Mons Veneris: Female Geographies

Mons Veneris: Female Geographies
Coming Round the Mountain: discussion

Austrian Cultural Forum, 24 October–6 December 2002

artists: Uli Aigner, Jamika Ajalon, Fiona Banner, Sadie Benning, Ursula Biemann, Anca Daucikova, Valie Export, Christina Della Guistina, Roza El-Hassan/Milica Tomic, Sanja Ivekovic, Susanna Jacobs, Le Tigre/Elisabeth Subrin, Ly Lestberg, Marth, Mara Mattuschka, Muda Mathis/Sus Zwick, Tanja Ostojic, Fiona Rukschcio, Cindy Sherman, Mare Tralla, Julia Wayne

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co-ordinator: Rosemarie Reitsamer
consultants: Anthony Auerbach, Anca Daucikova, Marina Grzinic, Sally Tallant

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Mons Veneris is an expedition into transsexual geographies, border regions, strategic locations, spaces of conflict and isolation, places where identities are fragmented and overlap.

'I always wanted to see an exhibition dealing with female sexuality and desire that wasn't going to fall into a dry and anxious politics or curatorial didacticism ... an exhibition capable of avoiding so-called 'mainstream Feminism'—where political issues have almost disappeared—but refusing to be marginal. After all, Feminism is a dissident political standpoint and a strategy to work with.' (Rosemarie Reitsamer, editor, Female Sequences)

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.

East and central Europe have experienced sudden political change and more than ten years of rapid economic reorganisation during which contemporary artistic practices and discourses have been assimilated along with the other baggage of western capitalism. They have also experienced some of the most brutal forms of identity politics and slowness of social change. The exhibition aims to show that art remains a site where identities can be contested, desire is not always sublime and borders—like the supposed line between art and pornography—are not so easy to draw.

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 Discreet 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.

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Saturday 26 October, 2.00–6.00pm, Austrian Cultural Forum London
Coming Round the Mountain: Female Geographies discussion

Anca Dauciková (artist and lecturer, University of Art, Bratislava), Katy Deepwell (editor, n.paradoxa feminist art journal), Marina Grzinic (freelance curator, Researcher, Institute of Philosophy, Ljubljana), Kathy Rae Huffman (curator and writer, Director of Visual Arts, Cornerhouse, Manchester), Sally Tallant (chair, Head of Education Programming, Serpentine Gallery)

The exhibition Mons Veneris: Female Geographies offers a context in which to frame a contemporary debate on the representation of female sexuality and desire. The works in the exhibition affirm a feminine subjectivity capable of resisting the traditional structures of art production and reception. They display a variety of aesthetic strategies ranging through introspection, confrontation, critique and humour. The question is, What does the work of women artists suggest for a contemporary or future feminism? By focusing on subjectivity rather than identity, the discussion aims to highlight the possibilities opened up by art practice instead of going through a well-rehearsed political inquisition. Thinking about women's art production in former communist countries alongside that of women whose practice developed against the background of the women's movement in north America and western Europe offers a perspective on the historical and political aspects of feminsim today. If the representation of female sexuality is still to some extent beyond the pale of the accepted notion of art, what does it take to establish genuine female subjectivity in this area? And what then does it take to deal with the autoerotic and homosexuality, or tackle the issues of pornography and the objectivisation of women.

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.

Contact Rosemarie Reitsamer

Female Geographies is part of Highly Inspired, a cultural season for the year of the mountains, organised by the Austrian Cultural Forum London, September–December 2002

Thanks: DVD authoring and video encoding by Jim Pugh at Sounds Good