Posts Tagged ‘Theory



anna tagged her last post as “marilynning” and i feel compelled to explain this concept.

to marilyn is to let it flow without protection, an homage to the dubious myth that marilyn monroe refused to sanitize herself but instead employed little helpers with mops to clean up after her.

i love the juxtaposition between celebrated femininity and what you might call, femininity gone wrong. of course, the sad truth is that marilyn suffered enormous pain during her periods and so, it was a constant burden of femininity to carry. eh, not to mention the rest of her life.

to marilyn is sport and the downside is that sometimes one needs to duck in to the nearest doorway to wipe up the excess.

and old b-side, marilyn homage.




on tuesday the menstrual artists headed to duke of york’s for a festival screening of the film The Moon Inside You. a documentary about international attitudes towards menstruation, menstrual pain and remedies, personal stories and professional “knowledge”. best was the italian gynaecologist who recommended her patients to masturbate away their cramps, scariest was the brazilian doctor who invented some patch that means you won’t bleed at all, and his faux feminist reasoning behind this. illustration says it all really – still from the film.

the film was really nice and quite sweet, but made me just a bit queasy too, as these things tend to. there is such a tendency to counter all bad attitudes towards menstruation (oh, and women in general) with arguments such as “the power of menstruation”. what is that? the hormonal cycle, sure enough, but the film also argued that men have this, although to a lesser degree. women-centred mystical magic? reproductive power? a bond that all women share? i’m notoriously sceptical to these kinds of arguments where the fact that we have a womb and bleed and our hormones affect us makes us powerful or more “in touch” with an array of stuff, from nature to our own creativity. i think periods are a bodily process that have been taken up and given all kinds of social significance, historically and culturally, and that’s it.

of course i agree with the argument that we all loose out on getting to know our own cycles, how they affect us and how we can manage them without being part of a consumer cycle that at the same time separates us from this same knowledge of our own bodies, but i fail to see the seemingly hidden earthy power in this. call me boring.

this is a translation of the text that i wrote about our project for, on the theme of “birth”:

Unhygenic, unwanted, dirty, offensive, bloodred beautiful. Birth seems to be about the event that makes the until then hidden on the inside, visible on the outside. Period blood becomes unsanitary and its handling process effectivised as soon as it leaves our bodies, and so shame is produced. Without getting caught in sticky ideas of female creativity and menstruation as a biological source of power, we see period blood as a socially created materia. In our pictures, we illustrate personal feelings of ambivalence, sexuality, connectivity, joy, disgust and normativity in relation to this material discourse. We hope that the pictures we create border between the aesthetically pleasing and the distasteful.

agree? disagree?



their power, our resistence

i’ve been thinking about the tastefulness of blood lately. this has two reasons.

first reason follows on from the previous post, about the “menstrual machine” that simulates the pain and blood of a period for those who don’t experience this biologically. even though I like this idea, and as i said, i find it rather beautiful, this is also a problem. it is so tasteful. tastefully and discreetly presented, sexy design, a cyborg lack of human dirt and discharge. maybe it’s a european thing to want it real.

my period this month was very real, late and thick and brownish. it didn’t inspire me so i didn’t take a picture this month. a kind of self cencorship that i’m quite upset about now in hindsight. i had a chance after sex last week. the person i was with concluded the session with something like “just the way i like it, anal sex and blood everywhere”. i should of course have taken a picture. tasteful or not, it would have been real.

this leads me onto the second point, which i have touched upon previously as well, in self-portraiture: the responsibility of representation. I haven’t thought about this in any real depth but it concerns a second way in which blood can be percieved as distasteful – when it is connected to violence. as i failed at taking a picture this month, i give you an old one, from may of last year. in a time when everyone is obsessing about vampires, and me too a little bit, this fits well. but out of context, i think this can be seen as quite a violent picture that has symbolism that i was not conscious of when i took it, religious, abusive, sacrificial. deeply entrenched cultural images.



for me there is an eroticism and beauty in crossing the skin border, mixing the inside and the outside of the body. some people do this to a much much greater (sexual or otherwise) extent than i am prepared to right now but there is an incredible power in starting to discover this. there is a trust and submissive vulnerability, but also a dominant force, in both giving and receiving someone else’s insides, and i’m talking about consensual/blood now. in the picture is my blood and what it really portrays is autoeroticism. i think that there is always a certain amount of violence inherent in the pleasure of being penetrable, leaking and open.

as i think the theme of both violence and distastefulness goes through many of our pictures, not to mention other queer and feminist artists’ work, i borrow the title for this post from this year’s anarchopride in stockholm. the theme is “their power, our resistance” which i think sums up my thoughts perfectly. their borders, their tastefulness, our stains, our pleasure.



Johanna on self-portraiture

When I did my Fine Art BA, I had a quote taped up on the wall in my studio area. I can’t remember exactly how it went but essentially, it asked at what point the critical examination of the sexual objectification of women used by women in visual art risks reinforcing and perpetuating this very same objectification? Of course, this is far from a new question but one that is relevant to all actions that seek to critique something, but in doing so, finds itself circumscribed by the very language and symbols that it wants to move away from.

The effort to take back control of how female, as well as queer and male, bodies are traditionally portrayed in our culture is one of the most important endeavours by feminist art, and art that is feminist. I think very few people would disagree if I said that the female body is one of the most overdetermined sign in our visual culture, it represents everything from consumption and commodity, morality and immorality to shame and freedom. Imbued in all this is a sexuality that is simultaneously hidden and denied, “set free” and thus (re-)produced as self-determined and egalitarian.

The notion of taking back control of the signification of our bodies and sexualities does not mean that we can set ourselves aside from the discursive field that we work against. Instead, as the question above makes clear, it is within this very field that we perceive and understand our own embodiments and the social signification of our bodies and our selves. Without the discursive field that denotes our gender, our sexuality, our raciality, ability and class, to mention but a few, we are nothing but an unsignified materia, a socially meaningless entity. Most feminist art is therefore very aware of the position from which it speaks, and self-portraiture can be understood as the most visible example of this.

For me, who have worked with self-portraiture for many years, it has become a way to explore and render visible feelings I have on the inside, on the surface of my body. The interrelation and co-dependence of these interior and exterior spaces is what makes the image making process interesting to me. The image that results from this exploration becomes another surface, a visual sign for others to relate to and interpret through their own embodied experiences. I find myself continually fascinated by idealised femininity, an ideal I gave up aspiring to a long, long time ago. I play at it at times, dress up and mimic. But it is the disjunction between the ideal and the reality that makes the play fun and interesting to me. It honours the lifelong reality of having to relate to this ideal, and making active decisions when to participate, and when to dissent. But more importantly, it is part of finding value in the inability of ever succeeding in being perfectly feminine, with all that this entails.

I show with this post two pictures that I took some time before Anna and I started taking pictures of our periods. For me these pictures work on the same premises as does Seeing Red: of making visible the body that fails to be pretty, self-contained and comfortable. If you look closely, one shows me with chicken pox all over my body, the other with a painful sunburn.

The picture moment, the ownership and the distribution of the image signifies for me a control of how my body is produced as a public body. This artistic control takes place in contrast to how the actual body experiences much of its day to day life. But what this means is also that the artistic control ends at the point at which the image is seen and interpreted by someone else. The image itself cannot control its interpretations, although it tries. The precariousness of the self-portrait, and art in its very widest meaning, is that ownership ends at the point of distribution. The image again becomes part of the public discourse.

A lot of what I have been trying to say here evolves around the feminist war cry the personal is political, a statement that stands as true today as it did 40 years ago. You might find it old, but the depth of these four words is immense. The argument I want to conclude with is that feminist (self-)portraiture, whether this portrays illness and decay, menstruation or sexuality etc. is not political because it is showing something private, but because it is showing something that has been constructed as private. At its best, it deconstructs the separation between the public and the private and reintroduces into the public sphere what is most often kept out of sight.

Please comment.


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