Site and Situation
SEVENTIES ART, AMERICA and ITALIAN FEMINISM
While many American feminist artists in the 1970s were aesthetically inspired by abstract practice and dance, Italian feminist artists of the same era were creating works inspired to life by poetry. Rosalind Krauss, an accomplished art critic and interpreter, was perhaps additionally indirectly influenced from then-contemporary breakthroughs in linguistic sciences by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Rosalind Krauss identifies language as being key in art of the era. At the time, the myriad of various forms taken by art in the 1970s inspired some to describe it as “Post-Movement Art”, unconnected to previously established canon and movements – this in turn brought more attention on Rosalind to act as a guide of sorts, unlocking the secrets and ideas spread across so many mediums.
This considered, it is no coincidence that the first artist named in Rosalind's Seventies Art in America (1977) is Vito Acconci, a multi-disciplinary artist conversant in mediums as disparate as aquatint, interactive sculpture and lithograph, among others, and whose self-monologue 1973 video Airtime is referenced. Airtime fascinates Krauss with its use of language and alternating through narrative perspectives and time. Childhood development is also extrapolated: French psychoanalytical critic and psychiatrist Jacques Marie Émile Lacan's concept of the mirror stage, whereby children aged 6-18 months both can recognise – and are fascinated by – their image in reflection. Mapping outward from this cognitive development stage, the meanings are inferred by Krauss to be intrinsic to Acconci's Airtime. Combining these themes and returning to language, Rosalind writes: “Imaginary is the realm of fantasy, specified as a-temporal, because disengaged from the conditions of history. For the child, a sense of history both his own and particularly that of others, wholly independent of himself, comes only with the full acquisition of language.”
French Dadaist icon Marcel Duchamp's 1918 work Tu M' is analysed in detail by Krauss. Radical in its day, Tu M' Duchamp combined layers of geometric abstraction with subtle elements of realism, in itself a bold and unconventional choice – but certainly in keeping with anyone associated with the Dada movement, by their own admission or otherwise. Indeed, Rosalind later assesses that "... his art serves as a matrix for a related set of idea which connect to one another through the axis of the index."
Considerable attention is given by Krauss to Duchamp's La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, best known in English as The Large Glass, a metallic and glass installation finished in 1923 after a decade of both conceptual and physical work. This unique work – while abstract – can almost be taken to be a photograph itself in photos of the installation, rather than an installation. It is thought this was deliberate. Rosalind references Marxist German Jewish intellectual Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin, a cultural critic associated with the Frankfurt School, who writes, "At the same time picture magazines begin to put up signposts for [the viewer], right ones or wrong ones, no matter. For the first time, captions have become obligatory. And it is clear that they have an altogether different character than the title of a painting. The directives which the captions give to those looking at pictures in illustrated magazines soon become even more explicit and more imperative in the film where the meaning of each single picture appears to be prescribed by the sequence of all preceding ones." Rosalind herself sagely adds: “The photograph heralds a disruption in the autonomy of the sign. A meaninglessness surrounds it which can only be filled in by the addition of a text.”
Leslie Cozzi, writing in Notes on the Index, Continued: Italian Feminism and the Art of Mirella Bentivoglio and Ketty La Rocca, uses the analytical template of Krauss to dissect the narratives and focus of two prominent 1970s Italian feminist artists, sculptor Mirella Bentivoglio and the late Ketty La Rocca, a mixed-medium artist. As Krauss would do, Cozzi is fascinated by Ketty's use of language. For her 1967 work Noi due, Cozzi writes: “La Rocca’s choice of letters is also significant, for both “mia” and “noi” are first person pronouns, making these seemingly impersonal works ultimately highly personal. In Noi due, the juxtaposition of image and text makes it seem as if the diverging arrows describe a future split - not in a freeway, but between “us two”.”
While Seventies Art in America generally looked at male artists and art, and the Notes on the Index concentrated on female artists, both were written through a prism of feminist art tradition, criticism and perspectives.
Both works, with Cozzi admittedly replicating Krauss's approach, use language and psychoanalytical reasoning to dissect artistic narratives and meaning.
Each has an interest in signs and a suspicion towards the unaccompanied photograph.
Ironically, I've always interested in some sort of Index/Mark making concepts in my art practices and I suppose I was quite successful in a way to make my own index artworks from an important person in my life, she has carrying both historical and personal life which interest many people around the world.
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