- Screening Affects
A punk-inflected compilation of artist interviews, Angry Women is an experiment in aesthetic polyphony that upholds the distinctiveness of its artists’ voices; it refuses to conflate their bodily aesthetics or, for that matter, to reconcile frictions among their political, sexual, and racial identities. The issue’s editors, Andrea Juno and V. Vale, call to re-conceptualize anger as generative and creative; they complicate anger by intertwining it with sexual pleasure and sexual labor, as well as with queer, anti-racist, and anti-war imperatives.1 As such the issue poses intimacy itself as a public intervention: it features writers and performers across media whose work collapses the boundaries between private and public spheres, exploring the intense affective charge of public intimacy. While the volume’s recourse to affect is significant to an aesthetic and theoretical history of performance up to the 1990s, the project of making intimacy public continues to hold high political stakes for women as well as brown, queer, and other non-normative bodies in the public sphere.
Insofar as feminist and queer studies have found affect theories particularly productive in recent years, returning to Angry Women with this theoretical framework in mind reveals a powerful aesthetics of intimacy whereby performative gestures of touch collapse the boundary between private and public acts. By utilizing touch to turn private acts into public exchanges, the performances in Angry Women take seriously the site of contact as the threshold of one’s interiority and exteriority. The performances make tangible the role of emotions in determining the quality of women’s political and social lives, and as aesthetic interventions posit new forms of affective expression.
The artists in the compilation perform at the radical fringes or edges of their respective media, reflecting on as well as challenging the ideological limits of medium specificity and gendered bodies alike. Hailed in the volume for their work in experimental film and performance art, Valie Export and Carolee Schneemann are particularly instrumental to Angry Women’s aesthetics of intimacy. No longer relegated to their minority role as radical women in male-dominated avant-garde, Angry Women re-centers Export and Schneemann to foreground how their aesthetic [End Page 228] experimentation shapes the body as and at the limits of cinema, painting, and video. Using their bodies onscreen and as screens, Export’s and Schneemann’s performances function reflexively, pointing to the limits of the cinematic apparatus: the materiality of film, as well as the materiality of the screen, the image, and the organization of space in the movie the-ater.2 Export and Schneemann perform at the very limit of the screen: they use touch to collapse the distance between viewer and screen, provoking a cinematic intimacy that simultaneously confronts and reconfigures how the cinematic apparatus organizes female bodies and images of them.
In her Angry Women interview, Export describes her aim to liberate celluloid from its material and ideological constraints, to expand the boundaries of the image to incorporate the body as filmic material. Redefining the term “expanded cinema” for her public performance Touch Cinema (1968), she placed a box over her bare breasts, with holes through which spectators could insert their hands. During the action she recited, “This box is the cinema hall, and my body is the screen. But this cinema hall is not for looking, it is for touching—it is tangible.”3 Together, the tactile and the aural push at the limits of cinema, its images of women, and the look it conditions. The exchange was twofold. As participants touched her breasts, they made eye contact with her. At the same time, they were also subjected to the look of other spectators and passers-by as they reached inside the box to touch her breasts. This haptic “cinematic” exchange provoked a new kind of public intimacy that functioned by reorganizing the relations between Export’s body and others in public.
Replacing the cinematic screen with her own (hidden but available) breasts, Export inhabited the position of the screen and thereby transformed its optics, redirecting the unilateral way spectators look at the female body on and as a screen. Touch Cinema opens up to a...