Elizabeth Adan, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; “Between the Body and the Image in the Work of Francesca Woodman”
During her short, though highly productive, career, Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created hundreds of photographs that explore and expose – the latter in both photographic and fleshy senses – the female body, in a series of investigations and interrogations of gender, identity, and ideology that is, as many authors have noted, similar in intellectual and theoretical focus to the photographic work of a number of her contemporaries, including Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, and Martha Rosler.
However, in its visual appearance and approach, Woodman’s work diverges from that of her contemporaries and appears to be more focused on physical states of embodiment in relation to gender and the body. In particular, in a number of her photographs, Woodman explores properties of physicality and materiality by depicting bodily movement as well as bodies in striking physical poses.
What is more, in some of her best-known works, Woodman’s own body appears to be taken over by the material, tactile surfaces of its surroundings. Woodman also creates several photographic projects that explore the kinesthetic properties of the body. In these photographs, Woodman does not simply use photography to visually or optically represent embodiment. Instead, in Woodman’s photographs, materiality and corporeality inform, shape, and perhaps even enter the field of the image. Ultimately, Woodman uses photography to evoke kinesthetic experiences for her viewer and activates them within the photographic image itself, putting photography to work as an embodied medium and practice.
Elise Archias, California State University, Chico; “Everyday Sex in Schneemann’s Concretions”
In Carolee Schneemann’s work, bodily texture clashes with the recognizable elements of the everyday world, most often revealing their incompatibility. This paper spends time with the fact that Schneemann’s investment in an art that would make visible the concrete particulars of the everyday via the materiality of the body led her to “sex.” The appearance of sex in Schneemann’s work raises questions about the special nature of sex’s everydayness. Sex is undeniably concrete, motivated and shaped by the physical needs and impulses of the body. Its excessive potential and uncontainability are what also make sex the site of greatest management in the everyday, the target of the most violent repression and policing, as Michel Foucault has argued. This doubleness of sex comes across best in Schneemann’s most well-known performance, or “concretion,” from the 1960s, Meat Joy. Meat Joy asks its performers’ bodies to quote the Gidget-y signs for sex available in Western consumer culture, but it also attempts to represent the special materiality of sex (a more difficult task.) Politically, Schneemann subscribed to Wilhelm Reich’s narrative of the damaging effects of sexual repression on modern society, a narrative which Foucault argues is simply the supportive flip side of modern bourgeois culture’s efficient constraints. Rather than dismissing Schneemann on these gounds, the paper suggests Meat Joy’s political achievement lies more in the frame it is able to put around texture than in its more easily identifiable spectacle of desublimation.
Lori Beavis, Concordia University, Montreal; “Sexy Indians: An examination of Native Sexual Identity in the work of contemporary Native Canadian artists”
This paper will explore the notion of the native as a sexualized being. The native as brave, stoic, or submissive are the accepted personas – the native body as sexual object is rarely considered. The work of contemporary Canadian First Nations artists, Shelly Niro (Mohawk), Lori Blondeau (Cree Saulteaux) and Kent Monkman (Cree) addresses issues of identity and sexuality through photographic, performance and video oeuvres.
Niro deconstructs the notion of a fixed and timeless native identity by examining the impact of images of women as seen in soap operas, in artifacts of the 1950s lifestyle and in Hollywood icons of the Native Woman. In Honey Moccasin (1998), Niro’s eponymous heroine weaves in and through a number of narratives that explore cultural, ethnic and sexual identities.
In Monkman’s video Dance of the Berdashe (2008) his alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle delves into and refutes George Catlin’s (1796-1872) description of the Berdashe tradition as “ gay and tinselled bucks”. In a refutation of the historical record Monkman sensuously reenacts the dance of Catlin’s Aboriginal Dandy. On another front, Lori Blondeau’s alter ego, Belle Sauvage along with her side kick Buffalo Boy make a sexualized parody of the Wild West shows.
Native artists are faced with a dichotomy in their representations of the body as conveying both an intimacy and a confrontation in relation to native sexual identity. This paper will highlight one path through this dichotomy, that of self-determination as expressed through the sexualized native body and the obfuscation of an imposed colonial identity.Thorsten Botz-Bornstein, Gulf University, Kuwait; “The New Woman: From the Stigmatized Tattoo to Spatial Body Graffiti”
Tattoos have become a spatial project in the largest sense. In the past, (predominantly male) tattoo-spheres could be located within the margins of society. Once an identity had been assumed through the adoption of a tattoo, the person could be assigned a particular geographical position within an urban sphere. Contemporary female tattoos no longer have this one-dimensional identifying function, which influences the way in which these tattoos create space. Within the new tattoo space, the skin does not wear the stigmatic mark, nor does it function as a screen of male desire, but it becomes a wall on which multiple desires are projected. In this sense, tattoos have become graffiti. Mark C Taylor has written that, “when reality becomes virtual, the body disappears. Tattooing represents the effort to mark the body at the very moment it is disappearing.” However, this is only true for the conventional tattoo while the graffiti-tattoo represents a form of indirect opposition. It integrates the body into space, but at the same time, it challenges the space by trying to redefine it. Instead of establishing identity through ontological simplification and codification, it creates a complex spatial web of contradictory meanings.
Peg Brand, IUPUI; “Mistaking Monstrous Beauty: ORLAN’s Virtual Beauty”
Several recent feminist critics of Orlan’s art performances (The Reincarnation of St. Orlan) and photographs (Self-Hybridations) have deemed them monstrous by invoking either the theories of Joanna Frueh (Monster/Beauty: Building the Body of Love) or Sigmund Freud (the terrifying castrated woman). These interpretations are misguided; they attempt to attribute a paradoxical notion of beauty—as both aesthetically pleasing and repulsively real—that violates Orlan’s goal of virtuality. I suggest replacing ‘monster/monstrous beauty’ with the concept of ‘virtual beauty’ to better capture the artist’s intent and thereby, to enhance the aesthetic appreciation of her work.
Laini Burton, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University; “Pipilotti Rist’s Metaphoric Body: Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters)”
Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist’s immersive, large-scale video installations employ elements of performance art, music and sculpture that pursue an affective use of physical space. Traversing the Marron atrium in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, her compelling 2008-2009 installation Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) was no exception. Art critic Jerry Saltz claims Rist feminized the atrium; a space he defines as a bastion of masculinity. The consideration of feminized space invokes Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space where the atrium—a space within a space—engenders the maternal, domestic interior and further, implies notions of containment and delimitation while reiterating the ‘Otherness’ of woman. This domestication of space problematizes feminist readings of Rist’s work which rely upon the writings of Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, and which advocate female embodiment as a means of emancipation.
A double entendre, Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) shows fluid bodies that rest precariously between the bounded and boundless, and calls into question the conditions under which work like this can be rendered into a conduit for abstract meaning. This paper explores the relationship between the body and space in Rist’s work; specifically, how space is constituted through the metaphoric body of woman.
Ilenia Colon, University of Central Florida; "The Hyper-real Body: The Cristos yacentes of Gregorio Fernández"
Reviews of the 2009 “Sacred Made Real” exhibition in National Gallery in London expressed wonder at the hyper-reality of the supine image of Christ made by Gregorio Fernández for the Jesuits of the Casa Profesa of Madrid (today belonging to the Prado). The example at the London show is one of many polychrome sculptures of Christ where glass eyes are used, bloody wounds are recreated by paint and resin, and torn lacerated skin is reproduced by cork. The body as presented in the work of Fernández is the wounded corpse. It represents the promise of Resurrection in a most grotesque way. These works were displayed so that the line between reality and imagination was blurred. Furthermore, their processional use during Holy Week added to their realistic effect by activating the sculptures. These images were meant to be touched and experienced physically by the viewer. The visual and tactile interactions between the body of the viewer and the body of Christ provided the soul with a spiritual experience. Because these Cristos yacentes were produced during the Counter-Reformation, serving as intercessors for the faithful, their hyper-reality was necessary
Raphael Cuir, independent scholar; “‘Know Thyself,’Art and Anatomy: A Discontinued History”
This paper will concern the relationship between anatomy and « Know Thyself » in the Renaissance and in contemporary art, showing how art and anatomical knowledge can play a role to defining what it means to be human, especially at times when the definition of the individual is challenged.
The paper will be divided into two parts. The first part will address the Renaissance roots of the anatomical « Know Thyself », focusing on the example of Vesalius and the magnificent illustrations of his De humani corporis fabrica (1543). The frontispiece of the book is a particularly rich scene of which I will propose a new interpretation. Together with other illustrations of Vesalius’ work it conveys a hidden message which has not yet been deciphered. As we shall see, in the Renaissance, anatomists like Vesalius have transformed the human body, the divine masterpiece, as one of the instruments of transcendance, giving anatomy its prestige by means of a remarkable tour de force which transformed the destruction of the human body into a moral practice : God’s knowledge through self-knowledge. They achieved this using art, images of a rhetoric of self-dissection.
The second part is focused on contemporary art. Today, numerous artists give a new meaning to the « know thyself » of anatomical knowledge, making it a « Know Thyself » as matter, « Know Thyself » as space in relationship to the world, « Know Thyself » as an object of science, « Know Thyself » as self-invention… At a time when the individual subject is in search of a new definition of himself, he is looking again for himself in the folds of its inside as the works of Marc Quinn, Gilles Barbier, ORLAN, Bernar Venet… exemplifies. But anatomy isn’t anymore a reliable structure, the incarnation of a dependable knowledge given as a truth. Human anatomy is now precisely what can be radically transformed and manipulated.
Pradeep A. Dhillon, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; “Imaging Critique: Amrita Sher-Gil on Paul Gauguin’s Body Exotic”
In 1934, Amrita Sher-Gil, painted her Self Portrait as a Tahitian. With this semi-nude portrait of herself, Sher-Gil definitively called to account the “Orientalism” of Paul Gauguin’s gaze as could be seen in his paintings of Tahitian women. Western, particularly feminist, art historians have in recent years drawn attention to Gauguin’s diminishing gaze. However, this early critical painting has not been brought into direct art-historical conversation with Gauguin. This despite the embodied critical challenge Sher-Gil presents to Gauguin’s body exotic. In this paper, I argue, that not only does Amrita Sher-Gil challenge to Paul Gauguin provide us with an important example of visual critical thinking, but also raises problems with contemporary practices of art -historical writing more broadly. Sher-Gil, trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Artes in Paris (1930-34), was elected Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933, after being awarded the gold medal for her earlier painting Two Girls, making her the youngest, and the only Asian, to have received this recognition. Re-reading her paintings from that period points us to the need to make art history, particularly that of modernism, more global in scope.Ellery Foutch, University of Pennsylvania; “Embodying the Medium: Eugen Sandow and Bodybuilding as Sculpture”
Turn-of-the-century bodybuilder Eugen Sandow’s medium was his body, which he sculpted through exercise into a statuesque form. Commonly known as the “Perfect Man,” Sandow deftly manipulated the latest technologies to disseminate images of his body in two and three dimensions, from cabinet cards, postcards, and cigarette cards to plaster casts of his flexed arm. Sandow frequently cloaked his nakedness under the guise of edification, reassuring audiences by lecturing on anatomy or striking the poses of classical sculptures like the Farnese Hercules to invoke “high culture.” Yet Sandow’s display of whiteness and masculinity to urban audiences at the turn of the century took on special resonance against a background of anxieties about race suicide, neurasthenia, and the debilitating effects of modern life and work; his performances as a classical sculpture blurred the lines between high and low, art and pornography.
Sandow was literally transformed into sculpture in 1901, when
the British Museum of Natural History commissioned a life cast of
the bodybuilder from the firm of Brucciani & Company, who had
furnished the Cast Court of the Victoria and Albert Museum with
reproductions of sculptural masterpieces; copies of the cast also
made their way to the United States in the early twentieth century.
With his ‘body of work’ in various media, Sandow
demonstrates a sophisticated medium-specificity, often employing
the popular trope of the ‘living sculpture.’ Across
media of film, sculpture, and photography, Sandow contorted and
displayed his body to create projects that expose the tensions
between motion and stillness, animation and petrification,
integration and fragmentation, life and death.
Jennifer Grayburn, University of Virginia; “Science and Social Influence in Medieval Gynecological Manuscripts and Images”
Although the function and structure of the human body is rooted in biological fact, the way humans perceive their bodies cannot be removed from their own cultural framework. A society’s understanding of medicine is particularly important for the establishment and reinforcement of culturally specific constructions of identity within society. For example, by studying a society’s gynecological texts and images, one can discern not only how the female physiology was believed to work biologically, but more importantly, how women were viewed within their social context, particularly concerning the physical processes of sex and conception. While the chronological history of gynecological texts has been extensively researched over the past century, the illuminated images that accompanied these texts have been largely neglected by art historians. Medieval gynecological manuscripts, like the highly circulated and copied Trotula, occasionally included invaluable images of medieval gynecological equipment, schematic diagrams of the reproduction organs, fetuses within disconnected wombs, and different treatments for female afflictions. This paper critically examines these images and argues that they were not merely illustrations of the text, but that they shaped and reinforced female “Otherness” within medieval society by focusing on the womb, depicted both in situ and out of its anatomical context, as the source of all conditions and diseases particular to women. Whether making direct comparisons with male physiology or implying that heterosexual sex was necessary for a healthy womb, these medical images stressed women’s physiological inferiority and, consequently, their social dependence upon men within medieval society.
Rachel Hurst, St. Francis Xavier University; “Love and Sex Forged In Silicone: Amber Hawk Swanson, Femininity and Synthetic Embodiment”
Silicone is a synthetic material that has changed Western embodiment. We place silicone implants inside the body in cosmetic surgery to change its morphology. It coats our hair and skin with a glamorous gloss through silicone in beauty products. We can prosthetically acquire new body parts that mobilize a range of gender and sexual possibilities as we strap on and manipulate silicone sex toys. And indeed, entire bodies are created out of silicone.
A fantasy that silicone sustains is one of a sealed, intact body that can be used continuously for pleasure without concern for the limitations of our bodies (and more importantly, others’ bodies). This paper brings together two strangely connected cultural phenomena fashioned from silicone – sex dolls and breast implants – and theorizes the effects of silicone on human embodiment using the work of artist Amber Hawk Swanson and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Her photographic and video series “To Have, To Hold, and To Violate: Amber and Doll” (2007) documents her performances with Amber Doll (a silicone sex doll made in Swanson’s image) which disrupted heteronormative spaces like wedding receptions, tailgating parties and amusement parks.
“To Have, To Hold, and To Violate” raises a number of issues about feminine subjectivity, embodiment and objectification. I argue that while the sex doll is, psychoanalytically speaking, a perverse (fetish) object, Swanson’s work pushes us to think about femininity and breast implants (a neurotic response). Swanson reframes the perverse object to consider the neurotic’s desire for love and the hysteric’s question (Am I a man or a woman?) through the path of silicone’s effects on human embodiment.
Dawn Leach, University Oldenburg and the Academy of Fine Art, Düsseldorf; “Body Pieces by Nan Hoover: Sublation of Gender”
In Nan Hoover’s body of work the human subject is systematically neutralized. The close up renderings of the artist’s own body in several videos by Nan Hoover continue the historical practice of videos’ early private performances, when artists like herself used the monitor like a mirror, but decidedly shift the focus from the self as subject, to the performance as experience and expressive potential. Roland Barthes thoughts on The Neutral lend themselves to a close reading of motifs of the use of the body in this artist’s oeuvre. But also in her personal appearance and her performative actions Nan Hoover sublated indications of gender, thus softening the conflict with the male connotated virility of the artist, while at the same time enlisting art historical topoi that confer the performing artist with the status of creative medium.
Michelle Meagher, University of Alberta; “Suzy Lake: Self Presentation and the Aging Artist’s Body.”
In this paper, I take up self-representational images produced by Toronto-based photographer Suzy Lake in order to explore shifting experiences of being seen and offering one’s body to be seen. Produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s and deeply informed by second wave feminist politics, Lake’s earliest self-representational images attempted to deflect the gaze – a gaze presumed male and objectifying. Lake’s more recent images invite the gaze and, by way of this invitation, they productively complicate the often taken-for-granted dynamic of the gaze that continues to circulate in feminist visual studies. Importantly, Lake’s more recent images are constructed around her own experience of the lived invisibility of the aged and aging female body. The shifts in Lake’s work – she once refused the gaze, she now craves it – are clearly shaped by transformations in the artist’s physicality. They may also be aligned with recent shifts in feminist visual theory. Kaja Silverman, for instance, has recently expressed frustration with the limits of conventional feminist descriptions of the dynamics of the gaze: “We all want to be seen. Indeed, we need to be seen” (Silverman 2006, 38). Similarly, Rosemarie Garland Thompson has taken up the question of visual ethics in a way that attends to the potentially empowering aspects of being looked at (2009). Placing Lake in conversation with theorists like Silverman and Garland Thompson, this paper explores the possibility of formulating an alternate feminist visual ethics founded upon bodily experience of being (and needing to be) seen.Emily Newman, City University of New York; “I just got to change: Faith Ringgold, Oprah Winfrey and the Plight of the Black Female Body in the Late 1980s”
In 1986, Faith Ringgold celebrated her hundred pound weight loss by creating the quilt and performance piece Change: Faith Ringgold’s Over 100 Pound Weight Loss Performance Story Quilt. Using a photomontage on canvas to incorporate pictures of herself, the quilt included a narrative text explaining why she had gained weight, and how she had lost weight, and her plan to lose even more. Oprah Winfrey has experienced a strikingly similar relationship with her body as Ringgold has with hers, as she celebrated successful dieting in her skinny jeans in November 1988. Ringgold's quilts/performances and Winfrey's discussion of her weight show both sides of the weight loss industry – their successes in losing weight, but also their failure to continue to achieve and maintain their goals.
By examining Ringgold's Change quilts, in light of Oprah Winfrey's public battle with weight, I will examine these underappreciated works as reflective of the trend in the diet and exercise industries to appeal to African Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. Traditionally, African American women have been more accepting of their weight then Caucasian women, regardless of their size, yet just as these two African American women are trying to lose weight, their desire to change their bodies is reflected in a marked increase on diet, exercise and body image issues in African American magazines. 1 Ringgold and Winfrey's battles with their weight seem to demonstrate that their bodies cannot fit into society the way that they are – they have to be modified, slimmed down and de-raced to be accepted.
Virginia Raguin, College of the Holy Cross; “Kiki Smith’s and Judith Schaechter’s Bodies on Glass”
Kiki Smith’s use of the body and materials challenges concepts of substance and becoming. In her most recent work at the Pace Gallery in New York, large, separate panels of glass present life-size figures that sit, walk and lie, but also float, materialized only as light penetrates the space. Weightless, the very substance of the depicted body is made present by translucent values of grey. In a narrative that weaves through time, Smith’s protagonist appears at multiple times, as daughter, mother, sister, or sibling, the chronology always in flux. Smith’s work has invariably challenged reductive thinking, especially concerning the body. What was once taboo, such as excrement, urine, menstrual flow, and now the corpse, reveals the reciprocity of life. Different but equally challenging depictions of the body appear in the work of Judith Schaechter, recently exhibited at the Claire Oliver Gallery, New York. Her vigorous figural style in the German Expressionist tradition works with the color within the glass itself; she exploits flashed glass that she models through sandblasting and engraving while adding detail with vitreous paint. Her work invariably features a small-doll-like figure, evoking associations of size, such as the boxes of surrealist inspired Joseph Cornell. The body, while defined as female suggests both the androgynous and the child whose dress dissembles and also amplifies meaning. Schaechter’s mythic narratives mesh with contemporary associations. In both bodies of work, the female image asserts its universality, transcending the limits of gender, time, and corporeality.
Anna Schober, Verona University; “Concepts of ‘gender’ as triggers of artistic imagination”
In recent decades “gender” has had strong institutional success: it has become a central issue for social reform programmes on a regional, national and global level. At the same time, concepts of “gender” have been adopted by political grassroots movements and have inspired artistic creation. This paper investigates art and popular culture that were stimulated by philosophical and sociological concepts of “gender”. This includes works by such different artists as Cindy Sherman, Catherine Opie or Jenny Saville as well as the reception and adoption histories their art has given rise to in the work of a younger generation of European artists. This artistic creation is examined in relation to the visual output of the activists of third wave feminism and queer groups who also “translate” gender concepts into images – in the form of fanzines, film and multimedia productions or spectacular party events.
The originality of the proposed approach lies in the way it combines the history of adopting recent philosophical concepts of “gender” into different (American and European) cultural traditions with an analysis of the image and its powers. Usually contemporary cultural and gender studies focus mainly on the codificating force of images – whereby most approaches refrain from explicitly analysing the effects the instance of the image exerts in relation to our formation as sexual beings. Contrary to this the paper focuses particular on the popular appeal of images and visual culture and on their disseminating as well as promotional, founding and warranting force. Part of this is also to investigate the image struggles that the various artistic and pop-adoptions of “gender” become involved in.
The focus on the image and the specificity of its communicative powers makes it possible to access the complex reworking of the imaginary that goes along with the dissemination of gender discourse – whereby special attention is given to the imaginary related to the body and to how we experience ourselves as sexual beings. The self as a body in (constant) transformation and re-assemblage of “male” and “female” body-parts appears to be a dominant figuration of image-worlds accompanying gender discourse.
Jennifer Shaw, Indiana University; “Unsettled Bodies and Embodied Vision: Dorothea Tanning’s Prismatic Works of the 1950s”
Dorothea Tanning’s (1910) work spans fifty years of the twentieth century, and a wide variety of styles and genres. From her more solidly Surrealist works of the 1940s to the “prismatic” canvases of the 1950s and her fabric sculptures of the 1970s, what remains constant in her career is her use of the human body, usually female. This paper will explore the status and appearance of the figure in her prismatic canvases of the 1950s. While the figure in these dramatic pieces is less recognizable than in earlier works, it still plays a central role, remaining partially visible in the play of multiple planes and colors. In particular, this paper will focus on the body in La Mal oublie (the Ill Forgotten) (1955), and Insomnies (Insomnias) (1957). The body in these paintings becomes a metaphorical figure for the experience of embodied perception. The body, existing between the planes of the visible, appears only gradually, emerging from the surface but never entirely separate from it. Consequently, these bodies remain embedded in the broken and shifting picture surface, thus serving as emblematic representatives of the experience of bodily perception itself, as articulated in the later theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I will use Merleau-Ponty’s aesthetic theories on painting and vision to elucidate this stage in Tanning’s work, whereby the experience of embodied vision is given visual expression in the unsettled meeting of gesture and pictorial representation.Karen A. Stock, Winthrop University; “Somatic Cartography: The work of Susan Harbage Page”
In her work, Susan Harbage Page foregrounds the metaphorically and literally wounded female body. Her large black and white photographs combine imperfect flesh with a semiotic interrogation of the power and instability of sign systems. My discussion focuses on two series of works: A Question of Beauty (2000) and Palimpsest (2004).
A Question of Beauty was inspired when a child asked Page, during her battle with breast cancer, if she was a man or a woman. This series rehearses the moment when stereotypes break down and societal labels prove inadequate. Two dialectically opposed self-portraits are presented multiple times with different identifying labels such as Mother, or Wife. In one photograph, Page wears stereotypically feminine attire and in the other her bald head and bare torso unflinchingly display the effects of the cancer treatment. The label inevitably breaks down thereby calling into question the viewer’s preconceptions.
Instead of using prescribed labels, in the Palimpsest series women map their individual trauma through marking on their nude bodies. Through this cathartic exercise women document and then expunge their negative experiences. The title of the series refers to the residual markings that can never be entirely erased. This is the language of the flesh, the wrinkles and distortions that can never be entirely eliminated. Both series subvert the idealized notion of the feminine body and provide a way to map femininity through a personal cartography in which irregularities are confidently exposed rather than disguised.
Jennifer Sudul, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU; “Cattle, Colanders and Cathedrals: Niki de Saint Phalle’s Women”
The body as a mark-making site is both an ancient practice and a natural occurrence, from Egyptian decorative ornamentation to the wrinkles and scars that records an individual’s experience through a life’s time. Images of such manifestations have an equally long tradition in art, but the explicit representation of society’s impact on the body’s form is a twentieth century practice following concerns of philosophers such as Marx and Nietzsche in the preceding century. Feminists such as Luce Irigaray contended that women’s bodies transformed from the corporeal to the commodity by the alchemy of social expectations. However, Niki de Saint Phalle anticipated Irigaray’s observation when, in the early 1960s, she constructed feminine forms encrusted with quotidian objects, illustrating society’s construction and impact on the formation of feminine identities. In her assemblage sculptures, such as Crucifixion (c. 1965) [Figure 1], children’s toys, cooking utensils, beauty products, yarn and newspapers intermingle, cross-referencing popular culture and insider intelligentsia to compose odes for feminine ideals from the virgin bride to the housewife, the classical Venus to the modern Marilyn Monroe while simultaneously constructing the surface skin of Saint Phalle’s sculptures.
To further complicate her metaphors, Saint Phalle thought of her constructions as bodies—even when seemingly dissolving into abstraction. The tirs, the series preceding the feminine sculptures [Figure 2], consisted of wooden panels affixed with chicken wire, plaster and often, found objects, into which she embedded bags of paint. She would then shoot the works, mostly with a .22 rifle, often in public and with assistance from the audience, to create a variegated and scarred surface. While art historical references abound—Duchampian chance, Abstract Expressionism’s bravado, Neo-Dada humor—Saint Phalle derived a primal satisfaction, as well: “I shot because I was fascinated watching the painting bleed and die.” Here, she flipped the traditional gender expectation of woman as passive, woman as marked, woman as giver of life. Instead, she tried on the other’s trousers, so to speak, and became the marksman, literally and philosophically, merging the two extremes of passivity and aggression to create works that, like her public persona, encompass the guises of the exceedingly feminine and masculine. Ultimately, the works concern power struggles and perpetrations with the body as a plotted field map for battle or a pockmarked casualty, but Saint Phalle’s basic act of constructing these pieces, of presenting the marked body for our examination, established a statement of rational recognition and poetic resistance.
Robin Veder, Penn State; “Georgia O’Keeffe, Ida Rolf, and Muscle Memory”
In the first three decades of the twentieth century, popular and innovative body cultures modified western artists’ production techniques. An intense cultivated muscular control, supported by a narrow range of materials, is notable in art by the American modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe. I link her studio techniques to her training in Bess Mensendieck’s functional movement exercises and to the Rolfing structural integration treatments she received for approximately forty years. Working from surviving works of art and studio tools, original correspondence, and oral histories about O’Keeffe, I argue for her intentional engagement with physical discipline, in order to cultivate muscle memory and treat resulting pain.
Throughout her life, the artist vehemently denied the Freudian and other essentialist analyses that sexualized her art and equated it with her body. I break from those interpretations by addressing O’Keeffe’s bodily techniques for manufacturing art, as part of a larger project that explores how physical culture transfers to other bodily practices. While previous art historians (Burns, DeLue, Callen, Garb, Shiff) have attended to the accidentally revealing habits of the modernist artist’s hand, I argue that it is worthwhile to consider how such gestures could be part of conscientiously-developed somatic practices.
In making this argument, I contradict Greenbergian analyses that insist on a division between the embodied quotidian and the avant-garde; following contemporary theorists (Shusterman, Noland) and historians (Cowan, Toepfer, Vertinsky), I am examining physical self-discipline’s contributions to individual agency, in this case artistic modernism.