Pretty complacent torsos being picked apart.
Caitlin Keogh is a New York based graphic painter, who’s work is characterised by two dimensional, mannequin-esque depictions of the female form being divided with rope, wire, armour, scissors and even snakes. She dissects her figures as she dissects the concept of self, and its role in femininity.
The use of mannequins is significant as a symbol of Woman, as all of her figures are faceless and without individualism. The female forms are therefore presented as passive. The dismembering of the bodies not only gives a violent subtext to the works, but also references Ancient and Renaissance sculpture. The parallel between her illustrations and classical sculpture is further revealing, as it shows the purpose of Woman as nothing but pure visual consumption. Keough parallels women and art, highlighting their shared purpose as an aesthetic commodity. This ties into ideas on gender performance…
What is gender performance?
Performance Theory is the idea that part of gender, masculine, feminine or other, is partly constructed by the awareness of human cultural ideas, and being viewed by society.
This has been a major element of femininity for millennium, and the dynamic between self conscious performance and identity is well summarised by John Berger in ‘Ways of Seeing’ :
“men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
Keogh physically manifests this idea of construction, and simultaneously destruction, through her rope motifs. The use of rope on the nude female body brings with it imagery of bondage, and hints at the passive, sexual expectations of women.
She also explores the effect of pop-culture on gender expectation. One of her paintings features the book Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior, which is perhaps a commentary on the negative effect of the Fashion industry on female identity.
Her critique on modern society is heightened by the use of acrylic, which is a synthetic medium. In this sense, her material and the ideals her paintings represent are as manufactured as each-other.
if you’re interested in gender identity and art, here are some reads :
- “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” essay by Linda Nochlin
- “Gender Trouble” – by Judith Butler