Sculpture

Monstrous Geographies: Places and Spaces of Monstrosity – 4th Global Conference, Lisbon, Portugal – 22-24 March 2015

I am on my way to Lisbon, Portugal (via London) where I will be presenting a paper at the 4th Global Conference Monstrous Geographies: Places and Spaces of Monstrosity – 22 – 24th March 2015. See abstract below.  For more information please visit Interdisciplinary.net.


Gendered Heterotopias: Creating Space for Menstrual Blood in Contemporary Art

Many social and cultural attitudes towards menstruation are intricately linked to the affective recognition of blood, which then becomes gendered and socially excluded as menstruation. Numerous cultural traditions add further negative values to menstrual blood, associating it with pollution, abjection and inferiority.  This may be because menstruation is implicitly understood as destabilizing the boundaries between inside and outside of the body, private and public, natural and reviled. 

My research considers the work of Michel Foucault and his notion of heterotopias as imaginary spaces that exist in reality as ‘spaces of otherness’. Most importantly, his account of ‘heterotopia’ (a neologism that rejects the negative and positive values associated with utopia and dystopia creating an in-between space) places menstruation into a transient space that women inhabit through cyclical reproductive states of being.

This paper will examine the way a number artworks concerning menstruation utilize actual physical space.  The structuring of social space, and how it makes us see, act and ‘make natural’ in space, can be challenged by the spatial practices and visibility of artworks through directly immersing men and women into the ‘quarantined’ areas of menstrual huts and gendered space. These spatial heterotopias are immersive spaces that position the viewer inside of them, a phenomenological consideration of the body in relation to space.

Menstruation is a significant marker of sexual difference; it is ‘gendered blood’ that divides and distinguishes women, and that has made them in many cases by association, the ‘subjects’ of evil and taboo.  One of the main tools used to maintain this stigma is to erase the presence of the scene of menstruation in speech, image and representation.  The artworks I examine in this paper are instrumental in undermining this stigma. Additionally, this process of undermining also manages to bring about changes in what we assume to be the function and value of art.

Keywords: art, heterotopia, gender, menstrual blood, menstruation, performance, phenomenology, spatial practices, space, taboo.

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Ebb, 1996 – By Amy Jenkins

Originally trained as a photographer, United States artist Amy Jenkins began using video as a static element within her practice. Jenkins’ more recent works use sculpture and video installation to displace notions of space and object. In Ebb (1996) a miniature bathtub begins as a fount of bloody water, which is projected onto its porcelain surface. Jenkins creates a four-minute loop where a woman (the artist) climbs into the tub and the blood flow acts like a receding tide into her body, in effect reversing the menstrual flow. Ebb refers to receding menstruation, a soaking up of life force and an internal receiving.(1) It is a process of purification in reverse. The artist fortified by her transfusion, submerges herself, then steps out of the bath and disappears, leaving the viewer alone temporarily in the dark void of the gallery space.

(1) Ebb has a companion work Flow (2005), a nine-minute time-lapse over nine months of pregnancy, (one minute per month). Flow “is an allegory for the act of creating, or bringing forth form the self.” Amy Jenkins. “Flow, 2005.” Artist Website. Amy Jenkins.net. Accessed July 2, 2012. http://www.amyjenkins.net/video%20pages/flow.html.

Amy Jenkins, Ebb, (1996), Video projection on miniature ceramic tub and tiled pedestal, audio; sculpture dimensions: 14h x 20w x 26d”; original running time: 4 minutes

Amy Jenkins, Ebb, (1996), Video projection on miniature ceramic tub and tiled pedestal, audio; sculpture dimensions: 14h x 20w x 26d”; original running time: 4 minutes

 

Vagina Painting (1965) – Shigeko Kubota

Kubota’s Fluxus performance was performed at the Perpetual Fluxus festival in 1965. Upon dipping the paintbrush into a pale of red paint, meant to invoke menstrual blood, she crouched over large rolls of white paper spread out on the floor, and pushed down against the paper to make marks. Painting in a horizontal direction above the painting surface is a gesture to the eastern calligraphic tradition as the individual movements painted with the brush created red script-like marks on a crisp white background. Kristine Stiles asserts that Kubota’s performance “[r]edefined Action Painting according to the codes of female anatomy”1 insofar as Jackson Pollack can be considered to have ‘masturbated’ and ‘ejaculated’ paint upon horizontal un-stretched canvas. Vagina Painting makes a comment on the tradition of masculine Action Painting, by trespassing on patriarchal aesthetics.  Kubota’s spatial art practice is gestural and painterly and blurs the boundaries of masculinist approaches to artmaking. Vagina Painting is a cyclic expression of women’s difference that plays upon the semiotic between vagina as sexual organ and menstruation.

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Tampon Chandelier

Signifying the feminine with its delicate construction, Joana Vasconcelos’s 600 x 350 x 350 centimetre chandelier installation A Novia (The Bride), (2001) has instant appeal.  Chandeliers are understood in Western society as large statements of glamour and sophistication.  Vasconcelos’ chandelier engages the viewer with its gargantuan scale and draws them in to reveal the detailed construction is comprised of 25,000 tampons.  Tampons en masse have changed the context about menstrual products in art practices.  In contrast to Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom, (1971) which includes the semiotics of blood.  Vasconcelos constructs something beautiful out of an object from material culture that is associated with the abject.  The repetition of tampons conceptualises the notions of consumerism and control of women’s bodies.  Through repetition Vasconcelos achieves abstraction of these ideas so that the message is implicit.

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