Body as Subject

Four Contemporary Women Artists
  • Whitney Chadwick

Abstract

The terms “woman,” “artist,” “French,” and “feminist” are less often combined in the history of contemporary art in France than in recent Anglo-American writing on the topic. The reasons for this, however, may be more usefully linked to specific cultural readings and representations of difference than to the dramatic conclusions suggested by performance artist Orlan. While it is true that the period of remarkable literary cultural production by French women initiated by the events of May 1968 has no clear parallel in the visual arts, the practices of internationally recognized women artists, when examined closely, reveal a strong engagement with theories of difference, intersubjectivity and the body that have been widely circulated through the writings of Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and others. Although engaged with issues of representation rather than critical theorizing, attention to the sexed, gendered, and socially coded body to artifacts of the body and to issues of female subjectivity in the work of artists from Niki de Saint Phalle and Orlan to Annette Messager and Sophie Calle recall Irigaray’s observation that “Women’s exploitation is based upon sexual difference; its solution will come only through sexual difference.”2 Irigaray’s locating of difference within difference also calls attention to other kinds of difference: to the difference that may exist between the production of the work and its critical reception; to difference mapped across relationships between artist and viewer; to the problematics of reordering gender and sexual difference through the body.

Keywords

Burning Europe Lactate Explosive Ghost 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Orlan, quoted in Beauty Matters, ed. Peg Zeglin Brand (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 289–313; the quote is on 301.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Luce Irigaray, je, tu, nous: Toward a Culture of Difference, trans. Alison Martin (New York: Routledge, 1993), 12.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a more extensive discussion of this phenomenon see Kate Ince, Orlan: Millennial Female (Oxford: Berg, 2000), 2–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Pontus Hulten, Niki de Saint Thalle, exh. cat. (Bonn: Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1992).Google Scholar
  5. Réalistes, see Jonathan Katz, “Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg,” in Significant Others: Creativity and Intimate Partnership, ed. Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle de Courtivron (London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    François Pluchart, “Fire Sermons,” trans. Suzi Gablik, Art and Artists, 1.5 (August 1966): 26, attempted to differentiate Saint Phalle’s violence, her cycle of destruction-creation, from Yves Klein’s use of fire in a series of one-minute paintings in 1956, arguing that Klein’s process transcended the initial destruction of the burning process, thereby transforming destruction into supreme and absolute, indeed transcendent, creative affirmation. Saint Phalle’s destructive act, by contrast, was viewed as failing to become transcendent, remaining rooted in the mundane.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: The Discursive Limits of “Sex” (London: Routledge, 1993).Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Kathy Davis, Reshaping the Female Body: The Dilemma of Cosmetic Surgery (London: Routledge, 1995), 163.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Kathy Davis, “‘My Body Is My Art’: Cosmetic Surgery as Feminist Utopia?,” in Embodied Practices: Feminist Perspectives on the Body, ed. Kathy Davis (London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1997), 168–81.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Messager, cited in Sherry Conkelton, “Annette Messager’s Carnival of Death and Desire,” Annette Messager, exh. cat. (Los Angeles and New York: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1995), 11.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Jean-Michel Foray, “Annette Messager, collectionneuses d’histoires,” Art Press 147 (May 1990): 17;Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, Signs: A Journal of Women and Culture (Summer 1976): 889.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    English edition Suite Venitienne/Please Follow Me. Trans. Dany Barash (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Roger Célestin, Eliane DalMolin, Isabelle de Courtivron 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Whitney Chadwick

There are no affiliations available

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