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 Please revise the Essay in response to assessment feeback provided and any outside sources. Consult the original prompt, introductory video for this assignment, as well as the rubric included below for further clarification. 

!the first work file is the essay that need to revise, the following 5 pdf files are support reading source

the feedback:

 you have some unique ideas in this paper. Make sure that you are really following the prompt/rubric when writing. A lot of your discussion is good but seems slightly tangental to the argument- rather than spending time on historical commentary instead focus your attention more to dealing with the goals of the movement and connecting this to the works of your choice. 

the rubric:


This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeRevised Content of Essay–response to assessment feedbackRevised essay evidences response to assessment feedback in areas such as:
a) socio-cultural context
b) how gendered identity was commony conceived
c) common goals
d) common artistic strategies such as collaboration, performance, "craft" materials, etc.

2.5 ptsRevised essay thoroughly summarizes lectures and readings concerning the key characteristics and goals of the "first generation" of feminist arts in the U.S.

1.5 ptsRevised essay partially summarizes lectures and readings concerning the key characteristics and goals of the "first generation" of feminist arts in the U.S.

0.5 ptsRevised essay inadequately and/or innaccurately summarizes lectures and readings concerning the key characteristics and goals of the "first generation" of feminist arts in the U.S.

0.0 ptsInadequate changes were made to the revised draft in response to assessment on this area of evaluation

2.5 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeRevised essay responds to assessment feedback concerning "essentialism" in relation to "first generation" feminist arts in the U.S.

0.5 ptsRevised essay evidences a thorough and accurate explanation of "essentialism" in relation to "first generation" feminist arts

0.25 ptsThe revised discussion of "essenialism" needs some improvement–see comments

0.0 ptsInadequate changes were made to the revised draft in response to assessment on this area of evaluation

0.5 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeRevised introductory paragraph responds to assessment feedback

2.0 ptsThe revised introductory paragraph summarizes the socio-historical context women faced at the time and leads to a thesis that clearly articulates the movement’s main goals.

1.0 ptsThe revised introductory paragraph partially summarizes the socio-historical context women faced at the time and/or lacks a thesis that clearly articulates the movement’s main goals.

0.0 ptsInadequate changes were made to the revised draft in response to assessment on this area of evaluation

2.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeRevised body paragraphs and examples respond to assessment feedback

3.0 ptsAppropriate examples were chosen, and each paragraph clearly supports the thesis of the revised essay

2.0 ptsAppropriate examples may not have been chosen, and/or each paragraph does not clearly support the thesis of the revised essay

1.0 ptsMinimal revisions were made in response to assessment feedback in this area of evaluation

0.0 ptsInadequate changes were made to the revised draft in response to assessment on this area of evaluation

3.0 pts

This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeRevised conclusion in response to assessment feedback

2.0 ptsThe revised conclusion summarizes the main points of the essay and includes a thoughtful reflection on the student's informed views of the impact of the movement, including its successes as well as shortcomings

1.0 ptsThe revised conclusion partially summarizes the main points of the essay and/or includes a cursory reflection on the student's informed views of the impact of the movement, including its successes as well as shortcomings

0.0 ptsInadequate changes were made to the revised draft in response to assessment on this area of evaluation

2.0 pts

Total Points: 10.0





Early Feminist ("first generation") Art in the United States: Carolee Schneemann and Shigeko Kubota


The first-generation feminist artist and their artwork in United State reflected much about the kind of effort required on the part of artists to change the perspective of humans in the art, especially the women role in artwork. Artists like Schneemann and Kubota needs special attention whose artwork includes sometimes the representation of artist as an active object to illustrate deeper understanding of the message behind the artwork. The artwork of artists was revolutionary, despite that the critique in the later decades somehow discarded the universality of the first-generation artwork in representing all the women. Despite the critique on style, the artwork of first-generation feminist artists like Schneemann and Kubota is instrumental to revolutionaries the art and the role of women within the society, and art.


As per Broude and Garrard (1994), the early 1970s artists, historians, and critics is the new beginning in the feminist movement whereby the purpose of the art was to transform the culture in a permanent way by highlighting the suppressed perspectives of women. The 1970s movement was significantly different form the preceding and following movements, for example the post-feminist movement of arts which followed after the 1970s movement. Lucy R. Lippart characterized the art movement of 1970s by stating that it was not a mere movement or style; instead, the era of 1970s flourished a value system through a revolutionary strategy and having a way of life which is also the reason that the arts of Surrealism and Dada tends to prevail over the following movements. The art of 1970s movement had tremendous impact on the following post-modern movement because it provided the ground work were gender balance became the central subject of the associated art and culture within 'universality.' The central idea of Lippard's argument is that it is the content of the revolutionary movement of 1970s and not the forms.

It can be observed from the fact that the post modernism is about understanding the gender is a social construct and it has been vaguely associated with natural construction. The emphasize of the later movements was on pillarist variety; rather than the totalizing unity perceived previously with particular stand-points and assessing the biases. The first generation of feminist artists can be observed with essentialism lens whereby the female perspective in arts have provided a more enhanced level of understanding of the world view. The universality of artwork was missing the set of attributes required by a Universalist realm and it has been filled by the first-generation feminist writers. The problem of essentialism pertains to the critique of the artists and critics from 1980s who observed the artwork as not representative of all women, and neither the artwork is claimed by the creator as universal for all the women. The critique highlighted the fact that the misperception pertains to the acceptance of fact regarding female essence as somewhere resident of the women body.

Carolee Schneemann was a visual experimental artist with repute for multi-media work with subject matter of gender, narrative, body, and sexuality. Her work is a critique of the visual traditions and taboos associated with individual body and individual in relation to social bodies. The work Meat Job 1964 is presented at the festival of Free Expression at American Center in Paris. The artwork illustrates the condition of human body, especially female body as raw fish, excessive, wet paint, paper scrap, celebrated flash as material, indulgent, rope brushes, and transparent plastic.

In the same way, it also illustrates the subversion of women in the society of men, and the status of being erotic product which sometimes even available for free. A viewer can explain the Meat Joy image as an ocean filled with erotic women bodies available to be collected for personal consumption of human beings on land. The image is also representative of the human desire to satisfy itself through subjugating others, especially women. The humans have tried to subjugate other species on the planet, while simultaneously subjugated the part of it which assists in reproduction and also derives pleasure out of it through sexual interaction.

Vagina Painting was first performed at New York during Perpetual Fluxus and painted abstract lines in red paint as symbolic of blood. The process of painting abstract lines was fascinating due to her crouching position on the floor over a sheet of paper while brush in an affixed position to the crotch of artist's underwear. It is often related to the work of Yves Klein's use of female body as painting tool. The red paint in the Vagina Painting pertains to reminiscent of menstrual blood, while simultaneously providing insight into the history of human as written with the blood of women gender. The placement of paintbrush at the site of phallic lack was a new style of representing female empowerment which supplemented the philosophy of first-generation feminist artists.

The strokes of the paintbrush also refer to the calligraphy and a reference to the cultural heritage which places women in an under dominated position. A strange point in this work of Kubota is that she never placed it within the category of feminist art, and the reason can be its relation of individual within the broader society of individual’s context.

The artwork Eye/body by Schneemann is similar to the artwork of this author is same in the sense that both the image-maker and image are the same. The dilemma of eye unable to see itself, while the body making which can be seen by the eye is resolved in this style where the eye and the body are the same. The deep understanding of the images in this style also refers to the idea pertaining to aesthetics whereby an eye observes an erotic body while forgetting that it is part of it. The artwork of these first-generation artist is remarkable because it allowed for a deeper understanding of the first-generation feminist artwork and furthermore became revolutionary in reshaping the history of human art. The critique, for example, Lippard suggested that the work of Schneemann has element of 'defiant narcissism' because of the author use of self as artwork object. It is moreover termed in a brief but elaborative way as, 'Nudity was not the problem. Sexual Display was not the problem. The agency of the body displayed, the author-ity of the agent – that was the problem with women's work.’ (Schneider, 1997; pp. 35).

Nude as the artist, and not merely the active object of artist's artwork is the idea of Schneemann. Somehow, she was explaining to the audience her struggle within the art she was presenting. A battle between her and the society which discards her idea of female empowerment in the 1960's and during second wave of feminism. This would tremendously change the way art was approached previously because the revolution was enormous and unlike other phases of art which were somehow dependent on introducing new style and technique. The artwork of the artists like Schneemann is rebellious in nature because the battle she was fighting for was worth sacrificing. Somehow the artwork represented the sacrifice which will be remembered by the next generation of writers in broader realm of feminism because the revolution require sacrifice which she received from the society being termed as ‘narcissist.’


The artwork from the first-generation feminist artists like Carolee Schneeman and Shigeko Kubota is instrumental in the history of feminist artwork, and history of feminism. The artists provided insight into the very basic foundation of human thinking through the lens which placed their self as center for critique from different segments of the society. Indeed, the criticism of the later generation of feminism may consider the styles as a mere phase within history of feminist artwork, but it is the revolutionary aspects of the movement which makes it distinctive from others.


To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a pre­ liminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar situation of the human male.2 But if I wish to de­ fine myself, I must first of all say: “I am a woman”; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human be­ ings in general; whereas woman represents only the neg­ ative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: “You think thus and so because you are a woman”; but I know that my only defense is to reply: “I think thus and so because it is true,” thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: “And you think the contrary because you are a man,” for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity. A man is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong. It amounts to this: just as for the ancients there was an absolute vertical with reference to which the oblique was defined, so there is an absolute human type, the masculine. Woman has ovaries, a uterus; these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature. It is often said that she thinks with her glands. Man superbly ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, such as the testicles, and that they secrete hormones. He thinks of his body as a direct and normal connection with the world, which he believes he ap­ prehends objectively, whereas he regards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything pe-

2 The Kinsey Report [Alfred C. Kinsey and others: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (W. B. Saunders Co., 1948)] is no exception, for it is limited to describing the sexual characteristics of American men, which is quite a different matter.

culiar to it. “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities,” said Aristotle; “we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.” And St. Thomas for his part pronounced woman to be an “im­ perfect man,” an “incidental” being. This is symbolized in Genesis where Eve is depicted as made from what Bossuet called “a supernumerary bone” of Adam.

Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Michelet writes: “Woman, the relative being. . . And Benda is most positive in his Rapport d'Uriel: “The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in sig­ nificance by itself……….Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man.” And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called “the sex,” by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex—absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the ines­ sential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other.3

The category of the Other is as primordial as conscious­ ness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a duality—that of the Self and the Other. This duality was not originally at­ tached to the division of the sexes; it was not dependent upon any empirical facts. It is revealed in such works as that of Granet on Chinese thought and those of Dumezil on the East Indies and Rome. The feminine element was at first no more involved in such pairs as Varuna-Mitra, Uranus-Zeus, Sun-Moon, and Day-Night than it was in the contrasts be­ tween Good and Evil, lucky and unlucky auspices, right and

3 E. Levinas expresses this idea most explicitly in his essay Temps et l'Autre. “Is there not a case in which otherness, alterity [alterite], unques­ tionably marks the nature of a being, as its essence, an instance of other­ ness not consisting purely and simply in the opposition of two species of the same genus? I think that the feminine represents the contrary in its absolute sense, this contrariness being in no wise affected by any relation between it and its correlative and thus remaining absolutely other. Sex is not a certain specific difference … no more is the sexual difference a mere contradiction. . . . Nor does this difference lie in the duality of two complementary terras, for two complementary terms imply a pre-existing whole. . . . Otherness reaches its full flowering in the feminine, a term of the same rank as consciousness but of opposite meaning.”

I suppose that Ldvinas does not forget that woman, too, is aware of her own, consciousness, or ego. But it is striking that he deliberately takes a man’s point of view, disregarding the reciprocity of subject and object. When he writes that woman is mystery, he implies that she is mystery for man. Thus his description, which is intended to be objective, is in fact an assertion of masculine privilege.

left, God and Lucifer. Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought.

Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself. If three travelers chance to occupy the same compartment, that is enough to make vaguely hostile “others” out of all the rest of the passengers on the train. In small-town eyes all per­ sons not belonging to the village are “strangers” and suspect; to the native of a country all who inhabit other countries are “foreigners”; Jews are “different” for the anti-Semite, Ne­ groes are “inferior” for American racists, aborigines are “na­ tives” for colonists, proletarians are the “lower class” for the privileged.

Levi-Strauss, at the end of a profound work on the various forms of primitive societies, reaches the following conclusion: “Passage from the state of Nature to the state of Culture is marked by man’s ability to view biological relations as a series of contrasts; duality, alternation, opposition, and sym­ metry, whether trader definite or vague forms, constitute not so much phenomena to be explained as fundamental and immediately given data of social reality.”4 These phenom­ ena would be incomprehensible if in fact human society were simply a Mitsein or fellowship based on solidarity and friend­ liness. Things become clear, on the contrary, if, following Hegel, we find in consciousness itself a fundamental hostility toward every other consciousness; the subject can be posed only in being opposed—he sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other, the inessential, the object.

But the other consciousness, the other ego, sets up a reciprocal claim. The native traveling abroad is shocked to find himself in turn regarded as a “stranger” by the natives of neighboring countries. As a matter of fact, wars, festivals, trading, treaties, and contests among tribes, nations, and classes tend to deprive the concept Other of its absolute sense and to make manifest its relativity; willy-nilly, indi­ viduals and groups are forced to realize the reciprocity of their relations. How is it, then, that this reciprocity has not been recognized between the sexes, that one of the con­ trasting terms is set up as the sole essential, denying any relativity in regard to its correlative and defining the latter as pure otherness? Why is it that women do not dispute male sovereignty? No subject will readily volunteer to become the object, the inessential; it is not the Other who, in defining himself as the Other, establishes the One. The Other is posed

4 See C. Livi-Strauss: Les Structures illmentaires dc la parent6. My thanks are due to C. Levi-Strauss for his kindness in furnishing me with the proofs of his work, which, among others, I have used liberally in Part XI.

as such by the One in defining himself as the One. But if the Other is not to regain the status of being the One, he must be submissive enough to accept this alien point of view. Whence comes this submission in the case of woman?


32 Binary terror and the body made explicit

today these works seem like Edenic precursors to the incisions of a post- Lapsarian performative feminism: within twenty-five years of Eye/Body, explicit body work would include such feminist artists as Orlan who, in the 1990s, takes her own “flesh as material” as she undergoes a series of plastic surgery operations to rearrange her bodily “parts” to conform, with ironic mimicry, to women depicted in canonical art (Rose 1993).


Fresh out of graduate school as a painter, Schneemann arrived in New York City in 1961 and became almost immediately involved in performative Happenings. She was inspired by her participation in Claus Oldenburg’s Store several months after her arrival, but cites her first performance-art piece as having taken place before she even hit the city scene. Schneemann created Labyrinth in Sidney, Illinois, in the summer of 1960. A natural disaster – a twister – had ripped through her town and toppled her favorite tree. The artist marked the fallen tree and flooded-out rock walls as an “environment” and invited friends and fellow artists to “encounter” the ruins, asking them to make contact with mud, water, high grass, and branches as she watched through a window (Schneemann 1979:7).

As a graduate student in painting at the University of Illinois, Schneemann had read Artaud’s Theatre and Its Double. She developed a taste for concretizing versus abstracting, literalizing versus symbolizing as a way of inciting a visceral immediacy of address. It was a taste that would carry across her entire career. The tumultuous combination of Artaud with Virginia Woolf, Wilhelm Reich, Simone de Beauvoir, and Cezanne activated in the young painter a drive for “sensate involvement” in her work, both on the part of artist and on the part of spectator. At first, her emphasis on tactility was directly related to the modernist hope in the redemptive power of things as themselves — the idea of the revenge of an object in the face of its arbitrary tutelage to its sign. Her early work thus took the form of “concretions” – material artworks which highlighted tactile sensations in sharp edges, shards, and fragments. In her early work, sensate involvement hovered without clear political articulation around notions of active objects, the object’s gesture, and eyes which touch.

In New York in 1961, Schneemann became involved in the Fluxus movement as well as Happenings. With Dick Higgins she formed a brief and contentious association called “Happenings-Fluxus.” This association began in 1962 with an evening for the Living Theater in which Schneemann offered a piece entitled “Environment for Sound and Motions” with performers Philip Corner, LaMonte Young, Malcolm Goldstein, James Tenney, and Yvonne Rainer, among others. In this piece, performers made out lists of possible actions, positions, and interactions with props, with each other, and with the audience. Each performer carried out the actions with a different rhythm and cadence. The Happen­ ing was thus an encounter between these cadences, rhythms, and a variety of objects, gestures, and sounds (see Kirby 1965, Sandford 1995). Following this

Binary terror and the body made explicit 55

performance, Schneemann was invited to join with Yvonne Rainer and a group of dancers in collaborative experimentation that would become the Judson Dance Theater (Rainer 1974; Banes 1983). Schneemann’s first event with this group took place at Judson Church in January 1963 and was titled Newspaper Event. In this improvisational piece Schneemann began to develop her interest in the material body as both a personal-particular environment and as a social environment “in conjunction with others.” She imagined a plasticity, a kind of nervous system of bodies in interaction, in which bodily parts could be interchanged:

I was thinking of an organism interchanging its parts (phagocyte). I noted five principles; 1) the primary experience of the body as your own environ­ ment. 2) the body within the actual, particular environment. 3) the materials of that environment – soft, responsive, tactile, active, malleable (paper . . . paper). 4) the active environment of one another. 5) the visual structure of the bodies and materials defining the space.

(Schneemann 1979:33)

After Newspaper Event came Chromelodeon and Lateral Splay, both at Judson. In the course of these pieces, Schneemann’s interest in flesh as material began to be provoked by her experience as a female artist in the male-dominated move­ ments of Fluxus and Happenings, pushing her to explore the ways in which material flesh existed in bodies which could not be divorced from the histories of their socio-cultural signification. This preoccupation with a specific tactility – the materiality of flesh and the object-status of the female body relative to its socio-cultural delimitations – generated a turning point, a politicizing point, a feminist turn in her work. It was Eye/Body, (Plate 1.6) begun in 1962 and performed in December 1963 in her own loft, that moved Schneemann across her own threshold. She stepped directly into her environment, entering and becoming her own work.

Walking into Schneemann’s New York loft in 1963 one walked into her work – entering art, penetrating it with a sensate body. Of course, this physical entry into art was happening quite a lot in the late ’50s and throughout the ’60s as the boundaries of aesthetic mediums found themselves bleeding together into “environmental” and “intermedia” expression.20 But Schneemann’s was among the very first American installations to incorporate the artist’s own body as primary visual and visceral terrain. When she transformed her loft into a “kinetic environment,” Schneemann placed her own body into the environ­ mental frame of her art, performing a series of actions in prescient anticipation of the veritable explosion of body art in the later ’60s and ’70s. The environment consisted of 4 X 9 foot panels, broken glass and shards of mirrors, photographs, lights, and motorized umbrellas. Schneemann stepped into her work, and, in what she called a “kind of shamanic ritual,” she incorporated her naked body into her construction by painting, greasing, and chalking herself. Historians have suggested that Eye/Body and Schneemann’s subsequent kinetic theater pro­ duction Meat Joy (performed in 1964 in Paris, London, and New York) “charted

34 Binary terror and the body made explicit

Plate 1.6 Carolee Schneemann, Eye/Body, 1963. Photo by Erro, courtesy of Carolee Schneemann.

a new direction,” and even “anticipated not only the so-called 1960s sexual revolution, but feminism” (Stiles 1993:98, n80; Lippard 1976:122). But in the 1960s Schneemann felt acutely that her work was dismissed as “self-indulgent exhibitionism, intended only to stimulate men” (Schneemann 1990:25).

Importantly, much of her impulse to include her body, explicitly, in her work came from the fact that when Schneemann began constructing the installation in 1962 the artist was fed up with feeling that her gender inhibited her consid­ eration as a serious contributor to the art world. Beyond the dance-identified circles of Judson Church, she felt she had partial status, and was personally troubled by the suspicion that she was included only as a “cunt mascot” in the heavily male cliques of Fluxus and Happenings.21 Her response to this feeling

Binary terror and the body made explicit 35

– covering her naked body in paint, grease, chalk, ropes, and plastic, and incorporating it directly into her work – was to address her mascot-dom directly. Eye/Body established her artists body as “visual territory,” as if to declare: If I am a token, then I’ll be a token to reckon with. But the work also suggested a complex theoretical terrain of perspectival vision on the flip. Eye/Body suggested embodied vision, a bodily eye – sighted eyes – artist’s eyes – not only in the seer, but in the body of the seen.

In Eye/Body Schneemann was not only image but image-maker,22 and it is this overt doubling across the explicit terrain of engenderment which marks Eye/Body as historically significant for feminist performance art. Though there are possible important correlatives that can be resurrected from history – such as, as some suggest, the proto-performance of nineteenth-century hysterics23 – in Eye/Body Schneemann manipulated both her own live female body and her artist’s agency without finding herself institutionalized as mentally ill. Instead, she found her­ self excommunicated from the “Art Stud Club.” George Maciunus, father of Fluxus, declared her work too “messy” for inclusion.24

In 1976, thirteen years after Eye/Body, Lucy Lippard addressed the continuing broad dismissal of women’s art work: “Men can use beautiful, sexy women as neutral objects or surfaces, but when women use their own faces and bodies, they are immediately accused of narcissism.” Lippard suggested that work such as Schneemann’s employed “defiant narcissism” and cited Lynda Benglis’s work as a prime example. In 1974 Benglis printed a full-color advertisement in Artforum in which she appeared as a greased nude in sunglasses, belligerently sprouting a gigantic dildo. The editors of Artforum accompanied Benglis’s photograph with an irate letter on how her ad was “an object of extreme vulgarity . . . brutalizing ourselves and . . . our readers,” about which Lippard wrote:

The uproar that this image created proved conclusively that there are still things women may not do … No such clamor arose in 1970 when Vito Acconci burned hair from his chest, “pulling at it, making it supple, flexible – an attempt to develop a female breast,” then tucked his penis between his legs to “extend the sex change,” and finally “acquired a female form” by having a woman kneel behind him with his penis “disappearing” in her mouth. Nor was there any hullabaloo when Scott Burton promenaded 14th Street in drag … or when William Wegman made his amusing trompe l’oeil “breast” piece.

(1976:104, 125, 127)

Nudity was not the problem. Sexual display was not the problem. The agency of the body displayed, the author-ity of the agent — that was the problem with women’s work.

The live nude was widely used in Happenings as an object, and often as an “active” object, or an object with choice within the improvisational field of an artist’s conception. But Schneemann was using the live nude as more than an active object. Whether she ultimately wished it, the object of her body was

36 Binary terror and the body made explicit

unavoidably also herself – the nude as the artist, not just as the artists (active) object. That the active, creating force of the artist should manifest as explicitly female meant that Schneemann’s “actions” were loaded with contradiction in a culture which aligned active with masculine and passive with feminine.25 As mentioned above, Duchamp’s masquerade of the feminine fitted the construct- edness, the “made,” the authored quality of art. To put on a female profile fitted the pattern of the artist making the object – the object being the feminine, passive principle, that which is put on or put off. In Eye/Body, on the contrary, the clean lines between constructed and constructor, finder and found, subject and object, artist and art, mind and body, were blurred. That which tradition­ ally did the constructing, the “male principle,” was in this case conspicuously, explicitly, and unapologetically “female.” The female here was not simply a Duchampian guise, or better, not only a guise, but somehow both guise and essence. Schneemann could not simply drop the guise of “woman” to appear as essentially a man, an artist – nor did she want to. The constructed and the essential were here inexorably tangled in a very “messy” embrace.

It is useful to consider carefully the dynamics of essentialism in explicit body works by women. Theorist Diana Fuss has explored the political transgression inherent in the feminist employment of essentialism. Linking Lacan and Irigaray, Fuss writes:

Irigaray’s reading of Aristotle’s understanding of essence reminds me of Lacan’s distinction between being and having the phallus: a woman does not possess the phallus, she is the Phallus. Similarly, we can say that, in Aristotelian logic, a woman does not have an essence, she is Essence. Therefore to give “woman” essence is to undo Western phallomorphism and to offer women entry into subjecthood … A woman who lays claim to an essence of her own undoes the conventional binarisms of essence/accident, form/matter, and actuality/potentiality.


As Fuss is keenly aware, the claiming of essence at all fell appropriately under materialist poststructuralist attack, and the issue of essence became an embattled one for feminists. The poststructuralist project to interrogate the political ground of subjectivity (the essentialist bases of any authority) ran full force against the feminist project to claim subjectivity and authority. The post- structural project to “resist” all essentialized subjectivity and the feminist project to transgress by claiming a fe