Swiss artist Milo Moiré hatched out a strategy for making a splash in the art world. It’s tough to get attention or recognition as a contemporary artist – I’m just a missed blip on the art radar – but there’s one route that’s fairly sure to work: a sex show. In all of Milo’s three videos on her website she appears nude.
Her claim to fame is the recently released video of the performance in which she laid eggs. I say the video rather than the performance because the video already has 1,960,093 views, whereas there were only several dozen people that could be seen milling about at the actual performance (at the Art Cologne fair in Germany), and only a handful up close obviously watching.
She placed eggs filled with colored pigment into her vagina. This apparently was NOT a part of the performance. I think there was a makeshift (white) cloth covering she went into to insert the eggs. It wasn’t absolutely clear because this part of the video has been edited out. Then, she straddled a platform and ejected the eggs onto a canvas below. Afterwards she folded the canvas over on itself, then smooshed it with a roller, and finally re-opened it like a book to reveal the finished abstract expressionist painting.
When I described the “performance” to a female friend of mine, her instant reaction was, “What? Did she come from Pattaya?” The obvious connection is the infamous Thai sex shows in which girls shoot ping pong balls out of their vaginas. Significantly, this would NOT typically be seen as having anything to do with the liberation or empowerment of women, but rather with the traditional marginalizing of females as “other” and weird by a classical, dim-witted, misogynist patriarchy. Her first thought was also my first thought.
My second thought was that the artist could or should be attacking and subverting the whole “girls are so weird and inferior because they have vaginas” angle, rather than just riding the tide of it to success in the art world. She must, I thought, be luring us into a trap in order to force us to reevaluate our perhaps subconscious prejudices and fears of women’s bodies, at least the ones that the more firebrand form of 80’s-90’s radical feminism insisted men harbor. After watching the performance we should all have a greater respect for women and their bodies.
Then I watched the video. I had a similar reaction to a lot of other people. I felt sorry for the artist. Having gone to art school myself, taken the obligatory “New Genre” type classes, and done some ridiculous performance art (I once locked myself naked in a wooden rectangle which I set up in front of elevators in the art building at UCLA), I could even empathize. If you work within the contemporary art paradigm, which includes not only the convictions of what kind of art is worth doing but what sells in galleries or gets funding, you have to find a role for yourself in the game that’s being played. For a young, attractive woman, this could mean exhibitionism. I didn’t get the impression that the artist had survived the crucible of contemporary-art-paradigm indoctrination, outgrown it, and came up with her own brand of art-making that rejected any compelled route. Rather, she seemed more like a graduate student trying to impress her whacky teachers, whose apparent idea of what is “radical” is decades old. I felt similarly to the way I felt about Miley Cyrus’s celebrated twerking performance at the MTV music awards. No longer fighting against mens’ belittling fantasies of women, enterprising young women of today are now reduced to catering to those same trivializing projections onto them, and in the case of Miley, internalizing them to the degree that self-humiliation is believed to be self-expression and self-empowerment.
Some simple, silly, but under the circumstances wholly relevant questions came to mind.
1) How would it change the performance if a man plopped the eggs out of his ass?
2) What if the artist, instead of being obviously “fit”, were morbidly obese?
3) Why isn’t inserting the eggs into her vagina a part of the performance?
I didn’t want to be unfair to the artist. Maybe, as a male, I just didn’t get it. I wanted to read the intent, and hopefully some heady feminist theoretical argument about why the men who think the performance is ridiculous are just showing their own flagrant sexism: a sexism they didn’t even know they had. Note that I went to grad school in the heyday and epicenter of Postmodernist, politically correct, feminist, and rabidly anti-white male (including rabidly anti yours truly) art, and I could probably hash out a fairly convincing argument why the work empowered women myself, such is the Postmodern play of words able to spin any narrative within a world that is, according to its own anti-logic logic, only a simulacrum.
It might start off something like this:
“Milo Moiré’s radical body art performance at first attracts the male gaze, but swiftly confronts it with its worse fears of the difference of women’s bodies: of ovulation, menstruation, and ultimately castration. Moiré parodies the heroic individualist lone man artist genius myth, as exemplified by the Marlboro Man of 20th century art, Jackson Pollock, by not flinging paint from a muscled arm like a series of ejaculations, but through secreting it from woman’s center, from the origin of life. Moiré’s tactic is both humorous and serious. While forever nailing the lid in the coffin of machismo, male-only heroic art, it opens the window to female creativity – more subtle, ironic, thoughtful, inclusive, and ultimately more powerful”.
That’s my sort of comic-book version of a feminist defense of Moiré’s work, but I wanted something more real, and from an outside perspective. So, I started to do research on Moiré: I Googled her.
When I went to her website I was quickly given another piece to the puzzle, or so I thought. Two versions of the video appear, on the left is the censored version, and on the right the uncensored.
One thing that became instantly apparent was another silly, but relevant question.
4. Does it matter that she’s performing nude and looks to have had a boob job?
Readers, I am the sort of person who will click on a video of something like, “Two headed twin kills brother with lethal headbutt, captured on film”. I also have watched a lot of “Fail” videos, and even done (ironic) work based on them. Indeed, I clicked on “UNCENSORED”. I was immediately transported to my PayPal page, where everything was set up for me to contribute €4.99 ($5.53). This seemed important. I had an idea, and I rushed over to my female friend to get her take on it (obviously without sharing my view) to see if it was the same as mine. It was.
She was very articulate. She argued that what you are being charged for is to see her body parts, and compared it to a peep show. She went on to say that the art only reaffirmed the worst stereotypes about women, art, and women artists. “There’s nothing empowering about it. It doesn’t challenge anything. It’s exactly like something out of a mockumentary”. I wish I had recorded the words that flew off of her tongue. I can’t do justice to their cohesive flow.
If this is the response of an educated woman to the art, and it exactly mirrors my own perceptions – that it doesn’t elevate women at all, and is rather sad – than WHO is going to get the correct message from it?
I also noticed that in the comments below the video on YouTube, which Moiré uploaded herself, every time some dude asks where the uncensored version is, she herself generously provides a link to where you can pay to download it. Moiré would be wise to assert that this is AAAAALLLL part of the performance. In fact, I recommend she think about the tactic of saying that the performance was a prank, something like when the scientist Alan Sokal submitted a fake article arguing that quantum physics was merely subjective to a prominent Postmodern magazine, where it was promptly published. He did it to prove that the Postmodernists were clueless about the actual science they were in the habit of condemning as just another form of “narrative”. Moiré, probably much more on the Postmodernist side of the spectrum, might argue that she was punking the white male gallery/museum system by serving up the worst cliche of women’s art she could come up with, in order to show how disconnected THEY were from reality by accepting the spectacle.
Before doing more research in hopes of finding that incisive feminist critique, I want to share a couple more of my own impressions. That’s right, I’m writing this BEFORE doing all my research, so that I may fall on my own sword, so to speak, and perhaps show, in the artist’s favor, how I was one of the initially duped, but will have come around to seeing the light.
I had a feeling about the painting. In Moiré’s other performance work there’s no painting. There’s just a nude performance. The painting added a physical object to buy. It’s that simple. And it reminded me of those paintings by Yves Klein, from the early 60’s, when he had nude women slathered in paint press themselves up against a canvas. Why? Because the nude women were more interesting than the resulting painting, otherwise the artist could have just used his own body.
Moiré’s final painting is as interesting as ink blot butterflies I made in the second grade. You know, you fold a piece of paper in half, plop down some paint on one side of it, fold the other piece on top, press lightly, and open it up to see a butterfly.
It struck me that Moiré resorted to the ink blot fold-over technique because, well, her unfolded vagina painting wasn’t that good. It was kinda’ ugly, in fact. But folding it over gave it some symmetry (which I detest), and thus more of a sense of being deliberate, and automatically created pattern where there formerly was none.
The next thing I discovered from her website is that she also does, or used to do, drawings and paintings. They are a little telling because they aren’t terribly good, but also are not terrible. They are more of your undergraduate art show type of material. Perhaps the best one is her self portrait, which for the complete reactionary naysayers, who say she hasn’t got any (conventional) talent at all, proves she can draw.
I just finished reading the statement on her site about the “Plop Egg Painting Performance # 1”, as written by Elaine Abrams. It wasn’t very helpful. There are ideas about, uuuuh, “creation” and the “fear of creation”. I’m not even sure there IS a fear of creation. And then there’s the “creative power of femininity”. Now here I have to pause, because this isn’t taking the radical Postmodern stance that gender is a mental construct. It is taking gender as a physical absolute. Women, because of their anatomies, are automatically “feminine”, and their creativity is somehow essentially different from that of men. That doesn’t seem particularly revolutionary. Quite the opposite. Abrams goes on to write, “the art needs like so often the corporeity to be able to manifest itself”. What the hell? This seems to mean that the art needs to be physical in order to be physical. THAT essay was not useful, unless it was in determining that the performance was done in earnest.
My attempt to uncover a critical article defending Moiré turned up nothing, at least not in English. So I’m left with my own thoughts for now. Moiré’s work doesn’t piss me off like the trite and cynical multimillion dollar enterprises of the likes of Koons or Hirst: it makes me a little sad. Women should not have to be beautiful or sexy to be artists, and shouldn’t have to resort to charging money for a peek at their boobs. They do not need to have perfect bodies according to magazine stereotypes. If hatching colored eggs out of her vagina is what Milo Moiré has to do to get the attention of the art world, I blame the art world for what it’s done to her, just as I don’t blame the girl from the poor countryside of Thailand for shooting ping pong balls out of her privates to entertain drooling men, or the soldier for losing a leg in a war he didn’t conceive and doesn’t understand the full implications of. Doing nude performances appears to have been Moiré’s best option for recognition in the current state of the art world, and this is a bit like the old story of what an actress has to do to get a role in Hollywood. It was her choice to do it, but she had a limited range of choices that did not include making more of her drawings and paintings.
For the artists among us who went through art school, if we went to one that was in league with Postmodernism and its radical political agenda, it’s quite obvious how Moiré’s work issues from that paradigm, even if it is a rather wonderful, if unintentional parody of it. When I was in graduate school I was a teacher’s assistant, and I distinctly remember students in a beginning photography class being told they needed to “pick an issue” to make art about. Art was only relevant to the degree it served a radical political agenda. Students who got into art because they loved Giger, Dali, Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, or their album covers, didn’t get a chance to develop this kind of art into something more contemporary, but were quickly rerouted into making polemical works about political issues. According to Moire’s bio page, this looks to have applied to her as well: “The expressive works of Edvard Munch, Käthe Kollwitz, Francis Bacon or H.R. Giger inspired Milo to create her own art, in which man and his body are central.” She got into art because she loved expressive drawing and painting, and ended up making nude performances about gender politics.
The end result is a passé Postmodern performance that defines women by their ovaries, instead of recognizing that immaterial consciousness and free will is what defines humans, and not the particular configuration of the meat of our bodies, regardless of gender. Women are not chickens, they don’t lay eggs, and the comparison between the two which Moiré’s performance indelibly cements, doesn’t seem ennobling to women from my perspective at all. Rather than realizing herself through the art world, she seems to be hurting herself because of it.
[I welcome the critique that will show me how I didn’t get it. How better to learn than to receive information one couldn’t or didn’t conceive of oneself. I haven’t written off Moiré. At least we know that she’s brave and willing to put herself out there, so to speak.]
On a humorous note, my friend asked me about Milo’s performance, “Was this for Easter?” I cracked up like a Moiré egg, and I remembered a prank video that, as far as performance art goes, was better then the egg plopping escapade.
YouTube prankster Tom Mabe dressed up as a crucified Easter bunny and hopped around town.
Some of the public were outraged and one man punched the bunny in the head, knocking it clear off of his body.
The bunny video suffers from the same malady as the egg plopping one, which is that both are actually being serious about their message. It’s so much funnier when they are not. Though I am not 100% sure that Tom Mabe isn’t shading into a territory that I like to occupy, which is being serious about not being serious about something. So, in his case, that would mean thinking the Bunny Christ was absolutely ridiculous, but nevertheless thinking performing it as if it were not had its own worth: infusing profundity into the insipid. This would have been one of my favorite prank videos if he hadn’t ended it with the statement, “Jesus loves you and he died for your sins. The Easter bunny gave you cavities.”
Both videos are around three minutes, but Tom Mabe’s flawed masterpiece only has 66,887 views, as opposed to Moiré’s tragic egg laying video with 2,129,917 views. Holy shit! Her video got 169,824 views in the time it took me to write this post. Moral of the story: boobs trump bunnies every time.
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