Still dark, before 6am, lying in bed, the clouded sky lighting the city and me already with coffee and reading, and then light turned out, I thought about this exhibition at Akademie der Künste and what I might write and knew I would forget how to start and so what I wanted to say.
I’ll start with the pieces I found most engaging, intelligent and… well perhaps to say most art isn’t art but polemic, a clever one-liner, an auto-biography or therapy, simply uninteresting, a gimmick even, so what compels me to think again on a piece and perhaps smile even at the subtlety and acuity that makes one remark yet from this cascade days of thought?
Three, I think, though perhaps to recount as I write, pieces affected me like this, though one remains more clear. Sanja Iveković’s Triangle places her on her balcony, a book, glass of whiskey maybe looking as if she’s masturbating, with three other photographs documenting her surrounds. The building across the road, a man standing on the roof, police on the street in front of the apartment, forming a triumvirate relationship as Tito passes in his motorcade. Then a restaging, almost two decades later, her balcony now part of the room it led off, she older, no man standing on the building roof opposite, less police and the EU members replacing Tito.
I was reminded of Zizek, whom I can no longer speak of favourably, with his crypto-fascist adoration and decidedly asinine homo- and trans-phobia, or more rather reminded of the art from these cities in the late 80s and early 90s which seemed so forthright and admirable, not lost in the self-referential mediocrity of American gallery culture and its international clones.
But I keep thinking of her sitting on her balcony and forcing an individuality and humanness into the anonymous spectacle of history.
Two other artists place their own bodies in the world in a somewhat similar manner, Martha Wilson in her photo-series, A Portfolio of Models in which she dons the accoutrements of Goddess, Housewife, Working Girl, Professional, Lesbian, others, finishing with the Earth-Mother, in pilgrim clothes, each one accompanied by a knowingly sardonic paragraph on their lives and intelligence. Closer to Sanja Iveković’s work somehow, Ewa Partum’s Samoidentyfikacja photographs of her naked in city streets, black and white, part of the minor everyday cityscape yet displaced.
Between these three I found something in feminist performance art that was missing or negated in much of the rest. Admittedly it is a vast exhibition, with hours of video content, and easily needing the free return visit the entrance ticket provides, and admittedly also thinking some of the artists’ other work is far more compelling, especially once it moved beyond the oppressive hegemony of second wave feminism.
Which I might talk about a little. Besides some well-known artists, Orlan whom I have a long-standing fondness for despite thinking she is perhaps the Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst of feminist performance art, Colette who washes over me with so much cute baroque glamour yet is perhaps the epitome of New York contentless idolatry, and Yoko Ono whom I simply can’t stand and have never found to be as interesting as I’m supposed to believe… besides this trio, there is much that simply baffles me with the question, why even bother? It’s not interesting, or if taken from a feminist political stance, contributing to either of those words.
And then there is Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz.
I feel somewhat excluded from feminism, because by its evolution it has come to be an exclusionary movement. To watch endless works by white, middle-class American women about domesticity, heteronormativity, marriage, has nothing to do with my life. Yet as a woman – and I use this generalisation in the broadest possible and most contingent sense because certainly we need something inclusive – there is an imperative for feminism to continue and for me to say, I am this because of these continuing and unaddressed inequalities.
There is a direct line in Lacy’s work to separatists like Dworkin, Daly, Raymond, Greer, to rigidly-defined roles for women, man-hating, essentialism… what I think of as a fascism of the body. And like all fascisms there is an obsession with autocrats, wherein these writers and artists are the self-appointed designates, with effectively replacing one social system with another equally repressive. More to the point, the language of revolution, distinctly Mao-ist, of smashing the patriarchy, destroying gender, of rage and anger as the primary tools of liberation, begs the question of who in all this will get hurt?
In Lacy’s work, which deals with rape and violence against women, somehow the appropriate target of feminism becomes showgirls, pornography, sex workers, a situation that remains unchanged today, thirty years later for a still highly influential strand of feminism that seeks to legislate these women out of existence and towards the exact same violence these activists purportedly oppose. This without ever entering into discussion with the objects of their politic to inquire as to what these women might really want.
Again, I find myself excluded by white, middle-class American women whose domestic political feminist agenda has been exported to a rather gullible international audience, an agenda which leaves scant room for queerness, trans* identities, any other form of living and finding recognition than highly rigid and prescriptive radical feminist lesbian separatism. That Valerie Solanas is quoted from her S.C.U.M. manifesto, “…destroy the male sex.”, both without irony and without a highly necessary accompanying criticism of this particular movement is unequivocally feminism’s moment of utter failure.
So I return to thinking of Sanja Iveković quiet sitting on the balcony, acting like she’s getting herself off under the binocular gaze of a distant rooftop observer, the later knock on her apartment door ordering that she and the sundry objects must vacate the balcony, a small private act, little more than juvenile defiance like ringing a doorbell then running away, yet this triangle, documented, outlived Tito. I wonder what in this is feminist, what also it proposes about human rights, wonder too how much more I can find that might include me as the subject of this.