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Lauren Fournier

Movement for Photoautomat

I step into the photoautomat and wait for the light to turn green. Taking rhythmic cue from the machine, I flash my bare chest to the camera. A form of technology on the verge of extinction, the analog photoautomat machine develops these images in five minutes. I wait outside of the booth, and as the machine dispenses the strip of photo paper I cup my hands over the receptacle to hide the contents of the image. This is my secret: a trace of my practice. The ritual of flashing the flash becomes a compulsion, an anxiety-laden adrenaline rush followed by a grounding sense of having redeemed something.

The body of the feminist artist is all too present and always already absent, standing in as both the focal point and as that which perpetually recedes[1]. As a female-identifying artist, I am faced with a double bind when I use my body in explicit ways in my work. To be visible and present, we often assume, is to have agency and power. But to be visible and present also opens you up to the threat of sexualized violence and harassment. This is a tension within feminist performance art that scholars like Peggy Phelan[2], Michael Warner, and Amelia Jones[3] have sought to theorize. The phenomenon of “appearing too much” in public space, and the literal and symbolic violence that this opens one up to, is persuasively described by David Wittenberg in “Going Out in Public[4].” And yet to concede to this threat by allowing fear to govern the ways I hold my body in public space is not a desirable path for someone who believes in the importance of a sex-positive feminist ethics. In Movement for Photoautomat, I subject my body to the threat that being exposed in (pseudo-)public presents, while playfully claiming agency in the act of consensual and contextual self-exposure. The photoautomat is a site of intimate publicness: a blurring of privacy and exhibitionism. I claim creative space within these residually anarchic machines in an effort to hold the tension between concealment and exposure, between private and public, and between violence and safer space.

Notes

1. Rebecca Schneider describes the paradox at the heart of feminist performance art of the explicit body: “the female body in representation has emblematized both the obsessive terrain of representational fantasy and, as empress/impress of the vanishing point, that which escapes or is beyond the representational field” (Schneider 6).

2. In Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (1993), Peggy Phelan outlines the tension between presence and absence, where presence is the state of being “marked” and absence is the state of being “unmarked.” Phelan discusses how women have historically been marked as defective in relation to patriarchal standards of value — the Male. This stems from the constructed nature of Western epistemological, psychic, political, and metaphysical binaries in which “The male is marked with value; the female is unmarked, lacking measured value and meaning” (Phelan 31)[1]. Consequently, Phelan insists that women should resist being “marked.” She proposes, quite radically, that it is the staging of disappearance that becomes the signature expression of women’s subjectivity — that a feminist aesthetics might ground itself in absence rather than presence (Phelan 31). And yet Phelan’s argument is fundamentally ambivalent, as she admits that “the price of that disappearance is difficult to calculate” (Phelan 31). Which is to say, how politically efficacious is it really for women to consent to disappearance?

3. In “The Rhetoric of the Pose: Hannah Wilke and the Radical Narcissism of Feminist Body Art,” Amelia Jones defends performance artist Hannah Wilke’s work against the negative critiques of narcissistic self-indulgence it receives from both the patriarchal art world and from other feminists[2]. Wilke’s body — conventionally attractive and figuratively wounded — is read as complicit with the patriarchy, and yet Jones provides a convincing reading of her work as subverting the tenets of High Modernism and Kantian aesthetics.

4. To quote David Wittenberg, “To be out in public is, ironically, tantamount to the danger of being removed from the public, not by being disappeared, but precisely by being made to appear too much, by being reconstituted as what Warner calls, ‘the concrete addressee’ (55)” (Wittenberg 432).

[1] “Within this psycho-philosophical frame, cultural reproduction takes she who is unmarked and re-marks her, rhetorically and imagistically, while he who is marked with value is left unremarked, in discursive paradigms and visual fields. He is the norm and therefore unremarkable; as the Other, it is she who he marks” (Phelan Unmarked 31).

[2] Anna Chave points out that “Instead of spurring a lively, wide-ranging discourse on Wilke’s art, Lippard’s critique of her performative work, and a correlative complain about the artist’s narcissism, have ever since dominated — and so arguably, short-circuited — the (rather sparse) Wilke literature” (Chave 108).

Bibliography

Jones, Amelia. “The Rhetoric of the Pose: Hannah Wilke and the Radical Narcissism of Feminist Body Art.” Body Art/Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.  

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: the politics of performance. NY: Routledge, 1996.

Wittenberg, David. “Going out in public: visibility and anonymity in Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics.” Quarterly Journal of Speech. 88.4 (2002): 426-33.   

Bio

Lauren Fournier (b. 1989, Regina, Saskatchewan) is a writer, artist, curator, and researcher currently based in Toronto. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at York University, where she is completing her dissertation "Auto-Theory as Contemporary Feminist Practice Across Media". Lauren holds an MA in English (Simon Fraser University, 2012) and a BA in Fine Arts (University of Regina, 2010). Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries, artist-run centres, and screenings across Canada, the United States, and Europe. Her writing has been published in Canadian Art, Magenta, Kapsula, CWS/CF, and West Coast Line. Recent curatorial projects include The Sustenance Rite (Blackwood Gallery), Fermenting Feminism (Critical DistanceFront/SpaceBüro BDP), and Out of Repetition, Difference (Zalucky Contemporary). She is the curator and editor of Fermenting Feminism, a multidisciplinary publication and series of site-specific performances, exhibitions, and screenings taking place internationally. www.laurenfournier.net

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