09.09.2009. - 11.10.2009.

Interzone : Gender

Artists: Davor Dukić (SR), Ibro Hasanović (B i H), Helena Janečić (HR), Milica Rakić (SR) i Alenka Spacal (SLO)

Curators: Sanja Horvatinčić, Nina Pisk

Interzone: Gender continues this year’s series of exhibitions dedicated to the phenomenon of globalization and its effects on the local, on politics and, among others, on intimacy. The exhibition will try and offer a view into one of the more actual topics today: the question of gender and gender relations/roles. Within that context, the exhibition will present works from artists from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Serbia.

Below is the curatorial text:

Lamine Diack, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) admitted that the case of Caster Semenya should have been handled more delicately. However, it was the IAAF themselves who asked Caster Semenya to take the tests, whereas a panel of experts, including a gynaecologist, a endocrinologist, a psychologist, an internist and an expert for „gender and inter-gender” issues, are in the following weeks due to make a definite decision whether the athlete is male or female. (...) Besides the gynaecological, endocrinological and genetic tests, Caster Semenya will also have to undergo a psychological examination in order to determine whether she feels like a “real woman”. (1)

Not only there is enough material to raise a question about the sustainability of a subject as the ultimate candidate for representation, or even liberation, but generally, there is a very loose agreement on what constitutes, or what is supposed to constitute, a category of “women”. (2)

The IAAF expert for „gender and inter-gender” issues and one of the most influential contemporary post-structuralist theoretician seem to have got themselves into same gender troubles. The scandalous story of a young athlete that went around the world in a blink of an eye precisely illustrates one of the key ontological, epistemological and alike questions, which the philosophers, from Foucault on, use in their effort to explain the reality by using logical systems which our individual and social existence rests upon. What are the instruments, agreements, laws and norms by which we would determine both professional and personal life of Caster Semenye? Who has the knowledge, and the consequent power, to define those norms? In the end the question arises: what is the gender (is it naturally, anatomically, hormonally or chromosomally predetermined) and is it also a social construct?

As soon as feminist theoreticians have come to the thesis that the category of gender is not just a matter of biological determination but an independent, socially conditioned construct, thereby securing a clear distinction between the categories of gender and sex, a new generation of theoreticians started to question the causal connection between these two concepts. In the beginning of 1990s Judith Butler made a turning-point by claiming that the category of gender 'per se' is a cultural/discursive instrument which serves to define the meaning of what we consider to be the natural sex, consciously placing it in the field of pre-discursive, a priori thinking in order to secure the binary/heterosexual framework for understanding sex. On the other hand, the concept of gender is generated by the so-called regulative discourses formed within certain cultural and historically specific circumstances – that is, by the ways in which we are “allowed” to act in order to preserve our identity realized through the continuity and coherence of the subject. Therefore, according to Judith Butler, gender is realized in practice as a performative – or that which is contained in the language, acts, gestures, performances, etc.

Seen within this theoretical framework, the issues more and more frequently addressed by various artistic practices are not only the changeability and fluidity of identity, but also the a priori understanding of binarity achieved by opposing categories like men and women or male and female artistic practice. Therefore, the idea behind the selection of the works for this exhibition was to show in which way do works from an area affected by similar cultural and historical circumstances, and therefore defined by similar regulatory discourses, speak of gender issues from different positions and using different artistic practices.

Alenka Spacal's [1] performative act of hanging kitchen cloths raises collective consciousness of traditional gender roles present primarily in the local/regional context where the practice of drying laundry by hanging it on a stretched rope makes one of the prototypes of female work. As an answer to these regulatory practices the artist exhibits a series of self-portraits – an artistic genre which provides the highest level for the revision of one’s own identity. It allows for simultaneously taking positions of the author and the model, the signifier and the signified, the subject and the object, all of which negates the traditional position of aa woman as the other. The artistic subject thus achieved by Alenka Spacal’s androgynous self-portraits is based on the concept of shifting and transient identities and it defies the binary definition of gender (4).

The starting point for Helena Janecic's [2] work is based on similar positions. Her self-portrait Sitting Gender Bender also brakes through the binary preconception of gender by using, as a reference point, Nasta Rojc, a pioneer of artistic representation of gender identity in the Croatian early modernism. By using the same strategies of self-representation (cross-dressing as a means of bringing sexuality issue into the public sphere), as well as formal artistic practice in the tradition of the Munich circle of modernist painters, Helena achieves and strengthens her own gender position (6).

In the work of Milica Rakic [3] the emphasis put on creating a subjective gender self-representation is moved to a broader socio-political context. By using visual and audio archive to evoke collective memory of the ideologically coloured past, the artist questions the genesis of constituting social and gender identities and their interrelations. By bringing together a fictive informal conversation between a man and a woman and images of the political past, she puts an emphasis on a deep and unconscious connection between the usual everyday understanding/playing gender roles and the influence of socio-political and ideological systems of power.
The dialogue from the Milica Rakic's video contains a certain conflict present between gender positions within the framework of linguistic discourse. In his work Attempt of being... Ibro Hasanovic [4] distances himself from his own gender position in order to lay bare his (presupposed) incapability of understanding (equally presupposed and socially constructed) binary opposite female position. The artist is placed in nature, the symbol of a traditional male understanding of the female principle (as opposed to the male civilization), and reads, without comprehension, a novel by Sidonie – Gabrielle Colette, a prototype of the so-called feminine writing (a concept widely disputed by feminist theoreticians from Simone de Beauvoir to Monique Wittig). In this way the artist takes on an ironic distance and questions the concept of binary gender positions as mutually exclusive and irreconcilable categories.

Davor Dukic’s [5] Man of Action deals with the construction of the meaning of gender identity through a concept of a toy which, according to Roland Barthes’ theory, embodies a microcosm of the adults’ reality. In this way a toy becomes a means and material proof of the process of layering cultural and ideological codes which, among other things, often take part in creating gender identities. By shaping bodies and impersonating binary sexual and gender preconceptions, the social project of toy industry becomes part of the regulatory practices, which, in this work of art, reveals different ways of understanding hidden social power(7). (Sanja Horvatinčić)

1. http://www.jutarnji.hr/clanak/art-2009,8,29,,174378.jl
2. Butler, Judith, Nevolje s rodom / Feminizam i subvezija identiteta, Zagreb: Ženska infoteka, 2000.
3. http://www.iep.utm.edu/foucfem/
4. Spacal Alenka, Pokušaj uspostavljanja autonomnog subjekta kroz autoportretni likovni izraz umjetnica. Filozofija i rod, zbornik, ur. Gordana Bosanac, Hrvoje Jurić, Jasenka Kodrnja. Zagreb: Frvatsko filozofsko društvo, 2005.
5. Chadwick Whitney, Women, Art, And Society, London: Thames & Hudson, 1992.
6. Kolešnik Ljiljana, Autoportreti Naste Rojc: stvaranje predodžbe naglašenog rodnog identiteta u hrvatskoj umjetnosti ranog modernizma, Radovi instituta za povijet umjetnosti 24/2000.
7. www.galerijazvono.org/text/dukic/Tekst%20J.%20Dukic.doc


[1] http://plone.ladyfestwien.org/program/alenka-spacal-201changing-about201d
[2] http://www.cunterview.net/index.php/Novi-mediji/Helena-Janecic.html
[3] http://www.o3one.rs/eng/?p=535
[4] http://www.ibrohasanovic.com/
[5] http://www.galerijazvono.org/en_dukic.htm