Winona Ripps blazed a trail in the feminist net art community (and drew some scorn) for her exhibitions and performances where only women were invited. Despite a separatist bent that had not been seen since Andrea Dworkin, Ripps' frequent targets were "cis-identified" females, that is to say, sexy babes that seemed more interested in catering to the male gaze than transcending gender boundaries. Ripps' critics characterized her work as "self-hating" since the word misogynist didn't pass the laugh test. Her project "Art Whore" was a classic Guerrilla Girls stratagem, a prank where she embarrassed a hip Manhattan hotel that had hired her to be an unpaid one-night artist in residence. She used her materials stipend to hire masseuses from Craigslist, one male and one female. Rather than exploiting them by having them pose provocatively, she asked them to make drawings. Completely misunderstanding the nature of the project, a writer for the Art F City website asked if it was "the most offensive work of 2014." Many mainstream publications parroted this diatribe, leading to a mass dumbing-down of a subversive feminist idea.
When Ripps announced that she would be showing paintings at Manhattan's Postmasters gallery, denunciations were swift that she had sold out. Art F City issued another angry ukase, declaring before the show even opened that the work was self-hating and "not truly feminist."
Let's say at the outset, now that the show is up, that most of these aren't great paintings. This reviewer liked some of the smaller ones the gallery had in the back room but it's very hard to feel anything about work you know was farmed out to a Chinese oil-on-canvas sweatshop -- a practice increasingly used by American artists who can't deal with the messy, hard realities of producing a large body of painted work. As a critic you either talk about the outsourcing or pretend it didn't happen.
Digital versions exist of much of the work so that's what we'll talk about here. Winona Ripps' subject matter is a cis-identified fashion model named Adrianne Ho, whom the website Hypebeast called "the unofficial face of menswear." Using her Instagram account, Ho presents herself in sexy "exercise" poses sponsored by various brands that pay for the shots. In the manner of Kathy Acker, Ripps appropriates Ho's work, and using an Apple iPhone's imaging program, makes "posthuman" digital distortions of Ho's images. Like a cyber-Orlan, she alters Ho's features, not into some classical ideal but into grotesque modifications suggesting recombinant plastic surgery or gene splicing, aimed at the cliches of female heteronormativity. Instead of a petite button nose, a comically enlarged one. Instead a waist that's merely skinny, one so small that food could barely pass through it. Instead of pleasing symmetry, funhouse mirror asymmetries.
This jamming on the extremes of patriarchal capitalism is the purest feminist work but that hasn't stopped another round of critics from calling Winona Ripps "self-hating." Some have even stooped to personal attacks, saying she's a lousy lay! Hell hath no fury like the cisgendered female scorned.
(a thought experiment - connections to actual persons or institutions are intentional)