Aug 122012
 

I’ve uploaded a few things if you want to see some of my recent output.  Here’s the paper I delivered at the Onscenity Network’s Bodies Seminar, Tits, Teeth & Talent, The Showgirl’s Body and What She Can Do With It, which you can also access via the ‘Writing’ section.

The complete Video Letters dialogue with Kerstin Honeit, which formed the main part of our exhibition at LoBe, Berlin and SIA gallery, Sheffield, is viewable here: Vimeo Showtime.

When I delivered Tits & Teeth, at the end I presented a video of me dancing the Charleston to Lady Gaga. That was the final Video Letter in the Video Letters: Body conversation with Kerstin.  If you want to view that by itself in conjunction with the paper, I’ve also uploaded it here.

 Posted by at 10:55 am
Jun 172012
 

Andrea Fraser takes up the position of the stripping woman in her performance Official Welcome, in which she addresses an assembled art audience giving an introduction to ‘the artist Andrea Fraser’.  The scripted dialogue, in which she performs ‘artist’ and ‘supporter’ quotes a number of collectors’ and artists’ real introductions and acceptance speeches, all delivered whilst Frasers strips naked and then clothes herself again by the end of the performance:


Artist
Yeah, the art world likes “bad girls.”  But if you tell the truth and people don’t want to hear the truth.  If you’re honest about how stupid and fucked over life is, you end up in the tabloids.  I don’t go looking for it.  It just comes in a big stinking tidal wave.
Removing bra, then shoes, then thong.
I’m used to it.  It’s boring.
[…]
Supporter
Well, thank you.  Thank you for your dedication, for your vision, for your life.  I think we all must dare, as artists do, to break free of the past and to create a better future, rooted in the values that never change.  That’s the great lesson our artists teach us.[1]
Fraser’s work can be understood within the context ‘Institutional Critique’, as pioneered by the artists Hans Haacke and Michael Asher.  Within this positioning her work takes on an intellectually engaged examination of what we expect a contemporary artist to give us; she subverts what we think art is by conflating the site of the artwork, the museum, the collector, the critic and the performer.  Can we be sure where they all begin and end? 

The project ‘Untitled’ is also really worth looking up.  Fraser’s work is always smart and fearless and I have incredible respect for her practice.  


[1] Andrea Fraser and ed. Alexander Alberro (2005) Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

 Posted by at 6:49 pm
Jun 172012
 

I feel I shall have to transition from photography and video and into live art and performance practices to really continue this list.  Before I do, I shall just list women photographers who in some way address the Showgirlian.

Elinor Carucci is a photographer by day, but a belly dancer by night.  She’s documented her dancing life in the book and series ‘Diary of a Dancer‘.  A well observed project in which we see the types of venues, audiences, costumes, dance moves, preparations and the come down following performing.  Its documentary and a diary.  Just through pictures a complex narrative is told.  With lots of sequins.

Katharina Bosse‘s book New Burlesque is a fabulous collection of portraits of New Burlesque dancers.  The dancers look fabulous in clothes the look like they could be performance costume, or in some cases, sassy day wear.  The pose and flirt with the camera knowingly, in domestic spaces, corners of cafes and deserts – nowhere you’d expect to find them.  They are there, at the beginning of this new movement, carving out a space for themselves. Its a joyous book.

Jo Ann Callis‘s practice spans decades.  I saw an exhibition of her work at the Getty Center, Los Angeles and I made loads of notes as I wanted to review the show for a magazine (I didn’t in the end).  But you know, I almost feel that to write about Callis’s work is a redundant gesture.  I don’t think they need to much introduction.  I adore her photographs and I love looking at them.  Much of her work is concerned with femininity and the experience of being a woman.  Just take a browse round her website.  Look out for ‘Woman Twirling’ and ‘Performance’.  She taught me when I was at CalArts, and she was just had so much style, I would wear any of her outfits.

Katy Grannan makes portraits of people who respond to her newspaper adverts.  Much of her work early photographs were of teenage girls, naked, who had responded to her requests.
 Posted by at 6:27 pm
Jun 172012
 

To reduce Sophie Calle‘s down to just the work she did stripping is a sin.  However, this is what I shall do here and now.  Please go look up Calle’s wider practice if she’s new to you.

Sophie Calle’s practice is brave, transgressive, self-reflexive, uses herself.  But its wider than that, its also about how we perform ourselves, how we connect to other people, how our emotions shape us.  How we look, and how we are looked at.  Again, total fan!

 Posted by at 5:53 pm
Jun 172012
 

In feature film Viva artist/filmmaker Anna Biller constructed a recreation of a Seventies sexploitation movie.[1]  The film is an uncomfortable mix of camp pastiche and truthful real-emotions storyline, which sees Barbie/Viva going on a journey of sexual emancipation.  The final scene, celebratory and sad, sees Barbie and her friend in a down-market recreation of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s number Two Little Girls from Little Rock from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.[2]  For Biller, the aim is to negotiate how female desire might be represented and provoked.  Most interesting to Biller are the responses she receives from female viewers in support of the film; women can read the resistance in the film, but she finds male viewers only see pastiche.[3]



[1] Anna Biller (2009) Viva  [film] Los Angeles, CA: Cult Epics.
[2] Howard Hawks, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Sol C. Siegel, Charles Lederer, Joseph A. Fields, and Anita Loos (1953) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [film] Beverly Hills, CA: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
[3] I talked to Anna Biller about the film in September 2010, LA.
 Posted by at 5:29 pm
Jun 172012
 
Jemima Stehli adopted the position of the stripper in her photographic series Strip, in which she questioned the designation of power in the art world within a voyeuristic framework.  She stands with her back to the camera in front of a seated male who is identified only by his job title, ‘Critic’, ‘Writer’, ‘Curator’ or ‘Dealer’.  A long cable-release is visible in his hand.  In each photograph Stehli is in a different state of undress caught in the act of stripping.  The precise moment the photograph was taken during this private strip is controlled by the seated male, his power doubled through the status of his job in the art world.  And yet, he is the pawn within Stehli’s game.  She has created the scenario; it is her concept, her intellect, her skill, and her body that she chooses to display.  She is active.  The seated male is unable to not look; he must play the stooge.  The photograph registers his level of satisfaction or discomfort: is that us, the viewer, looking at ourselves?


 Posted by at 5:26 pm
Jun 172012
 

Leigh Ledare represents a transition into the frame, and a new way of approaching the showgirl.  Now, my examples will be about embodying or trying out the showgirl, and thus, the following examples are about what she symbolises, how she can be used, rather than, who is she?

Let’s start with two recent examples.  Liz Cohen and Nikki S Lee put themselves into their photographs and literally embody the woman-as-object, but through that embodiment we have to deal with the concept of the woman-as-object having a brain.  These approaches bring intelligence into the body. 
Liz Cohen turns a Trabant into an El Camino, and herself from mechanic to bikini clad model posing on the car.  Two kinds of body transformation.
Nikki S Lee goes native in particular social groups.  The documented results show her passing as one of the gang.  Amongst the groups she’s become part of where exotic dancers.  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs6mlzYBY7E

It’s worth pointing out, that these practices would not exist without a number of female photographers, whose work engages less with a Showgirlian impulse, but women-in-representation.  So, look up, if you don’t already know:
Claude Cahun
Hannah Wilkie
Cindy Sherman
Renee Cox

 Posted by at 4:34 pm
Jun 172012
 
Time for something more contemporary!  Here are four male image-makers (they work in photo & video) who are using the figure of the stripper as a site of exploration.  They show a fascination with the stripper but also work to expand our understanding of who she is and what she does.

Philip Lorca DiCorcia creates portraits that reinvigorate the form.  He does more than portraits, actually, and his photographs always command my attention.  He created a series of photographs of pole-dancers in action.  I sense Lorca DiCorcia’s admiration and attempt to fathom the pole-dancer’s milieu in the photographs.


Tom Hunters photographs tell stories of contemporary life.  Inspired by newspaper headlines, sensational reporting and more Pre-Raphaelite compositional tropes, among other things, Hunter’s photographs are complex, full of detail and place our contemporary context into a historical one.  And his photographs are (say it quietly) beautiful.

Mainly using video Francis Alys explores social constructions.  He’s used a stripper combined with audio from a singer’s practicing exercises, to explore where a (public) performance begins and ends.  Here, he employs the stripper’s performing, moving body, with it’s techniques and expertise, and yet this is not directly the subject of the work, rather, the stripper is used to construct something new in the artwork.
Ok, so now things are getting really interesting.  Leigh Ledare‘s work is just amazing and mind-blowing (and I’m jealous of his practice, not to mention the way he always finishes the work is such a sophisticated way).  I’ve blogged about his work before, here.  One day Leigh visited his Mom’s and she opened the door, naked, having just got up from sex with a younger man.  Thus, she announced her sexuality to her son.  Mom had been a ballet dancer, exotic dancer and placed ads looking for men to look after her.  She approached Leigh to document her sexuality.  Leigh does so, in an intelligent, sensitive and self-reflexive way.  Never leaving Mom to be the subject of a forensic, pathologised study.  His practice has included photographs of Mom in flagrante, her posing for him, sometimes he is in the frame, sometimes they are having innocent fun together, other times something more erotic is inferred.  Also, handwritten notes from Mom, from his younger self further contextualise their relationship.  Mom resolutely takes an active role in the images.  Her challenging unrepentant gaze frequently looks out at us.  And Leigh’s newer works trace Mom’s actions, but using himself, by placing his own ads in papers and soliciting women to make photographs that objectify him.  In Leigh’s work, subject-object politics is always complex.  Can you tell I’m a fan?

 Posted by at 3:59 pm
Jun 172012
 

Another approach taken has been for documentary photographers to observe the porn industry.  Their photographs serve to deconstruct the usual image-constructions of pornography and create quite mesmerising images.  However, as with all documentary images, we must remain alert to the fact that the documentarist positions himself outside of what he sees, as a neutral observing.  Its a position of privilege to suggest that the author-position is neutral and objective.

Larry Sultan’s project ‘The Valley’ is an exploration of the porn industry
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders porn portraits

 Posted by at 1:52 pm
Jun 172012
 

Edward Hopper’s haunting paintings recreate Modern city life in the sparest terms.  He empties out all details that do not create the narrative he is after and what’s left in his composition have become archetypes.  The film ‘Pennies from Heaven’ consciously quotes his painting scenes to mesmerising effect.  
However, a little known photo ‘Girlie Show’ is why I’m listing Hopper.  He created the painting after visiting a burlesque show, and restaged the entrance of the dancer with his wife.  Thus, the painting is a composite of the memory of a theatrical encounter, and an homage to his wife with whom he had a complicated sexual relation. 

 Posted by at 1:40 pm