The Agency of The Displayed Female Body: The Political Potential of Negative Affects in Contemporary Feminism and Performance
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This thesis investigates the relationship between the agency of the displayed female body and the critical potential of negativity through examining and creating contemporary feminist performance. This is a practice-based project, in which I present documentation of two performances of mine created during this project, entitled Splat! and How to Become a Cupcake/The Famous’ Adaptation of Frankenstein, submitted alongside the written thesis. My performances are discussed along with those by relevant case studies, namely performance artists from the 1960s and 70s, such as Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke, Marina Abramović and Lynn Hershman, in order to historically and culturally contextualize my practice as a contemporary response to questions their work raised about female subjectivity and the displayed body, and which have circulated within feminist discourse since that time. Taking ‘the victim’ and ‘the whore’ as central figures of feminist dispute, this thesis situates female subjectivity within a ‘post-feminist’ framework, revealing the ways in which the displayed female body has been further delimited by contemporary popular culture. I argue that pop culture’s reliance on affirmation via a misguided appropriation of feminist vocabulary, as well its redeployment of second-wave feminism’s reputation of exacerbating victimization, has resulted in a contemporary framework aligned with promoting a narrative of redemption for the female subject. The post-feminist female subject is either redeemed as a victim or celebrated as empowered despite potentially misogynist consequences, crucially obstructing her access to critical agency. This thesis considers strategies within performance that resist post-feminism’s prescriptively singular and affirmative model of agency. By engaging with the potential of negativity, ineptitude, and dissatisfaction as politically charged strategies of resistance to post-feminist subjectivity, this thesis locates critical agency in the messy, negative, and dissatisfied (and dissatisfying) subjectivities proposed by my performances.
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