“Body Art: performing the subject” – Amelia Jones


Jones, A. (1998). Body Art: performing the subject, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. pp. 1-20

Body Art – 1960s ——–> 1970s

viewed in the book as “a set of performative practices that, through intersubjective engagement, instantiate the dislocation or descentering of the Cartesian subject of modernism. This dislocation is, I believe, the most profund transformation constitutive of what we have come to call postmodernism.”

dissolution of hierarchy between performer and spectator

social relations are politicized

(the works discussed in the book) enact “passionate and convulsive” relationships (often explicitly sexual)

the author argues: the particular potential of the body art to destabilize the structures of conventional art history and criticism

“Body Art is specifically antiformalist in impulse, opening up the circuits of desire informing artistic production and reception.

// Case one: Carolee Schneeman

Eye Body (1963) – “my body as a visual territory” / sexualized body

language of abstract expressionism but against the grain of its masculinist assumptions

Interior Scroll (1975) – she extended her sexualized negotiation of the normative (masculine) subjectivity / narrative of pleasure that challenges the fetishistic and scopophilic “male gaze”. / female body interior: vagina

“She projects herself as fully embodied subject, who is also (but not only) object in relation to the audience (her “others”)

She clearly refuses the fetishising process, which requires that the woman not expose the fact that she is not lacking but possesses genitals (and they are nonmale), she also thus activates a mode of artistic production and reception that is dramatically intersubjective

Self-enactment ——> concerned with breaking down the distancing effect of modernist practice: “my work has to do with cutting through the idealized (mostly male) mythology of the “abstracted self”or the “invented self”…..”

Feminist body art

“By surfacing the effects of the body as an integral component (a material enactment) of the self, the body artist strategically unveils the dynamic through which the artistic body is occluded (to ensure its phallic privilege) in conventional art history and criticism.”

“By exageratedlly performing the sexual, gender, ethnic, or other particularities of this body/self, the feminist or otherwise nonnormative body artist even more agressivly explodes the myths of desinterestedness and universality that authorize these conventional modes of evaluation.”

// Case Two: Yayoi Kusama

Japanese artist – mid 1960s working in Ney York

particularization of the subject in performative self-image

photographs as performative objects, enacting the artist as a public figure

racially and sexually at odds with the normative conception of the artist as Euro-American male

self-display / enacts her “exoticism” / her body/self becomes the work /

exageration of her “otherness” —–> potential to challenge the assumption of normativity ———> it exposes the hidden logic of exclusionism underlying modernist art history and criticism

She performs herself in a private setting for the public-making eye of the camera

“Sex Obsession Food Obsession Macaroni Infinity Nets & Kusama” (1962)

“Kusama’s Peep Show – Endless Love Show” (1966)

“In all these works, Kusama refuses the artificial division – that which enables a “desinterested” criticism to take place – conventionally staged between viewer and work of art.”

“constructs obsessional scenes both to stage her particularized body/self and to express it externally – to spread it over the surrounding environment while simultaneously incorporating the environment into her own physically enacted body/self: everything becomes a kind of extended flesh.”

Am I an object? Am I a subject? / enacting herself ambivalently: as a celebrity (object of our desires) or artist (master of intentionality)

protest against bourgeois prudery, imperialism, racism, and sexism.

// Bodily Engagements: A Theoretical Project That is Deeply Historic

notion of interpretation-as-exchange in body art

body art’s potential to achieve dislocating effects

notion of engagement and exchange: the author engages with what she experiences as such works in relation to contemporaneous theories of subjectivity and aesthetics / she reads the works as enactments of subjects (bodies/selves) whose meanings are contingent on the process of enactment rather than attributing motives to the authors as individuals or origins of consciousness and intentionality

“Schneemann’s and Kusama’s performative self-exposures, their enactments of themselves as both author and object, dramatize this shift: these projects insistently pose the subject as intersubjective (contingent on the other) rather than complete within itself (the Cartesian subject who is centered and fully self-knowing in his cognition)

“I view poststructuralism (in its feminist and phenomenological dimensions) as one of the most dynamic modes of the speaking of a new experience of subjectivity, as the philosophical version of what body art enacts in the realm of culture.”

// Body Art versus Performance

“I want to highlight the position of the body (in the set of practices that contitute body art) as locus of a “disintegrated” or dispersed “self”, as elusive marker of the subject’s place in the social, as “hinge” between nature and culture.”

body: body/self, with all of its apparent racial, sexual, gender, class, and other apparent or unconscious identifications

focuses in works that take place through an enactment of the artist’s body, whether it be in a “performance” setting or in a relative privacy of the studio, that is then documented such that it can be experienced subsequently through photography, film, video, and/or text.

Vito Acconci, Yves Klein, Hanna Wilke

body art places the body/self within the realm of the aesthetic as a political domain

Body art is not “inherently” critical or reactionary (as others have claimed); “but rather – in its opening up of the interpretive relation and its active solicitation of spectatorial desire – provides the possibility for radical engagements that can transform the way we think about meaning and subjectivity (both the artist’s and our own). In its activation of intersubjectivity, body art, in fact, demonstrates that meaning is an exchange and points to the impossibility of any practice being “inherently”positive or negative in cultural value.”

“Body art proposes the art “object” as a site where reception and production come together: a site of intersubjectivity. Body art confirms what phenomenology and psychoanalysis have taught us: that the subject “means” always in relationship to others and the locus of identity is always elsewhere.”

// The Body of The Text

Ana Mendieta

Jackson Pollock – at first he was spoken as a modernist genious / later: “action painter”

Allan Kaprow

Vito Acconci – late 1960s early 1970s / opens himself to the other and makes his heterosexual, white masculinity extremely vulnerable to the penetratory gazes of spectatorial desire (both male and female)

Hannah Wilke – female subject who displays her body/self / “rethoric of the pose” (Craig Owens) / radical narcissism (typical of much feminist body art from this period, like Kusama) / objectifies the (her) female body but also simultaneously performs her body/self as a subject. / Jewish female

Maureen Connor (performative installation work), Laurie Anderson (large-scale techno-performances and CD-ROM) – “technophenomenological body”

Orlan and Bob Flanagan – bodies mutilated (for different reasons) / interrogating what it means to be a body/self

Orlan – facial surgeries choreographed and publicly documented / aim to transform her either into an amalgam of ideal feminine features from art historical images or into a grotesque parody of “perfect” femininity

Bob Flanagan – humurous approach to having his body lacerated in sadomasochistic performances

These performances bring to the surface basic taboos informing our ongoing desire to transcend our bodies through fantasy, technology

reinforcement of the body as “meat”