Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Medium & Message: The Female Form (and also death.)

So Louise Bourgeois died.

I don't need to tell you about her. (But if I do, there's a nice NYT obituary, an excellent reflection on Jezebel, a succinct retro at The Guardian. Tavi posted some pictures.)

I don't need to write about her, or about how she "advanced feminism" or how "other people" were impacted by her. But of course there's something intrinsic and silent and overwhelming about her "womany art" that is mine, as a woman. That is, the body--my body--as a medium and a voice, the language of our parts. It's so much like what I said about Motherwell and Lustig, right? All those shapes that carry essence? Well, my shape carries an essence. And Louise distilled that language.


Harmless Woman, 1969


Untitled, 2002

Let me explain better in my own words from a year ago:
(Don't worry, I wouldn't try to chug through that handwriting either)



A transcription of this, and more discussions on body-ness and art, after the jump.

Plus, Artists Can Die?



It's from a zine of mine. It was both a personal work (and my favorite thing I've produced, creatively, in years) and an academic one. I turned it in along with small research paper on the visual language in girl zines, in a class I had about subcultures and style-as-communication.

It's called Participatory Media: Girls, Zines, and Me. I want it to be the first in a series about my relationship between womanness, art, and media (I have some pages for a potential second edition about Lady Gaga). I'll scan more, I only made 25 copies but I plan to do a second run.

The above says:
So a big stylistic theme in girl zines is the mutilation of female bodies/appropriation of objectifying body images from popular media. And yeah, there's irony in doing that. And yeah, it's a direct commentary sometimes, like "oh, this girl has no head because in our society she is only defined as a waist-down object!!" But there is more, and it's something that comes up in art-by-women in general...and it speaks to me.
This reconfiguration of female form, and use of the woman's body in general, is my most common subject/medium. Body As Medium/Message. My art is almost always in the language of form/my form: bellytriangleshipboneslittlebreasts
wristsoutanddoughyarmsandcrooked
teethandopenmouthandmychinandmy
russiannoseandthoselinesthatconnectyour
mouthtotherestofyourfaceandjointssometimes
softorjaggedandmybigthighsandtornupbroke
asslegsandpubicarchandexteriorovariesand
curlsbangsandbrokenhands, broken hands like a drowing by egon schiele.

...
This is my visual language because it's the way I'm most taught to think/feel about myself. The imagery and shapes and lines of womanness, it is spoken to me everywhere and is one thing always on my mind. No matter what, I/we/they am/are conscious of form, body-ness.

The next page:


When I feel,
I feel like I can feel in
shapes and muscles. Like my forearms are emotions, splayed and in front of me. Bodies, my body, is the only way I really know how to think/see/relate to the world. So maybe zine girls were just making commentary on objectification + moral mutilation of our bodies as they relate to ourselves. But me, and I think
Hannah Hoch, and Alice Neel, and Hannah Wilke, and Frida Kahlo, and Maria Lassnig, and the body-sculpture of Elsa Schiaparelli...I'd bet anything all their thoughts + ideas, like mine, go straight from ♥ to
shouldersbreastshipslegsfingerslipscheekbones
because it's the visual vocabulary we're given the most access to.
(A NYC Riot Grrl, unnamed so far, did a cover of a RG zine once that was a Knidian Torso of Aphrodite like so but her leg stumps turned toward you + became a halved apple with the seeds where her vag is. It's an all-time favorite work of art. I think, personally + in terms of feminist artists, classical icons of womanhood serve as the perfect vehicle to explore/express how we feel about ourselves.)
The next section in the zine is about how Hannah Hoch did this with her collages.

Here are some slides to support my thesis with little-to-no explanation:

Hannah Hoch, she of disembodied-dietrich:

Marlene, 1930

and-oh-so-many-legs-and-lips:

Grotesque, 1963

I'm just gonna link to some Hannah Wilke galleries, please spend some time with her.

Maria Lassnig calls self-portraits "Body-Awareness" paintings.

I have no idea when this was done!

Speaking of self-portrait, Cindy Sherman of course.

Untitled #188, 1989



Oh my god, Nan Goldin.


These are mine, describing how I feel in ovaries and broken arms and armpits, hairy armpits.

In Music Appreciation class, inevitably, on a kind-of-bad day



I will write more about this. About Louise and Elsa and Lee Miller and the lady-iconography of boys-club surrealists and how they all totally stole ideas from their women. About Frida, oh Frida. Even Georgia. Modersohn-Becker, the relationship between Elaine de Kooning and Willem's women. Dora Maar, the artist herself as much as the eternal icon of the elegantly mutilated feminine face. The vaginas in The Dinner Party. The tattoo I want to get that's Venus de Milo made out of tiny tiny text of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"--not a feminist work, but the closest a man has come to understanding my feminine neuroses, for sure. And "I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo." About the difference between Ms. Hoch's use of Aphrodite's torso and Mr. Magritte's, and Man Ray May Have Been A Misogynist Like Everyone Else But His Works Are Some of My Favorite Feminist Imagery Ever. And about how I'm sick of people using "Giacometti" as an anorexia-descriptor, because it belies so much universal psychological fragility that was so human and bodyful in Alberto's skinny-sculptures. There will be a part two. At least.

This blog was supposed to just be about my book covers. But of course, like everything else, it's a fucking feminist manifesto.


But before I close, I have to reflect. An artist is dead, and it's always really hard for me when an artist dies. Because artists, generally, come dead. They were already dead! Sure I would have been devastated when Albers or Picasso or Calder or Lustig or Michelangelo died, if I was alive in 1979, 1973, 1976, 1955, or 1564. I've rarely had to watch them go. I kind of remember Oldenburg's death, I was too young for Motherwell or De Kooning's.

It's hard when artists die because you take them for granted. They are suspended in time, and when you have to lose one you remember that they're mortal. I'm glad to have been born after 1973, because I am too fragile to understand the mortality of Pablo Picasso.

When Louise died, I was shocked because I forgot she was real. And I think she thought was younger, if she was real at all. But I wasn't heartbroken, because her breathing and working was not so much a part of my everyday experiences. It's shocking to learn that artists breathed in the first place. Once their breath is gone, they're exactly where I expect them to be in the universe.

But then Lee McQueen died. I'll never forget that day. I don't think I witnessed a famous-person death in my lifetime that hit me harder. It was my Kennedy, and my Other Kennedy. First, because I've never had to lose an artist before. But also, because his breathing and working was, completely, something I took for granted as being a cemented piece of my universe. He came out with a collection every few months. His being alive did affect me every day, I think.

I cried for a long time. Designers never die.

But I won't cry for Louise, I'll just think about feminism and body parts and mothers and spiders.

I might cry when Hockney dies. He's the last of my old-time friends.

4 comments:

vintagebirdy said...

love the last picture. it's so vintage style

Love,
vintage-birdy.blogspot.com
{no, it's not about birds}

amber said...

i love messy handwriting like that [: its such a pretty collage!..
xx
cross--myheart.blogspot.com

Front Row Mode said...

Loving the blog

tc


www.frontrowmode.blogspot.com

Front Row Mode said...

Loving the blog

tc


www.frontrowmode.blogspot.com