Mons Veneris is an expedition into transsexual geographies, border regions, strategic locations, spaces of conflict and isolation, places where identities are fragmented and overlap.
The exhibition brings together pioneering work by some of the women who developed their artistic practice in the 1960s and 70s alongside a strongly political feminist theory, and work by younger artists who made their reputations in the 1990s or who are gaining recognition now in very different circumstances. While, in the 'developed' economies of western Europe, feminism has become mainstream and identity politics a 'lifestyle' issue, this exhibition investigates dissident feminisms and specific aesthetic strategies dealing with sexuality, politics and daily life as well as the experience of women in post-communist countries.
The pornography issue becomes at once more problematic and a lot clearer when it is a matter of artwork by women, especially at a time when the art world seems more eager than ever to adopt material directly from the world of porno, without questioning its own structures of consumption and exploitation. Each in their own way, works by Fiona Banner, Tanja Ostojic (Looking for a husband with EU passport) and Julia Wayne seek to find expression and intervene on this sensitive topic. Banner almost obsessively consumes a porno film, a film not intended for a female subject. She goes through it over and over, she drinks it in, transcribes and transforms it. The distancing effects of Banner's work do nothing to reduce the intensity of her engagement, or to soften the material for the sake of art. Wayne's window installation Discrete Side Entrance, also touches on the theme of subjectivity, subtly disturbing expectations.
Pioneer artists, like Valie Export and Sanja Ivekovic, whose work to some extent still awaits an appropriate historical assessment, showed in their early engagement with the female body how a woman could be come a subject in art and not just an object. Aktionshose: Genitalpanik shows Valie Export in her 'action trousers', machine gun in hand, with her eyes fixed on the camera.
Violence against women, one of the main issues of Feminist theory and activism in the 1970s, is taken up again by Fiona Rukschcio (b. 1972) in her instructional video Self-defence Earflaps, a thoroughly humorous work which nonetheless deals with a serious subject in a poignant way. Works by Mare Tralla and Mara Mattuschka, likewise deploy and absurdist, satirical humour.
Although female homosexuality has become little more than a 'lifestyle choice' in western society, one can hardly find artists accepted by the mainstream who deal with Lesbian sexuality and identity in their work. Artists like the outstanding video-maker, Sadie Benning (also know for her work with the band Le Tigre) have avoided the art world. In her video Desire. Different Codes, Marth compiles clips from existing works foregrounding Lesbian representation and desire.
Discussion: 26 October, 2.00-6.00 pm
Coming Round the Mountain: Female Geographies discussion An opportunity to discuss some of the issues raised by the exhibition, Mons Veneris, and the aesthetic strategies that artists have adopted to deal with their specific contexts and interests. How is political feminism in post-communist countries affected by the headlong westernisation of the last decade? What happens when identity politics becomes a 'lifestyle' issue? How does the globalised art world deal with female sexuality and dissident feminisms? With artists and theorists Marina Grzinic (Ljubljana), Anca Daucikova (Bratislava) and Sally Tallant (London, chair), co-ordinated by Rosemarie Reitsamer (editor of Female Sequences, Vienna).
A special bi-lingual issue of Female Sequences: FrauenLesbenKulturHEFTig on Female Geographies will be published in February 2003 containing contributions from the participating artists and theorists. (red)
Austrian Cultural Forum
28 Rutland Gate
London SW7 1PQ