Tableaux Vivants (for one) @ Bistroteque

The Artbus: Pink Edition was intended to celebrate women in the art world and highlight the under-representation of women artists in commercial and public galleries/collections. They tried to arrange the ratio of people on the bus and the art visited on the tour to inversely mirror the percentage of women artists represented in galleries which holds at around 15% or less. Apparently, many of the male 15% were reticent to attend and the bus had only around 4 or 5 men on it, one of whom was a particularly outspoken London Gallerist.

            I was talking after the event with one of the other women on the Artbus about their tactic and we both agreed that we wouldn’t have had a problem with a women-only bus. I know from my involvement with the project that the organisers were concerned about justifying this focus. She commented that the reason in the past for women-only groups was to create an environment wherein women felt comfortable to communicate freely and be themselves. I guess because of the art world focus of the bus my mind immediately went to thinking of unequal representation in the arts rather than the ‘safe space’ approach.[1] Now that she has reminded me, I can’t help but wonder if a certain male's presence (and I might add, bolshy tone of questioning, especially during the studio visit) did deter women from speaking up. I believe it definitely changed the atmosphere of the day. It may have effected the way a certain person adamantly denied any gender-based inequality in the art world, specifically with regard to positions of power in London’s institutions. She seemed blind-sighted to the fact that her career and those of the women she mentioned were exceptional. She glossed over the disproportionate ratio of male to female artists represented by galleries instead of opening up a discussion about it. Maybe she would have been different if it was just us girls, but maybe not.

            David Salle’s exhibition was the first stop on the tour. As the routemaster wound its way around the East End and neared its final stop I felt quite certain my performance would be the most overtly feminist and confrontational work of the day. I was struck by how much the context can change the meaning of the work. The last time I performed Tableaux Vivants (for one) was for The Performance Matters researchers and respondents at Whitechapel Gallery, where Rabih Mroué questioned me because he felt the piece wasn’t political at all. To Mroué, I had emptied the politics out of the original performances I was referencing (just like critics claim Salle empties out the meaning in his post-modern nudes).[2] But in the context of the Artbus, my work was the perhaps embarrassingly feminist kind. I clearly cared about what women (not just women but feminist artists) had done before I came on the scene and even though I use humour and entertainment (which Yvonne Rainer wouldn’t approve of), it’s pretty obvious I admire the work of that generation and feel their message is still valid today.[3]

            As I performed the final dance (like Rita Hayworth and not like Yvonne Rainer), I glanced over at the male gallerist and noticed he wasn’t even watching; he couldn’t have been less interested. Despite the fact that I didn’t say ‘no’ to theatre, staring into the ether was more entertaining for him. Maybe I’m being too harsh, perhaps had I looked over at a different moment he would have had a different expression or gaze. Regardless, there were other faces in the audience, some of whom seemed to be enjoying my performance. I felt it went well, my confidence as a performer is improving, although I’m not sure this documentation captures it. There is more work to be done.


[1] See Judy Batalion’s unpublished PhD thesis “Mad Mothers, Fast Friends, and Twisted Sisters: Women’s Collaborations in the Visual Arts (1970-2000)” [2007] which addresses that very phenomenon specifically in terms of women's creative collaborations. 

[2] Salle’s work is most often written about in terms of its quintessentially postmodern use of what Fredrik Jameson calls pastiche or ‘blank parody’ in which the imitation of other styles becomes a ‘dead language’ devoid of meaning. Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1991. However, according to Mira Schor, “Salle’s reduction ‘of woman to so much animal flesh, a headless body’ seems, in part to be a response to the radical avant-garde feminism that he was exposed to as a student at the California Institute of the Arts in the early 70s”. Her argument is that Salle’s work is reactionary and not in fact as lacking in meaning as his critics (or rather, admirers) claim it to be. Schor, Mira, “Appropriated Sexuality” from Wet: Essays on Painting, Feminism and Art Culture, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997, p.8. To be fair, Salle’s work is probably a response to both the Feminist Art Program at CalArts and the influence of John Baldessari who also taught there at that time.

[3] I’m referring here to the belief that avant-garde, politically-motivated art should be non-theatrical, as shared by many feminist performance artists working in the 60s and 70s, exemplified by Yvonne Rainer’s “No Manifesto”, a diatribe against all forms of artifice. Rainer, Yvonne, Feelings Are Facts, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, p. 63.