Cutting Realities - Gender Strategies in Art
More than forty years of reflecting on and discussing the boundaries and restrictions of sexual identity, standardizations, and transgressions of physical appearance and mentally pre-configured constructions of social behavior have given rise to a plethora of artistic outputs on the theme of gender relations and its everyday perception. What initially began as a female concern women's under- and misrepresentation within society and the need to break down a male-dominated system of thought and action - has increasingly seen a growth of male interest. After primarily attracting the attention of the gay scene at first, it later went mainstream through a heightened awareness for visuality and media representation.
Cutting Realities is an exhibition that links the historically important decade of the 1960s with contemporary approaches to issues of gender, demonstrating how artists articulate their concerns on a visual and performative level by cutting into dominant, conservative, and restrictive reality but also by cutting out their own artistic realities that reflect on given societal processes. The show presents works drawn exclusively from Kontakt, the art collection of Erste Bank Group, Vienna, which focuses on art from Central and Eastern Europe. The artworks in the exhibition span a timeframe of almost 50 years, demonstrating not only the beginnings of feminism and gender activism but also the current status of gendered lifestyles. On the fortieth anniversary of 1968, the show provides an insightful look at how attitudes toward physicality and sexuality have developed.
The works in the Kontakt collection reflect the political and historical transformation in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, where art - against the backdrop of cultural, political, and socioeconomic developments - has played and continues to play an important role in forming countermovements to the dominant social (and/or socialist) agenda. The Kontakt collection aims to present works that are integral to the formation of a pan-European art history, focusing on concept and performance art, the formalist approach to modernist structures, the redefinition of material in space, issues of the political and the public as well as matters of the body and its medial representation. One of the collection's goals consists in bringing works from the region into contact with each other as a way of formulating a broader and hitherto nonexistent shared historical context, allowing the works to appear and be interpreted in line with international developments taking place in the arts in Europe and the US. The collection intends to serve as an instrument for communication and identity formation in the region and to recontextualize the individual works of several generations.
Regarding the issue of gender, which has to do with more than the notion of womanhood, there are numerous ways to look at how individuals and their bodies perform within society. According to the Slovenian artist and theorist Marina Grzinic, there have been three stages of gender development since its beginnings in the 1960s. The late 1960s and the 1970s primarily saw a dramatization of femininity within a growing feminist environment that was shifted to a queer context in the 1980s. Lastly, in the 1990s, the roles of masculinity and femininity within both a hetero- and homosexual matrix became increasingly subject to questioning. Around the mythical year of 1968, with its radical student protests and sexually revolutionary ideas, the visual world had begun to include a growing variety of images involving bodily constellations and cross-gender relations, providing insight into private realms and bodily matters that society had kept hidden up to then.
Cutting Realities combines works in which the body plays an important role in directly formulating individual concerns with more intricate works relating to various phenomena and topics surrounding gendered lifestyles in present-day society. Regarding the public positioning of the body in the 1960s, the situation in the conservative, post-war climate in Central Europe has not been very different from that of the neighboring Communist countries, triggering similar reactions especially towards the negation of woman's role in society. Hence, the formation of subculture movements has been an important tool in communicating artistic concerns. In the case of Eastern Europe, these concerns were not revaluated until the 1990s. Cutting Realities presents the gender-related approaches inherent in a great number of artworks since the 1960s; its focus on a particular region should offer new insights into the topic in order to draw parallels to what has happened on the international art scene and especially in the US.