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Über dieses Buch

This book examines feminist art of the 1970s through contemporary art made by women. In a series of readings of artworks by, amongst others, Tracey Emin, Vanessa Beecroft, Hannah Wilke and Carolee Schneemann the reader is taken on a journey through maternal desire, fantasies of escape and failed femininity.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction

Abstract
This book examines the tensions and connections between feminist politics and sexualized femininities through changing understandings of what constitutes ‘critical’ art practice. It emerged from a desire to reconcile my own fascination with artworks made by women for whom heterosexual femininity is something to be performed rather than refused, with my commitment to feminist politics. I am struck by my own identification with the visual pleasures of artworks that employ the rhetoric, if not, as I will argue, the values of woman-as-fetishized-image. It was also prompted by my experience of teaching practice-based art, media and design students, many of whom find no conflict between the performance of highly stylized femininities and an emerging interest in feminist politics, specifically the shaping of femininity through contemporary culture.
Clare Johnson

1. Fantasies of Adventure, Escape and Return: Tracey Emin’s Why I Never Became a Dancer

Abstract
In this chapter I analyse Tracey Emin’s short film Why I Never Became a Dancer (1995) and argue for its importance to a feminist art history that takes time as its principal concept. My intention is to explore how Emin’s feminism is articulated through the manipulation of time and to consider how her work has been critically positioned in relation to feminist art of the 1970s and 1980s. By starting this book with an analysis of a film by Emin I wish to signal that my approach is not chronological. It does not follow a developmental path of precedents and influences that lead up to Emin’s work, but takes her provocative expressions of desire, trauma and memory as a starting point for feminist art history. It is to start where students of visual culture often begin their journey into sexual politics, with a visual practice that speaks to them about something that matters.
Clare Johnson

2. Traces of Feminist Art: Temporal Complexity in the Work of Eleanor Antin and Elizabeth Manchester

Abstract
In this chapter I explore the inter-generational relationship between two photographic works: Eleanor Antin’s Carving: A Traditional Sculpture (1972) and Elizabeth Manchester’s All My Dresses with All My Shoes (2002). These two artworks are distinct in terms of the political and cultural climate of their production, but share some formal characteristics. Here I put them in dialogue with each other to generate a series of observations about the gendering of time. These include an analysis of femininity as an embodied relationship to time, multi-layered temporalities within each artwork and femininity as loss. My intention is to read the relationship between these particular artworks through difference but not opposition. I consider differences in photographic style, political resonance and attitude towards consumer culture, while arguing for a shared understanding of the parameters of acceptable femininity articulated through a playful approach to the language of minimalism in each artwork. These connections are important because they suggest an alternative to generational divide and the associated political separations of women artists working at different historical moments.
Clare Johnson

3. Sexuality, Loss and Maternal Desire in the Work of Carolee Schneemann and Tracey Emin

Abstract
This chapter explores the practice of reading an historically precedent artwork, Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975), through the provocations of one produced twenty-five years later, Tracey Emin’s I’ve Got It All (2000). The use to which female artists have put their own bodies, as both subjects and objects of desire, continues to be a source of contention within feminist art discourse (Jones 2006, p. 149), but Schneemann’s identity as a feminist artist continues to be cited by looking back at the work she made during the 1970s.1 The published images of Interior Scroll serve as pivotal touchstones of second-wave feminist body art and, in the process of image reproduction, contribute to a canon of works that can be securely identified as properly, if not unproblematically, ‘feminist’.
Clare Johnson

4. Feminist Narratives and Unfaithful Repetition: Hannah Wilke’s Starification Object Series

Abstract
In Chapter 2 I discussed the knowingness with which Elizabeth Manchester performs femininity as a series of poses within a limited repertoire of choices. To develop my argument further I want to explore the impact of imagery that consciously approximates a highly commodified version of femininity-as-image, but only up to a point. I am interested in artworks that deliver a practised range of gestures, only inasmuch as this heightens the effect of the deliberate failure that ensues. In this chapter I consider Hannah Wilke’s S.O.S. Starification Object Series (1974–1975) as an artwork that makes visible the inadequacy of its own repetition of fetishized femininity. Thus, the key concept of time explored in this chapter is repetition. My premise is that repetition is not always repetitive in the sense of tiresome, unchanging monotony. Repetition can be understood in many ways including as a mechanized reproduction of the same (the assembly line), a reaffirming desire for familiarity (a child’s request for the same story told every night), or the continual need to have a desire sated (addiction). Here I focus on repetition as a kind of subversive work undertaken by a practitioner who wished to affirm her status as a post-Minimalist artist and a sexual woman, which were differently gendered identities in the New York-based artworld that Wilke inhabited. She performed her femininity as a series of images akin to what Butler calls a stylized repetition of acts through time (Butler, 1988, pp. 519–520). Of interest here is Butler’s argument for ‘a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of [a] style’ (Butler, 1988, p. 520) and the implications this has for the critical reception of Wilke’s work. Butler’s argument in her important book Gender Trouble focuses on gender performativity and continues to be a highly influential contribution to feminism and queer studies. Although Butler does not focus on fine art her argument chimes with the identity play at work in Wilke’s practice.
Clare Johnson

5. Critical Mimesis: Hannah Wilke’s Double Address

Abstract
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.
Clare Johnson

6. Smooth Surfaces and Flattened Fantasies: Thoughts on Criticality in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Soliloquy III

Abstract
In the last two chapters I have focussed on the work of Hannah Wilke because I think that an understanding of her use of unfaithful repetition and critical mimicry is important if we are to make sense of the various ways in which contemporary female artists work with bodies, photographic surfaces and notions of pleasure. This chapter focuses on the work of Sam Taylor-Johnson, specifically one of a set of works completed between 1998 and 2001 called the Soliloquy series. Although working in different time periods and political contexts the two artists share a propensity to reconfigure the pleasures of popular culture from within its own language. In addition, both artists emphasize artifice and the screen culture through which images of women (and men in Taylor-Johnson’s case) are produced. In the mid-1970s Wilke made an incursion into popular culture, which was viewed with suspicion by some for whom the seductions of pop could hold no genuine critical purpose. By the time Taylor-Johnson became successful, as one of the young British artists of the 1990s, pop was ubiquitous in the contemporary art scene. For her pop is a given part of a cultural landscape in which the distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural forms have been called into question.1 In this chapter I explore what kinds of feminist criticality are offered from within its terrain. I argue that Taylor-Johnson’s work, and Soliloquy III (1998) in particular, brings into being an elongated present tense rich with possibilities for rethinking what it means to respond critically to contemporaneous cultural conditions. Taylor-Johnson’s work often features bourgeois characters in lavishly ornate surroundings, but where we should find pleasure we encounter something akin to this, but different.
Clare Johnson

7. Near-Stillness in the Art Films of Sam Taylor-Johnson and Vanessa Beecroft

Abstract
Feminist art practice has a rich heritage of radical filmmaking, which has contributed to an understanding of its politics as subversive and oppositional. Examples include Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s groundbreaking Riddles of the Sphinx (1977) and Chantel Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), both of which explore sexuality, otherhood and feminism. Mulvey and Wollen’s film is informed by psychoanalysis and addresses the position of women within patriarchy. A range of narrative codes and avant-garde techniques are used to shift the focus from woman as image to woman as a subject of enquiry. These include Mulvey reading to the camera, fragmentation (visual and in dialogue) and the use of multiple voices to disrupt the narrative framework of conventional film. Ackerman’s film is about a widowed housewife and mother who carries out monotonous chores and makes ends meet by working as a prostitute in the afternoons. The film is three hours and twenty-one minutes long and uses a fixed camera to emphasize the duration of mundane tasks such as peeling a potato or looking for a missing button. It uses rhythm, duration and stasis to set up a dialogue between the drama of Jeanne’s sexwork and the ongoingness of life’s domestic routines. Crucial as these strategies are, the grounds upon which they were founded have shifted in relation to the changing relationship of art films to popular culture. If the radicalism of second-wave art films was to be found in the extent to which they sharpened the spectator’s agency, demystifying the illusions of mainstream cinema and raising awareness of film as an ideological construction, contemporary artist-filmmakers operate in a changed cultural landscape. Opposition, reversal and subversion are not enough now that popular culture has appropriated these tactics.
Clare Johnson

Backmatter

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