Posts Tagged ‘protest


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

Exhibition dates: 5th September – 2nd December 2012



Ishiuchi Miyako (Japanese, b. 1947)
Courtesy by The Third Gallery Aya



“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).”

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.



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.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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.



theartVIEw – The Body as Protest at ALBERTINA



Hannah Villiger (Swiss, b. 1974)
Block XXX
© The Estate of Hannah Villiger



Ketty La Rocca (Italian, 1938-1976)
Le mie parole e tu
Courtesy Private Collection, Austria



John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 6
Albertina, Wien



Bruce Nauman (American, b. 1941)
Studies for Holograms
Siebdruck, 1970
© VBK, Wien 2012
Foto: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln



Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation



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 centres 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 defamiliarised through fragmentation far from current forms of idealisation. 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-dramatisation, conceptual photography, feminism, body language, and even transience are analysed 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



Hannah Wilke (American, 1940-1993)
Basierend auf der gleichnamigen
Video Performance von 1974
(35:30 min, b&w, sound)
12 Blatt je 12,7x 17,8 cm
© Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon and Andrew Scharlatt, The Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, L.A./ VBK, Wien 2012



John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Frieze No. 6
Albertina, Wien



John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self Portrait (Hands)
Albertina, Wien



Ketty La Rocca (Italian, 1938-1976)
Radiografie mit überblendeter Fotografie



Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation



John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Self Portrait Interlocking Fingers No 17
Albertina, Wien



John Coplans (British, 1920-2003)
Back with Arms Above
© The John Coplans Trust



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

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

Albertina website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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