Abstracts‎ > ‎

Izabela Kowalczyk

From Identity to Transformation of Visual Order in Curatorial Practices

This presentation will consider the problems and limitations of identity discourses in feminist curatorial practice. I treat identity as a construction according to Judith Butler’s ideas and argue that the discourse of gender identity should be revised in feminist curatorial practices. However, turning away from this identity discourse may be interpreted as a backlash; for example, the turn from feminism to post-feminism and deconstruction, which are often regarded as weakening the feminist perspective.

The situation is more complicated in the case of feminist art and curatorial practices in the former Eastern Europe, where the strategies of discovering women’s art and of its socio-historical contextualization are still prevalent and necessary. As a consequence, many exhibitions tend to be essentialist, archaeological or – at best – sociological. Feminist and queer exhibitions are most often settled in their national contexts – i.e. most feminist exhibitions in Poland are concerned with Polish art. This situation has been changing with international exhibitions such as Awkward Objects (2009), Gender Check (2010) and Ars Homo Erotica (2010). Nonetheless it is still difficult to build a transnational perspective for feminist discourse.

These exhibitions force us to consider questions about the social functioning of artworks and also about the discrimination of women and/or homosexuals. In this way, they tend to focus on one issue only: gender or homosexuality. At the same time, they may ignore other visual and power relations embedded in artworks and dismiss relationships emerging between different images. I aim to show that deconstruction of visual order and the various kinds of exclusion would be a more productive strategy in curatorial practice. According to Jacques Rancière, artistic activity can become political only through the transformation of the visual order, the ways in which it may be perceived and expressed. This attitude should take into account issues such as the power of visuality, gender and power relations in the field of vision, and deconstruction of gender categories, instead of privileging issues of representation. Its use can enable us to deconstruct the system of power by questioning the whole range of categories on which discrimination and exclusions are based – not only gender and sexuality, but also class, age, health, geographic relations.

Izabela Kowalczyk (PhD) is an art historian, critic and curator currently working at The School of Humanities and Journalism in Poznan, Poland. She is the author of several books on Polish critical art, popular culture, feminism and feminist art. She is the founder and co-editor of the net magazine on feminism and visual culture Artmix. She conducted the Polish research for the exhibition Gender Check: Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe (Vienna, MUMOK, 2009-2010; Warsaw, Zacheta Gallery, 2010).