BETWEEN US: FEMALE RUSSIAN IMMIGRANT I MARRIED FOR PAPERS AND TURNED INTO MY MUSE IN ORDER TO BUILD A GREAT CAREER, AS A WOMAN
In collaboration with Anyuta Wiazemsky Snauwaert
‘I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous’ (Mounira Al Solh)
Text by Rudi Laermans
At first glance, the stakes of the performance by Anyuta Wiazemsky Snauwaert – also the performer – and Kim Snauwaert seem crystal clear. On a round bed the performer reads a book and calmly mimes, one aGer the other, a series of poses that models have assumed on famous nude painIngs by Giorgione, Velazquez, TiIan, Cabanel and a few other Big Names in art history. The quoted canvasses depict Venus, the goddess of love, or a figure resembling her. The performance therefore straightaway suggests an interpretaIon: 'this is a simultaneously ironic and feminist deconstrucIon of the dominant masculine canon and its underlying “male gaze”'.
Yet there are several fricIons: all too blatant ‘facts’ that counter this seemingly evident reading. For what about the long and somewhat improbable Itle, which returns in the performance on the back wall in the form of the very same sentence made up of pink neon leYers: 'Female Russian Immigrant I Married for Papers and Turned into My Muse in Order to Build a Great Career, as a Woman'? Why the book, which does not appear in the imitated painIngs? And what about the liYle white fan to the leG of the bed? Moreover, the performer is not naked. She is wearing flesh- colored underwear with a short rose-red bathrobe on top: only her legs are bare.
So, something is wrong here. Upon further noIce, the performance subverts the criIcal coherence that direct interpretaIon suggests.
In his classical study The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, Kenneth Clark disInguishes between the naked and the nude. Whereas the naked body is unclothed, the nude is the body 'clothed' in art – read: represented according to arIsIc convenIons that in turn translate a cultural body ideal. In 'Female Russian Immigrant...', the performer's total body is neither naked nor nude. The Incture of the worn underwear, however, produces a strange doubling. The underclothing covers the body, but its slightly fleshy color indirectly uncovers it: the veil's Incture invokes that which is veiled. In a word, the upper and the middle part of the performer’s body are clothed in nudity. Something like: 'you can see a pale simulaIon of what you'd like to see in reality'.
Within a feminist reading, the dressed body appears as a blunt denial, not to say a castraIon of the male gaze: visual lust is thwarted. This male gaze exists in principle in duplicate: the male spectator reproduces the original,
genuinely producIve and studious look of the male arIst. However, the Itle of the performance leaves no doubt that the author of the work – or at least the 'I' who claims this posiIon – is a woman. 'Female Russian Immigrant...' playfully deconstructs the male gaze, yet that very Itle supplements the work with a meaning corroding the implied criIcal female gaze.
The transformaIon of the naked into the nude body invariably goes hand in hand with a parIcular kind of staging: every nude is theatrical. Whether female or male, the nude body poses and literally exhibits itself: the body reflexively offers itself to the gaze of the onlooker. This always happens within a well-thought-out seeng: the female nude usually lies on a bed. No theatricality without scenography, indeed.
The act of posing disappears in the definiIve posture, which is an apparent snapshot that actually demands a Ime-consuming amount of labor. Paradoxically, the work involves liYle more than idleness: through its conInued immobilizaIon, the represented body can dissolve into a painted or photographed sIll. Nothing, however, is more difficult than doing nothing. A living body always produces movements, however small or nearly impercepIble, not the least because it breathes.
'Female Russian Immigrant...' moves backwards in Ime with each pose, as it were: from the painIng to being painted, from sIll to being sIll. The performance deconstructs arIsIc feIshism, or the forgeeng of the labor which each image presumes but that may not appear within it since this would shaYer whatever kind of arIsIc pleasure. Hence, the performance’s genuine momentums are the intervals between poses. Pillows are shiGed, hair and clothing are rearranged: a staging of the staging and scenographing that both condiIon the next pose’s performaIvity. These transiIons define the actual mise à nu of the passive posing as an acIve performance.
In the tradiIon of the nude painIng or photograph, aYributes funcIon as stand-ins for male desire. The best known are the pue, who are allowed to view and touch the female body because, like children, they know no sexual desire: their shamelessness is genderless.
In ‘Female Russian Immigrant...’ there are two requisites. First, there is the book, which does not appear in any of the painIngs cited. This aYribute refers to another, barely traceable intertext that, across the various poses, underpins the overall performance. Not that Jane Birkin's funny saying is completely unknown: ‘My mother was right: When you've nothing leG, all you can do is get into silk underwear and start reading Proust.’ Crossing this suggesIon with the cited images provides a rather prosaic explanaIon for the actual ingredients of the performance. No need for interpretaIon since by way of speaking, Birkin's phrase dresses the quoted naked bodies.
The performer is holding the book with one hand; or the book lies next to her. A Iny bit of psychoanalyIc imaginaIon suffices to decipher the book as an imaginary subsItute for the masculine sex. For those who find this metaphor far-fetched: in psychoanalysis, only the exaggeraIons are true, thus T.W. Adorno famously contended.
The second requisite, the small fan on the leG, may be less easily interpreted away. Perhaps the aYribute’s meaninglessness represents the banality of reality within the frame of the always meaning-loaden ficIonal representaIon? The environment, by the way, permeates in sIll another way the performance (or, rather, in the video recording of the work). One can hear collecIve murmur in the background; or there is the sound of footsteps – as if the performer is lying in a bedroom along a street.
The nude and the naked are by-now historically outdated categories: in our culture the glamorous and the pornographic body dominate. The performance entertains a relaIon of negaIon with both.
The glamorous body is ostentaIously extraordinary: it seems eternally youthful and happy – it glows and shines, never seems to work and is of course invariably dressed in luxurious clothes. Au contraire, the performance shows a quoIdian body – the familiar ‘girl next door’ – that makes no aYempt to upgrade or disguise its ordinariness. It is not at all encased in plushy underwear or an expensive-looking bathrobe. The performer’s clothes look rather sloppy and shabby: everydayness prevails.
The pornographic body usually appears in two stages. In the first phase, the body removes pants and shirt, dress and stockings, bra and panIes...: someImes very slowly, someImes hasIly because of horniness. Subsequently it surrenders to sexual acts. Their pornographic nature is intrinsically linked to their visual magnificaIon and that of the genitals involved. The porn body is in fact both hypersexualized and visually hyperreal: too genuine, too exact, too close.... It is more-than-nude because it dislocates the gaze with an excess of proximity and details. 'The only phantasm at stake herein is that of reality, of the real, about which no one knows where it begins or where it ends,' Jean Baudrillard concludes.
Through the way 'Female Russian Immigrant...' directly dialogues with the art historical past, the performance indirectly evokes the cultural present as well. The body remains shrouded in clothes because in a pornographic culture any theatrical staging of nudity is fuIle. No mise en scène can compete with the obscene: visuality is no match for tacIlity (as scrolling and tapping confirm within our digital culture). Pornography is indeed not about representaIon but penetraIon.
'Female Russian Immigrant I Married for Papers and Turned into My Muse in Order to Build a Great Career, as a Woman': the Itle insinuates that the female performer is a recently naturalized foreigner directed by a naIve female arIst. This suggesIon once again Ilts the possible feminist reading of the performance. But in which direcIon?
Here the arIst, whether painter, photographer or director; there one or more collaborators who have the status of model or performer. Someone invents and instructs, the other executes; someone directs, the other is directed; someone is autonomous, the other heteronomous; someone disposes, the other is subordinate. For centuries, this relaIonship was heteronormaIve and patriarchal. 'Someone' was not a neutral nobody, but a man; and the complementary other was a woman. The past tense inImates a past reality. This, of course, is not true: patriarchy is everything but dead. Nevertheless, it has become somewhat more likely that the posiIon tradiIonally held by a man is now occupied by a woman.
This eventual gender shiG does not by definiIon undo the power relaIonship between an arIst and her model or performer. Power and gender maintain varying relaIonships: a female creator can command her female muse as Ightly as a male director. Beyond the kind of feminism morally indulging in essenIalist fantasies of harmonious sisterhood lies the poliIcal recogniIon of someImes crass inequaliIes among women. Women also exert power over other women; women also objecIfy other women into objects of desire. The chances logically increase with the feminizaIon of power.
Kim Snauwaert and Anyuta Wiazemsky were married on August 3, 2018 in Ghent. The police invesIgated whether it was not a sham marriage to provide Wiazemsky with a residence permit. The wedding party was conceived as an arIsIc performance; evidently, the marriage also had real legal and other social performaIve effects.
What is real, what is unreal? Where does ficIon end and reality starts – and vice versa? In almost all social spheres, Dichtung and Wahrheit must remain strictly separated, otherwise they soon begin to dysfuncIon. Art, on the other hand, is the domain in which the disIncIon between ficIonality and reality may always be quesIoned, deconstructed, played with...
'Female Russian Immigrant...' is a performance (so: ficIon) that brings a real social relaIonship into play and mixes it with the mimicry of ficIonal images, which, in turn, harken back to once-exisIng relaIonships. Nothing but ambiguity: art is a mirror palace.
Anyuta W. Snauwaert & Kim Snauwaert
performance ‘Female Russian immigrant…’ as a part of a total installation ‘One Should Not Nail The Carpet To The Wall, It May Lead To A Row In The Family’,