Season I: Feminism Beyond the Body

Season I: Feminism Beyond the Body

Lecturer: Aliza Shvarts
Time: Mondays at 9 PM-10 PM GMT from November 23-December 21, 2020

The politics of Western feminism have long been rooted in the body—that is, experiences of moving through the world in a form that’s read as “female” or is otherwise structured by the language and ideology of gender difference. Throughout the 20th and 21st century, many US-based feminist artists have explored this relationship between the gender, language, and the body as they manifest in questions of reproduction, consent, dissent, and care. This 5-part seminar series will explore the relationship between feminism, performance, politics, and other form of embodied practice. Together, we will discuss the theoretical, convivial, and community-centered frameworks that underlie this way of working; the intersectional politics necessarily structure and inform this approach; and the future of feminist art in our increasingly digital lives.

Session 1-1: Performing Gender (11.23.2020)
As Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” What is this process of becoming? This first seminar will explore artworks that deal with gender performativity, examining the processes by which we are called into difference. How might we think of the experience of gender difference as socially and historically constructed rather than as a static, ahistorical, essential or “natural” binary? And, what kinds of feminism become possible when we do not presume to already know what a “woman” is beforehand?

Suggested Readings:
Adrian Piper, “Xenophobia and the Indexical Present” and “My Calling (Cards) #1 and #2,” Out of Order, Out of Sight, Vol 1: Selected Writings in Meta-Art, 1968-1992 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 245-273, 219-221.

Judith Butler, “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990): 1-44.

Session 1-2: Intersectional Feminism (11.30.2020)
How are feminist practice and politics are imbricated with other legacies of struggle?  Focusing on work BIPOC feminist artists and thinkers, this second seminar will explore how two key terms often used by feminist artists—”identity politics” and “intersectionality”—were first theorized by Black women to frame their specific concerns and activist strategies. Together, we will delve deeper into these histories, examining troubling histories of erasure within the US feminist movement as well as how these concepts continue to structure and inform contemporary feminist practice.

Suggested Readings:
Combahee River Collective, “Combahee River Collective Statement” (April 1977):

Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review, 43: 6 (July 1991): 1241-1299.

Session 1-3: Reproducing Community (12.7.2020)
Guest Speakers: Carmelita Tropicana and Ela Troyano

Often collaboration and collaborative practices like teaching are not a supplement to but a foundation for feminist work. They are the means through which collective histories and memories are preserved, reproduced, and passed on. In this third seminar, we will explore expanded concepts of reproductive labor, care work, and intergenerational community. We will focus on reproduction as not only a biological, but also a linguistic, conceptual, imagistic, or bodily act.

Suggested Readings:
Mierle Laderman Ukeles, “Manifesto for Maintenance Art, Proposal for an Exhibition Called CARE,” 1969.

Gloria Anzaldúa, “La Conciencia de la Mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness,” Borderlands/La Frontera: Towards a New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2012): 99-120.

José Esteban Muñoz, “Ephemera as Evidence,” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, 8:2 (1996): 5-16.

Session 1-4: Consent and Dissent (12.04.2020)
Consent, specifically sexual consent, has long been a part of feminist discourse. From the beginnings of the rape crisis movement in the US in the 1970s to #MeToo, the question of bodily safety, autonomy, and agency has been at the forefront of feminist activism. In this fourth seminar, we will look at artworks that deal with consent and its imperfect opposite, dissent. When consent is denied, coerced, interdicted, or simply an inadequate framework for imagining our capacities, dissent—the right to resist, to protest, to voice opposition—becomes a vital resource and creative, often embodied strategy.

Suggested Readings:
Elaine Scarry, “Consent and the Body: Injury, Departure, and Desire,” New Literary History, 21:4 (Autumn, 1990): 867-896.

Saidiya V. Hartman, “Seduction and the Ruses of Power,” Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997): 79-112.

Session 1-5: Digital Feminism (12.21.2020)
In dematerialized spaces such as the internet, we’re invited to participate in communities and build relationships as disembodied voices, operating at a distance from our physical forms. In this final seminar, we will explore the kinds of feminist art practices that have arisen in these digital spaces both before and during the pandemic.  What does feminism look like when it becomes detached from the physical body? Are digital experiences changing feminism—or has feminism altered the digital experience?

Suggested Readings:
Laurel Ptak, Wages for Facebook (2014):

Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image,” e-flux: journal #10, (New York: e-flux, 2009).

Zach Blas, Contra-Internet, e-flux: journal #74, (New York: e-flux, 2016).