Exquisite Corpse, the latest exhibition at Fuse Art Space in Bradford, explores female form, self-image and stereotypes from the perspective of 11 female artists. Through video, painting, performance and illustration, the exhibition considers the role of contemporary technology in expressing female self-identity and constructs of femininity. Curator Sarah Faraday’s introduction to the show quotes from Barbara Kruger’s famous artwork Your Body is a Battleground, 1989. Kruger’s work, although absent from the exhibition, is a reference point for all the artists’ works. We spoke to Faraday and two exhibiting artists, Evelin Stermitz and Poppy Jackson, to find out more.
Big Issue North: Is Kruger’s statement Your Body is a Battleground still relevant and how does that relate to the space a woman has online today?
Sarah Faraday: It’s as relevant today as ever, whether it’s an online or offline space. The internet poses significant problems in female representation, from pornography to the commodified use of female form in advertising and notably the use of sexually violent language as a form of censorship and aggression towards female expression. Meanwhile, parallel issues exist in the day to day realities of the workplace, the media, advertising and the family home. The demands and expectations laid upon the sexualised, infantilised and fetishised female paradigm seem tiringly endless.
Evelin Stermitz: Kruger’s statement has gained even more importance since its creation in the late 1980s. It can reach all forms of gender aspects in connection to a woman: the beauty surgery industry, pharmaceutical industry, reproduction industry, media industry, porn industry, sex trafficking, the workplace and employment with unequal payment, and much more. In general, the woman is widely regarded as an object that is easy to exploit for whatever reasons. Kruger created her photograph with the caption for the 1989 March for Women’s Lives in Washington DC and the same could be involved in any women’s activist campaign nowadays.
Her statement also relates to the digital realm nowadays – the internet, social media – since these media are strongly visual oriented and transport images that support the process of commodification of women. In general, the online space is dominated by male culture and male visions. There are divergent women’s websites, journals and magazines, blogs, initiatives and groups online, but only women who are familiar with gender politics are visiting them. Generally, the internet surface supports a traditional, stereotyped vision of womanhood and is influenced by the business market.
Poppy Jackson: Kruger’s statement is particularly interesting when placed in relation to the space a woman has online, as it draws up questions about where the boundaries of the body/the self lie and if these now incorporate or mingle with online territories. A woman’s voice online, through text, can be disconnected from the battleground of the body in some ways, through the possibility of gender being neutralised – though the internet’s over-use of eye-catching imagery has also placed a heavy emphasis on appearance. I feel this can lead to attempts of self-validation for young women through the sharing of photographs online as the media promotes the view that society judges these women’s value on their appearance alone.
Exquisite Corpse runs until 3 October at Fuse Art Space (www.wearefuse.co), Bradford. Free entry. Photo: excerpt from a video by Anastasia Vepreva