Artists: their bodies as/in space(s)

“Anyway, I wish you wouldn’t harp on that word, “women.” Women artists. There is no such thing—or person. It’s just as much a contradiction in terms as “man artist” or “elephant artist.” You may be a woman and you may be an artist; but the one is a given and the other is you.” – Dorothea Tanning

This week presentation deals with different psychic spaces of womanhood, nostalgia and power in relation to erasure and our perceptions of cultural borders.

In Carol Armstrong’s article, Francesca Woodman: A Ghost In The House Of The “Woman Artist”, she explores three main topics involving Woodman’s body of work: “space” , “the woman artist” and “the canon”. Among those three subjects, we have decided to explore further into the topic of “space” involving Woodman’s art.

Using Henri Lefebvre’s concepts of space, we are able to further consider Francesca Woodman’s use of space in her work. The spatial practice found throughout her artworks are her “chosen” spaces where she created her photography. Woodman’s body of work correlates directly to specific places and self-created spaces. The spaces she chose to embody or photograph herself and others in, which is her “spatial practice”, according to Lefebvre, mostly involved interiors. The decisions Woodman made involving specifically chosen objects in various photographs are her way of using “representations of space” (formed by the mind) to create environments/spaces that are discomforting or offer a dream- or nightmare-like state. Woodman explored these spaces through issues that surround gender and the representations of bodies, including her own, in relation to the environment they are placed in. Woodman created and shared the image of a person we cannot fully identify, who almost seamlessly becomes whole with the space that the body is placed in, evoking a ghostly presence.
(tribute blog: http://francescawoodmanphoto.tumblr.com/)

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Francesca Woodman, “House #4”, 1976.

Meanwhile, Malene Vest Hansen calls upon Sophie Calle’s site-specific strategy to question the politics of public and private spaces and how she juxtaposes materiality and affect. The author describes Calle as an ethnographer, using other people’s confessions to document her visual exploration, in the case of The Detachment, the study of Berlin’s GDR (German Democratic Republic) monuments erasure.

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“The detachment” 1996 Series of 12 books and 12 framed color prints

In her work, Calle critiques the public space, as an impersonal place controlled by instances of power. Often, the connotation of the public sphere designates a rational and masculine space while the private one represents the opposite and is described as irrational and feminine. However, while inducing different intimate statements in relation to the public arena, Calle questions identities and finds a way to connect the two narratives. As Malene Vest Hansen suggests, the monuments form part of the citizen’s autobiographies giving importance to individual experienced space in the realm of collective memory.

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Gomez-Peña, Guillermo. The New World Border: Prophecies, Poems, & Loqueras for the End of the Century. San Francisco: City Lights, 1996. Cover Photo.

Unlike Malene Vest Hansen reading, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, a Mexican performance artist, elaborates further than historic monuments and takes an international reading on what a border means to him in his work ‘’The New World Border’’. From our discussions in class regarding space and body, this manifesto clearly takes these notions to another level, a utopian one, where a single space exists and where all bodies are accepted has they are.

Since Gomez-Peña considers himself as ‘’Other’’, he reaches for a hybrid and borderless world where no separations or judgements are made. However, we ask: can this borderless world imagined by Gomez-Peña be feasible? Is having a single hybrid space for everyone denying the fact that everyone has different identities and needs?

 Questions to consider:

1. Why is the concept of identity so important for artists’ relationships with spaces?

2. What would you consider to be your own relationship to the spaces within which you work/ dream/ inhabit, or those that you think you should be able to enter into and lay claim to?

____   By Ana Patricia Bourgeois, Noémie Boisclair, Zara Domingues and Lorrie Edmonds

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