The Body and Tribe (17/1/13)

Representing Our Bodies Lecture with Adrienne Evans

Notes taken during lecture:

Will explore the interaction between the social world and self-representation:

1)   Theories of representation

2)   Social, cultural, historical

3)   Alternatives

Viewing the body as purely physical material: bones, blood, and organs. The body can be used as a tool in relation to art and performance.

The body is restricted by:

  • Historical and social norms
  • Laws surrounding nudity
  • Fashion trends
  • Social position/status
  • The visual world, which constructs the way we view the body
  • Cultural stereotypes regarding sexuality and sensuality

There are ranges of new technologies offering a multitude of opportunities that enable us to represent ourselves in different ways. Many of us feel the need to Photoshop or digitally amend our faces for our profile pictures on Facebook for example. In our culture we remain restricted by our obsession with beauty and youth, which limits the way we portray ourselves.

The gaze is subconsciously reminding us that we are being recognised through the ability of seeing and being seen. In the modern world the gaze is often seen from a heterosexual male perspective. It makes us wonder whether the person whom is gazing is objectifying those they are viewing. We don’t know what the person is thinking. Brings self-awareness and exposure.


We were asked to look at ourselves in a mirror for one minute and write down our responses to the exercise:

I felt the urge to look around constantly and couldn’t focus on one part of my face. Become very self-critical and notice the features I’m insecure about.

We were then asked to look at the person sat next to us for one minute and again write down our responses:

Again we couldn’t hold eye contact, both of us looked around the room. As we were told to look at each other it made the situation more forced and awkward. In the organic reality I would have no problem looking at this person for a minute or longer whilst having a conversation.

Comparing the exercises it made me realise that when viewing us in the mirror we see ourselves as physical matter and are more self-critical. When looking at someone else we see him or her as people. However, the person you are looking at who is aware of his or her own insecurities feels exposed. I will take this into consideration when creating images of others and myself.

Objectification is viewing a person as a physical object. Pornography, feminism, advertisements, models, sexual pleasure are issues involved. The camera is a tool for objectification.

Abject is somewhere between subject and object where the body becomes a source of disgust. Artist Kristeva (1982) defines abject as things that pass in and out of the body such as bodily fluids. Sounds gross right? We are inherently fascinated by things that are disgusting think two girls one cup, gore movies, death marches and circus acts. The dead body also reveals the body as abject, disgusting rotting matter, which is inevitable for all of us in life.

ACCORDING TO JULIA KRISTEVA in the Powers of Horror, the abject refers to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other. The primary example for what causes such a reaction is the corpse (which traumatically reminds us of our own materiality); however, other items can elicit the same reaction: the open wound, shit, sewage, even the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk”

Sarah Baartman

Sarah Baartman

Sarah Baartman (1790-1815) was sent to the U.K to appear in freak shows and her body was later experimented on in France.  Her curvaceous, ebony body fascinated everybody, viewing her purely as physical matter, an object of repulse and intrigue. Nelson Mandela requested her body be sent back to Africa, which didn’t happen until 2002.  This story raises issues of objectification, gender inequality and gender repression which are all still somewhat present today. For example, everyday sexism such as wolf whistle, little clothing or girlification.

A range of binary differences defines bodies; we are not just gender, race, sexuality but all of these things.

Alternative Bodies

Reshaping the body. The body is malleable meaning it can be changed in shape, appearance and physicality. Hair dye, make up, clothes, piercings, tattoos, bodybuilding, exercise, surgery, body modification, scarification, branding and suspension. Modern primitives-urban subcultures that form tribal affiliations. Are these just middle class entertainments?



The French performance artist whose assumed name is Orlan (she changed her name when she was young) has embarked on a campaign of self-transformation through plastic surgery. The photo-documentation of her operation/performances furnishes both the imagery and the financial support for her art. Orlan is a great example of an artist who uses her body as a tool for her art and to challenge ideas surrounding the body being beautiful or disgusting.

Grotesque bodies, ageing bodies, physical deformities, fat or bulges can create feelings of ambivalence. Sometimes we criticize those who are beautiful when self-documenting-mean girl notion.

The Tribe Task Artists to Consider:

Alec Soth-photographs with a removed gaze. He searches for particular images, finds them then photographs them. We are given little information besides the visual aesthetics within the image. Deadpan images. Maybe because Soth photographs so constructively he is unable to offer the audience any other information because he doesn’t know the full background either.

Larry Sultan, “Pictures From Home”-removed gaze of the subject. Projection.

Latoya Ruby Frezier

Larry Clark, “Tulsa”

Ryan McGinley-relentless documentation of life.

Nabuyoshi Araki

Sally Mann

Ross Rawlings

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