Reflection on Constellation

For Constellation I participated in the “Puzzling Out Contemporary Art” lectures by Jon Clarkson. Throughout these lectures we looked in to what makes a work of art contemporary, whether something can be too old to be contemporary, as well as looking in to modernism and feminism. I wanted to point out these lecture topics as I found these the most interesting and helpful to my own artwork and writing. The post-feminism lectures particularly inspired me, as it helped me decide on what to write my dissertation about with the topic being “Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Artwork” and the question being, “How have female contemporary artists critiqued notions of gender and sexuality in their work?”.

Throughout these lectures we questioned many factors of post-feminist artwork and how it influenced culture of the time, as well as now. In this research we looked at the three misconceptions about feminism as well as the three moments of feminism. Julia Kristeva showed the real ideology behind feminism being; equal rights, advocacy of a separate women’s culture and the total re-evaluation of the ideas of masculine and feminine. One strand of feminist art avoided images of the sexualised female body because in the past these had objectified and exploited women. This is what particularly interested me as we looked at artwork by Barabara Kruger, ‘What are you looking at? 1994’ where the text initially tries to talk to women. How are fashion magazines consumed? There’s an idle grazing with fashion magazines, we put ourselves in the place of the model. Becomes an anxiety producing type of image. She’s trying to counteract the way fashion magazines are consumed. Therefore the led us to observe women’s culture and how artists like Tracey Emin bought new life in to sexualised images, as seen in her piece ‘Self-portrait, 2001’. In the 1990’s, many artists started using highly sexualised images of women once again. The images divided opinion among women/feminists; some saw these as feminist images, reclaiming the female body for women; others saw them as a return to the old objectification of women. This is the topic that I am focussing on in my dissertation proposal as I found it extremely interesting how different women view feminist artwork and how they sometimes have rivalries in their own movement on how to portray feminism.

Throughout my own research on this topic I have learnt that even nowadays there are still artworks of the norms of womanhood that are still subjected to ridicule, such as a print by Paula Chambers “Ashes to Ashes” which dealt, amongst other things, the topic of menstruation caused many complaints when exhibited at the Whitworth in 1992. Mainly being called ‘offensive’, ‘most upsetting’ and ‘disgusting’. One of the themes of this book is the “way in which out ideas about gender and art have been affected by the way in which British art galleries have collected, displayed and interpreted both art by women and representations of women”, (page 41). “Images of naked and semi-clothed female bodies which would evoke quite different responses if reproduced on page three of the Sun hardly raise an eyebrow when shown in an art gallery”, (page 41). What also greatly interested my was the idea of the re-evaluation of masculine and feminine that we explored; is it possible to transcend ideas of gender in art? However gender is difficult to assign in the sense that putting contradictory signs together doesn’t necessarily transcend ideas of gender. As Jenny Saville’s art piece ‘Passage, 2004-5’ is a real body that she’s describing. The title ‘passage’ could mean from one place to another- transition, a body in-between. Therefore brings up the argument of whether the idea of transitioning get away from the binary gender, or if it just creates a third term.

A massive influence on my previous essay for constellation was Sarah Lucas and her piece ‘Two Fried Eggs and A Kebab, 1992’ as well as ‘Self Portrait with Fried Eggs, 1996’ where there is a humorous caricature of the two fried eggs on Lucas’ breasts, implying that women are reduced to their sexuality. The self portrait shows her rejecting the notion of femininity with the use of an angry facial expression, seemingly challenging the viewer. There is a much more confrontational expression in the self portrait compared to her previous works; she is sat in a stereotypically masculine way with her ripped denim clothes, giving the expression of toughness. The flies on her jeans are made obvious, with cigarettes surrounding her, an ashtray, a knackered arm chair. All these signs are traditionally associated with masculinity; however she’s claiming these qualities for women. I wanted to look at her work in my essay because it’s such a confrontational way of dealing with feminism and taking control of your own body; showing that you own it and can display and do whatever you would like with it. Her artwork seems to constantly be crudely reduced, which is what originally drew me to it. Through her artwork she has explored the way in which women are degraded and sexualised by men, and gone against the norm by imitating masculine qualities and making it her own.

Therefore, the constellation lectures have thoroughly helped me within my own practice as well as with my dissertation; giving me ideas and inspiration for my topic as well as my writing. The thorough analysis of artworks and artists has helped me gain a deeper knowledge for my essay, and has helped me to research on my own and understand artwork by myself.

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