Contemporary art lays a golden egg.

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.

Artist-lays-egg

Artist Milo laying art eggs. Why didn’t I think of that?

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.

Cyrus-twerking

Miley Cyrus Twerking, by me [digital art]. Click to follow link to post about this image.

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.

uncensored-version

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.

Klein-painting

Yves Klein painting. You just can’t go wrong with nude women in art.

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.

blot-butterfly

Kid’s ink blot 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.

blot-painting-by-Moire

PlopEgg #1, by Milo Moire. COLLAGE, ACRYLIC, INK & EGGS on CANVAS 150 x 210 CMs. As far as blot paintings go, this one’s not bad.

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.

Moire-self-portrait

Self Portrait, by Milo Moiré . Pencil on paper. Rather ordinary, but competent, and the hair is ecstatic.

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.]

~ Ends

The-Art-Critic-small


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.

crucified-bunny

The costume is already funny, but the way the bunny hops, combined with the expression plastered on his face is hysterical. Click to go to the video.

Some of the public were outraged and one man punched the bunny in the head, knocking it clear off of his body.

bunny-punch

How dare you mock Easter, or Christianity, or bunnies. I smote thee thus!

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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14 thoughts on “Contemporary art lays a golden egg.

  1. Summed up my reaction so well. Your writing is true and alive. If I wasn’t mooching a career off my wife’s labor, I would send you some money. I promised not to spend a dime on art until after our daughter’s modest wedding is paid for.
    Get the New York Times to like you. Then you can be comfortable into very old age.
    Damn! You have a conscience and are true to your art.
    Too bad for you. Stay poor and find a partner boasting an income for two.

    Thanks for the post.

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  2. On top of everything else you mention the idea is trite, cliche’ and grossly, obviously sexual. Heck I recall correctly a woman was pulling snakes out of her vagina in a NYC performance back in the 90’s, which is also a very old sex act gig. Wonder when someone will do a donkey show?

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  3. Happy Easter! 😛

    Thoughts: 1) Thank God she isn’t American. We’d be getting so much shit for this. 2) Just because it hasn’t be done before, doesn’t mean you should do it, and 3) Sad, sad, sad.This kind of show doesn’t strengthen women or empower them, it shows how low women can go in order to get attention. I think your Miley Circus comment was dead-on, “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.”

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  4. If I’ve got you right, what you’re saying is that there’s been a generational change in attitudes since you went to art school. As someone who went into higher education later in life, I can concur with this to an extent. I was surprised to encounter so many undergrads with pictures on their PC desktops of bikini-clad women draped over Ferraris, because 1) it’s as though the 1980s campus never happened, and 2) it’s a tableau you’d more expect in a garage than a university anyway. But there it was – the old century carried over into the new one. I also found that questioning the use of ‘glamour’ photographs met with the assertion that they were a matter of taste, and therefore ‘who’s to say’? The implications of younger generations becoming enmeshed within a market-led worldview that they’re unwilling to challenge hardly need explaining.
    And so while I find myself agreeing with one of your premises, at the same time it leaves me wondering. What I mention above may be a conclusion we could easily jump to at our age because we think in the paradigms of that age while younger people address the world more in the terms they find it addressing them today. What may seem unquestioning may be so but in contemporary terms that don’t quite fit with those of earlier decades. Your premise was this:-
    ‘If hatching colored eggs out of her vagina is what Milo Moiré has to do to get the attention of the art world […]’
    It’s an interesting ‘if’ in the sense that artists usually do try to get the attention of the art world. The question is one of what is then done with that attention once it’s there? It could be argued that Moiré does a kind of performance art that (perhaps partially) appropriates male control over situations in which women are naked. For example:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolee_Schneeman
    http://www.artragallery.com/jemima-stehli.html
    If the objection is that her appropriation is not political in the same ways as Scneeman or Stelhi, then we might pause to consider why it should be? Moiré’s attention-seeking combines her virtual and physical presence in the way that, say, music performers struggle with in the age of MP3. Her disgust and discomfort when inserting and plopping is the part that works. Don’t you think that your reaction to the implications of the wilful self-commercialisation of a young art student is her intention? It can’t be pleasant to be a young and hopeful graduate in a world in which economic meltdown has closed off the future and reduced so many people to prostitution, figuratively speaking. So like you, I also found myself empathising with her predicament when watching the video. As you say ‘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’. Isn’t empathy part of her performance? So rather than applying a critique that shows why you don’t get it, I’m suggesting that maybe you do, but not a way you’d expect.
    The bit I’m not sure I get is what an uncensored version is supposed to add. Isn’t it all there already in her physical struggles? Or maybe there’s going to be some analytics released later about the downloads?
    This is a really good post Eric. Few people pick up on this kind of art at any length and with any intelligence.
    Whatever your intentions with this statement, I think it has a lot to be said for it:
    ‘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.’

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    1. Hi Jeff, and thanks for the links. I thought of mentioning Schneemann but my post was getting a bit long. My feeling about the feminism of the 80’s, and about Postmodernism in general, is that while it overstated its case (I vehemently disagree that objectivity is merely a [white male] “narrative” on par with, say, Wicca), there were some worthwhile insights and very legitimate criticisms. In terms of feminism, examination of the “male gaze” and objectification of women was fairly persuasive, and informs some of my current work. When people are completely oblivious to feminist theory, I’m a little relieved (I don’t like to be the whipping boy for the history of patriarchy), and a little disappointed (haven’t people even thought about these issues?).

      I don’t consider glamour photos just a matter of taste. Imagery has more power than that, and I would want to go into the context and implications of the photos in question. I took a lot of photo classes, and I happened to have female teachers who were well into analyzing imagery, so it seems quite natural to think about the context of the photo, who is taking it, the power relation between photographer and subject, what the objective might be, what its relation is to the status quo, and how it is intended to effect the viewer. So, if people argue it’s just taste, that’s a bit of a cop-out. Is white supremacist metal just a matter of taste?

      You wrote, “Don’t you think that your reaction to the implications of the wilful self-commercialisation of a young art student is her intention?” I assume that would be reflected in the statement on her webpage about the piece. There was nothing of that. It was all about “creation” and “female creativity”. As I said in the piece, her performance appeared to be “in earnest”, rather than ironic in any way. So, while she intends to self-commercialize, it doesn’t appear that THAT is part of the actual work, but rather something that’s not thought about critically. Rather, it seems to be thought about just in terms of self-promotion. There was something I came across recently that argued that the younger generations cannot conceive of what “selling out” means. I’ve got to dig up that research. Supposedly, the concept doesn’t make any sense to them.

      That last statement was just what I thought could be a classic sort of feminist stance on the piece, if the intent was to defend it. It’s a bit of a parody, but yeah, there’s probably some truth in it. As I kept saying, and I actually meant it, I was hoping to find a solid feminist defense of the work. I agreed with most the feminist theory I was exposed to: I just balked at being labeled automatically the problem and irrelevant, which was bullshit.

      Glad you like the piece!

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  5. I was with you right up until you blamed the art world. You said yourself that she wasn’t a very good artist. What has the art world done to this woman other than fail to recognize her mediocre talent as anything more than it actually is? The art world didn’t make men interested in naked women, nor did it force her to exploit that interest. I’m curious what exactly you mean by that statement, if not that a woman does not have agency to act of her own volition and therefore can’t be held accountable for her actions. What would be an adequate solution? Unduly praise all female artists lest they be forced to sell video of their breasts? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks in advance, and thanks for the article.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to challenge me on that point. I suppose I didn’t explain that well enough. I’ll even amend the article to flesh that out a bit.

      It’s kind of obvious to me because I’ve been through art school, and at the time it was a none too pleasant experience. I happened to go at the height of political correctness, when white male heterosexuals need not apply. Anything I did was automatically suspect as misogynist, upholding the status quo, and hostile to other competing “narratives”. I was, by definition, “the norm” that the other students were rebelling against (I was the only WMH in my gaduate art program). One of my teachers in a graduate seminar told me directly, “We’ve heard from you for 2,000 years, and nobody cares what you have to say anymore”. My only viable choice was to make art that deconstructed my white male privilege. The art school reflected the art world, and had I gone along with it I would have been a victim of of the art world, myself. I didn’t become an artist to make polemical work about what a privileged, shallow prick I automatically am because of my DNA. This is just one example of how the art world channels artists into making a certain kind of art in order to be taken seriously, and have a chance at surviving in the art world.

      On the other end of the spectrum, female artists then (and apparently now) got pushed into doing work about gender politics. Young women who went to art school because they wanted to make stuff they thought was cool, quickly got directed into making political work about their identity. If they did otherwise, they would fall through the cracks. I distinctly remember a young woman making very interesting paintings based on comics, and then the next year making video about her ethnicity. This would be like going to music school in the 60’s because you wanted to be a rock musician with a high level of technical ability, and your teachers insisted you do political songs about Communism or you were not only irrelevant, but a part of the problem.

      In Moire’s case, she is doing a kind of art in this performance that is akin to the postmodern, identity politics work that everyone was being funneled into when I was in grad school (art hasn’t changed that much in the last 20 years). It comes out of a tradition of female performance artists like Carolee Schneeman, Gina Pane, or the cliche’d Marina Abramović. Apparently it is the thing she could do that Art Cologne would showcase. They don’t seem to have had any interest in her drawings or paintings. Those were a dead end.

      In a sense she is doing something like giving her audience what they want, but, it’s really giving Art Cologne what they want and expect. The art audience isn’t demanding this kind of work: the art world defines what kind of art is valid and serves it up to the public. This kind of traditional, quasi-feminist, body-art performance is one of her options, and from the looks of it her most likely route to recognition.

      Moire’s work isn’t challenging the art world establishment, but playing into it. She’s doing the artist’s equivalent of the old idea what an actress has to do to make it in Hollywood, which means compromise herself. It seems like she believes she’s asserting herself, but so many see her as hurting herself.

      Like

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