The Naked Self Portrait: Women.
|Illustration 1: 'Interior Scroll;' two photographs on one print; beet juice, urine and coffee on screenprint on paper; Tate Modern, London, UK; Carolee Schneeman (b. 1939).|
A record of a 1975 performance (New York) in which Carolee Schneeman, controversially, removed a scroll from her vagina and read the text out loud. It describes a conversation with a male film-maker; Schneeman seems to use her own body as an important component of the female 'voice' in this dialogue.
The concept of an 'Interior scroll' suggests, to me, a specialised awareness which the individual alone is privy to (Susan Greenfield, neuroscientist, referred to the elusive 'feel' of consciousness in her book 'The Private Life of the Brain,' 2000). Our mirror image signifies an object we have an intimate recognition of, but which can be the hardest thing to see objectively. If art is primarily a subjective process, its thread of subjectivity is most tightly wound around the artist's sense of self. To represent oneself naked is to intensify this conflict: issues of ego, gender, age, corporeality and sexuality inevitably obtrude. Although seeming counter-intuitive, this theme has actually stimulated artists - female and male - to search for an unidealized version of their own body.
|Illustration 2: 'Self Portrait,' 1991; Jenny Saville (b. 1970).|
Jenny Saville makes little effort to portray herself as an artist in this work. Maintaining eye contact with the viewer, she is reduced - provocatively - to a bodily, animal function that we all perform daily, but which is generally considered 'unaesthetic' and beyond the bounds of acceptable representation. Art and beauty, particularly female beauty, can easily become mutually inclusive terms. Realism, on the other hand, tends to transgress conventional belief regarding what is appropriately 'feminine.' The realist claims a right to depict that which may seem 'ugly,' because such a thing exists and is a fact:
"The 'what should be' never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no 'what should be,' there is only what is" - Lenny Bruce.