The more I look the less I see; perhaps this is the nature of research? The more I see the more it reveals of the depth there is in the subject that I have yet to illuminate. The notion of feminism as an idea expressed though art, and maybe more specifically through a visual art medium has more hurdles, pot-holes and potential cul-de-sacs than any other subject I have considered. And these impediments in the flow of travel of knowledge have many roots, my own gender of course will provide a crucial limitation. The level of conversation entered into by women into this subject has been surprisingly (and to my mind, woefully so) limited. I have tried to engage with over a hundred women, all of whom I thought might have something to say on the subject of feminism, let alone feminist art and have had very few conversations.
One area with very little engagement was the area of ‘Gaze’. Berger covers it in ‘Ways of Seeing’ by writing “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” suggesting that from the Renaissance women have been portrayed as idealised visions, something that Laura Mulvey discusses further in ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’. However I found very little on the concept of the female gaze. Male gaze, in a patriarchal society, has had a privileged position, but the idea of it’s counterpart in women seemed only to present itself, to any great extent, in lesbian texts – that of Tee Corinne for example and others – which was also concerned with the female form. I was therefore interested to discover Karolin Klüppel whose work seems to address this notion head on.
Hunter, in his work, has often re-presented what are deemed to ‘high-art’ paintings and situated them amongst the ‘people’, those of the Hackney area where he lives, the strip clubs, pubs and has suggested that for many men -those that do not go to galleries or have access to the ready cash to commission works of art for ‘private viewing’ – the only way to see a woman, to gaze at a women, is to frequent these places. The ‘places’ of course continue to perpetuate the to position of women as subjects of Male gaze (and more), Klüppel replaces the woman with the man and flips the objectifier to the object.
Klüppel doesn’t flinch with the notion of female gaze “…also another aspect, taking place outside oft the visual dimension of her work: contrary to the traditional depiction of the female nude, which was produced in the history of art mostly by the male artist, and is mainly the male gaze exposed the viewer, stands in this case behind this sexualized male image as a creator a woman.” from her website.
These are objects presented as much for the delight of the viewer as ever Cranach’s images of ‘Eve’ disporting her genitalia for the onanistic pleasure of it’s commissioner. We are invited to consider these as objects of pleasure (the series was I think part of her final years project of her degree), I think the irony works in a different way to Hunter’s because of the ‘flipped’ roles, as she says on the press release for the work: “.. Her photographs do not only question the familiar structures of perception and stereotypes, but also succeeds an ironic revaluation and updating of certain motifs, which are transported into the present and with the distance to tradition she captures, in an amusing manner, the nature of the human condition of the presence.”
In 2013 she was awarded a residency in India and discovered a remote community where the society is structured matrilineally and has produced a body of work called ‘Mädchenland’ The artist has decided to provide me some text to underpin that work which I suspect could well be an interesting context to support it, I am looking forward to that.