Archive for November 11th, 2012

11
Nov
12

Exhibition: ‘The Body as Protest’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 5th September – 2nd December 2012

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“The past neglect of the body in social theory was a product of Western mind-body dualism that divided human experience into bodily and cognitive realms. The knowledge-body distinction identifies knowledge, culture, and reason with masculinity and identifies body, nature, and emotion with femininity. Viewing human reason as the principal source of progress and emancipation, it perceives “the rational” as separate from, and exalted over, the corporeal. In other words, consciousness was grasped as separate from and preceding the body (Bordo 1993; Davis 1997). Following feminist thinking about women’s bodies in patriarchal societies, contemporary social theories shifted focus from cognitive dimensions of identity construction to embodiment in the constitution of identities (Davis 1997). Social construction theories do not view the body as a biological given but as constituted in the intersection of discourse, social institutions, and the corporeality of the body. Body practices, therefore, reflect the basic values and themes of the society, and an analysis of the body can expose the intersubjective meaning common to society. At the same time, discourse and social institutions are produced and reproduced only through bodies and their techniques (Frank 1991, 91). Thus, social analysis has expanded from studying the body as an object of social control and discipline “in order to legitimate different regimes of domination” (Bordo 1993; Foucault 1975, 1978, 1980) to perceiving it as a subject that creates meaning and performs social action (Butler 1990). The body is understood as a means for self-expression, an important feature in a person’s identity project (Giddens 1991), and a site for social subversiveness and self-empowerment (Davis 1997).”

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Orna Sasson-Levy and Tamar Rapoport. “Body, Gender, and Knowledge in Protest Movements: The Israeli Case,” in Gender & Society 17, 2003, p.381. For the references in the quotation please see the end of the paper at attached link.

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Despite my great admiration for John Coplans photographs of his body, on the evidence of these press photographs and the attached video, this exhibition seems a beautiful if rather tame affair considering the subject matter. Of course these photographs of the body can be understood as a means for self-expression and self-empowerment but there seems little social subversiveness in the choice of work on display. The two Mapplethorpe’s are stylised instead of stonkingly subversive, and could have been taken from his ‘X’ portfolio (the self portrait of him with a bull whip up his arse would have been particularly pleasing to see in this context). The exhibition could have included some of the many artists using the body as protest during the AIDS crisis (perhaps my favourite David Wojnarowicz or William Yang’s Sadness), the famous Burning Monk – The Self-Immolation (1963) by Malcolm Browne, photographs by Stellarc, Arthur Tress, Duane Michals, Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Francesca Woodman, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman to name but a few; even the Farm Security Administration photographs of share cropper families by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange would have had more impact than some of the photographs on display here. Having not seen the entire exhibition it is hard to give an overall reading, but on the selection presented here it would seem that this was a missed opportunity, an exhibition where the body did not protest enough.

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Many thankx to the Albertina, Vienna for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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theartVIEw – The Body as Protest at ALBERTINA

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Ishiuchi Miyako
1906#38
Nd
Courtesy by The Third Gallery Aya

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Hannah Villiger
Block XXX
1993-1994
© The Estate of Hannah Villiger

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Ketty La Rocca
Le mie parole e tu
1974
Courtesy Private Collection, Austria

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John Coplans
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 6
1999
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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Bruce Nauman
Studies for Holograms
Siebdruck, 1970
© VBK, Wien 2012
Foto: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Vincent
1981
Silbergelatinepapier
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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“The exhibition The Body as Protest highlights the photographic representation of the human body – a motif that has provided a wide variety of photographers with an often radical means of expression for their visual protest against social, political, but also aesthetic norms.

The show centers on an outstanding group of works by the artist John Coplans from the holdings of the Albertina. In his serially conceived large-format pictures, the photographer focused on the rendering of his own nude body, which he defamiliarized through fragmentation far from current forms of idealization. Relying on extremely sophisticated lighting, he presented himself in a monumental and sculptural manner over many years. His photographs can be understood as amalgamations of theoretical and artistic ideas, which in the show are accentuated through selective juxtapositions with works by other important exponents of body-related art.

The body also features prominently in the work of other artists such as Hannah Wilke, Ketty La Rocca, Hannah Villiger, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Miyako Ishiuchi. By means of these positions, such diverse themes as self-dramatization, conceptual photography, feminism, body language, and even transience are analyzed within an expanded artistic range. Moreover, the exhibition offers a differentiated view of the critical depiction of the human body as it has been practiced since 1970.”

Text from the Albertina website

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Hannah Wilke
Gestures
1974-76
Basierend auf der gleichnamigen
Video Performance von 1974
(35:30 min, b&w, sound)
Silbergelatinepapier
12 Blatt je 12,7x 17,8 cm
© Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon and Andrew Scharlatt, The Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, L.A./ VBK, Wien 2012

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John Coplans
Frieze No. 6
1994
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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John Coplans
Self Portrait (Hands)
1988
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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Ketty La Rocca
Craniologia
1973
Radiografie mit überblendeter Fotografie
SAMMLUNG VERBUND

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1986
Silbergelatinepapier
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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John Coplans
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 17
2000
Silbergelatinepapier
Albertina, Wien

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John Coplans
Back with Arms Above
1984
Silbergelatinepapier
© The John Coplans Trust

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Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
T: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am to 6 pm
Wednesday 10 am to 9 pm

Albertina website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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