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.
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