Georgescu-Lecture Review1

Dora Georgescu


Lecture Review 1

Art History Lecture Series: Amelia Jones


 In her lecture on “Queer Feminist Durationality,” researcher and author Amelia Jones examines how identity affects both the meaning artists imbue their work with as well as the reactions it engenders in their audience.  Although not the most dynamic lecturer (preferring to simply read her paper word for word in monotone), Professor Jones has clearly dedicated a great deal of attention to her topic.

Sexual identity and gender orientation obviously play defining, if not dominant, roles in shaping the identities of feminist and queer artists. As such the themes, values and preoccupations associated with such identities feature strongly in their works. However, Jones points out that too often the identities of the queer and feminist artists are already so strongly defined both by the artists and the public, that the artists and their work are viewed as a subject or statement in themselves, distorting our ability to relate to the art in a more meaningful way. The art itself becomes lost in the supposed identity of the artist, but rather than examining what that identity is composed of, and how it plays out in the artists’ work, a preconceived notion of what the message or goal of feminist or queer art is superimposed onto the work. The viewer sees culture warriors plastering their art with vaginas for shock value or socio-political impact, and as such fails to relate to and understand the artists through their pieces. Jones doesn’t deny the politics that color so much of the art she studies, but her theories on how we can relate to the art and its creators expose the depth of this genre of contemporary art in a manner that allows us to gain a greater understanding of the interesting people behind it.

In her paper and presentation Jones takes the time to describe her own experiences in putting her theory of relation into practice. Describing the Mira Schor piece Slit of Paint, Jones first launches into an unabashedly sexual description of the artist’s painterly technique. Through Jones’ theory the feminist identity of the piece does not stop at the subject (a vagina), but extends to experiencing the sexually-charged femininity of the painter as she created it. Jones imagines the strokes of the paintbrush that create Scho’s “Slit,” caressing her own, and true to the genre she is studying, Jones doesn’t shy away from using the blunt sexual terminology of the subject matter. Perhaps more evidently sexual than Schor’s piece is Valie Export’s grouping of six posters of the crotchless trouser-clad artist titled Action Pants: Genital Panic. According to Jones, with this piece Export opens up new circuits of meaning through a hostile offering of her genitals, which “stare” at us, opening up a feminist durational space. She often uses the word durational to refer to the opening of a work to interpretation.

Jones also emphasizes the layered and complicated nature of identity in general, specifically that of the artists she studies. Examining Cathie Opie’s Self-portrait/nursing, Jones touches on the blatant gender-role-reversal, and Madonna and Child motifs, but then quickly moves on to examine the more nuanced elements of Opie’s identity. She traces a brief history of Opie’s other self-portraits as they evolve towards the “nursing” piece, exposing how identity is built upon an individual’s past history even as their sense of self remains fluid and open to reinterpretation. She relates to Opie through her own experience of motherhood and nursing (once again quite graphically) and teases out the themes and feelings present in the portrait, moving past the image itself which on its own reveals little more than a large “dyke” suckling her only slightly less mammoth child. “Intersectionality” is the term Jones chooses to describe the complicated nature of identity and her presentation reaffirms the message that understanding those different from us necessitates that we examine the multitude of factors that make up their identities as well as our own.

Having studied theories of “othering” those that are different from us, I found Jones’ lecture insightful. While her manner of speaking and use of jargon and abstract notions made her lecture rather difficult to follow, she presented a thorough analysis of a subject that is often difficult to broach.  Much like the artists she studies, Jones troubles the idea that we can know what we see in order to open a door to a more comprehensive understanding of that which is unknown.

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