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Radical Gestures

Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Radical Gestures
    Book Description:

    Wark brings together a wide range of artists, including Lisa Steele, Martha Rosler, Lynda Benglis, Gillian Collyer, Margaret Dragu, and Sylvie Tourangeau, and provides detailed readings and viewings of individual pieces, many of which have not been studied in detail before. She reassesses assumptions about the generational and thematic characteristics of feminist art, placing feminist performance within the wider context of minimalism, conceptualism, land art, and happenings

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7671-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    In 1968 Robin Morgan and a troupe of feminists stormed into and disrupted the smooth proceedings of the Miss America beauty pageant in Atlantic City by crowning live sheep as Miss America(s) and throwing hair curlers, false eyelashes, bras, and girdles into the Freedom Trashcan.¹ Although no bras were actually burned, this assault on one of the clearest symbols of gender differentiation incited the media to portray feminist activists as crazed “bra burners” and to dismiss their anger as sexual frustration.² Undaunted, feminist activists of the early 1970s stepped up their struggle to gain control of women’s bodies and women’s...

  5. 1 Art, Politics, and Feminism in the 1960s
    (pp. 11-26)

    The spectacular disruption of the Miss America pageant by Robin Morgan and her feminist cohort was only one of a series of events that marked 1968 as a year of unrelenting social crisis and turmoil. After the military disaster of the Tet Offensive in February, the American public and government were divided as never before about whether to end their role in Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s announcement, on 31 March, that he would not seek nomination for a second term led to a brief relaxing of antiwar protests. Then, on 4 April, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis,...

  6. 2 The Origins of Feminist Art
    (pp. 27-57)

    The historical prejudices and prohibitions against the involvement of women as professional artists have been well documented by feminist art historians since the 1970s.¹ Although the old structural barriers had mostly fallen away by the twentieth century, incidents of blatant sexism existed well into the 1960s. In 1962 , for instance, British sculptor Reg Butler could state in a public lecture: “I am quite sure that the vitality of many female students derives from frustrated maternity, and most of these, on finding the opportunity to settle down and produce children, will no longer experience the passionate discontent sufficient to drive...

  7. 3 Cultural Feminism: The Essence of Difference
    (pp. 58-85)

    The feminist communities that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s operated on the premise that once women started talking to one another about their personal experiences, they would realize the extent to which their concerns were shared by others and thus establish the basis for a politics of coalition.¹ These coalitional politics were defined by three foundational principles: that although their personal experiences may vary, all women share the experience of being subjugated as a group within patriarchy; that this subjugated status has caused women to experience their relation to society as different from that of men; and...

  8. 4 Stories to Tell: Autobiography and Narrative
    (pp. 86-123)

    In his book on linguistics,How to Do Things with Words(1962), J.L. Austin distinguished between two different kinds of speech: “constative” and “performative” utterances.¹ As historian Kristine Stiles has observed, this influential book was reprinted in 1975, just when the term “performance art” was gaining ascendancy over other terms used to describe live art activities since the mid-1950s.² This is significant, for Austin’s theories articulated what was then being formulated as one of the key foundational premises of performance art. Austin referred to a constative utterance as a reliable description of a thing or event, while a performative utterance,...

  9. 5 Roles and Transformations
    (pp. 124-164)

    The exploration of autobiographical and narrative material provided feminist artists with a voice and a place from which to speak about their particular experiences as women. But if one of the questions that autobiographical and narrative modes addressed was “What am I?” its corollary was “What do I want to be?” As a question that implied the possibility of both personal and social change, it led many artists to engage with the ideas about subjectivity and otherness that Simone de Beauvoir had so forcefully articulated inThe Second Sex. We recall that de Beauvoir had concluded that, in defining himself...

  10. 6 Embodiment and Representation
    (pp. 165-203)

    The history of feminist performance has often been viewed as primarily occupied with the female body and its representation. For example, in her 1997 bookThe Explicit Body in Performance, Rebecca Schneider explains that she has coined the phrase “explicit body” as a way to explore “the explosive literality at the heart of much feminist performance art and performative actions.”¹ Amelia Jones’s 1998 bookBody Art: Performing the Subjectdoes not exclusively concentrate on female artists, but she argues that work by feminist and “otherwise nonnormative artists who particularize their bodies/selves” is central to her thesis that the significance of...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 204-210)

    In concluding this study of the history of feminist performance art, I am reminded of the old joke “How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer, of course, is “That’s not funny!” But, to the contrary, the work of many of these artists shows that feminist humour can indeed be devastatingly funny. The aim of such humour, however, is not to soften the political point in order to make it more palatable and less offensive but to soften up the audience in order to make it more receptive to the political critique itself, for this...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 211-238)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-266)
  14. Index
    (pp. 267-285)