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PRETTY VIOLENT

“The history of women in the past hundred years is based on the very dangerous ‘crossing of the boundary’ imposed by patriarchal structures. The results have been extraordinary in all fields. But the force with which they want to carry us back inside the old borders is no less extraordinary. It is manifested as pure crude, bloody violence.” Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia

Someone close to me recently referred to Marina Abramovic’s work as being “All violence.”

And of course, it is... but I had never thought of it in those terms.

I think I never noticed, in a way.

As if this violence imposed on the self was to be expected.

Normal, even.




2014.

My partner E and I are watching TV in our former, child-free living room.

I take a look at my... thigh? Belly? Hip? Could be all three for all I know.

I comment - or rather, I ask:

"Do you think I should lose weight?"

Partner opens his eyes wide and seems to have an immediate allergic reaction to what I just said.

"Don't do this. Don't make me play a role in that, I have nothing to do with it!"

I am baffled. What does he mean?

He goes on:

"I am not playing any part in this, it is between you and yourself." 

 I stop and think.

Oh, my goodness, he has a point... But why did I feel the urge to ask?


In February, I attended Julie Beauzac’s virtual lecture on the aesthetics of rape*. During her talk, she went over how, from the Renaissance paintings until the 20th century, women were sexualised, often depicted as voluntarily submissive, and objectified as not only what is desirable, but what is owned by man. There is indeed a complex, intricate relationship between women and their physicality. It is a relationship which often involves a form of violence towards the self, if not physical, at least emotional.* This relationship, whether it is active or submissive, is so deeply rooted that it often takes a big step back to identify it.

  

Society has the most hypocritical relationship to violence.

Violence, we tell our children, isn’t a solution.

Be nice. Be kind. To yourselves and to others.

BUT.

Countries are being invaded, humans sleep rough on the streets, and it only takes a red light for drivers to release their anger.

Violence, we tell children, isn’t ok for you.

Your tiny fists cannot hit, but our big bombs can kill.

Violence is only ok if it is grown and extreme.

It is even exposed (or imposed every day on social media).

 

The traditional female body artistically represented, exploited with  - and exposed to - violence is particularly disturbing, since the subject in itself is no more inherently violent than a male body (if anything, probably less than, since most wars were and still are lead and fought by men). Of course, the basis of such representations is often religious or mythological (that is to say, very human). There is indeed a visual notion of acceptance to pretty being violent (Picasso’s Minotaure, Dali’s unicorn, and other endlessly depicted myths such as the Abduction of Europa, Susanna and the Elders**, etc.)

 

Could our obsession with pretty young things stem from the same place as our obsession with violence? Could it all be about control?

If we can trim our appearance, if we can decide who lives or die and how, then perhaps we could live… forever?

Yes, Marina Abramovic's work stems from violence - the ever-present, ever-threatening violence she experienced in her childhood.

When she is exploring and exhibiting it, she is, somehow, owning it.  

 

Violence and its (in)humanity deserve the freedom to be artistically explored, yet there is a fine line between exploration and exploitation.

Between a gaze and a look.

Between complacency and appreciation. 

Marina Abramovic's work plays along this line constantly, which explains the discomfort one may feel in regards to it.

There is a darkness to the sight of women’s bodies at the mercy of men.

There is a perversion to the display and consumption of dying babies pictured in a pile of rubble.****

I refuse to be an accomplice - whether visual or creative.

In a world dominated by (moving) images, a lot is already too much.

If art portrays and displays a dominance of abuse and neglect, violence will dominate the cultural landscape.  

And end up hurting us all.


Douleurs - Part of 96 Words - Maman, Chapter 1


*Art et Culture du viol, 27.02.2024. Unfortunately, this conference was a one-off, but to those of you French-speaking readers, I highly recommend listening to her podcast and sponsoring her on Patreon.

**“In a systematic review exploring the experiences of women’s body image during the postpartum period, it was concluded that women have unrealistic expectations of their body during this time, highlighting this as an area where women need better support (Hodgkinson, Smith & Wittkowski, 2014).” (The relationship between body image and mother to infant attachment in the postpartum period. Katie Williams (2019) Leeds)

*** To rare exceptions like that of Artemisia Gentileschi

**** I suggest reading the introduction to this research paper, which is only a small piece of the puzzle










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