Last weekend, I spent a night watching some of the most charismatic performances in the great city of San Francisco. It was a drag show at Aunt Charlie's, and the range of personas was an intriguing reminder about everyday performances. Thanks for that insight in grad school, Judith Butler -- the reality of gender as performance arises more often than I had imagined before learning about gender theory!
The first artist that springs to mind is Cindy Sherman, a celebrated American photographer who has maintained herself as both creator and subject in her large body of work. Here's one of the more well-known images, called Untitled (1981).
|Image courtesy of Metro Pictures|
It's a composition that invites viewers to imagine what is happening, and more importantly, what she is experiencing. What do our assumptions say about how we understand women in art? If we consider that these stills are highly constructed and by no means reality, what can we say about plastic surgery? As a fairly normalized practice, it is but one example of the daily performance of gender and beauty in general.
Which brings me to the next artist, French performance artist Orlan. Her main medium of choice is plastic surgery, and she confronts broader social issues through her performances. For instance, racism in Art History (and visual culture in general) is undeniably at the center of her more recent "self hybridizations", titled Self-Hybridizations African 2000-2003 and Self-Hybridizations American-Indian 2005-2008. Here's an image from the first series:
|Image courtesy of Musee d'arte Moderne|