This is Me the Inconsistency of the Self

UNFOLD SPACE. 3 & 4 October 2017

Yves Klein first became interested in using the body to make imprints during his study of judo, when he noticed that his body left interesting prints on the mat after being thrown. His first experiments using the female body were in a friend’s flat in 1958, when he rolled a female friend covered in paint, on paper which was on the floor- but he was dissatisfied with this as he felt that the thick paint imprints left by her body were too spontaneous.

The first iteration of his Anthropemetries performance was actually in his own apartment using a female friend. When he gave her the signal, she removed her clothes and added paint to her breasts and thighs, after which he directed her to make imprints on paper which was mounted on a wall. He believed the imprints represented pure human proportion and  the “health that brings humans into being,”and that the women in the work transcended “personal presence.”

In the feminist journal “Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society”, in a special 2006 issue, “New Feminist Theories of Visual Culture”, the feminist art collective Toxic Titties critiqued the performance, saying that the use of beautiful young women in this work- with Klein at a distance from the mess of making the work, clothed and directing the women, had created a power imbalance. This imbalance meant that ultimately, he was in control and they had no agency. Their critique concluded that he inevitably created a passive female body, ripe for objectification by the male gaze. Not only that, but also that he had created a tool for the patriarchy. I wonder whether Klein ever considered this idea or if he really was only concerned with the purity of colour and of creating beautiful, spiritual forms with his “living paintbrushes.”

I agree with this critique which is in part why I wanted to subvert his performance by doing my own version. A kind of conversation with Klein- where I direct myself, reclaiming control and asserting myself powerfully by pressing into the floor with my whole weight- so that my human presence is properly seen and felt in the work rather than a dainty part of it, which is what one would see if a wall was used (like Klein did in much of his work). Going back to Klein’s first experiment on his living room floor, those thick paint marks showing where my body lands spontaneously are exactly what I strive for in the creation of my work. On the flip side, I love the feeling that this particular shade of blue brings. It feels calm and deeply spiritual. I have this in common with Klein.

I am a black female, operating in a society where I am a minority and where European standards for beauty are the norm. In this society, the black female body has a heavy load of history to carry in terms of sexual stereotypes and resulting objectification or de-sexualization- meaning that depending on one’s physical characteristics, it is possible to find oneself placed into a either a box which sexually objectifies you based on a particular stereotype or into a box which completely de-sexualises you, with not much scope for just being who you are. My assertion of who I am as a woman, along with all of the complexities and contradictions of what that means is why I work in the way that I work and why I feel this performance is a tool to empower myself and all women to be and love all of who they are in the present moment.