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Chino, Kaori, , . A Man Pretending to Be a Woman: On Yasumasa Morimura’s “Actresses”
2000, in: Brand, Peg Zeglin (ed.), Beauty Matters, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 252-265.
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Summary: Argues that Morimura’s portraits achieve something that depictions of the female body rarely can. Morimura invites the violent male gaze with his exposed body and then, in the next moment, snubs and nullifies it. With references to Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Sherman’s work.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture and depiction, and objectification in general.

Artworks to use with this text:

Yasumasa Morimura, Descent of the Actresses (1994)

Self-portraits in which the artists impersonates famous actresses.

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Demaria, Christina, , . The Performative Body of Marina Abramović Rerelating (in) Time and Space
2004, The European Journal of Women’s Studies 1(3): 295-307.
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Added by: Rossen Ventzislavov, Contributed by:

Abstract: Can a performance be analysed as a textual practice? Starting from this question, the article tries to describe the effets du sens (meaning effects) of some of the work of Marina Abramović, a Serbian performer and visual artist. From the 1970s, when the so-called body art emerged as a visual genre, offering the artist’s body as a naked site of inscription, up to the present, when performing has become a more playful and direct transmission of energy between the doer and the viewer, the work of Abramović represents an effective and powerful example of the body-as-a-text in which subjectivity can be re-expressed and reinvented through the transformations of the relation between time and space. In the strong relationship created between the performer and the audience, what is enacted is a translation–transduction of material and cognitive meanings that results in a redefinition of a subjective and, simultaneously, collective experience of identity.

Comment: This is a prime example of feminist aesthetics and its treatment of the human body. Demaria’s main contention is that performance art can be understood textually and representationally even if it does not lay an explicit claim to either type of content. She agrees with Judith Butler’s notion of citationality as a perpetual re-inscription of power norms and codes onto the human body. Since bodily presence plays such an important part in most performance art, the question of the possibility of embodied meaning arises naturally. Demaria uses the art of Marina Abramović to show that the question should be answered in the affirmative. Abramović’s body exercises discursive transgressions (of language and code) in ways that, according to Demaria, establish a new language of dissent.

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Goldberg, RoseLee, , . The Body: Ritual, Living Sculpture, Performed Photography
2004, In: Performance: Live Art Since the 60’s. New York: Thames & Hudson. 94-127.
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Summary: Goldberg sees the human body in performance art as a transmitter of erotics, gender tensions, cultural norms and political deviations. While two of the notable early works of performance art featured fully clothed male artists using naked female bodies (Yves Klein’s Anthropometries of the Blue Period from 1960 and Piero Manzoni’s Living Scupture from 1961), the work of female artists like Shigeko Kubota and Yoko Ono addressed the gender imbalance soon after. Goldberg sees the recognition of the body as “prime, raw material” as one of the central accomplishments of performance art. Through numerous examples she demonstrates how this notion enabled a spectrum of physical signification – from regarding the human body as a mere lump of undifferentiated flesh to capitalizing on its biological intricacies. Because of the irreducible intimacy of shared bodily experience, all creative choices along this spectrum – from the disquietingly erotic, to the anachronistically ritualistic, to the viscerally sacrificial – have affected the way we see art and the world around us.

Comment: This historical overview of the use of the human body in early performance art can be in any class on body aesthetics or performance art, and can offer an interesting background reading on erotic art.

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Silvers, Anita, , . From the Crooked Timber of Humanity, Beautiful Things Can Be Made
2000, in: Brand, Peg Zeglin (ed.), Beauty Matters, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 197-221.
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Summary: Starting from our appreciation of cubist portraits, asks why it to commonplace for us to contemplate distorted depictions of faces with eagerness and enjoyment but to be repelled by real people whose physiognomies resemble the depicted ones. Argues that the aesthetic process that permits our attraction to portrayed human anomalies can be expanded so as to offset the devalued social positioning of real people whose physiognomic features are anomalous. Presenting an anomaly as originality rather than deviance is crucial.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture and depiction, beauty, as well as the links between aesthetics and ethics.

Artworks to use with this text:

Pablo Picasso, Maya with a Doll (1938)

Cubist portrait of a child. Silvers interestingly compares this to a photo of a child with osteogenesis imperfecta.

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Silvers, Anita, , . From the Crooked Timber of Humanity, Beautiful Things Should Be Made!
2011, APA Newsletter, 10(2): 1-5.
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Added by: Hans Maes, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Summary: Follow-up essay on her ‘From the Crooked Timber of Humanity, Beautiful Things Can Be Made’ (note the one-word difference in the title). Adds the idea that medical professionals have at least a mild duty to cultivate aesthetic judgment of individuals with biological differences. Also makes the case that beauty is not the same thing as attractiveness or normalcy.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture and depiction, beauty, as well as the links between aesthetics and ethics.

Artworks to use with this text:

Riva Lehrer, Susan Nussbaum (1998)

This portrait of disability activist Nussbaum invokes Picasso’s famous portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906). It is discussed in Garland-Thomson.

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Vergine, Lea, , . The Body as Language. Body Art and Like Stories
2000, In: Body Art and Performance: The Body as Language. Trans. Henry Martin. Milan: Skira Editore S.p.A.. 7-27.
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Summary: Vergine’s account of the formative years of performance art takes stock of the many innovative strategies artists developed for re-engaging the human body. One of the crucial dimensions of this reengagement is the positioning of one’s body in physical proximity with others. This happens in art through the bodily negotiation of basic dichotomies such as nature/artifice, ethos/pathos, agency/abandon, publicity/privacy, mortality/immortality etc. Vergine sees objects, and the body’s undifferentiated objecthood, as active participants in the performative communication and communion between artist and audience. These forms of togetherness stand or fall on the intensity of all parties’ affective investment, but they are also equally affected by the level of intellectual mutuality an art work occasions. According to Vergine, the demand for intelligent analysis and deep understanding that performance art places on its audience is balanced out by the artists’ bodily presence. For her the artist’s body does not serve merely as a mechanical expedient. It also “contributes to the life of consciousness and memory in a psycho-physical parallelism of processes that assume meaning and relief only when they are connected.”

Comment: This text offers a historical overview of our concept of the human body in the context of art. It can be useful in any class on body aesthetics, performance art, or dance.

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