“it’s not the gaze, but the look” – Female Icons

What makes a woman an icon? is an art project by De Geuzen which explores the constitution of a woman as an icon:

The aesthetic of this project’s archive reinforces the idea that an icon or representation is in itself a way of seeing. Seeing the symmetrical grid of images almost evoke a sense of uniformity – they are all of the same size but with radically different contents.

one of the linked works from ubu web: Yvonne Rainer, A Film about a woman who (1974)
Rainer had rallied against in her “NO manifesto,” since in dance, the performer/spectator relationship is a human one, in which emotion, empathy, and relations of power are present. Again, one of the basic tenets of minimalism posed a unique problem for live performance. In a way, Rainer can be said to have inverted a key principle of minimalist art by attempting to cut off any kind of human connection between her performers and the audience.

…the “problem” of performance was dealt with by never permitting the performers to confront the audience. Either the gaze was averted or the head was engaged in movement. The desired effect was a worklike rather than exhibition like presentation. (Rainer, 1995b, 271)

De Geuzen does not shy away from the way in which we form collections and stories in the present in an attempt to understand the continuity of what it means to be female through acts of collection, homogenization, discussion, and disambiguation. This provides us with a collective means for seeing the female throughout history, and the resulting collection of hyperlinked media provides a way to draw comparisons and inferences that aren’t always as available when we study a singular biography.

The interesting thing about exploring this project was determining what I thought the mission of the project to be. I wondered what kinds of questions it was asking, and what it was seeking to embody as an endeavor. I initially thought it might be asking the question, What makes an icon an icon? or What makes a female an icon? But as I looked into the project, it didn’t seem that it was seeking to deconstruct the status of the ‘icon’, or to separate a public view of women from private ones. Rather, I think it is taking the icon as a given “embracing the idea that an image and a status exist together” and builds a network of expressions and testimonies on top of this evidential notion. De Geuzen is letting the research, images, and lectures of the Female Icon project reveal something about our social histories. They state that they wish to show the “social underpinnings of the feminine in all its cliche’s, perversities and conventions.” In other words, I think they may be trying to excavate the range of meanings of a recognized ‘icon’ by forming a network of them and letting the emergent dialogue speak for itself.

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