Friday, December 9, 2011

Johanna Burton: Taking Pictures (The 80s)

This is a really amazing lecture by critic and art historian Johanna Burton. I've had multiple people recommend this - she's given the lecture in Los Angeles and New York and maybe some other places and I really hope that it becomes a book some day.

This edition of the lecture took place at SVA and they described it as such:
Johanna Burton discusses art history’s recent attention to “the 80s.” What’s gained and what’s lost when the recent past is deemed a proper historical object? Burton was associate director and senior faculty member at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program from 2008 - 2010, and is currently director of the graduate program at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.

First of all, I just wanna say Johanna Burton is a superpower. I will not run through her credentials here since they are explained in the intro to the lecture. I will say only that, Johanna you make me want to be a better woman.

The talk really runs through an amazing array of topics from Madonna and Paris is Burning to the "Man Trouble" of Paul McCarthy and John Duncan. Burton does a great job of taking out the Judith Butler magnifying lens and exploring the gender politics and queered theories of these subjects and objects, but also of exploring the differences in our own individual views. Who is Madonna to a gay man in New York versus the teenage girl in suburbia - can she really be everything to everyone?

As a side note, I was just excited that I own the Madonna Justify My Love VHS that she talks about in this lecture. I was unaware of its 'banned on MTV' status but I think I bought it ages ago at a flea market because she just looks so hot and Marlon Brando-ish. Its my favorite Madonna phase.

Johanna Burton: 02/24/2011 from MFA Art Crit on Vimeo.

The question and answer period at the end of the lecture is actually really great also. Don't skip it!

I was really taken with one question that an older member of the audience asked. She wanted to know why younger women -Burton's generation and my generation presumably- haven't adopted a different term than Feminism to describe themselves. She sees the word as old now and wonders if there isn't a more up to date word that could be adopted. It started making me think about my own position on that.

I use the term feminist to describe myself because it is still relevant. It's relevant not only in that the fight for equality between sexes is still relevant but also in that it does still piss people off and/or make people uncomfortable - its too radical of a term to have gathered much dust. In a sense I suppose we've been protecting and fighting for that term for so long that it feels hard to let it go.
I also do wear it proudly because of its history. There is a strategic divide and conquer tactic used on women wherein younger women are taught to fear older women and older women are taught to fear younger woman. This fear is meant to keep women focused on the impeding doom of wrinkles or the possibility that a younger woman will steal your man. If we fear each other we won't form connections or build a dialogue. Without that connection we will lose our mentors and devalue the progress they made - consequently each generation's progress will die with it. So in this way I do adopt the term feminist because it is the term that thousands of women before me have used to fight for the rights that I get to enjoy.
Feminism is equated with older women these days. As anyone who has ever been through junior high will note, it is also associated with lesbianism. So be it! For me it means not being afraid of myself or other women- of aging or the realistic fact that not all body types or sexual preferences or life paths will be the same. It means that I am part of a belief that celebrates that.
In my personal acceptance of the term, I consider the term feminist to be a jumping off point for an understanding of equality in many forms. I take it to be a refusal of domination for any group of people. Perhaps, I use the term Feminist because I've got lady parts or have lived my life as a female and so I come to the world with that view point. Yet, I understand the equality between men and women to be just as important as race, class, sexual orientation, and any other way that we have been divided in order to be conquered. The desire for equality is just that -equality for all.
As Johanna says in her response, her understanding of feminism is"not a subject position but as an operation that has a history". I think I'm going to have to think even more about that. Yet, I do think it is an operation and in that sense still developing and still forming its history.

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