Review: Amelia Jones – Amy Ferguson

    The art historian Amelia Jones spoke on April 17, 2012 on the “Queer Feminist Duration: The Trace of the Subject in Contemporary Art.” This talk was on a paper that is covered in a chapter of one of her two recent books, so it was sort of a premiere for her work. The main goal of this paper was to explain in depth one of her new ideas, a new theory on identity and how we express and conceive our identities.
Jones focused on art about the female body, specifically the 1970s feminist art called “cunt art”. This was where she focused her imagery for the majority of the hour-long presentation. Each slide was a piece by an artist whose work depicts the female gentalia in illustration or in photographs. The slides were blown up and in your face. Jones was not afraid to pick her words wisely for this paper, using profane vocabulary that complemented the focus of the works.
Her main goal was to explain this new theory of how we should see and perform identity. She admitted that we will always be stuck with gender and sexuality as primary means of conceiving our identities and presenting them to the world. However, she wanted to offer up new ideas for identity. She did not see her ideas as a solution to the problems with the ways we perceive identity, but rather as a simple new idea of what identity is. She wanted to offer identity studies a new vocabulary for the concepts that we use to describe gender and to create art that would express ideas not be described as easily. The three main words she focused on were durational, feminism and queer. Along with these three words, she used anamorphosis and intersectionality. With these, she planned on removing the focus of gender identity from the setting of sexuality and onto how we distort what we see.
There were two artists to whom she referred frequently in her presentation: Renee Clux and Cathy Opie. Both were classic examples of artists in the world of feminist and fetish art as well as in the subcategory of cunt art. Renee Clux’s “Slit of Paint” is an example of cunt art. Jones said that is shows “[woman’s] body as it is shown in [her] memories”. This abstract painting consists primarily of a white, peachy flesh color created by building up paint with a pallet knife; a simple slit of red paint cuts into the white mounds of paint, much like the female gentalia. Jones brought up the fact that the only reason we deem such a painting art when we have no way of analyzing is that it is hung up in a formal setting such as a gallery. Jone spent quite some time describing the painting, detailing every stroke of the pallet knife and hinting at erotic writings. She talked about how the red slit appears to form a wound on the canvas, reinforcing this idea with the quote “The sentence is finished on the other side”.
    When describing Cathy Opie’s self portraits, Jones spent the time demonstrating how four photos create a timeline of identity for Opie. “Self Portrait/nursing” is linked by style, size and medium to the photo “Pevert”, as well as by the remaining scars that Opie had inflicted on herself while shooting the photo “Pervert”. “Pervert” is linked to “Cutting” by Opie’s act of mutilating her own flesh for art’s sake. In “Cutting”, however, Opie cut the image of a happy lesbian family with a house and tree onto her back. This is where the link between “Cutting” and “Dyke” becomes apparent: “Dyke” uses a young stand-in for Opie who is similar to the family depicted in “Cutting”. The story that this series of pictures illustrates is the transition of Opie’s identity within lesbian culture throughout her life. All four are the same size, style, and medium and even have the same type of fabric backing, which strengthens their links to each other. Jones spoke about how these photos force us to rethink the ideals of family and motherhood that have been built into our minds in this time and culture. They produce a forced change in the viewer’s relationship to the painting

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