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The patterns of behavior and the relationship in correlation with each other (us) are not having its advancement owing to the fact that, ever since the beginning of time, society has been shaping and controlling the behaviour of individuals. Having said that, discrimination has been continuously a society’s backbone, so social structures duplicate it and so do binary systems. The body has been questioned by artists, philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists and activists, but unfortunately this political body is being heard as an unimportant subject matter. What has been done to unfold the body and and make visible its necessities and trues? What have been doing the artists towards consciousness raising and self reflection not relying politicians and other representatives? Despite the connection between manifestations and artistic work with politics, political art within minorities (including feminists) has its silences and is complex to make cohesive an extensive political geneology. The political art that places its politicized body at risk attempts to find possibilities which are the raison d’être.
‘The question of power remains a total enigma. Who exercises power? And in what sphere? ... We should investigate the limits imposed on the exercise of power – the relays through which it operates and the extent of its influence on the often insignificant aspects of the hierarchy and the forms of control, surveillance, prohibition, and constraint... No one... has an official right to power.’
(Michel Foucault 1977, “Selected Essays and Interviews”, Blackwell, Oxford, p. 213)
The complication is that this is the only way we can cooperate because we have been accustomed to that. Having said that, it is important to underline that power through an hierarchical observation has been a mechanism by way of power is being produced which makes individuals circulate in an enduring domain. As duplicate, symbolic figures have been covering an historical change and this has not been progressive. Language, Intellect and Communal Faculties are what redefines the State and Society and those are not being applied and by that affecting contemporary mentalities. Throughout history the body became subjugated to power and methods of supervision were constant as a discipline of controlling a certain/specific behaviour. As a way of power, monarchy used forms of control in living bodies in order to exhibit what is “right”, displaying punishment as a way of manifesting normalization. ‘Discipline is a technique of power which provides procedures for training or for coercing bodies.’ (Barry Smart 1985, “Michel Faucault”, Ellis Horwood Publications, p. 85.)
By the nineteenth century, several repressions on sexuality started occurring by psychiatric institutions which began to define normality and abnormality; and commenced implanting the notion of perversions. Perverse notions were then applied in order to control ways and ‘varieties’ of body manifestations within pleasure. Rapidly, the discriminatory and taboo discourses begun to be categorized and applied as sexual subjects. In Western civilization men were addressed differently from than women and children in what concerns sexuality and relationships between men and women provided a ‘norm’ for male in order to guarantee their heterosexual conduct. Women were, in this case as in many other situations, seen as negative, powerless and forgotten on account of emphasizing stereotypes of the male gender, its preconceived notions on masculinity and additionally to male favouritism. Having affirmed that, Hélène Cixous reacts against that atrocious discrimination upon women and underlines heterogeneous binary oppositions of Superior/Inferior within discriminatory systems: Activity/Passivity; Sun/Moon; Culture/Nature; Father/Mother; Head/Heart; Lagos/Pathos... (Toril Moi 1985, “Sexual, Textual, Politics”, Methuen & Co., p. 104). Additionally, It can also be perceived in Salla Tykkä’s photography "American Dream", dated from 1999, a femininity in context with a virile activity when she portraits herself as an injured women boxer. Her breasts are flattened by a gauze band with two spots of blood at her nipple level. Even shaped by social discourses, which practically constrain us to accept the masculine and feminine as an inevitable binary system, it is not possible anymore to affirm one’s manhood, one’s womanhood or one’s gender role. The individual gender roles complexity became a larger spectrum than the imposed binary ones and may even blend with each other. By gender roles one must include Female, Male, Transgender M2F and F2M, Intersex or neither. Masculinity and Femininity are then realized as an interchange of emotions and intellectual factors implicating a variety of genders and furthermore involving race, sexuality, nationality and class. Moreover, it is to state that binary gender identity portraits an idea in order to protect the heterosexuality as ‘norm’.
‘... power flows through a network of disciplinary codes and institutions. Norms and standards are replicated and disseminated through schools, medicine, law, prisons, religion, even art; and in their circulation and reinforcement they actively determine social relations and create subject positions.’
(Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p. 5.)
As affirmed by Foucault (Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson, 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p. 5.), identity is not a stabilized characteristic but rather ruptures and alters. Nevertheless, the obstacle, as Eve Ksofsky Sedgwick expressed (Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson, 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p.18-19.), is that most of the individuals with gender- “inappropriate” that conduct oneself masculine when feminine or feminine when masculine experienced his or her body as atypical. This feeling occurs because one has to be recognized in the masculinities and femininities that have been stylised and imposed throughout times. Moreover, a collective sexual experience and an impact on sexual identities were submitted in the eighties with a new approach on sexual identities, definitions and new regulations. The object of choice within sexual orientation broadened from heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, bisexual, to a more polymorphous possibility incorporating polysexual and pansexual. Ideologies and sexual programs were implanted in order to alter what has been the history of sexuality construction and its deconstruction. Mass movements politically encouraged issues such as venereal diseases, prostitution, masturbation, organizing demonstrations and interventions. Minorities, progressivists and sex radicals challenged interfering and bringing forward a new thinking and a new reorganization on sexuality. Constructionists brought other political struggles to define sexuality in public spaces which expressed new sexual forms, behaviours and sensibilities. This endeavor to politically push ideologies and a new knowledge base on sexuality produced innovative interdisciplinary conversations between historians, anthropologists, sociologists and artists. However, one must also acknowledge that the body also has a capacity, due to psychological functioning and sensation, to construct ordinary sexual impulses, sexual drive and lusts and as expressed by most radical constructionists the object of choice must be accredited (Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson, 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p. 43.). Moreover, the Post Porn performance artist Mouse uses her body to destabilize any normative sexual inductions of life in ‘The Naughty Poodle’ performance. Mouse states that “holes are to be field like pockets” in which confronts and challenges feminists and feminist theories.
‘The world has been interpreted by philosophers in various ways but the point is to challenge it.’
(Marx, K and Engels, F 1964: “The German Ideology”, Progress Publishers, p. 647).
The body as a challenge (political body) has and is being utilized by an immense number of contemporary artists (painters, sculptures, performance artists, visual artists) who represent different currents and dispositions using different techniques and coming from a diversity of cultural and intellectual backgrounds. The individual identity is placed at the nucleus of a continuous process as an experimentation and analysis of all possibilities of every moment, function, part of the body with all its activism in order to rediscover oneself as a creative individual in the world and liberate ourselves not depending on normative representative impositions. In the same manner as Antonin Artaud, these artists aspire to acquittance all the possibilities and investigation of the the self-knowledge of the body yet some do have an extreme deal with authenticity consequently cruel and painful. Having said that, it must be acknowledged that throughout the times and even currently artists are being banned, censured, disallowed to exhibit or even asked to make changes on the art work pieces. As an example, the exhibition “Prostitution” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1976, which consisted on documentation from COUM Transmissions - Performance Art Group displaying pornographic content, was banned from exhibiting in galleries in England. The same occurred in 1977 when the Sex Pistols records were blacklisted by radio stations. Since 1975 in England, many of this works were considered to be “the punk aesthetic” and its disposition was regarded disruptive and cynical. In many ways this performances and art creations came close to the futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in that it “...rejected establishment values and ideas claiming art of the future as something completely integrated into life.” (Goldberg, R 2006: “Performance Art”, Thames & Hudsin Ltd, p. 182). The new punk aesthetic methodology with an anarchist, obvious sadistic and erotic determination was in addition advanced to other performance artists and regarded by them as an exemplar to their own life styles and sensibilities. An immense impact on cultural expansion could be detected worldwide with the political and economic disorder by the end of 1980s. Notwithstanding, at the same time minorities were progressively forcing ethnic identity and multiculturalism issues and artists were increasingly using performance to scrutinize and inquire their cultural origins. A performance series - Let’s Get it On: The Politics of Black Performance, showed an increasing acknowledgment and recognition for black artists at the ICA in London in 1994. Catherine Ugwu currently co-director of the Live Art development Angency and at the time deputy director of the Live Arts at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) expressed that it was one of the few spaces available to express complex ideas of identity (Goldberg, R 2006: “Performance Art”, Thames & Hudsin Ltd, p. 211). Guillermo Gomez-Peña, activist performance artist, provocatively personified what came to be named as “the other” in critical theory and led more activist performers to commence an understanding of a political consciousness in their work. The identity of “otherness” begun to comprehend marginalized groups as gays, lesbians, sex-workers, cross-dressers, the chronically ill and disabled which developed performances that were intentionally and exceedingly disturbing for most. In 1993 Ron Athey invited male stippers, drag queens and drug-abusers as performers in the piece “Martyrs and Saits” where self-inflicted wounds made the audience lose consciousness. The outstanding iranian artist Reza Abdoh, queer, HIV positive, created in 1994 (before he died with AIDS with thirty-five) “Quotations from a Ruinded City” where juxtaposed images of facts, film projections and performative actions represented disintegration of some cities and decomposition of bodies by AIDS. The 1990s acknowledged the political body in an academic debate context which was necessary and generated a dominant context dimension to Performance Art especially in the USA and Europe. Despite this crucial happening the disappeared information is more numerous than the arquived one and by selective criteria and hermeneutic saturation generates impossibility to sustain an extensive political geneology. “A cybermanga history concerning feminism-queer-trans should contain a genderology, a critique to the gender bio politics, a cartography on the resistance strategies against the body genderization and in addition a map with future platforms producing transgenderized subjectivities” (Preciado, B. 2004: “Gender and Performance – 3 episodes about a cybermanga feminist-queer-trans”, Essay, p. 1). However, in order to dematerialize a sexual difference and interrupt essentialist versus constructivist debates, performance; artistic vanguards and body art can currently be used as not outstanding but rather satisfactory research.
Feminist performances origins can be defined by Guerrilla Theatre, university revolutions and feminist northamerican movements in the streets in the 1960s and 1970s. These performative actions were linked to the political minorities fights tradition in USA since the Civil Rigts. As an example, the feminist group guerilla WITCH (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) organized an interesting performance in 1968 where dressed as witches they would make spells on business man at the Wall Street area in New York. Easy recognized Guerrilla Girls would years later inherit this performative traditions. In 1971, the Feminist performance series CUNT ART appears as a radical feminist and queer politics getting hold of the feminine sexuality and making it as a political and aesthetical revolution. ‘Semiotics of the Kitchen’ by Martha Rosler appears as a statement for domestic prisoners where its central attention focus on space, time and movement through the body edification to domestic objects. In this specific performance the repetition occurs as a critique to the way the gender is produced and normalized and by this action the feminine body became consciously visible as a ritualized norm of gender every time repetition is used in performance. The feminist artistic movements were outstandingly contemporaneous in ascending the feminine gay culture with drag queen performers in 1970s and as a consequence the extravagant and outrageous foremost drag queen Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead) arised as a legend in John Waters films. Later on, this performative culture has been designated as ‘the camp aesthetic’ as previously written by Susan Sontag on her essay elaborated in 1964 ‘Against Interpretation and other essays’. The Masculinity started to be interpreted as well, identically to drag queen performances, with a marvelous political efficiency by drag kings in the heart of 1980s. The first drag king character was developed by Shelly Mars that decides to invert the traditional pornographic logic and performes a strip-tease as Martin. In 1988 this character appeared in the film Virgin Machine where the filmaker Monika Treut remarkably explores porn, strip-tease and sadomasochism within Lesbian desires and lust. In 1989 the artist and performer Diane Torr developed a workshop named King-For-A -Day which focused on the gender performative action and the masculine body language leading to a transition between the feminist American performance in the 70’s to the Drag King queer culture from the 90’s (Preciado, B. 2004: “Gender and Performance – 3 episodes about a cybermanga feminist-queer- trans”, Essay, p. 11). Moreover, Diane Torr discards the performance as symbolic and concentrates on the effects produced by gender utilizing and analysing the body in public and private spheres as ‘a new territory experience for the body ’ (Torr. D 2002: Venus Boys, film by Gabriel Baur). Diane Torr transformed the activist space in a new political and sexual body. Body fluids acquire a new dimension in ‘90s through queer artists that have brought a new consciousness scale regarding a sexual body in a way that was honest - provocative, frontal and shocking (for some).
‘Anna Munster and I survive the interminable postpresentation silence by cheerfully chatting with each other about body fluids – blood, piss and tears. I am pleased by what seems to be a mutual recognition. It makes me think that she thinks I’m real too. At least my narcissism is up and running.’
(Hart L. 1998, Between the body and the Flesh - Performing Sadomasochism, Columbia Univerity Press - New York, pag 125)
Anna Munster is a performance artist and writer who performed the controversial ‘Queer Operations’ piece in a sex subculture party. In the performance Munster performed a female patient who ripped a catheter bag on stage and the liquid was splashed all over the audience. Munster was accused and criticized by not having performed safe having used urine at that queer venue but the reality is that the audience have bought the theatrical illusion when she replaced the empty catheter bag by a full one with liquid. Munster’s intention for this piece was purely to generate some psychological responses to anger and fear. A piece that was considered in like manner invasive, crossing the line and moreover with obscene and immoral performative actions was ’My Queer Body’ created by Tim Miller in 1992. The audience was offended when Miller stripped naked and had a conversation with his penis commending it to be erect and simultaneously declaring that even with the epidemic AIDS gay men should not cease their rights to desire, pleasure and lust.
‘... the audience has nothing to say to us at all – they sit there either in stunned silence, intellectual bewlderment, emotional exhaustion, or perhaps just frozen from the cold.’
(Hart L. 1998, Between the body and the Flesh - Performing Sadomasochism, Columbia Univerity Press - New York, pag 125)
In the absence of compassion and sympathy for the audience, painful and visual images of reality expressing sexual abuse; governmental indifference to HIV/AIDS; incest; rape; and other numerous issues that would comprise the themes of race; class; gender and sexual minorities, were performed by queer artists and activist artists. ‘Excerpted Rites Transformation’ is an exceptional exemplification of a political art performance piece created by the excellent performer Ron Athey in 1997. Based on a purification ritual, Athey reopens twelve existing scars on Darryl Carlton, who was sharing the stage with him, and apart from several African tribal patterns he cut a triangle which represents one of the queer symbols. The blood was absorbed with paper towels by assistants and was hung in lines and winded up above the audience. The audience was running out the theatre avoiding to be contaminated with HIV-positive blood. ‘Carlton is HIV – negative anyway. If it matters, which it shouldn’t, but evidently it does.’ (Hart L. 1998, Between the body and the Flesh - Performing Sadomasochism, Columbia Univerity Press - New York, pag 130). The famous choreographer Bill T. Jones was an innovation on the performance ‘Still/Here’ owing to the fact that he incorporated video on stage by the video artist Gretchen Bender within political issues. Many critics refused to attend his performance stating that the piece incorporated videos of people with AIDS who where expressing how were they dealing with the illness and by doing so the performance would have crossed the the theatrical aspect to facts and then regarded inessential by the critic Arlene Croce. The art critic Arlene Croce’s named the choreography as non-art and she did not see the performance because she would rather prefer preserving her identity as critic (Hart L. 1998, Between the body and the Flesh - Performing Sadomasochism, Columbia Univerity Press - New York, pag 131). When Arlene Croce denominated Bill T. Jone’s performance as “victim art” and the New York Times columnist Frank Rich pointed out that the attitude was an homophobic and racist behavior with regard to Bill T. Jones. It is clearly to emphasize once more what has been said previously in this essay when the selective criteria by art critics, like Arlene Croce, makes the information on political performance art and body art not acknowledged causing a cease on continuing an extensive political geneology. Body piercing gained its first popularity within the gay BDSM culture in the 1970s and most of queer artists begun to have an enormous appreciation for piercing/cutting blood work and sadomasochism within the bounds of performance art in late 1990s, where the place of pain was regarded to go beyond words. As an clear example of this practice, the performance artists Bob Flanagan attributed his masochistic desires and his ability converting pain into sexual pleasure on stage and in his life. Vast discourses became then recognized within this masochistic - realness staged and performed practices that were exceptionally validated as queer/autoeroticism/sadomasochism in the late 1990s. Bob Flanagan would grasp his pain transforming it in pleasure through one particular and individual memory of his early stages - ‘Because of my early, really horrible stomach-aches, I would rub against the sheets and pillows and this became more and more erotic – I started to masturbate that way; slowly it all blended together. one way of taking control of the stomach-ache was turning it into an orgasm.’ (Hart L. 1998, Between the body and the Flesh - Performing Sadomasochism, Columbia Univerity Press - New York, pag 137). By opposing Linda Hart with the film documentaries ‘Le clitoris, ce cher inconnu’ by Michéle Dominici, ‘Gendernauts’ by Monika Treut and my own personal experience, it must be acknowledged that it is habitual that children discover genital pleasure when rubbing against their sheets and that explains the phenomenal experience Bob Flanagan have had when discovering his masochistic pleasures. S&M and sexuality are then having the same synonyms when referring something is strange but familiar at the same time or something strange that then becomes familiar. Moreover, Flanagan uses methods of perception/reception where he induces the audience on an image that appears to be of radical pain but in reality is not when he nails his scrotum to a wooden board. Without being affected by the social activism driven by this artists that sensitively questioned multiple races, genders and sexualities, internet and TV industries are nowadays including all this variations in a way that obscures its importance and overturns it in a way that ‘extreme’ images of racial violence and sexual hybrid have become daily entertainment ‘to entice consumers while providing us with the illusion of vicariously experiencing all the sharp edges and strong emotions that our superficial lives lack’ (Gómez-Peña G. 2005, Ethno-tecno – Writings on performance, activism and pedagogy, Routledge, UK, pag 51). Moreover, it must be admitted that what has been considered as alternative, subculture and radical has actually become part of the mainstream culture and ethical - political concerns come to be part of the past century. It is definitely the time for artists who want to transcend the new era to think on postracist, postsexist, postideological, post civil rights and post human rights in other to conquer intelligently the overturns of race, gender and class (social structures) imposed by mainstream. ‘The creativity we mean is an attitude to the world of liberation and disobedience. Our acts ‘piece of art’ is a vehement protest.’ (Grindon G. 2008, Aesthetics and Radical Politics, Cambrige Scholars Publishing, UK, pag 50). The problem is that implants and prosthetics, steroids and laser surgery, tattoos and piercings aren’t shocking anymore and have become fashionable as the subculture cliché. There is a need now to create a culture that supports everyone to have an opinion (informed or not informed) and expressing it becoming active participators. Having said that, Art and its audience have had a dramatic change in the twentieth century when realising that the audience has a hard time to passively watch a performance. Experimental artists are working very hard to grab this audience’s attention implicating larger audiences. The ongoing challenge at the moment is to make an exiting, extreme and interactive performance where audiences would be interested to not merely to watch but to participate. The new fascination has to come from depoliticizing the extreme body vanishing all the attached implications to it such as victimization of the body. Apart from the need of a participatory audience, the foremost challenge is to estabish and rehumanize, repoliticize and decolonize our own bodies in a way that the audience is not even awear of it. Moreover, we all have to resuscitate the most precious value - Human Rights - ‘in order to guarantee the right of life’ (Grindon G. 2008, Aesthetics and Radical Politics, Cambrige Scholars Publishing, UK, pag 47) and personality development, which is slowly being dismissed and will shortly be taken away.
To conclude, power is being produced in order to make individuals circulate in an enduring domain and I believe that art, artists, activists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, have an immense and effective work accomplished and yet to be accomplished concerning this subject matter. The notion of performance depends on a political dedication that emerged in order to consider the challenges and realities of the body, that at the same time endeavored to discard the discriminatory implications within woman, gay, black, that were imposed by society. One must look at the others as individuals avoiding the determination of sexual orientation or gender as a crucial pinpoint. Through the bizarre and extreme exploration of the body, performance artists shocked most, but primarily questioned the audience by rubbing inew identity realities in its face. The victimization of the body is bygone due to the clownish way media and society are appropriating and overturning the identity image that has been fought to be understood by performance artists. Notwithstanding, I believe that performance activist artists will continue their work dehumanizing, depoliticizing, decolonizing the body within Human Rights which are being withdrawn and which were so hard was to attain legitimately. The political body will continue to be an ongoing challenge.
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Hart L. 1998, Between the body and the Flesh - Performing Sadomasochism, Columbia Univerity Press, New York.
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