The body of sexuation : feminist art practice in the 1990s

Nogues, Rosa (2013) The body of sexuation : feminist art practice in the 1990s. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The representation of the female body at the centre of a number of art practices of the 1990s reveals a radical problematisation of sex. What constitutes the body as sexed? What is the sex of the female body? Is the female body the body of 'woman'? This thesis argues that these are some of the questions raised by the work of a loose group of artists who came to prominence in the 1990s, such as Rist, McCarty, Yuskavage and Beecroft, and whose work was largely excluded from the field of feminist art. Our claim is that the work of these artists requires that it be critically understood as a specific intervention within the field of feminist art and criticism. The fundamental question at the root of the thesis concerns the precise nature of the female body and its relation to sex and sexual difference. Our discussion is positioned outside both biology - where sexual difference is determined by the function in reproduction - and sociology, where the highlighting of the inequality of the social manifestations of sexual difference leaves the principle of the binary organisation of sex unexamined. Our argument is located within the field of feminist art criticism, and more specifically, the feminist critique of representation, and so, it is in terms of the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, which provided the conceptual tools for this critique, that the specific problematic as regards the nature of the female body, which the practices discussed pinpoint, is addressed. The thesis investigates Lacan's conceptualisation of sexuatian as neither a biological nor a sociological category and argues that it provides an articulation of sex, based on the fundamental principle that 'there is no sexual relation', which leads not to a theory of sexual differentiation, but to an articulation of two possibilities of 'jouissance', the latter being that in terms of which the sexed body is produced. In engaging with the representation of the female body in the relevant art practices from the 1990s in terms of this conception of the body produced by sexuation, this thesis argues that these practices present a radical problematisation of sex. It is in terms of this fundamental feminist exercise of critically engaging with the meaning and nature of sex that their intervention within the field of feminist art and criticism must be understood.

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