Lady: Female body in Performance Art

By Jo Phillips

For centuries, the female body has been reduced to a beautiful object of desire . Indeed,we can all agree that from paintings to films, women’s figure were , and still are, related to carnal pleasures. However, since the 1960’s with the birth of performance art, female artists found a new way of expression, using their body as principal medium.
By liberating their body from all cultural associations, those so called “feminist artists” are fighting against society’s prejudices, transforming their anatomy to a proper way of communication .

For our greatest pleasure,  Richard Saltoun gallery is currently exhibiting The body as language: Women and Performance, in honor to the 40th anniversary of Body Art and Performance, a book by Lea Vergine. The list of great female performance artists being infinite, the exhibition focuses on Italian women artists during the 70’s, such as the great Suzanne Santoro, and on the evolution of this controversial art.

Here at .Cent, we have decided to take a closer look at the representation of the female body in performance art ,by presenting its grandmothers and their great legacies : today’s generation.

Shigeko Kubota

cropped-vagina_painting1965-1       Shigeko Kubota performing Vagina Painting at the Perpetual Fluxus festival, 1965

Often compared to Pollock’s “ejaculation” paintings, Kubota did push the boundaries further then that. Indeed, by spreading red paint on a white canvas ,  the brush being her sexual organ, ,the artist did not just mean to represent the female menstruation cycle but questioned the whole meaning behind being a female artist. The 1960’s art scene mainly controlled by men, Shigeko Kubota’s work explicitly discussed genders in Art , by redefining  the “utility” of the female body.

Carolee Schneemann

kc_femart_schneema_29         Carolee Scheenmann performing Eye Body, 1963

Schneemann’s Eye Body performance confronted the public to the taboos that the naked human body represented. The 60’s sexual liberation allowed women artists to take control of  their body, but when exposed in its rawest form, the body was seen as pornographic. Carolee Scheenmann, was often the target of those critics, as her nude body was both object and subject of her art. Though she never denied these accusations,  she explained that she wanted to show her own perception of her body. Schneemann kept each one of her performances recorded, and pushed the limit of her art in the self-made short movie Fuses ( 1965), depicting herself and her partner, performing the act of love.


Gina Pane

pane2             Gina Pane performing  Sentimental Action, 1973- Featured at Richard Saltoun’s exhibition

Pane’s performances exclusively included self mutilation, as a communication “of the inner-self”. In Sentimental Action, the artist forced Rose’s thorns into her arm and cut her wrist to let the blood flow over the white petals, as the representation of the mother-child relationship- In her own words ” the projection of the intra space”. Her work had nothing explicitly feminist, nor activist but was simply her way of expressing what she had to say. By casting aside aestheticism, Gina Pane created a new definition of beauty.

Marina Abramovic

MA-ThomasLips-ab108-27x20bwMarina Abramovic perfoming The Lips of Thomas, 1975

How could we write about performance art without at least mention the name Abramovic? Indeed, Marina is without any doubt the leading women  of performance Art! Started performing in the early 70’s , the artist never stopped since then, her last performance being 512 hours at London’s Serpentine galleries, which ended last August. She has performed all over the world, each time delivering a meaningful message.

Shown on top, her early work entitled “The lips of Thomas”, during which she carved a communist star into her abdomen, to expose Serbia’s abusive and destroying regime. Thinking of mental and physical pain as the way leading to subconsciousness, Marina Abramovic’s work is always profoundly moving. Let’s see what she is preparing next!

Jess Dobkin

0ec960c35435ce4932ae239c50b24661        Jess Dobkin performing Dirty Plotz Cabaret, 2013

Always full of humor and derisory, Dobkin is transforming her body, throughout each performance, into a nice mockery. By doing so, she is removing the carnal etiquette of the female body and question the real notion of art.

Millie Brown

32c2403847629f3ba6b526f5fa939631       Millie brown performing Vomit on Canvas, 2005

A raising start in performance art, the young Millie Brown has a mouthful of creativity! Indeed, as represented above,  the artist’s performances consist of swallowing a mixture of paint and soy milk and then regurgitating it on a white canvas. Each ingestions of those colour blends are meticulously timed to have the purest pigmentation possible. Afflicting this to her body, the artist feels like it is ” an expression of raw human nature, that pushes boundaries mentally and physically to create art work that has true beauty.”

Female body in performance art is the tool to archive something that neither fix art nor words could do. Deprived of cultural and social fences, the body is for those women the bridge between them and their audience.

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