Visiting Artist Paper 2, Janine Antoni

Laura Marshall.

Janine Antoni, 20 March.

It goes without saying that Janine Antoni is an iconic performance artist who is very well known in the contemporary art world today. Her work is biographical, feminist, and extremely personal. She began her artistic career with a piece entitled Weaned, which was a cast mold of her breast next a cast rubber baby bottle nipple. This juxtaposition forces the viewer to view her, a woman, as a vessel for life, literally giving it to an enfant through her body. Her work continues in this vein, usually involving a performance where she uses her own body to speak to the human condition on a visceral level. Notable works include one where she soaks her long hair in hair dye, and, using her head as the paintbrush, literally mops the witnesses out of the room she is painting. This hands on approach speaks to a contemporary audience like nothing else would; it is too deeply personal to be dismissed. One of her most famous work is entitled Gnaw, where Antoni chews on a block of chocolate, and also a block of lard, spitting each out as she goes. A blatant comment on Western consumerist culture, Antoni furthers this by using the spit out pieces of chocolate and lard in lipstick tubes and in a box of chocolates. It is extremely difficult to miss the underlying meaning of Antoni’s works. Her interest lies in the interaction between object and body, and how she can use her body to make the audience feel as though they are experiencing what she did while they look at her work. While this general statement can be applied to any performance artist, Antoni especially takes advantage of a person’s natural empathy by placing her body in situations so bizarre, and sometimes disquieting, it is very easy to imagine yourself in her place.

In her later works, Antoni has been working with what it means to be a mother, since she now has a daughter. Her works take on a much more personal view of what it means to be a mother in our society. Motherhood is one of the few things that is universal to all species, and at some level, it connects humanity together. Antoni uses her body in radical ways unlike any other artist, instead of causing intentional harm, she instead makes her body her tool for sculpting, as in Gnaw, or for painting, for her performance piece with the hair dye.

Such acts are simple yet compelling. Performance art in and of itself is difficult to understand sometimes, and some of it is easily dismissable as a work intended only for shock value. Antoni’s works are just subtle enough that her work should not be viewed through this scope. However, her lecture itself, while she was an excellent speaker and provided a great talk in which the audience was extremely engaged, it was more or less a retelling of when she was featured on Art:21. Her scope as an artist should not be diminished by this, but I was disappointed not to find out more about her and her works, instead of the same statements I had heard on the program. Antoni takes her art to an extreme that is difficult to understand, but holds back just enough so that the audience is not shirked away by the act of performance itself.

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