Sunday, February 19, 2012

Reflections on Feminist Art of the 70s, Binary Thinking, and Empowerment

Lately, I've been confronting my personal relationship to second wave feminist artists of the 70s. I have a lot of issues with second wave feminism, mostly for the reductive execution of most of the work of that period/ the inherent reinforcement of binary notions of gender. I understand the desire to construct a vaginal iconography to combat phallic iconography. I get that these women were rebelling against society's (and, particularly, the hyper-masculine art world's) notion of what a woman's role/perspective should be. By taking control of how they themselves (and by extension, women in general) are being objectified in their art, and by asserting specifically "female" perspectives/aesthetics/processes/ materials, they were attempting to take power back from the patriarchal system that determines what constitutes art/ determines the role and representation of women.

Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party (1979) was an effort by the artist to metaphorically bring women to the table of history. In order to do this, she crafted porcelain place-setting portraits of famous female historical figure's vaginas, and organized them on a triangular table with 13 such settings on each side (a reference to covens).

My problem is the fact that responding to essentialism with essentialism/ to objectification with objectification/ to oppression with reactionary efforts at counter-oppression, while a valid expression of frustration at the time, did little to disrupt the fundamental polarization of "men" versus "women". Much of the feminist art of the 70s actually underscores and affirms gender division in service of a kind of "getting even" notion of empowerment/ equality. Celebrating uniquely female experiences was and is important and I understand the appeal of a notion of womanhood/femininity defined by women, but the fact remains that any definition of femininity versus masculinity reduces and limits every single human being to an identity rooted in expectations related to their biological sex. As long as this kind of thinking is perpetuated, no one will escape the sort of oppression that the core of feminist ideology seeks to deconstruct/ overcome.

We live in a socially constructed world, populated by insecure, wayward people who just want to be accepted and understood. It's easy to allow a label to do the work of determining our social standing/ capacities for us--the day we are born, the world begins defining us, indoctrinating us into our presumed roles (penis gets a blue blanket, vagina gets pink; penis gets toys rooted in action and violence, vagina gets toys rooted in passivity and domesticity). But it's up to us to decide which expectations we are willing to accept, and it's important to pay attention to how complacency or rebellion have the capacity to shape society at large. Second wave feminism, all faults considered, got people talking about gender roles, and vastly expanded the narrow definition of what a woman could be/do/think/feel. The fact that we still correlate behavioral expectations with someone's genitals (or skin color, or any other characteristic we use to other one another) proves, however, that there is still vast room for improvement.

I've been thinking about John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's War Is Over! If You Want It (1969). It resonates for me because of the implication of the power we have to shape our own society/ of the fact that our society is inherently shaped by us. Things are the way they are because we agree to it. The "rules" we follow come from us, from other human beings just as flawed and imperfect and misguided in their attempts to understand and be understood. No one ultimately knows what the fuck they're doing or talking about, so why do we tell ourselves lies like "this is just the way things are" or "it's out of my hands"? Why are we so content to fall back on fate or god or faceless authority figures and ideologues everywhere to determine our lives? Deciding not to take it anymore is the only way for things to change. Our power lies in our capacity to refuse what we're given. Binary thinking is over if we want it! It only continues to exist because we allow it.

Final Crit Notes circa 12/16/11

This is really belated, but I've finally got some time. It's February break, and I'm visiting with friends in San Francisco! This is my first time here, and I'm loving it--the weather is perpetually my most favorite incarnation of weather (mid 50s with just enough sun and cool breezes to balance each other out), and people I love are here, and the food is astounding and there are palm trees and flowers and mountains and puppies everywhere! Anyway, my friend is working today, so I'm taking a break from being enthralled in order to backtrack and mine this sketchbook before I fill its remaining few pages.

Without further ado, the notes from my final crit all the way back in December:

Me: The installation was the most significant thing for me this semester. Pretty much everything here is an artifact or documentation from it (photos, de-install video, sculptural leftover paper form, drawings made from rubbings/monoprints off of the walls)

RG: Given the energy you spent, this kind of record-keeping, how do you feel about what you're presenting versus the original installation?

Me: I think of these things as an archive--keeping artifacts that I can save or re-use, giving it a new life/ shape. It's not the same experience as walking in/ being inside the original thing, but it offers hints

SPW: I'm interested in this idea of an archive--think about how it is constructed, seeing both. If you think about archival presentation--feels like record-keeping. Performance of de-construction--interesting to you?

Me: Yes, ways of expanding on it

SPW; Hand held--constructing video. Moving like drawing+ objects.

Me: Thanks, that's great because I think about basically everything I do in relation to drawing

SF: What do you want documentation to do? Photos have greater sense of space than video.

Me: Photos are kind of all that's left of what it was

SPW: conducive to archive. Each form does a different thing--how do they operate in relation to each other?

JW: Photo process provides idea of elegance of process--photos point out what was lacking from the installation--think of as a stage, draw from photos. Think about what works and what doesn't. Miss the juxtaposition in the installation. The installation was like a large still life. Need to figure out what it is.

SD: You ask about stance in work--where is the work coming from; how do you push forward. What is your stance on the work--how do you position yourself in the work?

Me: Working with shapes that come from everywhere--manifest into their own thing. Think about energy I want--talk about horror--made this piece darker--looked at how others reacted--people felt afraid.

SD: Watch the Five Obstructions--think about the principle of the film--which things are variable vs constant. Find them and work from--start to inform material choices

SPW: How do you see parallel

SD: sensibility/ taste vs. material. Haven't made it your own. Hasn't allowed it in. Vague--the work is vague

GC: Doesn't like photos/ documentation. Power of the installation was being able to get inside--got inside of what had previously been a planar relationship--photos take it back to 2. Need the interior-ness. Ambitious notion to get inside those shapes--a challenge to explore how to be inside 2D. Danger of documentation is that it returns so rapidly to flatness--lose interior needs of form. Delicacy of big drawing not brought to the installation--rough construction of forms. Crudity--push this notion. How do you get to the interior of the 2D world? Big challenge. Worth exploring

SD: But the photos bring up ideas of light, value not in the 2D constructions. Very useful.

SPW: very specific to photo--having the permission to stare. in imaginary environment

GC: viewpoint so frontal though. In the installation, you are surrounded and that is lost in photos--greater ambition to see what you are proposing. Think about how to explore this--sculpture?

RT: More sculpture--get off the wall. Allan Sarat (sp?). Fine wire mesh--holding own weight--changed the air. John Chamberlain--Dia Beacon. Form of sculptures can inform. Maybe paper too weak, material poor, but wire is good for tape/paper. Move to center of room.

AG: So familiar to how to draw--when scaled up in the big drawing--how do you translate in scale? Don't see beautiful drawing qualities in flatter drawings. What is the right form for this experience. Plaster? Heaviness of form. Love tension. Confrontational vs. fragile. Theme has been in your drawing before. Graceful vs. heavy could be an extension in sculpture. Materials give themselves up as construction. Natural formations--ice/ snow. Gravity. 3D

SD: Photo=different material to think about. Silver-ness--you can't tell it's duct tape--how do you transform materials in the room? How could you? Black takes on strange quality. Get into your work--test material

SPW: material is evident in work. Photo is another material to think about. Ink + paper--how can you explore this material. Broken printer?

RG: Hold onto the intensity/ energy of the room/ in your personality. RT is right--bring into center of the room/space

GC: you move through shapes. 2D can be experience when back is turned to it--can have a presence without seeing it--change the nature of the room. Take 2D and see what it looks like inside of itself. The roughness of paper is right. Look at Keith Hilton. Reduction of color/ world are good way to proceed

AG: Leonardo--good at drawing--seeing body cut open, realizes how inadequate he is, but taught himself how anyway. You did too! Camera is too quick, but way to re-invent yourself--go back and experience slow process of re-invention and discovery--build it again--teach yourself how to see.

SPW: Photo is another way of seeing--not the same as drawing

GC: need different camera--allow to capture the meandering/ surrounded-ness. Photo goes against original notion of expanding 2D--returns to flatness--counter-intuitive

AG: Bloom made drawings of outside/ forest--you are in it.