Body Staging(s) on the Margins of Feminist Politics and the Avant-garde: Reviewing Carolee Schneemann and Karen Finley
Katerina Delikonstantinidou

We have come quite a long way from the 1960s, when, perhaps, for the first time, performance artists staged upon and over their own bodies the historical drama of gender, sexuality, and race. Feminist performers, in particular, have been deploying and bending speech, gesture, gaze, movement patterns, as well as the ambient space, in a politically and aesthetically driven attempt to challenge established ways of perceiving, knowing, and being-in the (female) body and the world. Two of the most provocative artists and performers of the contemporary era, whose artistic trajectories share substantial conceptual and methodological territory, namely, Carolee Schneemann and Karen Finley, have fused verbal and performance registers in performative acts in which the visceral, material, erotic body literally becomes the stage and the artwork, thus teasing daringly the slippery, porous, and muchcontested borders between art and pornography. The mytho-erotic performances of Schneemann and the overtly literal, wickedly-humorous, and, at times, self-effacing exorcistic trance monologues of Finley have engendered a number of disparate responses, as many laudatory as condemnatory. Located in the margins of feminist politics and the avant-garde, in-between the “alternative” and the mainstream, the two performance artists have, despite—or even because of—their notoriety, contributed to the forging of a new vision of art that is confrontational and overtly political. Their vision is concerned with denunciating histories of female victimization, with interrupting, even when flirting with, the domination of our lives by commodity culture, and with commenting on art’s transformative relation to lived experience.

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