(attractive) body wars online

Artforum has a fairly balanced essay [probably up for a limited time online] regarding the nascent separatist movement of young, internet-based, feminist artists. The article notes a recent women-only performance night at Transfer gallery in NYC, the private, women-only Facebook group ☆ミ [Star Wave], and the launch of the show being reviewed, an online exhibition titled Body Anxiety, on the opening night of Ryder Ripps' Postmasters show "Ho," "not as a protest per se, but as a pointed alternative."

An intriguing slant of the article is that online art politics are not the same as meat space art politics: it's more about mediation and management of images and symbols than protesting and organizing out in the streets. And image-management online is notoriously slippery (in this case, the representation of female bodies, or more particularly, the artists' bodies):

[W]hat pushing back means, and what it looks like, is pretty much up for grabs. Resistance is co-opted so quickly in our moment of screen grabs and reblogs that one obvious question is: Why fight it? It’s no surprise that for a lot of artists, gaming the system is more appealing, or simply more feasible, than changing it, and there’s no doubt that much of the work in the show walks right up to that well-trodden line between criticality and complicity, deploying “Internet babe” tropes with and without irony.

One wonders, reading the article, whether iPhone deformations of an Instagram brand model done by a female artist would have raised the same hue and cry as when Ryder Ripps did it. ("[Ann Hirsch] uses a trippy spiral warp effect on both shots, reminiscent of Ripps’s manipulations of Ho’s photos," the Artforum author mentions.) Or if a woman doing it would be called out by her peers for not doing it fairly enough. Ripps' target was a woman who had sold out to capitalist patriarchy but his crime was not so much misogyny, perhaps, as being the wrong person to be making the critique (see the last paragraph, below). Meanwhile, Frieze is still talking dated, Paglia-esque talk about Ripps not respecting that the Instagram model had empowered herself via tantalizing self-display ("... is a pointed thing to do to an image of a woman whose power hinges on her body’s appearance and her control over it." Yes, and...?)

The return of a Dworkinian "kill the oppressors" strain of feminism in our increasingly net-based art practice would certainly be new and noteworthy (and kind of exciting), but as Artforum notes, there are inconsistencies and internal conflicts:

When we spoke, [Jennifer] Chan [one of "Body Anxiety"'s co-organizers] expressed self-critical despair -- prompted in part by comments on ☆ミ [Star Wave] -- over the inadequate presence of women of color and of queer and trans artists in “Body Anxiety.” She wondered whether the focus on work that took pleasure in performances of femininity -- all those Internet babes -- played a role in the unconscious skewing of the curatorial selection toward conventionally attractive white women artists. While many of the show’s artists -- unclothed and not -- contest the appropriation of women’s sexuality in porn, mass culture, and men’s art, fewer challenge popular feminist representations of sexual liberation. Which bodies (or artists) get to be freedom’s icons and emissaries?

The Dworkin hard line we're envisioning here wouldn't just be a "women good/men bad" dichotomy but an anti-iconic practice that seeks to eradicate or at least problematize the "selfie" as a form of "identity" -- recognizing that it's no longer "empowering" (if it ever was) to voluntarily submit to a Staasi-like system of surveillance or self-surveillance based on facial recognition. Warping the Instagram model's face in this scheme is not male rage but worker rage at a prevailing quasi-voluntary control system. De-privileging the "body image" to restore powers inherent in the rest of the sensorium: hearing, smell, touch, taste. Etc Etc. Just throwing this out for thought.