Once again Milo Moiré’s sensationalist performance art is in the news. She’s hatched eggs out of her vagina onto canvas; marched around nude in a museum in high heels and carrying a baby; and now she’s moved on from the visual to the physical. Ostensibly in order to fight against sexism, protest rape, and reclaim female sexuality, she went in public wearing a mirrored box over her chest or waist, and allowed people to reach in and feel her body for up to 30 seconds. Cameras in the boxes filmed the contact, which is, in my estimation, anything but erotic (some may beg to differ).
Her stated message was to inform people that women have sexual desires, just as men do, and women have a choice about when and where they are touched. In this instance, she is choosing to be touched, and this asserts her power to choose, as well as women’s implied right to say “no”.
As with her other performances, I’m at a loss to connect the stated sociopolitical intent with the execution and outcome. There seems to me to be a not-so-fine line between empowering women and self-exploitation; between women’s right to privacy and exhibitionism.
Milo presents herself as a performance artist and a “psychologist”. I’d think a trained psychologist might have a field day with analyzing Milo’s performances. They all involve exhibitionism, and yet the psychologist-artist never mentions the word nor the inclination.
I’m no trained psychologist, but I get that she’s claiming to let strangers grope her on HER terms, and I get that this doesn’t really work. It’s obvious to me that Milo’s doing the performance in the name of art, and to advance her career: on one level it’s a publicity stunt for the Milo Moire brand.
If it weren’t art, and it weren’t her in the mirrored boxes, the activity would not seem empowering for women, nor asserting their sexual choice concerning when they want to make physical/sexual contact with others. She’s actually put herself in a very vulnerable position in which she can’t control who touches her, or how they do so. For most women, I think, this would be a nightmare. And as a man, I certainly wouldn’t think letting whomever reach in a mirrored-box and handle my genitals was an empowering thing.
I once did a performance – some twenty years ago – in which I was completely enclosed, locked inside a wooden box, except for one hand. There was a certain aesthetic to it, like a minimalist cube, but with a living hand The vulnerability of that hand is inescapable. Someone threatened to hold a flame under it, but I said nothing and didn’t make a sound. That piece was at least partly about vulnerability and trust. But Milo doesn’t mention those things in her performance, perhaps because she chooses to be vulnerable.
And yet, if she is not actually an exhibitionist, and doesn’t really gain sensual pleasure from the groping of strangers, than is this a sacrifice she’s making in order to have a career in the art world? Is it truly feminist if she shows up to work in high-heels, wears makeup, looks like she’s had cosmetic surgery, takes her clothes off, puts on a sex show (the egg plopping performance), and lets anyone who wants to grope her? The actions are remarkably sexually submissive or acquiescent, but because she does them willingly (though conspicuously without irony), to do so is for the benefit of all women?
OK, right, someone could have a fetish, and who the hell am I to judge. True. But under the circumstances, if that were the case, her performances would only or primarily be empowering for people who shared her fetish (for exhibitionism and being fondled by strangers). Her rhetorical justification for legitimizing her performances as radical feminist art, on the other hand, purports to address the struggle of women in general.
During the whole performance – which took place in multiple cities, finally ending with Milo being arrested in London – she keeps the same smile on her face. Either she enjoys it the same no matter who touches her, or how, or else it’s imperative that she give the impression she is always enjoying the contact.
The more I think about this the more uncomfortable it makes me, and not in a good way. Indeed, the video only made me uncomfortable, especially the views inside the boxes. It didn’t make me think about the issues it’s supposed to be about, and in the way we are intended to think about them. What if she’s plastering on that smile even if she’s uncomfortable or displeased because, well, she can’t be asserting her choice and be unhappy about it at the same time without causing cognitive dissonance in the art audience?
when I wrote an article about her “Egg Plop” performance, I was generally sympathetic, and felt she was a victim of the art world. I figured she felt she had to do that sort of performance to get attention, whereas nobody would give a hoot about her drawings (she can draw). The next article I wrote on her was about her strutting nude in a museum, and at the time I thought she was doing a disservice to feminism. Now, perhaps I’ve become mercifully less judgemental (judging people is fucked up, and not good for either party). I’m ambivalent, confused, and kind of numbed.
Maybe I’m missing something (I hope so), but with an artist known for going about nude and shaved, that might not be the problem. Might as well come right out and say what I think, acknowledging that I could be wrong, and that I don’t want to do a disservice to Milo. It seems to me that the feminist arguments she uses are a rationalization for performances which may do more damage than good for the cause of women (artists). For example, if it’s OK to grope Milo in public, are the men and women who do so then less likely to grope some other individual who isn’t doing performance art? If it is something SHE enjoys – if we are to take her continuous smiling at face value – than should we conclude that other women secretly enjoy the same thing? Supposedly, her performance is partly a protest against the New Year’s Eve sex attacks in Cologne, but how would a person who would engage in such an attack respond to this performance? Further, I see Milo as doing sensationalist publicity stunts that appeal to men in order to gain fame and fortune. I’m not really sure her performances don’t promote sexism rather than defy it, as they would appeal to sexists with only the thinnest veneer of presumably off-putting feminist context.
Let’s check the comments under the video to see how far off the mark I am.
Aaaah , shiiiiiit. I suspected as much. The first comment is from her site, and when you follow the link she’s selling uncensored videos of all her performances. She had done this with the “egg plop” performance. Who needs to see an uncensored one? Radical feminists? Or guys with the hots for sexy performance artists? Onto comments from others. [Edit: I already have views from people searching for “Milo Moire mirror box uncensored” and “Milo Moire mirror box free uncensored”. Who’s looking?].
There are only a handful of comments so far. This is fresh news, I guess.
“Wish there were boobies involved in London too. Not just the vagina.”
That’s probably not a feminist commenting. I did this same test with her other performances, and the comments were rife with overt sexism [though I’m fully aware trolls say the most offensive things they can come up with in order to waste other people’s time].
Incidentally, my favorite part of the art was the polished mirrored boxes themselves (even without the holes). They just look cool, aesthetically speaking. In fact, I sorta’ like this piece overall, which is true for all of Moire’s work. It just troubles me, and not in the way that I would consider the best way.
Lastly, this work isn’t particularly original, as it’s based at least 50% on a performance by Vallie Export, from 1968, in which the performance artist covered her chest with a Styrofoam box and allowed people to reach in and feel what they may (Milo added the lower 50% with the bottom box).
Vallie Export’s pieces was about humanizing cinema. Instead of engaging with mere images on a screen, detached from immediate physical reality, now people could reach into the cinema of the Styrofoam box and directly communicate with a physical being. You even have the same use of a megaphone.
It’s a very similar performance with a different meaning to be taken away from it, somehow. 48 years later and you can repeat a work of art and still believe you are making a radical breakthrough, such is the nature of conceptual and performance art that no matter how redundant or derivative it is, it is perpetually radical. And the same performance can have two different meanings. Or maybe neither really means what the artists say or want them to mean.
You can watch the video(s) and come to your own conclusions. Feel free to share you opinion in the comments section (though that’s not an invitation for trolling).
Addendum: Some people might think or say that I’m “mansplaining” art. That’s kinda’ fine and good, and there’s some legitimacy to that claim. A woman, and especially a female performance artist, might have much more insight than I do. However, this is the 21st century, and really a lot of people didn’t get the memo. Defining people by their bodies is a 20th century phenomenon, which should have died out in the 19th century. Nowadays, we should be thinking about people (including ourselves) primarily as minds, and actors on the world stage, and NOT as this or that kind of body. Slugs and sloths have bodies and gender, but what separates them from us people is our minds, which are capable of language, abstract reasoning, and imagination. Best to think of each other as “imaginations” (which are immaterial things) merely housed in bodies. Why not respect each other for our greatest gifts, which we also can control and embellish (our minds), rather than define each other by the perfunctory physical bodies, or DNA, which we have absolutely no control over? If we define each other as minds, and not bodies, prejudice is dramatically reduced. So, if you aren’t following what I’m getting at, whether you trivialize someone’s position because she’s a woman, or because he’s a man, you are still insisting on diminishing that person according to his or her DNA. But you can, of course, make a better argument than I have, whatever your body, and if I can understand it, I’ll gladly defer to your greater knowledge.
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