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.