Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Dear Reader,

This blog is actually a hybrid literary form undergoing an evolution from paper to screen, into a blog. Hopefully it should end up as a wikkie or a website.

We Are Not a Muse, (like most models) is anonymous, faceless, silent and naked. Here you can see a flawed, vulnerable colleciton of impressions, experiences and ideas.

Bascially it consists of ana assembly of writings on life class and life modelling that have been written over the past two years.

I'd invite your comments and reflections.

What i'd especially encourage, is for models to contribute your impressions, andecodtes, comments and ideas. Please don't be put off by some of the theory, We'd like to hear modelling stories from the vernacular to the esoteric.

If you have a longer story, please send it to the email address:


We will try to publish stories unedited, however, if there are specificallly defamatory or vindictive comments then you'll be advised that we'll have to censor those.

But if you model at a place with crappy conditions, then PLEASE name the place, and describe what it's like! that way other models can hear what is happening. Also PLEASE check out the conditions and injuries checklists from the Sydney Models guild.

Equally, if a teacher cheats, lies or neglects to time you, touches you innaproporiately or insults you, then PLEASE write about it. Hopefully they may be shamed into some sort of behaviour modification!

We hope this can be a useful and interesting resource, for models to share exeriences, gain advice, get ideas, and be reminded of the intelligence, strength and wisdom of so many artists models.


Classroom Checklist

Checklist For All Classrooms Used For Life Models
(Developed by the Sydney Life Models guild in 2002)


1. Floor – Is it concrete, wood, lino or carpet?
(concrete, brick or stone floors need a carpet or mat)
Is it dirty, are there nails, pins and staples sticking up
(dirty floors need a mat, podium or platform)
2. Windows – can people see into the room, can they be opened or closed or covered?
(windows at street eye level should be covered, curtained or screened)
3.Doors – how many, do they open onto a street, vestibule, is the room a thoroughfare?
(doors need signage and to be closed, and a screen in front of doors opening onto streets)
4. Power points – are there enough to support up to four heaters and lights?


1. Platform Needs to be large, stable and clean of paint, nails and pins
2. Timers is there a clock in the room, or a timer on the podium?
3. Mat, Pillows and chairs – need to be available in all rooms
4. Drapes – at least one clean drapes for exclusive use of each model
5. Heathers – up to 4 bar radiators per room in winter (fan heaters at a distance only blow cold air onto the model, and aren’t effective)


1. Needs to be a separate area, close to where the podium or posing area and separate from general props room. A curtains or screen area is OK
2. Lockable area/locker in change room is idea for permanent drawing rooms
3. Needs to have a clean floor or clean floor covering
4. Chair, Mirrors and hooks for clothing


1. Sign on exterior doors, indicating that life model is posing.
2. Sign in classroom, re basic OH&S requirements
3. Sign on models changing area.

Working Conditions and Models Rights

As models, we may be often silent but we are not powerless. If a situation is unacceptable, speak up, and speak clearly in class. Usually the offending teacher/ student/artists will be embarrassed enough to modify their behaviour. Also our workplaces are legally obliged to provide some level of safe working conditions. The words “workers compensation” seem to terrify a lot of employers, and can act as an effective persuasive tool in ensuring decent conditions. Also don’t be afraid to talk to other models, or other teachers. If an institution or a teacher is crap, and they won’t listen to any requests or suggestions, spread the word! Most good models get to be picky about their work, and if institutions can’t attract good or reliable models then it will affect their enrolments, or employment.

General notes on working conditions for life models

Generally all models who fill in a tax file number declaration form are legally classified as employees. As such their employer is responsible for ensuring that their working conditions are safe, and of responding to any reported incidences, obvious causes of danger, or providing compensation when accidents and injuries occur at work or in transit to and from work. In other places, where a model is a contractor or engaged informally, they are covered by the pubic liability policy of the individual or incorporated association which may hire them as a contractor, or who owns and leases the premises where they are working.

Life modelling is largely a casual, transient and mostly unregulated industry. Models are often vulnerable, being hired and fired on whims of the artists and teachers who recruit, pay and supervise us. Most recruitment occurs on a casual word of mouth basis – and most of the protocol are implicit or unstated, and most of the horror stories are verbal, and undocumented. If a model is disagreeable or disruptive – they will pretty quickly find themselves without bookings, whereas employers can and do get away with behaviour that any other industry would find outrageous.

Studio Etiquette

Life models act as interlocuters on the primary relationship of students and teachers in a classroom situation and we understand the expectations of courtesy, cooperativeness, consideration and discretion (which often means silence) that this entails

It is distressing for any model to have to break a pose because of pain or injury or inadequate monitoring by the supervisory teacher. Equally it is distressing for any model to have to complain or interrupt a pose because of non-existent, inadequate, filthy or unsafe equipment, or inappropriate or intrusive behaviour by students, staff or the public.

There is an unspoken expectation that naked models comport themselves with ease and dignity and do not indulge in behaviour that can be construed as sexually harassing or socially inappropriate.

Equally teachers and students have an obligation to respect the presence and dignity of a human being working naked in their classrooms or studio. Students are often unaware of ‘life drawing protocol’ of thanking the model ,not touching the model, not photographing the model or not leaving doors open and supervising teachers rarely remind students of this. In numerous cases teaching staff or members of the public walk into or through life classes or into model changing areas without warning or apology.

For this reason the guild recommends that signage on all rooms used for life classes, ad even distribute a flyer or notice to staff and students, briefly stating some of the basic expectations models have while working.
Sketch clubs and life classes generally have someone who runs or supervises the class. Often this is the same person who recruits the model and administers their pay, but not always. As such they have a considerable amount of implicit power in persuading or coercing the model to conform to their expectations. This can be good or bad.

The supervisor of a life class or sketch club is the representative of the employing institution for the duration of the class. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to communicate the expectations of the institution, and of the class, and also advise students and models where they can get more information or advice in matters such as Occupational Health and Safety and Sexual Harassment. Most institutions have policies in these areas and staff assigned to deal with grievances, reports and complaints. The teacher shouldn’t take any complaints personally and should encourage students and models to take matters through the most appropriate channels.

Timing of Poses
We haven’t found any concrete biophysical research as to the correct length and safety of any poses. There was a general models award in NSW (from 1972) which stated that models are employed for a maximum 3 hour session, and even with a 2 hours session, are entitled to a tea break every 45 minutes. The Life Models Guild assumes this applies to sessions involving multiple short poses. Tea breaks, allow the model to catch their breath, rehydrate, and use the toilet.

For longer poses, after much discussion and consultation with a couple of other models’ organisations, we came up with the following guidelines. Any pose for 10 minutes or longer is classified as a long pose – and needs a brief pause –for stretch and shake between each. The maximum length for any pose should be 25 minutes, after which the model should rest (ie WALK AROUND) for 5 minutes.

Obviously models vary considerably in stamina and experience, and people can and negotiate different conditions to the ones above. However, the most responsible course of action for an employer, institution or supervisor is to accept a ‘safe’ and conservative estimate, such as what we suggest, and not be placed in the position of coercing models to exceed these acceptable limits.

During long poses, models cool down and can get stiff more quickly, so need more heating. Also many models experience pins and needles or numbness in limbs and joints after 10-15 minutes of a single – this is why longer poses need adequate breaks – to avoid the risk of longer term nerve damage or problems with circulation.

The other aspect of this is to ensure there is an external timing device, operated by the teacher or model, or visible to both. Teachers are often not able to supervise timing and give instruction at the same time and frequently forget or lose track of time, or coerce models into remaining longer in a pose than originally agreed upon. A timer, with an alarm, operate by the model is a very effective way of negotiating such situations and minimising embarrassment or conflict between the model and the supervising teacher.

Photographs of a model may seem, to many students and artists, like a good resource to work from later, and digital cameras have made this a popular and accessible medium. However photographic modelling is also a source of livelihood for many artists’ models, where they are paid much higher rates, especially for nude photography, with separate contracts regulating the distributions and reproduction of the images produced. There have been instances where studio/classrooms photographs of models have ended up in soft porn sites on the internet or in print, without the models having consented or being paid for this.

While some models are happy to be photographed, whipping out a camera and asking the model for consent while they are in the middle of a pose, is not a reasonable way of negotiating this complex area. Many students do attempt this and are only stopped when the model sees them and threatens to break the pose. For this reason, signage is the best way of avoiding the problems associated with situation.


There are numerous instances where students approach, touch and manipulate the limbs of a model as they are getting into a pose. This is quite distressing to many models and borders on sexual harassment. Many models are also uncomfortable and distressed by teachers approaching and touching them during a class, whether for the purposes of demonstration or setting up a pose.

There are exceptions to this, and many models are equally comfortable with drapes being arranged about them, or with being marked into a pose, or with being touched by a demonstrating teacher. Usually they are comfortable when the teacher asks them first, or if they have an established relationship of trust with the teacher or supervisor.

Some life classes, especially sculpture, do involve a great deal of proximity and often touching of the model by demonstrating teachers and models. It is good if the teacher, when employing a model can negotiate this with them first, and negotiate if or how students who need to use a tactile measurement, should best approach the model during a session. Some models do not want to be touched at all, and should be given a space to negotiate this while they are not posing.

The Life Models Guild recommends that in general, signs be placed in rooms requesting that students do not touch the model. It is rare for students to need to touch models, and this can and should be discussed with students and the model before the pose commences, so everyone is clear about the most effective way for this to occur, to avoid embarrassment and distress for all concerned. Teachers should always ask or indicate if they are about to touch a model, as it reduces the shock of impact and encourage students to speak to the model and give clear instructions or requests, rather than treating the model as a malleable object.
Sexual Harassment

Legally, sexual harassment is any behaviour which causes a person to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or at a disadvantage because of their gender, perceived gender, or actual or perceived sexual orientation. This behaviour can be verbal and or physical and can come from colleagues (such as models), student or client artists, other staff members or the general public. Various laws implemented in the past two decades in NSW make sexual harassment illegal in any workplace. Educational institutions have various laws which are usually enshrined in academic rules which prohibit sexual harassment between students and between students and staff while on campus, and make infringing students liable for expulsion and infringing staff liable for discipline.

Models working naked are in a curious position of vulnerability and yet security. While nudity and some poses may appear to be sexually vulnerable or sexually provocative, the public position of the working model means that the behaviour of models, and anyone nearby is open to public scrutiny. If someone does engage in inappropriate or sexual contact, comments or touching during a life class if can be seen by most of the people in that class, and this is usually an effective deterrent.

There have been a few instances where models and students/artists have engaged in sexually harassing behaviour during classes/sketch clubs. This included inappropriate staring at the model (especially accompanied by the absence of any drawing activity), cornering the model during breaks in order to ‘chat them up’, hanging around the changing area and following the model home from a gig. Equally some models have been known to engage in harassing behaviour towards other models or students. This includes cornering students and chatting them up during breaks, walking into public areas undraped, touching other models genitalia, or making sexually degrading comments to or about students or artists during the class.

It is largely the responsibility of the supervising teacher or convenor to observe and monitor exchanges between models and student with some sensitivity and discretion. If a model or student appears distressed or indicates they are distressed, then it is important to give them space where they can removed themselves from the situation that may be distressing them and have an opportunity to discuss it afterwards, and work out how to resolve it.

This also includes situations where someone offers the model offers a ‘lift home’ after class. The supervisor should be alert and aware of how the model is getting home, and supervise them as they leave the venue to ensure they aren’t followed or harassed as they leave the premises. Occasionally models may be predatory towards students, and supervisors should be aware of the reverse situations that may occur.

When booking models for doubles, teachers should always ask each model if they are happy working with another model, and asking them if there are any models who they would prefer to work with or not work with. If there is an accidental double booking, then both models should be paid, and given the space to discuss if they are happy working together or not. If a model engaged in double poses does not look comfortable, then it is best to arrange poses where they are not touching.

Possible Injuries and Hazards for Life Models

this list was develped by the Sydney Life Models guild in 2002.
It is a basic guide intended for models and employers to understand why models need adequate working conditions.

Possible Injuries And Hazards For Life Models

1. Muscle strain, injury, joint injury or damage
CAUSE: Holding poses for too long (timing of poses)
Inadequate heating, structurally unsound poor platforms or supporting props

2. Fainting
CAUSE: Inadequate ventilation, dehydration from working for too long without breaks
Use of chemical solvents (painting mediums, resins) and spray fixatives, in rooms without extractors or in confined areas

3. Long term damage from fumes and toxins
CAUSE: Inadequate ventilation, dehydration from working for too long without breaks

4. Catching Cold
CAUSE: Inadequate heating. Working on unprotected concrete or stone floors
Draughts from open doors or windows
Holding poses for too long

5. Pubic Lice & skin diseases/irritations
CAUSE: Unclean drapes

6. Cuts and Abrasions to feet and body
CAUSE: Unclean floors and platforms. Presence of pins, staples, broken glass in model working or change areas
Use of models platforms and drapes by students or as pinned props
Inadequate storage space for models porpos and drapes

7. Torn stained or damaged clothing
CAUSE: Inadequate changing and personal storage area for models
Use of models platforms and drapes by students or as pinned props
Inadequate storage space and cleaning of models drapes and props

8. Injury from falling easels and equipment
CAUSE: Overcrowded classrooms and Poor supervision
Faulty pops, easels and other equipment
Use of models change rooms as general props area

9. Psychological distress
CAUSE: Risk of general public exposure
Inadequate private changing area
Unconsented photography of models
Touching of models
Inadequate supervision and timing of poses.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

We Are Not a Muse

The origins of the life class are in sadistic reductionist butchery of 17th century medical anatomy and the male masturbation fantasies of European Aristocracy. Pornography encourages the belief in an abstract body, a reproduced image which is silent and passive, not a fleshy encounter with a body as floppy and fallible as our own. All photography is pornography. We are in an age where the order of simulacra has conquered all. Mass culture insists that there is no body outside the endless mechanical reproductions of Barbie doll look alikes. The electronic barrage figurative images dictate our notions of what a body should be. On computers our date selves shadow our physical lives transcending even death Industrial consumerism guides our own hands in modifying our bodies to conform to the seamless ideal.

The alternatives are too clear. We can bleat our paltry intellectual challenges to mass consumerism. We can lie to ourselves about appropriating technology and isolate ourselves further inside intellectual constructs we can only pretend are our own. This is little more than cryogenesis. Lopping off our heads and shutting them in a box. A box of date shadows, virtual ideals, seamless image artefacts of ourselves stored on film, on disks, or in the ether. We can submit our being entirely to the technological invasion.

Or we can revolt. There will be no more ideals. We must find a way to rupture the seamlessness of the perfect body. We must reclaim the abjectness of the body as is. Slimy, slippery and shakey. We must seek out human error and magnify it millionfold. This will be a movement of experiences There will be no salons and no academies and no masterpieces. The power of the gesture must be reclaimed. The corporeal gesture is random, unique and with a capacity to reinvent the physical self over the idea We seek artforms that do no produce images, but that capture gestures. Not to be reproduced, but to be reclaimed. To remind us of what it is to be.

This is what we call life drawing. There will be no photographs, no recordings, and no masterpieces to be sold later. Most art makes anyone with a shred of sense want to vomit. Manual art making has been superseded by technology from its role in science and pornography. Erotic drawings are now uberkitsch. This frees them to become something else entirely. We want drawing to be a transubstantiation of the senses, of life gestures, of bodies physically in a room. The nude life model has nothing to do with a mannequin. The mannequin is the plastic centre of the screaming order of simulacra in mass visual culture. The artist model is not an object to covet, to emulate or to possess. The model is a dynamic subject of a physical exchange. Artist’s models are not silent muses but breathing formed fallible fleshy beings. Living models are the source of gestures which artists mimic with their own bodies and with their materials. The dialogue of pencil and paper, hand and eye, sense, expression, discovery and communication is an exciting and engaging process. A drawing can communicate the enraged illiterate scream of the self, the slobbering abjectness of unspeakable desires, the unknown and the unknowable. A life drawing is only active while it is being drawn. Once completed a drawing is dead, although scabby marks alone contain a psychological richness that can enthuse for hours of psychoanalytic reflection free of any patriarchal aftertaste.
Art is about secrets. Sometimes we are horrified, mostly bored, often delighted. All of this is outside speech but forms its own language.

The Model Is a Spectator

Maybe one of the best things about working as an artists’ model is the opportunity models have of silent observation and reflection. This leads to models being able to collect countless stories about the strange contrived theatre of the life drawing classroom in which the sublimated spectacle of nudity is enacted.

Most of the time, modeling is a type of performance art; a cross between yoga and slow motion ballet. Maybe the emphasis on performance is a way of disguising or denying the exposed position of nakedness; for most life models, professional competence is more about their capacity for sustained self expression and physical communication than any surface attributes of skin or muscle tone. In any case it is not always so; particularly when modeling for painting, sculpture or analytical drawing classes.

Eliza Bell is an artist’s model who has written and performed about modeling; most notably in 1996 as part of the “body” exhibition at the art Gallery of NSW. What appeared to be successful in her work, was her ease in her ‘role’ as object. Rather than refuting her ‘object’ status, Bell elaborated her enactment to include elements that are mostly excluded from the role of ’object’. In this case she spoke, and wrote her thoughts, and broadcast her ‘gaze’ while being gazed at.

Bell’s thesis and artwork, still left a large area of the artist-model exchange uncovered; most notably the enactment of objectification by the artist. Copying from the figure is a mimetic experience , which involves an externalizing and enactment of the subject’s own objectified corporeal schema, as well as it’s projection onto the artwork in progress.

A few months ago, I modeled for a ‘drawing marathon’; a week long exercise in continuous analytical drawing of a single subject. The subject was a complex tableaux – rather like a very large still life arranged in the centre of the room, and featuring two nude models. The premise of the exercise was based on (not unproblematic) notions of ‘objective drawing’ – or a rigorous methodological approach to seeing the subject, and making marks according to this ‘external’ reality – and not according to the fudged imagination of the artist. Modeling for such an exercise is incredibly frustrating and tiring mentally. As a model, I was reduced to an element in a glorified still life. I had to adopt a single pose over four days, that was as comfortable (and unexpressive) as possible. I was emotionally affected by the frustration of the students, and I decided that the only reason why models are included in this exercise are as theatrical props (because looking at naked people is more interesting than looking at objects), and pacing elements for the students (who time themselves according to the models stretch breaks). Occasionally I decided that the purpose was even more insidiously evil; that the models were meant to function as a metonym for the process of objectification itself. In reducing us to faceless featureless object outlines, the students were enacting a formalised detachment from their own subjectivity.

The experience wasn’t particularly traumatizing; I’ve participated in a drawing marathon as a drawing student and modeled in two prior to this occasion, so I was familiar with the process.

What struck me about the last occasion was that I was facing a student who was quite thin, but who had enormous breasts. According to professional protocol, I politely averted my gaze from her eyes, her body and her drawing, but I could not completely avoid watching her for some of the time. What struck me especially was that this student drew the outline of my posed form, with no facial features, but then spent an hour elaborately placing two large and prominent nipples on her drawing of my breasts (which have the least prominent nipples imaginable!). I’m not sure whether her drawing was a reflection of my gaze on her, her own bodily fixations, or patriarchal conventions. Most probably it was a combination of all three, which illustrates that the artist-model gaze cannot be reduced to a singular view.
Another time I was modeling for a sculpture class and watching a group of women make clay replicas of my body. Before they started studying the pose and applying the technical aspects of recreating the 3-D composition presented to them, they were literally making dolls from lumps of clay – and enacting a mimetic process of recreating what they through a female body was – or could be.

These are where strategies of revisioning occur – when the tutored and docile gaze is disrupted by a physical process where the artist’s body takes over and communicates something different altogether. Mimesis involves a subtle interplay between projecting subjectivity onto an object, and enacting the reinscription of objectification processes onto the subject.

Essentially, despite the multitude of images which imply the opposite, I do not believe that the artist model relationship is a necessarily singular act of objectification. I am not denying that this does not and has not occurred in most studio and class room based uses of the nude model, but I believe that this is mediated, more or less, by a more complex set of exchanges. I believe the basis for the evocative power of many of the most effective ‘great art nudes’ is not only in their capacity to encapsulate the ordered conventions of the patriarchal gaze, but in their capacity to reflect more subtle aspects of the artist model relationship.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Subjectifying the Object Part 1

"The ravishing object is there. The object is provoking them. The object is insolent. The object is ….. ah,….. worst of all, indifferent."

This is a paper written in 2003, which was a feminist exploration of the circumstances in which women are perceived to be‘objects’ in visual culture. It explores some esperiences and attempts to theoreise my experiences of life modeeling. The reason why I chose this topic is that I am intrigued by the use of ‘objectify’ and objectification as it has been applied to women, particularly with respect to images of women produced in art.

My real point of interest involves questioning what ‘objectification’ actually is. What is the interface between objectification and subjectivity? Does
objectification necessarily shape subjectivity, and is this necessarily in a bad way? Is it only women who are objectified? How does women’s objectification relate to the subjective position of men or to their own objectification?

My interest in this topic has been generated by the experiences of my professional practice as a visual artist (undertaking naked figurative drawing on a regular basis), and my income earning occupation as an artists’ life model. Contemporary art theory has tended to be somewhat dismissive of artistic practices which use naked models; feminist criticism particularly has challenged the conventions of viewing and recreating images of women’s bodies within the
visual arts.

Criticisms of the female nude have focused on the historical use of images of naked women, as perpetrating a specific set of gendered social relations. These criticisms have led to a view of conventional figurative artistic practices as
‘objectifying’ women, and a view that the female artists’ model is necessarily a passive and exploited subject of objectification. I intend to discuss the
historical basis of the ‘objectification’ theory, and also challenge the extent to which all nude figurative art seems to have been encompassed by this critique.

My position in ‘speaking as an object’ is not to attempt a redress of the historically mute position that the female model has occupied in art theory discourses; this has been dealt with elsewhere.  I intend rather to privilege the position of model as a spectator; and interlocutor in the conventionally
hidden realm of the artists studio. As a model I observe the actual practices of artists reacting and representing a subject (my body) within a manufactured
object (their artwork). It is the observation of an internalized process of objectification and subjective projection that I wish to explore.

In stating my occupational position, I must also state my theoretical agenda. I am seeking a view mainly of how female subjects are represented in art theory,
because as a woman and an artist, I do have a very real need for an intellectual framework that can acknowledge and challenge the gender barriers, in the
art world, that do exist. Feminist art theory has concerned itself, both with the female subjects of paintings, (or what aspects of women come to be represented and promoted) and the ‘herstory’ of practicing female artists. However there appears to be very little art theory that is able to articulate the
positive practices of what I see female artists doing, and my fear is that this will perpetrate the ‘writing out’ of female art practitioners that has existed in
art history.

Firstly, I need to clarify what I am referring to by ‘object’ and ‘subject’. For the purposes of this essay, I am defining art images as objects. While referring to images prevalent in visual culture, I will mainly focus on the more exclusive field of ‘art’, and those images directly associated with a discrete (and often manually generated) art object. I intend to employ a strategic ignorance of contemporary theory , and define the art object by an implicit relationship to a primary authorial subject; the ‘creator’ of the art object, which is the artist. Mass media images have a diffuse relationship to their ‘author’ who is seen to be dispersed in the technological complexities of their generation and dispersion, but I believe the category of ‘art object’ still retains the ‘aura’ of the individual artist; and this ‘unique subject relationship’ is the criteria for which an image may be regarded as a work of art. However the artist is not the only ‘subject’ of art. The spectator is a central subject to contemporary art criticism (which is itself a means of legitimizing and explaining this perspective); and the relationship between this imagined or actual subject; and the art object in question is of considerable importance in defining the subjectivity (or objectivity) of each.

The third and most contentious subject of art is what is literally denoted by this expression as it pertains to representative artworks. Any artwork involves the representation of its subject, which is presumed to exist ‘in the real world’ beyond the art object itself. Even abstract act, has its subject located either in the imagination, intellect or physical actions of the artist. The representation of a subject, by an object, necessarily implies a level of ‘objectification’ of that subject – as it becomes incorporated and transformed into the art object. The extent to which the ‘subject’ of an artwork is seen as
representative of an object or a subject is contentious, and mediated by levels of association with the artist subject and viewing subject, which are invoked by the image. The phenomenology of such distinctions is crucial to any discussion of

Marilyn Monroe in her last interview with Life
Magazine said ‘I never quite understood it – this sex
symbol. I always thought symbols were things you
clashed together. That’s the trouble, a sex symbol
becomes a thing. I just hate being a thing……..But if
I’m going to be a symbol of something, I’d rather have
it sex than some of the other things they’ve got
symbols of’.
The statement by Marilyn Monroe, above, typifies the
ambivalent condition of women’s subjectivity,
especially when we accept to be represented as visual
images. While it would seem that no one would want to
be reduced to the status of object per se, most human
beings apparently allow aspects of our selves to
become projected onto or subsumed within other
objects. This implies that some level of
objectification is almost an inevitable aspect to our
existence as a subject.
Before exploring the phenomenology of subjectivity and
objectivity, it maybe useful to note some of the
superficial traits associated with objects. Objects
are entities, things, discrete conglomerations of the
stuff of the world that lies outside of the human
subject. Objects can be extracted, fabricated,
manipulated, utilized, exchanged, venerated and
ultimately disposed of by the human subject. One
distinction is seen to lie in the agency that the
subject is perceived to have over the object, although
this can be denied or even reversed.
The level of agency of the subject over the object can
be seen as contested, and established in the process
of subject formation. The mediation of the
subject/object distinction, implies that a certain
hierarchy of ‘object-ness’ and ‘subject-ness’ can be
ascribed to both subjects and objects. There are
certain qualities assumed to denote a level of
subjectivity; such as animacy and linguistic
participation , and these contribute to establishing a
hierarchy of objects. Manifestations of the
hierarchical view of objects are exercised in their
variable manipulation and perceived disposability.
At first glance, it may appear that an artists’ model
is literally an object. The artists’ model is often
naked in a room with people who are clothed, aligning
herself with animals, as beings that are also
unclothed. The model’s postural schema is often
literally determined by the artists, and the model
remains still, acting inanimate, while surrounded by
movement and activity. The model is mostly silent (not
participating in language), and not explicitly
involved in the semiotic activity of generating an
artistic image. Moreover, representations of the
(female) model’s naked body, occupy a particular space
in art history, where they have been seen to function
as metaphorical, rather than representational.  The
objectifying implications of this are discussed
further in this paper.
My own experience of this process at its most extreme
was while modeling for a ‘drawing marathon’; a week
long exercise in continuous analytical drawing of a
single subject. The subject was a complex tableau –
rather like a very large still life arranged in the
centre of the room, involving plants, skeletons, shop
mannequins, plinths and featuring two naked life
models. The premise of the exercise was based on (not
unproblematic) notions of ‘objective drawing’ – or a
rigorous methodological approach to seeing the
subject, and making marks according to this ‘external’
reality – and not according to the interpretive
imagination of the artist.
Modeling for such an exercise was incredibly
frustrating and tiring mentally. As a model, I was
reduced to an element in a glorified still life. I had
to adopt a single pose over four days, that was as
comfortable (and unexpressive) as possible. I was
emotionally affected by the frustration of the
students, and I decided that the only reason why
models were included in this exercise was because
students would be bored out of their minds if they
were only drawing a still life. Naked models, even
when imitating mannequins, are more interesting to
look at than objects.
The fact is, that even in the most ‘objectifying’
conditions, the appeal of working from a life model
for artists, is predicated on a tacit acknowledgement
of their subjectivity. In the stereotyped image of the
artists’ model this subjectivity has been reduced to
their sexuality; or the sexual appeal that is ascribed
to them.  
This was discussed extensively by Lynda Nead. In “Art,
Obscenity and Sexuality”, Nead explored how the
conventions of utilizing and representing the female
nude model were explicitly involved in reducing women
to a type of sex object. Nead deconstructed the
rarified view of the fine art nude, epitomised by
Kenneth Clarke, as using women’s bodies as
metaphorical elements for the regulation of male
desire. Nead exposed how the stereotyped sexualized
relationship between the male artists and female model
was reinforced in popular culture, especially in life
drawing instruction manuals .
Nead’s description of the processes of studying the
model as a specifically coded form of projecting
masculine subjectivity onto women’s bodies, was
salient, and yet ignored many of the subtleties of the
modeling experience. These were dealt with more
effectively by Gordon Roe , who contextualised the
contemporary modeling experience in learning
institutions which are mediated by industrial
awareness of occupational protection.
While Nead cited some feminist incursions into the
male dominated discipline, she was pessimistic about
the possibilities of any feminist agency within the
conventions of artists working directly from the
model. Nead discussed feminist performance art as
examples where the representation of women was
challenged, by the women engaging in a pro-active
enactment of their position as objects of the gaze.
Nead also cited an exhibition/performance by artists’
models entitled “Watching You Watching Me”.
Most of the time, modeling is a type of performance
art; a cross between yoga and slow motion ballet.
Maybe the emphasis on performance is a way of
disguising or denying the exposed position of
nakedness; for most life models, professional
competence is more about their capacity for sustained
self expression and physical communication than any
surface attributes of skin or muscle tone. In any case
it is not always so; particularly when modeling for
painting, sculpture or analytical drawing classes.
The life drawing room is often a strange contrived
theatre of sexual sublimation, mediated by
prohibitions on touching and physical proximity
between students and the naked model. The viewing
privilege of the model is regulated by unspoken
conventions of the model’s gaze (which is fixed and is
not meant to ‘stare back’ at the artists), however
this does not actually eliminate the perspective
models have on artists.
Eliza Bell is an artist’s model who has written and
performed about modeling; most notably in 1996 as part
of the “Body” exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.
What appeared to be successful in her work was her
ease in her ‘role’ as object. Rather than refuting her
‘object’ status, Bell elaborated her enactment to
include elements that are mostly excluded from the
role of ’object’. In this case she spoke, and wrote
her thoughts, and broadcast her ‘gaze’ while being
gazed at.
Bell’s thesis and artwork, still left a large area of
the artist-model exchange unexplored; most notably the
enactment of objectification by the artist. Copying
from the figure is a also mimetic experience for the
artist, which involves an externalizing and enactment
of the subject’s own objectified corporeal schema, as
well as it’s projection onto the artwork in progress.
I believe that an artist working from the model is in
a specifically vulnerable position; the subject they
are trying to represent is simultaneously an audience
on their most intimate imaginative processes. Except
for the most pedagogically repressed or professionally
stylized artists, most of the initial sketches of a
model, in whatever medium, betray a level of fragility
and sensitivity that is usually mediated by their
later reworking.
My observation of the drawing students during the
‘drawing marathon’ led me to conclude that a far more
complex process was occurring than a simple imposition
of the masculine order of sexual objectification upon
my own embodied subjectivity. During the drawing
exercise, the students had to ‘chalk themselves in’
and monitor their own postural schema as they observed
and drew over the four days. The ‘objective’ drawing
exercise was also an exercise in challenging their own
relationship with their bodies and habits of mark
making and interpreting the figure. I decided that,
actually, the use of live models was to function as a
metonym for the process of objectification itself. In
reducing us to faceless featureless object outlines,
the students were enacting a formalised detachment
from their own subjectivity
One of the best things about working as an artists’
model is the opportunity models have of silent
observation of artists and students and reflection on
the models own positionality as well as the processes
of reproduction that are being enacted before her .
This may be merely a type of expanded narcissism, but
it may also be a type of mimetic mediation of the
assumed role of observed being that women are
conditioned to experience.
One of the occupational hazards of life modeling,
particularly for men, is depression. The previous year
of the drawing marathon employed a highly experienced,
talented and professional male artist’s model, who
suffered a nervous breakdown after three days. What
this indicates, I believe, is the discomfort that men
have of being placed in a situation of simulated
objectification and passivity. For a male model, to be
surrounded by inanimate objects, led to a
psychaesthenic crisis;  for a female model;
objectification is central to her ambivalent
subjectivity of womanhood, and modeling is merely a
more formalised enactment of the mediation between
objectification and subjective integrity which we
experience. I believe that the experience of
subjectivity is ambivalent for every subject, yet in
our culture, it is far more explicitly so for women,
due to the perceived nature of how we are represented,
and represent ourselves.
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.

“Women as Sex Objects” was a book edited by Linda
Nochlin and Tom Hess, in 1973. Nochlin’s article was
concerned with the history of erotic images, and
erotic elements in art, and focused on the exclusion
of female desire (and agency) in the history of art.
Nochlin argued that women’s erotic fantasies were
something clandestine, laughable, and excluded from
representation and all artistic representations of
desire were predicated on a male viewing and desiring
subject, and a woman as a viewed and desired object.  
Nochlin’s argument focused on the gender imbalances of
how figurative images were generated and consumed, and
reflected similar arguments, by John Berger in “Ways
of Seeing”. Berger’s statement “her nakedness is not a
function of her sexuality but of the sexuality of who
has access to the picture.”  was quoted by Nochlin and
illustrates their arguments of the extent to which the
fine art nude is alienated from the subjective
experience of actual female subjects.
Nochlin’s and Berger’s arguments linked the
representation of women as fine art nudes to their
social subordination and economic marginalization in
general.  Berger especially, argued that the
proliferation of the female nude was explicitly linked
to the commodified relations of artistic production
that emerged in post-renaissance Europe. As artworks
became commodified, images of women’s bodies became
commodified elements of such artworks, and emblematic
of the social relations between the sexes.  
From the renaissance, images of the naked female body
came to be almost exclusively associated with their
allegorical function. These images were not seen as
representations of actual women (the female models
used are largely anonymous) but as depictions of an
essential and anonymous ‘ideal’ of woman . While men
have also been depicted as allegorical subjects in
art; this use of images of women persisted well into
the twentieth century, and permeated the pictorial
language of mass visual culture in advertising .
Contemporary criticism has focused on the metonymic
role such depictions of women have played in art, in
proscribing expectations and limitations of women’s
role within art discourse, as well as society .
The gendered view of the subject object split does not
only apply to the sublimated erotic gaze. On one level
women’s bodies have been objectified as decorative
elements within paintings, aligned with still life
objects and natural landscapes . On another level,
images of women have been used as ‘symbolic’ or
allegorical elements , approaching the ‘privileged
object’ status described by Simone de Beauvoir  as
central to the entire history of Eurocentric
Simone de Beauvoir, sought a philosophical explanation
for the economic and social marginalization of women.
In “The Second Sex” de Beauvoir referred extensively
to the dialectical phenomenology of Hegel, who stated
the necessity of ‘opposing the object’ as part of
‘posing the subject’.  De Beauvoir also mentioned the
reluctance of any subject to be considered as an
object; and explained the prevalence of the
‘objectification’ of women, not as historically
contingent, but as a result of women internalizing a
view of themselves as something other than subjects.  
De Beauvoir’s view that women’s subjectivity is
enacted as an internalized objectification of
themselves, is echoed by other writings on art theory
and psychology, and it problematises the notion of
subjectivity in the first place. If it can be assumed
that ‘the object’ is that which is excluded from the
subject in it’s self determination, then it makes
sense that almost everything, and everyone, does at
some stage occupy the position of ‘object’. Indeed
Hegelian phenomenology relied precisely on viewing the
relationship of subject and object as dialectical
rather than dichotomized.  
The ‘objectification model’ is a powerful means of
describing the marginalization and silencing of
women’s own agency within the visual arts; and it
rests on the unstated assumption that women, in
reality, are not objects. This is evident in the fact
that it is women who write ‘as intellectual subjects’,
as the viewed and viewing ‘subjects’  of artworks, and
occasionally as ‘artists’. While many feminist writers
critique the gendered definition of ‘the subject’
prevalent in the visual arts, there is almost no
interrogation or even description of the female
experience of this ‘subjecthood’.
I believe this is the result on the enormous emphasis
on sight as the central criteria for subjectivity.
While it is self evident that spectatorship is quite
crucial to the visual arts, theories on the subject of
art have focused almost entirely on the spectator, and
not on other aspects of subjecthood that are embodied
in how a work of art is produced and viewed.
Discussion of the viewing subject has been central to
feminist art criticism. In most theory, the viewing
subject is ‘privileged’ as male. This is based on the
historical observation of the limited access to art
images that women had, and the lack of writing on art
from a female perspective.
John Berger stated quite explicitly that the nature of
looking at art images was a profoundly gendered
process, generated and reinforced by the history of
art, with men as the ‘seeing subject’ and women as the
‘viewed object’.  Berger’s analysis was echoed by
numerous feminist art theoreticians, such as Laura
Mulvey , whose 1975 theory of the gaze has since been
developed and expanded into a generalized model for
art itself.
 The function of woman is viewed object is to stand in
patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other,
bound by the symbolic order in which man can live out
his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic
command, by imposing them on the silent image of woman
still tied to her place as a bearer of meaning, not
maker of meaning
The appeal of Mulvey’s analysis is that she
specifically questions the functional aspect of the
type of objectification which is inherent in visual
representations of women; and the implications this
has for women’s own subjective agency. Mulvey doesn’t
prohibit the ‘objectification’ of women per se; but
argues that the transfiguration of women into a
symbolic, or metonymic object, means that women are
only ever represented as symbols of the male’s
subjective agency.
Because the representation of women throughout history
has almost entirely been controlled by men, and
because visual representations have been almost
entirely based on the externalization and
objectification of aspects of masculine subjectivity;
images of women have come to be regarded as inevitable
reflections of masculine subjectivity, even when
produced by women. Contemporary feminist art criticism
has come to dismiss almost all manually based
figurative art as merely perpetuating the gendered
social relations that were the located within a
historical analysis of art.
Painting in itself seems to be inextricably linked
‘with the voyeurism of the ‘male gaze’ and the
gestures of the male body, and is consequently
theorized as an impossible space for the purposes of
any female voyeur
There has been little discussion of the nature of the
female voyeur. The female gaze has been largely
dismissed or diminished by many writers, who give a
psychoanalytic interpretation of how women look. John
Berger , reduced the ‘female’ gaze to a type of inner
objectification; an internalized subjective splitting
in order to enact a type of self regulation, necessary
for participation in male dominated society. Berger’s
analysis reflects a conventional Freudian view of
female narcissism, and allows little space for a
dynamic and mediated female subjectivity. Mulvey’s
analysis was also heavily influenced by the
psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan.
The reductiveness of the dichotomized view of the
gaze, extends to how women look at (representations
of) other women’s bodies. The function of the female
‘mirroring’ gaze has been used in analysis of visual
culture and the means in which women consume
advertising. According to this schema, women view each
others bodies as covetable objects. Women enact their
desire for the ‘object woman’ onto their own corporeal
schema. This can be observed in mimetic practices of
art making, where women artists frequently act to
reproduce images of women that are just as idealized
and objectified as those of men.
While women do internalise and often recreate the
dominant ‘symbolic codes’ of representation, this is
not all that they do. The subjectivity of women is
intensely ambivalent; and cannot be reduced to an
inevitable condition of objectified passivity or
subjectified exclusion from the processes of
spectatorship and representation of themselves or
Having observed female artists and students, as a
model, I have witnessed a variety of infinitely subtle
responses, which demonstrate a dynamic flux of
objectification practices as women enact the mediation
of their expectations, idealizations and spontaneous
responses to their own bodies and that of another
To play with mimesis is thus for a woman, to try and
locate the place of her exploitation by discourse,
without allowing herself to be simply reduced to it  
The life studio or classroom present occasions where
strategies of revisioning do occur – when the tutored
and docile gaze is disrupted by a physical process
where the artist’s body takes over and communicates
something different altogether. Mimesis involves a
subtle interplay between projecting subjectivity onto
an object, and enacting the re-inscription of
objectification processes onto the subject.  
However, according to some critics, even the body of
the (female) artist has been colonized by the
phallocentric symbolic realm, and so cannot be trusted
as an expression of a genuine feminine subjectivity.
 Painting is privileged in modernist discourse as the
most ambitious and significant art form because of is
combination of body and trace, which secure by
metonymy the presence of the artist. These inscribe a
subjectivity whose value is, by visual inference and
cultural naming masculinity  
There is always an ambiguity in feminist writings
about ‘patriarchal conventions’ that the feminist
writers may be perpetuating (if not fabricating) the
very conventions which they claim to be exposing and
challenging. In delineating a gendered separation
between the male and female ‘subjects of the gaze’,
there is a possibility of eliminating the ambivalence
of either subject, and essentialising the gendered
roles as impermeable entities.
Some writers have criticized the influence of
psychoanalytic theory on contemporary theories of art
interpretation . Much contemporary writing is heavily
influenced by the theories of Jacques Lacan, whose
translated works are often elliptical and lack logical
consistency .  My own wariness is with the totalizing
view of an ‘essential human subject’ that is implied
by the application of psychoanalytic theory to other
fields. Surely philosophical and interpretive
writings, and artistic practice itself, are cultural
realms where the notions of subjectivity can be
contested, as well as enacted.
In positing an interpretive narrative for how a
subject may experience their particular embodiment (in
relation to their genitalia or any other physical
aspect – like deformity, disablement, size etc.) and
how this determines who the subject actually is, such
theories verge towards socio-biological determinism.
The deterministic elements of any essentialism
(biological or psychoanalytic) ultimately limit the
perceived autonomy of the subject as a reasonable
participant in any discourse.
By reducing all social discourses to a ‘symbolic
order’, dominated by the phallocentric ego,
psychoanalytic theory denies the complexity of subject
exchanges that actually occur. If all language is
entirely constructed by a phallocentric subjectivity
that absolutely denies the participation of the
female, then what is it that women are actually
writing? And why do we bother with language in the
first place? Even to posit the existing female subject
under phallocentric symbolic order as a castrated
phallus; hopelessly alienated from her ecstatic
feminine essence by the existing linguistic structures
; places a notion of an ‘authentic’ female subject in
the realm of the ideal, and perpetuates female
There is an evident need for a more flexible
interpretative framework, that allows space for a
subjectified self consciousness of the (fe)male. By
denying the subjectivity of female participation in
language, such theories deny the complexity of social
relations that are predicated on an assumption of
female subjectivity; not as a gendered subject, but as
a conscious communicating being.
There is a considerable amount of writing that
challenges the central narrative of Lacanian
psychoanalytic theory. Deleuze and Guattari
collaborated on an epistemological project that
specifically sought to challenge primacy of the
oedipal narrative as subject formation.  Deleuze and
Guattari raise many possibilities; based on ideas of
layering and surface interaction and these are echoes
of various facets of philosophical enquiry.
 But we do also have a cognition of ourselves as
observable bodies.  And we can relate to other persons
and their mental states only through observations. My
reply is who is denying that? But how do we have
consciousness of ourselves as observable bodies in
space and time? The only important question is: How
can we recognize a body as ours?
The quotation from Manfred Franks, indicates that
there is a discourse of the male ‘viewed subject’ and
indicates the conceptual limitations of contemporary
‘gaze theory’. Accusations of ‘objectification’ are
fairly meaningless where there is not an explicit
statement of what a ‘subject’ is in the first place.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Subjectifying the Object Part Two

“….she says “I object therefore I am” - Eliza Bell  
Historically, the epistemological split between
‘subject’ and ‘object’ was exemplified in the
Cartesian table of opposites, which aligned women with
nature, and matter, as the opposite to men, culture,
and mind. Philosophers such as Hegel sought a means to
overcome the opposition of “mind and matter, body and
soul, belief and understanding”   and in his
“Phenomenology of Spirit” Hegel sought to articulate a
dynamic notion of the subject as informed by and
informing its surrounds.
Hegel’s phenomenology provided a dynamic interrogation
into the notion of subjectivity itself, and a
framework with which to envisage the remaking of the
world that is part of the subjective agency. Hegel’s
writings historicized the notion of a subjective
agency, and articulated the possible use of
epistemological structures even by the most
marginalized subjects, to shape the world of which
they are a part.
Hegel’s dialectical view of the subject has inspired a
philosophical exploration of phenomenology; from
existentialist philosophers, such as Merleau Ponty and
de Beauvoir to contemporary writers, such as Alphonso
Lingis  Contemporary philosophers have explored
experiential phenomenology as a fluctuating dynamic
between the subject and the ‘other’. This offers an
exciting means of imagining the ‘object as a ‘subject’
as well as acknowledging the internal objectification
that occurs in the subject as an inevitable aspect of
objectifying the other.
Contemporary phenomenology privileges the position of
subjectivity, but not as an immutable entity; but one
that is continually formed by processes of interaction
with and delineation from others, and constantly open
to challenge. The most notable example of this is
Roger Caillois “Mimicry and Legendary Psychaesthenia”
which posits the subject, mimicking its surrounds as
in a state of immanent psychic collapse, unless it is
able to delineate itself from them somehow; ideally by
a process of objectification. These ideas provide a
fertile ground for examining the experiential aspect
of the phenomenology of the subject.
The status of subject, while privileged, is also
tenuous. In certain conditions, (such as fetishism,
and idolatry) objects are elevated to the status of
subjects, perceived to embody certain powers over the
human subject with whom they interact. While it is
easy to pathologise such interactions as aberrant,
this ignores so much of the intricacies of language
pertaining to mechanical objects, abstract entities
(such as the nation state), and artworks themselves,
which are often spoken about as subjects, even
addressed as the gendered pronoun of a woman. What
this indicates as well is that not all objects are
equal, and not all objects are devoid of subjectivity.
Where women are objectified, it generally as a certain
class of objects, acknowledged as being imbued with a
certain amount of power over and active relationship
to the subject. In the visual arts, the function of
representations of women is often privileged as
symbolic, as well as decorative or pornographic. It is
not absolutely certain whether theoretical challenges
to the ‘objectification’ of women, are challenging the
alignment of women with objects per se, and hence
their exclusion as subjective entities, or merely
questioning the category of object which women are
reduced to, by the conventions of naked
Despite the multitude of images which imply the
opposite, I do not believe that the artist model
relationship is a necessarily singular act of
objectification. I am not denying that this does not
and has not occurred in most studio and class-room
based uses of the nude model, but I believe that this
is mediated, more or less, by a more complex set of
exchanges. I believe the basis for the evocative power
of many of the most effective ‘great art nudes’ is not
only in their capacity to encapsulate the ordered
conventions of the patriarchal gaze, but in their
capacity to reflect more subtle aspects of the artist
model relationship.
The human subjects depicted in paintings are never
only objects. Their subjecthood is always implicit in
the way they are represented. Women are expected to
view images of ourselves (as objects) and respond
accordingly. The predominant view is that we seek
identification with these representations and seek to
present ourselves as mirrors of how we see ourselves
represented. This denies the infinite imaginative
leaps that occur in any viewer; of subjective
affiliation between genders, and between objects,
animals, abstract marks, and certain subjective states
of being.
The examples of analogous sight; which is the tendency
for an anthropomorphic associative interpretation of
foreign visual phenomena, is a salient example of the
extent of imaginative projections of subjectivity onto
external phenomena. Analogous viewing and
interpretation, is significant aspect of early
microbiological sketches, but also explains the
emotional appeal of abstract art
Some of the most interesting enactments of the artist
model relationship involve an expression of the
relationships between the artist and their subject,
their own subject sensibilities, and their audience.
The process of reproducing the subject of another
human being; is not an automated process of
reproducing a gendered gaze as a singular image. The
physical properties of the art object itself mediate
how an artist is able to externalise their own
relationship to their body, and express facets of
their ‘gaze’ upon the other.
The investigation of the figure motif leads
subversively to an investigation of the surface of the
painting and the paintings real seduction, paint
itself, itself substance, its tactile qualities; is it
oily or dry, opaque or translucent, thick or thin?
Paint contains the history of contact with the
painting; soft stroking movements, scraping scratching
rhythms of the hand; and phenomena – splashes, blots,
dispersions of substance against the tensions of the
In this paper I have written from a gendered position
of an artists’ model, but I wish to posit a less
defined subjective affiliation for the artist subject.
I believe that drawing from the figure involves the
artist in a mimetic relationship with the model, by
the very fact that the artist reproducing a life size
gestures of the body in front of them. This is a space
where the artist is not only an observer, but an
imitator; a male artist mimics the coy self conscious
display of the female model in the very process of
representing it by using his body. Likewise female
artists, also mimic the gestures, expressions and
concealments of the model in front of them. In this
sense, life drawing enables artists of both genders to
actively mimic a stylized presentation of the female
‘object’ and hopefully, to challenge it.
Michael Taussig, discussed the imaginative potential
of mimesis, in allowing a mediation of the subjective
agency of those who are completely marginalized and
victimized by forces beyond their control (such as
illness and colonialism).  While the idea of mimesis
as a redemptive force isn’t new, it offers an
effective image for how the subjective agency of the
‘other’ can be acknowledged. I believe that an
embodied, considerate and yet playful artistic
practice is an ideal space where male and female
subjects can contest and communicate a dynamic and
rich subjectivity.
To mime is not merely a passive reproduction, but an
active process of reinscribing and contextualizing the
mimicked ‘object’. It is to position oneself both
within and outside the system duplicated to produce
something quite other and autonomous from it, using
recognizable actions for new purposes.  
In writing this paper, I have hoped to acknowledge the
gendered conventions inherent in the tradition of
figurative art which marginalize and objectify women.
The objectification of the female subject has involved
reducing women to a singular decorative, ornamental or
erotic visual ‘element’ of an image. This is
problematic when it occurs repeatedly according to a
limited number of stereotypes that reflect and
reinforce social marginalization of the subjects
I wish to problematise these conventions without
dismissing figurative artistic tradition altogether. I
seek a critical strategy for negotiating the amount of
historical figurative art the ongoing art made by men
and women today. I need to articulate its limitations
and the potential aspects of both in facilitating an
imaginative insight into the human subject.
While I have problematised the absence of any detailed
exploration of the complex condition of female
subjectivity, this paper does not have the scope to
explore the nature of what this subjectivity actually
is. I have presented the experience of life modeling,
and physically representing the model as an art
object,  as a ritualized space for the mediation of
the profoundly ambivalent position that women occupy
in relation to their own enactment of objectification
and condition of subjectivity.
In writing from a consciously gendered position in
this paper, I wish to expose the specificities of my
gendered position as a represented and representing
subject; in order to explore the limitations of this
gendering; and reinforce the possibilities for a
subjective agency that is not gender specific. I like
to seek gender fluidity in art, not that gender is
neutralized or eliminated but there be spaces for
cross affiliations and associations.
I find the essentialising of a gendered aesthetic
ludicrous and pointless. Women are undoubtedly
marginalized by conventions of viewing and
representation, but we only have our existing
participation in these conventions with which to
challenge this marginalization. Women’s equal
participation in culture will only occur when women
have full social and economic equality with men, and I
have no intention of waiting for the revolution before
I can pick up a paintbrush!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Death and the Muse

The criticism of the life class that emerged on most feminist texts from the 1970’s and 1980’s, relied on theories of spectatorship which implied that the viewers, artists, were voyeurs, or passive spectators. The typical analysis described the female nude (model) as operating as a metonym for men’s own physical embodiment, sexuality, irrationality etc., in effect functioning as a phantasm of the men’s own selves projected on to women. The platonic ideal, represented by the nude, being encapsulated in such words as beauty, sublime etc. really was little more than the phallus, and had nothing to do with representing actual women. This totalising view of the nude, while elucidating some of the socialised and gendered grounding in which images of the nude circulated, has had very little to say about how these images have been produced, and what they consist of. (male) Artists working from (female) naked models were conflated with (male) spectators of naked images of women. These were described as intrinsically complicit or directive of the voyeuristic gaze of the spectator. Most of these theories were derived from structuralist theories of popular culture and film, and then adopted by art theory. And what they do is to collapse all image making into the same order of activity. Photography was located as a uncontested heir to the apparent verisimilitude of slick looking 19th Cc salon paintings. the determining capacity of the images was ascribed to what they were representing, rather than what residues of their production or construction were legible.

What these types of analyses ignored were they types of temporal differences intrinsic to differing mediums. Photography in the 20th C became largely instant. Even though a photography shoot may take hours, it consists of a mechanical recording of a series of multiple glances, which mirror, more closely the types of looking that viewers of 2D images have. Drawings and paintings however are much slower, and sculpture even more so. The act of life drawing is largely dependant on the model, and also on the artists own physical capacities to mimetically reproduce their (controlled) or uncontrolled visual and physical responses to the model in front of them. Given this perspective, the artist is no longer a type of voyeur, spying the singular performance of the model, but a type of participant in the performance, but not quite a central performer, but a participating witness. A witness is different form a spectator, they feel a part of what they are watching, they feel impelled towards and action from it.

My intervention into art theory with this project is largely to articulate figurative images in terms of the embodied gestures of the artists. Again this is largely Artaudian. In its search beyond the “text” or language, to a stammering onomatopoeia of movements and noises which convey something beyond language. I don’t look at figurative images in terms of the narrative of what is being pictorially depicted or represented, but look at the traces of gestures, the marks, the residues of embodiment , the artefacts of gestures, movements made by the artists. This is what gives the work its temporal edge. Drawings and paintings are not taken, they are not located in an instant, but occur in a state of duration, over time. They are a product of multiple glances, actions movements, blinking. The artists is not struggling with the less than ideal body in front of them so much as their own less than ideal dexterity in tyring to represent the body in front of them. What is the nature of this trace? Is it a tracing off a mimetic gesture, imitating the pose (not often? is it a tracing of a series of gazes, often a disciplining of the stochastic glances to a linear progression along contours? Is this is what is represented by a line?

I’d differentiate between an artist and performer, in that a performer does not generate a plastic residue of their actions. A performance is isolated spatially and temporally within the theatrical timeframe. Art generate residues, (images, objects) that transmit something of the performance beyond its immediate situation. Possibly these image residues can be seen as analogous to text, and the way that oral histories and stories and songs get transcribed and written into text, but I’m not sure. Writing is largely governed by fairly strict semiotic conventions. While spoken language can be stretched, strained murmured interjected and distorted, written languages have fairly straightforward rules for the translation of phonetics into written text. The nature of the rules for drawing, or painting have been considerably challenged however. The “decline of academic life drawing” has meant that contemporary figurative images are heterogeneous and not so much lack verisimilitude, but are characterised by an absence of conventions for how marks on a page, canvas or on an object are articulated as either gestural or representative signifiers. Art historians don’t have any sort of consensus on ascribing the representative capacities of various visual elements (be they formal, abstract, gestural or representational) to any sort of “authentic” theatre of mimetic exchange.

The sort of academic or avant-garde scepticism towards linking plastic images with any project of authentic representation is what fuelled contemporary movements of performance art. This is also called “body art” in art history circles. Performance art, is meant to enable theatre to take a place within the refractory viewing spaces of the art gallery. Most performance art interventions have been informed by surrealism and Artaud’s ideas of the theatre not as imitating life, but of providing the conditions for a transformation of reality. The mise en scene of the gallery, with viewers ambulating around art objects and through a space dedicated to internalised visual contemplation is fecund as an alternative theatrical architecture. Viewers and actors are less separated, viewers are not constrained within the theatre but can enter or leave (especially in durational pieces), viewers are occasionally invited to participate or collaborate with the performer. Many of these pieces are reminiscent of guerrilla theatre, underground theatre, situationist stunts like “massing” or even TAZ interventions like raves. Presenting an inflective culture, which intersects with life, mimics it and in miming it as a sort of disruption generates a challenge to social conventions of passivity.

What I like less about performance art is the type of “knowing passivity” enacted by the sophisticated art connoisseur. I know from my own gallery performances, that viewers are reluctant to even laugh let alone participate, speak , question or engage with the performance. So I think that performance art needs to be activated by discourses and practices that energise the spectator to be an active witness, not a cool voyeur. I really like some of the reflexive interventions by Mike Parr recently, where he has articulated and acted on his own spectatorship of the mass media, and generated a hysterical mimetic response. Also what Parr has done with this as well is to exploit the mise en scenes of his performances. Parr has used durational pieces, the recording, representation and transmission of his durational pieces, the transmission of these representations and the construction of virtual and physical forums for spectatorship. By inviting an online audience to torture him remotely, he disrupted the cool remoteness of electronic communication, and in his durational work, he invited the audience, ambulant where he was immobile to witness his suffering directly. Parr’s and Abramowicz's work from the 1970’s both pushed the boundaries between performer and audience to an almost fatal limit, which is terrifying. Possibly what is the most unnerving of this type of guerrilla theatre is the risk involved if spectators refuse to play “with” the performer, or ‘with” the spectators. Just as in pedagogical theatres of classrooms, seminars etc., the performance is predicated on the establishment of an artificial realm or one bound by separate and distinct rules of behaviour. Otherwise the performer, the initiator, the medium or shaman is too vulnerable.??????

This leads into the area of life class, which I believe has the most possibilities for a volatile engagement with the becoming of theatre, and that is the mise en scene elements.
There have been precious few attempts made to activate or even articulate the volatile elements of the life class, since the nineteenth century. The most obviously volatile element of the life class, and one which made it the centre for literature, legal and even theatrical concerns was its role in the presentations and regulation of sexuality. The issues which were once largely confined to the life class in the 19C have in the 20th C, been mostly encompassed by the proliferation of explicitly erotic or pornographic photographs, films, literature, websites in the commodities domestic sphere, and by the proliferation of strip shows and other social theatres connected with the sex and hospitality industries, such as parlours of brothels and massage parlours, escort agencies, phone sex agencies and topless bars. Life classes proliferate in “recreational arts” spheres largely in continuation of the tame but slightly risqué nostalgia for 19th bohemia. Many sketch clubs feature artists models that present themselves according to the conventions of eroticised display and comportment associated with mainstream visual culture (i.e. they are young adults, slender, female), and are dominated in many cases by the types of heterosexist, masculine scopic regimes criticised by most feminists.

Comparisons between erotic art, erotica performance and the life class are easy to make. The pedagogical role of the life class in representing and regulating the display of sexuality has been largely superseded by pornography, and the proliferation of “obscene” practices, images and fantasies in the littoral zones of hyperspace and the personals columns. These contemporary social theatres of sexual (re)presentation are more compelling to cultural theorists than the life class, so it is of limited interest for me to explore these areas of the life class further.

However there are other volatile elements of the life class, concerning spectatorship and death. Performances are usually isolated temporally and spatially to a theatre, or performance venue, be that an interactive website, a theatre or a temporal intervention in public space. There are often video or photographic records of such performances which circulate later, but they function as an unmarked evidence of the event. With the life class, involves a type of spectatorship specifically geared to creating gestural and mimetic residues of a performance. These residues function to create a second sphere of spectatorship, that of the gallery audience of the images and objects, which are far less legibile “records” of performance as a type of secondary performative, gestural utterance themselves., and they challenge the “scopic regime” within the life class itself. By creating an mimetic image or a gestural residue of their spectatorship of the model as performer, the artist, and the work of the artist becomes the subject of the models own spectatorship.

I regard this volatile element of the life class, which has been largely overlooked in art history is the unstable and reciprocal roles of spectatorship between model and artist, and the types of agency or action that spectatorship can imply. Artists are acknowledged as audiences for models, and who need to control and regulate their own movements so as not to violate the models vulnerability as naked, and not interferes with or breaks the performance. However models are audiences for the artists own performance in mart making and are bound by a silent contract, not to interfere with, comment on or disrupt the artists own artwork. Tamar Garb story about the male model and female spectator. The invisible spectator, removed form the performer is less vulnerable. Which returns me to the conundrum of what drawing/painting a body actually is. How is it different from gawking at someone, glancing at them, staring at them, taking a snapshot of them, or acting on their body. It has elements of all of these tings. I feel it is less invasive than taking a photograph of someone, and yet insomuch less personal than touching someone. I feel violated when artists and students touch me when ‘m posing and horrified that they presume it is their right to do so.
So what I hope to do, in describing the life class as a theatre, is to imagine these volatile elements, and to imaging the life class potentially as an Artaudian theatre and as something which does not exist, and is destroyed at the point where it takes place..
I don’t’ regard this as a privileged site of authentic representation of the body. Not at all, but I see it as a space where spectatorship can potentially be enlivened (which is not happening at the Arthaus pub). Life drawings a s a set of plays, imaginary games, games with textures, gestures, desires, reimaginings, and a space where representation, as repetition can have polyphanic resonance. Not an exchange between image, self and commodity. But self, image, abstraction, performance, imitation, imagination, gesture, the substrate of stuff.

If I had seen parrs performance, I would have probably drawn him, as this is how I know how to bear witness to something or someone. This is how I know how to be present with someone or something and to enter a space of active conscious stillness. I’m not sure if he would have liked this to happen. Parr’s performance evoked to a lot of what Scarry wrote in “the body in pain”, and also what Lingis wrote in “the community of those who have nothing in common.” Pin is that which destroys language and destroys meaning. Witnessing pain is horrible because we are witnessing someone’s own incapacity to articulate or contain their affective sensation, and we are taken into a space where meaning no longer operates according to the rule of simulacra (a representation of a representation of a representation. All of which function as units of exchange) but into a space of death, death being a finality that cannot be exchanged. As Foucault says dying is a pure event that can never verify anything. It cannot be exchanged, or reversed and cannot really be represented. Death is a great unnamed unbearable mystery that is only really cognicised in the individual trauma of grief. As Lingis writes however, death is the immanent condition for living, and life is the activity which we carve out of death. Lingis also described the importance of being with those who are passing form life into death, of bearing witness to the most singular and isolating experience that exists. This is where I start to wonder about what spectatorship is, what is bearing witness, and what is appropriating or violating someone’s experiences by representing it, or what is giving it expression. If pain (and death) is characterized by its own unspeakability, it's own unrepresentability then for someone to depict or represent someone else’s pain is to a certain extent to speak for them, which is problematic.

My own awareness of this dilemma real only emerge din the past year. As an artists model I have a social circle of friends who are models and artists, some who are models only. I have modelled with some friends, and drawn others, and others have drawn me. So I am familiar with a type of mimetic exchange and comfortable with it. The last ‘doubles” gig I did was with a friend, with whom I’d collaborated on guerrilla theatre performance projects and also drawn. We’d done a series of crazy poses, standing on our heads, pretending to throttle each other, whip each other, writhe on the ground and culminated with a six hour tableaux vivant from Gericaults raft of the medusa. He was crouched in a slump of despair while I slid off the dais in contorted death agonies using a type of shoulder stand where I rested on his shoulders. All fun stuff and a very intimate and precious experience, because models posing together have a type of complicity. Because we are performing “silent” models are able to speak, quietly, and implicitly in the double modelling are the quite comments, gestures and squeezes where we feel each other’s pain thresholds and physical limits. Talking is a great distraction from pain and discomfort of extended poses. Anyway the next time my accomplice modelled, I persuaded him to be tied to a crucifix and pretend he was Jesus dying on the cross. A few weeks alter he was diagnosed with cancer. I found at that point impossible to imagine drawing him, because I knew that all I would be seeing would be his corpse. Earlier this year he had to go into hospital and his partner (also an artist and model) kept a vigil by his bedside and took her watercolours to draw him. We’d all read Lingis and all decided that spending time with him was the best way we could show our support. We were all sitting around drawing each other pretty much. That’s what artists do. When our friend saw this he was horrified at the thought that we would draw him in hospital bed, and expressed it as a violation. He wasn’t presenting himself to us, he wasn’t in control of how he was presented before us, and he wasn’t in control of his body, or able to understand or articulate what was happening, at all. My last memory of him is of a type of wild eyed terror and rage, a desperate rage to cling to life. Actually my last memory of him was the last time I read his weblog from April, and the last brushmark I put on a painting of him that I finished after his death. What art objects do (like written texts) is they change temporal order. Time doesn’t proceed in a sequence but loops backwards and forwards, in the way that memory does. The way we carry objects with us, horde, discard, exchange, destroy, create and collage them is a similar way to how we actualise our experiences and memories. I think that this looping, this disruption of the continuum off birth, life, death is a way we have to try to mediate death, to cheat it, to alternate it, even generate a simulacra of it that can be exchanged.

I guess this is anecdote is a long winded way of arriving at my argument that the life class is a theatre which is based around exploring and representing and deferring death. I believe that this largely overlooked aspect of the life class can elucidate why the life class would have persisted and proliferated when its capacity to express and regulate sexuality has become largely redundant. My research involves exploring this form a social history of medical anatomy and the life class, as well as a discussion of how the practices of a life class, mimic and mediate death. The historical emergence of the life class coincided with a significant historical changes in the way in which they dying, death and corpses were institutionalised and exhumed from the social spheres. Michel Foucault described the emergence of social institutions in the nineteenth century which regulated and institutionalised madness, deviance, illness, criminality and sexuality, and also discusses the history of medicine in a way in institutionalising and isolating death. A lot of recent art historical research is exploring the links with the history of anatomy, and social histories of medicine are emerging with social histories of art.

Recently I came across an account of a demonstration of electricity on the nerves of a man, hung at the gallows, and reanimated in a demonstration of electricity. Previous to this I’d read a number of startling descriptions of how ecorches or flayed figures, which are standard prop in old style art schools were created, and been horrified. The Ecorche, a “flayed St Bartholomew” was actually made from a criminal, who had been hung, flayed, arranged in the pose and then cast in plaster. No art or artifice was used in representing the exactitude of the muscular structure. Just a kind of macabre sadism. Other texts recount how the bodies of criminals and the poor were used for anatomical study, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. This coincided with two social developments, one was the removal of executions form the public sphere to the walled realm of the gaol, and the second was the emergence of the public hospital as the place where dying and preparation of the dead for burial took place, instead of the family home. This was true initially especially for poor people, but later spread.

In most art institutions, students spent from one to two years drawing from plaster casts of ecorches. These were more popular than classical casts of Venus, who was deemed in England to be too erotic. These ecorches were known to be live casts from recently hung criminals. People must have been aware that they were coming as close to drawing the dead as possible.

The second aspect relates to the practices of the life class and life modelling. Life models work naked, and they hold a series of poses that are still. Acting in “freeze frame”, playing statues. In the 19th century a craze swept through the theatre called “tableaux vivants” I’m tyring to see if there is any literature on this and why it was so popular, apart from the references of actors pretending to be paintings. What I believe is occurring is that the life class is the one accessible theatre where death is enacted, or mimicked, and where people can mimic it in turn. The model’s alternance between stillness and movement is one contributor to this atmosphere of playing Lazarus, also the model is naked, which sets them apart from the drawers as a type of shaman. but other aspects of modelling and drawing lead me to conclude that this is what is going on.

Working as a model, often the poses that come to mind are ones from paintings or sculpture, and half of the fun is pretending to be a work of art, but the other aspect is holding “death” poses, and the more tortured and contorted, the better. The atmosphere of the life class is like watching a group of people in a trance. Drawing from a model is largely an experience of being in a trance, acting spontaneously or automatically in a state of suspended animation. What models do is not so much strip or display their bodies, but enact a state of suspended animation, and try to induce an affinitive response in the audience. A “good” model is someone who can induce this trance like state, who can fascinate and mesmerise the audience, and it isn’t usually through beauty or extraordinary feats of contortion and endurance. (although the latter help), what is mesmerising in a model is to witness a believable metamorphosis, not between model and statue but between model and corpse. This requires a curious type of absent presence. The model doesn’t become a corpse for the duration of the pose but hovers between a lifelike and a deathlike state, generating a feeling of suspense, and a sense of an imperative to respond – to “catch” the pose before it changes. To pose, and to adopt a position that is credible as a pose is not to “act natural” at all but to act profoundly unnaturally, to generate a suspension of belief. If to watch a pose is to witness a type of endurance, or suffering or alternation with death, drawing is to participate in its magic. In a drawing we try to capture the moment between life and death when a body hovers at the point of being a statue before resuming its fluid mobile state.

I like the Aristotelian idea of the theatre as a space of learning, and the idea of mimetic gesturing as the primeval act of knowing and cognising phenomena. I think theatres should be spaces where the “audience” becomes witnesses rather than voyeurs and are compelled to take that witnessing into our own lives. Where people have a space to mimic, to incorporate what is performed in front of us. I am still uneasy about the role of spectatorship, witnessing, retelling or representation of theatres, conventional of Artaudian theatres. And hope that my presence here today may create some cross fertilizations in the reflective thinking and practice of cultural interventions that may enable theatre to take a place.