Origins of the world, feminist art and war.

“Feminist art is art by women artists made consciously in the light of developments in feminist art theory in the early 1970s.” [http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/f/feminist-art, Last Accessed on 22.11.2015]

Feminist Art, as a style, emerged in the 1960’s and has been gaining popularity in artists, critics and the public ever since. Though contemporary feminist artists are of course important to movement, it is impossible to talk about art without mentioning the late 1960’s and 70’s. 

After being pressured for years, in the 60’s women finally stepped up and raised their voices to show that they are not just craft-makers, they are artists. When feminist art only started emerging many artist were not recognized as real artists; the critics and the crowd created assumptions about feminists artists and their art, saying that their art does not have universal validity as it is just “female art.” Which only stimulated them to protest more and create more art. 

One of very important feminist artists is Orlan, who is a contemporary French artist that was born in the 1947. Orlan is known for her performance art pieces, many of which include body modifications that she does on herself.

A particular piece that caught the attention of many is called “L’Origine de la Guerre” (“The Origin of War”) that she created in 1989. This piece is a feminist take on the painting by Gustave Courbet “L’Origine du Monde” (“The Origin of the World”) made in 1866. The Origin of the World is a painting of a close up view of a female’s genitals and abdomen, and it is clear that the painter inferred that without women, who are the ones giving birth there would be no world. Orlan took that idea in mind and created her own version of that painting, by showing a close up of a male’s genitals and abdomen, and suggesting that without men there would be no war.

In this interview with the TV5Monde, Orlan talked a little bit about her piece, that at the time of the interview was exhibited at the Musee D’Orsay, where the original “L’Origine du Monde” is on permanent display. It was a very interesting choice from the curator to put Orlan’s piece in the same space, and of course a big honor for her, as it would be for any artist. Orlan mentions that she’s always been interested in pointing out things that she finds problematic or wrong with the society, politics and religion through her art, and “L’Origine de la Guerre” is a one of a kind piece that she felt she had to make to show her feminist point of view on the world we all live in.

Helen Chadwick, Sophy Rickett, Cathy Akers and (public) urination

Urinating is something all humans do, and public urination is something that most people living in an urban city face. While many living in a big city could say that they have at least once urinated on a street it is considered a taboo in the modern world. Nonetheless, it appears to be that women are seen doing it less than men, and get shamed for it more whether it is by men or other women. Helen Chadwick, Sophy Rickett, Cathy Akers are three female artists that decided to address this issue by creating very different pieces.

Helen Chadwick was a British conceptual artist and she created a sculpture in 1992 called “Piss Flowers.”

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Helen Chadwick, “Piss Flowers”, 1992

The taboo act of public urination inspired Chadwick to create to beautiful sculptures in order to bring to the attention of the public to the act that most find frightening. Chadwick and her partner urinated in deep snow, then made casts of the interior spaces. While looking at the piece, the viewer is viewing the result of public urination in a public space. “Exalted through the object, their flower pistils cast from the cavities melted in the snow by hot urine, strong and warm from the woman, diffuse and cooler from the man, are an inversion of human genitalia. The central female form is penile, the male labial.” [ http://fineart.ac.uk/works.php?imageid=bt0005; Last accessed on 03.11.2015]

Sophy Rickett is a London born and based artist that works mostly with video/photo installations. She created a series of photos in 1995 called “Pissing Women.” It quickly became controversial, because it depicted women in office wear urinating on the streets standing up with their skirts pulled up.

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Sophy Rickett, “Pissing Women”, 1995

In taking the decision to mimic a male equivalent or urination, Rickett is “challenging traditional ideas of dominance in such a specific way and its position within society.” [http://sangbleu.com/2012/08/19/pissing-women-1995/, Last accessed on 03.11.2015]

20 years later there appeared a product called GoGirl, which is a female urination device that lets women urinate while standing up. This product is mostly targeted towards women who are active and travel a lot, especially camping, since it is much more difficult to find a restroom in the woods. Though the products website makes it clear that it is perfect for everyday uses as well.

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The last artist I would like to mention about this topic is Cathy Akers, who is a Los Angeles based visual artist.

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The idea behind Akers project is to show the act of urinating in a way that would demonstrate the performer as closer to nature and to the ground and expose their private parts fully, while having to assume an awkward position. “Through this body of work, I am exploring the utopian desire to be “at one” with nature, as well as the impossibility of achieving this desire. At the same time, I am attempting to disrupt the essentialist notion that women are inherently closer to nature, to the primal and to the irrational.” says Cathy Akers in an online discussion. She is the performer in all of the photographs that are shot all around the United States. “This series explores the dichotomies inherent in a woman peeing in the woods; although I am interacting with nature in an intimate way, I assume awkward positions in order to pee effectively; although I am marking my territory and establishing my right to be in the woods through the act of peeing, I am also exposing my most private parts in a public space, putting myself in a very vulnerable position.”

Unlike Sophy Rickett’s photographs, Cathy Akers’ images are not as controversial mostly because of the setting that they are taken in. “Pissing Women” portrays women urinating in urban areas, which in an everyday life women might find as a threatening experience.

One thing that struck me as important is that most artists that explored this topic that I was able to research came from England, which made me wonder just why exactly does England seem more comfortable with talking about sensitive subjects, because it is not just the public urination that they explore.

Addie Wagenknecht, “Glass Ceiling” and its history

Addie Wagenknecht is an American new media and performance artist based in Austria. She takes interest in the relationship between expression and technology. She, also, seeks to blend the borders between hacking, coding, sculpture and performance.

In 2015, she created a series of works called “Glass Ceilings” which consisted of bullet-proof pieces of glass, which she tried to break in different ways. An important part of this series is the film documentation, of how Wagenknecht attempted to break the glass.

First introduced at the National Press Club in July 1979 at a Conference of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press, the term “Glass Ceiling” refers to invisible levels in different companies and organizations, above which it is very difficult and in many instances impossible for women to rise in ranks. It is a metaphor for unseeable barriers that keep women from getting promoted or pay raises.

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Addie Wagenknecht, “the kiss”, 2015

First photograph serves as documentation of one of the ways that Wagenknecht tried to break this “glass ceiling.” the kiss is dedicated to the female artists of the post-internet movement breaking the barrier in the art world. About this piece she wrote:

the kiss plays with the notion of using femininity and the female figure, as defined by the notion of the ‘female artist’ – using my body, enhancing my face, using the lips, nice filters, a selfie like point of view, marks are left but there is no damage.”

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Addie Wagenknecht, “Throwing Rocks”, 2015

The next piece in the series is about being a woman criticizing the culture that women depend on. In this case, just like in the kiss Wagenknecht loses this “battle” against the bullet-proof glass.

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Addie Wagenknecht, “Cracked”, 2015

For this piece, Wagenknecht used a piece of cement to break the glass. She tried throwing it at the glass and using it as a hammer until finally she broke the glass. By the time she achieved what she wanted, she was hurt and bleeding which showed that in the modern world even if women do break the glass ceiling, they are exhausted by the end. The other catch of this specific piece is that in the film documentation, the viewer doesn’t actually see how the glass is cracked, which stands to show that even though there are some women that get successful, we don’t really know how.

VNS Matrix and Cyberfeminism

VNS Matrix was an Australian female art group that was determined to change the art world and to make it more inclusive of women. Their work was focused on new media and cyber art and in 1991 they created the term cyberfeminism. Here is their manifesto:

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VNS Matrix, A Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, 1991

This manifesto was mainly made for the internet as it was shared on different websites, though a lot of attention was brought to it through other medias like television, radio and magazine advertisements.

Cyberfeminism (as described on motherboard.vice.com) is a wave of thought, criticism, and art that emerged in the early 1990s, galvanizing a generation of feminists, before bursting along with the dot-com bubble. It refers to the application of the feminism ideology to and/or performed in cyberspace.

Aside from coining cyberfeminism VNS Matrix also known for creating an art piece called “All New Gen”. Here is how VNS Matrix welcomed the public to the “All New Gen”:

“Welcome to the world of ALL NEW GEN: the radically transgressive, interactive computer game for non-specific genders. Thank you for playing. You are invited to join All New Gen and her DNA Sluts — the super powerful Patina de Panties, Denata and the Princess of Slime — in their battle against Big Daddy Mainframe and his technobimbo sidekicks — Circuit Boy, Streetfighter and other total dicks — whom you will encounter in the Contested Zone. This is a zone where gender is a shufflable six-letter word and power is not longer center in a specific organization.”

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VNS Matrix, “All New Gen”, 1993

 As mentioned above in the welcome message, the game is meant for non-specific genders, which is why the first question that the player is asked is “What is your gender? Male, Female, Neither.” The only right answer, of course, is “Neither”. Responding “Male” or “Female” will send the player to a loop that will resolve in ending the game. As described above the player has to fight the Mainframe and other evil such as “Circuit Boy” and “Streetfighter.”

Kate Cooper: the term “hypercapitalism” and computer generated female bodies

Kate Cooper, a frequent user of the term “hypercapitalism” is an artist living and working in Liverpool. In her last exhibition, Rigged, she focused on computer generated images of the female body that made her raise some questions about feminism. The images that Cooper creates are visually attractive as they represent perfect female bodies with thin figures and perfect skin; they show just how skilled she is in using the CGI technology.

Cooper was the winner of the Ernst Schering Foundation Art Award 2014, which helped her get a solo show at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin. With this exhibition and the use of the term “hypercapitalism” Cooper questions the representation of the female body in the modern digital based world. In the show her work is presented as billboard-size prints on light boxes similar to beauty posters you find on the streets or in department stores. “Rather than simply mocking or subverting, her usage of this polished aesthetic appears more as an occupation or redirection of capitalist mannerisms.”

In a dictionary “hypercapitalism” stands for extreme capitalism at the expense of traditional values, which is what Cooper tries to portray with these digitally made images that show us women so perfect, that traditionally it would be impossible to find someone so unblemished. “The image of women is constantly changing,” Cooper says. “What is my relationship to these images and the way they’re represented? It’s about being agile as they are constantly shifting and performing. I believe it’s not about identification but instead about how we participate in these images.” While most feminist artist try to protest by showing their imperfections, Cooper creates her own type of protests that shows how a perfect woman might look like if it were possible to be one.

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Kate Cooper, “Rigged”, 2014

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Kate Cooper, “Rigged”, 2014

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Kate Cooper, “Rigged”, 2014

Gazira Babeli: An artist in a work of art

Gazira Babeli is a code performer. Babeli was born in an online virtual world called Second Life on March 21st 2006. Second Life emphasizes that it’s not a game unlike WoW, which I wrote about last week, it’s a virtual world in which the characters can do whatever they want – there is no objective in it. Users of Second Life can create whatever avatar they’d like to; it can be a human, an animal, a vegetable, a mineral etc. Gazira Babeli is one of those avatars and she is also an artist in Second Life and a part of the community of artist called Second Front. Second Front is an international art collective that is described as “dedicated to the formal, aesthetic, cultural and social exploration of a reality dubbed “virtual”.” Babeli has been called and artist and a work of art herself which really intrigues viewers of her art, and not only does she exist in Second Life but she also writes some of the code for it, which enables her to do the art projects in Second Life that she desires to.

One of her most known acts is called “Hammering the Void” and it was exhibited at the [DAM] gallery in Berlin in 2009. The viewers were presented with an army of Gazira Babelis all holding wooden hammers, who attacked the visitors of the virtual version of the gallery, forcing the visitors to react. Though this seems more like a violent act towards other avatars, Gazira provided others with the same hammers in the “virtual” and even “real” gallery, so that her viewers could respond to her actions. Gazira’s friend and colleague Patrick Lichty wrote an essay about “Hammering the Void” in which he said: “The Truth is out there, we are all complicit in its creation, and Gazira is hammering you over the head with it.”

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Gazira Babeli, “Hammering Into the Void”, 2009

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Gazira Babeli, “Hammering Into the Void”, 2009

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Gazira Babeli, “Hammering Into the Void”, 2009

WoW – Feminism

WoW (World of Warcraft) is a multiplayer role-playing online game that people of different ages and genders play on a daily basis. In WoW users get to create their own heroic fantasy characters and immerse themselves in a 3D virtual reality. The characters co-exist in a virtual world, which the creators of WoW call “the high-fantasy universe of Warcraft”, where they can make friends, create alliances as well as enemies and fight each other. It is one of the most popular online game as it currently has about 10 million subscribers. One of its fans is a New York based media artist Angela Washko. She is devoted to creating discussions about feminisms in online chats where you would not think of finding them and World of Warcraft was one of those places. She has made several performances in which she talks to people on WoW about feminism and their views on it.

She has made many videos of 30-50 minute long live chats with the WoW public, talking about feminism. The audience that Washko finds in chats is male and female from different age ranges, though having women in these conversation does not always help Washko prove her point as some of the women have said things that made her and many others cringe.

Washko started her conversations by asking players if they could tell her what they think feminism is to help her research. Some did not want to answer and others defined it in a strange way and very few got it right. Since a big aspect of WoW is competition, Washko was prepared for rude answers, but the audience at the talks that she gave were sometimes shocked by the responses.

Here are some of the screenshots from different games:

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Angela Washko, Asking the World of Warcraft community (or one of them) to provide me with their definitions of feminism and feminists, 2013

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Angela Washko, Snuh: Asking the World of Warcraft community (or one of them) to provide me with their definitions of feminism and feminists, 2012

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Angela Washko, The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, 2013

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Angela Washko, The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, 2013

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Angela Washko, Snuh: Asking the World of Warcraft community (or one of them) to provide me with their definitions of feminism and feminists, 2012

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Angela Washko, Snuh: Asking the World of Warcraft community (or one of them) to provide me with their definitions of feminism and feminists, 2012

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Angela Washko, The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, 2013

World of Warcraft Explains Feminism Live 2012