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What Are You Looking At?
Allyson Clay and Eliza Griffiths, Encounters with the Gaze
Concerned with women’s (self)representation, Elizabeth Grosz in her article1, Bodies and Knowledges: Feminism and the Crisis of Reason, examines the body as it is discursively constructed in relation to the prevailing structures of knowledge and systems of representation. She asserts that the Cartesian model–which privileges the mind in its association with logic, reasoning and all things ‘masculine,’ over the body’s disorderliness, pleasure, desire and all things ‘feminine’–has enabled men to disassociate themselves from the corporeality of their own beings, and conceptualize ‘woman’ solely as body, immanent and incapable of subjecthood.
However, as Grosz reminds us, the body is a discursive construct, a slate upon which social law, morality and values are inscribed and from which they are read, as well as a platform from which to project self and subjecthood. Thus the body can be regarded as a kind of hinge or threshold: it is placed between a psychic or lived interiority and a more sociopolitical exteriority that produces interiority through the inscription of the body’s outer surface. This concept of the body as turnstile, or site of both inscription and projection, is where Grosz sees the most opportunity for transformation and resistance. She emphasizes the potential for agency inherent in the body as threshold; [b]odies can become a site of resistance by actively inscribing themselves on social practices. Canadian artists Allyson Clay and Eliza Griffiths use precisely this strategy to address women’s (mis)representation, inscribing their own desires and lived experience as cultural subjects and producers. Through feminist engagement with the history of painting, Clay and Griffiths are two contemporary artists navigating the dicey territory of women’s representation and the male gaze.
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1. Elizabeth Grosz, “Bodies and Knowledges: Feminism and the Crisis of Reason,” in Feminist Epistemologies, eds. L. Alcoff and E. Potter (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 196.