Chewing on despair and desire
Dragging eating disorders out of the closet and into the art gallery is acclaimed New York artist Janine Antoni. A retrospective of her work, Slip Of The Tongue, raises uncomfortable issues that need addressed, as Robin Baillie discovers.
After despair comes self-destruction. or does it? Glasgow‘s CCA follows up its Bad Times season with a compelling retrospective of the work of Janine Antoni. the 30-year-old New York-based sculptor and performance artist. Nine works. sotne of which are new pieces. forru this solo show. including Gnuw. from the 1993 Whitney Biennial. and Lick and Luther. from the Venice Biennial ofthe same year. Her work has never been seen in Scotland and only rarely in Britain.
Antoni creates her work by imploding images of herself as a woman and as a woman artist. Her body serves as a sculptural tool engaged in repetitive. everyday rituals on materials from soap and chocolate to lard and yarn. By combining fine art rituals with those from the bathroom and the bedroom. she forces us to reassess the location of a woman's body within our culture. If female bodies are seen as objects of desire. what is the experience of a person living in that body? Can that experience be presented in the largely male domain of 1111'?
Our times are marked by the anxious instability evident in much contemporary art just now. Many artists have decided to locate their work in the cracks and contradictions of our lives. As a woman. Antoni is able to inhabit these indeterminate spaces with more wit and agility than most. Her irony seems integral to the issues she is addressing — female beauty. eating disorders prompted by conformity and the compulsive behaviour associated with both. Her art is literally made from these experiences.
Even so. we must know what a ‘minimalist cube' is and its significance as a ‘totem of universalist and utopian selflessness‘ before we can understand the signiﬁcance of Gnuw‘s two 6001b cubes. one moulded from lard. the other from chocolate. If we did not. we would fail to realise which shibboleth of male high modernism Antoni had hit and gnawed away at. leaving her teeth and even her chin marks behind. in appropriating and destroying its power.
Alongside the humour runs the dark undercurrent of gorging and vomiting. or spitting out — and the attendant associations with the eating disorder.
bulimia. lt surfaces when one sees the rows of lipstick and heart-shaped chocolate cartons the artist
has moulded from the residue of her bites. The desire for love is played out in the world ofcomrnotlities - chocolate -- and compulsive behaviour. and is presented here in all its circular destructivencss.
Once again. a contemporary artist is inviting Us to see their work as an artifice which estrangcs us. an overwrought object that holds us in suspense. These are the features of the Baroque. the l7th century art of societies dragged along by irrational forces. appeals to violence and moral laxity. Baroque artists responded to a social structure in decline by manifesting its turbulence in their work. They sought the in mtrwnis. the ecstatic. the obscure and the difficult. Where a happy people might have sought beauty. they made an aesthetic of ugliness. Jeff Koons, where are you?
Janine Antoni confronts the everyday spectacle of herself as a woman: the narcissism, auto-eroticism and fetishism which make up that experience.
in Antoni's work. the body of the artwork itself is under threat. In the performance. Loving Care. to be shown at the CCA. she dips her hair in hair dye.and paints the gallery lloor. At one stroke. she topples Abstract Expressionism and the notion of a woman's crowning glory from their pedestals. elevating the
Janine Antoni’s diet-conscious sculptures: lather and Lick (top) is a series of fourteen busts in soap and chocolate; while Chocolate Gnaw (above) is a cube of chocolate from which she will be biting mouthfuls in the course of the exhibition
stereotypical ‘women's work‘ of mopping to the status of fine art. This performance is particularly anticipated: it epitomises the coherent. substantive quality of Antoni‘s work. Its pitch seemsjust right and is a timely contrast to Yves Kline's unreconstructcd reworking of the nude. reprised at London’s Hayward (.iallery. where female models are painted blue and made to roll on his canvases.
The pioneering work of 70s and 80s feminist artists. (‘arolc Schneemann. Hannah Wilkie and Sherry Levine underlies Antoni's spirit and her practice of putting her body at the centre of her art. The sculptural processes of carving and modelling are enacted by her teeth. eyelashes. skin and hair and the materials she uses are those that come into everyday contact with the body. The particular combination of process and materials is determined by Antoni as: ‘beginning with the idea of an experience i want to give myself.‘ Thus. her concept is embedded in an action that is both everyday and meaningful.
Janine Antoni confronts the everyday spectacle of herself as a woman: the narcissism. auto-eroticism and fetishism which make up that experience. Her exposure of vulnerability not only shocks. but creates thoughtful and resonant art.
Slip ()f The Tongue: Works From 1989—95 is a! lllt’ ('(‘xf Glasgow. Friday [7 March—22 April. Janine .‘llllUIll will perform Loving Care (ll the ('(‘A on 'I'lrursiluy m Mart It (If 7pm.
80 The List Ill-23 Mar I995