to that trajectory. My project, as indicated earlier, also investigates early feminist art from the perspective of a modern history of artistic touch, the shifting and complex relationships between touch, the mark, identity and presence, particularly as they are figured through gender and thus form a critical substrate of the essentialism debate. While the artists hand may have, in earlier periods, indicated her or his presence in the work, there was never a simple conflation of touch and presence; their interplay constantly opened on to other social and political factors such as gender, class and capital, as well as questions about artistic autonomy, agency, and intention, more often
19 than not complicating presence rather than simply confirming it. I look to Carol Armstrong, Philp Sohm, Mary Sheriff and others who have addressed the gendering of the artists hand during earlier periods, thereby contextualizing and extending the art hi storical conventions that 1960s and 70s feminists such as Carolee Schneemann, Chicago, Ono and others invoked, consciously or not, with their emphasis on artistic touch. Chapter Five opens with Shigeko Kubotas 1965 performance Vagina Painting. Her specifi c emphasis on artistic touch through a parody of the heroic male artists Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein sets the context for tracing historical relationships between artistic touch, gender and genius. The problem of essentialism and the question of desi re (historically linked to the senses and the feminine) implied in Kubotas erotic performance and addressed in Amelia Jones1996 exhibition have been plaguing women artists, as mentioned above, at least since the Renaissance. Constrained by patriarchal a ssumptions about their biological nature, women artists, far more frequently than their male counterparts, have had to contend with art critical discourses that often essentialize their touch along with their bodies and intellect (or supposed lack thereo f). There are moments, for example in the 18th century, when a female artist might be said to exhibit a virile brush but her natural lack of reason excluded her from participating in genres coded as male, such as history painting.14 Whenever the work of a woman artist challenged or defied gendered categories and assumptions it was ignored, devalued or dismissed by critics who ultimately used essentialism as their rationale for so doing. Historically speaking, feminine touch has been a mobile categor y, not necessarily linked to an artists gender yet typically a derogatory classification, either devalued for its lack of masculine qualities or, when linked to artifice (and the technical skill of painting as cosmetic), suspected of propagating an il lusionism that could at various moments support or
20 undermine vested social and class interests.15 From the Renaissance on, feminine artistic touch and the figure of the woman artist have served primarily to signify difference, typically as the devalued t erms in oppositions that constructed male artistic identity as coherent, rational and naturally superior. Just as feminine matter required masculine form, the female artists immanence assured the male artists transcendence which, in turn, guarant eed his genius.16 The 20th century turn away from artistic touch is an interesting shift, given the fact that self effacing brushwork or touch that did not betray the hand was assigned to the feminine as a slur in the Renaissance, but by the 19th cent ury was simultaneously valued for its ability to create a transparent illusion of realism (Ingres and the French Academy) and rejected (Courbet and avant garde painters) for erasing the signs of actual labor (artistic and working class) that produced suc h realism. During the late 19th century, polished or licked surfaces functioned as a sign of artistic quality and social responsibility to the state, but the effort required to produce such surfaces was considered shameful work due to its associatio n with feminine domestic labor.17 The effacement of the hand thus comes full circle, with the polished surface seen as indicating a lack of resistance that both erases (female and artistic) labor and produces good (servile) citizens.18 From this perspecti ve, the production of Jackson Pollock (with his declarative, self referential facture and spontaneous gestures) as the apotheosis of heroic male individualism makes sense as a sign of (male) artistic liberation from a world of mounting conformity linked to the expansion of industrialization, military and information technologies, mass marketing and public consumption. But with the undoing of the universal male subject during the 20th century, artists took up increasingly distanced approaches to art making. Technology, chance methods, and the hands of others (industrial laborers, assistants, or the audience) came to stand in for the
21 hand of artistic skill and intention, though the gendered implications of such a development has rarely been noted by critics. Feminist artists emerged in this milieu and many of them, including Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Judy Chicago, Carolee Schneemann and Yoko Ono, re embraced various forms and practices of touch as a means to make the intellectual, sensual and physical labor of art, theory and identitymaking tangible again, to intervene in and reinvent them all. Chapter Six is a preliminary investigation of the ways in which these proto and early feminist artists in the 1960s and 70s foreground touch as a concept, metaphor and practice at once aesthetic, social and political. Though definitions of immanence, like those of transcendence and essentialism, shift according to context, I argue that many if not all of the artists accused by critics and historians of navely celebrating and essentializing the female body were also, even if the theoretical terminology was not yet set in place, beginning the work of deconstructing the gendered oppositions between transcendence and immanence, and between subjects and objects of knowledge, as well as the systems of organizing and valuing experience that were based on such oppositions.19 For example, I will discuss how Ono, Valie Export and Marina produce themselves as objects by giving their touch over to the hand of the audi ence. Functioning simultaneously as both artist and artwork, they highlight the intersubjective desire that informs the production of art and knowledge (including concepts such as gender and identity). In the process, artistic touch becomes a larger representational field with ethical implications. Interrogating and elaborating on the very loaded concept of touch, many of these early feminist artists question the purity of its modernist conception as self referential and transcendent. In a sense, t hey return to earlier historical moments when the artist and the gender of her touch did not necessarily coincide, when the artifice of touch was understood as offering a
22 powerful form through which reality might be expressed and exposed as an effect of skillful representation and, as a result, made available to reimaging and re imagining. Chapter Six also focuses on how Carolee Schneemann plays with and exaggerates the artists hand as corporeal, gendered and erotic. Her film Fuses depicts Schneemann a nd her partner, James Tenney, making love, but her foregrounding of artistic touch and vibrant color short circuits any essentializing literalism. Instead of giving its subject, the two lovers, over to the consuming gaze of standard pornography or the h igh art nude, the film offers us the erotic corporeality of touch as facture, as art making inseparable from but not identical to the bodies of making and viewing.20 This is an important distinction. Like Jackson Pollocks, the touch of Schneemann, Ukeles and Ono may be located in both the materiality of the art and the act or gesture, which may then become the work. But where Pollocks touch (at least as it was produced) collapsed simultaneously into his body, the canvas and god to secure authorship, genius, value and male privilege, Schneemann, Ukeles and Ono stage touch as both a learned skill (aesthetic and social) and an often unconscious behavior or affect that has a specifically gendered material and aesthetic history. In the process, touch exposes art, corporeality and lived experience as dependent on intersubjective (and intrasubjective) relations, not as a guarantee of knowledge, divine genius, or subjective/objective autonomy but rather as a means to unsettle them all. 21 Highlighting various forms of touch, the work of each of these early feminist artists enacts a feminist and aesthetic, visual and corporeal, politics of subjective interdependence, vulnerability and agency decades before Judith Butler used the metaphor of touch to argue for th is possibility.22 And yet, while the artists touch both produces and is produced through the touch of another (object and/or subject), mingling with objects and audiences far beyond any
23 original location through memory, images, film and written documentat ion, the particularity of her body remains resolutely in the work. Far from universalizing, this local global connection is predicated on the contingency and finitude of each subject, each object, each look, each touch, and the constant negotiations of those boundaries, which are by no means secured by any source other than our collective efforts, intentions, intuitions and judgments, the production of which we might interrogate and expose, with empathy. Given the essentialist debates of the 1980s in which artistic touch associated with an artists use of her body ran the risk of being equated with essentialism (with the modernist promise of the artists presence in the work), few historians or critics of feminist art in the 20th century art have addre ssed the topic of artistic touch and gender, although there is strong scholarship for earlier periods (Mary Sheriff 1996, Philip Sohm 1995, Melissa Hyde 2000, Ewa Lajer Burcharth 2001, Mathes 2003) and important contributions being made by contemporary fem inist theorists working in other areas (Laura Marks 2000, Elizabeth Harvey 2003, Butler 2004). The dearth of research on artistic touch in relation to 1960s and 70s feminist art is actually quite surprising, given that the rediscovery of tactile or haptic epistemologies in poststructuralist and intercultural theories of the late 20th and early 21st centuries cite early feminist theories and practices as their models or precedents (Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari 1987, Marks 2000, Butler 2004, Jones 2006). In fact, recent attempts by anti essentialist feminist art critics and historians (Pollock 1996, De Zegher 1996, Bracha Ettinger 1996) to produce a new theory of feminism have turned to metaphors and concepts originally formulated in the 1970s by Hl ne Cixous and Luce Irigaray, the very theorists whose work on writing the body (often through metaphors of tactility) was dismissed decades earlier as essentialist.23 In fact, with the
24 exception of critical essays by Tamar Garb (2006), Anne Wagner (2006) and Laura Meyer (1996), few critics or historians working on 20th century feminist artists have specifically addressed the historical gendering of artistic touch and none have discussed 1960s and 70s artists from this vantage point.24 Touch, artistic and s ocial, carries different semiotic valences at various historical moments. Artistic touch (in its several forms as facture, gesture, surface, etc.) may expose the porous and often contradictory relations of desire between artist, work, sitter (in the case of portraits), and viewer/critic/historian. It may be simultaneously reflective (a product of its historical and social context) and generative (learned, ironic and creative), and its various relationships to the identity, truth or transparency of its sub jects and objects may produce a great deal of insight, anxiety, contradiction and delight. Feminist artists inherited a long history of aesthetic criticism and practices based on the archaic and asymmetrical Aristotelian opposition between form and matte r, gendered as male and female.25 Like a number of artists in earlier periods, feminist artists emerging in the 1960s and 70s took up artistic touch in its various guises as both form and matter, as matter capable of producing form as well as undoing it.26 In the process, they began, or perhaps continued, to deconstruct a number of old polemics that constrain and devalue the feminine, particularly transcendence versus immanence and theory versus essentialism. In terms of the latter, they were perhaps prophe tic. At the very least, they anticipated some of the most important developments in poststructuralist theory, including the deconstruction of Cartesian subjectivity. Rethinking and rearticulating connections between representation, subjectivity and social relations by focusing on their own embodied experiences of gender, they challenged the Enlightenment separation of subjects and objects of knowledge, instantiating new possibilities for the making of art, history,
25 identity and ethics. The art of early femi nists is indeed, to quote Holland Cotter, the formative art of the last decades.27 1 Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt, (London: Phaidon Press, 2001), 18. 2 Against the background of an emerging feminist movement in the late 1960s and 70s, protoand early feminist artists were grappling with the sexist practices of the art worlds museums, galleries, critical journals and educational programs. Under the leadership of Betty Friedan, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was born in 1966 as a response to the governments failure to enforce the prohibition against gender discrimination guaranteed in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Realizing that the rights they were fighting for in student liberation and civil rights movements werent being extended to them, Shulamith Firestone and Pam Allen fou nded New York Radical Women in 1967 to fight for womens liberation. Early members included Carol Hanisch, author of the famous slogan the personal is political, and Kathie Sarachild, who outlined the original program for radical feminist consciousness raising in 1968. By the end of the 1960s womens liberation groups were emerging all over the country and feminist literature was becoming widely circulated. In the art world, Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) split off from the Art Workers Coalition in 1969 to draw up a set of feminist demands to present to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Primary among them was a call for more solo shows by women artists, continuous non juried shows of work by women, and a 50 percent inclusion of women in all s hows.2 In 1970, Lucy Lippard, Faith Ringgold and others created the Ad Hoc Committee of Women Artists to protest the fact that only 5 percent of the artists represented in the 1969 Whitney Annual were women; by 1971 that number increased to 21 percent. 2 A second protest against the Whitney in 1972 by Women in the Arts led to the Women Choose Women show at the New York Cultural Center, the first major mainstream exhibition of womens art. 2 On the west coast, the Los Angeles Council of Women Artists (LA CWA) formed in 1970 to protest the total exclusion of women in the important Art and Technology show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Like their New York counterparts, LACWA lobbied for significant increases in the museum representation of women ar tists, but it also fielded demands for the inclusion of equal numbers of women and men at all levels of museum management and suggestions for an Educational Program for the Study of Womens Art.2 This emphasis on the education of women artists as a key p art of social reform is perhaps one of the most important differences between the east and west coasts, generating a number of woman run alternative spaces and institutions dedicated to producing, showing and critiquing womens art, including Womanspace and the Los Angeles Womens Building. The latter housed the Feminist Studio workshop, an independent feminist art school founded in 1973 by art historian Arlene Raven, designer Sheila de Bretteville and Judy Chicago, who had already pioneered the first feminist art program in the country at Fresno State in 1970 and, with Miriam Schapiro, transferred it to CalArts in 1971. 3 The term early feminist artist is somewhat misleading insofar as there are certainly artists in earlier periods who could be considere d feminist in various ways, from the extremely witty Italian Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 1625) (who left her home to study in Rome and later became the court painter for Philip II and Queen Elisabeth of Valois) to Louise Bourgeois (191 1 2010), whose work (for example Fillette (1968) and Cumul I (1969)) often played with and questioned gendered stereotypes and assumptions. Im using the term loosely, to designate artists who were working with ideas that could be considered feminist in the period when second wave activism was just beginning to coalesce in the 1960s to its full blown emergence into mainstream culture in the late 60s and 70s. 4 From Holland Cotter, review of WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution New York Times Mar. 9, 20 07, Weekend Arts; Fine Arts. 5 Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism, in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 96. 6 Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism, in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 96.
26 7 In the context of gender politics from the 1980s on there is a heightened sense that the conflation of the mark and the body of the artist, traditionally invoked and sometimes veiled through touch, is particularly seductive and dangerous. It is precisely this condition of the seduction and danger involved in invoking and veiling presence, whether navely essentialist or as a lim it condition of experience, that I examine, focusing on how early feminist artists researched, staged and even theorized this condition, primarily through their explorations of touch. 8 Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (Lond on: Phaidon Press, 2001), 23. 9 Personal discussion with Judy Chicago during a press tour at the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007; confirmed later in the day during Sacklers a nd museum director Arnold Lehmans question and answer session. 10 Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press, 2001), 37. 11 See Laura Meyer, From Finish Fetish to Feminism: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Californ ia Art History, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 467 4. 12 See Amelia Jones, Self/Image: Technology, Representation and the Contemporary Subject (New York: Routledge, 2006); Jane Blocker, Where is Ana Mendieta? (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999); Rebecca Schneider, The Explicit Body in Performance (New York: Routledge, 1997); Joanna Frueh, Erotic Faculties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Helena Reckitt, ed., Art and Feminism (London: Phaidon Press, 2001); Hilary Robinson, ed., Feminism Art Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001); Diana Burgess Fuller and Daniela Salvioni, eds., Art/Women/California 1950 2000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); and Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History After Postmodernism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). 13 Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cam bridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 327 328. 14 Mary D. Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vige Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 187. 15 For scholarship on the figuring of touch in relation to gender and cosmetics see Melissa Hyde, The Makeup of the Marquise: Bouchers Portrait of Pompadour at Her Toilette, in The Art Bulletin (September 2000): 453 475; Jean Clay, Ointments, Makeup, Pollen, in October 27 (Winter 1983): 344; Tamar Garb, Powder and Paint: Framing the Feminine in Georges Seurats Young Woman Powdering Herself, in Bodies of Modernity. Figure and Flesh in Fin de Sicle France (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998); Jacqueline Lichtenstein, Making up Representation: The Risks of Femininity, in Representations 20 (Fall 1987): 77 97; Patricia Phillippy, Painting Women: Cosmetics, Canvases and Early Modern Culture (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). 16 For an excellent discussion of the gendering of form and matter in Italian Renaissance art criticism (which refers to Platonic and Aristotelian distinctions), see Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 759 808. 17 Charles Rose n and Henri Zerner, The Ideology of the Licked Surface: Official Art, in Romanticism and Realism: The Mythology of Nineteenth Century Art (New York: Viking Press, 1984), 205 232. 18 Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner, The Ideology of the Licked Surface: Offi cial Art, Romanticism and Realism: The Mythology of Nineteenth Century Art (New York: Viking Press, 1984), 223. 19 It is important to note that this emphasis on immanence and corporeality would be picked up later by poststructuralist theorists, from the h ighly influential French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand
27 Plateaus (1987) to film theorist Laura Marks (2000, 2002) and Lacanian analystturnedartist Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, whose theory of the matrix has been touted by feminist art cr itics and historians like Griselda Pollock and Catherine de Zegher as the cutting edge theory of feminist art practices and discourses. 20 I am indebted to Carol Armstrongs reading of Manets facture for this observation. See Carol Armstrong, Facturing F emininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 86. I am also thinking about the differences between finished and unfinished surfaces in the 19th century. Nineteenth century Realism was the heir of post Renaissance pictorial tradition, b ut the emphasis on the act of painting, on painting as artifice, and on the intervention of the artist through his labor, ends up increasing (rather than decreasing) the impression of reality. By emphasizing the painting as representation, the artist conf irms the existence of what is behind the representation. In fini painting, on the other hand, the transparency of the paintingits lack of resistance emphasizes the fictive character of what is represented. Thus, treatment and subject, the fini and the exc lusion of everyday life, serve the same purpose in the strategy of official art. Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner, The Ideology of the Licked Surface: Official Art, in Romanticism and Realism: The Mythology of Nineteenth Century Art (New York: Viking Pres s, 1984), 224. 21 These artists explore the structure of touch as it declares difference, but this is a concept and practice of difference understood to function as metonymic contiguity, association and condensation rather than metaphoric separation, substi tution and displacement, a concept of difference as fluid, as separating as it unites and uniting even as it separates, refusing the oppositional either/or structure of assimilation or rejection. For an excellent discussion of Irigarays two lips from th e perspective of contiguity, contextualized in her critique of Lacans vision based theories (which are, in turn, founded on the Aristolean notion of woman as the ground through which man achieves his own essence/subjecthood, while woman, as essence, has n o access to having it or achieving her own subjectivity), see Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989), 55 72. 22 See Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004). 23 For a concise review of this dismissal, see Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989). 24 Those who have written on 60s and 70s artists, for example Phelan (2007), do not mention the history of artistic touch at all; Meyer (1996 ) only talks about Chicago in terms of the 1950 60s finish fetish movement in Los Angeles. 25 See Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 759 808. 26 See Carol Armst rong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 74 104. 27 From Holland Cotter, review of WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution New York Times Mar. 9, 2007, Weekend Arts; Fine Arts. The exhibition WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution opened in Los Angeles at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and ran from March 4 July 16, 2007.
28 CHAPTER 2 A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE THEORY VERSUS ESSENTIALISM DEBATE, PART 1 One thing is certain: Feminist art, which emerged in the 1960s with the womens movement, is the formative art of the last four decades. Scan the most innovative work, by both men and women, done during that time, and youll find feminisms activist, expansionist, pluralistic trace. Without it identity based art, crafts derived art, performance ar t and much political art would not exist in the form it does, if it existed at all. Much of what we call postmodernist art has feminist art at its source. Yet that source has been perversely hard to see.1 Holland Cotter, The New York Times, 2007 2007: A R esurgence of Early Feminist Art The year 2007 marked an unprecedented focus on feminist art in the United States, an attention that circulated, like many of the early feminist artists, critics and activists in the 1960s and 1970s, between the two coasts.2 In New York, the permanent installation of Judy Chicagos Dinner Party and the exhibition Global Feminisms marked the inauguration of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, the first major institution in the United States devoted to collecting and exhibiting feminist art. In a bid to keep pace, the Museum of Modern Art hosted its first symposium ever to focus entirely on feminist art, Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts. The event attracted an overf low audience; tickets sold out far in advance and faster than any other such symposium in the museums history.3 On the west coast, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles organized WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution the first international his torical survey to emphasize the global scale of the dynamic interaction between art and feminism that began in the late 1960s.4 Meanwhile, throughout the year, the Feminist Art Project, an ongoing national initiative administered by Rutgers University, promoted a number of publications and events across the country, including a full day of panel presentations held at the 2007 College Art Association meeting in New York with discussions led by feminist luminaries such as Martha Rosler, Suzanne Lacy and Mar y Kelly.5 Given the fact that prior to 2007 there had been few major
29 exhibitions and institutions that included, much less spotlighted, feminist art, particularly works from the 1960s and 70s, these events signal a current and highly significant renewal o f interest in its complex histories, its factional and often frictional genealogies. As we will see, this renewed focus has proven to be as complex and factional as the history itself, repeating the atmosphere of controversy and contention that emerged in the 1970s and 1990s. The Problem of Essentialism Although 2007 was banner year, much of the groundwork for this revival of early feminist art was laid earlier, in the 1990s and early 2000s, by a number of important publications and a few smaller scale ex hibitions that specifically focused on or included feminist art from the 1960s and 70s.6 During this period, many artists, curators and historians were turning their attention toward emerging theoretical developments that were drawn from or could be relat ed directly to the work of early feminist artists and theorists: theories of visuality that proposed forms and relations of viewing more haptic than optical; experiments in academic writing that explored relationships between subjectivity, representation a nd epistemology, challenging the traditional separation of personal and theoretical domains; and Judith Butlers theory of performativity, which articulated new possibilities for thinking about subjectivity in relation to gender and embodiment. These theo ries not only created a vital field for new interpretations of feminist work, they also reengaged with the body, reintroducing questions about somatic and gendered experience that offered more complex perspectives on the concept of essentialism. This was a crucial advance for feminism and art history. For it was the essentialism issue or what later came to be known as the theory versus essentialism debate, a polemic generated by feminist artists and critics in the l980s, that had consigned the larger body of and context for early feminist work to a persistent near invisibility, despite the fact that a handful of early feminist artists, including Judy
30 Chicago, Rebecca Horn, Carolee Schneemann, Eleanor Antin and Hannah Wilke (posthumously), did have retr ospective shows in the 1990s and early 2000s.7 Although the definitions subtending accusations of essentialism shifted somewhat over the course of the 80s, they included claims that feminist artists of the late 1960s and 70s assumed that gender was bi ologically based rather than socially constructed; that these artists were ignorant of the fact that female bodies are articulated through complex codes of representation; that these artists universalized the feminine by generalizing personal experience in to larger theoretical claims; and that they tried to fix identity and the body, often conflated, as absolute or unmediated referents of the real. 8 Several feminist art historians, including Mira Schor and Amelia Jones, have noted that an overwhelming s ense of discomfort with womens experiences of embodiment pervades the anti essentialist arguments made by Griselda Pollock, Judith Barry and Sandy FlittermanLewis, Mary Kelly and others. These arguments fed into a general perception that art and critici sm generated in the 1980s, informed by or read through the increasingly influential academic discourses of semiotics, Marxism, psychoanalysis and deconstruction, offered feminism more sophisticated critiques of gender and subjectivity and rendered the work of early feminists theoretically nave and irrelevant by comparison. The effect of the essentialism polemic combined with the theoretical emphases of the 1980s to set up a dynamic whereby a large, diverse and formative corpus of early feminist work was devalued, dismissed and subsequently lost to both feminist and wider art historical discussions. 9 By the 1990s, however, there was a marked sense among a significant number of feminist artists, critics and historians that the theory versus essentialism d ebate was inaccurate, unproductive or exhausted. While those who chose to reengage with this polemic did so in ways that differed a good deal in terms of position, critique, theorization and innovation, their
31 responses were and continue to be arguably the most critical factor in paving the way for the current revitalization of institutional and academic interest in 1960s and 70s feminist art. The following account will consider several key events and publications, all work that in some way attempted, with varying degrees of success, to revisit early feminist art through addressing, loosening or deconstructing the theory versus essentialism debate. Among these are Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrards The Power of Feminist Art (1994); Octobers 1995 questionnaire on the status of feminist art and discourse; and Helen Molesworths article House Work and Art Work, also published in October (2000). They also include a 2001 conference organized by Carol Armstrong that produced Women Artists at the Millennium (2006), and two groundbreaking exhibitions, Catherine de Zeghers Inside the Visible: an elliptical traverse of 20th century art in, of and from the feminine (1994) and Amelia Jones Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History (19 96). Any investigation into some of the various forms and explorations in feminist art from the early period, including the role(s) of touch, must take into account the precarious status of the body in contemporary feminist theories of representation. These theories have for the most part traded on or attempted to deconstruct the concept of essentialism, so it is useful to trace the contours of the sustained and serious reengagement with this concept. 1990s Theory Reexamines Essentialist Concepts: Touc h, Embodiment and Experience To establish the context for my exploration of how protoand feminist artists in the late 1960s and 70s engaged with the concept and practices of artistic touch, it is important to show how art critical and historical attem pts to rearticulate the concept of essentialism in the 1990s were fundamental to creating an expanded arena for academic and curatorial reevaluations of early feminist work. The following is an outline of the theories and trends that paved the way,
32 either directly or obliquely, for feminist artists and thinkers, including myself, to reengage with and challenge the essentialism issue. First, feminist critical interest in the 1990s shifted from theorizations of the male gaze (which cast the woman in a p assive or narcissistic role) to the richer possibilities of haptic visuality, a theory emphasizing tactility and embodied forms of knowing less instrumentalizing than predominant notions of opticality based on distance and knowledge as mastery. It is significant that film theorist Laura Marks, who has written extensively on this topic, cites among her sources Walter Benjamins theories of representation, Deleuze and Guattaris concept of haptic nomadism in A Thousand Plateaus Svetlana Alpers and Naomi Sch ors descriptions of 17th century Dutch still life paintings and, most important for my research here, Luce Irigarays theories of female eroticism from the 1970s and the perceived essentialism of feminists who describe a form of representation grounded i n the body.10 As a theory of sensuous knowing that offers, in part, new possibilities for thinking about the production of knowledge and subjectivity through a mutuality of relations between viewers, artists and works of art, the concept of haptic visua lity reopened questions central to earlier feminist concerns, reintroducing the body, female sexuality and issues of epistemology into older debates about the relationships between art, gender, subjectivity and politics. Second, influenced by the work of feminists in other disciplines, including Hlne Cixous and Irigaray (who went beyond a mere critique of Cartesian subjectivity to actively experiment with its implications), some feminist art historians (such as Moira Roth, Joanna Frueh, Eunice Lipton, Ja ne Blocker, Peggy Phelan and Amelia Jones) began to produce writing that challenged and further eroded distinctions between personal and theoretical knowing. Acknowledging their desires, projections and investments in or identification with their obje cts of study, these
33 feminist scholars staged themselves and their objects, to varying degrees, in the process of the making; in other words, as both product and producer of histories and theories at once personal and cultural. Taking their cues from essentialist feminists and in some cases from Judith Butler (see below), they investigated and began to perform the mutual constitution of subjects and objects of knowledge, extending the possibilities for art historical writing while posing radical questions to the discipline itself, challenging the modernist critics stance of critical objectivity and its relation to the value systems supporting much art historical and critical interpretation. Third, Judith Butlers (1990, 1993) theory of performativity, developed specifically to address issues of gender and embodiment, followed on the heels of work by Diana Fuss (1989), Naomi Schor (1989) and Trihn T. Minhha (1990) to initiate one of the most powerful critiques of essentialism and the theory versus essenti alism debate to date.11 Deemphasizing the psychoanalytic theories upon which much feminist work in the 1980s had relied, Butlers theory aligns with a Derridean critique of presence and deconstruction of subjectivity, yet foregrounds the experience of gen der by insisting on embodiment. Performativity is not performance per se; it is not an intentional or singular act but the reiteration of a set of norms, a citational practice through which the subject is produced as an effect. Reconceptualizing all ca tegories, including gender, subjectivity and identity, as active conditions rather than descriptive terms, the theory of performativity argues that the concepts we assume as essential do in fact precede, constrain and exceed us, yet function, through our r epeated citations of them, as dynamic conditions we continually negotiate. The result, as Butler argues in Gender Trouble is paradoxical: the reconceptualization of identity as an effect, that is as produced or generated, opens up possibilities of agency that are insidiously foreclosed by positions that
34 take identity categories as foundational and fixed. For an identity to be an effect means that it is neither totally determined nor fully artificial and arbitrary  Construction is not opposed to agenc y; it is the necessary scene of agency, the very terms in which agency is articulated and becomes culturally intelligible.12 In offering possibilities for a subjective agency that is not predicated on either essentialist notions nor social constructivism, a n agency that does not foreclose a deconstruction of identity and vice versa, Butler creates a political, social and embodied concept of subjectivity that even historians Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, outspoken in their criticisms of the effect of post structuralist theories on subjective agency, find useful and inspiring.13 Most importantly, Butlers concept of subjectivity deconstructs the theory versus essentialism polemic that has structured much of the critical and historical conversation about feminist art since the 1980s. The implications of Butlers theory of performativity are numerous, many of them congruent with the work of anti essentialist or constructivist feminist artists and critics in the late 1970s and 80s such as Mary Kelly and Grise lda Pollock, who argued for representational strategies based on distance, demystification and dis identification as a means to effect political change by laying bare tacit forms of gender interpellation.14 But what Kelly and Pollock overlooked was the f act that, given the performative subjects iterative potential for mistakes, exaggerations, and misfirings of identificatory repetitions, even strategies of identification that became conflated with essentialism might create productive misses that expose or exploit the instability inhabiting every concept, making it available to critique and reinvention.15 Thus art historian Amelia Jones draws, in part, from Butlers theory in Body Art/Performing the Subject (1998) in order to refute charges of essentiali sm and narcissism levied against several 1970s feminist artists whose use of the female body had been dismissed by anti essentialist artists and critics as reinforcing a nave, biologically based identification with the feminine.
35 The power of Butlers theo ry of performativity for reinterpreting feminist art from the 1960s and 70s lies in her emphasis on embodiment, which challenges theories of biological essence or ontological presence as well as cultural constructivism, the founding opposition of the theo ry versus essentialism debate.16 Here her theory differs from Derridas, at least from her perspective, insofar as she highlights the fact that citational repetition is embodied, encrusted with the imbricated histories of relations between bodies and the social.17 Drawing from Merleau Pontys theories of phenomenology, Butler situates the body as incessantly enacting and reproducing a historical situation for which it, in turn, continually produces possibilities. In this way, the body introduces particula rity and contingency into the subjects ongoing process of tacit habituation, which is critical to undermining the universalizing potential of essentialism and cultural interpellation alike. Yet it is also through the body that despite ones best efforts one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.18 As a body, one cannot remain intact, even though, as Butler argues, it is imperative for us to continue claiming legal rights to bodily autonomy. The irrevocably public dimension of the body means that one is given over to others even as a body is ones own. The body dispossesses the subject at the same time it puts it in a condition of relationality: If I am s truggling for autonomy, do I not need to be struggling for something else as well, a conception of myself as invariably in community, impressed upon by others, impressing them as well, and in ways that are not clearly delineable, in forms that are not full y predictable?19 Embodiment is, for Butler, the primary tie by which we live a condition of connection as bodies for one another.20 Here we could place Butlers work in the lineage of theorists Irigaray and Cixous as
36 well as proto and early feminist ar tists (Yoko Ono, Valie Export and Carolee Schneemann among others), as the primary metaphor Butler draws on is tactile. In terms of the theory versus essentialism debate, Butlers key point is that the body is neither passive nor inert material onto whic h concepts such as gender are inscribed; concepts are not determined solely by nature, language or culture. For all their chiasmatic exchanges in the subjects interpellation, language and culture exceed the body and the body exceeds language and culture; there is always a gap, an incongruity between them that risks unintelligibility.21 This excess is both a threat and a chance, as unintelligibility risks not only that the subject will not be recognized as a subject per se, which may provoke social exclusi on and violence, but also that the subject will not be recognizable at all, will not be addressed by the Other upon whom the subjects viability is dependent. Yet this unintelligibility, spawned through the incongruity of the speaking body, also opens the potential for resignifying terms that constrain and construct the tacit performativity of habit. The power to expand the cultural field bodily through subversive performances of various kinds, may even be found in hate speech, as formerly pejorative terms such as woman, black, and queer may be both enacted by and productive of bodies in startling ways, generating unanticipated situations, movements and political futures.22 Butlers deconstruction of essentialism rethinks the notion of experienc e, cautioning us about our use of language and theory. She reminds us that all language is theoretical, implicating any speaker or writer in a scene of social responsibility: There is, in my view, nothing about femaleness that is waiting to be expressed ; there is, on the other hand, a good deal about the diverse experiences of women that is being expressed and still needs to be expressed, but caution is needed with respect to that theoretical language, for it does not simply report a pre linguistic
37 exper ience, but constructs that experience as well as the limits of its analysis.23 The power of the relationship between bodies, language and experience may also be claimed for any form of representation in relation to bodies, including images and even touch, the sense most readily associated with embodiment as presence and essence. But for now, I wish to begin to map the essentialism issue as it was addressed in the 1990s and early into this millennium, as what continues to subtend much of the discussion involves a rearticulation of these relationships accompanied by an increasing discomfort with the oscillating uncertainties circulating between prescription and description, expression and impression, and female eroticism. Art History Reengages with the Theory versus Essentialism Debate Broude and Garrard H istoricize the D ebate Theory vs. Essentialism, The Dinner Party and Central Core Theory If Judith Butler, writing in the early 1990s, could make the claim that pejorative terms like queer, black and woman had been, to some degree, positively reappropriated by the very subjects formerly oppressed by them, the same could not be said for cunt, at least not in the context of feminist art historical discussions broaching the subject of essentialism. It is no subtle irony, given the central place it now occupies at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, that Judy Chicagos The Dinner Party with its thirty nine ceramic vulvaform plates commemorating historical women and goddesses, was credited in Peggy Phelans 2001 survey essay for Art and Feminism with having single handedly provoked the 1980s backlash against essentialist 1970s feminist art.24 But in 1994, Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard responded aggressively to the charges of essentialism in their introductory essay for The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact Deliberately eschewing the 1980s emphasis on poststructuralist theory as the interpretive frame for American feminist art from the 1970s,
38 Broude and Garrard chose to focus on the political and historical context of its making, particularly work that had in part informed The Dinner Party including Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiros theory of central core imagery or cunt art whi ch postulated, in part, that women artists made central core forms that resonated with their experience of embodiment. Despite what appears to be a wholesale dismissal of poststructuralist theory, an over reaction that in some ways left the theory versus essentialism polemic intact, Broude and Garrard did succeed in making a number of extremely cogent and persuasive arguments that refute charges of biological essentialism against feminist art from this period by historicizing the concept, observations since elaborated on by even the most theoretically astute feminist art critics and historians such as Amelia Jones.25 Their attempt to counter charges of a universalizing essentialism, particularly in the case of Chicago and Schapiros central core or cunt theory, are less successful, though in the process they do make what I consider to be a key distinction between the invention and application of a theory. In fact, this sometimes subtle but crucial difference subtended the theory versus essentialism debate in the 1980s, yet it has not, to my knowledge, been addressed in any direct or systematic fashion. Broude and Garrards historicization of the essentialism problem is important for understanding two of its variants, biological reductionism and universal ization, as is their equally crucial rebuttal of these charges against early feminist art. While their historical outline credits British film theorists Pam Cook, Laura Mulvey and Claire Johnston with picking up on French feminist critiques of Freuds not ion of biology as destiny to found their rejection of a naturalized female essence, they also point to American Patricia Mainardis earlier arguments against the notion of a female sensibility in art as developing the first criticisms of ideas and assumptions that would later come to be called essentialist. A member of New York
39 Redstockings, Mainardi, according to Broude and Garrard, was implicitly referring to Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiros theory of central core imagery when in 1972 she sta ted that a right wing of the women artists movement was codifying a socalled female aesthetic.26 A year later, art critic Cindy Nemser more overtly rejected Chicago and Schapiros cunt theory, which postulated, in part, that women artists made centr al core forms that resonated with their experience of embodiment. In particular, Nemser objected to what she perceived would be the effect of such a theory, that it would confine women artists to making specific intrinsically female forms, thereby denying the diversity of expression that is one of the trademarks of feminist art from this period. Thus, as Broude and Garrard illustrate, Chicago and Schapiros attempt to invent a theory from what they perceived to be their particular and embodied experienc es as women, like similar projects undertaken by feminist artists including Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke and others, was viewed by critics as essentialist and problematic from the start. The idea that women could make work that might express their sen se of a vulvic interiority was too narrow, since it could be read as confining women to their biology or particular forms of expression, but it was also too universal, insofar as the theory was perceived as making claims for all women. While these critiqu es may be valid from certain theoretical perspectives, Broude and Garrards analysis responds by arguing that despite its drawbacks cunt art was a radical attempt to theorize connections between physical feeling (specifically, an experience of embodiment that did not disavow sexuality and other life processes), gendered identity and aesthetics, as a powerfully creative and political act.27 It is from this perspective they refute the critical dismissal of cunt art as both universalizing and biologically es sentialist.
40 Conceived in reaction to the negative and oppressive attitudes toward women in the 1950s and 60s and the centuries of indoctrination that restricted female sexuality to biological destiny, Chicago and Schapiros use of cunt imagery was never meant, in Broude and Garrards account, to confine women to their biology but rather to reverse the loathing and devaluation of female anatomy in patriarchal culture.28 They cite a passage from Chicago and Schapiros 1972 essay Female Imagery that, in retrospect, is very much in the spirit of the point made by Judith Butler almost twenty years later about the appropriation of derogatory terms like queer: The woman artist could take that very mark of her otherness and by asserting it as the hallma rk of her iconography, establish a vehicle by which to state the truth and beauty of her identity.29 Here, female sexuality functions as a resource, rather than a destiny, as cunt imagery created by women artists signals womens power to define, assert and enact their sexuality and eroticism on their own terms.30 A second and related point is that the female identity Chicago and Schapiro sought to redefine was not as fixed or dependent on biological essentialism as critics have liked to assert. To give one example, Broude and Garrard refer to Chicagos Cock and Cunt play, performed in 1972, as a clear demonstration that Chicago and other feminist artists at Womanhouse were entirely cognizant of the cultural construction of gender. Costumed in giant clo th vulvas and penises, female performers labeled SHE and HE mocked the naturalization of gender roles with witty dialogue such as A cunt means you wash dishes.31 Although Broude and Garrard counter accusations of biological essentialism against Ch icago and other early American feminists with relative ease, their refutation of the universalizing aspects of central core theory relies on their downplaying its status as a theory (perhaps due to their own prejudice against theory) and is less straightfo rward. However, in the
41 process, they make a very subtle but important distinction between methods of theorization mentioned above, one that points to perhaps the most problematic as well as innovative aspect of the practices of feminist work from the 1970s: the making of theory from embodied experience as both an individual and collective pursuit, a point to which I will return in the final chapter. Broude and Garrard acknowledge that some of the most strident accusations of essentialism against early fe minist artists were provoked by central core theory and its attempt to posit a universal formal iconography for women artists. As Nemser had pointed out, such codification risked a level of generalization that would fix or narrow forms of womens aestheti cs and experience. Broude and Garrards response is to shift the frame, explaining, through comments made by Lucy Lippard, that Chicago and Schapiros theory was more a working hypothesis taken up in an exploratory fashion. Attempting to elude the ide a of theorymaking, they situate cunt theory historically, arguing that questions about the use of female identified forms in the mid 70s were embroiled in a larger debate about whether or not womens art could be defined at all, with feminist artists di vided between those who used these forms self consciously to political ends, and those who argued such forms should not be used because they were too imbued with stereotypical connotations. Reiterating that central core forms are not inherently gendered, Broude and Garrard shift the question away from whether these forms should be used to how they are used, asking what it means or how the work might signify differently when a formal language is taken up by women instead of men. While I agree with the ir final claim that the intention of the 1970s feminist agenda was to make women visible as an embodied body politic, their response to the charge that cunt theory is too universalizing seems a circuitous avoidance of the initial problem of over generalization. Their use of history effectively refutes charges of biological essentialism,
42 but it doesnt work as well as a frame for addressing the accusations of universalizing essentialism. As I mentioned previously, when Broude and Garrard engage with the question of essentialism they make an important distinction between two of Chicago and Schapiros approaches: the theory in formation that they developed to guide themselves and their students into artmaking (i.e. the Cock and Cunt play) and their parall el attempt to theorize a formal iconography for a female aesthetic. As described by Broude and Garrard, art making at CalArts was preceded by a rigorous process of consciousness raising and self examination where individual solutions were grounded in experience rather than theory.32 Unlike the theory of central core imagery, art produced at this level could not be essentialist because it did not claim that level of generalization.33 Broude and Garrards argument is entirely valid insofar as central core theory functioned differently as a process of invention versus application, where it succumbed to the potentially universalizing structure typical of most theory making (theories are made to be tested and authorized through reproduction, which is how they gain their explanatory or generalizing power). Yet what they pointed to and missed, possibly because they continued to assert a separation between theory and experience (with experience conceptualized as embodied and therefore potentially biologicall y essentialist), was the possibility that this method of theoryin formation developed at CalArts and by other feminist artists working in the 1970s challenged theory in general, inspiring art that was, I want to insist, simultaneously grounded in ex perience, in the historical particularity of the subject in making, and theoretical. In other words, through their emphasis on embodied subjectivity and desire (artists and viewers investments), the work of a number of early feminist artists, including Ono, Schneemann and
43 Ukeles, suggested that there could be a form of theory that was both futurial (hoping to influence the future) and particular (individualized and historicized) without insisting on a method of application/replication that would fall pre y to overgeneralization (as a repetition of the same).34 A Brief Digression on Theory: Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art A clarification of what I mean by theory may be useful at this juncture. Often what is referred to as theory includes propositions or ideas that may have been generated as a response to art and/or critical practices and yet, in their systematic application, elaboration and power of generalization, often end up defining them (i.e. Kants aesthetics or Greenbergs theory of moder nism). Theory may also be a shorthand term for the primarily academic discourses of psychoanalysis, semiotics, Marxism, feminism, deconstruction and so on; theories that rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, particularly in the disciplines of film, l iterature, feminism and contemporary art, challenging history as a primary explanatory discourse.35 Although Broude and Garrards argument appears to maintain this opposition between theory and history, their distinction between applied and invented theorie s points, however unintentionally or obliquely, to a potentially new possibility for thinking about the historical relationship of early feminist art to theory. Despite accusations of essentialism, it is my argument that many of the early feminist artists who were labeled theoretically nave were in fact producing their own theories for thinking about and making work that would create change in their own lives and the state of the world they found so ineluctably shaping them. What we call theory in an a cademic context does not often recognize the perhaps less broadbased but no less influential theorizing each one of us does on a daily basis, as well as the theories that are constantly invented by communities and groups. This level of theorymaking was highly developed during the 1960s and 70s by many second wave radical feminist activist groups, particularly New York Redstockings and Gainesville Womens Liberation, as a revolutionary
44 strategy for building concrete actions and a collective political move ment that was connected to and continually tested by individual womens experiences. I believe it needs to be emphasized that the radical feminist strategy of consciousraising, where women gathered to articulate their personal problems in order to see a pattern of connection to larger social and political issues, became the foundation for an embodied or immanent mode of theory making that was considered a necessary prerequisite for successful political action and radical social change.36 Although Judy Chi cago denies having any knowledge of consciousness raising until she invented it as part of the program at Cal Arts, this method of immanent theorymaking was also highly successful for art making, as Chicagos and her students work (i.e. the Womanhouse pr ojects) attest.37 My point is that regardless of actual contact with specific feminist groups, women artists were inventing a kind of embodied theorymaking where the research, development, invention and testing/performance phases were equal to if not more important than replicable applications. In other words, the work of a number of feminist artists, such as Carolee Schenmann,Yoko Ono, Valie Export, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and others showed the process of their art as immanent theorymaking and vice versa This embodied notion of theory challenges the subject object split of Cartesian rationality and actually comes closer to the most archaic sense of theoria, a concept which, for the Greeks, combined body and mind, intuition and a honed sense of percep tion that drew equally from all of the senses. A theorist was someone who traveled to a foreign place, experienced it through feeling, memory and imagination (listening to local stories and myths, recording sights, sounds and smells, touching artifacts, etc.) and then returned home to make this knowledge available to the larger community.38
45 To cite one relevant example, when feminist performance artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles declared, my working will be the work in her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition: Care, she was pointing to the fact that her art work would enact her theory performatively in a way that was embodied, personal, public, aesthetic and political.39 After becoming pregnant and being told by a professor that she could not be a mother and an artist, Ukeles traveled to an uncharted territory, reframing her experiences of maternal labor (cooking, cleaning, etc.) as aesthetic labor. She extensively theorized maintenance art as strategies and practices aligned with a life instinct invested in the care of the species, which she opposed to the death instinct of avant garde art based on separation and the solipsism of do your own thing.40 When Ukeles performed Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside, July 22, 19 73, washing the floors of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, for eight hours straight (the equivalence of a work day), she made a profound connection between the crucial but low paid and often invisible labor of public service workers and unpaid domestic female labor. In Transfer: The Maintenance of the Art Object (1973), Ukeles continued to research and develop her theory of maintenance art in a museum context by charting the shifts in labor and responsibility that result when hands with dif ferent semiotic designations touch the same object. When a maintenance worker cleans a glass case, the result is a clean case. But when Ukeles (in the role of artist) cleans the case and labels her effort a piece of maintenance art, the case can no longer be touched by a museum worker; instead, it may only be handled by a curator who is then responsible for keeping the art object properly maintained. In a funny, circular logic where the higher paid curator ends up performing the same manual labor as th e artist and the lowerpaid service worker, Ukeles exposes the art/object as having no inherent worth, its value an effect of how it is framed (en cased) through a series of tactile encounters which are in turn
46 assigned value arbitrarily though the labor of individuals who have no inherent value either; all acquire significance and worth only through their function of signifying difference in the endless circulation of signs and capital. It is through emphasizing and repeating her embodied domestic labor her feminine touch (artistic and domestic), across several contexts simultaneously that Ukeles performs art, critique and theory in one brilliant artwork that exposes, quite literally, the conditions of its own production as an argument for the future for maintaining an attentiveness to care in systems that rely, first and foremost, on interdependency. Ukeles continued to develop her theory of care and maintenance art through large scale public artworks such as Touch Sanitation (1977 1980), where s he personally shook hands with every untouchable garbage worker in the New York Department of Sanitation and subsequently became the departments only artist in residence. Her current project crosses environmental issues with public rituals of grieving as she designs a public memorial for 9/11 at Fresh Kills, the ecologically disastrous landfill that was temporarily reopened in September 2001 to admit the unidentifiable remains of the 9/11 victims.41 Ukeles orientation and process, which began with a question she posed in her manifesto: After the revolution, whos going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?: is similar to that which was being developed in feminist activist groups like Redstockings, where a theory attained authority through action, by continually circulating through personal, embodied experiences, understood collectively as socially and politically shaped and shaping. While radical feminist groups articulated their theories through manifestos, essays and public actions, early femini st artists were also inventing new theories as well as forms for inventing, testing, and representing/performing their often explicitly embodied ideas.
47 This does not mean that many of the 1960s and 70s feminist artists, like the secondwave radical feminis t activists, werent reading or extrapolating from high theory (by this I mean highly systematized, previously accepted or academically authorized theories), for they certainly were (i.e. Simone de Beauvoir, Marxism, etc.), but they did so in order to in vent new theories that would more accurately reflect, guide and potentially influence their lives as well as the world that gave them meaning. As a result, their primary source and testing ground for knowledge, theory and action was not so much the proper citation of a high theory or theorist but rather their own dynamically lived experiences, which circulated through their nascent epistemologies and vice versa. I understand the accusation of essentialism in the 1980s as, in part, a misreading of this em phasis on personal experience and the bodily as a ground for the testing and making of theory and knowledge. Accustomed to the application of high theory, critics and artists of the 1980s did not recognize the value of the low or immanent theory invented by proto and feminist artists in the 1960s and 70s.42 While it led Broude and Garrard to engage with accusations of a universalizing essentialism against Chicago and Schapiros central core theory (its suggestion that certain aesthetic forms may emerge from a womens sense of vulvic space) by making an astute distinction between the usefulness of this theory as an inventio for artmaking versus the problems it raised when it was applied to the work of other women, Broude and Garrards prejudice against high theory prevented them from exploring their own insight further, from raising the possibility that early feminist artists were in the process of inventing a different kind of theory. Broude and Garrards attempt to respond to accusations of a unive rsalizing essentialism against Chicago and Schapiros theory of cunt art by retheorizing essentialism may not be as convincing as their refutation of the charges of biological essentialism, but their engagement
48 with the question does point to the issue of generalization as a problem inherent in the making of theory, a problem that theory shares with language as well as certain definitions of both feminism and essentialism, claims to which I will return. However, in the process of refuting certain claims of essentialism while also redefining it, Broude and Garrard recuperate the concept of essentialism as an enabling myth, highlighting one of the most problematic and compelling practices of early feminist artists, the making of art and theory from person al experience. It seems ironic, given their antipathy to poststructuralist theory, that the making of art and theory from personal experience is not only one of the key components of 1970s feminist practice, but informs some of the richest poststructurali st and feministinspired theories of the 1990s, including Butlers theory of performativity. Broude and Garrards Take On Essentialism Broude and Garrard carried the theory versus essentialism polemic further by developing their own theory of essentialis m. In a spirit somewhat akin to Gayatri Spivaks call for a strategic essentialism (in some cases a temporarily consolidated political identity such as subaltern could be a useful strategy), they argue for an analytical strategy of cultural essential ism that acknowledges the social construction of gender and its availability to remodeling through shifts in artistic imagery. As a step in the formation of political identity, this kind of essentialism asserts the political value in celebrating what they deem culturally essentialist forms (i.e. stereotypically feminine shapes or historical female ancestry, from the Great Goddess to the full spectrum of foremothers) as a means to redress, in the words of Miriam Schapiro, the trivialization of womens e xperience.43 At first glance such a notion of essentialism may seem inherently reformist and conservative, but that perspective is undermined by Broude and Garrards point that revivals of historically subordinated forms and content have the capacity to c hallenge the value systems that created them and, in the process, may engender
49 new forms and new values. Thus Broude and Garrard engage with the theory versus essentialism debate from a position that embraces certain aspects of Judith Butlers theory of performativity. While they do not acknowledge Butlers writings in their early publications, this suggests that the poststructuralist theory of performativity has strong affinities, if not precedents, in the work of American feminist artists from the 197 0s, the very work that was dismissed for over a decade as essentialist. The issue of generalization, as it intersects with embodied experience in relation to essentialism or theory, is in part the problematic of feminism in general. The essentialism polemic foregrounds feminisms most persistent area of difficulty and vulnerability, the contradiction at the heart of its activist foundation: its need to name and to posit a category of female, an identity and a set of experiences that becomes the basi s for a politics, pedagogy or epistemology, while simultaneously having to acknowledge, in order to maintain its broadbased commitment to social justice, the exclusions or at least limitations of such naming. From a poststructuralist perspective, this me ans continually having to contend with the condition that neither female nor experience may be assumed; like all concepts, neither is a stable, uniform, universal or unproblematically generalizable term or even a fully knowable one which is also femini sms chance to create other and unforeseen futures.44 While Broude and Garrard articulate their discomfort with the effects of poststructuralist theory, with the difficulties that difference, as an always inherent unintelligibility and instability that inhabits and undoes every concept, poses for feminism as a category and a politics, their take on this problem is to argue for the value of a kind of strategically essentialist feminism. Broude and Garrard conclude that the 1970s generalizing or essen tialist notion of feminism functioned most powerfully as an enabling myth:
50 While the idea of a categoric womens art may be philosophically dubious, it was a valuable creative principle for the historic Feminist Art movementa belief in the unitary rea lity of the category female as its source of artistic inspiration. The significance of the category female for early feminists was not biological (that was merely its sign) but political, for feminisms power, it was then believed, was the power of women a s a group. In this sense, the accuracy of the essentialism belief is beside the point, since right or wrong, it was an enabling myth.45 Thus Broude and Garrard recuperate one of the essentialist aspects of feminism, its imaginative and cultural power a s a political sign and spur to artistic and cultural innovation (rather than a guarantee of truth in biology or a universal feminine aesthetic), an idea Amelia Jones will repeat in her 1996 exhibition catalogue for Sexual Politics .46 This revision, if we ex tend its implications, not only rewrites essentialism as a political strategy of historical as well as contemporary significance for feminist art and art historical narratives, but also points to why and how, as a concept, it continues to lure and exaspera te scholars, artists and activists, marking our continuing anxieties around invoking or representing experience per se. As Amelia Jones has pointed out, even the arch anti essentialist Griselda Pollock makes essentialist claims in her essay Modernity a nd the Spaces of Femininity when she argues that discernable differences between the work of male and female painters in late 19th c. France are the result of a particularly female experience of modernity.47 Considered from this perspective, not only is P ollock making claims for a generalized feminine experience (for women from a certain class), but one could extrapolate from this example and say that the act of interpretation, like theory or even language itself, is essentialist insofar as it must at so me level generalize as it attempts to stake out a ground from which to speak or write.48 Although Broude and Garrard do not extend their argument this far, they begin to point to the possibility that essentialism could be read as an attempt to grapple wi th, by trying to represent (render perceptible and repeatable), the ground for any claims to meaningmaking, personal or political, even experience itself as it functions as or perhaps stages the highly contingent and thus
51 contestable limitground of subj ectivity as a necessary yet increasingly particularized and difficult political claim. Yet in their provocative formulation of essentialist feminism as an enabling myth, Broude and Garrard also imply that certain kinds of theory, particularly the interpre tations of postmodern theory deployed by anti essentialist critics, operate as a disabling myth for feminism. By throwing into question what is real, such theory works to deny women their history by dismissing as beneath consideration practically every thing that flesh andblood women have historically accomplished in the real world.49 Although they do not explicitly discuss the poststructuralist deconstruction of certain notions of history that, along with the undoing of subjectivity and teleology, com plicate theories of activism, they do underscore the point that feminist art from the 1970s was politically efficacious in a way that the art of the 1980s was not. From Broude and Garrards perspective, much of 1970s feminist art was highly successful in sofar as it exposed or dissolved many of the traditional distinctions between public political and private aesthetic realms. Based, implicitly or explicitly, on the radical feminist slogan the personal is political, a phrase coined by Carol Hanisch in G ainesville, Florida in 1969, 1970s feminist practices did insist that the reality of womens lives was larger than their traditional circumscription and that, indeed, the very categories of private and public were in themselves political fictions.50 In the context of the modernist art world, this challenge to artistic autonomy (by suggesting the imbrication of art and life) was indeed a radical innovation with great potential for political, institutional and social change, although it would not often be heralded as such by contemporary art critics and historians. Attempts to Reframe (Re enflame?) the Debate : Octobers Questions of Feminism In the winter of 1995, the journal October considered a bastion of high theory, published twentyfive response s to Questions of Feminism, a twoparagraph query sent out to
52 a number of artists and writers the previous year.51 October s first question posed as an attempt to understand recent (early 1990s) feminist practices that had bypassed, not to say actively rejected, 1980s theoretical work, for a return to a socalled real of the feminine, a return predicated on 960s and 70s feminist practices centering on a less mediated iconographic and performative use of the female body.52 By associating work from the 1960s and 70s with less mediated and performative uses of the female body that assumed a so called real of the feminine, and then setting it up in opposition to the theoretical work (understood by the editors of October as poststructuralist or high theory) of the 1980s, October explicitly adopted as a given the theory versus essentialism polemic that had been instigated and widely promoted by 1980s artists and critics.53 The second question, trading upon the first, asked what the implications of such practices might be for feminist art and criticism by setting up an analogous opposition between art practices based on theory versus those grounded in activism, linking the former to charges of elitism and the latter to calls for accessibilit y and a return to grass roots politics. In describing the then current work of the 1990s as utilizing concepts of autobiography and identity that have been criticized for being insufficiently mediated, one of the primary accusations that signified e ssentialism, the second question aligned feminist activist art with the essentialist and nontheoretical pole of the opposition.54 Although not explicitly cited in October, several essays from The Power of Feminist Art particularly Broude and Garrards co nvictions regarding the deleterious effects of poststructuralist theory on feminist activism, appear to have provoked some of the concerns and perhaps the elaborate framing of October s questions. Not only do Broude and Garrard credit theoryinflected ant i essentialist critiques of 70s feminist art with misreading and thereby
53 blocking its historical recognition, they also emphasize the deconstruction of reality as essence as a move that inhibits feminist politics by delegitimating real experiences, historical actions and effects. This is a point later underscored by African American feminist artist Lorraine OGrady: It is cruelly ironic, of course, that just as the need to establish our subjectivity in preface to theorizing our view of the world bec omes most dire, the idea of subjectivity itself has become problematized.55 It should be noted that the emphasis in October s questionnaire on a so called real of the feminine framed as a return to 1970s feminism not only reinscribes the polarizat ion of the theory versus essentialism debate, but also foreshadows the title of October editor Hal Fosters 1996 publication The Return of the Real: Art and Theory at the End of the Century In reworking theories of the avant garde, Foster credits femin ist art as the most productive critique of minimalism to date, yet only feminist artists considered to be theoretically informed (from the perspective of high theory), such as Mary Kelly, Silvia Kolbowski, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Louise Lawler and Martha Rosler, are noted, and feminism as an art historical category or historical movement is mentioned no further.56 Still more significant, however, is whats missing from Fosters persistent call for a rethinking of critical distance: although th is question is central to his text, the entire corpus of essentialist feminist art, work (i.e. Schneemann, Chicago, Wilke, etc.) that had not only exposed but also directly challenged modernist autonomy by performing unrelenting critiques of and innovati ve responses to issues of critical neutrality, remains conspicuously absent. If, as Judith Butler has so persuasively argued, the language of theory creates as much as reflects the world, then feminist criticisms of theorys exclusionary discourse and calls for more accessible language, language which offers a greater potential to reach a broader
54 spectrum of the populace, make sense for feminists even from a deconstructive perspective. Yet the October questionnaire aligned accessible language with th e grass roots activist and non theoretical pole of the theory versus essentialism debate, demonstrating a certain level of defensiveness about their investment in the 1980s version of the theory side of the opposition. While it is true that the lang uage of 1980s theory had been critiqued by some feminists, for example Mira Schor, as elitist, such writers were certainly not apologists for practices they did deem essentialist, so October s questions composed a polemic that didnt quite line up. To el aborate on this point: as a contributor to Broude and Garrards The Power of Feminist Art and an outspoken yet careful critic of the 1980s theory versus essentialism debate, Schor critiqued its proponents not for their attack on essentialist art practice s, with which she agreed (finding Chicagos The Dinner Party offensive in its simplistic representations of women as cunts), but rather for their elitist language, which she found divisive in terms of a feminist politics.57 In Backlash and Appropria tion, Schor specifically targets the theory based art and criticism of Mary Kelly and Griselda Pollock as exclusionary in this way: to understand the work one often felt an advanced degree in philosophy and psychoanalytic theory was required.58 In a s imilar vein, Suzanne Lacy explained, the subversiveness of the attack by theory on 70s feminist art was that while it indeed developed important aspects of feminism, it seemed to disconnect us from activist issues, rarifying the debate by the obscurity of its language.59 Like Broude and Garrard, Lacy also connected theoretical discourse, with its accusations of identity as essentialist and universalizing, as fueling the 1980s cultural backlash against political organizing: the trivialization of 70s fem inist art history coincides with a rise in art and art theory positioned within a stance of individual rather than collective identity, in a field where action seems nave and futile.60
55 Unlike Schor, Lacy read Chicagos The Dinner Party with its bold and unapologetically frank acknowledgement of women, womens bodies, and the long and culturally diverse history of goddess worship, as a conceptual foray into reconstructing history, reframing popular culture, and addressing a mass audience.61 But despite her own dislike of The Dinner Party Schor did position The Great Goddess Debate Spirituality vs. Social Practice in Recent Feminist Art, a panel held at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in December 1987, as emblematic of the divisive effects of an elit ist theory based feminist discourse on feminism as a broadbased political movement. Noting that the panel members who opposed the idea of a Great Goddess as essentialist could scarcely conceal their contempt for feminist artist Nancy Speros depict ions of women, including ancient goddesses, for the relatively handmade look of her work, and for her identification with 70s activist feminist art, Schor points to the fact that they disregarded the more theory inspired aspects of Speros work, such as her strategic textual appropriations.62 Yet more disturbing to Schor was the gulf in discourse between the theoryidentified critics and the many women in the audience who did not seem to understand the language of critical theory being used against their beliefs or its consequences to their own practice.63 In the context of the art world, The Great Goddess Debate epitomized, for Schor, the intellectually exciting but often hierarchic and repressive polarization which transformed the terms of feminist art in the 1980s.64 Despite the fact that, in Schors view, the polarity was a false one, and that most feminist artists operated in a realm between essence and culture, she continued to be no apologist for what she viewed as essentialist art, arguing that some of the backlash against essentialism was justified by weaknesses in the movement, specifically artists increasing careerism, intellectual laziness, and representationally simplistic
56 offensive work like Chicagos.65 She bemoaned the fact that 1980s theorys exclusionary aspect, the dearth of visual pleasure, and the distance that was sought from the materiality of the body had in her view instigated the most disturbing backlash against 70s feminist art, namely its amnesiac return in th e 1990s.66 This last reference was to 1990s work such as Kiki Smiths; Schor lamented its popularity and read it as trading on an uncritical solicitation of spectatorial pleasure by naturalizing the image of women as victims. Schors essay offered an astu te and condensed version of the theory versus essentialism debate, summarizing most of the discourses that comprised or fueled it, from the gender as socially constructed position, which sought to undo patriarchal naturalizations of womens inferior status, to Derridas philosophical critiques of essentialism as presence and universality, and academic feminisms reliance on text based theorists such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Laura Mulvey and others to produce the campaign, led by anti essentia list artists and critics like Mary Kelly and Griselda Pollock, against spectatorial identification and visual pleasure. Schor also outlines the blurring of boundaries between art history, literary theory, philosophy, linguistics and social theory as contr ibuting to theorys eventual ascendancy over visual analysis and history as the dominant interpretive mode in disciplines involved in the visual arts. Her most intriguing statement in reference to the theory versus essentialism debate, however, is one t hat Amelia Jones would take up in her 1996 exhibition Sexual Politics : The combination of all these discourses, Schor writes, constituted a rejection of 70s feminisms search for what female eroticism might look like in visual art It condemned the sexual politics and ideals of the 70s feminists and the materiality of their efforts while at the same time writing out of the history of late twentieth century art much of the work of the 70s.67 In a striking
57 conclusion, Schor reads the campaign against ess entialism as resulting in the exclusion of 1970s feminist art from historical canons; more importantly, it does so through a discomfort with female eroticism.68 This was an idea October s questionnaire did not address. 1 From Holland Cotter, review of WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution New York Times Mar. 9, 2007, Weekend Arts; Fine Arts. The exhibit ion WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution opened in Los Angeles at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and ran from March 4 July 16, 2007. 2 To give just one concrete example of the bi coastal exchanges during the early phases of feminist art, heres a list of the women artists and critics who visited The Womens Building in Los Angeles, founded in 1973: Martha Wilson, Lucy Lippard, Mary Daly, Susan Griffin, Bonnie Sherk, Linda Montano, Pauline Oliveras, Mary Beth Edelson, Holly Near, Joan Jonas, Yvonne Rainer, Judy Baca, Kate Millett, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Ulrike Rosenbach, Eleanor Antin, Helen Harrison, Adrienne Rich and Martha Rosler. From Moira Roth and Suzanne Lacy, Exchanges, in Art/Women/California 1950 2000 ed. Diana Burgess Fuller and Daniela Salv ioni (Berkeley: University of California Press), 295 309; 300 3 Holland Cotter, Feminist Art Finally Takes Center Stage, The New York Times January 29, 2007, http:www.nytimes.com/2007/01/29/arts/design/29femi.html. See also Connie Butler interviewed by Amelia Jones in History Makers on frieze.com (accessed 04/28/2007). 4 The WACK! show at the MOCA Geffen in Los Angeles included 119 artists from twenty one different countries. 5 The Feminist Art Project was founded in 2006 by Arlene Raven, Judy Chicag o, Dena Muller, Judy Brodsky, Ferris Olin, Susan Fisher Sterling and Maura Reilly with the purpose of inspiring a new grassroots promotion of feminist art education, exhibitions, events, and publications. According to Reilly, the initiative sought to build on the momentum of the public announcement that Elizabeth A. Sackler, a collector of Chicagos work who had purchased and gifted The Dinner Party to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2001, was going to establish not only a permanent installation for Chicagos iconic work but also an exhibition space devoted entirely to feminist art. The decision by Sackler (who sits on the board of the Brooklyn Museum) and Arnold Lehman (the museums director) was motivated, in part, by the enormous success of the 2002 exhibit ion of The Dinner Party which in the course of four months drew more than 80,000 people to the museum. See Feminist Curating and the Return of Feminist Art, Feminism and Visual Culture Reader edited by Amelia Jones (new edition, forthcoming). 6 Whil e this chapter focuses on texts that address the essentialism debate more specifically, the larger context for this renewal of interest in early feminist work was the publication of a number of books, articles and anthologies addressing a broad range of fe minist work from this period, including: Thalia Gouma Peterson and Patricia Mathews "The Feminist Critique of Art History," Art Bulletin 69 (September 1987); Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society (London: Thames and Hudson, 1990); Norma Broude and Mar y Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Abrams, 1994); Lucy Lippard, The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on Art (New York: The New Press, 1995); Feminist Issue(s), ed. Silvia Kolbowski, October 71 (Winter 1995); Amelia Jones, ed., Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California P ress, 1996); Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Jane Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta? (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1999); Helena Reckitt, ed., Art and Feminism (London: Phaid on Press, 2001); Hilary Robinson, ed., Feminism Art Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001); Diana Burgess Fuller and Daniela Salvioni, eds., Art/Women/California 1950 2000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Amelia Jones, ed., The Feminism and Vis ual Culture Reader (New York: Routledge, 2003); and Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History After Postmodernism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
58 7 In the 1990s, German artist Rebecca Horn had a twenty year retrospective, Inferno Paradiso Switch at the Guggenheim in New York; Carolee Schneemanns Up To And Including Her Limits was held at the New Museum in New York; Eleanor Antins 1999 retrospective was at the Los Angeles County Museum; and b oth of Hannah Wilkes posthumous shows, Intra Venus (1994) and Performalist Self Portraits and Video Film Performances 1976 85 (1996), were held at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York. In 2002, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D. C., held a retrospective of Judy Chicagos work, while two smaller shows, Gloria: Another Look at Feminist Art of the 1970s and Personal and Political: The Womens Art Movement, 1969 1975 opened at the White Columns gallery in New York and in Easthampton, N.Y., respectively. 8 For a representative group of the most influential anti essentialist authors from the 1980s, see Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker, Gods Little Artists and Critical Stereotypes: the Essential Feminine or How Essential is Femin inity, in Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981); Griselda Pollock, Screening the Seventies: Sexuality and Representation in Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and Histories of Art (New York: Routledge, 1988); Mary Kelly, No Essential Femininity: a Conversation between Mary Kelly and Paul Smith, Parachute 37, no. 26 (Spring 1982): 31 35; Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art), 87 103; and Judith Barry and Sandy Flitterman Lewis, Textual Strategies: The Politics of Art Making, in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader ed. Amelia Jones (New York: Routledge, 2003), 5359 [originally published in Screen 21 n. 2 (Summer 1980)]. The observation that these authors felt discomfort with womens experiences of embodiment is a general statement made by Peggy Phelan but it has also been mentioned by other feminist art historians, such as Amelia Jones and Mira Schor. See Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press, 2001), 23. 9 This overview is indebted to the observations of Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press 2001); Thalia Gouma Peterson and Patricia Mathews "The Feminist Critique of Art History," Art Bulletin 69 (September 1987); Norma Broude and Mary Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Abrams, 1994); Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in associat ion with the University of California Press, 1996); Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); and Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History After Postmoder nism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005). 10 Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 169, 138. 11 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), followed on the heels of Diana Fuss Essentially Speaking (1989), Naomi Schors This Essentialism Which Is Not One: Coming to Grips with Irigaray, Differences 2 (1989) and T rihn T. Minh has Woman, Native, Other: Postcoloniality and Feminism (1990). 12 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 147. 13 See Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, Reclaiming Female Agency: Femini st Art History After Postmodernism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 2. 14 Interpellation in the sense that the subject is a product of the social relations that precede it; this notion was developed through the work of Lacan, Foucault and Althusser. 15 Although the subject is always already inscribed through the iterative practice of performativity, typically in the service of maintaining social normativity, the nature of this iterative structure is that it repeats, but with a difference, opening both the act and the subject onto the potential for something else or other to emerge. In other words, while categories and concepts such as gender, identity, nation, and so on are reinforced through repeated acts, citational repetition, as Derrida has often noted with respect to the mark or trace in writing, is an effect of diffrance an effect
59 that makes subjectivity possible and, as Butler demonstrates, opens possibilities for an agency that is not simply the result of an individual subjects dec ision or will. In fact, as both Butler and Jon McKenzie have emphasized, it is the failure of performativity, its mistakes or misfirings of identificatory repetition, that opens onto futurial possibilities. 16 Artists and critics who were placed on the si de of cultural construction during the 1970s and 80s would include Mary Kelly, Griselda Pollock, Sandy Flitterman Lewis and Judith Barry, to name a few. 17 For a detailed analysis of the differences between Butlers and Derridas theorization of the perfo rmative from Butlers perspective, see the last chapter of Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997). 18 Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004a), 19. 19 Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New Y ork: Routledge, 2004a), 21 22. 20 Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004a), 22. 21 Citing the work of Shoshanna Felman, Butler points to the abiding incongruity of the speaking body, the way in which it exceeds its interpellation, and rem ains uncontained by any of its acts of speech (Butler 1997, 155). 22 Judith Butler, Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory, in The Performance Studies Reader ed. Henry Bial, (New York: Routledge, 2004b), 164. 23 Judith Butler, Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory, The Performance Studies Reader ed. Henry Bial. (New York: Routledge, 2004b), 164. 24 Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press, 2001), 37. 25 For example, see Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1998); Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996); and Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press, 2001). 26 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 23. 27 In their 1972 article Female Imagery, Chicago and Schapiro ask: What does it feel like to be a woman? To be formed around a central core and have a secret place which can be entered and which is also a passageway from which life emerges? What kind of imagery does this state of feeling engender? (quoted in Broude and Garrard 1994, 23). 28 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 23 24. 29 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of F eminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 24. 30 Of course the notion of a subject defining itself in its own terms was challenged by poststructuralist deconstructions of subjectivity and psychoan alytic theories. The question of whether or not there could be a female imaginary and the relationship to gender and unconscious processes was a concern among some Lacanian feminist theorists. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 24. 31 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994 ), 24.
60 32 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 24. 33 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Move ment of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 24. 34 Amelia Jones theory of parafeminism is based on such strategies. Using her object of study, artist Pipilotti Rist, as an avatar (rather than a model) for making a theory fo r feminism, Jones culls strategies from Rists practices and the ways in which they engage with Jones desire as a way to think about subjectivity and feminism differently. Parafeminism isnt a replicable theory (like psychoanalysis) insofar as it suggests guidelines for following ones own desire and inventing ones own personal and historically contingent theories for feminism. See the final chapter in Amelia Jones, Self/Image: Technology, Representation and the Contemporary Subject (New York: Routledge, 2006). 35 Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press, 2001), 37. 36 For an excellent explanation of consciousness raising as it was being practiced in the early womens liberation movement on the east coast, see K athie Sarachild, Consciousness Raising: A Radical Weapon, in Feminist Revolution ed. Redstockings (New York: Random House, 1979), 144150. 37 Kathie Sarachild, Consciousness Raising: A Radical Weapon, in Feminist Revolution ed. Redstockings (New York: Random House, 1979), 144 150. Judy Chicagos claim that she had never heard of consciousness raising but rather invented it as part of the pedagogical method for training artists (in the Feminist Art Program at Fresno and then the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia) was relayed during a press conference and then repeated in a personal conversation with me at the opening of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in the Brooklyn Museum on March 23, 2007. For examples of Chicagos student s work, see Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Womanhouse (Valencia, California: California Institute of the Arts Feminist Art Program, 1972). It is important to realize that many of Chicagos students made some of the most innovative and important work of the the 1970s, from Faith Wildings performance Waiting to Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitzs public media performance In Mourning and Rage Wilding, Lacy, Mira Schor and many other students from the Feminist Art Program have gone on to become first cla ss professional artists and teachers. 38 I have culled this definition of theoria from E.V. Walter. He also makes links between theory, experience, Platos chora and haptic perception/reasoning (a tactile and sensuous reasoning), an extremely useful as a frame for interpreting early feminist artists use of touch as a means to theory making. E. V. Walter, Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 18 22; 120 145. 39 Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifes to for Maintenance Art, 1969. Proposal for an Exhibition: Care, reprinted in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists Writings ed. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1996), 2 20 221. For an online version, see the website for WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution : http://www.moca.org/wack/?p=301. 40 Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969. Proposal for an Exhibition: Care, reprinted in Theories and Docum ents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists Writings ed. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1996), 220 221. 41 In terms of artistic touch, Ukeles emphasis on the hand in maintenance art may be compa red with Gustave Courbets The Stonebreakers (1849). Relinquishing the traditional artists brush for the hardier trowel and palette knife, Courbet chose implements analogous to those wielded by his unusual (for its time) subject matter, stonecutters. Wh ile he rendered the typically invisible labor of the working class visible in terms of content, the roughly textured surface drew attention to the hands of the workers and the painter, producing a powerful set of correspondences between them. A difference, perhaps, is that Courbets labor is often cited as paradigm shifting, heralding the turn to the modern period with its embrace of quotidian subjects and self conscious reflexivity, while Ukeles insistence on the laboring hand has not generated much discussion in the broader art world.
61 42 High theories often originate in an outside discipline such as the political or social sciences (i.e. Freudian psychoanalysis) but are then imported into another area, such as art, film or literary criticism, in order to expand or revitalize it. High theory, through repeated citation (especially if cited across multiple discourses) has attained a high level of authority and academic legitimacy (even if initially obscure to the popular reader or even other academics). Its powers of application and generalization may increase (as a metaphor to think or act with) until it is reabsorbed into the general populace as a kind of received wisdom (for example, almost everyone knows what someones psyche or unconscious is), alt hough the nuances and even precepts of the theory may become lost, redefined or maintained as arcane knowledge. A high theory may or may not have begun as a low theory, but has become highly systematized with rules and parameters that are accepted and replicated, though perhaps modified, by a group of cohorts. A low theory would include the production of unauthorized or small t theories that typically emerge from personal experience as it enacts ideas previously conceptualized and verified. A low theory could be aligned with the initial research and development phase of an idea that might extend into a high theory, but it is often designed by an individual for her or his own personal use, even or especially if the idea or image (an image can be a theoretical proposition) is unauthorized or unrecognized by the larger culture. Low theories are often highly innovative, but can be reactionary as well. I am arguing that Chicago and Schapiros central core theory is an example of a low theory that was highly innovative in terms of provoking individual artistic production (i.e. for Chicago and her students at Cal Arts), but the attempt to generalize it at the level of a high theory (applied to the work of other artists) succeeded primarily in exp osing the difficulties inherent in all generalizing maneuvers, from the creation of categories like woman and feminist to the gendered (and raced, classed and so on) investments that inform and subtend any act of concept formation. 43 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 25. 44 For a good, straightforward definition of feminism, see Phelan 2001: The ideological stakes in the question what is feminism? have often led to increasingly sophisticated but, it must be admitted also, increasingly evasive responses. I prefer a bold, if broad, definition: feminism is the conviction that gender has been, and continues to be, a fundamental categ ory for the organization of culture. Moreover, the pattern of that organization usually favors men over women. (Phelan 2001, 18). 45 Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 28. 46 Citing the work of Diana Fuss, Jones asserts that a certain essentialism, as the claiming of identifiably similar experiences among particular groups of people is a crucial condition of any coalition politics in order to argue that some forms of essentialism must be accommodated within any politics of representation. 46 Jones argues persuasively that the essentialism of Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, Arlene Raven, Lucy Lippard and others was productive an d powerful in terms of its effects, functioning both as an enabling myth and as a crucial component of 1970s identity politics: it enabled the development of a feminist politics of art and art history by insisting that the production of culture is info rmed by gender and, by extension and intention (if not sufficiently), differences of all kinds (racial, ethnic, class, and so on). Defined in this way, the essentialist feminist art of the 1970s is credited as producing one of the most significant par adigm shifts in the history of art (Jones 1996, 99). Defined in these terms, essentialism as a strategy shares qualities with one of the earliest and more convincing definitions of feminist art, Lucy Lippards statement that feminist art is neither a sty le nor a movement but rather a value system, a revolutionary strategy, a way of life (Lippard 1995, 172). Lucy R. Lippard, Sweeping Exchanges: The Contribution of Feminism to the Art of the 1970s, in The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on Art (New York: The New York Press, 1995). For Peggy Phelan, feminism is a conviction, a way of interpreting the world and the work that acknowledges that gender has been, and continues to be, a fundamental category for the organization of culture. M oreover, the pattern of that organization usually favors men over women. (Phelan 2001, 20; 18). I also wish to clarify that feminism has a conflicted history in terms of opening the art world to difference as it was heavily critiqued for its exclusions particularly by women of color and lesbians. It might be more precise to say that, in general, feminisms insistence on a recognition of gender inspired, provoked, or added momentum to the push by other identity based groups to gain access to or rewrite art historical canons.
62 47 Jones 1996, 98 99. 48 This is why Jones will insist on foregrounding her own intersubjective relations with the art she interprets or engages with; it is one way to try to avoid occupying the position of a subject/critic as outsi de of and prior to an object of knowledge (the subject as prior to the writing). In other words, she will try to show herself being written, being exposed into subjectivity through engagement with the artwork and the writing. 49 Norma Broude and Mary D. Ga rrard, eds., The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 28. 50 Carol Hanischs paper "The Personal Is Political," which began as a memo written in Gainesville, Florida in 1969, was or iginally published in Notes from the Second Year: Women's Liberation, a magazine edited and self published by Shulamith Firestone and Anne Koedt in 1970, and was widely reprinted and passed around in the Movement and beyond in the next several years. 51 See Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 5 47. The questionnaire, disseminated in 1994, read as follows: Question 1: Recent feminist art and critical practices appear to be moving in various different directions: while some artists and writers continue to develop ideas, arguments and forms related to 1980s feminist theories focusing on psychoanalysis, a critique of Marxist and related political theories, and poststructuralist theories of cultural identity, others have forged a return to 1960s an d 70s feminist practices centering on a less mediated iconographic and performative use of the female body. Although significant for feminist practices, the work of the 1960s and 70s did generate theoretical critiques of its overt or underlying thematic of biological or physical essentialism. In light of this, how can we understand recent feminist practices that seem to have bypassed, if not to say actively rejected, 1980s theoretical work, for a return to a so called real of the feminine? And what rol es do the continuation/elaboration of the 1980s feminist concerns and practices play in the current arena? Question 2: Recent art, critical, and curatorial practices have renewed the use of the term accessibility, which is routinely opposed to elitism in characterizing some feminist art and critical theoretical practices. Elitist feminist art and critical writing are typically associated with theory, and in particular with psychoanalytic and semiotic/language based theories, and are defined as distanced from popular culture and contemporary politics. In this sense popular culture is broadened to incorporate grass roots feminist politics as well, which is thought to be more capable of crossing distinctions of race, class, and sexual orientation. Ac cessible art and critical writing, and grass roots feminist politics, often employ autobiographical strategies and conceptions of identity strategies and conceptions that have been criticized for being insufficiently mediated. What are the implications of the renewal of these oppositions of accessibility and elitism, of low and high art, of the real and semiotic, for feminist art and critical practices in the 1990s? What questions do these alignments and practices pose about the legacies of 1980s feminist theories? 52 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 5. 53 This journal is known for its preference for work that subscribes to or is easily read through certain high theories, notably some poststructuralist theories, Lacanian psychoanalysis and the Frankfurt School. 54 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 5. 55 Lorraine OGrady, Olympias Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity, in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader ed. Amelia Jones (New York: Routledge, 2003), 177. 56 Hal Foster, The Crux of Minimalism, in The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1996), 59. 57 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norm a Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 259. 58 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 257.
63 59 Suzanne Lacy, Affinities: Thoughts on an Incomplete History, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 271. 60 Suzann e Lacy, Affinities: Thoughts on an Incomplete History, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 270. 61 Suzanne Lacy, Affinities: Thought s on an Incomplete History, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 271. 62 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Femi nist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 254. 63 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, His tory and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 254. 64 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Gar rard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 254. 65 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 259. 66 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 259. 67 Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Po wer of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 258, italics in original. 68 Schor mentions the theoretical work of Luce Irigaray as branded with the essent ialism slur. For an excellent discussion of Irigaray in the context of the essentialism question, see Naomi Schor, This Essentialism Which is Not One: Coming to Grips with Irigaray, in Engaging with Irigaray: Feminist Philosophy and Modern European Thought, ed. Carolyn Burke, Naomi Schor and Margaret Whitford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 57 78.
64 CHAPTER 3 A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE THEORY VERSUS ESSENTIALISM DEBATE, PART 2 Responses to October s Questions: Refusing the Polemic October s Questions of Feminism survey did not even touch upon the territory entered by Mira Schor, the idea that the suppression of early feminist art mig ht hinge on discomfort with female eroticism. But the questionnaires wording, as related in the previous chapter, had a particular slant that invoked the theory versus essentialism opposition, and subtly privileged the theory pole. Few respondents mis sed that slant, and by 1994 quite a few of them found the old opposition too simplistic, erroneous or no longer relevant to feminist discourses, for a number of reasons. Rosalyn Deutsche, though a strong supporter of poststructuralist critiques of repres entation, felt compelled to comment on the oversimplified and antagonistic either/or structure of the October questionnaire. She wrote, I hesitate to come to the defense of 1980s theoretical work in precisely the terms set out by your questions, astut ely pointing out that the subtle positioning of theoreticallyinformed work as exemplary of feminist practices indeed raises the specter of elitism.1 While Deutsche suggests an interrogation of the value of 1980s critiques for understanding a broader range of differences that include race, class and sexual orientation as a more productive alternative to October s defensive stance, Yvonne Rainer directly confronts an impression of hidden agendas and this odd equation between essentialism and accessibility, between mediated work and elitism, declaring: I just cant buy into these tired old dichotomies anymore.2 Many respondents stated a similar exasperation with such terms. For Arlene Raven, the complexity of 1970s feminism is entirely obs cured when called essentialism.3 She underscores the fact that much of that work was informed by the writings of highly theoretical
65 thinkers such as Firestone, Daly and Millett, suggesting that any return to the real of the feminine in the 1990s was less a simple rejection of 1980s theorizing than a desire for an increasingly richer and more generative approach.4 A number of artists and writers point to the fact that essentialism used as a term to describe early feminist art is simply wrong. N oting that her own work in the 1970s, including the Mythic Being and Catalysis series, clearly disproves any generalizing labeling of early feminist art as biologically essentialist, Adrian Piper chose to respond by explaining that she rejected 1980s style feminist theory for the same conceptual laxity and intellectual self indulgence demonstrated, in part, by the conceptual moves of the October questions themselves. Ewa Lajer Burcharth was another who found the essentialism theory dichotomy inaccurate, el aborating on the performance art of Jane Antoni as engaging with Hlne Cixouss concept of writing the body from a perspective that is neither pure essence nor pure cultural construct.5 In a playfully punning mood, Emily Apter claims that 1990s femini sm is worried about periodizing essentialism about essentialisms periods (its shameless emissions of bodily fluids, menses, and tears), as well as its own historical periodicity.6 While she credits 1990s work with deploying a number of antiessentiali st strategies such as queering sexual difference, refusing gender stereotypes, and continuing to theorize the body, she also reads the 1990s revival of interest in essentialism as an attraction to its desublimation of the female bodys unconscious. In re trospect, writes Apter, despite its sororal idealism, biologism, and blinkered experiential credo, 1970s essentialism worked rather fearlessly with the apparition of womanliness.7 Although she concedes that this way of working appears to have been a r ather good time for women, Apter concludes her response with what seems to be a call for menopause, for putting a period to the use of essentialism as a discursive framework.8
66 Perhaps the respondent who speaks most directly and comprehensively to the ess entialism versus theory polemic informing October s 1995 questionnaire is Johanna Drucker, who begins by stating, I feel pretty sick of the good theory people, bad essentialists presumption underlying your question and see the current field of art produced by women in more complex terms.9 She looks briefly to the historical context of the debate, noting that early feminists of the mid to late 1960s organized around biological identity as a necessary first step toward activism, toward breaking down patriarchal barriers based on sex and the naturalized assumption that a woman couldnt even be an artist. Rather than defend a notion of essentialism based on biology, however, Drucker cogently points out that the appearance of theory in the 1970s, particu larly poststructuralist theories, offered feminists powerful additional tools, opportunities to enrich and rethink their own assumptions. Yet she makes the important point that the critique of gender as a construction, even as it offered women the possibi lity of agency, the potential to redefine what woman means, also displaced them by ultimately undoing identity as well, a move that undermines feminism as a political and social power base for those who are identified by the law as women. Drucker unders cores the appropriative potential in theories of construction, the fact that the feminine became the hip place from which to speak, with which to be identified, and then it became the province of male theorists and writers claims were made for Jacques D errida, James Joyce, and all sorts of other male figures as inventors of, or paradigmatic practitioners of, the feminine.10 For Drucker, a revived interest in female identity in terms of biology may be an important way to counter much of the1980s theorybased feminism which denied or suppressed the female body, stating any single encounter with the Law, the State, the Media, the Church or any other institutionalized power structure will show you how idiotic it is to pretend
67 that disguise, masquerade, sy mbolic or other construction of our gender changes the fact that we are subject to the law according to our biological identity.11 Drucker calls for work that engages the biological as both ground and effect, as socially interpreted, contrived and not wi thout social, psychic and physical consequences. This move is not essentialist because, in her definition, essentialism connotes a belief in biology as determinative. While Drucker does not engage with the more expanded definitions of essentialism (for example Mary Kellys, which links it to poststructuralist notions of presence), her response to October s questionnaire articulates criticisms of the theory versus essentialism debate posited by a number of feminist artists and scholars in the 1990s, among whom Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard were the most vocal.12 These critiques would be developed further and become more commonplace in later feminist art history and criticism, particularly in the work of Amelia Jones, Peggy Phelan, Abigail SolomonGode au and others. None of the respondents in 1995 suggested a more thorough interrogation of the term essentialism, and most, if not all, seemed to indicate a preference for leaving it behind; but this would not be the case. Further Attempts to Reframe th e Debate: Molesworth, de Zegher, Pollock and Kwon Noting that a certain reduction has taken place in the current reception of 1970s feminist work, an intellectual faultline broadly described in generational terms, Helen Molesworths article House Work and Art Work, published in the spring 2000 issue of October tried to loosen the bitter binary opposition of the theory versus essentialism debate by reframing the two artworks often viewed as paradigmatic of the polemic, Judy Chicagos The Dinner Party and Mary Kellys Post Partum Document in terms of a political economy of labor.13 Although both works were completed in 1979, they have often been made to exemplify antithetical poles and a generational split between the essentialist feminist practices of the 1970s, characterized by
68 Chicago, and the theorybased practices of the 1980s which Kelly has come to represent.14 Molesworth (along with Peggy Phelan, Amelia Jones, Abigail SolomonGodeau and other prominent feminist art historians and curators) cri ticizes the crudely oppositional and hierarchized terms of the debate which, from her perspective, serve mainly to constrain interpretations of feminist art and art history or render invisible work that does not fit into these narrow though often vague prescriptions. By placing Chicagos and Kellys works in a relation that highlights similarities more than contrasts, Molesworth also challenged the assumption made by anti essentialist critics such as Lisa Tickner and Griselda Pollock that feminist art un folded in a narrative of progression from essentialism to theory, a claim that in her eyes only reinforces the antagonistic polemic. Molesworths strategy is neither to embrace nor to disavow either poststructuralist theories or essentialism. Instead, sh e attempts to undo the stale binarism by recontextualizing its premier examples, Chicago and Kelly, through a reconsideration of two other feminist artists from the 1970s, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Martha Rosler. She attributes the near invisibility of the second pair in part to the restrictions of polemical categories. Analyzing the ways in which Ukeles Maintenance Art Performances (197374) (see above) and Roslers videos Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) and Domination and the Everyday (1978) link g ender, the creation of proper social subjects, and the invisibility or naturalization of unpaid or underpaid labor, Molesworth expands the interpretive field for a richer comparison of The Dinner Party and Post Partum Document Without denying the stark contrasts between these two works of art, for example Kellys diagrammatic refusal to show the female body versus Chicagos lush use of cunt imagery, Molesworth points to the ways in which all four artists address the private aspects of womens experien ces through the public venue of art. For Molesworth, part of the
69 legacy of feminism is the recognition that the public can be rearticulated through the private and not simply the reverse. This allows her to open and extend the discourse around these fe minist artists in order to show how, by making visible the mutually interdependent relations that in fact obtain between spheres traditionally held separate, their work functioned not only as social but also institutional critique, directly engaging with a nd challenging performance art, Conceptual art and Minimalism the most cuttingedge art practices of the day. Instead of asking how the work of early feminist artists might be positioned within feminist discourses of art and art history, which is the focus of much of the analysis that draws on the theory versus essentialism debate, Molesworth usefully endeavored to shift the question by showing how work created by artists with an interest in feminism or feminist issues, in this instance the private hidden sphere of maintenance labor, used the public dimension of art to press advanced art practices toward increasing social specificity. In so doing, Molesworth effectively expanded the interpretive field for these early feminist artists beyond the theory versus essentialism polemic while demonstrating the importance of their work to the larger discourses of art and art history, thereby increasing what she calls the what if potential of both art and feminism.15 For example, Molesworth reads Chicagos inte rest in texture and surface, her repetition of triangular and glossy vulvar forms, and her questioning of what belongs in institutional space as situating The Dinner Party in dialogue with the concerns of Minimalism. Furthermore, the specifically sexed im agery in The Dinner Party challenged Minimalisms assumption of a universal body, while its inclusion of craft practices and invocation of the repetitive cycles of domestic cooking, eating and cleaning played off Minimalisms fascination with the logic of repetition and industrial production.
70 Likewise, Molesworth reads Kellys Post Partum Document as a strong critique of Conceptual art and its radical deskilling of the art object, which sought to democratize art yet in many cases remained in complianc e with Modernisms abstraction of content. According to Molesworth, Kellys refusal to image the mother, substituting instead a plethora of social sciencestyle charts and Lacanian graphs to track the labor and psychological investments of dayto day motherhood, encouraged a denaturalization of those relations. The inclusion of her sons dirty nappies also crossed a privatepublic line, poking fun at the art for arts sake orientation of much Conceptual art, Modernist painting and the institutions that supported them. By suggesting equivalences between these forms of labor, the domestic and artistic, Kelly revealed the social construction of both. Exposing the porous boundary between the realms of public and private, the values and investments, psychic as well as social, embedded along those faultlines, all these 1970s art works invoke both the strategies of identification typically associated with essentialist feminism as well as the distanciation commonly attributed to the 1980s theory version, defying, yet again, the theory versus essentialism divide. While Molesworths argument did succeed in unlocking the stultifying opposition between The Dinner Party and Post Partum Document by shifting the interpretive frame, it did little to dislodge the terms of the theory versus essentialism debate itself, which continued to frame or haunt much feminist analysis and discussion. Yet, by pointing to the limitations of the polemic, changing the questions asked of work made by artists influenced by feminism, a nd offering an expanded field for its interpretation and its relationship to history, the social and art, Molesworth offered artists, critics and historians a more complex alternative. Reading the art work of 1970s feminists first through the lens of a po litical economy of labor and, second, for its engagement with and influence on the art practices of its day, she is able to leave the difficult question of
71 defining feminism and feminist art, an attempt which may easily become prescriptive and over theoriz ed, open to continued interpretation and negotiation. A perhaps more ambitious attempt to shift feminist art history away from the theory versus essentialism polemic, Catherine de Zeghers Inside the Visible: an elliptical traverse of 20th century art in of, and from the feminine is a collection of forty two essays based on a 19941997 internationally touring exhibition of thirty seven multicultural and intergenerational women artists. The initial concept for the show was grounded in an historical even t culled from de Zeghers local history, the Beguine movement, which originated at the end of the twelfth century in her home country of Belgium (Flanders). Rebelling against prevailing social constraints and recurring exclusions, [Beguine] women took up itinerant spiritual lives, eventually gathering into communities that created a perfect amalgam of their doctrine with their spiritual experience by focusing on spiritual, scholarly and worldly endeavors that eschewed monastic traditions bound to intelle ct, dogma and perpetual vows.16 Informed by this independent, nomadic, contingently collective and organically invented model of feminism, Inside the Visible sought to break down polarities of inclusion and exclusion by creating a space capable of maintaining the singularity of each artist, event and viewer while articulating problems in representation across historical time and global cultures.17 In a series of deft theoretical moves that mirror and multiply the hinged separate but connected structure of Derridean diffrance, De Zegher linked the metaphors of her local history with global politics and poststructuralist theories. Her intention was to allow the perturbing, the dissenting, the dangerous, the repressed to reemerge and to ask if it is possible to think difference without naming it and subsuming it under reductive and totalizing systems of thought (naming the Other: that is, identifying, classifying, separating, and fixing alterity).18
72 She cites artist and theorist Bracha Lichtenberg Etting er to press her query further: Is it possible to deracialize and degender difference and think it in positive, nonreifying terms? To seek work in which sameness and difference are in a perpetual state of mutual negotiation where one neither swallows nor ejects the other?19 This problem of creating, acknowledging and/or making a relation to otherness without falling into assimilation or rejection has a long feminist and poststructuralist lineage, at least in literary theory circles, most notably in the work of Hlne Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Susan Griffin and Jacques Derrida, with Cixous and Irigaray the most successful in realizing its promise by writing theory poetically as an art of the body and the body as a poetic act of theory.20 In art historica l circles, however, where much of the feminist theorizing was less conscious of the larger oeuvre of these authors, the work of Cixous and Irigaray, which exhorted women to write the body as a feminist strategy at once political, theoretical and poetic, became tainted with the slur of essentialism.21 Thus the most challenging and compelling aspect of de Zeghers show was her desire to structure it according to poetics rather than polemics, walking a delicate line that attempts to avoid binary opposit ions and charges of essentialism while invoking theories that continue to dialogue with something categorized as female. In other words, her intention was to select work and organize an exhibition around poststructuralist theories of feminism that ref use any fixed definition of terms, categorizations, or stories of origin, yet maintain a uncertain fidelity to something called the feminine.22 One of de Zeghers fundamental goals in working with theories of difference, which include feminism, deconstr uction and poststructuralism, is to avoid the artificiality of oppositional thinking and to make visible operations that tend to marginalize certain kinds of artistic production while centralizing others.23 For de Zegher, difference lies not in thi ngs but
73 in the space between them, it is a form of transaction or relational encounter that fixed categories or characteristics such as feminine and masculine limit or cut too short.24 Thus de Zegher takes up a theoretical position akin to that of Gr iselda Pollock, who defines the feminine not as an essence but rather a point of resistance or strategy of undoing or unmaking. The effect, however, is not to undo the theory essentialism opposition; it merely deflects it, as essentialism remains th e negative ground or pole of the discussion. As de Zegher herself concludes in a 1996 interview in N.Paradoxa, whenever we try to define the feminine the difficulty is that we always appear to bend towards essentialist notions.25 The problematic of essen tialism, particularly in its universalizing aspect, is evident elsewhere in the same interview. When de Zegher agrees with interviewer Katy Deepwell that her show emphasizes a multiplicity of subject positions, she does so with a caveat that forms of sha ring, collective experience could be seen as essentialist.26 Yet as de Zegher acknowledges, a sense of collectivity as interdependency or co emergence is central to any concept of difference, as is a refusal of linear history with its assumptions of origins. Citing Derridas notion of the trace, de Zegher attempts to select works and [build] a show that resists origins and fixed positions through perpetual reinscription.27 She repeatedly refers to beginning again as a model for a nonlinear approach to history that implies repetition without positing an origin. Thus the show is structured neither thematically nor as a survey but as a series of repetitive cycles moving globally across three periods marked by recurring social, economic and politica l events: the rise of fascism and the Holocaust in the 1930s 40s, concurrent dictatorships in the1960s 70s, and the political conservatism and increased racism of the 1990s. As a result, de Zegher was able to bring together a diverse group of artists and practices without offering a history of women artists per se. The clear advantage of such a strategy is that it
74 offered opportunities to see the work of women less well known in Europe and the United States, created interesting juxtapositions and unexpect ed associations between artists working in divergent times and places, and proposed a much richer field of possibilities for feminist history than the overly reductive and constraining theory versus essentialism debate. However, in a curious twist given the near invisibility of many female and, more specifically, feminist artists from the 1970s, de Zegher further justifies the structure and goals of her exhibition by claiming, in a later interview, that the feminists who emphasize the 1970s as a new hist orical moment murder their mothers by positioning themselves at an origin.28 The accusation of murdering mothers also appears in Griselda Pollocks essay in the exhibition catalogue where she declares: Feminism must begin to consider its own histori es without murdering its mothers.29 It is significant that Pollocks exhortation appears just prior to her rehearsal of the 1980s version of the theory versus essentialism divide, narrated once again through an opposition between artist theorist Mary Ke lly, whose work, according to Pollock, encourages viewers to analyze art by interpreting symptoms at the level of psychic structures in a journey of discovery, and the practices of feminist artists whom Pollock does not deign to name yet feels confident in characterizing as reading into artwork the known habits of women such as central cores, typical colors, favored themes.30 The reference to central cores is, however, a clear indication that she is referring to Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro and other artists retroactively labeled and dismissed by 1980s critics as essentialist. Yet the stinging declaration about murdering mothers is an odd one, given that many of the major feminist projects from the 1970s, particularly The Dinner Party explicit ly sought, however imperfectly, to uncover and discover their foremothers through a concerted effort to research womens history. Perhaps this is why the title of de Zeghers exhibition deploys the
75 term feminine instead of feminist, which might engender a different set of parameters and problematics. In fact, de Zegher states quite explicitly that her show was not linked specifically to a notion of womens history or sexual politics but rather to the history of different ethnic/minority groups.31 A lthough she concedes that the increase in retrospectives featuring older women artists is a result of feminist demands, she is more interested in transhistorical contrasts and local women artists responses to more general historical events or issues in th e 20th century. (For example, how work made in relation to the war in Vietnam might speak to work responding to dictatorships in Latin America at the same time.) While her call for poetics rather than polemics is theoretically sound and offers rich pos sibilities for interpretation and multiple histories, de Zegher sums up her exhibition as an unpredictable assemblage of positions permitting multiple convergences and divergences while asking for an open play and transformation of meaning.32 This is a statement one could make about the potential immanent in any interaction between artworks, artists and viewers, pointing to the potential for a loss of specificity and relevance when feminism or the feminine is defined in generalized poststructuralist terms. When the feminine becomes synonymous with the concept of difference it also risks repeating the old trope of woman as the signifier of difference, the marked other to man, which then reinscribes the problem of conceptual assimilation or rejection discussed earlier. Though the problem of essentialism appears at first glance to be more of a theoretical than a specifically historical issue for de Zegher, her claim that 1970s feminists murdered their mothers suggests otherwise, as does her discussion, following Pollock, of Bracha Lichtenberg Ettingers theory of the matrixial gaze. Heralded by Pollock and de Zegher as a new and corrective feminist response to earlier theories of the phallic gaze, the matrixial gaze does not
76 escape the specter of essentialism: She [Lichtenberg Ettinger] draws on the image even at this time of paranoia about essentialism of the intrauterine meeting in the late stages of pregnancy as a model for human situations.33 Here essentialism sounds less problematic as a theoretical concept and more historically situated as an affective response to a specific idea in time. Moreover, de Zeghers concern seems warranted on several levels as she goes on to quote Lichtenberg Ettinger at length in a citation that trades on Derri dean concepts and uses terms generated by essentialist feminist writer Hlne Cixous but not directly credited to her.34 This signals an anxiety not only about essentialism but also, by implication, about the positioning of artists and writers who were ex cluded from feminist canons for being essentialist, such as Irigaray, Cixous, Chicago, Schneemann, Wilke and others who actually created and worked with many of the ideas and practices that are here being recycled and claimed as new. While origins are always questionable and theoretically problematic (especially when used as a ground to fix signification), and may often be beside the point despite patriarchys obsession with guaranteeing paternity, it appears as if by engaging with the problematic rela tions between feminism and essentialism, the feminist theorists of the 1990s are catching on to the fuller implications of earlier feminist work but at the same time using the deconstruction of origin to mask a kind of nervousness about those earlier feminist practices. And, despite attempts to deconstruct origins and linear notions of history, both de Zeghers and Pollocks approaches to the problem of essentialism continue to theorize feminism as moving away from essentialist assumptions, thereby implyi ng a narrative of progress. Old Wine in New Bottles? Antiessentialism: A Critique Griselda Pollock and Miwon Kwon both contributed essays to Inside the Visible which exemplify the kinds of twists and turns some feminist theorists felt compelled to make in the 1990s in order to reopen, rethink and/or refute the theory versus essentialism debate. Pollock,
77 one of the most enduring and vociferous critics of essentialist feminist artists, enacts her own repetition of the debate but this time in a gesture, albeit a circuitous one, of recuperation. In her essay, Inscriptions in the Feminine, Pollock credits the feminist discourses of the 1970s with challenging modernisms notion of a genderless artistic autonomy through their insistence on addressing quest ions of art through the lens of sexual politics. Yet her earlier denigration of essentialist feminism reappears in a new/old guise, substituting the term oppositional feminism. Characterizing the feminist artists and thinkers of this period as opposit ional celebrating the signs of womens identities in a simple reversal of modernisms phallocentrism, Pollock positions them as the ground for a correction, for a historically new set of theorizations of sexual difference that work beyond the opposi tion.35 This is the set up for a new definition of feminism as structural process, a complex strategy of resistance based on a conceptualization of the feminine as difference: the difference of the feminine might function not merely as alternative bu t as the dialectical spring to release us from the binary trap represented by sex/gender.36 According to Pollock, this new feminism is a space between (concepts, terms, etc.) and a process whereby any gathering, term or positivity may be undone through i ts own internal alterities or contradictions.37 In language referencing the Derridean notion of the supplement, she describes the feminine as that which is both in excess of patriarchal culture and what that culture must repress, as it harbors other, heterogeneous meanings which will radically alter the system by emerging into signification.38 In other words, Pollocks hope is that as the feminine undoes itself in a kind of perpetual deconstruction, it will unleash representational forms that will also undo the patriarchy that both creates and represses it. More significantly, Pollocks assumption of a progression from oppositional to difference feminism reinforces
78 the old 1980s story that the work of early feminist artists was simplistic and theore tically nave, when in fact, I would argue, Pollocks new theories draw heavily from ideas and theories formulated by feminist artists and theorists often dismissed as essentialist. Instead of deconstructing the theory versus essentialism opposition, Pollock installs a new one that looks uncannily like the old, while simultaneously recuperating the denigrated term without appearing to embrace it. Pollock is eager to claim that feminism, like the terms feminine and masculine, no longer functions a s a positivistic or prescriptive category. However, faced with the difficulty of acting on this claim, which is to write in the name of feminism, she attempts to define feminism as a series of prescriptive strategies such as pivoting the center, reading against the grain, taking the view from elsewhere that is in fact here, and seeing with a matrixial gaze.39 Yet nowhere does Pollock mention Gayatri Spivaks work, particularly her theory that embraces the deconstruction of identity and positivistic cate gories yet allows for the use of identity as a context specific strategy and temporary ground for social resistance and action; perhaps because this theory is called strategic essentialism. The anxiety and odd deflections around the concept of essentia lism are most explicit in Pollocks discussion of Bracha Lichtenberg Ettingers concept of the matrix, which Pollock describes as being linked to the feminine but by this concept neither a biological nor an anatomical description is intended.40 In a lo ng quotation that is worth citing here, LichtenbergEttinger defines the matrix as : An unconscious space of simultaneous emergence and fading of the I and the unknown nonI which is neither fused, nor rejected. Matrix is based on feminine/pre natal interr elations and exhibits shared borderspace in which I call differentiation in co emergence and distance in proximity are continuously rehoned and reorganized by metramorphosis created byand further creating
79 relations without relating on the borders of abse nce and presence, object and subject, me and the stranger.41 Pollock reads the matrix as a symbolic logic operating not in opposition to but rather alongside the phallic logic of opposition and inclusion/exclusion, which she credits with rendering much of t he work made by women invisible. According to Pollocks reading of Lichtenberg Ettinger, the matrix offers a system that will allow the repressed a route into the symbolic order, language and visibility, and yet, in its continual emergence and fading of the I and nonI, denies the fixity of the phallic gaze.42 For the purposes of mapping the theory versus essentialism polemic, it is important to note that this logic Lichtenberg Ettinger calls matrix is by no means original to her; although she is a L acanian theorist, her work often draws on the logic and metaphors both theorized and demonstrated in the writings of Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva and Derrida since at least the 1970s. What links this logic of deconstruction or difference to the feminine? As poststructuralist feminists, that is precisely the ground Cixous and Irigaray have theorized and worked since Cixous first coined the term criture fminine in 1975, exhorting women to write the body in potent explorations of female experience, sexualit y and pleasure. 43 In fact, not only are the fundamental ideas LichtenbergEttinger assembles for her theory of the matrix culled directly from these writers, but even some terms, such as distance in proximity and the I and nonI, may be traced directl y to Cixouss work from the 1970s on.44 Thus Pollock, the preeminent anti essentialism anti pleasure critic who argued so strongly against feminist artists who used their bodies in representation, finds herself compelled to cite both Cixous and Irigaray, the very feminists who inspired women to write the body as a social, symbolic and political act, for her new theory of feminism. It is no wonder that this 1990s brand of difference feminism, theorized against a background of essentialist feminism, is uneasy about origins.
80 Pollocks attempt to reappropriate the work of essentialist feminists is also evident in the beginning of a particular sentence where she elides any specific reference to those who originally hurled the epithet: While both writers [Cixous and Irigaray] have been assumed to be positing a feminine essence in the body of women from which these metaphors would stem45 Then, in a complete reversal of her earlier position, she continues the sentence in a move entirely appropriative: I hear them calling for new semiotic relations between the corporeality of the subject and the filters or signs through which meanings that might articulate otherwise what feminine subjects are now forced to experience hysterically or psychotically because there are no metaphors to accommodate their own psychic, fantastic and sexual lives.46 By the end of the paragraph, Pollock credits LichtenbergEttinger with mapping this problematic, though in fact, as I have delineated above, Cixous, Irigaray and ot hers previously labeled essentialist feminists have been calling for the invention of such semiotic resources since the 1970s. While Pollock is clearly uncomfortable with and critical of any generalized prescriptions about what is or is not feminist or even female, she finds herself in an awkward position lauding Lichtenberg Ettingers new theory of the matrix, which attempts to rehearse the insights of early feminist theorists like Cixous yet employs a biologybased psychoanalytic approach. Cixous has written between the traces and trances of H as I I, as I and not I, for at least thirty years, using the logic of the unconscious and the structure of difference as sepra united to acknowledge the body as material, fantasmatic, and created through yet c ontinually undoing the language that shapes it and its processes. She has worked to deconstruct universalizing notions of gender and subjectivity without denying the specificity and materiality of bodies, particularly as, of and in political experience.47 LichtenbergEttinger, however, by layering psychoanalytic theories over a structure of difference, attempts to link or ground her theory of the matrix in the
81 feminine by making claims that sound eerily biologically essentialist, positing the intrauteri ne relationship between mother and fetus as the foundational model for this new relationship of partnership in difference. Not only is this gesture universalizing in its pretensions to figure and comprehend the psychological, physical and spiritual proc ess of gestation for all mothers and fetuses, but by assuming an equivalence between adult women and fetuses, it harbors implications that are extremely regressive for women in a political context, opening the door to a host of backlash ideologies of which anti abortion arguments are just one component. After linking the matrix, with its shared borderspace of intrauterine relations, unproblematically to female desire, Pollock attempts to address the question of essentialism. At this point it is instructive to attend particularly carefully to her language and tone: Even raising it [the matrix] here makes me anticipate accusations of essentialism, regression, fundamentalism. Yet what can be more obvious than the possible impact of the curious, indeed unca nny moment of the mature infant [late stage pregnancy] both storing up sensory impressions of the other with which it cohabitated and registering the impact of that others fantasies as she carried and fantasized about an unknown other within the most inte rior spaces of her body and the most intimate places of her own psychic life, reviving in turn her own archaic memories?48 It is precisely that obviousness, particularly in connection to the female body, that Pollock herself used to denigrate artists sh e deemed essentialist. Pollock is right to anticipate the very charges she and other anti essentialist feminists leveled in the past, accusations she now hopes to deflect in the name of a new theory. Miwon Kwon Grapples with the Theory versus Essentialism Debate In her Inside the Visible essay, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, Miwon Kwon acknowledges that most feminist practitioners would prefer to drop the theory versus essentialism opposition, with some going so far as to embrace all forms of womens art as manifestations of a healthy pluralistic diversity within a very broadly conceived feminist art
82 practice and history. She nonetheless insists, and I agree, that these two poles continue to frame current feminist debates.49 In orde r to complicate the terms of the theory versus essentialism polemic, Kwon reads the essentialist work of 1970s feminist artist Ana Mendieta through both positions, refusing either to favor one or to resolve the opposition.50 Rather than perform a ful l deconstruction, she allows the terms to remain suspended in a dialectical tension, which implies that holding the opposition as a contradiction rather than a mutually exclusive binarism might be useful. Yet Kwons essay raises the extremely important p oint that theory is a non homogenous category and, likewise, feminism may be thought as either a subject (a topic) or a structural problematic. Thus she astutely suggests that the theory versus essentialism debate is fundamentally linked to particular notions of subjectivity. This claim opens onto the larger possibility that essentialism might be reconceptualized as non oppositional to a Derridean or deconstructive approach to feminism. Kwon sets up her discussion by making a subtle but crucial distin ction, noting that exhibitions and discussions of feminism in the late 1990s and early 2000s focused primarily on feminism as a subject rather than a structural problematic Though she does not explain this distinction directly, she is conceptualizing the structural problematic option through a poststructuralist deconstruction of subjectivity in at least two senses: first, that of the Cartesian notion of human identity as self present and, second, that of the idea of a rhetorical topic, topos or subject as self identical. In other words, Kwon plays across two notions of subject, as human and as topic, applying the poststructuralist logic that reads the subject as structural rather than real, an effect of Derridean diffrance rather than a positivistic essence (with origins and causality), to the topic or subject of feminism. Thus Kwon, more clearly than Pollock, points to
83 the possibilities available in shifting the subject and topic of feminism from a subject to an effect of the process, play, or ongoing dynamic of diffrance. Feminism isnt the only topic open to deconstruction, however, as any topic is available, including history. Yet the theory or strategy of deconstruction does not intend to disappear feminism or history as a negative, which wo uld simply mean the inverse of a positive, keeping the concepts locked in a system of oppositions. Rather it seeks to open whatever it is we gather under each term to a broader range of possibilities, to make each one into a site, but a site, like a human subject, redefined as nonidentical, partial, contingent and ultimately undecidable. The promise here is structural, offering a process rather than an entity, and ethical, proposing a feminism and a subjectivity that arent simply pluralistic as in feminisms or subjects but rather nonexclusive, open to specificity more than totalizing impulses, and inclusion without overgeneralization or assimilation. The effect, instead of rendering a subject, would result in the mapping of a field of continually s hifting relations, zones of friction and contiguity rather than a decisive gathering of inclusions and exclusions. At least this is the promise, and it is one that de Zegher took up as the goal of her curatorial strategy for Inside the Visible Kwon, however, does not discuss structural feminism, perhaps because it is a process more amenable to showing than telling. Instead, she introduces the theory versus essentialism debate under the rubric of what she sees as the complicated, double imperative o f feminism conceptualized as a subject. On one hand, feminism aligns with the project of writing history in the sense of periodization, of history conceived as a topic or subject, while on the other, it seeks to employ that history to think prescriptively about present and future feminist work. While I may not agree with her linking of terms or her reading of Mendietas work, I will explore her argument further as it conveys something of the complicated position the theory versus
84 essentialism debate has come to occupy, at least in certain circles, in discussions of feminism within American and European contexts. In making a distinction between feminism conceived as a subject versus feminism as a structural problematic, Kwon, without saying so overtly, po ints to a long standing argument between Derridas and Lacans theories of subjectivity, one waged primarily in literary theory circles and often ignored or conflated in art historical debates. Regardless of the fact that they both may be credited as part icipating in the historical unraveling of Cartesian subjectivity, Derridean deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis are founded on different assumptions and offer very different strategies for interpretation and speculation. In other words, in order to set up her critique of the theoryessentialism polemic, Kwon points to a fundamental distinction between theories, between the Derridean deconstruction of the subject as an effect of diffrance and the Lacanian insistence on a subject, despite the fact th at it is split, lacking and produced through the effects of language. To put it far too simplistically, Lacans theory still posits a subject, while Derridas undoes any name, term or gathering, including that of any subject. By slightly shifting the ter ms of the essentialism polemic, by returning to constructivism, one of the earliest terms, instead of theory, a later and broader term, as the opposite of essentialism, Kwon makes the extremely important point that the theory side of the debate is a nonhomogenous category. For Kwon, the idea that gender is a social construction is a positivistic approach dependent on the notion of a subject; it functioned as a critique, perhaps, but not a deconstruction of subjectivity. The opposition between es sentialism and constructivism holds only if feminism is defined as subjectivity feminism. In other words, the opposition only works between essentialism and particular theories, such as the psychoanalytic, Marxist, or poststructuralist theories that po sit a subject of feminism in both senses, as subjects
85 and topics. If, instead, the theory pole is deconstruction, then there is no opposition, only a process whereby essentialism may become a theory and a theory may become essentialist, a point that has been argued by Diana Fuss and others. When a subject is conceived as a structural problematic, oppositions like constructivism and essentialism, or nature and culture, are moot. All concepts are merely an effect of diffrance; they are representations, ideas that refer, ultimately, to no thing. And yet, as feminist theorists such as Judith Butler (1990, 1993, 2004), Amelia Jones (1998) and Elizabeth Grosz (1994) have pointed out, it is the body, as the site where nature and culture map e ach other, that enacts subjectivity as particular and contingent. Thus the theory versus essentialism debate, the binary opposition so many feminist practitioners would like to abolish, is fundamentally linked to particular notions of subjectivity and e mbodiment. The larger possibility, then, is that the term essentialism, structurally necessary as the term against which some theories of subjectivity oppose themselves in order to take place or appear, might be reconceptualized. This may seem counter in tuitive, but the insight of Kwons essay is that it demonstrates, while not explicitly arguing, that essentialism is not locked in opposition to a Derridean approach to feminism, a point consistent with Butlers theory of performativity. When Kwon shows, on one level, that Mendietas work can be read both ways, as available to both essentialist and constructivist readings, she demonstrates the limits of those readings and, by extension, subjectivity feminism. This is important, as the exhaustion of one te rm (essentialism) in a binary relation implicates the other, as well. Rehearsing the terms outlined by earlier feminist scholars, including Thalia Gouma Peterson and Patricia Mathews in their important 1987 essay, "The Feminist Critique of Art History, K won restates the vital point that the crux of the essentialism debate waged within
86 subjectivity feminism (feminism as a subject or topic) appears centered on arguments about the body.51 The body of essentialism is in representation while the constructi vist body functions as representation the body as a transparent signifier of identity and self versus the body as a nexus of arbitrary conventions of meaning as signature or sign.52 These purposefully restricted definitions of both theory and essenti alism are accurate as far as they were understood in early 1980s debates. Hereby Kwon traces the generally accepted history, as I noted earlier, whereby the feminist artists labeled essentialist, including Chicago, Schneemann, Wilke, Schapiro and many others from the late 1960s through the 1970s, were accused by their critics of coming from a position of believing that the body and female sexuality are biological givens, innate qualities that exist outside or prior to representation. The charges that th is work was ahistorical and/or intended to universalize the feminine were understood, as Kwon notes, as accusing this art of reinforcing rather than challenging patriarchal structures of sexual difference; in other words, as repeating the patriarchal str ategy of naturalizing the qualities assigned to gender that are in fact products of ideological and social conventions.53 Like Broude and Garrard, Mira Schor, and other feminist art historians, Kwon admits that this branding of many early feminist artists as essentialist may not have been fair, especially as the term was applied across problematically diverse practices and produced in a specific historical moment when the ability of women to represent the female body and sexuality was considered a strat egy of liberation from male defined concepts and images. Yet Kwons purpose is not to defend early feminist artists from accusations of essentialism, nor to re examine the concept explicitly. Instead, her reading of Mendieta underscores, among other things, the fact that any work by a woman artist that emphasizes and/or celebrates the physicality of the female body, particularly in relation to nature or biological functions like menstruation, birth and sex;
87 that valorizes womens work, from domestic t o craft; or that sees the female body as a direct source of meaning and imagery is often linked to this earlier corpus of feminist work and is immediately considered suspect.54 In Kwons analysis, Ana Mendietas earlier projects from the 1970s, which inc lude the powerful and often reproduced series of photographs, Silueta are most often read as essentialist in terms of both intention and reception. Citing Mendietas own comments about her work, Kwon moves back and forth between these quotes and the ways in which critics have interpreted Mendietas work through the lens of essentialism, concluding with her own assessment: Recruiting the imagery, ritual and symbolism of various goddess worshipping religions and traditions, Mendieta, like many other women artists of the period, claimed power through a process of self othering a self primitivizing that located the feminine and woman anterior to historical time (moving to pre history) and outside civilized cultural spaces (citing the work in the other space of nature or treating the body as a natural site). Mendieta, of course did both. And the allure of her identity as a Third World woman artist surely added to the exoticism of her works in light of the entrenched primitivist tendencies of 1970s femi nist discourse and in the general discourse on Western modernism.55 From Kwons perspective, Mendietas choice of natural settings for her performance photographs and her use of goddess imagery, particularly forms that predate written history, signals her r ecourse to a place and time that is somehow outside both civilization and history. Situated this way, Mendietas work, as interpreted by Kwon, is naturalizing and universalizing in its gestures, which means it is essentialist. Although this circular form of interpretation may seem suspect, the charge of operating outside history does create an odd alliance between essentialism and some poststructuralist theories, notably psychoanalysis and deconstruction, which have also been accused of being ahistorical I notice that without its being named, deconstruction, as one of the poststructuralist theories, is able to slip, unnoticed, back and forth between the categories of feminism thought as structural problematic and feminism thought as subject. This may a ccount, in part, for Kwons creation of the initial distinction and her
88 placement of the essentialism debate under subjectivity feminism, where history is still a positivist category of gathering and exclusion. But for now I would simply like to note tha t Kwons reading of Mendieta does include many of the terms typically aligned with a charge of essentialism: female body, nature, prehistory, ahistorical, outside culture, universalizing, a belief in a direct transmission of meaning, celebratory, goddess w orshipping, sexual, ritual, exotic and primitive. The use of any form that is overtly or covertly vulvar is problematic, too, as responses to Chicagos The Dinner Party attest, though critiques typically remain on the level of content and the artists int ention. Kwons transition into the theory pole of her reading begins with this sentence: Yet something enigmatic remains a peculiarity that spills over and exceeds this feminist framing.56 Here the issue of the body is raised again, hard on the heels of quintessentially poststructuralist language, but it is a negated body, absent yet resurrected, made visible through the traces of its departure. Kwon immediately contrasts Mendietas consistently disappeared body with that of most feminist artists during the 1970s who vied for visibility and self affirming expression through figurative, literal, sometimes inyour face presence.57 She goes on to claim that even when considered in the larger context of earth and body art made by both women and me n, Mendietas use of negative imprints instead of positive figures is unique and cannot be attributed simply to her sex.58 While I doubt anyone, even Chicago and Schapiro at the height of their interest in central core imagery, would attribute an artis tic choice to sex alone, I find that Kwons reading of Mendieta through theories of representation (primarily psychoanalytic and poststructuralist) in an effort to align her work with poststructuralist theories offers useful critiques of earlier interpreta tions of her work. Ultimately, however, Kwons
89 interpretation seems to end up repeating the general tenets of theory more than offering particular insights into Mendietas oeuvre. This is instructive. What Kwon interprets as the double void in Mendieta s work, her representation of both the original event and the body as absent or negated (implied only through their traces) is argued by Kwons use of Susan Stewarts work on longing to rethink the medium of photography as souvenir rather than documenta tion.59 This in turn allows Kwon to read Mendietas intention, through her use of photography, as a self reflexive recognition of both the body and authentic experience as always already lost, a concept fundamental to the Derridean critique of origin. A nd Kwons conclusion, that the photograph as souvenir provokes the production of critical narratives as compensation for this loss of origin, an origin that is itself impossible to retrieve, and that these narratives are an effect rather than a cause of Me ndietas work (thus brilliantly critiquing biographical interpretations of her art), is consistent with poststructuralist thinking. This, in turn, legitimizes both Mendieta and her work as theoretically savvy which means not essentialist. It also raises the specter of interpretive desire. Essentialism, Theory and Interpretive Desire Leaving the relative importance of the artists intention in critical interpretations aside for the moment, one might wonder at the impulse to interpret Mendietas work a s doubly showing and staging loss when Mendieta herself emphasizes connection: My art is the way I establish the bonds that unite me with the universe.60 Yet Kwons goal in her essay was to complicate the terms of the theory essentialism debate, which sh e accomplished, on one level, by reading Mendietas work through both positions while not favoring either one or resolving the opposition, thus allowing the terms to remain suspended in a dialectical tension. However, what interests me in Kwons take on t he theory versus essentialism debate is that her conclusion
90 regarding Mendietas work could, if we follow the general tenets of deconstruction, hold for any representation: As viewers, we always arrive too late on the scene. The immediacy of her [Mendi etas] experience of marking the landscape, guaranteed by the image that registers its distance in space and time, has already been transformed from origin to trace, transformed from event to memory to desire.61 The only specificity or what sets Mendieta apart from other artists, primarily the in your face presence of other early feminists, is what Kwon interprets as Mendietas intention, her intention to stage an understanding of the relations between subjectivity, the body, the event and the medium (he re, photography) in such a way that it that appears consistent with the tenets of poststructuralist theories of representation. We might wonder, however, about the question of desire that Kwon herself has raised, regarding those critics who project their intentions onto Mendietas absent body. We might also wonder about the relationship between Mendietas intention and Kwons. In Kwons reading, it is Mendietas intention to be self reflexive in a way that reaffirms particular theories of subjectivity an d representation, theories that posit subjectivity as an effect of representation, that counter the charges of essentialism against her and her work. In a magical turn, these theories through which her work is read then appear inherent to it. In effect, as a form of language, of representation itself, it is indeed theory that makes Mendieta (through Kwon) speak this way. Theory, then, repeats and reaffirms itself through this staging. It only appears as if it were engaging the work, for to do so would be to assume that the work existed before and outside of the theory, which would open it to charges of essentialism as a belief in presence and origin. Moreover, in another twist, because Kwon must impute an intention of self reflexivity to read Mendietas work as not essentialist and because intention needs a subject, Mendieta the artist becomes conflated with her work, just as Kwon the critic and historian becomes conflated
91 with her essay, which also stages her as an effect of both the theories she invokes and Mendietas work. This is, in part, why subjects are so difficult to give up, as is the pole of essentialism that allows them to be staged, to appear, even as they are being disappeared.62 Theory, as an ideational and linguistic form of representat ion, would have no object without them. What does remain, however, in the endless repetition of steps that seek to defy any ground of origin is, as Kwon so perceptively states, the supplement of desire, particularly the desire of the critic, historian or v iewer which may be projected onto the work and then ascribed to the desire or intention of the artist. Without explicitly stating this, Kwons essay demonstrates, through her desire, the limits of subject feminism as it stages subjectivity as its struct ural problematic. This attention to the play of intersubjective desire returns us to the work of those 1970s feminist artists and theorists whose explorations of gender led them to defy and debunk modernisms emphasis on autonomy and critical neutrality. Displaying her characteristic sensitivity to the gender biases in language, Schneemann dropped the h from history as she issued this challenge: [C]an artist be an art istorian? Can an art historian be a naked woman? Does a woman have intellectual au thority? Can she have public authority while naked and speaking? Was the content of the lecture less appreciable when she was naked? What multiple levels of uneasiness, pleasure, curiosity, erotic fascination, acceptance or rejection were activated in the audience?63 Staging their own desire and/or that of the audience, artists such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Yoko Ono, Schneemann and others invented innovative forms for art and knowledge making that offered new possibilities for theory and history writing as well a potential currently explored and furthered in the work of contemporary feminist poststructuralist art historians such as Peggy Phelan, Rebecca Schneider, Jane Blocker and Amelia Jones, who foreground their own desiring voices and investments in t heir art critical and historical analyses.
92 64 This kind of self consciousness is not the autonomous or insular self referentiality of a Modernist artwork, but rather seeks to foster an awareness of the noncoherence (or non identicality) of subjectivity and the interdependence of subjects (and of subjects and objects) through staging the desire that circuits between them, making them vulnerable to each other. The emphasis on the solicitation and/or performance of intersubjective desire is central to art historian Amelia Jones reinterpretation of essentialist feminist art in her 1996 exhibition Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History, which marks a crucial turning point in the history of the theory versus essentialism deba te. Drawing on Broude and Garrards earlier arguments, Sexual Politics historicized the polemic but also, citing the theoretical work of Diana Fuss and the lack of neutrality in critical responses to The Dinner Party deconstructed it. Perhaps even mor e instructive is the fact that as Jones deconstructed accusations of essentialism against Chicago and other early feminist artists in part by showing how desire informs the bridge between subjects and objects of knowledge (how critics responses to the w ork were driven primarily by their own often sexist sensibilities and/or discomfort with the female body), Jones and her exhibition became targets for the same kinds of hostility projected at Chicago and her work since its debut in 1979, which points to th e importance of and need for continued feminist work on feminist art. In the next chapter, I will discuss how a consideration of desire and intersubjective (and objective) imbrication works to unsettle any pretense to essentialism as an attempt to anchor m eaning, to guarantee Truth or Cartesian subjectivity (the subject as separate from the object of knowledge). I will be rehearsing Jones deconstruction of essentialism and foregrounding of desire to set the stage for understanding the historical and theor etical importance of studying early feminist artists use of touch as a practice, metaphor and concept with a long aesthetic
93 history. While Jones exhibition marks the most rigorous refutation and deconstruction of the theory versus essentialism debate, it also serves as the contemporary example of the problem. Historically speaking, the concept of essentialism has been linked to issues of artistic touch figured through gender for at least several centuries, typically to the detriment of female artists. Already constrained by patriarchal assumptions about their biological nature, women artists, far more often than their male counterparts, had to contend with art critical discourses that essentialized their touch as well. Feminine touch was either d evalued for its lack of masculine qualities or, when linked to artifice (and the technical skill of painting as cosmetic), suspected of propagating a dangerous illusionism that at various moments supported or undermined various vested social and class interests. In general, however, feminine touch and the figure of the woman artist served to signify difference, typically as the denigrated term in an opposition that constructed the male artistic identity as coherent, rational and naturally superior due to having access to the realm of transcendence, which in turn guaranteed his genius. With the deconstruction of essentialism in Jones argument, we can begin to see, from a contemporary perspective, that the foregrounding of desire that Jones reads in the work of early feminists has been percolating all along in historical discussions of artistic touch as gendered. In other words, touch, while carrying different semiotic connotations and relationships to identity and gender at various moments, harbors the potential to foreground the porous relations of desire between artist, work, sitter (in the case of portraits), and viewer/critic/historian. Artistic touch may be simultaneously reflective (a product of its historical and social context) as well as generative, and its relation to the identity, truth or transparency of its subjects and objects can produce a great deal of insight, delight and/or anxiety. 1 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 18.
94 2 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 37. 3 Questions of Feminism, Octob er 71 (Winter 1995): 38. 4 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 38. 5 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 29. 6 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 8. 7 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 9. 8 Qu estions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 9. 9 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 19. 10 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 19. 11 Questions of Feminism, October 71 (Winter 1995): 20. 12 See essays in The Power of Femin ist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994). 13 Helen Molesworth, House Work and Art Work, October 92 (Spring 2000): 73. 14 Helen Molesworth, House Work and Art Wo rk, October 92 (Spring 2000): 73. 15 Helen Molesworth, House Work and Art Work, October 92 (Spring 2000): 95. 16 Helen Molesworth, House Work and Art Work, October 92 (Spring 2000): 38. 17 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Tr averse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 38. 18 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 21. 19 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 21. In various metaphors and forms since the 1970s, Cixous has written about the need to neither subsume nor reject the other. See her essay The Author in Truth, where she discusses the work of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, specifically a story where the main character eats a cockroach and then vomits it up. Ci xous writes: The text teaches us that the most difficult thing to do is to arrive at the most extreme proximity while guarding against the trap of projection, of identification. The other must remain absolutely strange within the greatest possible proximi ty (170171). Hlne Cixous, The Author in Truth, in Coming to Writing and Other Essays ed. Deborah Jenson (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991), 136 181. 20 For Cixous most methodological version of theory that is also poetic, see Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (New York: Columbia Press, 1993); for the most accessible, see the collection of essays in Hlne Cixous, Coming to Writing and Other Essays ed. Deborah Jenson (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Pres s, 1991); Hlne Cixous, The Book of Promethea (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991) and Hlne Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," in New French Feminisms ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Schocken, 1981; first published in Fr ance 1975). For Irigarays forays into theory that are poetic, see: Luce Irigary, Marine Lover (New York: Columbia, 1991); Luce Irigaray, I Love to You: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History (New York: Routledge, 1996); Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passio ns (New York: Routledge, 1992, first published in France 1982); Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca, New
95 York: Cornell University Press, 1985; first published in France in 1977); and Luce Irigaray, S peculum of the Other Woman trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Cornell University Press,1985; first published in France 1974). 21 For an excellent discussion of Irigaray in relation to the essentialism question, see Naomi Schor, This Essentialism Which is N ot One: Coming to Grips with Irigaray, in Engaging with Irigaray: Feminist Philosophy and Modern European Thought ed. Carolyn Burke, Naomi Schor and Margaret Whitford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 57 78. The slandering of Irigaray in an a rt historical context is mentioned in Mira Schor, Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 248 263. 22 Cather ine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 39. 23 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century A rt in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 20. 24 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 20. 25 Catherine M. de Zegher, Interview with Catherine de Zegher, N.Paradoxa no 1 (December 1996a): 8. 26 Catherine M. de Zegher, Interview with Catherine de Zegher, N.Paradoxa no 1 (December 1996a): 3. 27 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an E lliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b): 21. 28 Catherine M. de Zegher, Interview with Catherine de Zegher, N.Paradoxa no 1 (December 1996a): 5. 29 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 72. 30 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visi ble: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 73. 31 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of an d from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 5. 32 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 39. 33 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 22. 34 Catherine M. de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996b), 22. 35 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambri dge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 70, italics in original. 36 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massach usetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 70, italics in original. 37 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 71.
96 38 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 74. 39 Griselda Pol lock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 71, italics in original. 40 Griselda Pollock, Inscr iptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 71. 41 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Insi de the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 77, italics in original. 42 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visib le: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 78. 43 Hlne Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," in New French Feminisms ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Co urtivron (New York: Schocken, 1981; first published in France, 1975). 44 In various metaphors and forms since the 1970s, Cixous has written about the need to neither subsume nor reject the other. For example, see her essay The Author in Truth, where she discusses the work of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, specifically a story where the main character eats a cockroach and then vomits it up. Cixous writes: The text teaches us that the most difficult thing to do is to arrive at the most extreme proximit y while guarding against the trap of projection, of identification. The other must remain absolutely strange within the greatest possible proximity (170 171). Hlne Cixous, The Author in Truth, in Coming to Writing and Other Essays Deborah Jenson, e d. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 136 181. For texts addressing the issue of proximity or finding the right distance linked to issues of gender and epistemology, see her essay Extreme Fidelity, in Writing Differences: Readings from the Seminars of Hlne Cixous ed. Susan Sellers (New York: St. Martins Press, 1988). For Cixous outright statement refusing what would later come to be called biological essentialism yet embracing transformations of sexuality and the bo dy as political acts, see Sorties, in New French Feminisms ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Schocken, 1981; first published in France,1975). Cixous writes: There is no such thing as destiny, nature, or essence, but living str uctures, caught up, sometimes frozen within historiocultural limits which intermingle with the historical scene to such a degree that it has long been impossible and is still difficult to think or even to imagine something else. But there should be no m isunderstanding: men and women are caught up in a network of millennial cultural determinations of a complexity that is practically unanalyzable: we can no more talk about woman than about man without getting caught up in an ideological theater where t he multiplication of representations, images, reflections, myths, identifications, constantly transforms, deforms, alters each persons imaginary order and in advance renders all conceptualizations null and void. There is no reason to exclude all possibili ties of radical transformations of behavior, mentalities, roles, and political economy. Let us imagine simultaneously a general change in all of the structures of formation, education, framework, hence of reproduction, of ideological effects, and let us imagine a real liberation of sexuality, that is, a transformation of our relationship to our body ( -and to another body), and approximation of the immense material organic sensual universe that we are, this not being possible of course, without equally ra dical political transformations (imagine!). Then femininity, masculinity, would inscribe their effects of difference, their economy, their relationships to expenditure, to deficit, to giving, quite differently. That which appears as feminine or masc uline today would no longer amount to the same thing. The general logic of difference would be a crowning display of new differences (96 97). 45 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Centur y Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 75, italics mine. 46 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and fro m the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 75, italics mine.
97 47 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 75. 48 Griselda Pollock, Inscriptions of the Feminine, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996a), 80, italics mine. 49 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachu setts: MIT Press, 1996), 167. 50 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher ( Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996 ), 167. 51 Thalia Gouma Peterson and Patricia Mathews, "The Feminist Critique of Art History," in The Art Bulletin, Sept. 1987, Vol. LXIX, No. 3. 52 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse o f 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 166. 53 In setting up her version of the opposition, Kwon mentions that the anti essentialist or what she carefully limits to the constructivist camp associated with the theoretically driven work of the 1980s, work which looked to Marxist, psychoanalytic and poststructuralist (in a broad sense) theories, has been accused of intellectual elitism and criticized for a perceived inability to deal with the physical body (Kwon 1996, 168). However, she does not mention that the discourses of psychoanalysis and deconstruction have also been charged with ignoring or being incapable of addressing history. This is a charge which contributes, I wo uld suggest, to some of the invisible and displaced frictions operating in both the theory essentialism and theory theory polemics, in part because bodies, however parsed or porously unbound, remain the object of politics as well as the reason, if not alwa ys the means, for distributing subjects across space and time. 54 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambri dge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 166. 55 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MI T Press, 1996), 168. For a perceptive discussion of the primitive in relation to modernism and feminist performance art, see Rebecca Schneider, The Explicit Body in Performance (New York: Routledge, 1997). 56 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages b y Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 168. 57 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in In side the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 168. 58 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an E lliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 168. 59 For an excellent discussion of the status of the photograph as documentation from a deconstructive point of vie w, see Amelia Jones, Presence in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation, Art Journal 56, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 11 18.
98 60 Mendieta quoted in Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Tr averse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 168. 61 Miwon Kwon, Bloody Valentines: Afterimages by Ana Mendieta, in Inside the Visible: an Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of and from the Feminine ed. Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 171. 62 I am indebted to Jane Blockers Where is Ana Mendieta? (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999) for offering an excellent and successful example of the play of intersubjective desire between artist, work and historian as performative history writing. She sums it up here: Inasmuch as this book is a history it is also a performance. It is empowered by the repetition of the question, Where is Ana Men dieta? But, as with Mendietas branding of Eliades book, the boundaries between history and performance are unstable. While I write my history of Ana Mendieta, she is always writing me (Blocker 1999, 135). 63 This quote is from Schneemanns performance Naked Action Lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1968. For a full description of the performance, see Carolee Schneemann, More Than Meat Joy (New Paltz, N.Y.: Documentext, 1979), 180. 64 See Amelia Jones, Self/Image: Technology, Rep resentation and the Contemporary Subject (New York: Routledge, 2006); Amelia Jones, Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2004); Jane Blocker, Where is Ana Mendieta? (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999); Rebecca Schneider, The Explicit Body in Performance (New York: Routledge, 1997); Eunice Lipton, Alias Olympia: A Womans Search for Manets Notorious Model and Her Own Desire (New York: C. Scribners Sons, 1992); Peggy Phelan, Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories (New York: Routledge, 1997); Joanna Frueh, Erotic Faculties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
99 CHAPTER 4 ESSENTIALISM AND DESIRE In the early days of the womens movement, the question was oft en posed: What would happen if women told the truth about their feelings and experiences? The answer that the world would split open, seems confirmed by the level of fury that The Dinner Party has provoked. Judy Chicago1 Quite possibly the strongest resurfacing of the problematic of essentialism in the 1990s was triggered by feminist art historian Amelia Jones 1996 exhibition Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History Intended as an opportunity to reevaluate The Dinner Part y after an eight year hiatus from public view, Jones exhibition was plagued by a resurgence of the very mood of contention it sought to analyze, the highly charged atmosphere of controversy that has surrounded Chicagos monumental work and early feminist art in general since their inception. Five prominent feminist artists refused to lend their work and Los Angeles Times reviewer Christopher Knight called the show a fiasco.2 However, a number of others, including art historian David Joselit, curator Connie Butler, and patron Elizabeth A. Sackler, recognized the value of Sexual Politics as its targeted deconstruction of the theory versus essentialism polemic cleared the way for a concentrated revaluation of 1970s feminist art and its role in postwar American art historical narratives.3 Articulating a number of the insights previously discussed in the work of Mira Schor, Broude, Garrard, Molesworth and others, Sexual Politics provides a useful platform for contextualizing several of the historical, p olitical and theoretical issues that have informed and continue to emerge as a result of the essentialism debate. This chapter will outline the points raised by Jones which I consider most crucial: refutations of charges of essentialism against protoand early feminist artists; a critique of the anti essentialist position as elaborated by its foremost proponents, Griselda Pollock and Mary Kelly; a discussion of how early feminist arts
100 engagement with embodiment and desire exposed the interestedness of modernist theories of art (an exposure repeated in the critical responses to Sexual Politics ) and, following the work of Broude and Garrard, an elaboration of the distinction between Chicagos development of central core theory for her own innovative art practices and its more problematic application as a generalized frame for interpreting the work of others. This last point is important to a continued deconstruction of the theory versus essentialism polemic of the kind I am engaged in here. Though Chi cago and her peers have been accused of essentialism (variously defined as literalism, biological reductionism, universalization and theoretical naivet), I want to argue that the infamous vulva plates in The Dinner Party like many of Chicagos pieces f rom this period, were in fact the product of a theory. Aside from the virulent critiques leveled at central core theory in particular, the fact that many feminist artists of the late 1960s and 1970s were inventing specific theories, not just applying or reinterpreting theory (as I discussed earlier), has been generally overlooked, at least by critics. Perhaps one of the more enduring elements of the early feminist legacy and one that continues to inform much contemporary feminist work is an insistence following the lead of essentialist feminist artists and poststructuralist theorists alike, on foregrounding intersubjective circuits of desire as informing not just the making and reception of art, but the evaluative, critical and theoretical discourse s that subtend its historical forms and narratives as well.4 I believe that this foregrounding of desire through playing with conventions of artistic touch is not original with 1960s and 70s feminist artists (it is in fact already present in the work of s uch artists as Elizabeth VigeLebrun), but the social conditions of the 1960s (the various rights and identity movements) pressed upon the conceptual links between desire and
101 essentialism once again, and touch, in its various cultural and aesthetic form s, provided an excellent vehicle. In fact, I would say that one of the most important contributions of early feminist work, especially to theories of subjectivity, has been its insistence on breaching and collapsing traditional boundaries between art, the ory and embodiment, with touch providing one of the most powerful exploratory, if not explanatory, mediums and sources. Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History : Essentialism, Desire and the Problem of Female Experience L ike many of the feminist critics and historians previously discussed, Jones situates the question of essentialism as central to the debates that framed most interpretations of early feminist art, agreeing that it provided the conceptual platform for the co ndemnation and dismissal of an entire group of diverse women artists from the late 1960s and 70s, particularly those who used the female body in their work. Challenging the reductive historicization and general invisibility of early feminist art, Jones re examined it, as did Broude and Garrard, as a set of responses operating within a specific political and historical context. However, unlike Broude and Garrard, who for the most part have eschewed poststructuralist discourses, Jones expands their investiga tion by drawing on the insights of contemporary poststructuralist theorists such as Judith Butler, Diana Fuss, Joan Copjec, Jacques Derrida and Maurice Merleau Ponty in order to analyze not only early feminist work in the context of its making and critical reception, but also its impact on the role of the art critic and historian. More specifically, Jones takes up Mira Schors contention, cited in the last chapter, that much of the anti essentialist backlash against 1960s and 70s feminist art indicated a discomfort with female sexuality and eroticism. Thus the term sexual politics in the title of Jones 1996 exhibition refers not only to early feminist artists introduction of gender and sexuality into art and art historical discourses and practices, fra med by Jones as a political act, but also the effects, particularly on the role of the art critic and
102 historian, of women artists articulating the personal as political in terms of embodiment, as subjects caught up in, as well as constituted through, circu its of desire.5 Early feminist artists investigations into the connections between subjectivity, corporeality and politics were explorations that were grounded, for the most part, in personal experiences of sexual difference. They were often articulated through attempts to posit, represent and theorize relationships between art making and female desire, frequently producing work that involved overtly sexed bodily imagery, from Carolee Schneemanns Naked Action Lecture (1968) to Adrian Pipers Food For the Spirit (1971), Hannah Wilkes S.O.S. Starification Object Series (1974) and Judy Chicagos cunt plates in The Dinner Party (1979). Following Lucy Lippards frequently quoted insight that Feminisms greatest contribution to the future of art has probably been precisely its lack of contribution to modernism, Jones persuasively argues that early feminists emphasis on content, specifically issues of gender and female desire, exposed, challenged and undermined a set of assumptions fundamental to modernist interpretations of art and aesthetic valuation, particularly Clement Greenbergs reliance on Kantian notions of critical neutrality or disinterest. Yet some feminist artists insistence on content, particularly when they translated one of the fundamental tenets of the American womens liberation movement, the personal is political, into artistic investigations of female experience, also opened their work, as we have seen, to accusations of essentialism.6 The solicitation and exposure of the structure of intersubjective desire between viewer, artist and work unraveled modernist assumptions of critical disinterest, yet simultaneously incited strong critiques from modernist and feminist critics alike.7 These responses exposed the politics not only of art criticism but also of feminism, providing an entry into the complexity of the feminist project itself and the difficulties inherent in any attempt to construct a politics of
103 identity that also seeks to challenge the kinds of exclusions that make such a cat egorical gathering necessary in the first place. The scope of such claims, which are based in large part on linking the problem of essentialism to issues of subjectivity and desire, warrants a brief overview of Joness own discussion of the theory versus essentialism debate as it developed through interpretations of early feminist art. In Sexual Politics Jones recontextualizes the highly controversial icon of 1970s feminist art, Judy Chicagos The Dinner Party within the aesthetic and political history o f its making and reception. Her initial motivation, like Helen Molesworths (discussed in the previous chapter), was the fact that feminist art from the late 1960s and 70s, when not entirely disappeared from broader art historical narratives, was often cast as the denigrated term in a reductive history structured as an opposition between essentialism and theory, with Chicagos celebratory and essentialist The Dinner Party (1979) representing all feminist art produced in the 1970s and Mary Kellys Lacan ian inspired Post Partum Document (1979) standing in for the theoretically savvy and critique oriented work of the 1980s. Offered the position of guest curator of a show that focused solely on The Dinner Party, Jones accepted only on the condition that th e exhibition be considerably expanded to include the work of other feminist artists contemporary with Chicago as well as more recent artists whose work addressed similar questions, issues and themes.8 Jones goal for the exhibition was neither to laud or defend The Dinner Party as the product of a feminist utopia, nor to scorn it as the preeminent emblem of a theoretically nave, misguided or embarrassing moment in the history of feminist art, the two most common critical responses to the work. Instead, J ones took a much broader approach, focusing on The Dinner Party as a product of its time, situated within a network of influences and effects that supported
104 Jones own desire to scrutinize the complex and often contradictory stakes of feminist art discours es. By reexamining the debates surrounding The Dinner Party debates most often framed in terms of the problem of essentialism, Jones sought not only to correct an art historical misinterpretation of the feminist art movement but in so doing to expand t he historical narrative of post war American art in general.9 Despite Jones desire to broaden what she considered to be reductive historical narratives of feminist art, some of the harshest criticisms of the exhibition came from early feminist artists the mselves. Before the show even opened, five prominent artists who were Chicagos contemporaries: Nancy Spero, Mary Beth Edelson, Joyce Kozloff, Joan Snyder and Miriam Schapiro: refused to lend their work and a sixth, June Wayne, dropped out at the last mom ent. Given The Dinner Party s history of controversy, a history that had already made it the focus of both popular and art world attention (albeit overwhelmingly negative in the art world), these artists feared that a show organized around the piece would serve to promote Chicagos career, heroize her legacy by endorsing its strategy of feminist essentialism, reinforce a view of the work as pornographic, and/or strengthen the historical misperception that The Dinner Party represented the origin of the fe minist art movement in the United States.10 In comments offered after the show had closed, Jones noted that she endured very vicious and very personal criticism in the media, yet had not anticipated the level of vehement hostility and bitter divisiveness among the feminist artists and critics.11 As feminist art began to be historicized in the 1990s, the acrimony over how that narrative was to be related is notable in light of the fact that a lot of the debate about essentialism centers on anxieties about origins and the fixing of meaning. It is also worth mentioning that this anxiety over the narratives of feminist art history is not limited to artists and critics associated with 1970s feminism; up to the
105 present, it continues to permeate discussions by s ome of the most influential critics and artists of the 1980s as well.12 My treatment of Sexual Politics does not focus on the show in its entirety but rather on the ways in which it sought to contextualize, complicate and deconstruct the theory versus essentialism debate. Much of the discussion will center on Jones analysis of the accusations of essentialism against The Dinner Party and, by extension, the whole of early feminist art. In her introductory essay, Jones directly counters the art historical t endency, exemplified by textbooks like Gardners History of Art to position Chicagos monumental work as the sole representative of 1970s feminist art, an over generalization that made it easy for those who labeled The Dinner Party essentialist to colla pse all work from the 1970s into the same category. Not only did this conflation deny the diversity of feminist art from the period, it also missed the crucial point that much 1970s work could be read as explicitly not essentialist, an observation made in the previous chapter by Adrian Piper, who in her response to the 1995 October questionnaire emphasized the fact that her own projects clearly focused on race and gender as social constructions. In Jones account, many early feminist artists like Chicago sought to challenge misogynist depictions of women by offering powerful, alternative, and often celebratory images.13 Yet others, for example Laurie Anderson and Lynn Hershman, offered critique as a form of feminist empowerment, a trend that would become popular and privileged in the 1980s. Citing work like Andersons Object, Objection, Objectivity (1974) (a project where Anderson reversed the male gaze by stopping to question and photograph men on the street when they accosted her with sexual language) and Hershmans exposition of femininity as a fictive social construction in Roberta Breitmores Construction Chart (1973) (an illustrated guide to the make up required
106 to transform the artist into a female), Jones points out some of the numerous exa mples of 1970s feminist work that could have been located firmly on the theory (social construction) and critique, rather than essentialist, pole of the opposition. Throughout the essentialism debate, however, artists like Anderson, Hershman, and Piper, wh o took what was considered a more distanced perspective, were grouped together with Chicago and other supposedly essentialist artists such as Ana Mendieta, Hannah Wilke and Carolee Schneemann, who were categorized as offering more personal and sometimes celebratory views of the female body and experience. Jones found that in the 1980s, with the general move toward the promotion of feminist art that deconstructed the pleasure that men in patriarchal culture take in representations of the female body the differences of approach among early feminist artists were missed or lost.14 Critics like Griselda Pollock, who sought to negate viewing pleasure with critical distance or critique defined as distance considered artists use of what Pollock called positive or realist images of the female body nave, a misguided attempt to produce political efficacy by assuming that simply making something visible could render essential meaning and knowledge.15 Here, the ever shifting concept of essentialism was broadened to include the assumption that an object or image could harbor meaning that was immediately accessible or transparent, an interpretation that may be traced to both a Derridean critique of the notion of presence (meaning as full, given, inherent in the subject or object itself) and the Aristotelian definition of the essential as irreducible or unchanging.16 While critiques of both presence and the presumption of a one to one correspondence between vision and knowledge continue to be crucial to feminist deconstructive strategies, Jones emphasizes the point that anti essentialist critics like Pollock and Kelly perceived the problem of essentialism as compounded when images included the artists body. For Pollock and Kelly, the
107 body could too eas ily be assumed as standing in for or as the origin of personal experience, a proximity which threatened to elicit viewer empathy or identification, or risked pandering to male pleasure while appearing to offer knowledge or truth (through the illusion of unmediated presence). Thus essentialism, defined variously as a belief in the truth of corporeality (biological gender), proximity (the illusion of presence), transparent meaning, and personal experience (unmediated knowledge as a definitive anchor for signification), became a catch all term for a group of shifting qualities retroactively assigned to early feminist art. Early feminist art, particularly work that depicted the female body, was then positioned by its critics as uncritical, even antithetical t o critique (defined as a mode of expression requiring distance), which came to be favored in the 1980s as a prerequisite for art considered both feminist and politically efficacious.17 For anti essentialist feminists in the 1980s, particularly in Britain b ut also in America, political efficacy became firmly linked to critique, specifically critique informed by psychoanalytic, Marxist and/or poststructuralist theory. As a result, the notion of what constituted good or acceptable feminist art retained it s link to the political, but became defined through what were perceived to be theoretical rather than experiential parameters, theory based forms of criticism (psychoanalytic, deconstructive, etc.) that sought specifically to undo or dissect the very notion of experience that early feminists had worked so vigorously to explore, articulate, define and challenge as the basis for their art, politics and theories; a point to which I will return in the final chapter.18 The core of Jones argument about accusati ons of essentialism against early feminist art emerges from her investigation into the controversy surrounding The Dinner Party emblematized by its highly polarized reception which swung from adoration to virulent critique, even invective, while also provoking unexpected intersections among critical models thought to
108 be opposed.19 The primary targets of modernist and feminist critics alike were the notorious vulva form dinner plates, which modernist critics labeled vulgar, kitsch and pornographic, while some feminists declared them essentialist, primarily in the sense of biological reduction and universalizing tendencies.20 The thirty nine plates, initially inspired by Chicagos theory of central core imagery, are arranged in individual place se ttings, each dedicated to one of the thirty nine historical women and goddesses honored with a seat at a large, 3sided (triangular) table, with 13 place settings on each side. On the floor, the names of 999 more women are inscribed on white porcelain til es, resulting in a total of 1,038 women symbolized in an ambitious work of monumental proportion (46 x 46) that sought not only to revise the history of Western culture but raised serious questions about how history is, quite literally, made. The plates depict vulvas in various degrees of abstraction, increasingly three dimensional as they advance through historical time. Each plate is rendered in lustrous, high gloss handpainted ceramic, the centerpiece of a hand embroidered runner elaborately made us ing techniques appropriate to the womans historical period. Many of these techniques were rediscovered and learned by needlework volunteers through hundreds of hours of painstaking research and labor. The installation included wall panels documenting the execution of the piece, thereby acknowledging the skills and labor of the more than 400 people, women and men, who donated their time and knowledge to the completion of the project.21 As Jones argues, Chicagos foregrounding of content, namely the blatantly sexed imagery of the plates and the symbolic as well as literal embroidered depictions of individual womens lives on the plates runners (i.e. Mary Wollstonecraft advocating for womens education on the front side of hers, and dying in childbirth on i ts back) was an audacious move at the time,
109 directly challenging historical and religious narratives which had by and large forgotten, dismissed or erased women and goddesses from the historical record. Just as provocative, at least for the art world, was Chicagos decision to utilize skills and forms traditionally associated with womens domestic and often collaborative craftwork and labor (ceramics, china painting and needlework) to create a large scale museum installation. By foregrounding the techni ques and products of the female hand, the effect, entirely intended on Chicagos part, was to provoke a contentious clash between high and low art genres. The result, as Jones chronicles, was that conservative modernist art critics like Hilton Krame r condemned The Dinner Party for displaying a vulgarity more appropriate to an advertising campaign than to a work of art. Time magazines Robert Hughes, who derided its relentless concentration on the pudenda, declared it mass devotional art, while for Suzanne Muchnic of the Los Angeles Times it was the ultimate in 1970s kitsch.22 One of Jones significant strategies is to read this set of responses to Chicagos work as drawing primarily from the theories of modernist arts preeminent critic and champion, Clement Greenberg. His formalist principles, developed from 1939 on, required modern art to maintain medium purity (no mixing of media) and autonomy by refusing to reference anything outside itself, or any other orders of experience. It was also Greenberg who, in his early work, set up an opposition between pure or high modernist avant garde art and low art kitsch. Popular with the masses, kitsch is associated primarily with the domestic sphere, specifically womens tastes and c rafts. As the critical responses testify, not only does The Dinner Party s flamboyant activation of kitsch the prohibited desire of modernism incorporate all that Greenbergian formalism excoriates, but the fact that Chicago designed the work to be exhibited in the high art domain of the museum directly challenged the boundaries of modernist aesthetic
110 value. In the process, The Dinner Party exposed the modernist critics disinterested judgment as clearly informed by gender based biases.23 Despite a prep ondernance of hostile reactions from art critics, when it was first shown The Dinner Party was an enormous popular success, drawing recordbreaking crowds at all fourteen of its venues. Ten thousand people saw the work when it opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1979, 20,000 copies of the accompanying book were sold in the first two weeks, reviews from non art critics tended to praise the piece, and attendees filled the guestbook with accolades and appreciation. However, while some art cri tics like Lucy Lippard saw the works popular appeal as a feminist achievement, many others vilified not only the art but the audience as well. Hilton Kramer declared The Dinner Party s ideological (feminist) content to be the source of its popular appe al, which for him confirmed its lack of aesthetic merit, while others, like Maureen Mullarky, characterized the women who file worshipfully past this cunnilingus ascommunion table as gullible, needy and insensitive to aesthetic nuance.24 Perhaps the sni dest example of this disconcerting congruence between aesthetic elitism and contempt for the female audience was feminist critic Clara Weyergrafs dismissal of The Dinner Party s brash vulgarity as pandering to the taste of the middle class housewife.25 In one of her most incisive insights, Jones sees a correlation between modernist critiques of The Dinner Party and the theories condemning visual pleasure promoted by anti essentialist poststructuralist feminist critics who, like Chicago, sought to create a new audience for art but, unlike her, focused more precisely on the role of art in producing a specific kind of feminist spectator. While Jones pointedly credits the work of poststructuralist feminist theorists with radically rethinking the ideologic al effects of representations of female bodies and making feminism respectable within mainstream (that is, male dominated) academic discourse, she also
111 establishes a very important correspondence between the notion of audience gullibility or insensitivi ty cited above and the motivation informing the theories of leading anti essentialist feminist critics like Griselda Pollock, Lisa Tickner and Mary Kelly. Generally speaking, their efforts to create a new type of feminist viewer promoted the idea that fem inist art should utilize strategies that would produce distance between the viewer and the work. They developed their anti visual pleasure position specifically as a corrective counter to essentialist feminist work that they perceived as encouraging v iewer identification by being too literal (accessible or readable), celebrating the female body, pandering to visual pleasure (the male gaze), or all of the above. From the perspective of Jones, Mira Schor, Peggy Phelan and a number of other feminist historians, the development of 1980s feminist theory took place, to a large degree, at the expense of 1970s work.26 Like Broude and Garrard, Jones locates the anti pleasure critique as emerging out of the late 1970s and 1980s British version of poststructura list feminist discourses which relied heavily on visual and film studies based theories, particularly Laura Mulveys notion of the male gaze. Yet Jones analysis critiques that position from a different perspective. Formulated in visual, Marxist and castration oriented psychoanalytic terms, anti pleasure theories were primarily concerned with the psychic and hence political effects of an artworks formal structure and particular mode of production on the viewing subject. From the Marxist perspective tha t Kelly, Pollock and many other theorists of representation embraced at the time, the viewing subject is especially vulnerable to capitalist commodity cultures manipulation of her or his desire through representational strategies designed to suture the vi ewer into the work. An image or work that appears to invite the viewers identification, particularly through the solicitation of pleasure, could be read as encouraging the viewer to accept, uncritically, the particular ideologies or
112 beliefs subtending it Interpreted as encouraging viewers to become passive consumers of capitalist culture, work that appeared to elicit responses of pleasure and/or identification came to be positioned as politically suspect or regressive, the antithesis of work designed to provoke intellectual reflection and social action. Grounded in Marxism and a Lacanian psychoanalytic model which theorized sexual difference as fundamentally registered through the visual absence or presence of the phallus, Mulveys critique of the male gaze argued that Hollywood cinema constructs the female body as a passive object to be looked at in order to elicit the pleasure of a male viewer who, positioned as the active agent of the look, is thereby confirmed in his subjectivity and access to power through having a phallus. Positioned in this way, the female body, as representative of the lack needed to guarantee sexual difference and the plenititude of the male phallus, becomes a fetish object that wards off the male fear of castration or i nsufficient subjectivity. Kelly and Pollock, in an effort to expose and challenge the social and political stakes for women as both subjects and objects of representation, embraced their interpretation of avant garde artist and Marxist theorist Bertolt Brechts theory of distanciation, which offered specific strategies for making work that would provoke passive consumers of art into becoming self conscious viewers, critics and cultural actors. Brechts call to break the spectators uncritical immersion in the illusory space and ideology of a work of art through subverting conventional viewing expectations was taken up by Kelly and Pollock as a feminist strategy for art making. Following Mulvey, they argued that a refusal of visual pleasure would undo the spectatorial tropes that positioned the female body as the fetishized object of the male gaze. In the process, they hoped to expose femininity as a cultural concept rather than a biological given (in contrast to any
113 essentialist belief in the biological origin of gender), thus rendering it available to re imagining through visual re imaging and strategies of production. In her reading, Jones emphasizes the fact that by adopting a Marxist and Brechtian orientation, Kelly, Pollock and most other anti essentialist feminist critics focused heavily on political efficacy, defined as the artworks ability to produce (or avoid) specific spectatorial effects. In their desire to transform passive consumers of patriarchal ideology into active feminist cultural ag ents, they dismissed any work that could be construed as eliciting pleasure and spectatorial immersion, specifically through forms involving the female body that, for them, risked fetishism, the illusion of presence (essentialism) and the foreclosure of th e critical distance required for intellectual reflection and social participation. Jones reading is confirmed by a 1982 interview in which interviewer Paul Smith asks Kelly why she omitted the representation of her own body in Post Partum Document Kell y replied: I feel that when the image of the woman is used in a work of art, that is, when her body or person is given as a signifier, it becomes extremely problematic. Most women artists who have presented themselves in some way, visibly, in the work ha ve been unable to find the kind of distancing devices which would cut across the predominant representations of woman as object of the look, or question the notion of femininity as a pre given identity.27 For the most part, then, work as diverse as Judy Chicagos, Carolee Schneemanns and Hannah Wilkes, all labeled essentialist for their overt display of the female body, was seen by anti essentialist feminist critics as naively and/or narcissistically pandering to the male gaze while lacking criticality by promoting the illusion that the meaning of the work is guaranteed in the presence of the body, a presence capable of transmitting meaning without mediation. The implication was that viewers of such work would be seduced into ignorance, missing the theoretical insight that the body in the artwork is an image or representation which is culturally manipulated (and manipulating) and that even the physical body, like gender, is a culturally
114 mediated concept. Preoccupied with fetishizing, identifying with and/or celebrating the female body, viewers of such work, ignorant of more sophisticated theories of representation, would not be able to gain the critical distance necessary to become efficacious feminist cultural actors. Echoing some of the points about 1980s elitism raised earlier by Schor and Lacy, among others, Jones critiques the anti essentialist, anti visual pleasure position as blind to and even foreclosing the political and social potential of art considered to be more accessible to viewers. Po llocks dismissal of feminist art that she deemed literal or realist in an uncritical way aligns not only with Kramers dismissal of The Dinner Party s vulgar accessibility, but also assumes that spectatorial effects are uniform across viewers and can be known or determined in advance. In addition, the negation of female pleasure denies the possibility that female artists and viewers may also be desiring subjects, thus aligning the anti pleasure position with both Modernisms and patriarchys general oppression and disavowal of female desire. Despite Kellys disclaimer that theres no single theoretical discourse which is going to offer us an explanation for all forms of social relations or for every mode of political practice, Jones argues that the antivisual pleasure, social construction stance of the anti essentialist feminist artists and critics of the 1980s generated a theory of feminist art that became highly prescriptive and ultimately limiting.28 Reiterating one of Diana Fuss strongest point s in Essentially Speaking (Fuss influential deconstruction of essentialism), Jones emphasizes that the social construction position, in its pretensions to truth, knowledge, and the social as a determinative origin, may be just as essentializing as a b elief in the biological origin of gender or personal experience as the unquestionable ground of knowledge.29 Using this perspective, Jones makes her surprising move of arguing that the parameters of judgment subtending Kelly and Pollocks prescription for feminist art were complicitous with
115 Greenbergian Modernism. By substituting a particular, pre determined concept of feminist social efficacy (achieved through critical distance, i.e. a critique of the male gaze) for Modernisms notion of aesthetic quality, the anti essentialist position, in Jones interpretation, attempted to institute a modernist hierarchy of value for feminist art. Although Jones does not take her argument to this level of generality in Sexual Politics the concept of essentialism (defi ned as an attempt to anchor signification) deeply questions any relationship between art and epistemology, a point to which I will return. For now, however, the more specific trajectory in Jones argument is her statement, made in agreement with Lucy Lipp ard, that what critics found most offensive about The Dinner Party wasnt simply Chicagos inclusion of essentialist content but rather the wholly interpretable imagery of the female sex.30 Along with Broude and Garrard, Jones interprets the essentiali sm of Chicagos dinner plates, like her foregrounding of domestic crafts, as a political act specific to its temporal context. By rendering the vulva available to vision, Jones argues, the plates violate and thereby expose a long history of Western aesthetic conventions that fetishize the female body, yet disallow the direct and public representation of female genitals by relegating such imagery to the obscene. Challenging the line that separates art from pornography, Chicagos three dimensional, over sized, in your face vulva plates expose the interestedness not only of the culture that finds them offensive, but also of aesthetic evaluations of art that claim interpretive disinterest. For despite the fact that most of the plates are rendered i n a style more metaphorical than realist, the unconcealing of female genitalia as content, or what Hughes decried as the relentless concentration on the pudenda, was so unusual at the time, so arresting and powerful in terms of identification and desir e (attractive and/or repulsive), that modernist art critics reactions to The Dinner Party end up aligning with the later pronouncements of
116 conservative politicians, who called the piece ceramic 3 D pornography and weird sexual art during Congressional hearings in 1990.31 For Judy Chicago, this odd convergence between the worlds of art and conservative politics, and the fact that both focused exclusively on the plates (thereby decontextualizing them from the larger scope of the installation), signaled s omething very real about our cultures view of women and womens sexuality: that it is, at its base, detestable or at the very least shameful and not to be publicly revealed.32 Observing the ubiquity of images of female sexuality in our culture, she made a strong distinction between images that teach female sexuality is something to be manipulated, controlled, or dominated; that it is basically passive, or, if active, something to be subdued, often by violence and those that suggest female sexuality can be assertive, powerful and transformative.33 Chicago understood the plates to exist entirely independent of men, bravely struggling to assert their own identities in their own context, their own history, and their own long effort toward liberation.34 Y et these vulva plates, emerging from Chicagos project to explore central core imagery and a potentially female sensibility in art, were highly vulnerable to charges of essentialism, conceptualized variously as a belief in biology as defining gender, an attempt to fix identity, and/or a universalizing gesture. Chicago and Miriam Schapiro had formulated central core or cunt theory as a metaphor for a womans body, identity and source of creativity; as an inventio for their own work; as a pedagogy for training women artists; and as a theory and/or interpretive guide for exploring how an artists embodiment affects perception and might offer material for producing a language of form capable of exposing and intervening in the human dilemma.35 This dil emma was, in part, the frustration generated in Chicago and Schapiro (and their students in the Feminist Art Program) by living in a culture that had no semiotic for their
117 experiences, for the double identity of male and female that they understood all humans as living but with the female operating across much of history as the negative, repressed or denied term.36 More broadly, the dilemma was the contradiction they felt between their embodied and personal experiences (i.e. to be formed around a central core and have a secret place which can be entered and which is also a passageway from which life emerges); the cultural identities, roles and connotations assigned to them (i.e. woman as passive, artist as active and masculine); and the cultural and aesthetic representations (or lack thereof) that reflected, shaped, defined and gave value to those identities and experiences.37 By using their own bodies (as physical, sexual and social research data; embodiment as feeling, form and semiotic) as source material for their art, Chicago and her students sought to invent an aesthetic language that would reflect the contradictions that shaped their existence as women and offer possibilities for redefining woman, the female body and, as a result, their own lives and culture. As Jones argues (see below), this was a productive strategy for art making, but problematic (universalizing) as an interpretive method for discovering central core or cunt imagery in the work of other women artists, notably Georgia OKeefe, who consistently and vigorously protested this interpretation of her work. Chicago and Schapiros central core theory was, in turn, inspired in part by archaeological and art historical images of ancient female figurines, many of which were interpreted as primordial fertility goddesses by archaeologists and a newly emerging cross disciplinary group of researchers interested in ancient matrifocal cultures.38 While Jones briefly mentions this goddess culture as provoking Chicago and many other early feminist artists (including Mary Beth Edelson, Nancy Spero and Carolee Schneemann) to rethink history, she misreads, I think,
118 the deeper influences. Jones labels the early feminist interest in goddess cultures an enabling idea flawed by what she interprets as an attempt on the part of feminist artists to appropriate masculine transcendence.39 I disagree since, for the most part, researchers working with goddess imagery were theorizing not only new re interpretations of patriarchal historical n arratives but also new forms of embodied reasoning, much more in line with a poststructuralist deconstruction of the Cartesian separation of subjects and objects of knowledge and of JudeoChristian Islamic notions of truth as anchored in a transcendent mal e god.40 In the words of Mary Beth Edelson, a feminist spirituality provided resistance to the mind/body split by acknowledging sexuality in spirituality, thus reconciling the experience of a united spirit, body and mind, a logic which she understood as deconstructing the nature/culture opposition.41 What is relevant to my interest in essentialism is the fact that although Jones does not discuss the drive for transcendence as an essentialist strategy per se, the urge toward transcendence in Christianity and other monomaletheistic religions is precisely the desire to fix signification (to anchor truth as the word of god, the paternal logos that transcends matter and the maternal body). This may be why anti essentialist critics have generally been reflexively allergic to feminist artists references to the goddess, which are cited as essentialist for a variety of mainly implied reasons, primary among them the desire to guarantee the meaning of the female in a notion of immanence in nature conceived as a b iological truth of the body. It would be worthwhile to return to this at some point in order to untangle how, in general, feminist artists use of goddess imagery has been perceived by critics as an attempt at transcendence as well as immanence, which i llustrates beautifully one of the paradoxes of essentialism. As Diana Fuss has argued, essentialism has been constructed to be essentialist; there is nothing essential in essentialism (it is an idea, not a reality).
119 That said, in many cases goddess images, which carry a potent historical as well as aesthetic load, provided tangible and conceptual support for artists interrogating, re imagining and re theorizing not only the rendering of the female form but also its material and aesthetic history, and, by extension, the aesthetics and materiality of history making as it might be theorized and imaged through the female body, particularly in narratives of creativity. Furthermore, the concept linking goddess logic and touch in a general sense is desir e. Just as desire bridges the gap between subjects and objects of knowledge, and allows for processes of identification and immersion while also retaining a sense of distance (there must be some return movement through separation in order to maintain desi re), thereby challenging the modernist (Kantian) notion of autonomy and critical distance or objectivity, the logic of goddess thinking as it was articulated in the 1970s (and beyond) sought to reintegrate the mind/body split supported by JudeoChristi an Islamic beliefs and Cartesian theories in order to challenge epistemologies and belief systems that promote a hierarchical notion of transcendence that aligns spirit with mind and the male gender over a body denigrated as matter, immanent and female. T he sense of touch also bridges the separation of subjects and objects, may dissolve boundaries or produce them while retaining a sense of contiguity, and implies a distance in proximity and proximity in distance that undoes the conceptual opposition of imm anence and transcendence and suggests, instead, possibilities for their mutual imbrication. As previously indicated, Jones (in line with Broude and Garrard) makes a crucial distinction between Chicagos development of central core theory as a guide for her and her students art making and Chicagos and Miriam Schapiros later, more problematic attempt to locate evidence for the theory in the work of other artists. Jones acknowledges that central core theory, when used as an interpretive model, could easily be misread as implying that women
120 make art that reproduces their biological anatomy or that there is a formal and unchanging female sensibility, ideas that appeared reductive, universalizing, and therefore essentialist to 1980s critics. Yet Jones research, like Broude and Garrards, confirms that Chicagos and Shapiros intention was never to secure central core imagery as a form or meaning; rather, it was an attempt to remake a denigrated symbol of female identity and otherness (the vulva) into a sign of cultural value and empowerment. While it is true that Chicago and Shapiro had universalizing intentions insofar as they sought to research the commonalities of female experience as a precondition to collective, political action, they were not biologic al essentialists, nor did they intend to fix female identity. In Female Imagery, their original paper on central core theory, Chicago and Schapiro make clear statements to the effect that womens oppression results not from biology but rather the way in which women are seen by the culture.42 Jones also cites their contemporary, feminist historian and critic Arlene Raven, who stated as early as 1975 that female experience is socially defined and cultural rather than biological, innate or persona l.43 For Raven, definitions of the feminine are fluid and change according to the political, economic and social needs of a world which demands a woman display them.44 Keenly aware that the feminist insistence on personal experience as content functi oned, in part, as an attack on modernist formalism and the capitalist structure it serves, Raven explicitly stated that central core imagery was neither stationary in art nor based on biological determinism an idea to which feminism is opposed.45 Jones reads Chicagos vulva plates as emerging from a political intention, her desire to create an active vaginal form, a positive mode of representing the female body in order to reclaim it from its patriarchal construction as passive object, fetish ized through structures of
121 male desire.46 As previously noted, Chicagos cunt art could be read today as an example of feminist poststructuralist theorist Judith Butlers much later concept of performative subjectivity and agency. Even in the 1970s, ar tists like Faith Wilding were clear about the connection between cunt art, politics, and identity, as is apparent in her statement to Jones that central core imagery should be understood along the same lines as Black is Beautiful.47 Thus cunt imagery, at least for some 1970s essentialist feminist artists, functioned much in the same way as Butler describes the appropriation of hate speech by those it targets (for example the word queer) as a means toward progressive political endswithout necessarily resorting to a concept of identity as fixed or original, although the risk is always present. That said, perhaps the most problematically essentialist element of central core theory, one that it shares with both The Dinner Party s plates and the feminist project in general, is the charge of universalization. Attempts by1970s feminist artists to articulate a concept of female experience as a political imperative and aesthetic question produced innovative work but also rendered the concept vulnerable to o vergeneralization. The political goal of finding a common female experience or female sensibility in art was, and still is, a potentially overgeneralizing gesture, and charges of essentialism against The Dinner Party and its plates from this perspective w ere, if not entirely accurate, appropriate and productive. Despite the fact that Chicago and her volunteers spent hundreds of hours researching and selecting the group of women represented, which did include at least one woman of color, Sojourner Truth, a nd lesbian Natalie Barney, many women of color and lesbians criticized the project for a lack of diversity. While Chicago never intended the piece to be comprehensive (nor could it be), these critiques were valid insofar as they were motivated by assumpti ons the work itself suggested through the ambitious scope of its historical revision, its monumental size, and its ironic though predominantly serious tone.48
122 The problem of universalization was also evident in the contradictory nature of many of the respo nses to the plates. For example, some feminists, like Mira Schor, criticized them for reducing all women to their vulvas (biological essentialism), while others, like Lorraine OGrady and Alice Walker, found it disturbing that Sojourner Truths plate did not depict a vulva, thereby denying blackness and feminism in the same body.49 Although Truths plate does suggest an abstract vulva in its arrangement of three faces, Jones reads Walkers critique as astutely exposing the hesitancy white feminists tend to exhibit in relation to black female sexuality, an observation that opens yet again onto the general critique of early feminism as not taking other identities, such as race, ethnicity and queer orientations, into account.50 While the representational restraint of the Truth plate was meant by Chicago as a respectful gesture, given the historically racist sexualization of the black female body, it does point to the rupture of an already tenuous congruence between women when race and other identities are factored into gender based experiences, highlighting the very different stakes women have in historical narratives, especially those involving issues of sexuality and embodiment.51 Chicago acknowledged the problem of universalization in an interview with Lucy Lippard published in the catalogue for her 2002 retrospective: In the seventies we were guilty of a certain universalization. The notion that there was a single womans perspective has come in for some healthy criticism. But I think it opened the way for a more sophisticated understanding of the ways in which diverse womens experience was filtered through race, culture, geography, sexual preference, personal experience, family structure.52 In Jones account, the lack of consensus in feminist read ings of the vulva plates and The Dinner Part y in general is emblematic of the difficulty of creating agreement about what constitutes a feminist work of art in the first place, a tension inherent in the overgeneralizations
123 and exclusions that any coalitional politics always risks. Chicagos failure to secure readings of the plates that were always empowering rather than objectifying for viewers and critics exemplifies one level of the problem of essentialism, which is also a problem of language and representation in general. If we accept the particularity and contingency of postmodern subjectivity and meaningmaking (the gap between signifier and signified), there is simply no way, at least from a poststructuralist viewpoint, for an artist or artwork to fu lly anchor meaning or control viewer response. This is why, as Jones asserts, prescriptions for feminist art, such as the refusal of visual pleasure, may initially offer productive hypotheses or experiments but will eventually limit the possibilities for both art production and spectatorship. Ironically, the essentialist Chicagos intent was never to create a particular kind of viewer but rather to expand the entire field: The whole notion of feminist art, as I was trying to articulate it, is that the form code of contemporary art has to be broken in order to broaden the audience base What I have been after from the beginning is a redefinition of the role of the artist, a reexamination of the relation of art and community, and a broadening of the definitions of who controls art and, in fact, an enlarged dialogue about art, with new and more diverse participants.53 Thus, as Chicago implies, the more productive approach to art criticism may not be to determine whether or not a work of art is essentia list, but rather, as Diana Fuss has suggested, to map responses within an expanded interpretive and/or historical field. The value of Amelia Jones reinterpretation of early feminist art lies, in large part, in the fact that she begins to trace the variou s and imbricated kinds of essentialisms operative at particular moments in art historical discourse and practices. I would expand her observations to define essentialism as the deep assumptions that inform our interpretations, the points at which we are c ompelled to fix meaning, however temporarily, in order to speak, represent or signify at all as we negotiate the
124 circuits of interpretation and desire that subtend all interactions between artists, viewers, and works of art. Drawing on Diana Fuss, Jones c oncludes that Chicagos doomed but valiant effort to represent and expand female experience in The Dinner Party is a problem characteristic not only of a particular period of feminist thought that privileged gender as the primary constituent of identit y, but also of the larger project of feminism when it attempts to articulate female experience as a general category.54 Accusations against essentialism as a universalization of experience should be taken seriously and in many cases have been, as feminist discourses and practices continue to inform, struggle with, and open up to other discourses, including race, postcolonial and queer theories. But as Jones points out, again through the work of Fuss, a certain essentialism that is, the claiming of ident ifiably similar experiences among particular groups of people is a crucial component of any coalition politics, and must be accommodated within any politics of representation.55 As that which makes the politicizing of experience possible by gathering individuals into larger, group identities, essentialism as Jones, following Fuss, defines it, may function as a political strategy that should be evaluated according to when, where and by whom it is practiced, as well as how they practice it and on what ter ms the foundational identity is defined.56 In consequence, Sexual Politics ends up framing early feminist artists attempts to articulate female experience, to mark gender as informative of cultural practice, to refuse the masculinist notion of universa lity that guaranteed the privileging of male invented forms and themes as neutrally aesthetic (as beyond race, gender, sexuality and class), not as a nave blunder but rather as a vital strategy and necessary step in the articulation and development of f eminist practices and discourses.57
125 In her final analysis, Jones assigns the perceived essentialism of Chicago and her contemporaries a place of fundamental importance in post war art historical narratives, arguing persuasively that it was productive and p owerful in terms of its effects. As a crucial component of identity politics, essentialism enabled the development of a feminist politics of art and art history by insisting that the production of culture is informed by gender and, by extension and int ention (if not sufficiently), differences of all kinds (racial, ethnic, class, and so on).58 Defined in this way, the essentialist feminist artists of the 1970s may be credited as producing one of the most significant paradigm shifts in the history of art. In terms of the theory versus essentialism debate, Sexual Politics offered a decisive reconceptualization of accusations of essentialism against early feminist artists and, in the process, opened up new possibilities for the inclusion of essentialist feminist artists in postwar art historical narratives. Critical Reception of Sexual Politics To repeat, Jones revision of the history of early feminist art was not, for the most part, well received, at least not initially. Yet it should be noted that, with the exception of Ruth Wallens essay in Womens Studies and David Joselits review for Art in America most criticism of Sexual Politics careening from gratitude to outright opprobrium, missed Jones crucial recontextualization of the essentialism debate.59 In fact, in a repetition that could only qualify as uncanny (and very revealing), Sexual Politics elicited many of the same hostile and contentious responses that had plagued The Dinner Party since its debut in 1979. In a sense this reaction confi rmed some of the concerns of the six prominent early feminist artists (mentioned earlier) who, fearing that the emphasis on The Dinner Party would support Chicagos career at the expense of their own, refused to have their work included. For the most part, initial reviews of the show did tend to focus primarily on The Dinner Party often with scant or no mention of the fiftythree other works that had been included.
126 Some reviewers were positive, for example Art Scenes Betty Brown who, acknowledging a mome nt of nostalgia, expressed delight that a younger generation would finally be able to see early feminist work that had not been accessible. Other reviewers, for example Art Issues Libby Lumpkin, repeated old criticisms that conformed to Hilton Kramers, R obert Hughess and Suzanne Muchnics earlier dismissals of The Dinner Party as ardent kitsch.60 Perhaps this was not so surprising given the fact that Lumpkin, one of four panelists selected by L.A. Times art critic Muchnic to discuss the history of feminist art in a roundtable organized in conjunction with the show, did not appear conversant with contemporary feminist discourses. When asked to comment on the current status of feminism in art, Lumpkin responded with the statement that the problem is that all feminist theories share a basic kind of assumption about women that theyre virtuous.61 Other reviewers rehearsed Pollockian concerns about critical distance. Writing for Womans Art Journal self described virgin viewer Julie Springer admitted that seeing The Dinner Party was thrilling and that it looked fabulous!62 On reflection, however, she backed away from her initial response, which she described as an uncritical acceptance of the status quo, and faulted the exhibition for presenting the work as it was originally installed. 63 Citing the dramatically lit table, tapestry banners, and informational wall panels (which introduced the women and goddesses represented as well as the people who worked on the project), Springer criticized the combination of Chicagos didactic envelope and the ecclesiastical aura of the installation for eliciting the kind of affective reaction that, from a Pollockian perspective, signals a lack of critical distance. She ended her analysis by identifying he r initially positive response to The Dinner Party as a problem inherent to the work as well as
127 the exhibitions framing of it, an inadequacy that translated, in Springers estimation, as the shows failure to keep its promise to offer fresh interpretations .64 At the other end of the spectrum, David Joselits review for Art in America praised the exhibition. He specifically cited the theory versus essentialism debate as the primary source for the often bitter disagreements that have divided feminist artists and theorists in recent decades, and acknowledged the importance of its deconstruction, which he then credited with spurring him to rethink early feminist work, including The Dinner Party.65 Referencing the political intention and enormous amount of his torical research that went into its making, Joselit compares The Dinner Party with Hans Haackes activist installation, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971. Commissioned by the Solomon R. Guggenhei m Museum to create a oneman show, Haacke, like Chicago, relied on extensive archival research to create photographs and text based wall panels that detailed some of the questionable business practices of Harry Shapolsky, one of the Guggenheims trustees. Despite the fact that Haackes exhibition was cancelled by the museums director six weeks before it was due to open, this installation is considered an important early example of Institutional critique. Thus Joselits reinterpretation of The Dinner Part y as drawing on strategies associated with Conceptual art and Institutional critique implicitly argued for its inclusion within an accepted avant garde historical lineage, a position taken up and expanded by Helen Molesworth in her 2000 essay House Work and Art Work, discussed in the previous chapter. Furthermore, Joselit, reading against the dominant critical grain, found that Chicagos controversial dinner plates, produced in an abstracted language saturated with cultural references, were impossible to see as a simple form of biologism.66 After viewing Sexual Politics Joselit not only agreed with Jones contention that accusations of biological essentialism
128 against 1970s feminist work were, for the most part, insupportable, but also concluded that even the most biologically explicit art of 1970s feminism sought to link the body to cultural norms and constructions. 67 It is important to note, however, that Joselit continued to underscore key differences between art labeled essentialist and constructionist, the former seeking to produce a visual wage from female biology versus the latters emphasis on the body as an effect, rather than a source, of social norms and discourses.68 Yet this review, published by a respected contemporary art h istorian and critic writing for one of the most widely read art journals, signaled an early acceptance of Jones deconstruction of the theory versus essentialism polemic as well as of her fundamental proposition that 1970s essentialist feminist art was, at the very least, worthy of serious reconsideration within broader post war art historical narratives. I indicated earlier that the most malign review of Sexual Politics surfaced in the popular press, where Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight dismissed the entire show not only as a fiasco, but as the worst exhibition Ive seen in a Los Angeles museum in many a moon.69 Although Knight acknowledged the significance of the shows subject, stating feminism has been the most influential and m omentous social movement for American art since the 1960s, his review replicated the type of strident invective slung at The Dinner Party twenty years earlier, precisely the sort of reaction Joness essay for the catalogue had chronicled in detail. He ch ided the UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum of Art for having foolishly trotted out a work he then erroneously described as eliciting nearly universal Bronx cheers from art critics and feminists alike.70 Acknowledging the political intention informing The Dinne r Party, he excoriated its pretension to posterity, simultaneously contradicting his earlier assertion about a unanimous response to it: Chicagos agit prop monument is a crass and self important oxymoron, which partly explains the horrible divisiveness of its reception. Here Knight
129 repeated a long established criticism of Chicago, the perceived contradiction between her desire to critique the institutions of art yet also be accepted into them. While Jones did, in fact, acknowledge this problem in her essay for the catalogue, noting that many feminist artists continue to struggle with precisely this dilemma, Knight failed to see the investigatory potential such a contradiction offers and used it, instead, to dismiss The Dinner Party as a failed work o f art.71 Although Knights excoriation of Sexual Politics appeared to be based on the fact that it centered around a flawed artwork ( The Dinner Party ), what he seemed to find most offensive about the exhibition was Joness feminist framework: Sexual P olitics isnt really about art at all but rather an illustrated lecture on feminist theory, with preachy didactic panels [that] direct the audience in proper theoretical viewing of the art. This is a criticism similar to that put forward by Springer who was suspicious of Chicagos didactic envelope and the identificatory responses the installation elicited, but Knights was more personal and emotional, lambasting both the show and its curator. Ignoring Joness extensive historical research, he re sorted to labeling her an ideologist who privileged theory over practice, a conclusion he then expanded into a declaration about theorys misuse and abuse of art. Sidestepping any specific discussion of theory, Knight concluded his professional review by attempting to veil this omission, substituting instead a rather vivid yet clichd anthropomorphization that would be hysterically funny if it were not, in fact, hysterical and malicious. You want to run screaming from the room, Knight ranted, as me re works of art, like Julie Bambers exquisite little vulval painting on a phallic block of wood, get crushed beneath the boot.72 The commandant is, of course, Jones herself, and the threatening footgear Knight didnt dare name directly is feminism, m ore specifically Jones feminist poststructuralist deconstruction
130 of essentialism and modernist critical neutrality. While my imagination might enjoy outfitting Jones with any number of exotic accoutrements, what Knight invoked was far less delightful, the feministbaiting hate term Feminazi popularized by right wing pundit Rush Limbaugh. Reproducing exactly the kind of critical reaction Jones credits much early feminist art as provoking in order to expose it as invested, Knight reconfigured his persona l dislike of The Dinner Party and discomfort with certain forms of feminist discourse as an aesthetic judgment, a deflection he then attempted to veil by launching into a vociferous personal attack on the curator as ideologist. Knights response, in its effort to classify art as autonomous or separate from theoretical discourses, resurrects not only the specter of Clement Greenbergs version of Modernism but also larger questions about relationships between art and language, a point to which I will retur n in a moment Knights column did in fact provoke a number of letters to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, the majority of which were supportive of the exhibition in various ways. Though not unanimously fond of The Dinner Party many authors were clearly astute regarding gender issues, Knights metaphorization, and the exhibitions effort to challenge and expand the art historical record. The barbedwire fence of labels that Knight constructed around Dinner Party, Carolyn Wolf noted, seems no ma tch for its powerful emotional and intellectual communication. Since we all view art through a filter of our gender, upbringing, education, political beliefs, etc., I believe many people will find viewing this work to be a moving experience.73 Crediting Knights harsh dismissal with provoking his curiosity, James Griffith found the exhibition, which bore little resemblance to Mr. Knights description, both viscerally and emotionally moving. 74 Griffith also pinpointed one of the fundamental contrad ictions in Knights discourse: Knight says Chicagos work has long been denounced as
131 politically retrogressive for making a monument to the lost/ignored history of important women. In doing so, Knight participates in the tradition of belittling and suppressing this history. 75 Another important counter to Knights diatribe was a letter from art historian Donald Preziosi, which, despite having been solicited by the Los Angeles Times Counterpunch editor, had to be reprinted with corrections as a result o f misleading editorial revisions.76 Preziosi not only exposed Knights inaccuracies, including his statement that the exclusion of video art grossly deforms the show (in fact Knight had missed the screenings), but also underscored the way in which Knight (and critics like him) censor feminist perspectives; in this case, through the bashing of a female curator who mounted an exhibition with critical and theoretical challenges to phallocentrist historicisms.77 Preziosi also challenged Knights dichotomizi ng of art and theory in his attempt to paint Jones as an ideologist, pointing to the fact that artistic practices of the past 200 years have never been separate from critical and theoretical discourse and debate. 78 Preziosi is referring to the developm ent of the disciplines of art history and criticism, where theory has always been an active component in the interchange between aesthetic evaluations and practices. What he did not address directly in his letter may be a tension, exemplified by Knights reaction and the theory versus essentialism debates, that remains as a result of a shift in interpretive paradigms that began in the 1960s and 1970s, when theories began to move swiftly between academic disciplines, particularly linguistics, philosophy, ps ychoanalysis and literary criticism. It was during this period that the influence of theorydriven methods of interpretation, which could include Marxism, feminism, and various forms of poststructuralism, increased dramatically, eventually migrating from philosophy and literary criticism to film studies and art critical and historical discourses. Drawing primarily from the
132 study of linguistics (i.e. Ferdinand de Saussure) and the metaphor of language, poststructuralist theory (such as Derridean diffran ce and Lacanian psychoanalysis) garnered a great deal of explanatory authority in the humanities, peaking perhaps in the 1980s yet continuing to inform much work in the arts. While most artists and critics would agree that language includes visual, mythic (i.e. dreamwork) and somatic practices as well as verbal, we tend however to think of art historical and critical practices as verbal discourses written in a somewhat secondary or derivative relation to the artwork/s they ostensibly describe, analyze and contextualize. We forget that the language we use may, in fact, constitute our object/s of study, which is why, as I mentioned earlier, Judith Butler cautions us to be very careful, especially with the language of theory. Ostensibly describing or cr itiquing early feminist art, the concept of essentialism was, in fact, a theoretical idea that created, in turn, a history and body of work.79 Critical frames are very powerful technologies, not only for analysis but also for invention. Thus Knights opprobrium, despite its numerous factual and rhetorical errors, was provocative on another level that renders it instructive. It is yet another ironic twist in the history of the theory versus essentialism debate. In Knights article, Joness use of femini st and poststructuralist theories to investigate and deconstruct that debate, an opposition instituted in intra feminist arguments by feminists drawing on poststructuralist theories to correct and/or denounce earlier feminist work (rendering it irrelevant to the historical record), is found guilty (once again) of annihilating the very art it now seeks to restore to a history it is credited, simultaneously, with both producing and erasing. Confirming Judith Butlers observation about the power of theoretic al discourses, Knights response raises questions about appropriate boundaries between art, texts and theory.
133 It is quite possible that what critic Knight found so offensive was not simply the ideology (feminist content) or (what he perceived to be) the overdetermining wall panels and essays informing Sexual Politics but the fact that Jones overtly appropriated the power of the critical frame. Her recontextualization and reinterpretation of the artworks through a framework of critical texts performed, in a sense, what she argued for early feminist art, exposing the practices of art criticism and history as interested while demonstrating the relation of mutuality, albeit incongruent, between texts and images and bodies. Exposing one of the naturalized assumptions about the role of art critical and historical writings (that they function as secondary to the art they describe), Joness texts stimulated anxiety about the proper role of critics, curators and historians. Knights reaction to Sexual Politics underscored one of Joness key points, one that could be applied to all systems of signification and undercuts the possibility of any real essentialism: the gap between language and referents (i.e. the artwork, the body, etc.), like that between subjects and objects, solicits and exposes desire. I would agree with Knight that Jones is to some extent an ideologue, but no more or less so than Knight or any of the rest of us. On the other hand, part of the trajectory of her critical work is to expose the i deology and identifications that make her a subject, to acknowledge her investments and desire (to the degree one can), sometimes blurring the boundaries between art, history, theory and autobiography in her work.80 Traversing traditionally disparate disciplines, Jones as critic and historian, takes her cue from the practices of many early feminist artists (Carolee Schneemann, Judy Chicago and Valie Export, among others), who crossed numerous boundaries and inhabited any number of forbidden territories in o rder to make their own work and invent their own theories about feminism and aesthetics. Emphasizing invention, sometimes more so than or in lieu of critique, their work and
134 theories, unlike much 1980s art recognizably based in academic poststructuralist theory, lacked a familiar or ready to hand interpretive frame, rendering it more difficult, perhaps, for some critics to recognize, relate to and acknowledge. Sexual Politics : Some Conclusions While Sexual Politics was not without its problems, Amelia Jon es did accomplish a significant reframing of the essentialism debate in terms both theoretical and historical, thus achieving her goal of challenging and opening up art historical narratives that had consigned most early feminist art to irrelevance and relative invisibility. Although it has not been possible to trace a direct connection between Joness 1996 exhibition and concerns voiced in 2007 by Mira Schor and Mary Kelly about what they perceived as a current of essentialist revisionism in art histori cal discourses (a surprising reversal of the old polemic, threatening to exclude or overshadow the contributions of 1980s theory based art) it is true that Sexual Politics contributed directly to the creation of the first institution in the United States c ommitted specifically to the research, collection and exhibition of feminist art.81 For it was after actually seeing The Dinner Party for the first time in Jones show that patron Elizabeth Sackler became interested not only in its ambitious aesthetic and historical program but the historical significance of the work itself, a narrative that included problems of conservation and public access.82 This eventually resulted in Sacklers 2001 purchase of The Dinner Party and, by 2007, its permanent installation at the Brooklyn Museum in the Center for Feminist Art that bears Sacklers name.83 Given The Dinner Partys pre eminent place within the narrative and physical space of the Sackler Center, it can indeed be argued that the concerns of those feminist artists who felt that the Sexual Politics show would serve primarily to further Chicagos career and reinforce the misperception that the feminist art movement started with her have to some extent been validated. And Jones has conceded that for many viewers of Sexual Politics its pre curated
135 focus on The Dinner Party tended to overshadow the larger history she wished to present, despite her attempts to broaden the context.84 But one may hope that the Sacklers larger emphasis on showing, collecting and educating the public about feminist art (global and contemporary as well as historical) continues to spur further research on its historical narratives rather than to confirm the old, reductive ones, such as the essentialism versus theory divide. From a curatorial perspective, Sexual Politics has been credited with laying a foundation for the American feminist survey and for continuing to inspire shows of feminist work, including the two vast 2007 exhibitions, Connie Butlers WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution a nd Maura Reillys Global Feminisms .85 Continued evidence of a strong curatorial desire to acknowledge and extend many of the tropes and strategies of 1970s feminist art is perhaps best reflected in contemporary artist and curator Emily Roysdons essay for the 2009 group exhibition Ecstatic Resistance, held at X Initiative in New York.86 In her project to re imagine what political protest looks like. And what it feels like, Roysdon, undaunted by potential accusations of essentialism, does not hesitate to claim working from her lived experience as a feminist, queer and political activist while celebrating embodiment. At the same time, she wryly complicates any subjectivity based on identity by claiming the impossible as a site of lived experience, an experience of identity which may also function as the place from which we make our best art and politics.87 Taking a trans generational approach (as Jones did in Sexual Politics ), Ecstatic Resistance included contemporary work by feminist icons from the late 1960s and 1970s, such as Adrian Piper and Ulrike Ottinger, alongside that of younger political, feminist and queer artists such as Sharon Hayes and Juan Davila. Roysdons frank acknowledgment of her debt to great feminist thinkers and artists, in cluding Luce Irigaray and Hlne Cixous, and the unselfconscious ease
136 with which she embraces strategies of pleasure, desire and the body as well as deconstructive theories of subjectivity, epitomize a perspective that doesnt so much seek to reconcile the tropes of 1970s and 1980s feminism as rather, in an improvisational approach that culls from both, to confirm the reductive nature of the polemic.88 As part of a younger generation of artists, Roysdon (born 1977), like the group of feminist, queer and act ivist artists she co founded, LTTR, draws from strategies that include both 1970s essentialism (making claims from embodiment and lived experience) and 1980s identity critique freely, intelligently and without apology. She exhibits a certain confidence t hat many older feminist art critics and historians do not seem quite able to muster. The Polemic Persists: Emily Apter No matter how often the longing for an end to the theory versus essentialism opposition is expressed, it appears to be futile. Despite Amelia Jones persuasive deconstruction of it, post millennium references to the problem persist in some spheres, and it is important to note that they often remain linked to anxieties about the current role of theory in relation to feminist art discourses and practices, concerns about an essentialist revisionism at the expense of a critical and artistic interest in theory and 1980s theorybased art. These anxieties remains acute for some critics, particularly those who tend to define and sometimes con flate feminist theory in general with psychoanalytically driven subjectivity theories.89 For them, the polemic persists, particularly in discussions involving the body, gender and touch, three concepts enduringly vulnerable to accusations of essentialism, rendering them available to further analysis and interpretation. One of these critics is Emily Apter (previously mentioned in the context of October s Questions of Feminism). I would like to conclude this chapter by outlining Apters response to an e ssay on Palestinian born British artist Mona Hatoum written by Tamar Garb (a current example of an
1 37 examination of the problem of essentialism as linked to artistic touch); then delving further into touch, proximity and distance in Garbs take on Hatoums a rt; and, finally, by preparing the ground for my last chapter by departing from a particular quote by Mary Kelly upon an examination of the work of certain early feminist artists, seen in part through the lens of the history of artistic touch.90 Even though she claims to eschew binary thinking, Emily Apter, expressing a strong concern (almost identical to that articulated by Schor and Kelly in 2007), dedicates her response essay to the Subjectivities section of the most recent feminist art anthology, Wom en Artists at the Millennium (2006), to a call for a referendum on theory and feminism, stating that in order to survive, feminist theory especially the psychoanalytically inflected theory has had to fight for its life.91 Mapping a brief history wherei n psychoanalytic theory, having lost some of its authority in the disciplines of its origins, reestablished itself in feminist art discourses and practices, Apter then goes on to suggest that despite the prominence of feminist artists and critics who conti nue to draw from it (i.e. Griselda Pollock, Mary Kelly, Catherine de Zegher, Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, Mignon Nixon), the dominant position of psychoanalytic feminism no longer appears secure. Unlike Miwon Kwon, whose distinction between deconstructive and psychoanalytically inflected feminist theories was discussed in the previous chapter, Apter conflates feminist theory with psychoanalytic theory at several points in her essay. This slippage is important, given that her concern is primarily the embat tled situation of psychoanalytic subjectivity feminism in current feminist discourses.92 While she locates this problem as part of a larger backlash against theory in general, it is worth noting an irony: several of the accusations she registers as threatening the survival of psychoanalytic subjectivity feminism (theory) since the mid1990s,
138 such as too straight, too white, too smug about assumptions of consensus and insufficiently engaged with issues of race, are identical to those levied again st essentialist feminist art of the 1970s (for example some of the aforementioned responses to The Dinner Party ).93 Although Apter names a number of psychoanalytic and literary theorists, including Jane Gallop and Julia Kristeva, who attempted to answer or rectify these and other charges against psychoanalytic feminism (such as too generationally rivalrous, deferential to phallocentric theoretical constructs, insufficiently engaged with issues of race, postcolonialism and public policy; too academic and overly abstract), it is the domain of visual feminism that has, from her perspective, played a key role in ensuring the afterlife of feminist theory.94 Yet given Apters emphasis on the survival of psychoanalytic feminist theory within feminist visual discourses, I think it is significant that only one of the three essays in the Subjectivities section draws specifically on such theory: Mignon Nixons explanation of negative transference as informing Louise Bourgeoiss The She Fox Neither Tamar Garbs discussion of Mona Hatoum nor Anne Wagners work on Rosemary Trockel refers directly to psychoanalysis. More importantly, both Garb and Wagner emphasize their artists references to the body and use of techne (drawing and line) as gendered, a posi tion that, for Apter, skates uncomfortably close to essentialism, perhaps motivating her call for a referendum on theory and, finally, an anti essentialist approach to the analysis of gender in visual media.95 Apters discomfort is significant for my inte rests because her primary concern, that feminism develop an anti essentialist approach, is consistent with the history of feminist criticism relying heavily on psychoanalytic subjectivity theories (see Pollock and Kelly, discussed earlier).96 What seems most problematic for Apter is that both Garbs and Wagners essays rely on gender stereotypes (i.e. the feminization of line) that appear to her to be
139 essentialist and/or to leave the reader with conclusions that are, from Apters viewpoint, unsatisfying in their deconstructive ambivalence.97 On one level, Apters discomfort with assignations of gender is understandable from a theoretical position that seeks to open the concept of gender up beyond the reductive binarism of female and male (as well as to include many others factors that contribute to identity formation, such as race, class, age, location, and so on). While I would agree with this goal, I think Apter misses the value for both critics and artists of working (for several reasons) with ste reotypes and potentially essentialist concepts.98 My first response to Apter is that Garb and Wagner, following the lead of the artists they discuss, are citing both cultural tropes and important historical precedents, earlier art critical and historical traditions that discussed line and touch in terms of bifurcated gender. More importantly, gender, over time, has not always been assumed to be inherent, fixed, or essentialist in the art discourses that have utilized it as a primary organizational and/or co nceptual metaphor. I will continue this discussion in my next chapter, but for now I would like to emphasize that gender stereotypes, particularly in relation to aesthetic practices and discourses of touch, are unstable, both dependent on and also influencing much wider cultural contexts (such as issues of class, race, age and so on), which is precisely what Hatoums work (shortly to be discussed through Garbs reading) suggests. Second, while it is certainly true (particularly from a performative perspec tive, as mentioned earlier) that the recitation of stereotypes may serve to reinforce them, it is also true that, in a series of gestures that are often not recognizable as traditional critique, stereotypes, like any concept, may be re performed incorrec tly, opening them up to new definitions and semiotic relations with other concepts or images. Part of the power of both Hatoums and
140 Trockels work, as read by Garb and Wagner, is that it sets up an ambivalent tension between terms which moves the locus o f critique away from the intention of the artist and more toward the experience of the viewer. By both exposing and holding the contradictions that arise through oppositions that cannot, at various moments and under particular pressures, be maintained (i .e. feminine versus masculine; human versus nonhuman), their work invites the viewer to explore, through a range of possible responses, how her or his own subjectivity and/or semiotic processes are informed by intersubjective desires, often contradictory and incongruous.99 The third point I would like to make, not only in relation to Apters concerns but also the larger question of essentialism, is that at some level there is no getting outside or beyond the stereotype insofar as it is, in a sense, an integral part of the semiotic process. Given that we constantly negotiate relations between the particular and the general, the stereotype is a matter of scale, functioning as a requisite shorthand in the process of making and connecting, or disconnect ing, images, words and ideas. To push this concept further, even the use of a single word or term is a stereotype insofar as it is an arbitrary gathering of meanings into an agreed upon convention which, through the process of repetition, gains credibili ty and becomes an accepted word or even received idea. However, due to the fact that a representation (word, image, idea) cannot give us the thing to which it refers in its entirety (there are always exclusions, excesses and over generalizations due to the gap between a word or thing and its referent), it may be repeated unconventionally (though accident or intention) in an ongoing process of shifting semiotics over time and place. Words, images and ideas gain and change meaning and semiotic authority through repetition and moving back and forth from the particular to the general. If we drop to the level of the most particular or unique the result is typically non sense, in the sense of non-
141 comprehension. While nonsense may be incredibly useful, poetic and is the foundation of much successful art, it also risks a level of incomprehension or misunderstanding that may lead to a subjects death, insanity or simple irrelevance.100 On the other hand, generalization leads to problems with exclusions, as lesbians and women of color were quick to point out during the early feminist movement. In a sense, the process of making meaning is at some level inherently essentialist insofar as repetition, as an effect of the play of difference and the desire to create or maintain meaning, produces a gathering or ground, a point of reference, however temporary, flawed and tenuous. Without that ground, albeit highly unstable and negotiable, there would be no significant communication. On the other hand, essentialism, def ined as the fixing of meaning or an attempt to give the thing in itself (full presence), is also rendered impossible by the play of difference and intersubjective desire. Again, this is the paradox of essentialism: there is nothing essential to essentialism, which is why touch, perhaps the most received signifier of presence and essence in Modernism, is such a powerful trope, especially in the work of 1970s feminists. As Diana Fuss has observed, essentialism may at once be more intractable and more i rrecuperable than we thought; it may be essential to our thinking while at the same time there is nothing quintessential about it.101 Hence essentialism, when held most under suspicion is often doing its work elsewhere, under other guises sometimes laying the ground of its own critique.102 It is my perception that in 21stcentury art discourses, which follow upon the undoing of the theory essentialism opposition by deconstructive feminists like Judith Butler, Jones and Fuss, the old, over generalized polemic is of more immediate concern to feminist critics invested primarily in the explanatory power of psychoanalytic subjectivity theory than to those who use a
142 deconstructive, postcolonial, race theory and/or activist approach.103 And yet the anti essent ialist critics, particularly Pollock, De Zegher and Lichtenberg Ettinger, have turned, as mentioned in the last chapter, to using concepts and metaphors developed by 1970s essentialist feminists as a way to resuscitate their psychoanalytic feminist theor izing. Admittedly, mine is a deconstructive reading of the situation, but I think it is valid to say that while psychoanalytic feminism continues to use essentialism as the negative pole against which it seeks to define an anti essentialist program, m ethod or approach, essentialism, as the outside term that makes the inside term possible, will continue to haunt, even appear to revitalize, the very system that would exclude it. While I am not arguing for maintaining binary thinking, the beauty of oppos itions is that they always fail at some point, undone by their terms own beveled edges or internal porosities.104 It is my sense that Apter places too strong an emphasis on the possibility of escaping or getting beyond gender stereotypes through theory and critique and not enough on the value of acknowledging, mapping and/or playing with the broader historical and cultural implications, contradictions, absurdities and excesses generated by embodied concepts (i.e. feminine, masculine, transgendered, and so on) as they are performed across time and place. This is not to suggest that history is somehow opposed to theory and critique, but rather to suggest that what we commonly call history may be referenced, traced and represented through various strategies an d forms, including embodied practices that render it aesthetic and theoretical as well. There is not space here in the context of my argument to discuss Wagners brilliant reading of Trockel, but I would like to end with a brief look at the work of Mona Ha toum through Garbs essay, which opens on to my own interest in essentialism and early feminist artists use of touch.
143 Touch and the Proper Distance: Mona Hatoum In Tamar Garbs astute and lively analysis, Palestinian born artist Hatoum plays with the hi stories of line, material and touch as gendered, making them available to reinscription through registering the experience and bodily specificity of women, a strategy that subverts the formal properties of line by making it signify as markers of the fem inine.105 It is this assignment of feminine or masculine that Apter finds so troubling and potentially essentializing in Garbs analysis, which also discusses Hatoums use of the body, often her own, to invoke powerfully gendered dichotomies. As Apter finds Garbs references to gender (which are, more accurately, reflective of Hatoums) potentially essentialist, I would also like to emphasize the ways in which Hatoum performs a destabilization of gender, class and art historical traditions through a use of materials and gestures which specifically invoke or reference touch, particularly as she plays with notions of proximity and distance. The concepts of proximity and distance have a long feminist history and are fundamental to the work of French feminists Luce Irigaray and Hlne Cixous as they each developed, from the 1970s on, feminist strategies that came to be known as writing the body.106 Their work was responding, in part, to philosophical and religious traditions in which proximity and di stance were often gendered and could refer, respectively, to the oppositions of immersion (identification) and reflection (critical distance), immanence and transcendence, body/matter and mind (or spirit), and/or female and male. As Garb argues, several o f Hatoums pieces directly reference the readymade template of the modernist grid, but her use of material (i.e. human hair) and context (i.e. domestic) confounds any supposed neutrality by invoking culturally gendered connotations. In addition I would suggest that Hatoum, like many feminist artists of the 1970s, also uses gender as a kind of grid, a readymade or found object (a modernist strategy that was often used to eschew signs of the artists hand or subjective investment), but
144 her invocations of touch both stage and trouble gender roles and rules, as well as subject/object relations, by implying relationships between things or people that do not typically inhabit the same space or tolerate proximity comfortably. In Keffieh (199399), Hatoum re weaves the readymade grid of the traditional Arabic head scarf, reproducing the conventional black and white version worn by men but substituting the black threads with a new material, the long silky tresses of dark female hair. As Garb argues, this smal l shift in material explodes the semiotics of this quotidian object, at once making visible the typically invisible hands of women, their unacknowledged labor and creativity (traditionally women are the weavers and embroiderers in Palestinian culture), whi le creating a situation of taboo proximity between genders, heightened by the fact that in Arabic culture a womans hair, which directly references her sexuality and fertility, is supposed to remain covered. Hatoum also leaves an excessively lengthy, wavy fringe of dark hair at the edges of the scarf, thereby reinforcing the connotations of female sexuality and further disrupting the codes of both proper reproduction and correct distance by suggesting forbidden touch, sexualized contact between the male body of the wearer and the body of a strange (nonfamilial) woman. Although Apter might be uncomfortable with these references to binary genders, the power of Keffieh is that it solicits and plays with these tensions (gendered, sexual, creative) that exist and are heightened through such an opposition, invoking transgressions that are simultaneously cheeky, assertive, seductive and critical when performed by a female artist born into an Arabic culture. Hatoum plays further with the theme of touch, line and gender by weaving small hair grids on readymade toy looms in Untitled (Black Hair Grid with Knots) and Untitled (Grey Hair Grid with Knots) (2001). Directly referencing the weavers loom as the original grid, these pieces
145 challenge the modernist grids claim to neutrality by placing it within the historical domain of women, their labor as well as art. Again, Hatoums use of hair, sometimes her own grey hair carefully saved and prepared through a painstaking process, speaks, for Garb, of that which exc eeds the grid: the temporal, the corporeal, the feminine.107 In this way, Hatoum stages the gap between the body and systems of signification, the failure of the grid to control the somatic excess of the subject.108 As Keffieh demonstrated, Hatoum often s tages this incommensurability through invocations of touch that are visual, tactile, cultural and/or historical. In Van Goghs Back a photograph from 1995, Hatoum has soaped the hair on the back of a hirsute man into a spray of circular and curvilinear l ines reminiscent of Van Goghs brushstrokes. Garb reads the resonances between brush, hair and stroke through the trope of drawing as a caress conventionally associated with male artists and female models, an aesthetic history invoked and reversed by H atoum as the female artist. In Recollections, a 1995 installation, Hatoum placed a loom on a table, scattered hairballs around the room, and strung a series of practically invisible strands of hair from the ceiling. Brushing against the faces and bodies of the viewers, the hair effectively collapsed the distance between viewer and artwork, its texture and cultural connotations (linked to the subjectivity and sexuality of the body that produced the hair) eliciting the viewers subjective desire through a range of possible responses (i.e. surprise, disgust and/or pleasure, and so on). For Garb, the hair line refuses to signify as one or the other, as body or line, mind or matter, highlighting the fact that meaning is made in the relation of difference.109 This migratory semiotic, its reversibility and irreconcilability, resonates through all the oppositions Hatoum invokes in this work, from feminine and masculine to subject and object, simultaneously
146 linking and undoing both, exposing their tangled imbric ation. What interests me most is that it is primarily through a multichanneled invocation of touch, from the physical handwork of women (including her own as artist), through the potential and/or realization of forbidden touch (between female and male bo dies, female and female bodies, the artwork and the viewer, or the artist and the viewer), to the history of gendered artistic touch (drawing as a caress), that Hatoum exposes the gendered codes of her cultures (Arabic and aesthetic) through eliciting in tersubjective desire. Hatoum plays with touch as one of the most intelligent mediums and metaphors for staging and exploring the structure, contradictions and negotiations of identity and desire. As that which makes a body a body, creates it properly and yet also undoes it as mine, touch may both produce and unravel boundaries in one stroke, which may be why it is a key element in the work of many 1970s feminists, too.110 I would suggest that on one level, Hatoum, like a number of early feminist artists, uses touch as a form of performative theorymaking, as a proposition (pun intended) that invites the viewer to think about or experience how the world might work differently. And yet, given the perspective of a modernist history of aesthetic touch, w here the artists hand was a signifier of creative genius (i.e. Jackson Pollock), of the artists full presence as the originator of the work, early feminist artists explorations of touch in the context of gender were highly vulnerable to charges of essen tialism. Departing From Kelly: A Reexamination of Early Feminist Art The next two chapters continue to be shaped by my interest in the persistence of that term, in the obsessive and vehement returns to the essentialism debate in art historical and critica l literature, which as Peggy Phelan notes have a quality of Freudian afterwardness suggesting the repression of something traumatic or threatening at their source, indicating at the very least that something still to be interpreted remains. 111 Curious about the relationship between
147 essentialism, repetition and touch, I choose as my point of departure a quote from one of the most insistent antiessentialist critics, artist Mary Kelly: The discourse of the body in art is more than a repetition of the e schatological voices of abstract expressionism; the actual experience of the body fulfills the prophecy of the painted mark. 112 By criticizing body artists as enacting an essential self possession because they, as well as their supporting critics, equated actual experience with the body and the prophecy of the painted mark, Kelly is drawing on both the history of the artists hand in art historical narratives and one of the fundamental insights of post structuralism, the deconstruction of presence, th eorized in part by Jacques Derridas work on writing and difference.113 As I discussed earlier, from the viewpoint of the anti essentialist critics like Kelly, the meaning of essentialism shifted from a nave assumption of biology as the origin of gender (biological essentialism) and came to stand in for a belief, also nave, in the ontology of presence. This point was at the heart of both Kellys critique of Greenbergian formalism and, more specifically, her wholesale denunciation of feminist body art.114 Kellys dismissal provoked Amelia Jones to reinterpret the work of a number of 1970s artists in Body Art/Performing the Subject (1998), which concluded that many early feminist body artists enacted the very critiques of ontological presence that Kelly and the anti essentialists had invoked to dismiss them. My investigation will focus on the part of Kellys critique Jones did not take up, examining early feminist art from the perspective of a modern history of artistic touch, the shifting and complex relati onships between touch, the mark, identity and presence, particularly as they are figured through gender and thus form a critical substrate of the essentialism debate. While the artists hand may have, in earlier periods, indicated her or his presence in t he work, there was never a simple conflation of touch and presence; their interplay constantly opened on to other
148 social and political factors such as gender, class and capital, as well as questions about artistic autonomy, agency, and intention, more ofte n than not complicating presence rather than simply confirming it. Arguing that the subject is not the origin of writing, is not present before writing but is rather an effect of it (and is infinitely deferred through the spacing of difference), Derri das speculation, when translated into the art world, upends traditional assumptions about artistic authorship, agency and genius while also undoing Modernisms belief in arts (as well as the critics) autonomy and neutrality. Deeply questioning the Cart esian subject object split opened up new possibilities for rethinking epistemology through the intersubjective relations between artist, viewer and work. It was the destabilizing effects of intersubjective desire that Kellys critique, which is astute in the context of Modernism, missed in her complete dismissal of feminist artists use of the body, due to her concern that the body was somehow too historically bound to ontological presence and art historical conventions around the mark (the artists presen ce invoked through touch) to be useful for feminist art practices and theory. In the context of gender politics, there is a heightened sense that the art historical conflation of the mark and the body of the artist, traditionally invoked and sometimes v eiled through touch, is particularly seductive and dangerous. It is precisely this condition of the seduction and danger involved in invoking and veiling presence, whether navely essentialist or as a limit condition of experience, that I would like to look into more thoroughly, focusing on how early feminist artists researched, staged and even theorized this condition, in part through their explorations of touch. Yet this condition has a longer lineage in art historical narratives, one that dates bac k to at least the Renaissance and is thoroughly gendered.
149 1 Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party (New York: Penguin, 1996), 223. 2 Christopher Knight, More Famine Than Feast; Focusi ng on the Flawed Dinner Party Undermines Sexual Politics, Los Angeles Times May 2, 1996, http://articles.latimes.com/1996 05 02/entertainment/ca 65092_1_dinner party (accessed 6/27/2010). 3 See David Joselit, Exhibiting Gender, Art in America Jan 1997, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_nl_v85/ai_19013625 (accessed 2/8/2007). 4 Thus part of this chapter will seed the potential for an investigation, through the trajectory of Jones work, of the hypothesis that the problem of essentialism (as provoked by reactions to the work of early feminist artists) opens on to issues fundamental not only to feminist debates about connections between art practices, concepts of subjectivity and coalition (identity) politics, but also feminisms relations hip to epistemology. It may be that the theory versus essentialism debate ultimately questions the boundaries between theory, criticism, history and art, offering possibilities for expanding the discipline of art history, its historical methods and practic es. This may be part of the impetus behind the current reinvigoration of interest in late 1960s and 1970s feminist work, and why the problematic of essentialism, despite years of theorizing, dismissal, revision and deconstruction, survives. 5 As Jones, Co pjec and others have suggested, desire is what undoes, or at least complicates and questions, every attempt to maintain strict divisions between inside and out, between subjects and objects on any level (intellectual, psychic, physical, and so on). One of the great insights of much early feminist art making that was labeled essentialist is, as Jones argues in Body Art / Performing the Subject that it performs, elicits, and exposes desire. As a quality that is often assumed to be personal, essential and i nterior, desire is what takes one out of ones self; it is biological, cultural and political at once, maintaining subjects and objects in relation. 6 Lucy R. Lippard, Sweeping Exchanges: The Contribution of Feminism to the Art of the 1970s, Art Journal 40, no. 1 / 2 (Autumn Winter, 1980): 362 365, 362. 7 Jones chronicles this in her essay for the Sexual Politics catalogue and develops it further in Performing the Subject. Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996.); and Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). 8 The exhibition that was to become Sexual Politics was initiated by the director of UCLA at the Armand Museum of Art and Cultural Center in L.A., Henry T. Hopkins. Languishing in storage in Melbourne, Australia since 1988, The Dinner Party had recently stormed into public view once again when a number of politicians in Washington, D.C., who had never seen the piece, blocked its donation to the University of the District of Col umbia, calling it weird sexual art and obscene ( Sexual Politics 10). Hopkins, who had been the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art when The Dinner Party opened there to unprecedented attendance in 1979, was eager to put it before the public eye once again in order to initiate a dialogue about the relationship of government to the arts. Elizabeth Shepherd, senior curator, suggested showing the actual piece and Amelia Jones, fascinated by the history of controversy and by the extreme ran ge of responses, both positive and negative, that The Dinner Party had provoked, agreed to guest curate, expanding the exhibition considerably to include feminist work both contemporaneous with Chicagos as well as contemporary pieces that addressed similar questions, themes and issues. 9 Amelia Jones, Arts Sexual Politics, N.Paradoxa online no. 19 (May 2006): 56. 10 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 25, footnote 7; also Amelia Jones, Arts Sexual Politics, N.Paradoxa online no. 19 (May 2006): 54 6 5. 11 Jones writes, The hostility I experienced as I attempted to mount this critical and historical account of the place of The Dinner Party and its related arguments in feminist art history was intense. It wiped out my idealistic view of
150 feminism as a co llective, supportive environment in which women could negotiate and exchange ideas. It was made clear to me that certain kinds of revisionist thinking were not welcome and that, as someone who did not actively participate in earlier periods of the feminist art movement, my attempts at intervening in what I perceived to be rather reified narratives of feminist art history were viewed antagonistically by at least some of the women who had been active in the 1970s. While I still strongly identify as a feminist because of this disillusionment I have distanced myself somewhat from the more institutionalized aspects of feminist art history and theory, discourses that I perceive as being somewhat hypocritical in their simultaneous desire to regulate discourses whi le self proclaiming their own marginality and alignment with the oppressed and excluded. This probably says a lot more about my own development from an idealistic to a more realistic position relative to feminism (which, after all, cant save academia or t he art world from themselves) than it does about feminism per se. Amelia Jones, UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum of Art Brief Article, Art Journal (Winter 1999) http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0425/is_4_58/ai_59552678 (accessed 2/8/2007). See also a discussion between Amelia Jones and Connie Butler in History Makers, (accessed 04/28/2007 at frieze.com.). 12 As mentioned earlier, my interest in the essentialism issue was spurred by comments made during a panel discussion I attended (sponsored by the Feminist Art Project in 2007), Life of the Mind, Life of the Market: A Reevaluation of the Contribution of Theory to Feminist Art from 1980 to 2006, chaired by Mira Schor with panelists Mary Kelly and Johanna Burton. Schor stated that her motivation for convening the panel was an attempt to recoup the intellectual rigor of the 1980s that was being lost or threatened by an essentialist revisionism. The implication was that the concept of essentialism was being reinterpreted at the expense of theory and an interest in the theory based work of the 1980s. The panel was held on Saturday, February 17, 2007, in conjunction with the meeting of The College Art Association, February 14 17, 2007. For further confirmation of this anxiety about the role of th eory in contemporary feminist art discourses, see Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 327 334. 13 I would take issue with this distinction insofar as even celebratory images of women may offer the potential to inspire critical thinking. My first response to The Dinner Party led me to research the history of goddess imagery in relation to continental philosophy, not ably Jacques Derridas term chora which, culled from Platos Timeaus marks an early attempt to think the concept of primordial creativity as an abstraction separate from the female body. It is impossible to predict or control the outcome of a viewers r esponse to an art work. I would suggest that the term critique in relation to feminist art describes a style or approach to criticism and art making more than an effect. 14 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in S exual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 97. 15 Amelia Jones, The Se xual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the Univer sity of California Press, 1996), 98. Griselda Pollock, Screening the Seventies: Sexuality and Representation in Feminist Practice: A Brechtian Perspective, in Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and Histories of Art (New York: Routledge, 1988), 163, 165, 181. 16 For a more precise history of Aristotles definition of essentialism, see Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989), 1 21; 7172. 17 The essay most representative of the feminist call for Brechtian distanciation is Griselda Pollocks Screening the 1970s: Sexuality and Representation in Feminist Practice a Brechtian Perspective, in Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art (London: Routledge, 1988).
151 18 Although th is appears to be a kind of chicken or egg argument (does theory emerge from experience or experience from theory? Later, theorists like Judith Butler will say they are entangled in a ceaselessly performative and incongruent process of mutual re definitio n), it is this splitting of theory away from experience in order to deconstruct experience in the 1980s that ends up re installing theory as articulating the truth of experience. For me, psychoanalysis is the premier example of this. As Diana Fuss explains the anti essentialists missed the crucial point that the privileging of theory (theories of gender as socially constructed) merely displaced essentialism (as a belief in truth, origin, or presence) from a belief in the body/experience/nature as the ancho r of signification to the ground of the social/the theoretical/language. Arguably the most incisive quote from Fuss is: Perhaps the most dangerous problem for anti essentialists is to see the category of essence as always already knowable, as immediatel y apparent and naturally transparent. Similarly we need to be aware of the tendency to naturalize the category of the natural, to see this category, too, as obvious and immediately perceptible as such Essentialism may at once be more intractable and mor e irrecuperable than we thought; it may be essential to our thinking while at the same time there is nothing quintessential about it. To insist that essentialism is everywhere reactionary is, for the constructionist, to buy into essentialism in the very act of making the charge; it is to act as if essentialism has an essence (Fuss 1989, 21; italics in original). See Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989). 19 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the D inner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Pre ss, 1996), 85. 20 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 25. 21 Jones is careful to include criticisms of Chicago and The Dinner Party, from what some feminists found to be a contradiction between Chicagos desire to critique institutions of high art while at the same time to be accepted into them, to the way she ran her studio from a position of mastery (based on a Renaissance studio model, which some critics read as reinforcing old patriarchal concepts and structures of hierarchy). While t he people who worked on the project are acknowledged, Chicago never claimed that she was creating a collaborative work in the sense of equal power sharing or decision making. Since my interest is in the essentialism debates, I do not discuss perceptions, c ritiques and corrections of Chicagos feminism that do not relate more or less directly to accusations of essentialism. 22 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Femini st Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 87 88. 23 It is important to note that Jones makes it clear that Chicago herself was invested in the concept of high art even as she sought to challenge it and expand its definitions. And yet, she points out that Chicago is not the only feminist artist who desires to have her work shown and discussed in high art settings, a contradic tion that has plagued feminist art practices from early on (Jones 1996, 88). In fact, the issue of greatness has been reintroduced into feminist discourse once again, but this time as a positive goal for contemporary women artists. See Emily Apter, A Re ferendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 333. 24 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Pol itics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 90. 25 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Poli tics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 90. 26 In response to Pollocks insistence that feminists avoid the effects of the male gaze and Lisa Tickners contention that The Dinner Party was emblematic of a problematic reverse discourse whereby essentialist
152 feminist artists of the 1970s attempted to anchor the signification of the feminine (much as patriarchal discourses had done), Jones comments: the development of a poststructuralist feminist art theory in the 1980s in some sense took place at the expense of the ki nd of feminist art from the 1970s that attempted to represent the female body in order to reclaim it from patriarchy and furthermore, this vast range of body oriented, utopian, transformative work was often collapsed into The Dinner Party, which was then cited as exemplary of its problems (Jones, 1996, 98). See Griselda Pollock, Screening the Seventies: Sexuality and Representation in Feminist Practice: A Brechtian Perspective, reprinted in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader ed. Amelia Jones (New York: Routledge, 2003), 76 93; Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema, reprinted in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 361 374; Lisa Tickner, Sexuality and/in Representation: Five British Artists, reprinted in Feminism Art Theory: An Anthology 1968 2000 ed. Hilary Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 459 473. Peggy Phelan argues a similar point: The accusation of essentialism was mounted in the 1980s, when t heory displaced history as the dominant discourse of feminist writing. Having duly observed this lag time, however, historians then ignore it, and go on to talk about the logic of representation, a logic that makes a statement like Chicagos a vagina, that which makes me who I am, seem nave, even embarrassing. But the lag time is crucial to the accusation, both in its content and its desire to be distant from and superior to feminist essentialists (Phelan 2001, 37). For Phelan, the vehement and repeti tious accusations of essentialism have a quality of Freudian afterwardness that suggests a symptomatic repression of something threatening which remains to be interpreted. See also Mira Schors Backlash and Appropriation, in The Power of Feminist Art : The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994), 248 263, discussed in the previous chapter. 27 I would like to note, however, that in her discussion of female experience, spe cifically, an essentially feminine experience of the body, Kelly reads Hannah Wilkes work as a confirmation of Freuds postulation of the bisexuality of the drives. By acting out the feminine position of object (of the look) while also taking up the mas culine role as the producer of the look (as the art and artist she is both subject and object of the look, of desire), Wilke produces a contradiction. For Kelly, through this contradiction, a fundamental negation of the notion of an essential femininity n onetheless appears (374). Yet Wilke is still classified, by Kelly, as promoting an essentially feminine experience of the body as prior to representation, as dominated by representations (rather than self consciously producing femininity as a representati on of difference within a specific discourse) (372). Curiously, Kelly also finds confirmation of the bisexuality of the drives even in work which is overtly derived from the female body, where you can find a kind of super imposition of phallocentric and concentric imagery Louise Bourgeois is an interesting example (74). This recourse to form as a marker of gender appears, surprisingly, to reproduce a basic assumption of Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiros much reviled central core theory. Yet for Kell y, that both forms exist in one work is a sign of the fact that masculine and feminine positions are never fixed. Kelly didnt eschew identification or pleasure entirely, just particular forms of identification and pleasure that were deemed to have uncrit ical effects. In Post Partum Document, she substituted a first person diary narrative for the absent representational image, claiming that this kind of pleasure in the text, in the objects themselves, should engage the viewer, because theres no point a t which it can become a deconstructed critical engagement if the viewer is not first immediately and affectively drawn into the work (Kelly and Smith 1982, 373). Narrative text was considered an acceptable visual form for soliciting the viewer, but the fe male body was not. The pleasure that was to be avoided was of a very specific kind, one defined quite generally by the affective response it was presumed to provoke in an audience of heterosexual men. This response was then assumed to be antithetical to pr oducing, in viewers of all sexes, the critical distance necessary for political critique. See Mary Kelly and Paul Smith, No Essential Femininity, in The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology ed. Donald Preziosi (New York: Oxford, 1998), 372. (Origin ally published in Parachute 37, no. 26 (Spring 1982): 31 35. 28 Mary Kelly and Paul Smith. No Essential Femininity, in The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology ed. Donald Preziosi (New York: Oxford, 1998), 375. Originally published in Parachute 37, no. 26 (Spring 1982): 31 35. Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 92.
153 29 Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989). Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Cont ext, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley, UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 99. 30 Amelia Jone s, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. by Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association wi th the University of California Press, 1996), 92. 31 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Arman d Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 92 93. These hearings resulted from Chicagos attempt to donate The Dinner Party to the University of the District of Columbia in 1990 in order to s ecure it a permanent home and exhibition space. Her offer was accepted by the UDC trustees, but then a negative media campaign, mounted by more conservative members of the faculty senate, resulted in student protests against the work and Chicago withdrew her offer. Since the US Congress controls the UDC budget, the Congressional hearings were, in part, motivated by the negative press, headlines such as UDCs $1.6 Million Dinner; Feminist Artwork Causes Indigestion in the right wing Washington Times whi ch also referred to the piece as vaginas on plates (Chicago 1996, 220). As a result, a conservative Virginia representative, finding The Dinner Party offensive to the sensitivities and moral values of our various related communities, introduced an am endment to cut $1.6 million dollars from UDCs operating budget (Chicago 1996, 220). See Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party (New York: Penguin, 1996), 219 224. 32 Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party (New York: Penguin, 1996), 223. 33 Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party (N ew York: Penguin, 1996), 223. 34 Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party (New York: Penguin, 1996), 223. 35 Chicago and Schapiro outlined their position in an article titled Female Imagery. See Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Female Imagery, in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader ed. Amelia Jones (New York: Routledge, 2003), 40 43. (Originally printed in Womanspace Journal 1:3 (Summer 1973). For more information on the pedagogical aspect of central core theory, see Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Womanhou se (Valencia, California: California Institute of the Arts: Feminist Art Program, 1972); and Jennie Klein, The Ritual Body as Pedagogical Tool: The Performance Art of the Womens Building, in From Site to Vision: the Womens Building in Contemporary Art and Culture ed. Sondra Hale and Terry Wolverton, http://womansbuilding.org/fromsitetovision (accessed 8 March 2009). 36 Chicago and Schapiro outlined their position in an article titled Female Imagery. See Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Female Imag ery, in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader ed. Amelia Jones (New York: Routledge, 2003), 40 43. (Originally printed in Womanspace Journal 1:3 (Summer 1973).) 37 Chicago and Schapiro outlined their position in an article titled Female Imagery. See J udy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Female Imagery, in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader ed. Amelia Jones (New York: Routledge, 2003), 40 43. (Originally printed in Womanspace Journal 1:3 (Summer 1973).) 38 The researchers working at this time (1970s and 1980s) on matrifocal and goddess cultures included archaeologists Marija Gimbutas and James Mellaart, sculptor and art historian Merlin Stone, psychologist Starhawk (Miriam Simos), art historian Buffie Johnson, and thealogians Carol Christ and Charlene Spretnak, among many others. 39 I am paraphrasing Jones here. She writes: the idea of the mythical goddess was clearly powerfully enabling for these artists, serving as a site of projection that allowed them to actualize their own attempts to attain the k ind of transcendence conventionally reserved for men. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los
154 Angeles and Berkeley: UC LA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 95. 40See note 40 above. 41 Edelson saw the integration of mind, body and spirit as a platform for changing consciousness and creating a dynami c, non hierarchical network of cooperative relationships that include nature and human liberation. See Mary Beth Edelson, Male Grazing: An Open Letter to Thomas McEviley, in Feminism Art Theory: An Anthology 1968 2000 ed. Hilary Robinson (Oxford: Black well, 2001), 596597. 42 Chicago quoted in Jones. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Arma nd Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 96. 43 Arlene Raven quoted in Jones. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicag os Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 96. 44 See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Di nner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Pres s, 1996), 97. 45 Raven quoted in Jones. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 96 97. 46 See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art Histo ry ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 97. 47 See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Se xual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 97. 48 While The Dinner Party was the result of a collaborative effort, Chicago never claimed it was a democratically shared creative project. She has always taken full credit as the author of the work. As the one who had the vision for the project, she understood her workshop as oper ating primarily on the model of a Renaissance art studio. This perspective and her clear belief in the notion of artistic genius have elicited much criticism from some feminists who see her position as reinforcing older patriarchal models based on exclusio nary hierarchies of value that are maledefined, particularly Modernisms investment in artistic genius. 49 Walker quoted in Jones. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Pa rty in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 101. 50 Jones is careful to point out, however, that while this crit ique of early feminism did lead to corrections and more inclusive considerations of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, early feminists did not ignore race or sexual orientation. This is a point Martha Rosler emphasizes in her essay for Women Artists a t the Millennium (ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2006)). Both note that black and lesbian women were central to the feminist movement from the beginning. Betye Saar and Faith Ringgold were definitely k ey organizers in the art world, a fact recently highlighted in the 2007 exhibition WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual
155 Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 101. 51 A number of women of color have addressed and continue to address t he issue of sexuality as it intersects with race, including Carrie Mae Weems, Lorraine OGrady, Kara Walker, and Renee Cox, among others. 52 Elizabeth A. Sackler, ed., Entering the Culture: Judy Chicago Talking with Lucy Lippard, in Judy Chicago (New York : Watson Guptill Publications, 2002), 11. 53 Chicago quoted in Jones 1996, 90. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los An geles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 90. 54 Jones 1996, 99. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politi cs: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 101. 55 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politi cs of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of Cal ifornia Press, 1996), 99. 56 Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art a nd Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 99. 57 Jones 1996, 99. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critical Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art Histor y ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 100. 58 Jones 1996, 99. See Amelia Jones, The Sexual Politics of the Dinner Party: A Critic al Context, in Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones (Los Angeles and Berkeley: UCLA Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with the University of California Press, 1996), 99. Defin ed in these terms, essentialism as a strategy shares qualities with one of the earliest and more convincing definitions of feminist art, Lucy Lippards statement that feminist art is neither a style nor a movement but rather a value system, a revolution ary strategy, a way of life (Lippard 1995, 172). Lucy R. Lippard, Sweeping Exchanges: The Contribution of Feminism to the Art of the 1970s in The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on Art (New York: The New York Press, 1995), 19. For Peggy Phe lan, feminism is a conviction, a way of interpreting the world and the work by acknowledging that gender has been, and continues to be, a fundamental category for the organization of culture. Moreover, the pattern of that organization usually favors men over women (Phelan 2001, 20; 18). I also wish to clarify that feminism has a conflicted history in terms of opening the art world to difference as it was heavily critiqued for its exclusions, particularly by women of color and lesbians. It might b e more precise to say that, in general, feminisms insistence on a recognition of gender inspired, provoked, or added momentum to the push by other identity based and/or activist groups to gain access to or rewrite art historical canons. 59 David Joselit, Exhibiting Gender, Art in America (Jan 1997), http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_nl_v85/ai_19013625 (accessed 2/8/2007); Ruth Wallen, review of Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History ed. Amelia Jones, in Womens Studies 28 (1999): 339 344. 60 Lumpkins comment came during a roundtable discussion organized around the Sexual Politics show, the transcripts of which were published in the Los Angeles Times Participants included Judy Fiskin, Amelia Jones,
156 Rachel Rosenth al, and Libby Lumpkin. Lumpkins lack of knowledge of and reductive attitude toward feminist theory and discourse is evident in her statement: I dont even know an artist in this generation who isnt a feminist. My problem is that the discourse tends to l ook at certain art that has feminist themes and calls that feminist art. Im much more interested in art that has feminist effects rather than feminist themes. I understand that there are a lot of diverse theories because I spend a lot of my time reading a bout them, but theyre all tied together by this basic kind of assumption about womenthat theyre virtuous. In addition to making this reductive and incorrect statement about the basis of feminist theory, Lumpkin never does specify what feminist effects might be. See Suzanne Muchnic, PushPull of Feminist Art; Four respected figures in feminist art share their opinions about what has happened to the movement in the years since Judy Chicagos controversial Dinner Party was first assembled in 1979, L os Angeles Times April 21, 1996, Entertainment section, home edition. 61 Los Angeles Times April 21, 1996, Entertainment section, home edition. 62 Julie Springer, untitled review of the exhibition Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History in Womens Art Journal 20, no. 1 (SpringSummer 1999): 52 54. 63 Julie Springer, untitled review of the exhibition Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History in Womens Art Journal, 20, no. 1 (Spring Summer 1999): 52 54. 64 Julie Springer, untitled review of the exhibition Sexual Politics: Judy Chicagos Dinner Party in Feminist Art History in Womens Art Journal 20, no. 1 (SpringSummer 1999): 52 54. 65 David Joselit, Exhibiting Gender, in Art in America (Jan 1997), http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_nl_v85/ai_19013625 (accessed 2/8/2007). 66 See David Joselit, Exhibiting Gender, in Art in America (Jan 1997), http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_nl_v85/ai_19013625 (accessed 2/8/2007). 67 See Davi d Joselit, Exhibiting Gender, in Art in America (Jan 1997), http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_nl_v85/ai_19013625 (accessed 2/8/2007). 68 See David Joselit, Exhibiting Gender, in Art in America (Jan 1997), http://findarticles.com/p/articles/ mi_m1248/is_nl_v85/ai_19013625 (accessed 2/8/2007). 69 Christopher Knight, More Famine Than Feast; Focusing on the Flawed Dinner Party Undermines Sexual Politics, Los Angeles Times May 2, 1996, http://articles.latimes.com/1996 05 02/entertainment/ca 65092_1_dinner party (accessed 6/27/2010); Ruth Wallen, The Legacy of 1970s Feminist Artistic Practices on Contemporary Activist Art, in N.Paradoxa 14 (Feb 2001), http://web.ukonline.co.uk/n.paradoxa/2001panel3.htm (accessed 2/8/2006). 70 Christopher Kni ght, More Famine Than Feast; Focusing on the Flawed Dinner Party Undermines Sexual Politics, Los Angeles Times May 2, 1996, http://articles/latimes.com/1996 05 02/entertainment/ca 65092_1_dinner party (accessed 6/27/2010). 71 I would add that this ac cusation is replete with gender bias, as many artists who perform institutional critique are, in fact, regularly shown in museums and vigorously collected, including Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers, and Fred Wilson. It is also true, however, that women and feminist artists have less success in this area. Some may enjoy a degree of visibility and support, for example Andrea Fraser, but feminist artists like Carolee Schneemann have not much benefitted from it. 72 Christopher Knight, More Famine Than Feast; Focusing on the Flawed Dinner Party Undermines Sexual Politics, Los Angeles Times May 2, 1996, http://articles.latimes.com/1996 05 02/entertainment/ca 65092_1_dinner party (accessed 6/27/2010). 73 Carolyn Wolf, letter to the editor, Los Angeles Times May 11, 1996, Entertainment section, home edition.
157 74 James Griffith, letter to the editor, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1996, Entertainment section, home edition. 75 James Griffith, letter to the editor, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1996, Entertainment section, home edition. 76 Donald Preziosi, Art Under the Boot, Los Angeles Times May 13, 1996, Entertainment section, home edition. 77 Preziosi was Jones graduate advisor at UCLA. 78 Donald Preziosi, Art Under the Boot, Los Angeles Times May 13, 1996, Entertai nment section, home edition. 79 Within feminist discourses, the problem of essentialism, as Peggy Phelan has argued, was fundamentally a series of investigations into the relationship between female bodies and subjectivity, a relationship that is framed by language (Phelan 2001, 37). See Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism ed. Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press, 2001). 80 See Amelia Jones, particularly her irrational history of New York Dada, told through an identification with the neurastheni c artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven based, in part, on Jones own tendency to the same symptomology. Playing against regimes of critical distance and rationality (Taylorism, Fordism, certain flows of capital and academic discourse), Jones immers es herself in her object of study, which includes taking her cues from the artists strategies (i.e. self display, autobiographical writing, immersion into Dada, etc.) (Jones 2004, 238). At certain points in the text Jones mimics the Baronesss rhythms, to ne and obsessions in her own writing, as well as writing from the Baronesss perspective and in her voice. Jones goal is to promote a kind of neurasthenic art history one that acknowledges rather than suppresses the confusing projections and identificati ons through which we art historians give meanings to works of art, movements, and the artists who make and sustain them both (Jones 2004, 172). Art history, for Jones, is a reciprocal system of action, reaction, and remembering. A giving flesh that invol ves bodies/minds on both ends (Jones 2004, 223). Amelia Jones, Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2004). See also Jones invention of parafeminism, a new method (under erasure) for feminist critical work. Rather than simply applying pre given theories or methodologies to an artists work, Jones invents a method, in part, through her identification with a particular artist, in this case Pippilotti Rist. Amelia Jones, Self/Image: Techn ology, Representation and the Contemporary Subject (New York: Routledge, 2006). 81 A panel discussion which I attended, sponsored by the Feminist Art Project at the 2007 meeting of the College Art Association, Life of the Mind, Life of the Market: A Ree valuation of the Contribution of Theory to Feminist Art from 1980 to 2006, chaired by Mira Schor with panelists Mary Kelly and Johanna Burton; held Saturday, February 17, 2007, in conjunction with the meeting of The College Art Association, February 14 17 2007. 82 Personal discussion with Judy Chicago during a press tour at the opening of The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007; confirmed later in the day during Sacklers and museum director Arnold Lehmans question and answer session. 83 There was considerable discussion about the naming of the center, debates over whether it would be more appropriate to call it a Center for Womens Art (following the example of the National Museum of Women in th e Arts, Washington, DC) or a Center for Feminist Art. In the end, the Brooklyn Museum decided on Feminist, citing feminisms impact, since the late 1960s, on artistic and cultural production. See Maura Reilly, Notes from the Inside: Building a Center fo r Feminist Art, in La Mirada Iracunda (The Furious Gaze), ed. Xabier Arakistan and Maura Reilly (Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain: Centro Cultural Montehermoso de Vitoria Gasteiz, forthcoming). 84 Amelia Jones, Feminist Curating and the Return of Feminist Art, a discussion between Connie Butler, Maura Reilly and Jones, ed. Amelia Jones, 2009, forthcoming.
158 85 For Connie Butler, the Sexual Politics exhibition laid the foundation for surveys of American feminist art, which inspired her to broaden the context for the WACK! exhibition by exploring more transnational practices. Other exhibitions since 2002 credited with influencing Reilly and a renewed interest in feminism are: Personal and Political: The Womens Art Movement, 1969 1975 (Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, NY, 2002); Gloria: Another Look at Feminist Art in the 1970s including a follow up show Regarding Gloria (White Columns Gallery, New York, 2002 3); and the 2002 exhibition of The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum. Jones cites Division of Labor: Wome ns Work in Contemporary Art curated by Lydia Yee (Brooklyn Museum, 1995) and Catherine de Zeghers Inside the Visible: an elliptical traverse of 20th century art in, of and from the feminine (Kanaal Art Fondation, Beguinage, Kortrijk, Belgium,1994; The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, 1994 5). Butler mentions Lynn Zelevanskys show looking at contemporary gendered minimalism, Sense and Sensibility (Museum of Modern Art, New York), where Feminist Art was the elephant in the room, and three independent Bad Girls shows in 1994, one in the UK and two in the US, the first curated by Marcia Tucker (New Museum, New York) and a West version curated by Marcia Tanner (Los Angeles, UCLA Wight Art Gallery). See Feminist Curating and the Return of Femini st Art (a discussion that took place between Butler, Jones and Reilly in 2009; ed. Amelia Jones, forthcoming). 86 http://www.emilyroysdon.com/index.php?/projects/ecstatic resistance (accessed 15 January 2010). 87 http://www.emilyroysdon.com/index.php?/proje cts/ecstatic resistance (accessed 15 January 2010). 88 Roysdon is a co founder of the feminist and queer activist artist group LTTR along with Ginger Takemoto of the band Le Tigre. The bands eponymous album features a song called Hot Topic that explicitl y acknowledges their debt to early feminist artists and writers including Carolee Schneemann, Mary Kelly, Judy Chicago, Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray and many others. 89 Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millenn ium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 327 334. 90 This part of this chapter will seed the potential for an investigation, through the trajectory of Joness work, of the hypothesis that the problem of essentialism (as provoked by reactions to the work of early feminist artists) opens on to issues fundamental not only to feminist debates about connections between art practices, concepts of subjectivity and coalition (identity) politics, but also feminism s relationship to epistemology. It may be that the theory versus essentialism debate ultimately questions the boundaries between theory, criticism, history and art, offering possibilities for expanding the discipline of art history, its historical method s and practices. This may be part of the impetus behind the current reinvigoration of interest in late 1960s and 1970s feminist work, and why the problematic of essentialism, despite years of theorizing, dismissal, revision and deconstruction, continues t o haunt contemporary feminist art historical discourses. 91 Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 327 328. 92 Emily Apt er, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 327 328. 93 Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the M illennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 329. While Apter does not provide more specific information about this backlash in terms of the differences between psychoanalytic and deconstructive theor ies of feminism, it is worth noting that Judith Butlers reevaluation of gender and essentialism through a theory of performativity appeared in her 1993 publication, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex; that a collection of essays that chal lenged the erasure of 1970s feminist art, The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, was published in 1994; that Amelia Jones exhibition and catalog of essays, Sexual Politics opened in 1996 and that her book Body Art/Performing the Subject which re interpreted the work of many essentialist feminist body artists from a deconstructive theoretical position, appeared in 1998. Thus the backlash against feminist theory may have more to do with a kind of internecine struggle between psychoanalytic theories and deconstructive theories, the latter able to offer a more complex thinking about essentialism. I would also like to note that neither essentialist feminist
159 discourses nor p sychoanalytically driven ones seem to be adequate to the questions that postcolonial and race studies are looking to address. Artists and theorists like Lorraine OGrady and Trinh T. Minh ha draw from deconstruction but are creating theories based on movem ent, rhythm, flow, myth, narrative and community while progressively questioning and eroding the boundaries between art, narrative, theory and history. For a discussion of alternative ideas for theorizing from an African American perspective, see Lorraine OGrady, Olympias Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity, in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader (New York: Routledge, 2003), 174187. 94 Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong a nd Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 329. 95 That with which Apter most seems to take issue, delivered in a kind of backhanded compliment, is Garbs interpretation of Hatoums use of line, medium and touch as playing with ste reotypes of gender. Apter does not directly accuse Garb of subscribing to essentialist assumptions but rather does so obliquely, by linking Garbs reading of Hatoums use of line to Catherine Ingrahams research on the history of line in architecture. For Apter, Ingrahams arguments, despite her insistence on gender as an effect of representation, inevitably succumb to a certain literalness of gender stereotype. In the next sentence she refers to Garbs essay: It is certainly to Garbs credit that she as sumes the burden of the binary [feminine and masculine] without apology or handwriting qualification. Finally, she ends her discussion of Garb with How does one devise an anti essentialist approach to the analysis of gender in visual media, and what would it look like? Clearly she thinks Garbs essay does not qualify. See Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 330. 96 Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 330. 97 While Apter credits Garbs conclusion, the possibility that Hatoums hai r grids stage the irreconcilability of masculine abstraction and feminine materialism, as a figure of strange beauty, she is compelled to query: Where does this leave us theoretically? For Apter, the choices are oddly binary, either a model that cel ebrates the ambivalence of unresolved difference [Garbs deconstructive approach here] or one that challenges the conventions that reduce gender in visual interpretation to subjectivist assignations of masculine and feminine. She ends her commentary on Garbs essay with a strangely rhetorical question, given the years, now decades, of feminist theorizing, primarily psychoanalytic, about the essentialism issue: Can we develop a methodology that accepts sexual difference while refusing the claustrophobic stereotypes of gender difference? How does one devise an anti essentialist approach to the analysis of gender in visual media, and what would it look like? See Emily Apter, A Referendum on Theory and Feminism, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Ca rol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2006), 330. 98 I would like to note that the concept of gender is under debate. Judith Butler looks to Luce Irigaray who, in her reading, is foundational for feminism because she poses gender as a question (not an answer) for feminist inquiry and permanent interrogation. Butler also cautions that to put a concept under question does not mean we must exclude or never use it. We can, at the same time, both use and continue to interro gate concepts, such as universality, gender and sexual difference. See Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), 178179. 99 An excellent example is Jones interpretation of the work of Hannah Wilke. Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the S ubject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 151 195. 100 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997). 101 Regarding the essentialist versus constructionist debate, Fuss writes: To insist that esse ntialism is everywhere reactionary is, for the constructionist, to buy into essentialism in the very act of making the charge; it is to act as if essentialism has an essence. Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Ro utledge, 1989), 21; italics in original. 102 Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989), 1. For an excellent discussion see chapters one and two.
160 103 I would emphasize that most of the feminist critics who oft en turn to deconstructive theories and strategies (such as Jones and Butler) may also draw from psychoanalytic concepts from time to time, but they are far less invested in it as an explanatory paradigm than, for example, Pollock, Kelly and Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger. Another point I would like to underscore is that essentialism, as Jones observed in her essay for Sexual Politics has traditionally not been an issue for women of color. For an incisive discussion of essentialism from the perspective of an African American female artist and critic, see Lorraine OGrady, Olympias Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity, in The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader (New York: Routledge, 2003), 174187; for the perspectives of a woman of color, deconstruction and postcolonial theory, see Trihn T. Minh ha, Woman, Native, Other: Postcoloniality and Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990). 104 It is the mapping of these remainders, traces and the ways in which we attempt to negotiate and/or hold ap parent contradictions that interests me, which is why Garbs essay, like Hatoums work, may refer to binary and essentialist terms like feminine and masculine but does so in order to expose, play with and subvert them. Of course, the act of repetitio n always risks reinforcing the terms, yet also, as Judith Butler has argued, contains the possibility of repeating them incorrectly or in unpredictable ways that offer new semiotic possibilities and relationships. 105 Tamar Garb, Hairlines, in Women Arti sts at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2006), 256. 106 Discussing the work of Clarice Lispector, Cixous writes: the most difficult thing to do is to arrive at the most extreme proximity while guarding against the trap of projection, of identification. The other must remain absolutely strange within the greatest possible proximity (Cixous 1991, 171). In terms of touch and proximity: How far it is from a star to a self, O what inconceivab le proximity between one species and another, between an adult and a child, between an author and a character what secret proximity. Everything is far away, not everything resides only in distance, everything is less distant than we think, in the end every thing touches. Touches us. Just as Macabea got into Clarices eye, like a speck of dust, just as she made her weep tears of believing, I am touched by Clarices voice. The step of her slow, heavy phrases weighs on my heart, she treads with short, heavy phr ases, thoughtfully. Sometimes one has to go very far. Sometimes the right distance is extreme remoteness. Sometimes it is in extreme proximity that she breathes (Cixous, 1991, 181). Hlne Cixous, The Author in Truth, in Coming to Writing and Other Es says ed. Deborah Jenson (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991), 136 181. Luce Irigaray also works with metaphors of proximity, distance and touch. See Luce Irigaray, When Our Lips Speak Together, in This Sex Which is Not One (Ithaca New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 205 218. 107 Tamar Garb, Hairlines, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2006), 256. 108 Tamar Garb, Hairlines, in Women Arti sts at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2006), 266. 109 Tamar Garb, Hairlines, in Women Artists at the Millennium ed. Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher (Cambridge, Massachusetts: T he MIT Press, 2006), 273. 110 "Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one's best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel. And so when we speak about my sex uality or my gender, as we do (and as we must), we mean something complicated by it. Neither of these is precisely a possession, but both are to be understood as modes of being dispossessed, ways of being for another, or, indeed, by virtue of another. Jud ith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), 19. 111 See Peggy Phelan, Survey, in Art and Feminism (London: Phaidon Press, 2001), 37. She is also troubled by the fact that art historians often pointed to the shift from history to theory as the dominant feminist discourse in the 1980s and yet continued to use later theories of representation to denounce work from the 1970s, a move that situates the historian in a relation of distance from and superiority to the early work (Phelan 2001, 23). Moreover, when scholars like Jones and Phelan point out that it was the anti essentialists, the theory folks of the 1980s, who
161 created essentialism and then retroactively applied it to the feminist art of the 1970s, they are accurate not only in terms of t he history of the debate, but are pointing to how the debate itself is a particular series of enactments, or reiterative performances, of the relationship between its very own terms, presence (essentialism) and representation (theory or anti essentialism). The desire for presence, for unmediated experience, to know the thing in itself, to be able to claim a ground of truth and/or agency for a subject who is origin and author of the work, is an effect of difference, of representation, and of the theoretical language we use to describe it. In other words, we lack full presence, knowledge, and agency but end up having to make claims for experience anyway; no matter how careful or circumscribed our repetitions, we are forced, or perhaps extruded, to constitute as subjects. However, as Peggy Phelan, Judith Butler, Jon McKenzie and others have remarked, its the failures in reiteration that produce new contexts and invoke situations for entrenchment or change. Thus, each time the essentialism versus theory deba te is rehearsed, theres a chance for a productive miss. But I also wonder: could the curious retroactive labeling of the early feminist artists as essentialist be a kind of nostalgia, or a disavowed and projected desire, born through theory itself (as a form of representation), for what theory imagines it lost, and images as loss (or plenitude; they constantly change places), in order to lay claim (however tenuous) to the ground of its own experience? It is curious to me that the early feminists of the late 1960s and 1970s seem to become, for later generations, a kind of substitute for the Great and Terrible Mother, a site of plenitude and death that had to be abjected, la the chora in Julia Kristevas Powers of Horror. See Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1982). 112 Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism, originally published in Screen (1981); reprinted in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis (New York an d Boston: New Museum of Contemporary Art and Godine, 1988), 87 103 (quote on page 96). 113As Derrida outlines in Of Grammatology (1974), thinkers from Aristotle to the present have privileged the phoneme, as the nonexterior voice closest to the thought of t he signified, over writing, which, as signifier, exterior sense, and thing, has only a secondary and instrumental function of translating the interiorized "full speech." It is through this full speech, present to itself, its signified, and the other, that the subject, at least according to Hegel, is related to itself in the element of ideality. Thus the meaning of being as self presence, "speaking" to itself and perhaps divinity, is produced. Consequently logocentrism, assuming this "pure intelligibility or presence of the signified, debases writing as non self presence and exterior to meaning; writing is perceived as merely a tool in the service of language. For Derrida, however, the concept of writing no longer indicates a secondary form of language as communication, signification, constitution of meaning or thought. No longer an exterior surface, writing goes beyond its role as the extension of language, exceeding and comprehending language (Derrida 1974, 7). In one attempt to demonstrate this, Derr ida rethinks the problem of origins through Saussure who, in trying to theorize the independence of language, complained that the spoken word becomes so bound up with the written image that writing begins to usurp the role of speech. In other words, repre sentation mingles so intimately with what it represents that the origin becomes ungraspable. Derrida writes: "There are things like reflecting pools, and images, an infinite reference from one to the other, but no longer a source, a spring. There is no longer a simple origin. For what is reflected is split in itself and not only as an addition to itself of its image. The reflection, the image, the double, splits what it doubles. The origin of speculation becomes a difference. What can look at itself is not one" (Derrida 1974, 36). Without the violence of writing, what Derrida also calls trace or diffrance, logos would remain within itself. So, as Plato declared, writing does entail a kind of forgetfulness, a departure of the logos from itself. Yet writing, as Derrida demonstrates, constitutes rather than translates speech, language, and subjectivity. According to Derrida, writing must now be thought as both more exterior to speech (not its image or symbol), and more interior, since speech is alre ady a writing. But before it can be linked to incision, drawing, letter, or signifier, the concept of graphie implies, as the possibility common to all systems of signification, the framework of an instituted trace. This trace is the irreducible absence within presence, an absolute past which can't be awakened to the present, thought before the entity, the structure of the relation with the other, the movement of temporalization; it is the absolute origin of all sense in general which opens appearance an d signification, repetition and ideality. The trace, as archephenomenon of memory and the very movement of signification, is the opening of the first exteriority in general, the relation of inside to outside, and the relation of the living to its other. As arche writing or spacing, it marks the dead time within the presence of a living moment; as unperceived, nonpresent,
162 nonconscious, nonintentional, the reserve of what does not appear, it can never be merged with a phenomenology of writing (Derrida 19 74, 68). Yet the familiar "spatial" and "objective" exteriority we think we know is not possible without this spacing, "would not appear without the gramme, without diffrance as temporalization, without the presence of the other inscribed within the sens e of the present, without the relationship with death as the concrete structure of the living present. Metaphor would be forbidden" (Derrida 1974, 71). Moreover, "as the subject's relation with its own death, this spacing as writing is the constitution o f subjectivity" (Derrida 1974, 69). Writing is also the becoming absent and becomingunconscious of the subject; the discontinuity, discreteness, and diversion from the identity of the self same which, in turn, it has engendered. Thus Derrida states: "C onstituting and dislocating it at the same time, writing is other than the subject" (68). In addition, this "original absence of the subject of writing is also the absence of the thing or the referent" (69). Writing in a general sense, then, is the absen ce of both the signatory and the referent, exceeding the question What is? and contingently making it possible. (Derrida 1974; 41, 75). Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1974). 114 Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism, origi nally published in Screen (1981); reprinted in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis (New York and Boston: New Museum of Contemporary Art and Godine, 1988), 87 103.
163 CHAPTER 5 ARTISTIC TOUCH, GENDER AND GENIUS: THE PROBLEM OF ESSENTIALISM, AGAIN In 1965, one year after moving to New York, Japanese artist Shigeko Kubota created a public performance for the Per petual Fluxfest art festival. A paintbrush attached to the crotch of her underwear, Kubota walked to the center of the room, lifted the hem of her dress and squatted over a large piece of paper placed on the floor. Balancing adroitly on her toes, she proce eded to apply red paint to the papers surface in fluid, undulating strokes. She called the piece Vagina Painting, a title which, oscillating between verb and noun, placed equal emphasis on the act, the product and the actor, foregrounding artistic touch a s a process simultaneously engendering and en gendered. Kubota recalls that fellow members of the avant garde art group Fluxus didnt approve of Vagina Painting.1 Although she doesnt offer any explanation, it is possible to read Vagina Painting as a simp listic literalization of gender and artistic practice, an obviousness that may have provoked its dismissal. The brush hairs suggest pubic hair (bush/brush), the red paint blood, and her movements mime the creative acts of birth and sex, effectively insi sting on the presence of the feminine and its fertile processes (biological and artistic) in the history and even pre history of art making. In the later parlance of 1980s feminist art discourses, the literal performance of female creativity through an ex plicit reference to female genitalia would be categorized as essentialist, as navely presenting the body as a locus of inherent meaning (presence) and gender as an effect of natural or biological rather than cultural processes. Yet by those of her audience initiated into the discourses of modernist and avant garde art, Kubotas performance could also easily be recognized as parodying two of its foremost figures, American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock in the act of making one of his drip pai ntings (19471950) and Minimalist Yves Kleins continental response to Pollock, his
164 Anthropometries events held in Paris between 1958 and 1960. Pollock was famous for relinquishing the traditional artists brush in favor of his spontaneously convulsing bo dy, while Klein, perhaps more infamously, substituted live female models. Standard art historical narratives locate Pollocks genius in his unique process of working, documented in photographs taken by Hans Namuth in 1950. Using sticks, knives and trowel s, Pollock moved around a large canvas laid flat on the floor as he threw, splattered and dripped paint on to the surface, breaking with the traditional notion of painterly touch as an anatomical connection between hand, brush and canvas. 2 Literalizing a nd ironizing Pollocks disconnection from the brush as well as art critic Clement Greenbergs insistence on modernist arts formal purity, Klein created a series of live performances where, dressed in a tuxedo and accompanied by musicians, he commanded n ude female models to cover themselves with his signature blue paint and impress their bodies onto sheets of paper that covered the floor. Referring to the women as his living brushes, Klein congratulated himself on his pristine distance, his ability to create without having to soil himself.3 The art historical importance assigned to Pollock and Klein is predicated on their innovations in artistic touch. For both, anatomical touch was increasingly distanced yet heavily figured (or literally produced) th rough references to sexuality; references that were made explicit at some moments and veiled or naturalized at others. We may never know exactly why Kubotas peers disparaged Vagina Painting, but we do know that they also responded negatively to the work of two other female members of the group, Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann. Onos performance Cut Piece (1964), during which she sat impassively on a stage while members of the audience cut pieces of her clothing with a pair of tailors shears, was denigrated as animalistic. 4 Schneemann, whose painting environments
165 ( Eye Body 1963), kinetic theater ( Meat Joy 1964), performances ( Interior Scroll 1975 77) and films (Fuses 196467) also emphasized touch and her body (often through highly active and/or ritualized gestures of self painting using organic materials such as meat, feathers and blood) was excommunicated from Fluxus by George Maciunas, its self appointed leader.5 However, in the critical discourses of the period and even now, almost fifty years later Kleins writhing models and Pollocks thickly splattered canvases (bearing the traces of his cigarette butts and other spontaneous debris) are not described in terms of domestic dirt, disorder or primitive chaos but rather as gestures of virility and paradigm shifting innovation. These descriptions are drawing, consciously or not, on gendered clichs about touch that have a long and often contradictory history, but remain consistent in their conceptualization of the feminine as the denigrated ot her that naturalizes often unmarked and universal masculine value. In terms of brushwork, artistic touch from at least the Renaissance on was often divided along gender lines. Supposedly feminine attributes (such as loving, docile, delicate, sweet, clea n, pure, tender and caressing) were typically assigned to self effacing brushwork that was, in turn, linked to artifice and cosmetics.6 In contrast, masculine brushwork, where the action of the brush was visible in its application, was characterized as bold, vigorous, thrusting, frank and vehement. This epistemology of brushwork, as Philip Sohm has pointed out, was based on Platonic and Aristotelian distinctions between form and matter that assigned man the role of active form and woman the quality of passive matter in need of forms definition. The critical deployment of such polemical figuring was often circular and asymmetrical, ultimately used to define, contain and control actual womens bodies and lives. By the 16th century, the imagined attributes of matter were naturalized as womens unstable and vacillating
166 psychology, evidence of a weak and disordered mind. These qualities were then used to disparage art that was considered to be without design or proportion as feminine, a classification which, in turn, was used at various moments to rationalize the exclusion of women artists from certain styles or genres. Aretino played on this notion in his Ragionamento della Nanna e della Antonia (Venice 1534), when, as a figure for copulation, he aligned woman (a prostitute) with pigment and man with the manipulating brush, with the man positioned as the primary generator in the act of creation.7 In the 20th century, the performances of Yves Klein (referred to above) literalized and extended this cli ch, as the tuxedoclad Klein verbally commanded his living brushes (naked female models) to paint themselves with a hue he branded as his own (Yves Klein International Blue) and imprint their bodies on paper while he, remaining immaculately clean, s trutted and preened. Manipulating archaic tropes of gendered touch, Klein claimed for the mid20th century avant garde male artist the position of the grandest creator, He who generates from the spoken word alone, who (re)produces and dominates His materi als from a distance without the dirty work of touch as domestic (female) labor or sexual intercourse with a woman. Klein is considered an artistic genius, but as Carolee Schneemann discovered in the 1960s, her bold and aggressive work was praised as ma sculine (as if I were inhabited by a stray male principle) until she stepped outside the pathways hacked out by the men to foreground her body and gender; then her work was dismissed as narcissistic, pornographic and essentialist.8 Thus what incited the disapproval of Kubotas peers when she performed Vagina Painting in 1965 may not have been its explicit content per se but rather its refusal to self efface, its wry humor and literal exposure of the art worlds gender based double standard. Thi s was a radical statement in the 1960s, when terms like male privilege and feminism were just
167 beginning to enter public discourse. Kubotas concrete emphasis on artistic touch, on the production of art through a touch that appeared gendered or, conver sely, brought gender into appearance, referenced a specific set of art practices and debates that opened on to larger issues, contradictions at the heart of the modernist project that would eventually instantiate the uneven and incremental shifts into theo ries, practices and movements we call, far too reductively, feminism and postmodernism. And yet those practices and discourses emerged from a long and complex history where touch, facture and artistic genius were figured through tropes of gender; concepts that, at least when applied to the work of women artists, were often constrained by essentialist notions, especially in moments of social anxiety and unrest such as the late 18th century or the 1960s. This chapter takes up Vagina Painting as a lesson and a provocation. While feminist critics in the 1980s could not have missed Kubotas playful gesture of mimicry and mimicking of gesture, they did overlook, perhaps due to their focus on the problem of essentialism in relation to the male gaze, the deeper propositions available in Vagina Painting s embodied critique. Kubota specifically referenced the trope of artistic touch, which has a long historical relationship with the figuring of genius through gender and, at least for women artists, with the problem of essentialism. Historically speaking, the concept of essentialism has been linked to issues of artistic touch figured through gender for centuries, typically to the detriment of female artists. Constrained by patriarchal ideas and beliefs about their biological nature, women artists, far more often than their male counterparts, had to contend with art critical discourses that essentialized their gender and then used those concepts to figure aesthetic discourses which, in turn, were used to contain, e xclude or disdain women artists abilities and production. Feminine touch was either devalued for its lack of masculine qualities or, when linked to
168 artifice (and the technical skill of painting as cosmetic), suspected of propagating a dangerous ill usionism that at various moments supported or undermined various vested social and class interests. In general, however, feminine touch and the figure of the woman artist served to signify difference, typically as the denigrated term in an opposition that constructed male artistic identity as coherent, rational and naturally superior due to having access to the realm of transcendence, which, in turn, guaranteed his genius. Women artists were often judged by standards of interpretation and valuation quit e different from those applied to their male peers, and conventions of touch, artistic and otherwise, played a central role in defining and enforcing that asymmetry. This chapter threads through some of this history as it pertains to the figuring of art istic touch, gender and essentialism. As Vagina Painting implies, artistic touch and its connection to gender, gesture and genius have functioned as one of the central explanatory narratives of art critical and historical discourses, a relationship that da tes at the least to the Renaissance period.9 In aesthetic discourses, touch or touche most often refers to the sensual mark making process that constitutes the art object, a tangible visual and tactile record of the artists gesture recorded in the factu re or handling of the paint. Artistic touch may draw attention to itself through brushwork, facture and gesture, or illustrate touch through narrative convention (as in Cabanels Birth of Venus (1865) where the hand of the furthest putto stretches toward the nudes arm, offering the spectator vicarious contact with the flesh) or as metaphor, for example in the rhyming or juxtaposition of female flesh with sensual fabrics, textures, or exotic objects in Ingres Grande Odalisque (1814). Artistic touch in va rious forms may be an indication of personal style and/or historical period, such as the Rococo or Neoclassicism, or point to transitions between them. The self conscious facture of Courbets The Stonebreakers (1849) is often cited as one of the key
169 indic ators of the shift into the modern period, while hands off work like Kleins (discussed above) or Warhols strategy of having his assistants produce his silkscreens (already a mechanical process) marks the transition into postmodernism. But the figuri ng of artistic touch, aesthetic valuation and evaluation, artistic identity and history has a long (and shifting) historical dependence on tropes of gender. These conventions are gendered, unevenly and to the detriment of women; which was precisely Kubota s point. Touch, Gender and Essentialism What feminist art discourses of the 1980s labeled the problem of essentialism has a long historical connection to the figuring of touch through conceptualizations of gender, and yet touch is not always dependent on the gender of the body of the artist. For example, in the 19th century, the touch of women artists was more restricted by essentializing gender roles and social mores than that of their male colleagues, but in the 18th century, Mary Sheriff claims, the sex of an artist and the gender of her painting need not coincide, which means that even for women there are moments of noncoincidence between touch and person.10 This unhinging of touch and artist at various historical moments seems to me curiously p ostmodern, yet the gender asymmetry is instructive given the accusations of essentialism against 1960s and 70s feminist artists. It is my hope that tracing these shifts may offer some insight into the accusation of an essential self possession leveled at early feminist artists as they worked to develop and theorize their own forms of touch.11 Given the fact that Mary Kelly criticized proto and early feminist artists use of their bodies as essentialist, as fulfilling the promise of the brush, it is usef ul to trace how the historical relationship of women artists to the brush, their bodies and their work has been figured in the past. 12 For the period from the Renaissance to the 17th century, gender (in relation to art, but not in general) was located les s in the social realities or representations of mens and womens bodies
170 than in the categories of value that subtended the literature of art criticism and the elements of painting, such as medium, brushwork and color. While masculine and feminine qua lities remained fairly consistent, the critical deployment of these qualities was various and irregular. In general, femininity was frequently disembodied and wielded as a rhetorical weapon, usually against objectionable and/or foreign art (i.e. M ichelangelos diatribes against Flemish painting or Florentine criticism of the Venetian colorists). 13 A mobile yet consistently derogatory term, the feminine could shift from being associated with the material, such as oil (Michelangelo called oil painting womanly), to color (Vasaris use of the term soft to describe Correggios use of color implied femininity) and to brushwork (criticism of Titians polished style).14 While the gendered figuring of touch in art critical discourses is a complex and nonlinear history, I will briefly mention a few of the most persistently gendered concepts, ideas which critics culled (as mentioned above) from the Platonic and Aristotelian dichotomizing of form and matter as, respectively, masculine and feminine. Form has a rational order of proportion while matter has none. To be placed on the side of matter was the equivalent of being said to have no access to reason. This was one of the invectives Florentine critics hurled against Flemish painting by characterizing it and its viewers (female fans) as possessing the same qualities, sensual vision and a lack of proportion (physical and cognitive) like those of irrational animals.15 (This is an accusation that resonates with the 20th century critical dismissal of Yoko Onos Cut Piece as animalistic, which I will discuss further in my last chapter.) Moreover, because reasonless woman acted more by sense than intellect, she was often called a slave of jewelry, cosmetics and other superficial ornaments.16 This t rope, implying a wily woman and a viewer who mistakes appearances for reality, was then used to position Flemish painting as
171 disingenuous ornament and its feminine viewers as duped by their own propensity for false appeal. This gendered bifurcation of act ive and passive, rational and chaotic, and solid versus amorphous was deployed by art critics in various periods to figure and assign value to techniques (i.e. brushstroke), materials and processes (i.e. fresco versus oil), and in aesthetic debates such as drawing (line) versus color and rough (unfinished) versus smooth (finished) surfaces, with the masculine term consistently privileged. In the Renaissance, reason and proportion were aligned with disegno or drawing, which required the study of anatomy, ancient sculpture and an ability to create divine images just as God the Father did.17 Identified with the masculine, drawing was defined in opposition to feminine colorito, which adhered to the surface of things and attracted the senses. While drawing wa s a learned and practiced skill, color was held to be instinctual, a natural talent. In the great Cinquecento debate over the values and properties of drawing (Florentine) relative to color (Venetian), Michelangelo lamented the fact that Titians abundant natural abilities suffered from a lack of disegno (order and proportion). Because Titian copied nature indiscriminately, and copied women in particular, Sohm notes, it may be concluded that he painted women the way women viewed paintings.18 Gendered t erms were applied to other materials and processes as well. Not surprisingly, given the preference for oil in Venice and fresco in Florence, the latter is claimed to be an active process that requires mastery, while the former contains its qualities withi n, allowing a more passive role for the painter who becomes lazily compliant with the material. For Vasari, coloring with oil kindles the pigments so nothing else is needed except diligence and love because the oil itself renders the coloring softer, sw eeter, and more delicate.19 Thus oil was appropriate for certain subjects deemed feminine, such as depictions of the Virgin Mary.
172 Highly finished or lacquered surfaces were analogized to the use of cosmetics. They were figured as feminine in part becaus e the application of makeup and that of the highly polished paint surface both required patience, a feminine virtue. For Sohm, disguising the artistic act of brushing behind a smooth surface rendered it passive and silent, like women were supposed to be.20 Yet the artistic techniques that produced such surfaces could also be described as appealing to viewers susceptible to flattery or those with a vulgar taste for the apparent (rather than the substantive). In the 17th century, the detailed and transparent surfaces of Flemish paintings, long dispraised by Florentine critics as feminine, were described as licked. Critics imagined foreign painters licking their paintings clean, a salacious image that points to a high level of anxiety about the seduc tive qualities of painting, cosmetics and the female art of artifice.21 Aesthetic debates over the licked surface reappear repeatedly, like the problem of essentialism, and inform different views of realism in the 19th century. Aligned with the French Academy, bourgeois taste and state propaganda, academic fini comes to be figured as a guarantee of artistic quality and social responsibility through its erasure of the labor of its own making, a labor associated with manual labor and/or the domestic wo rk of women.22 Paradoxically, the erasure of marks of labor guaranteed the artworks value by indicating how much time the artist had spent on its making (unlike avant garde art, where the speed of its rendering made it vulnerable to accusations that it was slapdash). No wonder the slick, glossy cunt plates in Judy Chicagos The Dinner Party (1979) provoked such excitement (celebration and censure) with their contradictory perversion of aesthetic conventions. Drawing from cosmetic artfulness, they of fered a seductive high fini surface while at the same time aggressively unconcealing gender through content (vulvic forms) and by emphasizing labor
173 not only the domestic feminine labor of their making (the handwork involved in rendering the intricate, labial folds of the vulvas and technical skills of china painting) but of creativity in general as sexual, collaborative and feminine art/artifice. In fact, the glossy surfaces mimic the viscous lubrication of female sexual arousal which, in turn, mirrors the excitement of the feminist project to rewrite history from perspectives that include rather than disavow desire on every level. For the Florentine critics, however, feminine style, like the Flemish and Venetian work that term condemned, was considered foreign and remained a consistently negative critical value. A male painter like Titian could paint in both finished and rough styles.23 But as an individuating quality that reflects the artists character, style was rarely assigned to women painters in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. At best they could reproduce a style inherited from a father, as was assumed to be the case with Lavinia Fontana (1552 1614), Marietta Tintoretto (1560? 1590), Chiara Varotari (1584c.1663) and Artemisia Gentileschi (1 593 1656). When a style was attributed to a woman, it was always one associated with self effacing brushwork. The masculine brush was bold, vigorous and thrusting; it produced sketchy, confident strokes that recorded their action visibly on the surface of the canvas. Aretino likened it to a procreative sword; to paint with a masculine brush was to literally paint with the penis.24 On the other hand, feminine brushwork rendered a loving finish, a cosmetic skin that concealed the action of the brush.25 Men might take up styles that were feminine, masculine, or a combination of the two, but women, in the rare moments when a style was attributed to them, were limited in the critical literature of the 16th and 17th centuries to feminine styles only, wh ether they adopted them as a strategy or, more frequently, were assigned them by critics. Thus touch was linked to an artists nature more narrowly for women artists who, aligned with
174 matter, were not thought to have access to reason and were dependen t on the masculine to give them shape and meaning. As previously mentioned, in the 18th century the sex of an artist and the gender of her painting need not coincide, and 18th century critics freely opposed Elisabeth Vige Lebruns soft touch and skill at artifice, coded as feminine, to Adelade LabilleGuiards firm touch and masculine truthfulness.26 As Mary Sheriffs reading of female artists negotiating the turn from the 18th to the 19th centuries reveals, an essentializing notion of artistic touch, which links touch to the natural qualities or characteristics of the artist, gains currency in periods in which social roles are also being naturalized in order to shore up certain failing tenets of patriarchal culture and politics. This naturalizati on is performed by both artists and critics as they renegotiate their relationships to gender and touch in, or through, art makingas artifice, or not, or somewhere discomfortingly (or cleverly) in between. Sheriff grounds the different concepts of artis tic touch as an effect of two competing 18thcentury theories of art. The expressive theory, which would triumph (especially in Romanticism), argues that the essential self of the artist is visible and readable in the work, sees an essential connection between the artists touch (the marks she or he makes on the canvas) and the artists intentionality or state of mind when s/he made those marks, which produces a certain sense of coherence between the subject and object in a painting. In this way, the expressive school of the 18th century seems founded on assumptions similar to certain tenets of Modernism, which read the artistic mark as a trace and indication of the expression of the artist (although the work, once born, stood independently of its make r). In contrast to the expressive theory, the rhetorical theory of art, learned at and promoted by the French Academy, assumed the artifice of representation. Painters schooled according to this theory were taught a set of artistic
175 moves (styles, handli ng of paint, etc.) that were tied to specific subject matter and could be adopted or abandoned at will. Theoretically, from this perspective, artistic touch was not only a learned strategy but could be imitated, regardless of the gender of the artist. Yet the implications of this skill in artifice (already natural to woman) were unsettling to critics at a time of social upheaval. The later 18th century was also an era when the hermaphrodite, the Tribade, and the femme homme threatened the patriarchal or der by imitating men, often passing as men while usurping both their natural sexual rights to women and their intellectual superiority. The expressive theory of art was far more ideologically suited than the rhetorical (with its emphasis on artifice) to a political mentality that demanded a return to essentialized notions of social roles and sexed bodies. In particular, the return to history painting was seen as a reform, an attempt to rescue this noble (male) genre from its corruption by the (femini ne) Rococo. This aesthetic shift was occurring simultaneously with changing definitions of women that were becoming more restrictive. While the gendered attributes of brushwork remained fairly consistent with that of earlier periods, touch (la main), s ince the founding of the French Academy, had been linked to the skill of execution or craftsmanship. The hand was aligned with the body and reasoning (le raisonnement) was placed on the side of the mind. Therefore it was permissible for a woman artist like Adelade Labille Guiard to have a masculine touch if she painted in particular genres, such as portraiture, which required only the manual skill of copying and not the cogito demanded by history painting. Craft and the body, aligned with the feminine were less valued than the masculine mind and reason. As a result, many critics of the period claimed that women were unable to take on the masculine genre of history painting. Requiring reason and its higher
176 powers of imagination and judgment, history painting demanded mental faculties women naturally lacked. Thus, when Elisabeth Vige Lebrun, a female artist, took up history painting in the last quarter of the 18th century, she was working from assumptions based on the older, academic, rhetorical theory of painting as artifice. Her timing was unfortunate. Although she was considered to have a soft, feminine touch appropriate to her gender, Vige Lebrun was slandered when she presented herself as a history painter, not so much for her lack of a masculine touch but, ironically, for overstepping the limits of her natural female propensity for imitation. Given the periods anxieties about gender transgressions, it was considered unnatural for women to mimic men, especially their powers of intell ect, those powers supposedly required for successful history painting. As a result, Vige Lebrun was caught in a curious contradiction between her nature as an artist trained in the arts of mimicry and her social role as a woman who was not supposed to mimic men. Vige Lebrun performs this complex dilemma in her Self Portrait of 1783. Reading this painting from a performative perspective, Sheriff convincingly argues that Vige Lebrun performed her nature as a woman and a painter pressing her comma nd of touch as artifice, her multiple identifications and imitations, to such a degree that critics of her day were led to recognize the beauty of the work and concede her mastery through the self portraits lack of resemblance to the artist. In Sheriffs reading, Vige Lebrun points to her gendering but constantly eludes essentialism by producing a painting that is a parody of truth, the truth of essence, while being truthful in its mastery of imitation. The artist paints what is true about her as well as what is fantasized; she occupies her proper social roles but also positions reserved for men; she cites other work, notably Rubenss Chapeau de Paille becoming a desired wife and, at
177 the same time, the artist of that desire; she mimics Rubenss masterful use of light and color; and she is simultaneously one of the Tribades of Trianon.27 In other words, Vige Lebruns self portrait performs its own artifice, a staging of artistic genius as the skill of artifice. This is an interpretation feminist art critics Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker missed in their focus on this portrait as an objectifying display of beauty. Accusing Vige Lebrun of being complicit with or simplistically repeating the codes of the essence of Woman, they labeled her work essenti alist. Yet, as Sheriff explains, Vige Lebrun appeared beautiful because she made a beautiful and sensuous work of art. This beauty is thus inseparable, not from her person, but from her work, despite the fact that the work did not resemble her. In the 19th century and into the 20th the expressive theory of art claimed the dominant position, culminating, perhaps, in the critical fashioning of Abstract Expressionist artist Jackson Pollock. In the case of women artists of the 19th century, it was expected that their touch would align with the naturalized qualities of their gender, although men were not held to such conventions. As Carol Armstrong has argued, Berthe Morisot was considered the perfect woman painter since her light, spontaneous and fleeting b rushstrokes matched both the qualities of Impressionist painting and the ideal French woman.28 Other highly skilled women painters, such as Rosa Bonheur and Mary Cassatt, who used various types of facture that did not match their gender, were not accorded the same praise (Cassatt was called a masculine American while Bonheurs sex and choice of subject matter did not matcher her gender visually or aesthetically). Although Morisots brushwork is certainly modern (as opposed to the polished fini of academi c painters of her time), her art was evaluated according to her gender, which was not the case when Manet copied her brushwork for his rendering of flesh in Before the Mirror.29 Critics called
178 Morisots touch pretty, delicate, subtle, charming and seductive, refined, vague and amorphous, implying its womanliness at every turn, and tying her palette and brush to the eighteenth century and to Fragonard.30 Manet was assigned no such lineage; he was just mastering a different kind of touch. Pollo cks Genius: Transcendent Touch In the later 20th century, most feminist artists and critics were in dialogue with the patriarchal tenets of Modernism and the remnants of Abstract Expressionism, in which the artists touch was an indication of his presence in the work, guaranteeing its genius and value. Male essentialism secured value, yet female essentialism, typically, had a reverse effect. In the case of Jackson Pollock, the gendering of his touch was primarily an effect of the dominant critical discou rses of the period which produced Pollock as a symbolic figure, in fact the artistic figure par excellence, of modernist art. While the crafting of Pollock as the apotheosis of high modernism by a group of art critics and historians (including Clement Gre enberg, Harold Rosenberg, Meyer Schapiro and Michael Fried, among others) has come to dominate if not define the narrative of modernist art history, this narrative was not inviolate, entirely unified, or without its own contradictions. What is relevant to my research, however, is that the production of Pollock as the premier artist of his time depended, in large part, on the promotion of a longstanding notion of touch as belonging to the artist, a sign of his self expression, but also his link to the tran scendental, the source and expression of his artistic genius. Through a circular sort of reasoning, Pollocks genius, his ability to access the realms of universal truth, beauty and value, rendered his touch transcendent. Despite the critical emphasis on t he physical action of his painting, Pollocks refusal of the mediatory brush and disconnection of his hand from the canvas, its assimilation into the gesturing body and the simultaneous union with god and the painting, meant that Pollocks touch
179 became, in a sense, disembodied, taken out of time and contingency. This logic was due, in part, to Clement Greenbergs strategic use of Immanuel Kants theory of aesthetics to craft his theories of modernist art, which I will say more about shortly. But for now I would like to note that Pollocks touch makes a strange circuit between embodiment and transcendence, a looping, not unlike his gestures, deeply inflected with gender through references that are quite flagrant at some moments and at others very subtle, veiling his gender through naturalization, spiritualization or recourse to universal human values. Pollocks valorization as the quintessential action painter was a trope produced and disseminated primarily through critical texts such as Harold Rosenbergs essay The American Action Painters and Allen Kaprows The Legacy of Jackson Pollock as well as Namuths photographs and film of the artist at work.31 Widely circulated in the mass media, these photographs both supported and in turn spawned various t exts describing Pollock, the western cowboy hero/loner gone native, dancing around the canvas, his gestures spontaneous, ritualized, and diaristic.32 Relieved of the painterly (bourgeois, academic) brush, Pollock was free to penetrate the canvas on the floor (I need the resistance of a hard surface) with his paint saturated wand; could unite with it in an ejaculatory spewing of pigment from a stick or a direct pour onto the canvas (I am in the painting) and confirm his genius in this direct em ission/transmission of divine inspiration, described by Greenberg as uncastrated yet retaining stylistic control.33 The sexualized interpretations of Pollocks touch did not go unrecognized by either the mass media or a younger generation of artists. The Wild Ones, a 1956 article in Time magazine, dubbed Pollock Jack the Dripper and a number of younger artists, including Klein and Kubota, picked up and elaborated on this trope.34 One of the more overt references is Robert
180 Rauschenbergs 1955 combine painting titled Bed in which a traditionally horizontal set of linens (including a pillow, sheet and quilt supposedly used by Rauschenberg) is splashed with paint and hung vertically on the wall.35 The shift from horizontal to vertical mimics Pollocks drip canvases (painted on the floor then hung on a wall), the dripping streaks of paint refer to his gesture, and the interface between bed and drips suggests that Pollocks supposed virility (highly unlikely given his alcoholism and psychological anguish) was a mere wet dream. It was this level of obvious sexual reference that Shigeko Kubotas Vagina Painting quoted and critiqued, recognizing Pollock as inheriting and drawing on long history of male artists who from at least the Renaissance on painted with the penis.36 While analogies between male sexuality and creative genius go back at least as far as the Renaissance, they increased, as Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker have noted, in the 19th century, leading to the conviction that greatness in a rt was the natural privilege of man.37 In the face of increasing challenges to the male subjects coherence, authenticity and autonomy in the 20th century, the reassertion of this connection appears to have become more urgent, pronounced and, on occasion, ironized, which did not necessarily diminish the assumption. 38 Namuths images reinforce the fact that Pollocks method of working broke with traditional notions of painterly touch, a move that, when interpreted as foregrounding bodily action, has been credited by some critics (i.e. Allan Kaprow) as contributing to the development of event based and body art. While the idea of the spontaneous gesture as an expression of the artists self and presence (the gestalt of the moment or time) is an inheritance from the 19th century, for critic Harold Rosenberg, the action, as both a thing (in that it touches other things and affects them) and a sign (both psychic and material) became its own
181 representation.39 Pollocks gesture continues to make its mar k as Pollock, but it is his performance, unhooked from the traditional artists brush, that is emphasized. On the one hand, Kaprow understands the action aspect of Pollocks touch, inherent in his gestural marks, as challenging rather than conforming to Greenbergs notion of the autonomy of the work. He reads Pollocks gestures as inviting spectatorial identification yet refusing a single focal point, taking the picture so far out that the canvas is no longer a reference point.40 Pollocks choices regarding touch, form and scale transform painting into a kind of environment for audience involvement, becoming the inspiration for Kaprows Happenings, time and spacebased events that would contribute to the rise of performance art. Kaprow conclude d: I am convinced that to grasp a Pollocks impact properly, we must be acrobats, constantly shuttling between an identification with the hands and body that flung the paint and stood in the canvas and submission to the objective markings, allowing them to entangle and assault us. This instability is indeed far from the idea of a complete painting. The artist, the spectator, and the outer world are much too interchangeably involved here.41 A number of early feminist artists, such as Hannah Wilke and Carolee Schneemann, would explore the potential of such a performative interchange further in order to articulate the role of desire in the creation and interpretation of works of art, as well as the potential of the body (as both subject and object of ar t) in their own self conscious enactments of identity (as itself an act).42 On the other hand, Pollocks performance, when read as conflating artist, gesture and work, was most often produced by modernist critics as guaranteeing the identity or authenticity of all three. Playing on Ren Descartes famous phrase I think therefore I am, Alfred Barr, art historian and the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, confirmed this orientation in 1959: Many [Abstract Expressionist artists] feel th at their painting is a stubborn,
182 difficult, even desperate effort to discover the self or reality, an effort to which the whole personality should be recklessly committed: I paint, therefore I am.43 This assertion of a coherent, self affirming Cartesian identity achieved through a notion of touch figured as embodied performance (conflating artist, work and nature/god, which I shall discuss in a moment) is what critics like Mary Kelly and Hal Foster would later read as Modernisms emphasis on presence and desire for the essential in art, setting up the problem of essentialism that would be applied by some critics, with Kelly prominent among them, to early feminist art as the critical yardstick.44 Despite the apparent contradiction in the fact that Pol lock was produced both as the poster boy for Greenbergs formalist version of modernist art and as the provocation for its opposition (the rise to prominence of theatrical or phenomenological and time based art, such as Happenings and performance art), c ritical commentary, often supported by Pollocks own statements, tended to emphasize Pollocks touch as the expression of his creative nature. In an interview with Lee Krasner in 1967 Pollock stated I am nature, and art critic Meyer Schapiro lauded th e artists drips and markings as the artists active presence.45 As noted above, this was a concept of nature and presence figured in masculine terms, universalized as divine creativity (Kant) or eternal human values such as individual freedom. Exposing this strategy would be key for many women artists whose creativity was culturally figured as a sign of immanence, of bloody bodily fertility and messy physical, rather than transcendent, presence, a trope of touch painter and performance artist Carolee Sc hneemann would interrogate and push to its limits. This exposure required a complex analysis by artists working in the late 1960s and 1970s, since the terms of masculine creativity, as naturalized, went
183 unremarked, and it is worth unpacking a bit here, at least those terms that would influence feminist artists explorations of touch. For example, in Meyer Schapiros version of Pollock, interpreted by Richard Shiff as responding to a post war crisis in male identity triggered, in part, by the loss of originality implied in photographic technologies of mechanical reproduction, Pollocks touch was a mark of his deep psychology and creative freedom, a heroic act of liberation from an increasingly conformist culture based on industrialization, mass production a nd alienated labor; an act that called for a return to an ethos of American [male] individualism.46 Yet that individualism, as an act of genius, went beyond national or human values. Declaring that the act of painting is of the same metaphysical substa nce as the artists existence, Harold Rosenberg, who coined the term action painting, challenged Greenbergs notion of the autonomy of art (by conflating art and life, a move that Allan Kaprow would take up later and make into a career) yet agreed with Greenbergs insistence on the artists (and artworks) transcendence, insofar as the work, the act, translates the psychologically given into the intentional, into a world and thus transcends it.47 Without recourse to a transcendental valuation, the act of painting is simply about the act; it is merely aesthetics or psychology but not the psychology of creation.48 In other words, without the move from personal psychology to transcendental creativity, the work of art cannot be justified as an act of genius.49 This notion of touch as the mark and transmission of transcendental genius was figured, in large part, through tropes of masculinity that were simultaneously emphasized and veiled, through various strategies and assumptions that made it appear natural.50 From an existentialist perspective, Pollocks act of painting is transcendental insofar as he projects himself, his
184 intention, into the world through his work, thus overcoming the immanence of materiality and submissiveness to biological destiny through an active, willful agency. And yet, as Simone de Beauvoir pointed out, transcendence in a patriarchal world is gendered as the cultural purview of men: the situation of woman is that she a free and autonomous being like all human creatures, nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her as an object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego which is essential and sovereign.51 In other words, women (as signifiers for difference) function like canvases, as the objects onto which men project their immanence, their corporeality and vulnerability, in order to achieve transcendence, to make their m ark in the world and, thereby, secure their sense of autonomy and coherency, which is essential and sovereign. By factoring in the question of sexual difference, de Beauvoir exposes the vulnerability of existentialisms concept of transcendence, based on intention and (male) creativity, to issues of power and essence. Men make art, women make (mens) babies. The concept of transcendence was fundamental to the modernist project as articulated by its main proponents. To formulate his theory of modernist ar t Clement Greenberg relied on Kants theory of aesthetic judgment, which stipulates that judgment, as purposiveness without purpose, is informed neither by cognitive reasoning nor subjective liking; it must be free of emotion and subjective interest. Fr om the perspective of the Cartesian opposition between mind and body (subject and object, reason and sense, a polemic that goes back to Plato and the Greek philosophers), interest or desire is on the side of the body, the sensuous and the subjective. In Platonic terms, sensuous knowledge is a bastard logic, which means unreliable because unsecured by the guarantee of the paternal logos (the word whose meaning is guaranteed through the dialogue of patriarchal philosophers anchoring meaning). Later, wit hin JudeoChristian -
185 Islamic patriarchal religion, the paternal logos is the spoken Word of God (as absolute knowledge or universal truth). Here, the paternal word has gone a significant step beyond its philosophical roots, functioning as both creator and guarantor or, in semiotic terms, anchoring meaning as an unmediated one to one correspondence between signifier and signified; it is creator, representation and the thing itself. It is this phallogocentrism and its logic of the self same (upon which a logic of opposition and metaphoric substitution is based) that Luce Irigaray, beginning in the 1970s, subjected to vigorous critique, linking it to regimes of vision while proposing, as a feminist alternative, tactile relations (i.e. two lips) capable o f embracing a logic of simultaneous difference and (associative, metonymic) contiguity.52 In order to bridge the gap between the subjective (what is known about the object through the senses) and the objective (for Greenberg the autonomous and self refer ential art object), Kant relied, as Derrida has argued, on metaphysics, on an appeal to nature/god as a transcendental source of creativity, meaning, truth and knowledge in order to guarantee the meaning and value of the object as essential or inherent to it (and separate from the subject).53 In turn, it is this access to, or in Derridas terms the miming of, the self generating and self guaranteeing transcendental creativity of nature/god (in monomaletheistic religious terms, god as the universal Creator) that both defines and secures artistic genius.54 Through his ability to mime the action of god (not imitate a thing), to make a direct connection to and transmission of self originating enactments of creativity (nature/god), the artist embeds the divine so urce of artistic genius and value directly into the pure form of the painting. This value is then extracted by the critic, who, through his faculty of aesthetic judgment, has the ability to recognize and interpret this genius for the masses. 55
186 Through recourse to the transcendental, the artist is a genius and the critic secures his own judgment as a universal truth, which, according to Kant, invests him with the authority to speak for others; through this circular logic, both artist and critic are aligned with god.56 In other words, transcendence is a concept that may be used to secure and regulate meaning and value through recourse to a claim of originary creativity (self generating and self guaranteeing) and absolute knowledge (1 to 1 correspondence between sign and referent); its about who gets to control the semiotic, who gets the last word, who gets to draw the bottom line; in this way, transcendence is the apotheosis of essentialism. But like all ideas and signs considered from a poststructurali st perspective, its truth is secured, essentially, in nothing (hence the urgency of fundamentalists of whatever stripe to disavow this).57 Given the social, religious and/or political attempts to naturalize certain persons access or claims to transcendence as absolute knowledge or intrinsic value, part of the work of feminism has been to expose transcendence as a concept with a long gendered history, either blatantly through critiquing the figure of a god imaged and imagined as male, as autogenerative and an absolute source of meaning, or more subtly through interrogations of metaphoric displacements and attributes that are coded as male or female. In particular, many early feminist artists were sensitive to Modernisms reliance on transcendence to sever artistic creativity from the body (namely, the immanence projected onto the female body), spiritualizing it in order to guarantee the value of male creativity as neutral, universal and true.58 This denial of the body in modernist aesthetic theory was per haps nowhere more blatant than in Greenbergs formulation of opticality as the goal of modernist art, a strategy that continued to rely on transcendence in order to shore up the framing of his concepts, particularly autonomy and genius.59 Yet Kants recour se to transcendence, in Derridas reading, encounters
187 the problem of the frame; in order to posit an inside there must be an outside, which, in turn, defines it.60 By maintaining a boundary between the subject and the object (which it then must overcome), Kants turn to the transcendence of metaphysics appears to anchor value and signification but only resorts to another frame. In Greenbergian terms, the artwork is supposedly autonomous, separate from the subject or viewer, yet it is the subject who defines the object as art. Frames, like the concepts they are invoked to secure (such as autonomy), are never inviolate; to invoke a frame is also to insinuate its demise. Perhaps this is in part why Greenbergs defense of self referential art eventually compelled him to posit the picturing of opticality as the goal of modernist visual arts. In Pollocks drip paintings Greenberg saw matter becoming weightless, dispersing both the object and the viewers traditional focal point as Pollocks looping lines, no lo nger bound to the work of contour, created instead a kind of luminosity (formerly the purview of color). For Greenberg as well as his follower Michael Fried, Pollocks drip paintings transcended the conditions of reality in order to enter the dialectic al terms of abstraction, referring to nothing other than a pure opticality figured as freed from the body.61 In this way, Pollocks paintings realized the work of Modernism that for Greenberg had begun with Manet and the Impressionists, satisfying his des ire for a purely optical experience as against optical experience modified or revised by tactile associations.62 This desire to elude mediation, to separate the viewers divine eye from tactility and the body, or the artists hand from the brush and ca nvas (an equivalence both Klein and Schneemann would explore, but to very different ends), is paralleled, through a strange and sometimes paradoxical logic, in the way that transcendence in modernist discourses is linked to concepts of presence figured thr ough distance and proximity, space and time. As Hal Foster has argued in
188 The Crux of Minimalism, Greenbergs ally, the critic Michael Fried, posits two kind of presence. The first, which is the goal of modernist art, is timeless and epiphanic, experienced by the viewer who stands before a great work of art and enters into a moment of instantaneous transcendental communion with it. This mystical union with the work is predicated, however, on the viewers distance, on the ability to stand before the work and take it all in. In a strange sort of circuitry, the viewers experience of mastery/communion/timelessness relies, at least in the case of Pollock, on the separation of the artists hand/brush/mediation from the canvas in order to collapse his gesture with his body. This is an action that mimes and thereby unites the artist with god, the body/gesture becoming a pure or unmediated action/transmission of/from god back into the pure form of the work, which is then available to the viewer who may experi ence this transcendence or act of transubstantiation as instantaneous conviction.63 This is the experience of transcendence Fried so passionately desires in his call for presentness as grace.64 The second kind of presence, a tactility defined in corporeal or immanent terms as palpable immediacy (proximity) and concreteness, is aligned with duration, exemplified for Fried in the comment of Minimalist artist Tony Smith who, considering his experience of a nighttime road trip as a way to think about or ma ke art, said, there is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it.65 Foster agrees with Frieds suspicion of Smith insofar as he seems to be invoking an essentialist notion of presence as unmediated experience, though the Minimalists werent chastised and dismissed as nave essentialists; this accusation was reserved for the early feminists. Yet the problem for Fried was not essentialism per se, but rather the fact that this literalist or theatrical theory and practice of art is both wh olly accessible (something everyone can understand, questioning the need for the critic) and situates the viewer in the mundane time of the body rather than the timeless present, the transcendental time that fosters
189 a sense of conviction or belief in the instantaneous and absolute knowledge available in and through a great work of art.66 Although Minimalism took Greenbergs notion of the objective (the autonomy and purity of form) far beyond what he and his cohorts had intended, embracing, instead, a subjective and phenomenological approach, they continued to position the viewer and the artist as outside history and sexually neutral.67 To some extent, this move away from the hand toward an industrial or machine production of the work of art appears to insert more distance between artist and work.68 But that gap, as we have seen, does not prevent an identification of the artist with transcendent genius while, at the same time, it foregrounds the potential for the artists identity to become dematerial ized as signature, as a sign that accrues value on its own, so to speak, regardless of its material connection to the work. That value, no longer having to reside in the object, is free to be created and determined by social forces, which in the Western a rt world means primarily white male critics, historians and patrons. This condition simultaneously courted, exposed and amplified connections between art, artist and the forces of the market, a strategy Pop artist Andy Warhol exploited to maximum effect. Not only did Warhol not touch most of his work, leaving it to the mechanical process of silkscreen printing performed by studio assistants, but he also relinquished typical notions of subjectivity by claiming that he wanted to be a machine.69 While this statement lent itself to interpretations of post Cartesian and postmodernist identity, Warhol was, once again, collapsing the artist with the work, now machine made. In fact, in one of his many comments combining critique, celebrity and humor, Warhol suggested that one should, in lieu of an artwork, tie up and hang $200,000 on a wall; printed currency, of course.70 The idea was pure genius,
190 acknowledging the fact that the machine, industrial and institutional (the machine of art criticism, history a nd the market), had become god. While Foster claims that the blindness of both Modernism and Minimalism to gender and history was redressed by feminist artists of the 1980s, I would argue that Kubotas performance, and the work of a large number of other f eminist and protofeminist artists and theorists from the 1960s and 70s (from Yoko Ono and Luce Irigaray to Carolee Schneemann and many others), contradicts his claim and assigns that feminist redress a considerably longer heritage.71 Grappling with the m odernist and postmodernist problem of transcendence may account, in part, for the fact that many early feminist artists and theorists invented theories and practices of immanence. Their work integrates and interrogates corporeality as a form not only for political activism and/or critique but also research, sometimes through historical references to the images and histories of archaic goddesses but mostly with an eye to imaging and imagining a future to come. Some, most notably Judy Chicago, Carolee Schne emann, Valie Export and Marina did seek transcendence in the sense of a projective female will. But many of these artists, including Schneemann, Chicago and Yoko Ono, recognized, from various perspectives, that one of the most crucial problems of gender was the patriarchal strategy of invoking transcendence, which, as the attempt to secure meaning beyond time and space, outside the body and history, went far beyond the question of aesthetic judgment and value to subtend much larger social and political issues. 1 Shigeko Kubota, Shigeko Kubota with Phong Bui, The Brooklyn Rail (September 2007): http://www.brooklynrail.org/2007/09/art/kubota. 2 I am discussing Pollocks touch in the context of painting, but I would like to point out that Duchamps brilliant and wry institutional critique, his 1917 Fountain (a mass produce d urinal turned upside down), was signed with a brush in the artists hand. Anticipating the turn of subjects and objects (signifieds) into circulating signs (signifiers), it was the signature of his alter ego, R. Mutt, rendered in dripping paint that mo cked the spontaneous truth of the romantic, the child, or the insane. I have often wondered if Pollocks genius could be linked to a desire to riff on this particular signature of Duchamps. I would also like to note that the framing of Pollocks touch as an act is read
191 by Amelia Jones as a move toward (but not the origin of) the performance of artistic subjectivity (which doesnt become a dominant form until the 1960s). See Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minne sota Press, 1998), 53102. 3 Describing these performances Klein wrote: [My models] became living brushes! I had rejected the brush long before. It was too psychological. I painted with the more anonymous roller, trying to create a distance at the very least an intellectual, unvarying distance between the canvas and me during the execution. Now, like a miracle, the brush returned, but this time alive. Under my direction, the flesh itself applied the color to the surface, and with perfect precision. I was able to remain constantly at the exact distance X from my canvas and thus I could dominate my creation continuously throughout the entire execution. In this way I stayed clean. I no longer dirtied myself with color, not even the tips of my fingers. The work finished itself there in front of me, under my direction, in absolute collaboration with the model. And I could salute its birth into the tangible world in a dignified manner, dressed in a tuxedo. From Yves Klein, Le Vrai Devient Ralit (Truth Becomes Reality), quoted in Paul Schimmel, Leap Into the Void: Performance and the Object, in Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949 1979 (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998), 33. [Kleins essay written in March 1960 and originally published in Zero 3 (July 1961).] 4 Kristine Stiles, Between Water and Stone Fluxus Performance: A Metaphysics of Acts, reprinted in The Artists Body ed. Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones (London: Phaidon, 2000), 211. [Originally published in The S pirit of Fluxus (Minnesota: The Walker Art Center, 1993), 64 99.] For a discussion of the superiority of vision over touch in the work of Goethe and Schiller at the end of the 18th century (with vision aligned with the intellect and touch with the primit ive animal senses) see Margaret Olin, Validation by Touch in Kandinskys Early Abstract Art, Critical Inquiry 16, no. 1 (Autumn 1989): 161. 5 See Carolee Schneemann, More Than Meat Joy (New Paltz, N.Y.: Documentext, 1975), 52. Kinetic theater is a p erformative amalgam of bodily gestures and movements in space that could include objects as well as film and video projections. 6 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 794. 7 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 799. 8 Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, M assachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55. 9 Pollock and Parker cite Maurice Schroders research on the growth of the analogy between artistic creativity and male sexuality which has its roots in the Renaissance when artists were cautioned to be chaste in order to preserve their virility for their art. Schroder also cites Flaubert (the artist who feels his sperm rising for an emission) and Van Gogh (dont fuck too much your paintings will be all the more spermatic). This led to the nineteenth century conviction that greatness in art was the natural privilege of man. Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker, Gods Little Artist, in Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981b), 82 83. 10 Mary D. Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vige Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 187. 11 Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism, in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation edited by Brian Wallis, (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 87 103. 12 Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism, in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 87 103. 13 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 760.
192 14 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 796 98. 15 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 778 79. 16 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 781. 17 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 783. 18 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 764. 19 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 787. 20 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Ma lvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 793 94. 21 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 795. 22 Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner, The Ideology of t he Licked Surface: Official Art, Romanticism and Realism: The Mythology of Nineteenth Century Art (New York: Viking Press, 1984), 223. 23 I thank Melissa Hyde for pointing out that from the perspective of the Venetians, Titians style was not considered feminine. 24 Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 799. I thank Melissa Hyde for pointing out Renoirs (1841 1919) famous statement: I paint with my prick. 25 Ph ilip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 798. 26 Mary D. Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vige Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: University o f Chicago Press, 1996), 187. 27 I cannot reproduce Sheriffs brilliant and inspired reading here, but see Mary D. Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vige Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 80 220. 28 See Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 74 104. 29 See Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 74 104. 30 See Carol Armstrong, Facturing Fem ininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 90. 31 For an excellent and almost prophetic reading of the impact of Namuths photographs on Pollock, his career and a younger generation of artists, see two articles by Barbara Rose: Jackson Pollock: The Artist as Cultural Hero and Namuths Photographs and the Pollock Myth. Rose discusses the dissemination of these photographs as creating a mythic Pollock and ushering in a new celebrity culture of artists producing themselves for mass m edia consumption (i.e. Warhol). Both articles are in Pollock Painting: The Photographs of Hans Namuth ed. Barbara Rose ( New York: Agrinde Publications 1978). Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters, Artnews 51 (December 1952): 22 23, 4850. Alla n Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollock, in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life ed. J. Kelly (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).
193 32 Allan Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollock, in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life ed. J. Kelly (B erkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 3 4. 33 Despite the fact that Pollock, in an interview with Lee Krasner, declared I am nature, a statement that could be read as aligning him with immanence rather than transcendence, this aspect of Pollock was recuperated by critics like Harold Rosenberg through a discourse of normative heroic masculine individualism framed as a transcendental mastery of nature. For Pollock quotes see Jackson Pollock: An Interview with Lee Krasner, Arts (April 1967), 38; c ited by Andrew Perchuk in Pollock and Postwar Masculinity, in The Masculine Masquerade: Masculinity and Representation ed. Andrew Perchuk and Helaine Posner (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995), 38; and Possibilities I (Winter 1947 48), reprinted in Abst ract Expressionism, ed. Cecile Shapiro and David Shapiro (London: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 356. For the wand quote, see Harold Rosenberg, The Myth of Jackson Pollock, reprinted in Abstract Expressionism ed. Cecile Shapiro and David Shapiro ( London: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 377. Meyer Schapiro reads Pollocks touch in the context of industrial mass production and increasingly alienated labor, where paintings and sculptures are the last hand made, personal objects within our cultu re. The painting symbolizes an individual who realizes freedom and realizes freedom and deep engagement of the self within his work. Hence the great importance of the mark, the stroke, the brush, the drip, the quality of the substance of the paint itsel f, and the surface of the canvas as a texture and field of operation all signs of the artists active presence. See Meyer Schapiro, The Liberating Quality of the Avant garde, Artnews 56 (Summer 1957): 38, 40. I am indebted to Amelia Jones for the insigh t about Pollocks relation to performance art. See Amelia Jones, Performing the Body/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1998), Chapter Two. For a more direct discussion of Pollocks influence on Happenings, see Allan Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollock, in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life ed. J. Kelly (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). 34 See The Wild Ones, Time Magazine, February 20th 1956, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,808194 1,00.html (accessed April 8, 2010). 35 A combine painting attaches cast off materials (such as tires and old clothes) to a traditional support. 36 See my earlier comments on Aretinos figuring of the paintbrush as a sword and a penis in the Renaissance, Frago nards depiction of the artist who paints with his ass (penis) in the 18th century, and Renoirs famous 19th century statement I paint with my prick. 37 Pollock and Parker cite Maurice Schroders research on the growth of the analogy between artistic creativity and male sexuality which has its roots in the Renaissance when artists were cautioned to be chaste in order to preserve their virility for their art. Schroder also cites Flaubert (the artist who feels his sperm rising for an emission) and V an Gogh (dont fuck too much your paintings will be all the more spermatic). This led to the nineteenth century conviction that greatness in art was the natural privilege of man. Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker, Gods Little Artist, Old Mist resses: Women, Art and Ideology (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981b), 8283. 38 I note the wide range of artists who have jokingly ridiculed or ironized male sexuality, particularly white male heterosexuality, such as Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg and An dy Warhol, among others. But irony does not ensure a critique, just as critique does not insure a change in concepts or consciousness. As the careers of these artists have demonstrated, the market assimilates artists, particularly male artists, despite the ir critiques and in fact often lauds them for such. 39 Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters, Artnews 51 (December 1952): 22 23, 48 50. 40 Allan Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollock, in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life ed. J. Kelly (Ber keley :University of California Press, 2003), 6. 41 Allan Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollock, in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life ed. J. Kelly (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 5.
194 42 For an excellent analysis of feminist body art ists, see Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), particularly her reading of the work of Hannah Wilke. 43 Alfred Barr, The New American Painting (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1959), 5. 44 Hal Fost er, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1996), 58. Mary Kelly, Re Viewing Modernist Criticism, in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 87 103. 45 This emphasis on the artists creative nature benefits from reading it through Derridas critique of Greenbergs reliance on Kantian aesthetics. See Derridas essay Economimesis, where he shows the link between artistic genius and nature/god. For me, the key to how Pollock is being produced by Greenberg is Kants idea that artistic genius mimes nature/god, which produces what produces, an original act of creative power that is not based on mimesis as imitation but re creating the act of god/natures power to create and represent itself simultaneously; recreating gods act of creating. See Jacques Derrida, Economimesis, translated by R. Klein, Diacritics 11: 2 (Summer 1975): 811. For the artist described as an active presence, see Meyer Schapiro, The Liberating Quality of the Avant garde, Artnews 56 (Summer 1957): 38, 40. For Pollocks statement I am nature, see Jackson Pollock: An Interview with Lee Krasner, Arts (April 1967): 38; cited by Andrew Perchuk in Pollock and Postwar Masculinity, in The Masculine Masquerade: Masculinity and Representation ed. Andrew Perchuk and Helaine Posner (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995), 38. 46 Heralding painting and sculpture as the last handmade, personal objects in a culture of increasing industrial ization, mass production, and alienated labor, Meyer Schapiro writes: The painting symbolizes an individual who realizes freedom and deep engagement of the self within his work. Hence the great importance of the mark, the stroke, the brush, the drip, t he quality of the substance of the paint itself, and the surface of the canvas as a texture and field of operation all signs of the artists active presence. See Meyer Schapiro, The Liberating Quality of the Avant garde, Artnews 56 (Summer 1957): 38, 40 See Richard Shiff, Breath of Modernism (Metonymic Drift), in In Visible Touch: Modernism and Masculinity ed. Terry Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 185213. 47 Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters, Artnews 51 (December 1 952): 22. 48 Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters, Artnews 51 (December 1952): 22. 49 Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters, Artnews 51 (December 1952):22. 50 For an extended discussion of the need to see and the simultaneous need to ve il Pollocks gender/penis/phallus (in Lacanian terms) in order to secure his genius and the critics disinterest, see Chapter Two in Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). 51 Simone de Beauvoir, T he Second Sex translated and edited by H. M. Parshley (New York: Knopf, 1952), 28. 52 Irigarays critique of the self same is embedded in her critique of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, particularly the primacy of vision in the gendering of subject s. See Luce Irigaray, The Blind Spot of an Old Dream of Symmetry, in Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 13 132. 53 Derrida argues that the artist/genius and critic in Kant are analogous t o God though an anthropo theological mimesis a divine teleology (Derrida 1975, 9). This mimesis is not based on the resemblance or identification of one thing with another but rather a pure and free productivity that resembles that of nature. The mime tic art of an author subject or artist god, then, is the identification of human action with divine action of one freedom with another, a statement that fits well with the critical production of Pollock as the action painter. The communicability of pure judgments of taste, the (universal, infinite, limitless) exchange between subjects who have free hands in the exercise or appreciation of fine art, all that presupposes a commerce between the divine artist and the human one. And indeed this commerce is a mimesis in the strict sense of a play, a mask, an identification with the other on stage, and not the imitation of an object by its copy. True mimesis is between two producing subjects
195 and not between two producing things. Implied by the whole third Cri tique even though the word itself never appears, this kind of mimesis invariably entails the condemnation of imitation, which is always characterized as being servile (Derrida 1975, 9). The artists genius, as freedom, resembles Gods freedom (which resembles itself and reassembles itself) precisely by not imitating it, the only way one freedom can resemble another (Derrida 1975, 10). This mimesis cannot proceed through concepts because it is a quasi natural production. The original agency here is the figure of the genius. [genius] is a natural talent, a gift of Nature genius is itself produced and given by nature, without which there would be no fine art. Nature produces what produces, it produces freedom [for] itself and gives it to itsel f. In giving non conceptual rules to art (rules abstracted from the act, that is from the product), in producing exemplars, genius does nothing more than reflect nature, represent it: both as its legacy or its delegate and as its faithful image (Derri da 1975, 10). Genius is not learned, which for Kant is simple imitation: Genius is the innate disposition of the spirit, by which nature gives rules to art. Derrida continues: The poet or genius receives from nature what he gives, of course, but first he receives from nature (from God), besides the given, the giving, the power to produce and to give more than he promises to men. The poetic gift, content and power, wealth and action, is an add on [ un enplus ] given as a [power] to give [ un donner ] by Go d to the poet, who transmits it in order to permit this supplementary surplus value to make its return to the infinite source this source which can never be lost (by definition, if one can say that of the infinite) (Derrida 1975, 11). Jacques Derrida, Ec onomimesis, translated by R. Klein, Diacritics 11: 2 (Summer 1975): 811. 54 Jacques Derrida, Economimesis, translated by R. Klein, Diacritics 11: 2 (Summer 1975): 811. 55 I am indebted to Amelia Jones and Donald Preziosi for translating the conflation of author, god and critic in literary theory discourses into art historical terms. See Donald Preziosi, Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989), 31. See Amelia Jones, Body Art/Performing the Subje ct (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). 56 As subjects who know not through reason or emotion but a mimesis of auto generative action, a self referential creativity which, through a mystical surplus, both transmits and reflects nature/god, both artist and critic are aligned with god. See Jacques Derrida, Economimesis, translated by R. Klein, Diacritics 11: 2 (Summer 1975): 8 11. 57 It would be interesting to consider this idea in the context of Clement Greenberg and Michael Frieds theory of opticality, particularly Frieds reading of Pollocks use of line as referring to nothing other than eyesight itself. The last attempt to guarantee significance is a resort to the disembodied eye which is the sign for god in many cultures. See Fried quo ted in Hal Foster, Art Since 1900 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004), 357. 58 In philosophical terms this strategy was exposed by Luce Irigaray in her critique of phallologocentrism as the replication of the self same, a concept of creativity that, in it s move to abstraction, denies the body, particularly the female body. See Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), translated by Gillian C. Gill (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 13 132. 59 Richard Shiff will argue otherwise. See Richard Shiff, Breath of Modernism (Metonymic Drift), in In Visible Touch: Modernism and Masculinity ed. Terry Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 185213. 60 I am offering a very simplistic reading of Derrida, but this is how I understand his general argument. See Jacques Derrida, The Parergon, in Truth in Painting (1978), trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987), 37 82. 61 Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yves Alain Bois, and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Art Sinc e 1900 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004), 357. For an in depth analysis of this aspect of modernism, see Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1994). Thus Pollocks paintings realized the work of Modernism that f or Greenberg had begun with Manet and the Impressionists, satisfying his desire for a purely optical experience as against optical experience modified or revised by tactile associations. It was in the name of the purely and literally optical, not in that of color, that the Impressionists set themselves to undermining shading and modeling and everything else that seemed to connote the sculptural. Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting, in Art in Theory, 19002000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas ed. C. Ha rrison and P. Woods (London: Blackwell, 2003), 776.
196 62 Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting, in Art in Theory, 19002000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas ed. C. Harrison and P. Woods (London: Blackwell, 2003), 776. 63 See Michael Fried, Art and Objecthoo d (1967), in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 146. Regarding conviction Hal Foster comments: Here the doctrine of autonomy returns in its late guise, and it suggests that rather than separate from religion, (as Enlightenment aesthetics sometimes proposed to be), autonomous art is, in part, a secret substitute for religionthat is, a secret substitute for the moral disciplining of the subject that religion once provided. Hal Fost er, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 53. 64 Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood (1967), in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology ed. Gregory Battcock. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 147. 65 Tony Smith quote d in Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood (1967), in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 131. Cited in Hal Foster, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 51. 66 Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood (1967), in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 146. 67 Hal Foster, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 43. 68 Avant g arde art histories often cite Marcel Duchamps Fountain (1917) as a seminal moment and progenitor. 69 See G. R. Swenson, What is Pop Art? Answers from Painters Part 1, Art News 62, no. 7 (November 1963): 26. 70 Warhols quote was: I like money on the wa ll. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.'' Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol : from A to Z and Back Again (New York: Mariner Books, 1975) : 133134. 71 Hal Foster, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 59.
197 CHAPTER 6 EA RLY FEMINIST ARTISTS: ARTISTIC TOUCH, TRANSCENDENCE AND IMMANENCE Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one's best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of t he feel. And so when we speak about my sexuality or my gender, as we do (and as we must), we mean something complicated by it. Neither of these is precisely a possession, but both are to be understood as modes of being dispossessed, ways of being for anot her, or, indeed, by virtue of another.1 Judith Butler But this treatment of Before the Mirror distinguishes itself from the discourse of formalism in a number of ways as well. And one of those ways concerns its address to facture, and to factures capacit y as a form of un form: factures dissolution of form and its readability, its disruption of the singleness and unified gestalt of the image, and its attachment to the amorphous regime of color as against the rationality of design.2 Carol Armstrong Though definitions of immanence, like transcendence and essentialism, shift according to context, I want to suggest that many, if not all, of the feminist artists accused by critics and historians of navely celebrating and essentializing the female body were also, even if the theoretical terminology was not yet set in place, beginning the work of deconstructing the opposition between transcendence and immanence, subjects and objects of knowledge, and the systems of organizing and valuing experience (aesthetic, social and political) that were based on such oppositions.3 Some feminist artists achieved this through interrogations and elaborations on the very loaded concept of touch, questioning the purity of its modernist conception as self referential and t ranscendental, all in one stroke. Although feminist artists explored many types of touch, I would like to begin by addressing two of the most prominent forms, touch given over to the viewer, explored in the work of Yoko Ono, Valie Export and Marina Abramo and touch that exaggerates and plays with the artists hand as corporeal and gendered, of which Carolee Schneemanns work is an early and compelling example.
198 Yoko Ono As an exploration of giving the artists touch over to the hand of the audience, Yoko Onos Cut Piece (1964) is a rich resource. It has been performed multiple times in different locations, including Kyoto, Tokyo, London, New York and most recently Paris. As a result, there is a history of critical reception, as well as David and Alber t Maysless documentary footage of the July 1965 performance at Carnegie Hall in New York, which was shown again in its entirety in 2007 during the exhibition WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Along w ith Carolee Schneemann ( Eye/Body: 36 Transformative Actions 1963), Valie Export ( Touch Cinema, 1968), and Shigeko Kubota, Ono is one of the first female artists to use her body in her work, and I believe it is worth noting that all four, in various ways, emphasize the hand of the artist. At each venue where Cut Piece is performed, Ono, dressed in one of her best suits, kneels or sits impassively on the stage, a large pair of tailors shears placed on the floor in front of her. The audience is invited to come up, one at a time, and cut off a small piece of her clothing which, at least in the original performance notes, they may keep if they wish.4 The quiet, static composure of Onos body and facial expression throughout the piece, presumably the result of her subjective will, effectively produces her body as an object, creating an unremitting tension between subjectivity and objectivity that questions the boundaries between artist and work; the invitation to touch extends that exploration to foreground the audience. In discussing the original performance of Cut Piece, produced for the 1964 Contemporary American Avant Garde Music Concert: Insound and Instructure in Kyoto, Japan, Ono underscores its aural dimension.5 Given her previous collaborations wit h the American avant garde composer and theoretician John Cage, whose work, in contrast to Clement Greenbergs version of modernism, was designed to challenge the autonomy of art (often including the
199 audience as co creators), this initial emphasis on sound is not surprising, nor is the fact that the piece changes with each new context. Ono notes the reluctance of the Kyoto audience to appear on stage, their reticence creating a series of long, soft silences that pervade the echoing hall, a hush which serve s to amplify, when the scissors finally do arise, the sound of cloth shearing at the touch of resolute metal. The overall impression Ono gives is one of quiet contemplative movement, the sound of hard line meeting soft surface, irregular yet rhythmic, cre ates a fabric of its own, weaving bodies and space together through time rendered tensile, tangible.6 In the 1965 performance at New Yorks Carnegie Hall, however, the actions of the audience seem to dominate the performance and Cut Piece appears more visu al than auditory. This may be due in part to the fact that I have access to it through the medium of film and to the Maysles brothers editing choices, but I think not entirely; critical discussions have also tended to focus on the visual aspects. The fi lm routinely offers close ups of Onos face, predominantly static and impassive, which contrasts starkly with the growing momentum of the audience, their eagerness pressing them forward, the rhythm of their bodies and the cutting increasingly determined, a t times almost reckless in execution. One person walks very quickly onto the stage and sharply tugs at the cloth before cutting; a man circles Ono while brandishing the scissors, a trope of predation applauded by the audience. As the performance advances so does an emphasis on the visual, evident in how the attention of the audience participants seems to shift from the action of cutting to an increased awareness of being on stage coupled with the desire to expose Onos body. One man, on his second trip up to the stage, looks out of the frame as if confirming support from comrades and says: This might take some time. Someone in the audience asks, How long? Not too long, he replies, scissors in hand. Reassured, he performs an extended
200 slicing of he r slip. Another voice in the audience yells Playboy. He then shears through her bra, leaving her to cover her bared breasts with her hands. Part of the brilliance of Cut Piece is that audience members who attempt to reveal Ono are, in turn, themselves revealed through their own touch/actions, though this, too, remains open to degrees of speculation. That Japanese audiences responses to Ono seem quite different from New Yorkers (admittedly the venues were framed differently as music and art, bu t there was a considerable degree of categorical overlap at that moment) suggests that the performance exposes cultural differences and social doxa. This may be true, but perhaps less in terms of confirming stereotypes about the respective cultures (i.e. Japanese are quiet, New Yorkers are aggressive) and more so in terms of cultural regimes of vision and touch (which open onto issues of gender and race), since Cut Piece vigorously challenges assumptions about the relationship of seeing to knowing. Al though the New York audience partially exposed her and the London audiences stripped her entirely, this revealed very little or nothing about her and a great deal more about the viewers drive to see, which, in the history of western culture, is linked to a desire to know and thereby grasp or possess the object.7 This equation is not unfamiliar to theorists and historians of western regimes of vision (i.e. the mastery implied in Renaissance perspective), feminist artists and critics (i.e. from Freuds famous question What do women want? to Hollywood cinemas pandering to a male gaze) and post colonial theorists (i.e. the history of ethnographic imaging). It is significant, I think, that most art historical responses to Cut Piece, as historian and critic Peggy Phelan has noted, have focused primarily on its scopic register.8 This often overlaps with feminist interpretations produced post 1980, with their critical emphasis on the male gaze. Thomas Crow reads the performance as foregrounding the political question of womens
201 physical vulnerability as mediated by regimes of vision.9 Kathy ODell makes the claim (not substantiated in the filmed performance) that throughout most of the piece she [Ono] sat completely still, training an icy stare o n the audience, past those who took her up on her offer. By ironically replicating stereotypically male practices of voyeurism, as well as stereotypically female states of passivity, she competed with traditions of voyeurism and demonstrated another form of mastery over visual space.10 And while Kristine Stiles reads Cut Piece as a discourse on passivity and aggression that encompasses a range of possibilities (from the reciprocity between abuse and self denigration, the relinquishment of power requi red in the sadomasochistic exchange, and the potential for objectification of the other in the militarization of feeling that dislocates compassion from acts of brutality), her general conclusion is that it offers a commentary on the condition of art as an interactive relation between beholder and object; an exchange revealed in the relationship between exhibitionism and scopic desires.11 The conclusions that Crow and Stiles reach, particularly the latters suggestion that Cut Piece visualizes and enacts the responsibility that viewers must take in aesthetic experience, are certainly valid, but their emphasis on the visual seems to take for granted the key element of the work, which is Onos deliberate emphasis on touch.12 That said, Fluxus artists (including Ono) in general were interested in the framing of daily behaviors, so the act of filming should be considered as a possible influence on the behavior and touch of the New York audience performers. As we know in our quotidian lives, the presence of the camera and the possibility of being imaged may create a kind of self consciousness different from that elicited either by a live performance or an event framed as art. And as many feminist critics, most notably Laura Mulvey, have argued, int ernalized tropes of imaging affect not only how we act (act
202 natural!) but how we see and feel about ourselves as well as others, particularly in terms of gender.13 Yet I would posit that Onos foregrounding of touch is no less vital for being filmed; the genius of the piece is, in part, that it sets up and interrogates the constantly shifting and mutually constituting relations between touch, vision and other technologies of boundarymaking and crossing, self consciousness and social consciousness. Wh ile Cut Piece challenges the assumption that seeing is knowing, the range of exposure and knowledge is variable and continually under question, a flickering in the framing made possible, I would argue, by Onos foregrounding of touch. The members of the a udience who get up on stage may be revealing themselves through their touch/actions, perhaps consciously (i.e. exhibitionist, sexist and/or racist desires), unconsciously (i.e. implicit social doxa, such as internalized habits of vision, tactility, sexis m and/or racism) or not at all (I project my beliefs and experiences onto their gestures). Where does touch begin and end, and what is the relationship of touch to vision and of both to knowledge? Cut Piece stages this as a primary question, one that w as taken up by the French feminists Luce Irigaray and Hlne Cixous in the 1970s and again almost thirty years later by film historian Laura Marks in her theorization of haptic visuality (as mentioned earlier).14 Enacting these relations, Cut Piece opens onto a series of complex inquiries about the frames or boundaries between self and other, subjectivity and objectivity, self and social consciousness, and art, artist and audience. Onos work slices back and forth through a number of pressing questions t hat imply ontological uncertainties as well as disparities in power and privilege, foremost among them: Who is exposing whom? Who or what, then, is being revealed? And who (or what) is being created in this exchange of subjects and objects? Part of the insight Cut Piece offers is its punning on revelation, its challenge to an empirical notion of vision as
203 knowledge which, at the same time, is countered with a hint that vision might be futureal or visionary (as in the 2003 Paris performance, staged to call for world peace). But this is a notion of vision and epistemology that is neither autonomous nor disembodied, suggesting that immanence offers its own possibilities for transcendence. The questions Onos performance raises are complex and compelling, and I am keenly aware that I arrive at them through responses that are simultaneously emotional, physical and contradictory. I see the increasing rhythms of the audience performers and feel them in my pulse; I wince as Onos slip is cut, my stomach tightening, twisting as my fleshfabric jumps. I look away, then glance back, afraid, curious, wanting to see more, frustrated when the camera cuts, too. Concepts begin to swirl and pop, locking into viscera, memory, emotion. Fear, anger, threat, violation, racism, sexism, its all very fast. Furious, protective, aggressive, fascinated, helpless, outraged; it happens in an instant and my adrenaline is pumping. I focus on Ono, living, breathing, yet silent and impassive, an X of arms across her chest, hands cupping nipples, and my own breath slows. There is something arresting in the way she raises her arms to cover her breasts and remains, quietly touching herself. In a simple gesture (of what? modesty? protection? self possession? defiance? art?) she has transm uted a formal object into a sign. And yet the body remains, remembers itself, mute, insistent, at once terribly singular and inescapably social; an effect of a gesture: she is touching herself. X is a scissor, a target and a crossing. Entraining to Onos quiet stance, I slow down long enough to insinuate some critical distance into my tangled and contradictory responses. As in a dream, I have just inhabited several positions in this scene (audience, participant, artist, even cloth, scissors, floor), granted, from the distance of voyeur. Part of me knows Im safe but my body doesnt feel that way. At
204 the same time, I know the man who cut her bra is aggressive, possibly violent, but it seems that the more I try to interpret his actions the more I am brought up short, face to face with my own assumptions, desires, memories and unconscious processes. I saw the cutting and I felt it through a flurry of embodied memories, from the dreariness of patternmaking in a middle school home economics class to th e fear and rage of a rape not long after and, most recently, a minor surgery. The skin had been anesthetized so there wasnt any pain but I heard and felt the pressure of the scissors, the snapping of the metal and the shearing of flesh from outside as well as inside my body. Uncanny and loud, it felt enormous, threatening, impossibly close. Close to what? I wondered. I could not tell exactly, even as I felt the threat. Cut Piece poses the same question: Where is me located? In relation to you, b ut such a linguistic distinction quickly shifts and changes shape. In the odd trick of a synesthesia that bounces back and forth between senses, bodies, objects and time, traversing the supposed inside and outside of what I tentatively call my body/self, I feel the performers/Onos gestures in my body, unraveling and reweaving me, like Penelopes cloth, into something very old, possibly new, mythical yet evanescent. There is a very complicated exchange here between bodies, objects, ideas and selves, personal and social memory and history, that defies Cartesian coherence, autonomy and reason. I am supposedly in my body, in my senses, but it is clear to me that they are not entirely rational nor definitively mine. As far as I have been able to ascertain, Peggy Phelan is the only art critic and historian who has focused on the element of touch in Cut Piece, but she frames it in the context of the live interaction between artist and audience, who enact what she eloquently calls the dense drama of touc hing and being touched.15 Phelan highlights the risk and vulnerability of both positions. For the viewer, walking on stage means relinquishing the voyeurs position of safety by
205 subjecting oneself to the gaze of the audience.16 The artist is vulnerable as well, and when the audience member turned performer comes close and cuts off her bra, the disparity of vulnerabilities, here gendered and raced, surfaces. In this moment Phelan sees Ono flinch, her mask of impassivity slipping for a second before she resumes her position of passive sacrifice.17 For Phelan, it is this flicker, the unconscious, unscripted and momentary response to the touch of another, that exposes, in Phelans account, the aggression that marks sexual difference and the laborious efforts women make to not be undone by it.18 I agree with Phelans phenomenological interpretation, but would emphasize the possibility that a viewer, even of the film, may experience these flickers as well. Touch is no less mediated for being live and it is this mediation that is a crucial element of the work, part of what it is asking us to consider as the artist gives her hand over to the touch of others, which, I would argue, includes the films audience. While Ono appears to make of herself th e perfect modernist artwork, self referential and contained, an object purely visual, it is her invitation to touch that bridges subject and object, creates a chiasmatic relation between them that opens the work up to the mediation of desire, its seduction s and uncertainties, exhilarations and dangers. In the process, I have to wonder at the extent of the artists touch, which has co mingled with that of the audience and with objects, space and time in a dizzying exchange, the origin of which remains uncer tain and dependent on how one frames it. Even then it remains elusive; the more it appears interior the more this interiority points to an outside. As a Buddhist inflected offering of her body to the audience, art and the world, Onos gesture could b e said to be both in and beyond the work.19 When Ono hands her touch over to the audience performers this does not necessarily mean that she has relinquished it, since it has a hand in the making of the work and her bodymade object. At the same time, Onos touch is
206 externalized as the larger work, and could even be said to be returning to her through the touch of the other, even though it is not quite clear if the participants ever physically make contact with her (though they come very, very close). It is this play of proximity and distance, of distance in proximity and a sense of proximity even at a distance, that defines touch in general and permeates Cut Piece, problematizing concepts of artistic autonomy and the traditional framing of subject versus object while resonating as a metaphor and a practice for a potential feminist, social, aesthetic and epistemological ethics. Onos gesture does go beyond her body, but it is not a collapse into the transcendence of a father god guaranteeing truth, genius or subjective objective autonomy and coherency, the cornerstone of western male privilege. Foregrounding the fact that a gift requires a receiver, Onos touch is given yet also dependent on an other (i.e. audience, object, space), which extends her t ouch beyond her body/self. In the process, this is a touch that is barely, if in fact at all, hers, flinchingly, to give. She gives what she doesnt have, at least not in its entirety, and it is through this gesture that I understand my responsibilit y in producing her, in touching her as she touches me. This is a very slender yet profound notion of will, an agency that foregrounds its own fragility as its greatest strength, an interdependency that opens on to Onos desire, as well as my own, for pe ace and social justice, be it gender race and/or worlddirected. I am keenly aware that I am producing my reading of Ono and Cut Piece snipping here and there, coming as close as I possibly can yet careful to look with my touch, my eye/body/self, a nd to question the equation between seeing and knowing. Exposing me as a particular, contingent and desiring subject, Cut Piece asks me to expose others with a touch of compassion, respectful in the knowledge that I can never fully know myself, Ono, the audience
207 or the work. In these odd crossings, the imbrications and disparities between seeing, feeling and knowing, a grace may be insinuated into the interpretative act, shifting the frames, asking me to witness my own acts of cutting, of drawing lines and conclusions. This does not mean, however, that one cannot judge, respond to or censure the actions of others or interpret an artwork. But rather than kill the other into knowledge, as Laura Marks, following the lead of Irigaray and Cixous, has a rgued, Ono asks me, through her emphasis on touch, to read and evaluate with a humility and wisdom grounded in an awareness of the complex mechanisms of my own judgment as subjective, embodied and contingent, immanent rather than absolute.20 Like Pollock, O nos touch is in the act, the gesture of the process, which then becomes the work. But where Pollocks body (at least as it was produced) collapsed simultaneously into the canvas and god to secure authorship, genius, value and male privilege, Cut Piece st ages the immanence of touch, its desiring corporeality dependent on intersubjective (and intrasubjective) relations, not as a guarantee of knowledge or subjective/objective autonomy but rather as a means to unsettle both. Onos gesture (as I am producing it) foregrounds the artists touch as enacting a feminist and aesthetic, visual and corporeal, politics of interdependence and vulnerability forty years before Judith Butler used the metaphor of touch to argue for this possibility.21 And yet, while her touch both produces and is produced through the touch of another (object and/or subject), mingling with objects and audiences far beyond the performance hall, the particularity of her body remains resolutely in the work. Its worldly reach is predicated on the contingency and particularity of each subject, each object, each look, each touch, and the constant negotiations of those boundaries, which are by no means secured by any source other than our collective efforts, intentions, intuitions and judgment s, the production of which Cut Piece offers the potential to interrogate and expose, with empathy.
208 This is the potential that many early feminist investigations of artistic touch offer to the development of a concept of transcendence that retains its defi nition as beyond the self and the known without resorting to universal truths, father gods, or claims to absolute knowledge that secure privilege in its various forms, including assumptions about gender, race, class and so on. In the same stroke, imm anence is not confined to one body; it may create a larger work or social body that, nonetheless, continues to acknowledge the physical finitude of the singular one. A couple of points are worth noting here. Ono recalls that her Fluxus peers did not l ike her work; they referred to it disparagingly as animalistic.22 Although I have not found any further explanation for this comment, I would link it to Carolee Schneemanns observation, cited later in this chapter, that the feminine hand touch sensibi lity was too messy for the art world at this time.23 While Schneemanns highly visceral (i.e. painterly and tactile, sometimes involving animal flesh and her own blood) approach to her body and touch seems in many ways the opposite of Onos cool, clean, impassive stance in Cut Piece, the mess Schneemann refers to is both her own hands on aesthetic and the solicitation of desire, the entanglement of intersubjectivity and objectivity between audience, artist, work and world that Onos performance does indeed provoke: the entwining of eyes/bodies/concepts in acts of comingto knowledge, exposed through the act and metaphor of touching. In fact, art historian Kevin Concannon has noted a proportionally inverse relationship between the decrease of general art historical interest in situating Ono within the accepted avantgarde lineage of Conceptual art and the increase in feminist interpretations of her work (particularly Cut Piece), despite the fact that Ono was one of the founding members of Fluxus and has a prolific conceptual oeuvre .24 Concannons response is to downplay the feminist readings of Cut Piece in order to lobby for Onos acceptance into the Conceptual canon based on
209 her lifelong focus on global peace. However, despite the fact that Ono has st ated she was not aware of the feminist movement at the time she performed Cut Piece and did not develop her feminist consciousness until a few years later, I would reiterate my earlier argument that the ethical possibilities Onos performance poses obtain for relational structures of knowledge making in general, including feminism, racism and world peace; in other words, they are all of a piece.25 That said, I believe the homophonic slide in English from piece as cloth, partition and slang for both a gun and a womans cunt/ass (as sexual object) to peace is not too much of a stretch. Ono performed Cut Piece in 2003 to call for world peace in the wake of 9/11, yet in 2008 she included the original 1965 Maysles brothers film documentation of Cut Piece in her exhibition Touch Me at Galerie Lelong in New York. Predicated once again on the participation of viewers turnedtouchers, Touch Me urges the audience to revitalize and rethink a personal connection to the most current situation women are facing. 26 Onos goal, despite the long history of the essentialism problem in feminist art and art critical debates, is to comment on different facets of the female experience.27 As Cut Piece demonstrates, the risks for artists who shared touch or gave it over to the audience included threats that could be physical. Ono was stripped to the waist when she performed Cut Piece in New York (1964), Carolee Schneemann was attacked by a man who tried to strangle her during a performance of Meat Joy (1964) in Paris, and ten years later Marina endured, through the six hour long performance of Rhythm O (1974) in Naples, Italy, a frightening range of inappropriate and abusive behavior at the hands of a primarily male audience. Schneemann was saved by three mid dle aged women, members of the audience who recognized that she was in danger and piled on top of her assailant to subdue him.28 In general, however, the stakes for women artists whose work explored or tapped into female
210 experience have been high, not only in terms of the art historical record where debates over the issue of essentialism relegated careers to obscurity, but also in terms of an artists bodily integrity, her physical and emotional (as well as financial) wellbeing, which is where assumptions about gender relations often surfaced.29 For women who challenged the notion of autonomy (the Cartesian separation of subject and object) by foregrounding touch and intersubjective desire, this seems strongly the case. It also applies for some artists, l ike Ono or Abramovi who did not initially set out to interrogate issues of gender. Valie Export Although Austrian artist Valie Export was not physically attacked by viewers touchers in her 1968 performance piece, Touch Cinema, it further exposed the gender stakes, the pow er disparities involved in looking and touching, some seven years before Laura Mulvey published her landmark work on the male gaze.30 Like Onos Cut Piece Touch Cinema interrogated relationships between aesthetics and epistemology, but following Carolee Schneemanns foregrounding of the female body and sexual pleasure ( Eye Body (1963) and Fuses (196467)), Export explicitly sought to challenge the codes of patriarchal state morality that confined images of female sexuality to the private realm of pornogr aphy. 31 Export theorized in broad strokes, arguing that womens bodies are used to reinforce the equation of seeing as knowing and knowing as possessing, which she understood as a primary metaphor and support for the functioning of the capitalist state. 32 As a result, Touch Cinema was simultaneously research, performance and activist intervention. Claiming that the connection between vision, voyeurism and the sexual objectification of womens bodies operates in the service of a capitalist morality that u ses it to reinforce notions of private property (women conceived as the private property of men serves as its baseline), Export used the model of cinema to theorize and explore what might happen if visual communication were to be replaced with tactile mean s.
211 Aligned for a time with the Viennese Actionists, Export tuned their emphasis on the body and creativity toward feminist ends to theorize Feminist Actionism.33 Conceptualized as material enacting a drama of meaning, the human body and its gestures could be creatively refigured to produce new semiotic combinations; in turn, this creative process was considered both self affirming and self generative.34 Export saw herself as responding, in part, to Pollocks transfer of his body into the canvas, which F eminist Actionists took further: the artists of Feminist Actionism have taken criture corporelle beyond the canvas, written it onto their own bodies, and posited their own individuality against the culture around them.35 She drew from the automatic tech niques of Surrealism and Tachism (to articulate repressed or unconscious material), Happenings, the behavioral framing of Fluxus and various dance groups and, most importantly, the history of female experience.36 The goal for Export was to excavate and w ork through the historical scars, traces of ideas inscribed onto the body, stigmata to be exposed by actions with the body.37 She understood Feminist Actionism as unifying perception and action, subject and object as it seeks to transform the object o f male natural history, the material woman, subjugated and enslaved by the male creator, into an independent actor and creator, subject of her own history.38 For the first performance of Touch Cinema at the Junger Film [Young Film] 68 festival in Vienna, Export designed a miniature theater made of styrofoam, which she wore strapped to her naked chest. For subsequent actions, due to problems with durability, she crafted the box out of foam lined aluminum. The theater extended about six inches in front of her breasts, its opening covered by a small cloth curtain. At each venue, Export walked out onto the street and invited people to visit the cinema. Documentary photographs show Export standing in a crowd of people while a man reaches through the curtain to discover and touch what would
212 typically be shown in a darkened theater, that is, Exports naked breasts. Their gazes meet, viewer turnedtoucher and subject turned object. The original title of the performance in German is Tappund Tastkino, w hich invokes the idea of a repeated touching or groping in the dark for something that cant quite be revealed. Understood from this perspective, it is clear that Export is not suggesting that touching her breasts equates to knowing them or her but, like O no, is attempting to reframe the acts of seeing and touching as mediated by the viewer, her or his desire. What Export had hoped for, in part, was that the female artist subject turned object would make another turn back into subjectivity through the prox imity created by touching, a tactile communication that would obviate the voyeuristic distance of objectification and replace it with the viewers self consciousness and empathic recognition of Exports subjectivity.39 The element of tactility drew viewers close enough to make eye contact with Export, thereby subjecting them to the scrutiny of both artist object and the surrounding audience. Since women were welcome to touch her as well, Export understood the political aspects of the work to include suppor t for homosexual rights, as it offered an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the reality of homosexual contact. By freely offering her body as a sign of her own power, as a subject, to do so (rather than being offered as an object through the tropes of cinematic voyeurism), Touch Cinema also invited the possibility of a pleasurable sexual exchange between subjects that defied state regulations that attempt to restrict such tactile acts as private or taboo. In this way, Export understood her performance as enacting possibilities for new forms of social behavior, interaction and organization. In Mulveyan terms, the fact that the artist actively returned the viewers look should have subverted her patriarchal construction as a passive female object, but that did not turn out to be
213 the case. Most touchers did not acknowledge Export as contiguous with her breasts or make the conceptual connection to the idea of subjective intimacy and mutuality as an alternative to voyeuristic compartmentalization and dist ance.40 As Export was well aware, touching does not guarantee knowledge through feeling any more than looking guarantees knowledge through seeing; she had hoped, however, that integrating vision and tactility might create a new form of self conscious communication that would reorganize human behavior and, ultimately, society. If Exports experiment failed to achieve its goal within the context of her performance, it was more successful as a form of feminist research and almost prescient in its anticipation of feminist theorists later preoccupation with the power of the male gaze. It could also be argued that Touch Cinema and Carolee Schneemanns work were early explorations of the possibilities for what would become known thirty years later in film studies as haptic visuality, the insistence on vision as embodied. Too, Exports performance is a crucial step marking how difficult it has been for women artists to redress the gender and power imbalances that subtend and maintain negotiations of boundarie s between subjectivity and objectivity, looking and touching, as Yugoslavian body and performance artist discovered again six years later. six hour long performance of Rhythm O (1974) are s traightforward and simple. To the gallery audience, she writes: There are 72 objects on the table that one can use on me as desired; to herself she notes: I am the object. I take full responsibility.41 A partial list of the items made available to the audience includes: feather, cake, bone of lamb, kitchen knife, flute, whip, Polaroid camera, bandaid, bell, red paint, hammer, gun and bullet. Like Ono and Export, explored the possibilities that arise in giving touch over to the audience, but unlike Ono and Export, has repeatedly stated
214 that she is neither political nor feminist.42 This does not mean, however, that her work does not raise or address questions central to feminism, as her presence in feminist exhibitions and conferences attests.43 Documentary photographs of the performance show in a range of positions and levels of undress. We see her limp body suspended horizontally between several people (at least one is a woman) and they appear to be lifting or s winging her, invoking a childs game or perhaps a rescue. In another photograph is standing upright, her expression a constant mask of neutrality as an elaborately coiffed and made up woman wipes the artists eye, though we cannot ascertain to w hat purpose: applying something or wiping it away? At another moment lying on a table with a mans coat draped over her body, a sign of care? Death? Later, an erect candle has been inserted between her thighs, suggesting clitoris, phallus, votive. Sometimes she stands with cruciform arms, loops of paper sweeping the ground like a paraded religious icon. In one series of images shirt to kiss or suck on her nipple and then kiss her on the cheek. Several more photog raphs show her naked from the waist up. In one of these her head is entirely concealed, wrapped in cloth like a victim of torture; in another she is seated on a chair with chains binding her ankles. In a third a bearded man pours liquid over her head from a coffee cup; a fourth shows a man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth scoring grafitti into her neck with a razor. Another shows Abramovi photographs of herself from the performance, a fourth tucked in to a chain around her neck, which also holds a foil wrapped rose. There are tears in her eyes; t he men in the background seem oblivious to her condition. Toward the end of the performance, we see her bared chest emblazoned with lipstick and razor marks, draped in chains and adorned with a placard made by
215 the audience that reads VILE. Rhythm O ended shortly after a man placed a gun in s hand, held it to he r head and loaded a bullet.44 A few members of the otherwise unsympathetic, heckling and aggressive audience intervened, wresting the gun from the man and throwing the bullet out the window. But when the performance ended at its appointed time and Abramovi audience quickly fled the gallery. According to they could not stand me as a person, after all that they had done to me.45 While appears to be conflating her identity with the work of art, the frame of art does not guarantee that the behavior of the audience during the performance is commensurate with all of their various identities, conscious or unconscious. I agree that the audiences behavior was overwhelmingly aggressive and violent. At the same time, the act of touching may not ensure absolute knowledge about the toucher or that which is touched, but it does throw into relief the stakes involved in how we frame and negotiate experience, craft it in, out of and back into belief, knowledge judgment and action, activities in which gender (cultural, biological, imagined) functions as a key component. Rhythm O shifting her approach to investigations of touch performed in front of viewers or the camera. More recently, she has returned to direct engagement with the audience, but now it is the energetic nature of the tactile exchange that is foregrounded.46 the body and experience that might be known through touch and tactile exchanges, but which is spiritual and not easily accessible; in fact, it is a desire for transcendence that is impossible to grasp except through experience, matter and duration. Undaunted by potential accusations of essentialism, she titled her 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York Marina Abramovi
216 Carolee Schneemann Each of the artists I have mentioned thus far, Ono, Kubota, Export and was influenced, to varying degrees, by the work of painter, filmmaker and performance artist Carolee Schneemann.47 As the first woman artist to use her own body as form and material for her painting, Schneemann should be considered a crucial figure in histories of art and feminism.48 While historian Kristine Stiles does credit her with inventing a new method of sight that both fuses bodies and things and maintains their particularity, neither Stiles nor other art historians address Schneemanns overt emphasis on tactility, which I see as her primary strategy for articulating the mutual influence and interconnection of body, vi sion and representation, making Schneemann one of the most innovative and feminist artist theorists of the 20th century.49 Foregrounding gesture and mark as a means to research, negotiate and intervene in the gap between subjects and objects situated in t ime, space and history, Schneemanns work exposes, articulates and provokes the dynamic and shifting exchanges between perception and desire, the personal assumptions (conscious and unconscious) and cultural ideologies (particularly beliefs about sex and gender) that inform and subtend the processes of aesthetic and social judgment. Arriving in New York in 1961 as a young painter fresh out of graduate school, Schneemann was immediately engaged with or active in a number of avant garde music, literary and visual art circles, which facilitated contact and/or collaboration with future art luminaries such as Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Morris and Andy Warhol. She choreographed for the Judson Church dance group, where she invented kinetic thea ter; performed and collaborated in many different kinds of experimental art events, including Allan Kaprows Happenings; and considered herself a member of Fluxus until she received a letter of excommunication from its self appointed leader, George Maciunas, who found her expressionist tendencies too messy for his taste.50
217 Astonishingly, censorship of her work has proven to be a persistent problem throughout her career, from the man who tried to strangle her during Meat Joy (1964) through law enforcement officials intervening in her anti Vietnam war performance Illinois Central (1968) to the numerous protests and cancellations, as well as critical neglect, of her extraordinary film Fuses (1964 67).51 As the first film to depict oral and genital heterosexu al lovemaking from a pleasurepositive, gender equality perspective (where neither partner/gender dominates or is more or less active than the other), Fuses is still an anomaly in the history of cinema.52 Given the fact that Schneemann has been labeled a pornographer and Fuses continues to be censored, it was not entirely shocking to discover that the only lab that would agree to print the film in 1964 did so solely on the condition that the artist submit each reel with a letter from a psychiatrist, furth er verification of the subtle and lesssubtle forms of cultural repression she, and we, continue to endure.53 Despite the fact that she works in a wide range of media, from film and video to dance, performance and installation, Schneemann conceives of hers elf primarily as a painter who has engaged deeply with the painterly issues of her time.54 Pollock (at least as he was produced in the critical literature) relinquished the brush in his search to discover a transcendent identity, attempting to elude, in pa rt, its 19th century connotations as bourgeois and academic; Schneemann too experimented with giving up the brush as her primary tool. However, by the time Schneemann, a generation younger than the Abstract Expressionists and acutely aware of her gender, arrived in New York, the brush had taken on new connotations. In a letter documenting a discussion with art critic Leo Steinberg in 1957, Schneemann explicitly rejects the male dominated school of action painting modeled on Pollock, which she perceives as replacing vision with psychology and the self generating act.55 In an interview
218 with Carl Heyward in 1995, Schneemann explained that the brush had been recuperated to phallic ends, tinged with the heroic implications of the Abstract Expressionist m ale endeavor.56 Although she does not frame her statement in these terms, her work suggests that these implications refer, in part, to a drive toward a notion of transcendence (and genius) that requires yet disavows immanence. For Schneemann, the Abstr act Expressionists, longing for [a] sensuous abandon they despised in themselves, projected that conflict and hatred outward onto women and blacks.57 As a result, she has devoted most of her career to integrating vision and the body with a painterly at tention to various forms of tactility that explore and theorize lived experience, the female erotic, and the sacredness of sexuality, often using extensive historical research into images of women and goddesses that affirm female creativity.58 Through a series of wry and witty twists, Schneemann has reconfigured the brush without relinquishing the tactility of the hand, replacing and/or integrating it with her historical and immanent, or materially historicized and historicized as material, female body. Schneemanns pivotal work, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions (1963), foregrounds tactility to interrogate multiple problems simultaneously: the interactions between painting, vision, and the body, and female artistic agency. Having worked as an artist s model in order to support herself while she was researching the inverse relationship in the art historical record between the shockingly sparse number of documented female artists and the copious images of primarily nude female bodies, Schneemann was eag er to get that nude off the canvas and to foreground her agency as a female artist.59 In 1962, she began to build an environment in her loft that incorporated humanscale painted panels of rhythmic colors, motorized parts, broken glass and mirrors. By t his time she
219 had already made a connection between painterly facture, movement and space, recorded in her notebooks from 196263: The tactile activity of paint itself prepares us for the increased dimensionality of collage and construction: the literal dimensionality of paint seen close up as raised surfaceas a geology of lumps, ridges, lines, and seams. Ambiguous byplays of dimensionin action open our eyes to the metaphorical life of materials themselves.60 Working with her whole body, she realized that her own corporeality was, literally and figuratively, a crucial element in the space, duration and form of the construction. Part of her goal was to experiment with relinquishing her self to the materials and to ritualize the process, like Pollock, i n a kind of trancelike state. But unlike Pollock, she chose to research and document the mutual transformation of her body and the work (her body within and as part of the work in the dual sense of art and labor), which a friend agreed to photograph.61 With this decision, Schneemann inaugurated an entirely new, protofeminist paradigm for art making: Covered in paint, grease, chalk, ropes, plastic, I establish my body as visual territory. Not only am I an image maker, but I explore the image values of f lesh as material I choose to work with. The body may remain erotic, sexual, desired, desiring, and yet still be votive marked and written over in a text of stroke and gesture discovered by my creative female will.62 From a formal, painterly perspective, Sc hneemann locates her practice as heavily influenced by Cezanne, who sought to draw the eye into the painting and back out into the space of the viewer.63 Expanding on this idea, she theorized and tuned her work to researching the possibilities for returnin g the eye to the body, a body that is simultaneously in the eye and a body that sees. As Stiles has explained, Schneemann posited a relational space between an inner eye and an outer eye, a gap between the bodys physical connection to what is seen (outer eye) and its role (inner eye) in determining or imagining what is perceived.64 It is the space between the eyes, between made, perceived and imagined worlds, which Schneemann understood as
220 permeated with ideology (i.e. issues of gender, race and politics) and sought to expose, articulate and redefine. And yet the key to this space is Schneemanns activity of marking. The photographic images of Eye Body show Schneemanns naked body streaked and painted, layers of texture and mark integrating the artists body with the heavily painted panels, animated objects and studio space. The artist has painted everything around her, including herself. In a gesture that anticipated Onos Cut Piece (1964), Schneemann has extended her touch, specifically her acts of pa interly touch as a form of mediated self touching and vice versa, to make her body/self/work into a sophisticated argument for the inextricably mutual relations between artist and object, agent and receptacle, subject and object, viewer and viewed. Touch is the medium through which Schneemann defines herself as artist and object, seer and seen, but I wish to underline the fact that these are definitions that are invented through the activity and craft of painting. Schneemann offers no essential self. Her identity, like her body and her art, is produced as an effect of acts of artistry. This is why asserting my creative female will is so important to Schneemann.65 Here agency, identity, body and art are simultaneously produced and productive, always mediated by representation and the materiality and historicity of sensate information. Moreover, she understood quite clearly that the conventionalizing history from which she had to wrench her body included art historical narratives: I wrote my creativ e female will because for years my most audacious works were viewed [by critics] as if someone else inhabiting me had created them. They were considered masculine, owing to their aggression and boldness, as if I were inhabited by a stray male principle An interesting possibility, except that in the early sixties this notion was used to blot out, denigrate, and deflect the coherence, necessity, and personal integrity of what I made and how it was made.66 Schneemann also realized from early on that usi ng my body as an extension of my paintingconstructions challenged and threatened the psychic territorial lines by which women, in
221 1963, were admitted to the Art Stud Club, so long as they behaved enough like men, and did work clearly in the traditions and pathways hacked out by the men.67 It is important to note that Schneemann was making this work, which is painterly, sculptural and photographic, at a moment when Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris were producing three dimensional objects that have been heralded by art historians such as Hal Foster as introducing a radically new awareness of the body.68 The body they foreground, however, is that of the viewer, who becomes aware of her or his corporeality by walking around the sculptur e in the gallery space (Robert Morris, Untitled (Mirrored Cubes), 1965) or by producing content for a set of industrially produced and serially repeated objects that provide, in and of themselves, little or none (Donald Judd, Untitled Stacks 196869). Al though the Minimalists have garnered art critical and historical credit for foregrounding corporeality, the body of the Minimalist artist had disappeared, not through the gesture into god, like Pollock, but rather into the signature. Like that of Pop arti st Andy Warhol, mentioned earlier, the Minimalist artists touch, for the most part (there are exceptions), is no longer tactile or even contiguous with the object. On one hand, this Minimalist strategy may be read through a Duchampian lineage; it enacts a potential refusal of the notion of artistic genius by undoing the link between artist, hand and god. On the other, as the Minimalist and Pop artists body disappeared, his or her labor increasingly more conceptual than actual, touch too, in a sense, bec ame detachable from the artwork. It migrated out of the body into a signature that could be literal, as the signature on a contract of sale, or stylistic, as an artists lifestyle or celebrity value, which essentially collapsed the signature into the arti st without the mediation of the work. Instead of belonging to an object or a style of gesture or facture that could be discerned in the work, the artists signature itself became an object like sign, that to which the work was returned or anchored in term s of
222 authority, cultural value and profit. While one could argue that this exposed artistic genius as blatantly produced through the circulation of signs and discourses (rather than a quality inherent in the work), this critique did not prevent certain artists, almost exclusively male and now even more distant from the object, from being produced by critics, historians and agents yet again as transcendent creators. All this recalls Yves Kleins Anthropometries performances, mentioned above, and his desi re to elude the psychology and intentionality of the brush. As Klein declared in his 1960 essay Truth Becomes Reality, a certain distance, created by using the bodies of his models as living brushes, allowed him to dominate the work without havi ng to touch it. Under my direction, crowed Klein, the flesh itself applied the color to the surface, and with perfect precision. I was able to remain constantly at the exact distance X from my canvas and thus I could dominate my creation continuously throughout the entire execution. In this way I stayed clean. I no longer dirtied myself. 69 Remaining clean while birthing his art through the laboring, immanent bodies of female flesh, Klein became an artist god by producing immediate experience. The mark of the immediate, that was my need while at the same time reaching the state of disembodiment that made me realize that I really was a proper Christian, believing with reason in the resurrection of the body.70 Despite his ironic tone, Klei n was a Rosicrucian who was spiritually invested in the concept of transcendence.71 More importantly, this identification with god like genius has been repeated yet again in 2010, invoked without hesitation in the critical essays for the Hirshhorn Museums current exhibition, Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers In her review of the show, New York Times critic Rebecca Smith quipped, A grip needs to be gotten here, as she cites the Hirshhorns deputy director and chief curator Kerry Broughers descript ion of Klein as
223 an involuntary painter and some strange object who came, only for a short time, from the heavens to open our eyes and minds.72 Nor is Dia Art Foundation director Philippe Vergnes contribution to the catalogue immune to hyperbole a nd the unfathomable religious metaphor. Noting that Klein was the same age as Jesus when he died, Vergne claims, Kleins gaze was cosmic and spiritual his imprint on the creative landscape of the second half of the last century is as deep as that of a stigmata.73 Despite their ostensible desire for corporeality (as immediate experience or, in the case of Klein, as a medium for his own spiritual transcendence), the work of the Minimalists could not, as Foster admitted, account for the particularity and historicity (gender, race, class and so on) of the bodies it intended to provoke either; nor, I would add, of the bodies that created or labored in its name.74 The work of Schneemann and many other early feminist artists (particularly Mierle Laderman Ukeles, introduced in chapter 2) is a radical intervention in and departure from this lineage, achieved in part by foregrounding the labor of making as it intersects historically with various productions of feminine touch, from artistic creativity and lo vemaking to the feminine invented as domestic, immanent, sexual and so on. The formal questions Schneemann posed in Eye Body and many of her other works overlapped with her protofeminist concerns, ideas that continue to animate feminist discourses and prac tices more than forty years later. Eye Body s primary question, Could a nude woman artist be both image and image maker? dovetailed with her observation that I had to wrest my body out of a conventionalizing history, demonstrating Schneemanns analyti cal savvy about the relationship of images to the ways in which we conceptualize, inhabit and actively create the world through our bodies; bodies which, in turn, are produced through sensate acts that include seeing and touching.75 As the repeated censorship of her work, from overtly political anti war
224 statements through sex positive visions of gender relations to explorations of female erotics, demonstrates, Schneemann has managed to articulate the situation of her labor as an artist, a woman and a partic ular subject in history. This is the place where the conflicts and contradictions of the proper and the taboo, the conscious and unconscious, the seen and unseen, and the touchable and untouchable are negotiated in all of their conflicted and desiring (re pugnant, raging, blissful and so on) contingency. Schneemanns film Fuses (196467, 29 minutes, 16 mm, color), like Eye Body and much of her oeuvre emerged, in part, from her fundamental commitment to the aesthetic and intellectual research and articulation of female creativity in its various forms, from artmaking to love baby and worldmaking. Schneemann initially conceived Fuses as a response to her friend Stan Brakhages film of his wifes pregnancy and birthing, Window Water Baby Moving (Brakhage 1959). From Schneemanns perspective, Brakhages use of filmic technology served mainly to appropriate the bodies it filmed, rendering its subject as solely the creative product of the artists omniscient eye. This male eye, as Schneemann saw it (pos sibly presaging Mulvey), was absorbing and repossessing an essential, unique female process, until the film became, in a way, the birth giver.76 Her sensitivity to both the representational power of the apparatus and the gendering of creativity, labor and production informed what she read as Brakhages shifting of the imagery away from the primacy of the [shared] erotic relation which produced conception, in favor of its end result, which made the baby part of the males realm of self extension through the encapsulating authority and power of the camera eye. 77 Brakhages film challenged Schneemann in terms simultaneously formal and conceptual. At the same time, mining her corporeal experience as a potential source of insight, she realized: I had nev er seen anything in my culture that corresponded to what sexuality felt like. I wondered what it would
225 look like, if it would be different if I filmed it.78 As it turned out, Fuses, was, in fact, quite different. On the level of content, one might be te mpted to say that Fuses is a film composed primarily of explicit images that show Schneemann and her partner, James Tenney, making love. But that would be highly inaccurate, as if the film somehow stood outside of or apart from that which it appears to depict. There is no all knowing or instrumentalizing eye here (although Kitsch, Schneemanns cat, does stand in for both the witnessing eye and Schneemanns pussy as she observes from her post on the window frame, one of the many visual verbal puns thro ughout the film). Instead, Fuses is a lush integration of content and form, subject and painterly method, vision and facture. Schneemann shot the film over three years, borrowing a windup Bolex camera that she positioned to loosely frame the bed. As there was never an eye behind the camera, so to speak, she never knew exactly what her footage would capture. Clearly she filmed other images at times (the view from the bed out of the window, shots of her walking into the ocean, etc.) and occasionally made adjustments to the camera in the room, since some of the images are close ups and others are shot from wider angles, but in general she was eager to work with whatever entered the frame. However, the unique and powerful effect of Fuses is a product of how Schneemann merges content, form, research and theory through her post production methods, which rely on the facture and rhythms of painterly gesture as well as literal and musical scorings of the film. These elements reflect and reenact a number of er otic couplings, primary among them the dynamic separations and reassemblings of subject (content/idea/love making), matter (materials and bodies touching) and form (a tactile, painterly and heavily altered filmic surface, often built up by dense layers of collage), where the content (the tactile relations of
226 lovers touching) is mirrored in the form (a heavily textured film surface/skin) which also implicates the viewer. This attention to film surface as skin simultaneously invites the viewer to draw cl oser (to touch), at times blocks or enhances what is seen (the scratchings on the surface block full view of a body part or the application of color makes it look more object like but strangely erotic), while foregrounding the materiality of the film as fi lm as a manipulated surface, a thin, tensile layer of contact through which light is projected. Here, light could be the energy of bodies (Schneemann wanted to infuse the film with it) exchanged through skin as a sheer and tender valence that makes contact with the world rather than arraying it before us. Schneemanns film is not the Renaissance window onto the world, centering us in knowledge and mastery, though the camera periodically shifts from the lovers to a shot of the open window in their bedroom. Sometimes her cat is perched there, a shadowed sentinel, at other moments a transparent curtain drifts slightly with the breeze and floods the image with light. The frame may delineate a separation between bed and world, here and there, viewer and fil m, but there is always something stretched across it. Thick or diaphanous, dense or translucent, the film skin, like the eye body, offers no clear view onto reality; rather, like Schneemanns lovers or Irigarays two lips, both are in constant contiguous contact with that which they supposedly objectify as other. Through this heavily layered and polyvalent dialogue, Fuses enacts Schneemanns research questions about the relationship between representation and lived experience (would she be able to fi lm what she felt? And, conversely, would what she saw on film have any correspondence to what she felt? What would be the effect?), theory (articulations of female pleasure have the potential to change sexual, aesthetic and social relations and valuation, the way people inhabit their bodies and source them for knowledge production), and an ethics of gender,
227 vision and touch. This is what makes Fuses such an astonishing departure from other sex films.79 Although the format of Fuses to which I have access i s a somewhat grainy video copy of the film, Schneemanns touch is readily evident in both the activities of lovemaking and artistry, especially in the dense layering of highly textured and treated images, achieved through the painterly application of rich, saturated colors (reds, greens, blues, yellows) and physical manipulation of the film stock with scratching, scoring, burning; exposure to acid, cat hair and weather; and even baking in an oven (again, the film is replete with playful metaphor; here bun in the oven, a domestic female metaphor of pregnancy, is extended to suggest female sexual and artistic creativity). As in Eye Body Schneemann understood this activity as submitting her intentionality to chance, to the natural processes of the materials but that does not mean she has relinquished her painterly hand. For the artist her hand, as part of her eye body, is contiguous with her materials, with nature, art, the body, the psyche, lived experience and personal as well as social identity, but is not to be conflated with them; in fact, as the hand of an artist, it has been trained, and entrained, to create, extend or alter any of these elements which in turn create, extend and alter it and each other. Composed with a logic of association (rather t han cause and effect, exposition or storytelling) and nonsequential, non narrative actions, Fuses is not a film that submits easily to a frame byframe or narrative analysis. In contrast to pornographic films there is no buildup to a climax, and unlike in traditional narratives no subsequent resolution is offered. Everything hums, sings, grimaces, grins, folds, unfolds, enfolds in a succession of rhythmic waves; textures of light, colors, shapes and forms reel, turn, slip, reverse, shimmer and shimmy a cross the screen. At moments an image is offered as a closeup (which should reveal more information), but
228 the vibrating flesh form is not discernable as male or female, only varying beats of hue, contrast, movement and texture shifting with/as form. We might glimpse the rocking of buttocks but then a series of triangular shapes, highly textured and colored, take up the dance. A hand caresses a chin. Then in quick succession a belly, a field, flowers bending in the breeze. They dissolve as a navel (innie and outie?) emerges from the background and a finger pulls cloth across a soft roll of body. Images of the lovers are shot from various ranges of proximity and distance. Although they are often fragmented they never feel disjointed, due, in pa rt, to the fact that they are frequently overlaid and fused with other rhythms created by colors and textures applied to the film stock, a strategy not dissimilar to that of Eye Body Thus the lovers are foregrounded as both material for the film and an effect of it, and Schneemann, as the maker, is also the material made, the seen and scene that also sees. This argument gathers strength as we view the lovers from multiple angles in various positions, which they frequently switch and exchange (i.e. she is on the bottom, then on top, clearly enjoying the tides of orgasm), movements and metaphors that are mirrored as the filmic frames themselves are also reversed and flipped, top to bottom, side to side. Gender is materialized and equalized further as a red stained image of a slick, erect penis dissolves into a vulva, the vulva into a penis, then penis into lips, mouths kissing, clitoris, penis slit as mouth, and so on. Neither partner appears more active or passive than the other, and all actions, as well as rest, are shared or exchanged. Stereotypes are undermined as we ripple through a cascade of associative logics and humor: penis, silo, nipple, breast, testicles (an affectionate squeeze makes them look like a heart), cars on a freeway, reflect ive Christmas lights, ornaments (balls) and a pair of eyes, wide open.
229 There are several cuts to Schneemann entering the ocean and views of Kitsch the cat, silent witness framed by the window, standing in for Schneemann and the anatomy that categorizes her as female. Repeatedly lush strokes of color, stain or smear pass through images that move in and out of the frame, draw closer, recede, draw closer again, pulling me, the viewer, into the surface of the screen while producing another layer of rhythm as they flicker over bodies copulating and caressing in their own various rhythms. At moments the film careens wildly then slows to a gentle rock, back and forth, between painterly abstractions and images that can feel almost too real. There is a very long take, in real time, of Schneemann enjoying cunnilingus and short, choppy shots of her taking Tenneys penis into her bobbing mouth. I am by turns fascinated, slightly embarrassed (I know this in my body, but watching makes me self conscious. Should I be looking? Feeling?), lost ( what is going on here?), laughing, curious, flushed, breathless, bored, turned on, or almost in tears with the sheer beauty of the thing, visually, conceptually, emotionallyand flooded with an uncanny longing. It is true th at Fuses fucks fiercely and touches tenderly, yet I am surprised, admittedly shocked at moments, not only by its courage, intimacy, social vision and explicit pleasure but also by the fact that I feel it, its colors, textures, shapes and rhythms, so strongly in my body.80 Schneemann has rendered sex as rhythms of facture and rhythms of facture as sexual; it is this dialogue between form and content, between sex, art, idea and experience that makes this film so powerful and rich. In her own lyrical voi ce, Schneemann offers the best description of Fuses: I wanted the bodies to be turning into tactile sensations of flickers you get lost in the frameto move the body in and out of its own frame, to move the eye in and out of the body so it could see ever ything it wanted to, but would also be in a state of dissolution, optically, resembling some aspect of the erotic sensation in the body which is not a literal translation. It is a painterly, tactile translation edited as a music of frames.81
230 Touching me deeply, Fuses is a lush exploration of surfaces, of myriad surfaces touching. Through her painterly mess, handtouch sensibility, and diaristic indulgence, Schneemann has transformed the film itself into a kind of flesh, announcing itself as a touche d and touchable, though not entirely graspable, skin; a surface through which we might make contact, as lovers, as viewer and film, as bodies of love and making.82 At the same time, what creates this skin and allows for this contact, for contact figured as contiguity and difference, is Schneemanns foregrounding of touch on multiple and equivalent levels, which she accomplishes through her painterly use of facture. The gestures of the lovers touching and Schneemanns passionate labor in making these image s (and art) become analogies, each one for the other, separate yet at moments indistinguishable. Here the structure of touch is the structure of desire, the need for difference so as to make contact, the dissolution of difference as immersion or disappearance, and the need to separate in order to come together again. As Carol Armstrong has argued, facture may be considered a formal quality, but its is also a form of unform [a] dissolution of form and its readability, [a] disruption of the singleness a nd unified gestalt of the image.83 In Fuses, the viewer is never given the lovers as present or as a fully coherent image (if that were even possible, which is the promise of documentary images) as Schneemanns facture, at once effacing and announcing itself, both forms and unforms the lovers.84 The sensual strokes of color and shape, their rhythmic dance across the screen arising and dissolving into visual poems and puns, reminds us, ineluctably, of Schneemanns hand in all of this.85 The most erotic aspect of Fuses is, in fact, Schneemanns love affair with facture, which, in turn, refuses to give the lovers over to the consuming gaze of standard pornography (the illusory realism of documentary) or the high art nude (the illusory realism
231 of fin i painting).86 Instead, we are given the erotic corporeality of touch as facture, as art making inseparable from but not identical to the bodies of making and viewing. I am suggesting that it is this level or eroticism, in combination with Schneemanns fran k investment in heterosexual gender equality and in one womans erotic pleasure, which has provoked the repeated and ongoing censorship of Fuses. (It has been repeatedly censored for its explicit content or, amusingly and appropriately, for its lack the reof.) While this topic would require a book of its own, I would like to mention a few of the numerous, primarily hostile, responses to the film. At the Cannes Film Festival in 1968, a group of about forty men rioted, ripping up the theater seats and thr owing the padding around because, according to Schneemann, Fuses did not offer the predictable phallocentric sequencing of images (they thought they were coming to see a porn film).87 In 1985 police impounded both film and projector at a screening in El Pa so, Texas, and after the work was screened once at the 1989 Moscow Film Festival, it was banned by a female official who called Schneemann a pornographer and a dangerous woman.88 Art historian David Levi Strauss attributes the rage against Fuses to its p olitical, rather than sexual, explicitness; its censorship exposes the fact that depictions of a womans pleasure from her point of view are still culturally unacceptable.89 This is a reading with which I agree, and it throws into relief the strange and complex conditions that subtend the fact that until quite recently, leading feminist critics also rejected or ignored the film. 90 Although Fuses refuses a narrative structure and optical gaze of mastery, two of the strategies most important to feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her attempt (with Peter Wollen) to make a feminist film (see Riddles of the Sphinx 1977), Mulvey has never written about or even mentioned any of Schneemanns films in her essays.91 This is understandable insofar as much of Mulve ys major
232 work was focused on vision, specifically her desire to eschew visual pleasure (the male gaze as it was constructed in Hollywood cinema), and there was no language (that I am aware of) in British film theory at the time that addressed tactility in relation to vision and spectatorship. Also, Schneemanns insistence on touch, the erotic, and the female body as a crucial source of knowledge and resistance to patriarchal culture dovetails with the writing and theorizing of Irigaray and Cixous, so of ten misread as essentialists.92 Schneemann was aware that it was her emphasis on tactility, variously coded as too feminine (messy), essentialist (bodily), or a mere repetition of the Abstract Expressionist confirmation of the heroic male artists psycholo gy and presence, that contributed to her rejection by feminist theorists.93 The text for her second performance of Interior Scroll (197577) at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado underlines this recognition, but also reveals the difficulties of negotiating feminist politics: I met a happy man / a structuralist filmmaker but dont call me that / its something else I do / he said we are fond of you / you are charming / but dont ask us / to look at your films / we cannot / there are certain films/ we cannot look at / the personal clutter /the persistence of feelings / the hand touch sensibility / the diaristic indulgence / the painterly mess / the dense gestalt / the primitive techniques / (I dont take the advice / of men who only talk to / themselve s) / PAY ATTENTION TO CRITICAL / AND PRACTICAL FILM LANGUAGE / IT EXISTS FOR AND IN ONLY / ONE GENDER .94 Although this text implies that her films have been rejected by male critics and filmmakers, Schneemann revealed in a 1988 interview that she was r eferring to feminist film critic and October editor Annette Michelson who, like Laura Mulvey, couldnt look at my films.95 According to David Levi Strauss, the exclusionary excuses Schneemann cited in her text from 1975 were repeated again in a 1994 roundtable, The Reception of the Sixties, when the editors of October (Rosalind Krauss, Annette Michelson, Silvia Kolbowski, Denis Hollier, Hal Foster and Benjamin Buchloh, with Martha Buskirk) gathered to respond to the presss
233 negative reception of the Robert Morris retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. While discussing various challenges to the pictorial, the work of Schneemann, Valie Export and Hannah Wilke was mentioned and the importance of body art by women artists in the 1960s became a central to pic. Admitting that art history has not done its work in this area, Michelsons response, however, was to suggest that visual culture studies may remedy that situation, although weve yet to see abundant and significant results.96 Clearly, Michelson sti ll did not consider such an endeavor worthy of her own or her disciplines efforts. Despite the fact that Fuses has been repeatedly censored, vilified and critically ignored (especially, as previously mentioned, by feminist theorists until fairly recently), I would argue that Schneemanns emphasis on tactility as research, theory, practice and politics anticipates Laura Marks highly influential theory of haptic cinema by almost thirty years. For Marks, a haptic visuality moves eroticism from the site o f what is represented to the surface of the image.97 An image that produces a tactile surface, one that encourages the viewer to come close, to be implicated in the image itself without the distance of mastery, transforms relations of looking: I come to the surface of myself (like Riegel hunched over his Persian carpets), losing myself in the intensified relation with an other that cannot be possessed.98 In this way, haptic visuality does not imply a critique of mastery, the mastery implicit in optical visuality, but it is through a desiring and often pleasurable relationship to the image that this critique is bodied forth. Voyeurism relies on maintaining the distance between viewer and viewed. Eroticism closes that distance and implicates the viewer i n the viewed.99 Although Marks is articulating a theory where both a films tactile surface and the acts of looking it elicits may be erotic in themselves, regardless of content, the fact that Fuses is also erotic in content speaks to Schneemanns brilliant fusing of theory, method and practice.
234 In her response to accusations of pornography and essentialism, Schneemann has clearly stated that Fuses does not depict anything real; the tactile surfaces and reassembled images foreground the fact that the film is the product of her manipulation of material, from the shooting and editing choices to the thick, painterly surface (so thick, in fact, that the first reel could not be run through the printer) and the physical interventions on the film stock.100 I a gree with Schneemann and yet I have to say that Fuses feels real in my body, more real, in fact, than if it had been shot as a documentary. Such is the power of artistic touch, its seductive dance with reality and desire. This may be what some viewers fo und so threatening, others delightful or even educational.101 Schneemanns conceptualization and practice of artistic touch was, as I have noted, in dialogue with Jackson Pollocks interest in markmaking and the gesturing body, specifically when it comes t o her desire to both retain creative authority and short circuit a self perpetuating psychology. For Schneemann more so than Pollock, however, engaging with the tactile and vital processes of materials offered not only a strategy for eluding intention by giving it over to their properties (tactile and visual) but also a way to explore and render her body material and visual, as contiguous with but not collapsed into the work. This is an important distinction; it suggests that Pollocks conflation with the work and god was much closer to an essentialist search for absolute truth, meaning or value than Schneemanns, which despite the film title Fuses and her explicit references to the historical images and narratives of goddesses in many of her other works refuses transcendence, often through eroticism and laughter.102 1 Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), 19.
235 2 Armstrong is referring to a pai nting by Manet, but her point is a general one, I think. For her astute reading of Manets use of Morisots feminine facture to undo femininity, see Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 74 104. 3 It is important to note, as I did in an earlier chapter, that this emphasis on immanence and corporeality would be picked up later by poststructuralist theorists, from the highly influential French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus ( 1987) to film theorist Laura Marks (2000, 2002) and Lacanian analystturnedartist Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, whose theory of the matrix has been touted by feminist art critics and historians like Griselda Pollock and Catherine de Zegher as the cutting e dge theory of feminist art practices and discourses. 4 The original instructions are given in Kevin Concannon, Yoko Onos Cut Piece: Critical Reception, a talk given at the Third Annual Performance Studies Conference, Atlanta, 11 April 1997, available online at http://webcast.gatech.edu/papers/arch/Concannon.html 5 Yoko Ono: Arias and Objects edited by Barbara Haskell and John J. Hanhardt (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 1991), 91. However, Jieun Rhee notes that there was a moment of violence in that first performance in Kyoto, Japan, that Ono since has played down: One person came on the stage. He took the pair of scissors and made a motion to stab me. He raised his hand, with the scissors in it, and I thought he was going to stab me. But the hand w as just raised there and was totally still. He was standing still with the scissors threatening (Rhee 2005, 103). See Jieun Rhees Performing the Other: Yoko Onos Cut Piece, Art History 28, no. 1 (February 2005): 96 118. 6 Yoko Ono: Arias and Objects edited by Barbara Haskell and John J. Hanhardt (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 1991), 91. 7 A number of critics such as Laura Mulvey have written on this issue but I believe the most interesting take is the argument developed by Laura Marks. See Laura Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 190192. For a description of the London performance where Ono was produced as an oriental lady, see Jieun Rhees Performing the Ot her: Yoko Onos Cut Piece, Art History 28, no. 1 (February 2005): 110 111. 8 Peggy Phelan, The Return of Touch: Feminist Performances, 196080, in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution ed. Connie Butler (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 352. 9 Thomas Crow, The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996), 133. 10 Quoted in Kevin Concannon, Yoko Onos Cut Piece: Critical Reception, a talk given at the Third Annual Performance Studies C onference, Atlanta, 11 April 1997, available online at http://webcast.gatech.edu/papers/arch/Concannon.html 11 Kristine Stiles, Between Water and Stone Fluxus Performance: A Metaphysics of Acts, reprinted in The Artists Body ed. Tracey Warr and Amelia J ones (London: Phaidon, 2000), 211. [Originally published in The Spirit of Fluxus (Minnesota: The Walker Art Center, 1993), 64 99.] 12 Kristine Stiles, Between Water and Stone Fluxus Performance: A Metaphysics of Acts, reprinted in The Artists Body ed. Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones (London: Phaidon, 2000), 211. [Originally published in The Spirit of Fluxus (Minnesota: The Walker Art Center, 1993), 64 99.] 13 Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema (1975), reprinted in Art After Modernism: Reth inking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 361 74. 14 See Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); and Laura U. Marks, T he Memory of Touch, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 127 193.
236 15 Peggy Phelan, The Return of Touch: Feminist Performances, 196080, in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution e d. Connie Butler (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 352. 16 Peggy Phelan, The Return of Touch: Feminist Performances, 196080, in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution ed. Connie Butler (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 352. 17 Peggy Phelan, The Return of Touch: Feminist Performances, 196080, in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution ed. Connie Butler (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 353. 18 Peggy Phelan, The Return of Touch: Feminist Performances, 196080, in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution ed. Connie Butler (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 353. 19 The idea of the piece as an offering is articulated by Ono in Yoko Ono: Arias and Objects edited by Barbara Haskell and John J. Hanhardt (Salt Lake City: G ibbs Smith, 1991), and elaborated further in Marcia Tucker's catalogue essay for the 1994 Bad Girls exhibition, where she explains: Ono's inspiration for Cut Piece was the legend of the Buddha, who had renounced his life of privilege to wander the world, giving whatever was asked of him. His soul achieved supreme enlightenment when he allowed a tiger to devour his body, and Ono saw parallels between the Buddha's selfless giving and the artist's. When addressing serious issues, in this case voyeurism, sexua l aggression, gender subordination, violation of a woman's personal space, violence against women, Ono invariably found means to combine dangerous confrontation with poetry, spirituality, personal vulnerability, and edgy laughter. Marcia Tucker, ed., Bad Girls (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1994). This idea of offering is also given a more complex cultural reading by Jieun Rhee, who speculates on the reception of Cut Piece in Japan. Noting that on that occasion Ono chose to title the work Yoko Ono Farewell Concert: Strip Tease Show, she suggests that Japanese audiences would have understood the relation between the sensational aspect of striptease and the notion of a ritual gift through the Buddhist concept of self sacrifice, the Shinto origin story of the goddess Amaterasu, and the late Muromachi and Edo tradition (16th18th centuries) of Kumano bikuni the nuns who engaged in prostitution as a sacred offering. Amaterasu the sun goddess is lured out of the dark cave into which she has retreated when AmenoUzume, the goddess of heaven, performs a bawdy dance that exposes her genitals. The ensuing laughter draws the sun goddess back out to fertilize the earth. See Jieun Rhees Performing the Other: Yoko Onos Cut Piece Art History 28, no. 1 (February 2005) : 106. 20 Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 192. 21 See Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004). 22 Kristine Stiles, Between Water and Stone Fluxus P erformance: A Metaphysics of Acts, reprinted in The Artists Body ed. Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones (London: Phaidon, 2000), 211. [Originally published in The Spirit of Fluxus (Minnesota: The Walker Art Center, 1993), 64 99.] 23 This quote comes from the text of Kitschs Last Meal (1975) a Super 8mm film, which was used as the second of two scrolls that Schneemann used for her two performances of Interior Scroll (1975 1977). It was first performed at Women Here and Now, in East Hampton, N.Y. August 29, 1975, and again at the Telluride Film Festival, Telluride, Colorado, September 4, 1977. Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 159. 24 See Kevin Concannon, Y oko Onos Cut Piece: Critical Reception, a talk given at the Third Annual Performance Studies Conference, Atlanta, April 11, 1997, available online at http://webcast.gatech.edu/papers/arch/Concannon.html. I would like to note, however, that as of 15 May 2010, the room dedicated to the Fluxus movement at the Museum of Modern Art in New York does have a case that contains a number of documents relating to Onos work, although they address collaborations with her husband, John Lennon (an imbalance which does nt alert casual viewers to the much larger corpus of Onos solo oeuvre ). 25 See Kevin Concannon, Yoko Onos Cut Piece: Critical Reception, a talk given at the Third Annual Performance Studies Conference, Atlanta, April 11, 1997, available online at http: //webcast.gatech.edu/papers/arch/Concannon.html.
237 26 One could develop this trajectory further in the body of the chapter, but I will just give the longer quote from the exhibition description of Touch Me, held at the Galerie Lelong in New York from 18 Apr il to 18 May, 2008. From the exhibition press release: In Touch Me, Yoko Ono will present an interactive painting, film, conceptual photography and sculptures that comment on different facets of the female experience, calling upon the viewers to make di rect and deeply personal connections. A participatory element is central in Touch Me, in which Ono urges the audience to revitalize and rethink a personal connection to the most current situation women are facing. ... The centerpiece of the exhibition will be a large canvas covering the entire width of the gallery. Openings will be cut into the canvas, and viewers are invited to insert body parts through. Encompassed in this simple act are opposing elements of isolation, exposure, vulnerability, and def iance. The viewers will have the option to photograph themselves with supplied cameras; these photos will be displayed together on another canvas with the participant's own comments and thoughts written underneath the photos, furthering the inclusive natur e of this new work. A 4 screen installation version of Yoko Ono's 1964 performance of Cut Piece filmed at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1965, will act as a counterpart for the metaphoric 2008 work. Description from Yoko Onos Touch Me exhibition website: htt p://www.a i u.net/touch_me.html. 27 Cut Piece was performed in Tokyo and Kyoto in July 1964, New York in March 1965, and London in 1966; Ono performed it again on 15 September 2003 at Thatre le Ranelagh in Paris. Description from Yoko Onos Touch Me ex hibition website: http://www.a i u.net/touch_me.html. 28 Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 138. 29 Schneemann often mentions the fact that her culture has no t supported her work, that she has not been able to fund future projects. See Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002). Valie Export had her child taken from her by the Austrian government, which, considering her unemployable, labeled her as an unfit mother. See Valie, in Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 97. 30 Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema (1975), reprinted in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), 361 74. 31 Note that Valie Export often capitalized her entire name, c onceptualizing it as a logo. She appropriated it from the cigarette brand Smart Export, wishing to assimilate the slogans brandished on the package, which included made in Austria, always and everywhere, and smart. For Export, giving up the fathers name and replacing it with an artistically generated name was a crucial form of self identity. See the artists biographical entry in the exhibition catalogue WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution ed. Connie Butler (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2 007). In this dissertation I am choosing to follow more conventional academic formats that do not capitalize each letter. Export did not. Touch Cinema is also referred to also as Tap and Touch Cinema, which is closer to its title in German: Tapp und Tast Kino, which contains the sense of repeatedly trying to grasp something in the dark that cannot be fully known. See Michael Sicinski, VALIE EXPORT and Paranoid Counter Surveillance, Discourse 22, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 71 91. 32 For Exports full desc ription, see Valie Export, Tap and Touch Cinema, accessed online 10/22/2007 at The Galleries at Moore: http//thegalleriesatmoore.org/publications/valie/valietour3.shtml. 33 Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist Actionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSum mer, 1989): 69 92. 34 Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist Actionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSummer, 1989): 70. 35 Note, too, that Export traced corporeal writing not to the French feminists but rather to Mallarm. Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist A ctionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSummer, 1989): 81. 36 Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist Actionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSummer, 1989): 71. 37 Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist Actionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSummer, 1989) : 73.
238 38 Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist Actionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSummer, 1989): 71. 39 Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist Actionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSummer, 1989): 90. 40 Valie Export, Aspects of Feminist Actionism, New German Critique 47 (SpringSummer, 1989): 90. 41 Marina (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2010), 74. Published on the occasion of the exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 14 May 31, 2010, organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art. 42 See Klaus Biesenbach, Klaus Biesenbach in Conversation with Marina in Marina ed. Kristine Sti les, Klaus Biesenbach and Chrissie Iles (London: Phaidon Press, 2008), 20. This position was reiterated again by Abramovic in her presentation for the conference The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in Visual Art held at the Museum of Modern Art in Ne w York, January 2627, 2007. 43 conference The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts held at the Museum of Modern Art, January 26 27, 2007. Her work was also included in the largest feminist exhibition to date, WACK! Art and the Feminis t Revolution held at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, March 4 July 16 2007, and the anthology Art and Feminism edited by Helena Reckitt (London: Phaidon Press, 2001). 44 Kristine Stiles, Cloud with its Shadow, in Marina ed. Kris tine Stiles, Klaus Biesenbach and Chrissie Iles (London: Phaidon Press, 2008), 60. 45 Kristine Stiles, Cloud with its Shadow, Marina edited by Kristine Stiles, Klaus Biesenbach and Chrissie Iles (London: Phaidon Press, 2008), 60. 46 See her per formances The House with the Ocean View (2002) and The Artist is Present (2010). For an excellent reading of the first, see Peggy Phelan, On Seeing the Invisible: The House with the Ocean View in Live: Art and Performance (New York: Routledge, 2004), 16(New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2010). 47 Kubota performed in Schneemanns anti war (Vietnam) kinetic theater piece Snows (1967). Stiles notes that Kubo ta and Ono were familiar with the radical way in which Schneemann used her body, and these actions, as well as her legendary Meat Joy (performed in Paris, London and New York in 1964), charted a new direction that anticipated not only the so called sexual revolution, but feminism and certainly Kubota and Onos feminist performance directions. Kristine Stiles, Between Water and Stone Fluxus Performance: A Metaphysics of Acts, reprinted in The Artists Body ed. Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones (London: Phaido n, 2000), 213. [Originally published in The Spirit of Fluxus (Minnesota: The Walker Art Center, 1993). 64 99.] 48 See Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions (1963). Schneemann recalls that Yoko Ono was the only other artist making body art before this time, but I would add Japanese Gutai artist Atsuko Tanaka, whose Electric Dress of 1956 occluded her body with light, but did require the frame of her body. See Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Eroti cs: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55. 49 For an excellent discussion of Schneemann as a painter first and foremost, see Kristine Stiles, The Painter as an Instrument of Real Time, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 16. 50 See Carolee Schneemann, More Than Meat Joy (New Paltz, N.Y.: Documentext, 1975), 52. Kinetic theater is a performative amalgam of bodily gestures and movements in space that could include objects as well as film and video projections. 51 Schneemann was saved during the Paris performance by three middle aged women who recognized she was in trouble. She recalls: They threw themselves as one onto the man and dragged him off of me. See Carolee
239 Schneemann, Istory of a Girl Pornographer, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 136. 52 Carolee Schneemann, On Censorship: Interview with Aviva Rahma ni, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 210 215; and Carolee Schneemann, Notes From the Underground: A Feminist Pornographer in Moscow, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 53 The letter was written by a friends husband, a psychiatrist who thought the request was ridiculous. He wrote: Carolee Schneemanns current film work is an examination of the archetypal evolution of the cross, a very funny response given the material of the film. Schneemann laughingly comments that it is written like a note that excuses one from a gym class. In this interview she appears to make light of the infantilizing of women, but her work is often a blend of this sense of humor with cutting critique. See Vulvas Morphia (199297) from which Eve Enslers wildly popular Vagina Monologues seems to draw, though Enslers take is far more male bashing and less sex positive than Schneemanns, which may account for its popularity. See Carolee Schneemann, Interview with ND, ND no. 14 (Austin, Texas, 1991): 510. Reprinted in Carolee Schneemann, Interview with ND, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 123. 54 Quotes taken from Carolee Schneemann, Interview with Carl Heyward, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 1996. [Originally published in Art Papers 17, no. 1 (January February, 1995): 916.] 55 Schneemann was familiar with writings by Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Artaud, and Wilhelm Reich in the early sixties, before they became standard academic reading. Later she read Freud, Jung, and feminist research in art history, psychology, linguistics, concepts of a sacred erotic, and ecology. Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 22; 213. Schneemanns work anticipates connections that were also being forged across the Atlantic by French feminists such as Luce Irigaray, who would promote a female erotics based on touch as a form for a new feminist logic that goes beyond bu t also deconstructs patriarchal culture, particularly psychoanalysis, philosophy and linguistics. See Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One (1977), translated by Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 23 33, 20513; 79, 157 159; for female pleasure see the same text, Cosi Fan Tutti, 86 105 and Two Lips, 205 218. For Irigaray on the haptic feminine, see Luce Irigaray, The Fecundity of the Caress, in An Ethics of Sexual Difference trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1993), 185 217. For a section on intrauterine touching, see the same text, 162; for touch and the female divine, see the same text, p. 71 and Luce Irigaray, Divine Women, in Sexes and Gene alogies (1987), trans. Gillian C. Gill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 57 72. For touch in relation to female bodies as commodities of exchange, see her work on the myth of Demeter and Persephone/Kore, in Luce Irigaray, Thinking the Difference : For a Peaceful Revolution (1989), trans. Karin Montin (New York: Routledge, 1994), 91 112; also Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Gillian C. Gill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 112119. Irigaray also argues t hat the male drive toward transcendence is linked to a desire to achieve a purity and coherence of identity and truth as identical and indifferent; a male desire to give birth to himself, immaculate and godlike, as the self same, while disavowing the obscene, irruptive and powerful necessity of otherness in copulation, real birth and creative female bodies. This idea courses throughout her texts. For one thread, see Luce Irigaray, How to Conceive (of) a Girl, in Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 160 167. Schneemanns letter of 1957 quoted in Kristine Stiles, The Painter as an Instrument of Real Time, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects ( Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 3. 56 Quotes taken from Carolee Schneemann, Interview with Carl Heyward, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 207. 57 Quotes taken from Carolee Schneemann, Interview with Carl Heyward, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 207.
240 58Quotes taken from Carolee Schneemann, On Censorship: Interview with Aviva R ahmani, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 215; and Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55. 59 Carolee Schneemann, Interview with Kate Haug, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 28. [Originally published in Wide Angle 20, no. 1 (1977): 2049.] 60 Carolee Schneemann, From the Notebooks (1962 63), in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 47. 61 Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transfor mative Actions, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55 59. 62 Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Int erviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55. 63 For an excellent discussion of Schneemanns painting practice, which often gets overlooked due to the critical emphasis on her performances, see Kristine Stiles, The Painter as an Instru ment of Real Time, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 4. 64 See Kristine Stiles, The Painter as an Instrument of Real Time, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essay s, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 11. 65 Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55. 66 Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55. 67 Carolee Schneemann, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 55. 68 See Hal Foster, The Crux of Minimalism, in The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 35 70. 69 Kleins text is worth quo ting more fully: [My models] became living brushes! I had rejected the brush long before. It was too psychological. I painted with the more anonymous roller, trying to create a distance at the very least an intellectual, unvarying distance between the canvas and me during the execution. Now, like a miracle, the brush returned, but this time alive. Under my direction, the flesh itself applied the color to the surface, and with perfect precision. I was able to remain constantly at the exact distance X fr om my canvas and thus I could dominate my creation continuously throughout the entire execution. In this way I stayed clean. I no longer dirtied myself with color, not even the tips of my fingers. The work finished itself there in front of me, under my dir ection, in absolute collaboration with the model. And I could salute its birth into the tangible world in a dignified manner, dressed in a tuxedo. See Yves Klein, Le Vrai Devient Ralit (Truth Becomes Reality), an essay written in March 1960 and publis hed in Zero 3 (July 1961). Quoted in Paul Schimmel, Leap Into the Void: Performance and the Object, in Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949 1979 (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998), 33. 70 See Yves Klein, Le Vrai Devie nt Ralit (Truth Becomes Reality); reprinted in The Artists Body ed. Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones (London: Phaidon, 2000), 195196. [Originally written in March 1960 and published in Zero 3 (July 1961).] 71 I am indebted to Amelia Jones for confirming Kleins commitment to Rosicrucian beliefs. She reads his work as critiquing the phallus of modernism while also possessing it. See Amelia Jones, Dis/playing the Phallus: Male
241 Artists Perform Their Masculinities, Art History (December 1994): 54684. I have found his text to be rife with Christian and sexual innuendo: These marks, pagans in my religion of the absolute monochrome, hypnotized me at once, and I worked on them secretly, always with the complete collaboration of the models, in order to share the responsibility in the event of spiritual weakness. See Yves Klein, Le Vrai Devient Ralit (Truth Becomes Reality), reprinted in The Artists Body ed. Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones (London: Phaidon, 2000), 195196. [Originally written in March 1960 a nd published in Zero 3 (July 1961).] 72 Rebecca Smith, Painting Thin Air, Sometimes in Bright Blue, New York Times June 4, 2010, Arts section, Florida edition. 73 Citing Kleins Anthropometries paintings, Smith quite rightly asks, Why is all this not exc essive or psychologicalor simply par for the course in the age of Brigitte Bardot? See Rebecca Smith, Painting Thin Air, Sometimes in Bright Blue, New York Times June 4, 2010, Arts section, Florida edition. 74 See Hal Foster, The Crux of Minimalism, The Return of the Real (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996), 35 70. 75 Carolee Schneemann, Interview with Kate Haug, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 28. [Originally published in Wide Angle 20, no. 1 (1977): 2049.] 76 See Carolee Schneemann, Interview with ND, reprinted in Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 123. [Origin ally published in ND 14 (Austin, Texas, 1991): 510.] 77 See Carolee Schneemann, Interview with ND, reprinted in Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 123. [Or iginally published in ND 14 (Austin, Texas, 1991): 510.] 78 See Carolee Schneemann, Interview with ND, reprinted in Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 123. [Originally published in ND 14 (Austin, Texas, 1991): 510.] 79 David Levi Strauss, Love Rides Aristotle Through the Audience: Body, Image and Idea in the Work of Carolee Schneemann, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Project s (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 323. [Originally published in Carolee Schneemann, Up To and Including Her Limits (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996), 26 34. ] Also see Carolee Schneemann, Interview with ND, reprinted in Caro lee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 123. [Originally published in ND no. 14 (Austin, Texas, 1991): 5 10.] 80 I am breathless, pulsing, dropping into a sexual and fully sensate experience, yet it is far different from the one dimensional arousal I may feel in seeing and/or hearing a typical depiction of sexual encounter. 81 Carolee Schneemann, Interview with Kate Haug, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essay s, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 43. [Originally published in Wide Angle 20, no. 1 (1977): 2049.] 82 The quotes are from the text of her film Kitschs Last Meal, which Schneemann also used as the text for the scroll s he pulled out of her vulva in the second performance of Interior Scroll at the Telluride (Colorado) Film Festival on September 4th, 1977. The male structuralist film critic she refers to has since been revealed to be a female feminist film critic, Oct ober editor Annette Michelson who couldnt look at my films (319). The projected quotes are from Michelsons students (319). Schneemann did not fare well with feminist critics, including Laura Mulvey, who praised her work in private but refused to write about it (27). See Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 159; 319. I am partly indebted to Laura Markss theory of haptic visuality for my understanding of tac tile surfaces from a
242 filmic perspective. See chapter 1, Video Haptics and Erotics, pp. 122, in Laura U. Marks, Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2002). See also Laura U. Marks, The Me mory of Touch, in The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 127 193. For thinking about Schneemanns work from a tactile and painterly perspective, I am indebted to Melissa Hyde and Carol Armstrong. See Melissa Hyde, The Makeup of the Marquise: Bouchers Portrait of Pompadour at Her Toilette, The Art Bulletin (September 2000): 453 475. See also Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 199 5): 74 104. 83 Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 78, f.n. 5. 84 Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 92. 85 Carol Armstrong also notes th at facture has historically been connected to the amorphous regime of color as against the rationality of design. See Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, October 74 (Autumn 1995): 92. As I mentioned earlier, in the great debate of drawing versus color, colors lack of form was linked to the feminine. Clearly this metaphor A telling sexual analogy for color comes from art theorist Charles Blanc in 1867: The union of drawing and colour is necessary to engender painting, just as is the union of man and woman to engender humanity; but drawing must conserve its preponderance over colour. If it is otherwise, painting will run to ruin; it will be lost through colour as humanity was lost through Eve. Blanc quoted in Anthea Callen, Degas Bathers: Hygiene and Dirt, Gaze and Touch, in Dealing with Degas: Representations of Women and the Politics of Vision edited by Griselda Pollock and Richard Kendall (London: HarperCollins, 1992), 170. Color, desire and the sense were all attributed to the feminine at various moments. In 17th century art criticism, the weapon of color is that attributed to all women: the ability to delight the senses. See Philip Sohm, Gendered Style in Italian Art Cri ticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 791. 86 I am indebted to Carol Armstrongs reading of Manets facture for this observation. See Carol Armstrong, Facturing Femininity: Manets Before the Mirror, Octob er 74 (Autumn 1995): 86. I am also thinking about the differences between finished and unfinished surfaces in the 19th century. 19th century Realism was the heir of post Renaissance pictorial tradition, but the emphasis on the act of painting, on painting as artifice, and on the intervention of the artist through his labor, ends up increasing (rather than decreasing) the impression of reality. By emphasizing the painting as representation, the artist confirms the existence of what is behind the representat ion. In fini painting, on the other hand, the transparency of the paintingits lack of resistance emphasizes the fictive character of what is represented. Thus, treatment and subject, the fini and the exclusion of everyday life, serve the same purpose in t he strategy of official art. Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner, The Ideology of the Licked Surface: Official Art. In Romanticism and Realism: The Mythology of Nineteenth Century Art (New York: Viking Press, 1984), 224. 87 Carolee Schneemann, On Censorshi p: Interview with Aviva Rahmani, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 211. 88 Carolee Schneemann, On Censorship: Interview with Aviva Rahmani, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 211. 89 David Levi Strauss, Love Rides Aristotle Through the Audience: Body, Image and Idea in the Work of Carolee Schneemann, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Eroti cs: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 322. 90 I am referring to October editor Annette Michelson and Laura Mulvey, who praised Schneemanns work in private but refused to write about it. See Carolee Schneemann, Carole e Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 27; 319. Recent feminist theorists who have engaged with Schneemann in interesting ways include Amelia Jones, Anette Kubitza, Kristine Stiles, Katy Deepwell and Rebecca Schneider. 91 Apparently, according to Schneemann, Mulvey spoke with her about the importance of Fuses as a rupture with pornography and how it would change the whole argument and discussion of filmic representation of sexuality and then she couldnt touch it! Carolee Schneemann, Interview with Kate Haug, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging
243 Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 27. [Originally published in Wide Angle 20, no. 1 (1977): 20 49.] 92 See note 56. 93 See Mary Kelly, ReViewing Modernist Criticism, in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ed. Brian Wallis (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988) 87 103. 94 Carolee Schneemann, Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 159. 95 The projected quotes are from Michelsons students. See David Levi Strauss, Love Rides Aristotle Through the Audience: Body, Image and Idea in the Work of Caro lee Schneemann, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 319. 96 See David Levi Strauss, Love Rides Aristotle Through the Audience: Body, Image and Idea in the Work of Carolee Sch neemann, in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 320. 97 Laura U. Marks, The Memory of Touch, in The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 185. 98 Laura U. Marks, The Memory of Touch, in The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 184. 99 Laura U. Marks, The Memory of Touch, in The Skin of the Fi lm: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 184. 100 Andrea Juno, Interview with Carolee Schneemann, Angry Women: RE/Search 13 (1991): 70. 101 Schneemann reports that women approached her and thanked her for ma king Fuses. One woman said she had never seen her own genitals, or another womans, crediting Fuses with allowing her to see her own sexual curiosity as natural and to experience her own physical integrity. Carolee Schneemann, Notes on Fuses (1971), in Carolee Schneemann Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 45. 102 Works by Schneemann that are premised on or refer to goddess cultures, images and artifacts include: Eye Body (1963) (Schneemann later discovered the connection between snakes and the Cretan snake goddesses); Homerunmuse (1977), Venus Vectors (1987), Cycladic Imprints (1988 92), Unexpectedly Research (1992), Vulvas Morphia (1992 97), and Ask the Goddess (1991). Vulva s Morphia is the much wittier inspiration for Eve Enslers Vagina Monologues Many of Schneemanns works are tinged with irony and fun. In this way, she is a kind of feminist Aretino, who likened the penis to a sword and then a paintbrush. See Philip Sohm Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia, Renaissance Quarterly 48, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 799. Instead, Schneemann paints with the cunt, which has very different implications and of course is generally received badly by crit ics. The image from Eye Body which supposedly exposes her clitoris (my eyesight is not that keen anymore) reminds me of the 18th fears about women who transgress sex roles they have big clitorises and usurp male power. According to Sheriff, the Tribade (a Greek term) was a term for ribald French women or false hermaphrodite, defined by some men as girls who had clitorises much longer and larger than normal and who abuse it with other girls; the ignorant person mistook her enlarged clitoris for a penis Long defined as a woman who undertakes the virile functions in the service of her own sex, the tribade disguised herself as a man by usurping his sexual rights over women (182). These definitions turned on imitation rather than essence. The Tribade was threatening and disrupting not because her sex was indeterminable, but because her miming of the mans sexuality threatened the coherence of a social and sexual order regulated by reproduction. The Tribades sexuality, focused on the clitoris rather t han the vagina, invoked an economy of pleasure. The tribade raised the possibility that sexual performance
244 was not linked to essential sex, but based in mimicry (of an organ she did not have, of a role that was not hers). The condemnation of the tribade w as all the more pressing because moralists recognized that even a woman with a normally sized clitoris could overvalue that organ (Sheriff 183). The femme homme often accused of sexual commerce with other women, mimicked the virile position by performing the mans intellectual or political functions. Social transgression (a woman acting like a man) was often figured as sexual transgression (183). See Mary Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vige Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: Uni versity of Chicago Press, 1996), 182183. Comfortable with considering herself an intellectual painter, Schneemann was offended in the 1960s when her best works were described as masculine. For Elisabeth Vige Lebrun in the 18th century, to have a viril e brush meant she was an intellectual (also a transgression) and thus capable of painting in any genre. In a sense, both Schneemann and VigeLebrun are Tribades; both play with representation and gendered identity as artifice across form and content, the ir personal lives and social roles, each in her own way and according to her historical moment. In many ways, I see Schneemann in dialogue with Vige Lebrun. Whereas Vige Lebruns history paintings were called imperfect because she failed to properly idea lize the goddesses (as a woman she couldnt be expected to understand the ancients), Schneemann takes up the inconography and rituals of the goddesses (often with humor) to produce feminist art. Schneemann shows that not only can she step into the mindset of the ancients, but she mimics and embodies them in order to make history! For an excellent discussion of Vige Lebrun and history painting (195 196), as well as her brilliantly ironic Self Portrait of 1783, see See Mary Sheriff, The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vige Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 180220.
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257 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Lesley Gamble was born in the north and has been heading south ever since. A professional coach on the A horse show circuit for almost two decades, she trained many national champions, developed her own business, and became a licensed horse show judge, a skill she conti nues to enjoy and maintain in addition to her academic career. For almost a quarter century Lesley has designed and taught college courses across several disciplines, from art history and general humanities to literature, film and womens studies. Worki ng from a feminist and poststructuralist perspective, her research interests have focused primarily on the histories and theories of womens aesthetic and spiritual practices. Stoking her passion for travel, these pursuits have led her to destinations as d iverse as St. Petersburg, Russia; Singapore; Bali; Malta; various points in western and eastern Europe; Turkey; and several countries in Central Asia, including Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Lesley travels in other ways as well. As a licensed massage therapist she explores touch as a modality of intimacy, healing and embodied wisdom. Currently she is bringing that knowledge to bear on questions of difference (gender, race, class, ethnicity, etc.), augmenting her academic research b y investigating touch as a concept, an artistic practice, and a tangible, as well as affective and imaginative, experience and source of epistemology. As the work of many early feminist artists demonstrates, touch opens on to some of the most pressing social and political issues of our time, foremost among them the question of how to negotiate and live a politics of the commons through an ethics of difference. She is also passionate about land and environmental art, projects that draw on the fertile nexus of aesthetics and science, as well as visionary and improvisational art, film, texts and music. Happily identifying as both tree hugger and aquasapien, her love of nature, particularly the aquasphere, has her thinking about how local artists are drawi ng attention to and offering
258 new perspectives on the increasingly dire problems of Floridas waters, from the estuaries, rivers, springs and aquifer to the Gulf of Mexico.