Yes! Yes! YES!

The title is so exuberant because when Crowfoot and I finally started trying to talk about the feminist art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery (also known as the VAG πŸ˜‰ ) we just kept saying to each other, “Yes! Yes!”

It’s an excellent exhibit, and if you live anywhere near it you should go. It’s also so thought-provoking that we knew it would be a million years before we could write some proper posts about it. To at least get started, we decided to IM each other and record the conversation. And so, I present to you: the highlights!

Well, sort of. It’s a bit long, but I figure you guys don’t mind that.

eloriane: So, I think the most striking thing was Yoko Ono’s performance piece.

eloriane: At least, that’s the one that’s stuck with me the most.

Crowfoot: Yeah, that one affected me the most too. It was deeply uncomfortable to watch.

eloriane: I thought it was striking to see how things degenerated, sort of

eloriane: like, the first person to cut a piece was female, and she was very, very timid

eloriane: she took a tiny square from the shoulder…

eloriane: the second person was also female, and she wasn’t timid, exactly– she cut right into Yoko’s sleeve– but it wasn’t…creepy

eloriane: it wasn’t like she was eager

Crowfoot: she was just businesslike

eloriane: she knew how to use the scissors, so she did

Crowfoot: yeah.. like she was trying to do something, participate in the art in some kind of meaningful way.

eloriane: but that last fellow…

Crowfoot: I seem to recall that the first few people were a mix of women and men, first one then the other

eloriane: yeah

eloriane: and the first men had a very similar tone to the women

Crowfoot: then it started to degenerate, with the last man being.. vile

eloriane: some were timid, others were just businesslike

Crowfoot: right. respectful

eloriane: but the men started getting really into it

eloriane: that one man who just pinched at the fabric at her breast, and cut out a nipple-circle

eloriane: he was the first, I think, to sort of cross that line

Crowfoot: yeah! Although looking at it later it looked like it might have been slightly below her breast – but only slightly. It was a much more intimate part of her clothes to cut off. It felt more… violent somehow. The others had been cutting off strips from the edges of her dress, but he reached right into her bodily space, pulled out the cloth and cut a hole right in the middle.

Crowfoot: From there it seemed to degenerate more, and there seemed to be fewer women cutting off her clothes

eloriane: the scissors really started looking DANGEROUS

eloriane: in the women’s hands, they looked like tools

Crowfoot: And all this time Yoko Ono sits silently, her breathing coming in a bit harder, her eyes starting to dart around a bit more.

Crowfoot: yes! dangerous

eloriane: but later you couldn’t help thinking that they could really easily cut flesh, not just fabric

eloriane: in the men’s hands, they looked like a weapon

Crowfoot: I wonder if that may have been a part of her point – how men and women might go about this differently, how it might start to feel decidedly different when the men were cutting, especially as time wore on and she was exposed more and more.

eloriane: I think the women understood more how scary it was for Yoko

eloriane: whereas that last fellow seemed completely oblivious to how uncomfortable she was

Crowfoot: our perceptions of the actions of the people started to change, I think. At first it was rather business-like, as you said, but as she became increasingly made naked the actions started to appear increasingly threatening.

Crowfoot: and yeah, the last man was utterly oblivious to her feelings, to her exposure, to her vulnerability. He grinned back at the audience and cut and cut and cut and cut, making her move her arms so he could get at her clothes. Deeply creepy

Crowfoot: one of my co-workers has gone to see the exhibit several times now – she was the one that told me about this particular piece. She says that Ono was in tears by the end, but I’m not sure if I saw tears. She was certainly nervous, certainly increasingly upset. She certainly looked like she was about to cry, if nothing else.

eloriane: I mean, I thought it was too much when he was cutting down the front of her slip

eloriane: too close to her cleavage, what if he slipped?

eloriane: and then he cut the straps

eloriane: and then her BRA straps

Crowfoot: exactly! that’s a slightly intimate area there dude

eloriane: but then he kept cutting down, all the way into her lap

Crowfoot: right! god. he just kept going! others just cut small pieces, or made long strips in her sleeves, but he cut off 1/2 of her clothes

eloriane: and I think that’s why I, as a woman, immediately thought, “I’d never be brave enough to do this kind of thing.”

eloriane: because all it takes is one guy going too far

Crowfoot: exactly. I thought the same thing. I couldn’t have the courage to do that piece

eloriane: and it’s…not taught, exactly, but not discouraged for men to invade women’s space

eloriane: especially bodily space

eloriane: there is going to be someone who will enjoy hurting you by taking it too far

eloriane: well– he clearly didn’t change his behavior based on her fear, but I don’t know if that’s because he somehow didn’t notice, or just didn’t care

Crowfoot: I think there’s a continual current (or undercurrent) of women not being allowed to truly have their own space. Women must always be available. Or, at some kind of woman must always be available

eloriane: yeah

eloriane: and I think men also can’t quite understand the fear that women live with

Crowfoot: it looked like he didn’t care enough to notice, thus didn’t care at all

Crowfoot: agreed! I’ve had arguments with my brother about this. He says he’s just as afraid as I am to walk down the street at night.

eloriane: pssh.

Crowfoot: but he doesn’t fear being alone in an elevator with a woman

eloriane: exactly

eloriane: but maybe, as a man, he’s not afraid for his own body, so he didn’t think to wonder if it was scary for her

eloriane: the fellow at the end, I mean

Crowfoot: he might have fear of some yahoo mugging him, or some teenagers jumping him, but not of being cat-called and chased by women

Crowfoot: yeah

Crowfoot: it looked like the last man cutting was seeing her as an object. What she felt was immaterial

eloriane: actually, it makes me think of going through airport security in India

eloriane: everyone had to be wanded, but there was a separate line for women, so they could be sure to be wanded behind a screen and by a woman

eloriane: I actually really appreciated it, and said so to my dad

eloriane: and he just looked at me like, “what? I don’t have any problem being wanded by a woman.”

Crowfoot: exactly! because men invading a woman’s physical space is so much more threatening

eloriane: and I just said, “Yeah, and how many women are two feet taller than you and strong enough to throw you into the wall?”

eloriane: he actually got it, I think

Crowfoot: exactly!

eloriane: there’s this extra baggage when it’s a man throwing his power around

eloriane: the cultural context makes it scarier

Crowfoot: yay for dads heh. That’s a really good point you brought up, the size difference

Crowfoot: right.

eloriane: but even without size, men sort of have this unspoken threat

eloriane: that they COULD do whatever, and they wouldn’t have to face any consequences

Crowfoot: agreed. I’ve always felt this undercurrent of… possible threat from men.

Crowfoot: exactly!

eloriane: and I can’t even articulate what the threat is of– rape? murder?– but it’s very, very present

Crowfoot: I think it’s in part a result of how much bigger they are to most women, but also the cultural powerlessness of women

eloriane: and I felt it extremely keenly watching Yoko’s video

Crowfoot: I’m trying to articulate it too

eloriane: yeah, it’s not just physical

eloriane: but I couldn’t even articulate WHAT I was afraid of for her– cutting her? stripping her naked? rape?– but again, it was very, very present

Crowfoot: it’s like male oppression writ large, made manifest by a performance art piece.

Crowfoot: there was a degree of violation involved with what people were doing to her. The more they cut, the more she became just an object, the more she became powerless. And finally, the more that the (mostly) men felt they could cut

eloriane: and she just has to sit quietly and take it

eloriane: and take it, and take it

Crowfoot: and say nothing

Crowfoot: at what point would people stop? at what point would that man stop? would he have, if given the chance to continue?

eloriane: I noticed, she would look straight ahead, except when someone was cutting particularly close, like the man who took the circle off her breast– then her eyes start darting back and forth, like she can’t look ahead but also can’t look at what’s happening to her

Crowfoot: yeah I noticed that too. It also looked like unconscious anxiety.

Crowfoot: it was truly, a brilliant, brilliant piece of work. There’s so many things that come up when thinking about this piece, and it’s so hard to articulate

eloriane: it was really ominous, the way it ended right after the man who took it so far. I’m not even sure if he had left the stage when the video stopped.

eloriane: but yeah, a really powerful piece of art

Crowfoot: and Ono looked right at the camera at that point

Crowfoot: it almost felt like a test, of the audience (not us, afterwards, but the cutters). And the last man seemed to have just completely proved her point

eloriane: oh, I can see that

eloriane: they knew they were being recorded

eloriane: but he still couldn’t quite restrain himself

Crowfoot: exactly – it was for show, and he, well, he showed, them, didn’t he?

Crowfoot: his grinning was completely creepy. that was almost worse (but not quite) than the cutting. How much he enjoyed it

Crowfoot: I kept being reminded of that news item not that long ago about a woman being sexually assualted onstage during a comic’s performance. She was pulled from the audience (as was some others) for the “show” and told to lie still. Then he groped her and threatened her.

eloriane: yeah!

Crowfoot: I remember there was a good deal of talk from various circles about how it was a “performance” and people… kind of just watched. Not knowing what he was doing? Thinking it was a part of the show? Someone in the audience yelled “get him off of you!’ as if it was her fault

Crowfoot: I’m pretty sure there was a post at Shakesville about it

eloriane: and I guess people were like, “oh, it’s a performance, it’s okay” in both cases

eloriane: yeah, I remember that

Crowfoot: exactly.

Crowfoot: Anything is allowed for a show. Calling it “art” somehow makes the action not real.

Crowfoot: I think it speaks to an extreme level of objectification, a kind of Roman coliseum spectacle where the pain of those in the ring is secondary to the “entertainment” of the act

Crowfoot: we separate ourselves from what we watch somehow

eloriane: I think there’s a similar kind of dehumanization in popular media in general

eloriane: I’m trying to think of a good example

Crowfoot: I was just going to say that! heh

eloriane: but the images we see in ads, a lot of the time

eloriane: absolutely wouldn’t be acceptable in another context

Crowfoot: bits and pieces of women’s bodies

Crowfoot: right.

Crowfoot: women are routinely dehumanized in popular media. Women are routinely displayed as objects. This has a deep effect on how our humanity in general is perceived.

eloriane: I feel like a lot of the exhibits spoke to that idea

Crowfoot: women are routinely on display in media.

eloriane: yes!

Crowfoot: yeah, most definitely

Crowfoot: there was a great deal of critique of standard femininity. The constricting and artificial nature/quality of our concept and expectations of the feminine ideal.

eloriane: although the others that really struck me were along other themes

eloriane: like the paired photographs, of the baby and cutting the baby’s toenails

Crowfoot: yes! that was beautiful

Crowfoot: Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Red Abakan was gorgeous as well. That giant red cloth… mask.. or genitals.. or hat… lol

eloriane: haha, yeah!

eloriane: I loved how it changed

Crowfoot: yeah! brilliant!

eloriane: and how they could all be connected to femininity

eloriane: even the witch’s hat

Crowfoot: yes!

Crowfoot: yeah

eloriane: but my favorite was when it looked like a vulva

eloriane: a big, red, happy vulva

Crowfoot: yes!

Crowfoot: lol ok I’ll try and say something other than “Yes!!”

eloriane: But that was kind of my response to the whole exhibit.

eloriane: Just, yes! yes! yes!

Crowfoot: I really like the photograph of the piece on the VAG webpage, with the woman sitting in the chair in front of it, contemplating it

Crowfoot: yes!

Crowfoot: I’m still kind of taken aback to see the words “Feminist Revolution” in giant letters in Vancouver’s mainstream, status quo, largest, possibly run in part by funding from the government art gallery

eloriane: It was so fantastic, seeing so much bold feminism so PUBLIC

eloriane: and completely unapologetic

Crowfoot: so wonderful… it’s hard to describe. It’s like I can breathe a little easier

Crowfoot: YES

eloriane: Like we’re making some kind of progress, like feminist ideas are a little more common

Crowfoot: completely unapologetic AND declaring that feminist art was the preeminent art movement since the war

eloriane: yes!

Crowfoot: not “feminazi” not ridiculous, not a farce

Crowfoot: Important

eloriane: yes, important

eloriane: and especially in the art world that’s impressive

eloriane: what with the whole “does a woman have to be naked to get into the Met?” devaluing of female artists

Crowfoot: I don’t think it’s completely sunk in, really. That the Vancouver Art Gallery has a giant show celebrating feminist art

Crowfoot: yes! impressive indeed. the Gorilla Grrls won’t be protesting this one!


7 Responses to Yes! Yes! YES!

  1. Dolly says:

    Whoa. You guys have intense IM discussions. I’d never heard of this art exhibit by Yoko Ono before, but just from what I read it sounds incredibly eye-opening and disturbing. I just had this nasty picture in my head of the leering guy at the end with the scissors. I had a violent reaction to him internally… I just wanted to beat him up and protect Ono. But as a woman, I don’t have that kind of strength… so why do I have a seemingly masculine need to protect?

    I think one of the things that bothered me about your guys’ conversation though is at the end it felt like women were completely victimized. I mean, don’t we have any agency or ability to defend ourselves? I felt kind of hopeless as opposed to empowered. It was like we ended on the note, men are biologically stronger than women and therefore we will always have this fear, even if we are living in a profeminist culture. So, is there a permanent detriment to being a woman? Or is this something that can be culturally changed? This is really depressing…

  2. Crowfoot says:

    it was an intense experience!

    The piece is a filmed one, called Cut Pieces where Yoko Ono sits on a stage, silently, and random people come up to her and cut at her clothing. I don’t know if the people were given parameters, or limits, or given and idea of what she was trying to accomplish. I suspect, given the times, that she would have just said “each of you can take the scissors and cut my clothes” and left it at that. It was very disturbing, and quite brilliant.

    I’m not sure if the need/desire to protect is necessarily masculine? I know how much of that “must protect her” is bound up in chivalry which can often (usually?) be a polite means of control, but I’m not sure if it necessarily has to be? I should write about that! In fact, I will! πŸ™‚

    I’m sorry our conversation was depressing – but on the up side there were numerous pieces in the exhibit that were not depressing, but beautiful and inspiring and funny. I think, that with art, one often just focuses on one point or construct at a time? This doesn’t necessarily have to be, of course, just that I think it might be easier for an artist to think “I want to say something about this specific thing” without necessarily talking about how we can combat that thing, or react to it. Some of the pieces were large in scale (physically and metaphorically) while others focused in on small details.

    I need to write about victims and agency because I’m trying to address your last paragraph, Dolly, and I keep going all over the place argh. I’m not sure if there would still be this subtext of fear between women (or at least, us) and men in a profeminist culture – I suspect that a goodly amount of what I’m feeling is related to what I know women’s status in the world to be, and to what I know women’s lives to actually largely be like. If that makes sense. argh. This needs more discussion. Maybe when I’m not at work! *looks furtively around office*

  3. Dolly says:

    lol… Well, it wasn’t your responsibility to entertain me, so no need to apologize. Unless, you and eloriane would like to start referring to me as “m’lord” and will begin regaling me with jestering on a regular basis? You could retitle your blog: “Eloriane and Crowfoot’s Calvalcade of Whimsy” jk* πŸ™‚ -totally stole that from Sideshow Bob of the Simpsons

    Anyway, if anything I hope my comment got rid of that nasty writer’s block you’ve had!

  4. Crowfoot says:

    heeh “Calvalcade of Whimsy”

    I didn’t mean to imply that I thought you were expecting entertainment per se (“dance for me, monkey!!” πŸ˜› ) but rather that the subject matter without an attendant image/thought of a triumphant woman can be depressing. It’s a depressing world out there 😦 And, maybe I misread you, thinking you were talking more in general than our IM conversation in particular. In any event it’s got me thinking about a bunch of other, related things so \o/

    And yes, writer’s block appears to be diminishing.

    m’lady πŸ˜›

  5. […] about the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibit, Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution, and about the IM discussion that eloriane and I shared with you earlier. One of the pieces that stood out for us was Yoko […]

  6. […] wanted to write about this bit of conversation seperate from the rest of our discussion of the VAG feminist art exhibit, partially to keep the other from being TOO long (ha!) but also because I felt like I had more to […]

  7. […] Musings: Economic Class and Class Mobility Welcome to what’s turning out to be a series:Β  Gender Goggles IM conversations.Β  Clearly thirsty for intense feminist real-time discourse, […]

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