“Feminist conceptual artist” is not a pejorative term: Yoko Ono and Pauline Oliveros

Yoko Ono's 2003 performance of "Cut Piece"; image courtesy of commondreams.org

If you’re a follower of this blog and haven’t gotten a hold of the new issue of Bitch, I heartily recommend it. I also recommend that you get a subscription, something I intend to renew after the holiday season. As luck would have it, the current issue came in the mail just as I was heading to Fort Worth for Thanksgiving, and its theme is all about artists. In it, you will find articles about mediated representations of female artists in television and film, the troubled history of contemporary feminist art, and an indictment of the patriarchal implications of Donald Judd’s artistic take-over of Marfa.

Anne Elizabeth Moore penned quite the invective against Donald Judd's presence in Marfa

While I’d like some more coverage of iconoclastic artists like Kara Walker and an extension of the term “artist” to include women like contemporary dancer Louise Lecavalier, I recognize that the good people at Bitch only have so much negative space to fill and loved the issue all the same. It was just the thing to read while running on the elliptical machine in the guest room when in need of some solitary quality time. I am an only child, after all.

I saw Kara Walker's My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth two summers ago and it blew my mind; image courtesy of blackhistorymonths.files.wordpress.com

One person I’m really glad Bitch focused on is Yoko Ono. By having 20 female artists contribute their words and feelings about this great woman, Ellen Papazian helps shatter the myth of rock’s dragon lady widow and considers her influence as an artist, musician, Japanese immigrant, feminist, mother, wife, and woman. Importantly, these women also challenge the notion that Ono’s cultural position as feminist conceptual artist was trite and instead suggest ways in which it was revolutionary and brave. Let’s think about this when we look at works like “Cut Piece,” wherein Ono invites audience members to cut off pieces of her clothes and hair — sometimes to dangerous effect at the hands of misogynistic participants — or “Y E S,” which is comprised of a ladder, a magnifying glass, and three affirmative letters scrawled on a board overhead. 

Another lady I’d like to shine a light on, especially since she wasn’t featured in Bitch‘s Art/See issue is composer and fellow Houstonian Pauline Oliveros.

Pauline Oliveros with her accordian; image courtesy of paulineoliveros.us

I’m in the process of putting together a couple of entries for an encyclopedia for American women in popular culture. I’ve sent off two, but am stalling on an overview of female composers because, frankly, beyond Ms. Oliveros, Libby Larsen, and film scorers like Wendy Carlos and Shirley Walker, I actually don’t know too many myself and was hoping to use this assignment as an opportunity to broaden my own understanding. A Pandora guide I inherited from my friend Emily will hopefully expand my own knowledge base, but feel free to throw out American female composers I should discuss. In the mean time, I thought I’d share a piece by Oliveros, an accordian player and pianist who emphasizes the importance of breathing in music-making, cultivates the idea of deep listening in contemporary classical music, and incorporates it into her music for feminist reasons.

Let’s toast these female artists and others who’ve carved spaces for themselves and, as a result, tried to bridge the chasm between subject and spectator, hoping to forge that most feminist of ideals: communal space. Here here! I sip my Lone Star in their honor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s