The Monstrous Woman Goes Grey: Film, Performance and Feminism

  • Abstract:

    In both The Waterway (2014) by the International Institute for Important Items and Under My Skin (1975) by Suzanne Lacy, performance is not used as a tool to challenge binary notions of gender, as is frequently the case in contemporary performance art, but, rather, to dissect and critique the shared experiences of those who identify as ‘woman’. Their works respond to a patriarchal, humanist model of subjectivity that, “in so far as difference spells inferiority”, continues to subjugate the social “Other” (Braidotti 2013, 15), who in the case of the aforementioned artworks is the ageing woman. Both Lacy and the I.I.I.I challenge this model with respect to the cinematic representations of woman that have defined their working periods, namely the “prominence” of female Draculas in the 1970s for Lacy (Creed 1993, 59), and the history of human-nature relationships in science-fiction for generation Xers Hervé and Maillet. In doing so, the artists explore the process and effects of embodying the spectre of woman, a figure who emerged in the gap between cinematic representation and ‘real life’, to deconstruct the lure of what science-fiction calls “immortality” (Hervé and Maillet 2014a) and the beauty industry calls a ‘youthful glow’. As The Waterway and Under My Skin make clear, the silver screen has, historically, been devoid of silver stars; simply put, the older woman has been “shut off”, to quote lacy (2010, 154), from cinematic, and thus socio-cultural, representation. Filmmakers such as Agnes Varda and Chantal Akerman, who reasserted the presence of the female gaze in cinema, have engendered an increasing shift towards inclusive on-screen representation over the last fifty years. However, it is necessary to examine, building upon the writings of Laura Mulvey, to what extent cinematic language can be used to challenge patriarchal, humanist notions of the subject, time and transition.