by Jennifer Linton
The primary focus of my art practice has been to address gender-related issues and represent the experiences of women. Inspired by the second wave feminists, who coined the phrase ‘the personal is political’, my work reflects my personal experiences filtered through the lens of art history, mythology and popular culture. Many of the female figures that appear throughout my work are, in fact, self-portraits. I have observed that large numbers of women artists have embraced the self-portrait as a means of representing their own histories and experiences as being distinct from those of men. While I cannot claim to be an art history or feminist philosophy scholar and therefore can’t verify that this is a practice seen more often in the work of women artists, informally it does appear to be the case. It is unquestionably a feature of my own work.
My earliest work, however, did not involve the use of self-portraits but rather drew on images appropriated from outside sources such as anatomy textbooks. This work was monochromatic and very minimalist in approach. During this time period ( 1992 – 98 ) I created “The Three Graces” and the “Objects of Desire” series. This work would be best described as highly academic in nature, as it was greatly informed and influenced by the anti-pornography writings of such 80s feminist luminaries as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. These were the years immediately following my graduation from university when I was still fuelled by the political radicalism of youth. While I still self-identify as a feminist, at present I would describe myself as more of a liberal feminist than a radical one.
In the interest of clarification, I would like to briefly outline the difference between liberal and radical feminism. A liberal feminist seeks to abolish gender inequality through the use of legislation and societal reforms. In essence, they chose to work within “the system” in order to change the system. Radical feminists, however, view this same “system” as the problem. Radical feminist theory views most societies as based on patriarchy—a societal construct that privileges men over women. Gender equality, they argue, is impossible within the framework of such a society and therefore the society must be fundamentally altered. The writings of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon were instrumental to the development of radical feminist theory, and in particular their criticism of pornography which they linked with rape and other forms of violence against women. The anti-pornography writings of Dworkin and MacKinnon were core reading in the Feminist Philosophy class I attended while an undergraduate student at university and as such held a great deal of influence in the formation of my feminist views.
Over the course of my early art practice, however, I experienced a conflict between the anti-pornography view of radical feminism and the strong anti-censorship beliefs I held as an artist. While I did perceive a causal link between certain types of pornography and the subjugation of women, I was not—nor am not—against pornographic images as a whole. Sexually explicit imagery belongs to the spectrum of human experience that an artist may chose to depict, and this depiction should be free from the limits of censorship.
Additionally, I observed that on certain key issues—pornography and the legalization of prostitution being two of these—that the radical feminist left and the socially conservative right were often in agreement, and this was an alliance with which I was greatly uncomfortable. Therefore, over the years my feminist beliefs have adopted a more liberal leaning and include what is now termed “sex-positive feminism,” meaning that I oppose legal or social efforts to control sexual activities between consenting adults.
While my early work was inspired by feminist influences, it also quoted from the classical texts. For instance, the triptych entitled “The Three Graces” took it’s name after the famous art historical grouping of three female nudes that stems from classical mythology. Artists of no less stature than Raphael created their own versions of the Three Graces, mainly as an excuse to render the female nude threefold in one composition. In my version of this subject, I appropriated images of naked women from anatomy textbooks and imposed a “black-bar” of text across their eyes, the type of black bar one used to see across the eyes of women in pornographic material. The thought behind this action was to make explicit the essentially pornographic exchange between the nude female subjects and the imagined viewer.
My work frequently uses self-portraiture as a creative point-of-departure. I often adopt the role of characters from classical or biblical texts in these self-portraits. The process of inserting myself into the role of a character creates a level of displacement from what is often psychologically challenging subject matter. In the case of “The Bitter Seed”