Sunday, February 22, 2009

Inside the human head

Thanks to Bo Wilsdorf for sending this revealing illustration.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I'll be your mirror

I am my own screen as well as the environment’s projection surface. Other people are my mirror, and I am their mirror. - Manon

I recently had the good fortune to come upon a copy of the catalog for Manon-A Person, which documents the first comprehensive exhibit on the Swiss artist, Manon. While little known in US, Manon has been a pioneer in performance, installation, and photography since the 1970s. Her practice parallels feminist works by artists like Hannah Wilke and Carolee Schneemann and explores sexuality, identity and gender construction through the use of her own body.

In 1966, the young artist rejected her civil name and became Manon, after the title character of a Henri-Georges Clouzot film. Critic Thomas Wynn has described Clouzot’s heroine as a “disembodied and mythical seductress.” It seems this is an apt description of the artist too, as she lures us to her through a constant state of disappearance. Much like Cindy Sherman, Manon hides herself through the act of disguise and display.

Both Manon and Sherman play roles and use masquerade to critique identity construction. In the series Ball of Loneliness, Manon photographs herself as a series of characters waiting alone on a dark couch. She plays countless roles including a housewife, a sex kitten, a proper lady, a femme fatale, and street urchin. Who or what are these women waiting for? Are they a group of women united through their mutual loneliness or are they a manifestation of a single psyche? Her 1977, work The Artist Is Present would point to the later. In this performance, the artist employed a group of young women to become Manon impersonators.

Manon, Ball of Loneliness, 1980

Cindy Sherman, Bus Riders, 1977

Manon, The Artist Is Present, 1977

Manon understands the power of self-construction when she says “I wanted to be my own product in the form of space, in the form of photograph, a picture, a performance.” She produces herself over and over again through a highly stylized replication that is predicated on duality. Like a movie star, Manon is ephemeral; she exists only as a series of images, gestures, costumes, and objects.

The exhibit, Manon- A Person originated in Helmhaus Zurich and will be on view at the Swiss Institute in New York April 29- June 20, 2009. An archive of works and biographical information can be viewed on the artist’s website (English version still under construction.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pretty Please

From the November 1968 issue of McCall's magazine

Teenform offers these informative booklets: "The Understanding Mother"... how to help the between-ager cope with her emotional and physical changes and "Very Special Secrets"... written for girls between 9 and 16... skin care, figure tips, hobbies, clothes, etc.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


All people have widely diverging experiences of things. It's actually quite strange. We believe that we understand one another when we communicate and we think we know what the other person is talking about. But we all have such different experiences and frames of reference. It is a miracle that we can keep the world together - but then again it does fall apart sometimes. -Annika Von Hausswolff

The Legacy of Beige, 2002

It Takes a Long Time to Die, 2002

This spring, The Turku Art Muesum in Finland will host a major museum exhibit by photographer, Annika Von Hausswolff. A richly illustrated catalogue "ICH BIN DIE ECKE ALLER RÄUME" produced by Magasin 3 is available throughout the exhibition period. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Hunger to Love

“Look into my eyes
Hear the words I can’t say “
Tindersticks, Trouble Every Day soundtrack

Do we ever really have the words to describe the depth of our passions? Both sorrow and love tend to flatten in translation from the inside out. Sometimes an unspoken moment between bodies could reveal more than any word. Claire Denis’ 2001 film, Trouble Every Day lives in the nuanced silence between intimacy and flesh to reveal a complicated view of romance.

Early in the film we are introduced to newlyweds Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June Brown (Tricia Vessey), who are hermetically sealed in an airplane as they travel to their Parisian honeymoon. The couple is passionate, but cool, as they tenderly kiss and caress one another in anticipation of nuptial bliss. Shane is dark and moody, against the shimmering paleness of his doe-like bride. We see Shane escape to the bathroom, distressed and overwhelmed by the depth of his own desire.

While Trouble Every Day is a movie about a young couple in love, it is also a terrifying monster movie. The horror is limited but intense and the film reads more like a 1970s psychic thriller. The languid pace and limited dialogue creates a terror that is as much psychological as physical. Shots of nearly empty hotel hallways and close-up following shots create a relentless sense of impending doom.

Coré (Beatrice Dalle), a woman with a voracious appetite for flesh contrasts the subtle romantic tensions of the honeymooning couple. Like the mad woman in the attic, Coré is locked away by her husband Doctor Semeneau (Alex Descas). He attempts to contain and restrain her primal urges, but his efforts prove futile to her insatiable desires. Initially Coré reads as a nymphomaniac, but horribly visceral scenes reveal that she is monster, a sort of zombie-vampire who literally devours the objects of her desire.

Though a somewhat convoluted narrative, we find that Shane worked with Semeneau and Coré in a lab that researched the human libido. Shane’s distracted moodiness and difficulties with intimacy turn to full-blown affliction. He can’t bring himself to consummate his marriage, because like Coré, he is a monster who can’t temper his hunger for flesh. He is cut off from true closeness and bound to lurid anonymous sexual encounters.

Denis leaves us with a haunting and distressing impression of desire and intimacy. In the end, June knows that something is wrong. She senses that Shane is hiding a dark secret, but she looks the other way. She doesn’t ask, because she doesn’t want to know. While Shane’s murderous ways may be extreme, the sentiment of June’s willful denial is common in relationships. Every day, women deny the bad behaviors of their abusive or unfaithful partners, in the name of love.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Playing Dress-up

video of runway show

The Unconscious Significance of Hair

"A husband's affections may easily be alienated by so trivial a thing as the growth of a few sporadic hairs on the part of his wife's lip which he formerly loved to kiss. That which to him was lovely has become repulsive." 
-The Unconscious Significance of Hair, Charles Berg, 1951

Friday, February 6, 2009

Daily Secretion

Stomach Juice 3 quarts
Pancreatic Juice 1 1/4 pints
Intestinal Juice 1/2 pint
Bile 1 1/2 pints
Saliva 2 1/4 pints

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sugar is dangerous: Sweet Movie

Dusan Makavejev’s 1974 film Sweet Movie, opens with a rather unorthodox beauty pageant. In this contest, the freshest virgins from around the globe display their finery, not in a swimsuit competition, but rather, through an onstage gynecological exam! The shock of the Miss World pageant pales in comparison to the countless displays of unabashed public sex, a urine- and vomit-soaked orgy, and the striptease seduction of preadolescent boys by a grown woman.

Makavejev, most well known for WR: Mysteries of the Organism is Yugoslavian and his films certainly contain ample historical and political references. Eastern European history isn’t my strong suit, so I prefer to focus on the symbolic and visceral aspects of the film.

Sweet Movie has at its center the story of two women, the virgin, Miss World 1984 and the whore, Captain Anna Planeta, a revolutionary prostitute who has been exiled from her homeland and forced to reside on her candy-filled boat named “Survival.” Anna is forlorn and she laments that all her lovers are dead. That’s because she is a black widow who lures men and boys alike to their demise in her sticky lair. Before stabbing her lover Potemkin, she gently purrs in his ear “sugar is dangerous” as they copulate in a tub of the white stuff. Anna is sexually free, but in the end, she is captured and punished for her murderous ways.

Both women have limited mobility, but this is shown most dramatically in the mute and doll-like Miss World 1984. Throughout the film she rarely moves of her own volition; she is carried and wheeled, and most disturbingly stuffed into a suitcase and shipped around the globe. She is the female body as commodity, as pure fetish object birthed for consumption. As the film concludes we see Miss World being filmed in a vat of chocolate sauce. Where Karen Finley’s chocolate-smeared performances in the 90s were filled with rage and sexual power, Miss World, her polar opposite, is catatonic and closed off from her own bodily experience.

This idea of waking up to one’s life is echoed in a musical interlude that plays throughout the film. In a simple song, a female voice asks “is there life after birth?” Makavejev seems to ask are we really alive to our bodies, emotions and experiences, or are we simply automatons who have been dulled by repeated cultural tyranny? He was heavily influenced by Wilhelm Reich’s controversial research into the link between sexual repression and neurosis, and Makavejev often uses displays of unfettered erotic play as an expression of complete liberation. Over time, the film has remained challenging, because it gets down to deeply ingrained taboos against the oozing, dirty, raw, and ultimately mortal body.

Makavejev taps into the abject most directly in the scenes at the Milky Way Commune, where Miss World sits listlessly while acts of debauchery swirl around her. Many of the members of the fictional commune were actual members of Otto Muehl’s Actions -Analytic Kommune. Founded in 1970, the commune was an offshoot of the Vienna Actionist performance group that included Hermann Nitsch, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, and Gunter Brus. Muehl saw sexual repression as the cause of a litany of social ills, including, fear, aggression, antisocial behavior, depression and creative impotency. As a healing device, the group enacted frequent regressive therapy sessions aimed to recover infantile sexual urges.

 image from Otto Muehl's cosinus apha, 1964

The first commune scene in Sweet Movie displays a vigorous orgy of meat, piss, shit, and vomit around a large dining table. One man pulls a slab of cow tongue out the opened zipper of his pants and proceeds to chop away at his proxy penis. While we know it is a fake, the proximity and visceral likeness evoke a powerful repulsion. Later, we witness a grown naked man, rolling around on a dingy mattress like a giant baby. He freely urinates and plays with his own shit as onlookers violently strike his chest and douse him in clouds of flour. The images are disturbing, yet powerful in their ability to reveal the ingrained fears we all have against the physical and emotional outpourings our own bodies and our ultimate collapse into death. 

With Sweet Movie, Makaejev cracks off the candy coating and shocks us into a realization of the limits of our freedom from both internal and external forces. He prods us to wake up to the real experience—both the beauty and the horror—of our flesh.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


"Spasms, convulsions, blackouts, semblances of epilepsy, catalepsies, ecstasies, comas, lethargies, deleria: a thousand forms with in a few moments."
-Georges Didi-Huberman, describing an hysterical fit in his book Invention of Hysteria 

Images of soprano Alexandra Deshorties from the fashion feature Aria in the February 2009 issue of W magazine.

Hysteria: Past Yet Present

I'm very excited to be included in this exhibition. It's renewed my interest in the topic and provided the inspiration to begin this blog. There are many compelling artists in the show, and I hope to write about their work here in the future.

From the website:

February 5 – April 9, 2009
Paul Robeson Gallery, Rutgers University
Opening Reception - Thursday, February 5, 5pm – 7pm

Hysteria is an elusive, psychosomatic, even mythical disorder, impinging on our physical, cultural, and moral concerns. It is often characterized as a mercurial state of disturbance that can be manifested in both a psychological and physical sense. The word “hysteria” comes from the Greek work hystera, a term applied to disturbances of the uterus. Addressing this topic, a number of contemporary artists have dealt directly with the work of European medical professionals Sigmund Freud and Jean-Martin Charcot by creating artwork that mirrors aspects of their studies. This exhibition will explore hysteria in relation to gender construction, feminine identity and pathologization, and sheer physical form given to the condition in the imagination of artists.

Artists in this exhibition:
Beth B
Jennifer DUDLEY
Carson FOX,
Guerrilla Girls
Georgette MANIATIS
Jennifer MAZZA
Cindy REHM

image by Cortney Andrews, Eros & Thanatos, 2008