Thursday, March 27, 2008

Amelia Jones, Body Art and the Body of Knowledge

"The significance of Amelia Jones's Body Art/Performing the Subject cannot be overstated. Body Art is a book that is long overdue, and one that I suspect will drastically change the field of feminist art history, particularly as it concerns the performative art production of seventies artists." —Performing Arts Journal
"If art history traditionally has been a male-dominated enterprise, O'Dell and Jones renegotiate its gender. The stories these two writers tell, and the images they reproduce, suggest that their revisionary critical practices are not justified but revelatory." —Henry Sayre in Art Journal

"Insightfully self-reflexive and critical re-reading of modernism and postmodernism." —Saul Ostrow, Bomb

"In her latest book, Body Art/Performing the Subject, Amelia Jones locates her critical project with particular reference to the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler, and thus joins the increasing number of feminist philosophers, film theorists and art historians exploring notions of performativity, embodied subjectivity, situated knowledges and the phenemenological intersubjectivity of the interpretive act. Jones's book represents a particularly powerful enunciation of the reconception of the subjectivity of the artist and the historian calling into question both the production and interpretation of art as moments of active negotiation of 'body/self' boundaries and limits." —Art History

This book is a scholarly exploration of the use of the body in performance art. Although the author’s style was incredibly dry, the work profiled was fascinating. The most compelling and representative essay for me was, ‘The Rhetoric of Pose: Hannah Wilke.'
In this essay, Jones profiles an artist who explores physicality, identity, and decay. Wilke kept a photo diary of her battle with cancer, and in a series of photos, she details all the aspects of chemotherapy, including the loss of her hair.

In a photo entitled Brush Strokes, the viewer sees clumps of hair arranged as objets d’art. I found this last image particularly evocative and moving. So much of popular ideas of female beauty and femaleness itself, is associated with hair. Wilke deftly suggests loss, mortality and devastation with the scattering of a few items.
It triggered for me ways in which I might want to tight shot of my own body parts in a photo collage about aging. It also resonated with others ideas I've encountered of artists claiming sexuality beyond airbrushed ideas of femaleness and "perfection."

On a critical note, despite the book's tremendous strengths, Jones’ essays are limited in their global appeal due to a very dense, almost inaccessible style of writing. I realize that this is an ongoing criticism of mine, but it’s one that, sadly, I’m forced to make time and time again. Form and style continue to be a major way in which those who nominally control the art community exclude the general public. Class and cultural biases continue segregate artists of color and working class artists by exactly the language used in the book and the audience the author assumes is reading it. This is a self-defeating practice on the part of those who claim to be progressive artists, more understandable coming from the old guard which art critics like Jones claim to be reacting against.

Lastly, there is very little to be found in the way of emotional content in the book. I kept wanting to ask: “But how did viewing this piece make you feel?”

Still, Jones provides the reader a provocative opportunity to explore the work of artists pushing the envelope, who use their bodies to explore identity, culture, gender and race. I was challenged to think how I can continue use my body sparely and truthfully to look at the same themes.

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