Posts tagged Feminist Art
FEMALE STUDY: JUDY CHICAGO'S MENSTRUATION BATHROOM
slide_womanhouse.jpg

I had known of Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party piece before I moved to Brooklyn, where the installation is now housed permanently at the Brooklyn Museum. But in a classic information age fashion, I had seen The Dinner Party at The Geffen Contemporary at The MOMA in Los Angeles during the WACK! exhibition in 2008 (an exhibition that in many ways influences this periodical regularly) and had read about how important The Dinner Party was, and had learned how flawed first wave feminists were college, so I decided Judy Chicago's work passé. I admit this is a bad habit, even if I can point to it being a combined result of too much information and progress within the feminist "movement."

For those who are unfamiliar, The Dinner Party is an homage to feminist pioneers in the form of a dinner table, shaped as an equilateral triangle to (symbolize equality). Each place setting has a motif that nods to the work of the female being honored with a placemat bearing their names. No two settings are alike, but each one is very intricate.

But the other night I found an installation by Judy Chicago that I had not seen before, and given that women are just starting to talk about their periods in everyday conversation, I thought I'd discuss Judy Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom.

Chicago (born Judith Cohen in 1939) created the first feminist art collective called Feminist Arts Program, or FAP, at Fresno State (CA) in 1971. A year later, they brought the program to the California Institute of Art outside of Los Angeles.

FAP's first piece was a collaborative installation, Womanhouse, was made by various female artists. The installation was a multi-media/performance art piece where each room in an abandoned mansion on Mariposa Street in Hollywood represented different living conditions of home-makers (which lest we forget, was still very much an occupation for women in 1971). Within Womanhouse, The dilapidated house was transformed by 23 women using construction tools for the first time in their lives. As the manifesto for the installation put it, Womanhouse became "the age-old female activity of homemaking... taken to fantasy proportions."

In Womanhouse Chicago created an otherwise sterile bathroom scene with the trashcan overflowing with bloody menstruation pads and a few bloody tampons, blood stains on the tile floor, blood-drenched pads neatly hanging from a clothesline, a heating pad hanging near the toilet, and the shelves covered with sanitary products for mensuration.

Menstruation_Bathroom_1995_reinstallation_1.jpg

Considering how little we discuss periods today, in 1971 this was a subject that was not discussed in public whatsoever, so the shock value, as well as the statement made by this work was immense. 

During the 1970s and through the 80s, women claimed blood as an artistic symbol of femininity and feminism but until this point no one had so overtly and visually discussed menstruation. And given the bloody nature of our cycles, I think a visual representation says a lot more than words can.

Today I can look on Instagram and see thousands of visual representations of menstrual blood, as well as nipples, pubic hair, vaginas, etc. But the timeliness and straightforwardness of Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom has a much greater impact. I'm trying to imagine what society's reaction might have been like in 1972 if photographs of this installation had the ability to be distributed at the rate in which photographs are today while maintaining the shock value of this being the first time something like this hit the public eye.

Now living in "fourth-wave feminism," (oh god, they say it's hashtag feminism) sometimes I look back at first wave feminists and think them silly, but it's because it's easy for a woman my age to forget how fucking oppressed my people were just 40 years ago. I think the use of blood as a symbol of femininity is still powerful because women are depicted as delicate and sweet, but it seemed so easy to me to use the female experience in one's work. I guess it feels naive, but that's because the first feminists were just working out the ideas that I now take for granted.

In the original essay that accompanied Womanhouse, I am struck by one key point:

[At the inception of Feminist Arts Program]...the women students had spent a lot of time talking about their problems as women before they began to do any work. We wondered if those same problems could be dealt with while working on a project.

Female art students often approach artmaking with a personality structure conditioned by an unwillingness to push themselves beyond their limits; a lack of familiarity with tools and artmaking processes; an inability to see themselves as working people; and a general lack of assertiveness and ambition. The aim of the Feminist Art Program is to help women restructure their personalities to be more consistent with their desires to be artists and to help them build their artmaking out of their experiences as women. Womanhouse seemed to offer the perfect context for this educational process.

What this excerpt suggests is that in general, women in 1971 didn't see themselves in the work field, let alone the art world. I have the hindsight to know celebrated figures like Anni Albers Georgia O'Keeffe, and Eva Hesse, but beyond them, it's hard for me to name off female artists who worked before the 1960s, and yet I'm still shocked to learn this perspective of women in the 70s. 

It doesn't take a scrutinizing genius to infer that Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom came out of frustration, (I just read that the average woman undergoes menstruation over 400 times in her lifetime, and while some females are somehow lucky and experience little issue in their cycles, not even a trans woman, when she experiences the ways in which women are treated as lesser or an object, can ever know the frustrations that female born women go through with their periods), but I can only imagine what kind of frustration women must have felt during this era where we were largely still asked to stay home. Rosy the Riveter got to work during WWII but she quietly went back to childrearing and homemaking "when the boys came home."

The early feminists commonly believed that a woman's body, specifically her vagina, was her source of greatness, which later feminists brushed off as erroneous biological or genetic essentialism. But I am seeing an uptick in modern gender essentialism with the hashtag feminists. Vagina cupcakes for international women's day! Free the nipple... (but then slut shame the shivering club girl in her tube dress, fake eyelashes and cheap stilettos). Today we are all about body positivity and the desexualization of the female body. In some ways, first wave feminists were trying to do the same things, but society hadn't been primed for the discussion. The first wavers hadn't cultivated the dialogue yet, so their ideas seem rudimentary. But out of all the "feminist" artwork I see out there on social media, I can't think of anyone who's rivaled the 'in-your-face-ness' of Judy Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom.

11431-842.jpg

Also, PS Judy Chicago made a piece called Red Flag as a parody of the Red Scare (of which her father was a victim of) in 1971 that was even more in your face.

 
chicago-red-flag-1971-photo-litho.jpg
 

Courtney Cady, © 2018



READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


FEMALE STUDY: RUTH ASAWA - RACISM AND THE FEMALE DOMAIN
 
Shot on my iphone at the David Zwerner Gallery

Shot on my iphone at the David Zwerner Gallery

 

I recently caught Ruth Asawa's first solo exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. In the spirit of my current negative sentiment toward the lives we lead on the internet, I was happy to see artwork in real life, as opposed to my usual 1:00 am internet tours of artists' works.

I first discovered Ruth Asawa in 2015, while conducting research for a post on Eva Hesse. Asawa's most recognizable work incorporated wire. Considering she began in the 1950s, her use of such an "ordinary" medium put Asawa ahead of the curve, as it wasn't until the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s that artists in the United States and Europe were using ordinary objects to make art in what is now referred to as the post-minimalism period.

 
Portrait by Imogen Cunningham.    Ruth and Imogen were good friends. I ❤️ Imogen Cunningham

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham.
Ruth and Imogen were good friends. I ❤️ Imogen Cunningham

 

Ruth Asawa was born in 1926, in Norwalk, California, roughly 10 miles inland from where I grew up, at a time when Southern California was mostly rural farmland. Asawa's parents immigrated to the US from Japan, and upon arrival in America, her father took work as a farmer. In 1942, during the Second World War, sentiments toward Japanese immigrants had plummeted due to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, so Asawa's 60 year old father was detained by the FBI and taken to New Mexico for nearly two years. At age 16, Asawa, her mother, and five other siblings were forced to live in a converted horse stall at the Santa Anita Racetrack-cum-temporary Japanese Internment Camp, north east of Downtown Los Angeles. The location was usurped by the federal government and subsequently labeled an "assembly center" for eight months while more permanent residences were constructed. Throughout their six-month stay at the Racetrack, the Asawa family did not know where their father was, or if he was even alive.

Being a Los Angeles history buff, I'm shocked I had never known that the Santa Anita Racetrack served as an assembly center. I knew of Manzanar off the 5 freeway in the Southern Central Valley, but I was completely unaware that such a thing happened in my own [albeit historical] backyard. 

Once permanent housing was built for the Japanese throughout the country, Asawa's family was sent to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in a rural part of Arkansas, where nearly 5,000 displaced Japanese-Americans from California were forced to live. During this time, much like Trump's muslim ban, any Japanese American abroad was denied entry to the US. Ruth's eldest sister had been visiting family in Japan at the time of their internment, so she had to stay in Japan through the remainder of the war.

In her youth, Ruth Asawa had previously been put to work on her family's farm, but once she was interned, she started to draw. According to Asawa's biography, she was motivated by Disney animators also interned at Santa Anita Racetrack who taught art in the grandstands to anyone interested. (Disney studios then, were about 5 miles from the racetrack).

At Rohwer, Asawa continued to draw, and despite the inhumane conditions, she was able to continue her high school education and graduated after living interned for 18 months.

After graduating high school, Asawa was granted a scholarship in 1943 through the Japanese American Student Relocation Council, which was founded by a Quaker group in the Midwest. The scholarship allowed Ruth to leave Rohwer to attend college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Asawa's family was not as fortunate, and continued to live at Rohwer until 1945. The whole family was not reunited again until 1948.

 
Asawa's ID that allowed her to leave Rohwer. This ID is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection.    Link to Source

Asawa's ID that allowed her to leave Rohwer. This ID is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection. Link to Source

 

Continuing her education, Asawa attended Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina from 1946-1949. Because of the instability in Germany caused by WWII, the Bauhaus School in Dessau closed, and many of their teachers joined the diaspora of Europeans displaced from the war. Josef Albers, (one of my favorites; you can read an article I wrote about him here), sought refuge at Black Mountain College. So now we get this insane recipe: several talented artists working in the mostly conservative South, brought together by war; and not surprisingly, lots of magic happens. (One day I will do a lengthy article about Black Mountain College because it rules).

At Black Mountain College Asawa studied under Albers in his design courses, where she says she learned, "the importance of relationships and the relativity of perception."

 
 

Ruth Asawa's work made under Josef Albers

But here's where it gets really cool: There is a current exhibition at the Guggenheim that shows Albers' photos from his frequent trips to Mexico. The exhibition correlates these trips to his work and how his experiences of the country influenced Albers during this period. On one of these trips, Asawa accompanied Albers to Toluca, Mexico where she saw women weaving baskets out of galvanized metal and took interest in their technique. Having shown curiosity, she was taught to loop weave by one of Albers' colleagues during her stay. Asawa retuned home, and after graduating, started creating wire sculptures using the loop-weaving technique she learned in Toluca. 

Side Note - This is when I especially love living in New York. I've been reading about Josef Albers for over a decade, I then learn about Ruth Asawa completely independently of Albers, and somehow it all comes together in exhibitions that I can actually see in real life. Yes to living in the real world.

At Black Mountain College, Asawa also studied under Buckley Fuller, a mathematician-turned sculptor who used ordinary objects like bobby pins, and various readily available household items to build geodesic domes, and other three dimensional sculptures.

The combination of Albers and Fuller's teaching is very apparent in Asawa's work, yet what makes her work unique is that she applied a folk technique to the theories and methods she was taught, which was taken directly from her personal experience. (SO COOL).

 
Portrait by Imogen Cunningham

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham

 

Asawa's wire weaving received national attention almost immediately following her graduation from Black Mountain College, but given that it was the 1950s, critics demeaned her work, calling it "domestic." Idk, I guess people think supended baskets that don't actually hold things are just women's work? And not helping her credibility even further, Asawa got married in 1960 and had 6 children, so critics continued to discredit her, calling her a "homemaker." 

From here it looks like Asawa moved to San Francisco, where she began arts programs for children. During her early years in San Francisco, she installed her first public sculpture in Ghirardelli Square, a bronze cast Mermaid nursing a baby mermaid. Of course, because of the 'feminine content,' critics again discredited it, calling the sculpture a "suburban lawn ornament."

Maybe this is why Ruth Asawa's first solo exhibition happened just last month. It's about fucking time, she's only been working for SIXTY YEARS. So infuriating. I know right now we talk a lot about intersectionality, but I just want to take a moment here to recognize something: Unlike LGBTQ people, women as a gender have had a 'place in society' since the beginning of modern humanity, yet even now, a woman who has been working for over 60 years is getting her first solo exhibition in New York. Sure, a piece here and there at the Whitney or SFMOMA is an achievement, but I've studied plenty of men from this era who had solo exhibitions right after they became well-known. (I just wrote an article about Claes Oldenberg, an artist who fucking sewed stuff for crying out loud... how is that not considered 'domestic?' – oh right, he's a man... never mind he often had the help of his ex-wife in sewing the sculptures.) RARRR, makes me so mad. 

But I digress, at least her work is being shown. Below are pictures I took on my iphone from the exhibition. Finally, Ruth Asawa is getting the recognition she deserves.

 
 

COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY

RUTH ASAWA (HOMEPAGE), 2017

DAVID ZWIRNER (HOMEPAGE): RUTH ASAWA, 2017

THE LIVES THEY LIVED: RUTH ASAWA. ROBERT SULLIVAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2013


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL


FEMALE STUDY: RENATE BERTLMANN'S PORNOGRAPHIC JOKES

Washing Day, 1976

Hi! It's been about 6 months since I wrote. I moved to New York and life got busy. But I'm fine now so let's see if we can pick things up.

I recently reacquainted myself with the artwork of Renate Bertlmann. What kept my attention this time around is the humor I see behind Bertlmann's work, and the simple messages that can be abstracted.

Bertlmann is a feminist avant-garde artist whose career began in the early 1970s. Born in 1943 in Vienna, Austria, Bertlmann studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Upon graduating in 1970, she lectured at the academy through the early 1980s. Throughout this time, she built a corpus of work using various media including drawing, painting, object art, installation, photography, film, and performance.

Touching mainly on the binary opposition of male and female roles, Bertlmann worked with phallic and breastlike shapes, using humor and hyperbole as a platform for discussion on a topic that is otherwise generally a sore subject for any thinking female.

As was en vogue in the post-minimalist time she began her work, Bertlmann often used ordinary objects. But in her case, this was to her advantage, as she worked with familiar household objects, a place where things are almost strictly divided between male and female genders. This by default made her a "feminist" artist, even without publishing a manifesto or saying anything about it outright.

Caress (Washing Day), 1976

The undisguised sexual nature of Bertlmann's work bends gender norms as much as it overtly acknowledges the dichotomy between the two. Her ability to blur the lines is well demonstrated in her close-range photographs of inflated condoms touching each other. Male gendered objects become reminiscent of the female body and hermaphroditic inuendos.

Tender Touches , 1976

Tender Touches, 1976

Likewise, hanging inflated condoms alongside flaccid condoms on a laundry line in her Washing Day series, Bertlmann juxtaposes the male and female figure using a traditionally male gendered object.

Washing Day, 1976

In a recent interview with the Tate Modern (2015), Bertlmann explains her subversive humor:

Pornographic jokes have always been a male domain, made at the exclusive expense of women. I consider my series of objects an accomplished example of an obscene female joke. This joke has hit home; it targets the deadly serious, male sexual arrogance. My works could be created only because I was obviously able, despite my anxieties, to discuss sexuality and sexual repression simultaneously through desire and ironic distance.

Especially at the time of her work, Bertlmann's pervasive use of 'private' parts of the human body were, and are widely still considered vulgar for women to discuss, let alone exhibit. I feel like her ability to avoid erotic notions while still using these symbols is a huge feat, and actually adds fuel to the outrage fire, as one might be able to accept an erotic "vulgar" female, the way society does with Anais Nin, but for Bertlmann's work, replacing eroticism with overt symbols of obscenity, the message is no longer palatable to social conformists.

Urvagina, 1978

Renate Bertlmann has explained that she identifies with "physically handicapped wheelchair-bound outcasts," which is partly influenced by their role in Thomas Bernhard’s play A Party for Boris (1968). This explains the presence of wheelchairs in her work since she started in the early 70s.  (A very "unfeminine" ordinary object, don't you think)? A wheelchair might seem incongruent with the rest of her work at first glance, but Bertlmann explains that she likes to use wheelchairs "to emphasize the tension between inertness, mobility, and bodily contact," which combined with gender norms, actually makes a lot of sense.

In her performance Pregnant Bride in Wheelchair (1976) (below), Bertlmann implies the handicapping outcome of a woman who is both pregnant and a bride. I can't find any interviews with her in English about this particular performance, but it seems like she assumes the persona of a pregnant woman who is made to marry due to social pressures of the time.

The pregnant bride is not only in a wheelchair, but her fingertips also appear to be nipples, exaggerating the exhausting and giving nature of the female body. Her face is also ghostly, perhaps alluding to the death of the young woman's freedom, or maybe done in effort to depict a grotesque figure in a situation where women are typically expected to look pure and beautiful.

After she finished lecutring in 1980, Bertlmann soley focused on her studio work and what she calls "freelance" work. I've never heard a working artist call themselves freelance but maybe she also did work for hire that is outside of her personal aesthetic.

Below, Bertlmann's installation 1984 piece, Breast Incubator has holes for hands to enter within the clear case, offering a means to fondle the breasts within. The nipples, however, have exacto knife blades sticking out of them, which to me symbolically expresses the instances where being groped is an unwanted experience.

Breast Incubator, 1984

Through today, Bertlmann continues to create work that sheds light on the objectification of the female body and using her humor to emasculate male gendered objects. 

Untitled, 2016

By hanging condoms that are used as bud vases on a towel rack with ribbon, I see Bertlmann making a multi-layered joke here. And hello, still at it in 2016! She was born in 1946. She is not faking this joke. She lives this thing and she is nailing it. Flowers and ribbons—so "girly." A towel rack—a domestic object, maybe gender neutral (though I think one could argue that almost all domestic objects are associated with females). Yes Ranate. Yes.


COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017




FEMALE STUDY: BARBARA KRUGER'S RED & BLACK
 

Barbara Kruger, 1987

 

The first time I saw the above image I was 11 years old. The postcard was pegged to a bulletin board collage at my friend Blake's house. The same friend who influenced me to think that anything "trendy" was super lame. Blake also owned a Prada purse. My mind was blown.

I didn't understand Descartes, "I think, therefore I am" at that age, but I understood the Barbara Kruger version enough to know that the artist was taking a stab at consumerism. No one told me the artist was Barbara Kruger, that was something I learned a few years later, but already, I felt like whoever this was, they were speaking on behalf of people like me.

 Barbara Kruger is more contemporary of an artist than those I usually post about, but I've noticed ad campaigns all over recently that straight rip her style without honoring the jabby undertones of what the red background with white text, or white background with black text has come to mean, so I thought I'd revisit her work a little bit to set the record straight.

1985

Barbara Kruger has most recently lived and worked in Los Angeles. Given that I lived 12 years in Los Angeles, and spent 30 years in California in general, Barbara Kruger's work is a personal subject. In my youth, I was a staunchy feminist, and a critic of consumerism who hung in the 'art scene.' Barbara Kruger wasn't as much of a god as she was like the LA sunshine to me, just something that shows up everyday.  Plus I grew up in a Stepford Wives-type suburb, where money and female oppression were the norm. I saw Barbara Kruger as my voice. I even started putting my own statements on the artwork I made as a teenager, she had influenced me that much. 

I mean, just read how funny the caption below is vvv

Barbara Kruger, 1991

Barbara Kruger is among the first to use appropriation art through pictures and text, something that has since become a widespread practice in fashion, art, and funny enough, now even in advertising. By using words and found images, Kruger subverts the common ad with social critique through postmodern conceptual art. 

For me personally, Kruger's humor and dark undertones used to discuss reproductive rights and built in female oppression (something I still think even the most evolved males: gay/straight/trans or otherwise, have yet to fully comprehend) has always stood out to me. The work is politically charged, totally in the vein of Bauhaus graphic design, and easy to understand, even for the simpleminded folks who oppose her messages.

Barbara Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1945. She attended Syracuse University in 1964 for one year before moving to New York, where she studied at Parsons School of Design. At Parsons, Kruger met artists Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel, who are said to have introduced Kruger to photography, fashion, and magazine sub-cultures. After a year at Parsons, Kruger dropped out and started working with various Condé Nast magazines as a graphic designer, where she was quickly promoted to art director and picture editor for several magazines. This career went on for a decade before Kruger moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught at UC Berkeley for four years.

By 1979, Kruger started using found images from mid-century American magazines in her art, pasting messages in Bauhaus fonts with color blocked backgrounds over the found pictures. Applying her graphic design sense, Kruger's work mimiced advertisements, but subverted the familiar with topics of gender, consumerism and equality. 

What's really cool is once Kruger saw that her work was well received, she started printing her images on gift items, so the 80s and 90s were flooded with Kruger tote bags, postcards, mugs, t shirts, posters, whathaveyou; which is a hilarious way to blur the boundaries between art and consumerism, while also expanding her reach in a similar fashion as branding does. (Hello? Genius).

Using the power of her ubiquity, Kruger became well known for her work, and was often commissioned to make political statements on behalf of groups such as reproductive rights advocates. Like me in my youth, Kruger was seen as a voice for people who had something to say.

In 1989 Kruger made the image below, (left), for the Women's March on Washington, which was a march in support of legal abortion. A year later in 1990, Kruger used this slogan in a billboard commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Twelve hours after the billboard went up, a pro-life group responded to Kruger's work by replacing the adjacent billboard with an image depicting an eight-week-old fetus. (Um, super metal, guys)...

1989

 

1990

Evolving with contemporary art, from the 90s through today, Kruger began creating site-specific work that is pasted on sides of buildings, buses, trains, and museum walls.

Commissioned by MOCA of Los Angeles, the image top right, is the among the first of her site-specific work. The concept originally included messages pasted over the the American Pledge of Allegiance, but after some test drives with the idea and community backlash, the work was toned down, and the flag salute was eliminated. This image was first exhibited in a group show, and then a year later pasted to the side of a warehouse in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles where it showed for two years.

I love Barbara Kruger so much I could catalog her entire work here, but in the end, it's all much of the same thing. Even if it's really good. Today, given that she is fairly well known, she continues to work on site-specific pieces through commissions all over the world. She also keeps making her paste ups, as we have seen that over the last 30 years, change is slow enough to come that her messages are as poignant today as they were at their beginnings. With the seeming timelessness of her style, Kruger is able to revisit mediums and platforms such as magazine covers and simple paste ups regarding abortion, political statements, female oppression, popular culture and consumerism.

I felt like since her work is so familiar at this point, that it was almost "too soon" to talk about her here, but I couldn't help it after seeing so many ads abusing her style. Guys, if you're going to rip her off, at least make the words say something punk.

K? Thanks.


Courtney Cady, © 2016



FILM ANALYSIS: YAYOI KUSAMA'S 'SELF OBLITERATION'

Coming back to LA after a nearly two year hiatus, I'm strangely feeling more at-home with all the entertainment billboards. In San Francisco most ads are tech related, or bills selling alcohol and fancy destination hotels. But in LA almost everything is about film and television (save for the occasional laser hair removal or cosmetic dentistry advert). 

Being surrounded by the effects of Hollywood, I've been thinking about the history of filmmaking. Considering the massive crews it takes to make a blockbuster, and juxtaposing that with prosumer access to filmmaking technology, I've been trying to imagine a time when editing required the actual cutting of film. When access to, and understanding of filmmaking tools were very limited, imagine how much effort it took for a performance artist or an independent filmmaker to successfully execute a watchable film.

Film formats suitable for amateurs were introduced at the turn of the 20th century, but it wasn't until the advent of Kodak's Super 8 in the mid 1960s that easy-to-use cameras became ubiquitous. With this accessibility, American avant-garde artists started using film as a medium for performance more than ever before. During this time, pop art, modernism and feminist art had taken up discussions on 'the image,' the self, and popular culture in general and so film was applied as one of the platforms to further this discussion.

Of these avant-garde films made in the 1960s, my current favorite is Yayoi Kusama's, Self Obliteration (1967). Kusama, born in Japan in 1929, has recently made a come back with exhibitions all over the world since 2010, but prior to her reemergence she had gone into the shadows, mostly of her own depression, since the late 1970s. Often working with repetition, dots, circles and spheres, Self Obliteration showcases the span of Kusama's work at that time through filmic depictions of her performances and installations.  

In reference to one of her earliest pieces, pre-dating the making of this film, Kusama inadvertently explains her concept behind Self Obliteration, including the film's name, and her motivation for the circular motifs in her work, by citing a particular experience she had as a child:

One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers.

This single experience, it seems, affected Kusama so much so that her above mentioned memory is thematic throughout the entire span of her work from the 1950s until now. Despite the marked hippie overtones that show through in her work even contemporarily, Kusama is able to express feminist ideas and challenge the status quo by applying simple and repetitious imagery whose undertones transcend her otherwise overt 1960s aesthetic. Her ability to make such an impression is what separates her from the rest of the "psychedelic," nude, and so-called politically based acts of the American hippie movement of the 1960s, distinguishing Kusama's work as high art rather than a fleeting pop cultural trend, so it makes sense that 50 years later, her work is finally getting recognition.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015


READ THE ENTIRE BLOG

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PERIODICAL