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Essay: Marina Abramovic and Rachel Maclean – feminist art practice

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In this essay, I would like to introduce two artists and their artwork of my choice, and the Feminist Art Theory and talk about their strengths and weaknesses. To do this I will use my knowledge and resources that I have acquired during the Art Now course, and in my own time researching.

I am interested in feminist art practice and its social and cultural impact. I will look into the works of two contemporary female artists – Marina Abramovic and Rachel Maclean, and discuss their work in relation to feminism and Feminist Art Theory. The two artists are coming from different backgrounds, yet their work addressing similar issues such as exploitation, violence against the female body and submission.

My chosen artwork from Rachel Maclean is her most recent film, titled Make Me Up. The artwork was available to watch on Tuesday, 16th October, at the Film house in Edinburgh.

The other artist of my choice is Marina Abramovic, I would like to talk about her performance piece from 1975 titled, Rhythm 0, and one of her more recent work 512 Hours,

In the first section, I will introduce Feminism and Feminist Art Theory, and will discuss its relation to the two artists and artworks of my choice.

The first artist I introduce is Marina Abramovic, based on my research I will talk about her background, main ideas and ways of working. I will describe and analyse her two performance pieces: Rhythm 0 and 512 Hours. Moving onto Rachel Maclean’s film Make Me Up, I intend to do the same.

After describing, evaluating and discussing the theory and the artworks as mentioned above, and I will move onto express my opinion based on my findings.

Regarding to Feminism and Feminist Theory, as Finlayson describes in her book An Introduction to Feminism, “feminism is a form of theory: the theory, which identifies and opposes what is calls sexism, misogyny, and patriarchy. However, Feminism is not just a matter of words; it is a way of living”. (Finlayson L p.2)

She points out that feminism as theory alone is not enough, that practice is equally important for the movement to reach its goals; therefore, theory and practice should go hand in hand.

I found this idea interesting, because in this essay I would like to investigate how feminist art practice can help to overcome issues such as gender inequality and violence against the female body.

As part of the Feminist art movement, according to The Art Story Contributors (2017), began producing work in late 1960’s. Referring back to “second-wave” feminism, they were exploring concepts such as the female body, domesticity and personal experiences. Using a particular imagery and visual language Feminist artists were producing work that aimed to tackle issues such as gender inequality.

In 1971, in a ground-breaking essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? published by Linda Nochlin, she questioned the social and economic circumstance that had obviated talented women from achieving the same recognition as their fellow male artists.

The works of women artists have been historically ignored, and in representation the body of a woman manipulated; in response, women artists are often expressed themselves through performance art. By using their body as medium, they wanted to introduce the female self into art practice, gaining voice and reclaiming the body.

Through performance art, women artists were able to express explicitly physical, intuitive messages, because performance art is all about the experience, about the feeling; it has the ability to deliver messages to the audience in very direct way.

observing how, both in images and in society at large, men and women are represented differently: men have agency, whereas women are mostly engaged in a constant project of monitoring their self-presentation rather than focusing on external tasks. He simplifies this by writing, famously, that “men act while women appear.” This relationship, he points out, is especially perceptible in a certain tradition of European oil painting, which often depicts nude female figures. The women in these paintings aren’t typically nude because it makes sense for the narratives in which they’re depicted; rather, their nudity is constituted by and for the (presumably) male spectator. Women are painted to self-consciously exhibit their sexuality, accused of vanity by the association with symbols like mirrors and beauty tools, yet they were rarely the ones behind this representational tradition. Rather, women appeared nude for the gratification of the paintings’ owners, who were, for most of history, their primary spectators. Although images proliferate more widely now, certain aspects of this representational tradition remain, depicting women as passive or existing for male pleasure while men enjoy a more diverse multitude of representations. Berger points out that this entire system of gender relations is founded on a huge instance of hypocrisy: it presumes that the (male) spectator is a subjective individual, while denying the (female) subject any individual agency. This hypocrisy can still be seen in representations of women across media today, reinforcing just how prescient Berger’s Marxist-feminist analysis was, even over four decades ago.

“Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”

As in the story of Adam and Eve: Eve was tempted to take and consume the forbidden fruit, offered by the serpent – who here represents the devil – and shared it with Adam. The fruit gave them knowledge and as they became aware of their own nakedness, they feel shame.

Strikingly, “the woman is blamed and punished by being made subservient to the man. In relation to the woman, the man becomes the agent of God.”

Nude and naked:

Marina Abramovic is a Serbian performance and visual artist whose career began in the early 1970’s. She redefines what art can be, and brought performance art to the mainstream.

She pushing the boundaries of both body and mind, exploring themes of violence, spirituality and love. She explores the human condition in the name of art.

Ritualising everyday life actions, in her work she explores her mental and physical limits using her body as both the subject and the medium. In pursuit for spiritual and emotional transformation, she endures pain, exhaustion and danger.

She is actively challenging the audience. Her work is incredibly intense and full of suffering.

In 1974, she performed Rhythm 0 which is a ground breaking, 6-hour long performance piece where she placed the lead in the hands of her audience.

Rhythm 0 by the Serbian artist Marina Abramovic comprises seventy-two objects set out on a long table covered with a white tablecloth, as well as sixty-nine slides. The slides are projected onto the gallery wall above the table from a projector, which sits on a stand. Among the objects on the table is a framed description of a performance piece of the same name that took place at Studio Morra in Naples in 1974. The slides document this performance and the objects replicate the original props used. Many are perishable items, such as foodstuffs and flowers, which need to be replaced each time the work is displayed. The work was remade for exhibition purposes in 2009 as part of the Abramovic’s retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It exists in an edition of three plus two artist’s proofs, and Tate’s copy is number one in the edition.

Through this performance, she showed us how brutish the audience could become.

In her more recent work 512 Hours, which she performed at the Serpentine Gallery, the relationship with her audience was quiet different. The performance lasted 64 days, where she was performing a different act each day, six days a week, from 10am to 6pm. Her concept was from nothing; something may or may not happen. Abramovic explains that the happenings during the performances were unplanned.

She was inspired by spirituality, mindfulness and connectivity.

The audience were asked to leave all their belongings in a locker before entering the room where the performance was happening. Each of them were given headphones that helped blocking the outside noise. When

As stated by the Tate’s website Rachel Maclean was born in 1987 in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is a Glasgow based artist who works primarily with digital videos. After graduating from Edinburgh College of Art, her work started to gain recognition as exhibited in New Contemporaries 2009.

She uses green- screen technology and digital editing.

In her films, Maclean performs all her characters herself that are often inspired by fairy tales or Disney characters. Wearing elaborated costumes and vivid make up to create a bizarre, candy-coloured fantasy world which aim to reflect on politics, society and identity with a comic touch.

“Her films combine a variety of references to popular culture, and of genres such as children’s television programmes, horror movies, British comedy, video games, reality TV and YouTube videos.”

Maclean’s work significant because of its satirical and critical view of the Western capitalist society, in particular its excessive consumerism. “Her films stage grotesque and stereotypical characters who live in a dystopian near-future dominated by global corporations.” (Elsa Coustou 2017)

Maclean’s imaginative and colourful anecdotes are often unsettling yet unique.

Rachel Maclean’s latest creation is a feature length movie, titled: Make Me Up. The film is a satire of our modern world, imagined in a candy coloured brutalist Barbie dream house that is both charming and troubling. Its pastel coloured, kitschy aesthetics -that often appears in Maclean’s work – is in great contrast with the rather disturbing narrative.

The main character is a young woman Siri, who suddenly finds herself trapped in a bizarre place, where women have to compete with each other, and forced to take part in humiliating trials.

The women are starved and imprisoned in the pastel- coloured rooms that might look adorable at first, but in realty far from being friendly. Eye- shaped cameras that are sneaking down from the ceiling are following them. They behaviour and appearance are constantly under inspection. The women are expected to maintain a good- girl- behaviour, and if their attitude fails to meet the expectations, it can result in punishment.

The inmates are being dominated and controlled by The Figurehead, a glittery but sadistic character. The Figurehead speaks in Kenneth Clark’s voice taken from the 1960’s BBC series Civilisation.

Civilisation was Maclean’s starting point, and has carefully chosen entire sentences from Kenneth Clark’s commentaries. She feels that Clark’s voice “has a ritualistic feel, his voice has a certain upper-class tone, which relates to white male power.” (Maclean 2018)

Maclean has clearly chosen a feminist angle when creating this work.

Make Me Up is a rich and deeply engaging work that is both contemporary and truly relevant that tackles issues such as gender inequality and misogyny. The movie is inspired by effects of television ad social media, investigating as such platforms can be fun and expressive spaces to explore identity; in the contrary can force individuals, especially women to fit in to certain beauty ideals.

By calling attention to identity, sexuality, politics and history, women artists have dominated the discussion of issues surrounding art for the past forty years. They have pushed the boundaries of art to show the complicated realities of today’s world in all its many forms.


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