Beside Oneself: Towards a Participatory Feminist Art Practice
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Comprised of a research paper and the presentation of a performance, my dissertation in studio-based visual art is part of a larger discussion about the role of art and the viewer-participant within social and political systems. Working with queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s notion of beside and what she calls its useful resistance to narratives, as well as feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz’s return to bodily specificity in her reading of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s BwO (Body without Organs), I move from my former reliance on psychoanalytic tropes and representational forms towards a spatialized, embodied, and participatory art practice. In what curator and critic Lucy Lippard characterizes as the feminist values of collaboration, dialogue and constant questioning of aesthetic and social assumptions, I situate my practice alongside Lygia Clark’s experientially interactive installations, Sophie Calle’s intersubjective video-art and Doris Salcedo’s participatory research-based sculpture; as well as performance artist Andrea Fraser’s institutional critique and multi-disciplinary artist Emily Roysdon’s choreographed movement. The dissertation artwork is a performance of choreographed movement by a group of girls and diverse adults, who create a composite character, the realization of a two-year period of research and planning. The performance begins the moment the viewer-participant enters Toronto’s Old City Hall, which currently functions as a provincial courthouse. Guided upstairs into a grand, open hallway and then up again through a long corridor, movement and tableaux punctuate the spaces, culminating in the dissertation defense. In both the writing and the artwork, I harness affect theory to examine ways the dissociated self, fractured through childhood sexual abuse, can be reconfigured through participatory practices into a cohesive whole that challenges established power structures.