Safety in Objects: Discourses of Violence and Value—The Rokeby Venus and Rhythm 0


I will show how one particular tradition of feminist criticism, feminist art criticism, has distinguished between subjects and objects along gendered lines, and I will investigate and trouble the faith that this tradition has placed in performance art to rectify subject/object inequalities for female subjects. I will then turn to two feminist “performances”— Mary Richardson’s 1914 protest slashing of the Rokeby Venus and Marina Abramović’s 1974 performance piece Rhythm 0—which I argue do not rectify women’s relegation to objecthood but rather emphasize the precarious power of women’s objecthood. My argument largely counters the critical treatment of these pieces, treatments that have tended to obscure this negative power of objectification in favor of more romantic accounts of not only women’s ability to be seen as subjects but also the positive impact their subject status has had on female safety in the face of violence.

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