5×5: "Women Reclaiming Their Bodies" by Lindley Warren

Valie Export, Aktionshose:Genitalpanik (Actionpant: Genital Panic), 1969.

 Lindley Warren is the online curator for The Photographic Dictionary, The Ones We Love, and Flourish Flori. She is currently working on an online platform to highlight fine arts being made in her home state. 

“Artists such as Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke, Gina Pane, Yayoi Kusama, and others performed before audiences and cameras, often in the nude, to celebrate the female body and reclaim it from multiple histories of objectification. These artists deconstructed historical representation of the female body in art, such as in the Venus tradition, and in popular culture. By revealing their bodies and using their bodies as a stage or a canvas, these performers exposed how art history has depended on sexual exploitation and often violence against the female body, which it has erased female subjectivity. Rejecting masculine-biased trends in art history, such as formalism, aesthetic disinterest, and commodification of the art object, these feminists used their bodies as art to upset the status quo.” Ann Millett-Gallant, The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art
Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll, 1975.
Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll, 1975.


The text from Schneemann’s Super 8 film, Kitch’s Last Meal, 1973-76 that she read during her Interior Scroll performance:

I met a happy man
a structuralist filmmaker
– but don’t call me that it’s something else I do –
he said we are fond of you
you are charming
but don’t ask us to look at your films
we cannot
there are certain films we cannot look at:
the personal clutter
the persistence of feelings
the hand-touch sensibility
the diaristic indulgence
the painterly mess
the dense gestalt
the primitive techniques
(I don’t take the advice of men
they only talk to themselves)
even if you are older than me you are a monster
I spawned you have slithered out of the excesses and
vitality of the ‘60s
he said you can do as I do
take one clear process
follow its strictest implications
intellectually establish a system of permutations
establish their visual set
I said my film is concerned with
very well he said then why the train?
the train is DEATH as there is die in diet
and di in digestion
then you are back to metaphors and meanings
my work has no meaning beyond the logic of its systems
I have done away with emotion intuition inspiration –
those aggrandized habits which set artists apart from
ordinary people – those unclear tendencies which are
inflicted upon viewers . . .
it’s true I said when I watch your films
my mind wanders freely during the half hour
of pulseing dots I compose letters
dream of my lover
write a grocery list
rummage in the trunk for a missing sweater
plan the drainage pipes for the root cellar
– it is pleasant not to be manipulated
he protested
you are unable to understand and appreciate
the system the grid the numerical and rational procedures
the Pythagorean cues –
I saw my failings were worthy of dismissal
I’d be buried alive
my works lost . . .
he said we can be friends equally
tho’ we are not artists equally
I said we cannot be friends equally
and we cannot be artists equally
he told me he had lived with a ‘sculptress’
I asked does that make me a ‘film-makeress’?
Oh no he said we think of you as a dancer

Valie Export, Aktionshose:Genitalpanik (Actionpant: Genital Panic), 1969.
VALIE EXPORT, Aktionshose:Genitalpanik (Actionpant: Genital Panic), 1969.
 “The story goes like this: In 1968, at age twenty-eight, Austrian artist Waltraud Hollinger changed her name to VALIE EXPORT, in all uppercase letters, to announce her presence on the Viennese art scene.  Eager to counter the male-dominated company of the group of artists known as the Vienna Actionists—including Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Herman Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler—she sought a new identity that was, she says, not bound “by her father’s name (Lehner), or her former husband’s name (Hollinger).” She transformed herself into VALIE and appropriated EXPORT, the name of a popular cigarette brand, as her last name.
This act of provocation would characterize her future performances, specifically Action Pants: Genital Panic, for which she is best known. For this performance, the artist walked into an experimental art-film house in Munich wearing crotchless trousers and a tight leather jacket, with her hair teased wildly.  She roamed through the rows of seated spectators, her exposed genitalia level with their faces. Challenging the public to engage with a “real woman” instead of with images on a screen, she illustrated her notion of “expanded cinema,” in which the artist’s body activates the live context of watching. Born of the 1968 revolt against modern consumer and technical society, her defiant feminist action was memorialized in a picture taken the following year by the photographer Peter Hassman in Vienna. As you can see, in this picture the artist also holds a machine-gun. EXPORT had the image screenprinted in a large edition and fly-posted it in public squares and on the street.”  Roxana Marcoci, MOMA.


Eleanor Antin American, Carving: A Traditional Sculpture, 1972.
Eleanor Antin American, Carving: A Traditional Sculpture, 1972.

“A landmark early feminist work, Eleanor Antin’s Carving: A Traditional Sculpture comprises 148 black-and-white photographs documenting the artist’s loss of 10 pounds over 37 days. Every morning she was photographed naked in the same four stances to record her barely perceptible self-induced weight loss. (The photographs from each day are arranged vertically, and the entire process can be read horizontally, like a filmstrip.) Antin’s performance purposely toyed with the traditional process of Greek sculptors, who were said to find their ideal form by chipping away at a block of marble and discarding any unnecessary material. The artist’s idea of “carving” her own body was inspired by an invitation from the Whitney Museum of Art for its biennial survey exhibition, which at the time restricted itself to the established categories of painting and sculpture, though this work was considered too conceptual for the exhibition.” The Art Institute of Chicago 

Hannah Wilke, So Help Me Hannah: What Does This Represent / What Do You Represent (Reinhart), 1978–1984.
Hannah Wilke, So Help Me Hannah: What Does This Represent / What Do You Represent (Reinhart), 1978–1984.

“Wilke’s project So Help Me Hannah is exemplary in it’s dynamic merging of body (the rhetoric of the pose) and mind (the “I” of cultural production): Wilke, like many feminists of the period, projects herself forward in physical action, but also explicitly lays claim to her intellectual capacity as body/self. So Help Me Hannah initially existed as a series of photographs taken in New York’s raw alternative space, P.S. 1, in 1978. The photographs show Wilke, naked, in high heels and holding a gun, captured in various poses with overlaid quotations from texts primarily by male philosophers and artists — from Edmund Burke, Marx, and Nietzsche to Daniel Buren and David Smith — regarding the relationships among individuals, art, and society.” Amelia Jones, Body Art/performing the Subject

Ana Mendieta, (Untitled) Rape Scene, 1973
Ana Mendieta, (Untitled) Rape Scene, 1973

“Untitled (Rape Scene) is the documentation of an action that the artist performed in her apartment in Iowa City, while she was a student at the University of Iowa on the innovative Intermedia art course run by the German artist Hans Breder (born 1935). It was created in response to a brutal and highly publicised rape and murder of a nursing student, Sara Ann Otten, by another student in March 1973. The following month Mendieta invited her fellow students to her apartment where, through a door left purposefully ajar, they found her in the position recorded in this photograph, which recreated the scene as reported in the press. Some time later, Mendieta recalled that her audience ‘all sat down, and started talking about it. I didn’t move. I stayed in position about an hour. It really jolted them.’ (Quoted in Ana Mendieta, p.127, note 11.) In 1980, she commented that the rape had ‘moved and frightened’ her, elaborating: ‘I think all my work has been like that – a personal response to a situation … I can’t see being theoretical about an issue like that.’ (Quoted in Ana Mendieta, p.90.) On another occasion she explained that she had created this work ‘as a reaction against the idea of violence against women’ (quoted in Viso 2004, p.256, note 58).”