In Chapter 4 I argued that unfaithful or partial repetition is an important strategy in Hannah Wilke’s work of the mid-1970s. In particular, I focussed on a project Wilke developed in 1974–1975 called Starification Object Series (S.O.S.). In this chapter I develop this idea of unfaithful repetition further by reading Wilke’s interaction with femininity as a form of critical mimicry. This term is borrowed from the work of Belgian philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray. The books for which this aspect of Irigaray’s work is best known were written in the 1970s: Speculum of the Other Woman in 1974 and This Sex Which is Not One in 1977, after Wilke had been working on the S.O.S. project. However, they were not translated into English until 1985, so even Speculum of the Other Woman is unlikely to have influenced Wilke at this time. There is, nevertheless, an uncanny affinity between Irigaray’s concept of mimicry, which is both philosophical and political, and Wilke’s art practice. Despite the fact that ‘theories’ are often ‘applied’ to artworks, as if the latter is ultimately destined only to illustrate the former, I became aware of Irigaray’s work through an ongoing fascination with Wilke’s practice. I wanted to find a critical language with which to pursue the ‘nearly but not quite’ character of Wilke’s enactments of femininity because I felt this was important for understanding the work of contemporary artists who use the female body as commodified material. There is a dialogue to be set in motion between Wilke and Irigaray, which extends to their approaches to feminism. Both have spoken about feminism with a degree of scepticism. In Wilke’s case guarding against the ideological proscriptions of what she called fascist feminism and in Irigaray’s case a desire to work outside the sociological understanding of feminism. What matters to Irigaray is that women discover who they are without trying to adapt to the existing social order. Only then will women locate female subjectivity and desire.
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- Critical Mimesis: Hannah Wilke’s Double Address
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