February 11th, 2010

In Response to the article “Figuring out the Abstract Gender Politics and Art” posted on Escape Into Life

Photo : Morning theft


I’ve to agree with your pessimistic view on things, as well as parts of your analysis – for example when you mention the logic of simulacra, in relation to sex and its commercialisation…

During my studies I followed an interesting course called “Abjection & Transgression” which treated many of these artists and issues. We delved into the theories and art of people like Carolee Schneemann, Antonin Artaud, Julia Kristeva, George Bataille, etc.

When you said: “To cognitive scientists, it is hard-wired and “natural” for men to [look with sex in their eyes], but not all of us are like the Lemmy Cautions in the world.” and then went on to mention Lemme’s “wisecrack about how he prefers the latter (figurative) to the former (abstract).” It raised some doubts with me about your rather straightforward interpretation. I think there’s more than meets the eye here. For Lemmy’s comment on the figurative could simultaneously be read as a sly critique of abstract art itself. In the sense that his remark dispells all pretensions and reveals the abstract artist as being part of nature, just another victim in evolution’s ‘battle of sexual selection’ – hardwired like the rest of us. It cleverly unmasks the direct link that also exists between high brow ‘abstractions’ and the basest of all human motivations: sex. The vile figure (forgive my pun) of Lemmy Cautions brings down all high ideals of an elitists art circle… The “shapely leg” in the end is no different from the abstract painting, just a little more visceral.

I think you’re right when you point out that sex has lost its punch. It had to inevitably. After all wasn’t that the whole point? That we shouldn’t be so uptight about it? To be free and enjoy our sexuality. In the end it went the same way as with taboos on swearing, the open displays of emotion, and scandal in general. Because once an unspoken rule is broken, it is difficult to reinstate, to put back in place. It is safe to say that the grand ideals of the ‘sexual revolution’ provided an ideal opportunity for crass commercialism, and turned them into their opposite. Female (and male) bodies are exploited as never before, because being hardwired the way we are, we caved in to our basest desires, to the lure of our animal nature (the flesh is weak). We only have to look around. We’re already seeing playful tv shows like “Hung” and “Californication” not to mention pornstars entering into the mainstream (as in Spike Lee’s “Inside Man”). Tv shows we can have a good laugh at, because we can put things in their proper context. At the risk of sounding like a religious old fart (which I’m not) a new sort of modesty might be something worth considering: http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/2573…

(It’s interesting to note though, the paradoxical prudishness surrounding this new sexuality, because it seems to me, woman (and situations) are becoming more and more “specific”, to the point of nearing perfection in order to arouse the male interest, or run the risk of calling forth a squeamish disgust. Continual exposure to the male gaze, seemingly leads to a never-ending process of fine-tuning, shaping, and objectifying…)

This new state of affairs will naturally be taken for granted by next generations, because it’s simply a given, that is: a new environment to adapt to. ‘Our generation’ still provides the living link to “the original referents” or intentions behind them, to the theory or context, if you will. But our actions shape the generations to come, often with unintended and unforeseen consequences.

With the Third Media, we are slowly but surely morphing into a ‘hivemind’ which, while bringing us closer together than ever before, also fundamentally cuts us off from one another. I think this new situation of isolation, frustration, hyper stimulation, and alienation will breed new forms of violence… I’m thinking of extreme forms of bullying and fragmented, intensified forms of conformism, as well as other things.

Of course I’m all in favor of female artists and I think that they’re already more or less accepted (at least here in Holland), and if not there, then surely in the next generation or so. I definitely think every “woman on stage—on her own terms” is something we should applaud and look forward to (as well as minority views). It is one of the real benefits we gained from all this experimentation and provocation.

The problem with too much theory in art though, is that when the theory gets lost (a question of time), art will find a new voice and adopt an audience(s) on its own… and art being what it is (essentially related to the senses), it will simply represent what it literally represents or closely resembles, with or without irony.

Basically, I do not think the figurative should be frowned down upon, instead it should be on equal footing with abstraction so they can complement one another. It will also turn out to be a useful ally in countering some of these currents.