menstruation

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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Red Flag, (1971) – Judy Chicago

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Judy Chicago’s representation of a used tampon in her photographic lithograph, Red Flag (1971) is characteristic of the American feminist objective. [1] She elaborates, “I wanted to validate overt female subject matter in the art community and chose to do so by making “Red Flag” as a handmade litho, which is a high art process, usually confined to much more neutralized subject matter. By using such overt content in the form, I was attempting to introduce a new level of permission for woman artists. It really worked.”[2] At the time, she exhibited this work, some members of the audience assumed that it was a ‘blooded penis’. In response, Chicago commented that such confusion was “a testament to the damage done to our perceptual powers by the absence of female reality”.[3] The practice of ‘menstrual denial’ was what Chicago was trying to abolish. In hindsight, the notion that the lithograph is something other than what it depicted, a blood soaked tampon, seems strange. However, given the widespread attitude towards menstruation as unspeakable and unshowable, it is logical to posit that this was one of the first images that depicted this routine action that women know intimately so well[4] yet is so visually absent in western culture.

[1] Chicago had arranged for Hamrol to take a picture of her pulling out a bloody Tampax and print a photograph from which the lithographers would make a working negative.

[2] Delaney, J., M. J. Lupton, and E. Toth. The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation. New York: EP Dutton and Co. Inc, 1976, p. 275. It may have worked well in the 70s however, in post-modern society, women need to be more creative with the ways in which they explore menstruation.

[3] Rosewarne, L. Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television. Lexington Books, 2012, p. 168.  See also, Bobel, Chris. New Blood Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2010, p. 47.

[4] Delaney, Lupton, & Toth, 1998, p. 275.