Dec 032010

Argh!  A couple of years ago, I felt called upon to really investigate problems my practice threw up (and I mean that phrase).  So I started to write; to articulate my thoughts in written form.  Now, as I undertake this PhD, I read and write regularly.  And the more I know and learn, the more I am embarrassed about anything I have ever written!  Can I believe my own front?!  I’ve found some lovely articulations of the problems and thoughts I wish to work through, so I shall quote them here.  With great thanks to their author, Craig Owens, whose words here could be re-interpreted into a manifesto.  Perhaps I can get into dialogue with them later.  Or, I need to confront the problem and take up the challenge of the last sentence.

Among those prohibited from Western representation, whose representations are denied all legitimacy, are women.  Excluded from representation by its very structure, they return within it as a figure for—a representation of—the unrepresentable (Nature, Truth, the Sublime etc).  This prohibition bears primarily on woman as the subject, and rarely as the object of representation, for there is certainly no shortage of images of women. [ … ] In order to speak, to represent herself, a woman assumes a masculine position; perhaps this is why femininity is frequently associated with masquerade, with false representation, with simulation and seduction.1
What can be said about the visual arts in a patriarchal order that privileges vision over the other senses?  Can we not expect them to be a domain of masculine privilege—as their histories indeed prove them to be—a means perhaps, of mastering through representation the “threat” posed by the female?  In recent years there has emerged a visual arts practice informed by feminist theory and addressed, more or less explicitly, to the issue of representation and sexuality. [ … ] [W]omen have begun the long-overdue process of deconstructing femininity.  Few have produced new, “positive” images of a revised femininity; to do so would simply supply and thereby prolong the life of the existing representational apparatus.2
1. Craig Owens (1992) Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press pp 166-190, p.170.
2. Ibid p.180.