Friday, April 15, 2005

Diving into the Lacuna

My writing on Artist Models is motivated by the very anachronism of the life class and its awkwardness and coyness in a culture saturated with images of the nude and of bodies generally. Despite the omnipresence of electronic images of the body, of electronic data on the body, for sonic magnetic and digital imaging techniques for the inside of the body as well as its external form, for the infinite plasticity of digital animation in 3D as well as 2D, the life class still continues. Life models are still employed in training institutions from fashion design, 3d animation, 2D animation, architecture, graphic design, theatre design as well as art schools, universities, art galleries, private studios, community art centres, youth centres and pubs. Artist’s models are also employed by teaching hospitals for demonstrating anatomy and surgical procedures to students. It is one of the intentions of my research to document the current employment of artist’s models in the 21st century in Sydney, but more importantly, to provide a theoretical framework in order to describe why and how models are being used in these various settings.


I am doing a thesis which involves original research into European influenced Australian art since World War Two and the way artists’ models, and the bodies of artists, have been used in teaching and practice of art and design. While many artists have become increasingly preoccupied with exploring the traces of their own bodies, or using their bodies as the site for visual media, the use of artists’ models still continued to proliferate within art and design schools, artist’s studios and community art centres. This thesis will involves an exploration of what practices have continued to occur and where, and an interrogation of the theoretical literature which has marginalised or ignored practices using the model, and left practitioners largely without a critical language with which to interrogate their practice, or locate it within contemporary society. This thesis will use the discussion on the literature of the artist’s model, to interrogate what a model is or has been in the broader visual culture of late modernity

There is almost nothing written on the practice of life modelling, aside from fairly superficial biographic accounts. It is certainly hasn’t been described as a metier, and has a history of being largely poorly paid, casual, unreliable amateur, and short term employment. In the 19th century this was less so, especially in Europe where whole families would work as a artists models, often for their entire lives. Part of my research involves interviewing some of the 200 artists models currently working in Sydney, to gain some empirical record of the aspects of formalised physical presentation in which they are engaged.

My research then is largely motivated by a desire for amelioration, to fill in this gap in official social history of art practices. I am aware through personal experience that over 100 venues in Sydney employ life models on a regular (ie weekly) basis. Most of these are training institutions of some sort, and the rest are private or recreational sketch clubs. when I started my research, I investigated the history of art schools and arts academies, and which institutions employed artists models, and why they did it and when did they cease. What I discovered is that there is almost no quantitative research on the history of art institutions in Australia. There is a multitude of discussions in art theory journals about “the decline of the life class” after world war two, and “the resurgence” of the life class in the 1980’s, but no information on this other than these sorts of ephemeral comments, usually mentioned in the context of an exhibition review of vague theoretical polemic on figurative art.

Listing of venues where artists modelshave been used.

Some of these like the public institutions) hire models usually as casual employees with contracts, awards, superannuation etc. Others hire models as privatecontractors on an occasional basis.

Many places simply act as venues for artists or art students to gather informally, usually for a small hiring fee. Artists usually band together to cover the cost of the hiring fee and reimburse the model. These informal arrangements usually include tea, coffe, dinner or copies of drawings and as such are generally known about by word of mouth among artists. Recruitment is usually done by word of mouth through phone trees. Most of these informal sketch clubs, often held at community centres or art galleries are intermittent and occasional.

If anyone can add to this list PLEASE do so

Tertiary Art Schools/Training institutions

National Art School
UNSW College of Fine Arts
Sydney College of the Arts (occasional)
University of Western Sydney

TAFE's

SIT Ultimo (Fashions Design and Fashion manufacturing)
SIT Enmore Design Centre (Jewelry, 3D animation, Graphic Design)
SSIT Kogarah (Art, Graphic Desgin)
NSIT Seaforth (Art)
NSIT Hornsby (Art)
NSIT Meadowbank Sydney Gallery School (Art)

Private Colleges

Billy Blue college of Graphic Design
Sydney College of Graphic Design (Parramatta)
Walt Disney Studios (2D animation)

Private Art Schools

Julian Ashton's School of Art
Royal Art Society
Tom Bass Sculpture Studio
Balmain Art School
Paddington Art School

Public non Accredited courses

University of Sydney Tin Sheds
(Faculty of Architecture and Continuing Education)
UNSW Faculty of the Built environment summer school
UNSW Union Spring/Summer Short Courses
UTS Insearch (School of Design)
NAS Public PRograms
Sydney Gallery School Evening COurses
Sydney Community College
Eastern Suburbs Evening College
North Sydney Community college
Western Sydney Community College

Art Galleries

AGNSW "Contempo" Program
MCA Corporate Development Programs
Hazlehurst Regional Art Gallery
Mosman Art Gallery
Brett Whitely Studio
TAP Gallery
Alpha House Gallery
Knot Gallery

Community Art/Leisure Centres

Kuringai Art Centre
Waverley Woollahra Art Centre
Willoughby Art Centre
Pine Street Community Art Centre
Wooloomooloo Community Recreational Centre
Mission Australia Sydney Community Centre

Other

Arthouse Hotel
Brandling Street
Northbridge School of Art
Mosman School of Art
Rushcutters Bay


I’ve realised that to document the history of the life class in Australia in the past 50 years, would involve trawling through the archives of universities, art schools, TAFE’s and community colleges, and community centres to check on payslips and enrolments forms, to verify how many models were employed in how many life classes were run and how popular they were, as well as studying course curricula, to study the types of language used to justify the life class, and to see if this changed. This would be complicated by the fact that most models are employed informally and paid cash, and thus pay records up until 15 years ago, when until TFN’s were made mandatory, simply do not exist. Also given the amount of informal employment that still exists, my research would also involve contacting every single sketch club, studio, training institution, and private teacher and asking them when they have used models and what there experience was. I suspect this is a tad ambitious for the remaining 2 years of a 3 year PhD, so I’ve had to compromise a little on this one, and include some oral history, of some models and teachers, just so there is some record of this practice.

My frustration at the enormity of the archival project in front of me, was however complemented by a curiosity into how this reasonably relevant information became excluded from art history and theory. I am suspicious and curious about how certain socially lived practices, certain forms of cultural information and informal knowledge become incorporated into academic research, and why some are included and not others. What types of wider cultural agendas are at play and how does intellectual property gain wider social currency, and whose interests does it serve? In my own field, art history, academic research develops languages by which “new” or even “old” genres and art works can be promoted to museums and buyers. Ideally theoretical research would contribute to articulating a critical language by which dominant interpretations of visual culture can be contested.

Literature on life models, has always been at the margins, with a few social history books discussing or documenting models at any length. Larger discussions tended to be included in volumes on “the nude”, “eroticism” “history of drawing” “history of anatomy”. Within the art historical discourse on the body from the past 40 years, models occupied a significant discussion point on exploring discourses of the nude, the social relations of women’s bodies and the male voyeur.

Art history and theory have circulated around this area in three ways. The most obvious circulation consists of social histories of the life class including autobiographies of various models. There has been a small but constant stream of novels, anecdotes, press articles and films which feature biographical or fictional accounts of the life class. Popular attention seemed to peak in the late 19th century and early 20th century with Geroge Du Mauriers’s Trilby and the stage play based on it, but almost every decade since the 19th Century has produced a significant work of literature of film. This is contrasted with academic or art history literature on artists models and the life class. There is almost nothing, except for a couple of books in the 1980’s, the most thorough being “the artists Model” by Francis Borzello. While there appears to have been a steady and small amount of research into artists’ models, most of this has been published as chapters, papers, articles or occasional journal features. A lot of articles, are structured around very loose sociology or cultural studies formats, with localised or autobiographical components, so they are interesting but lacking any broad analysis or articulate relationship to contemporary literature. Most of this writing is framed in terms of discourses around representation of the nude, and figurative representations, and the role of the nude artists model in relation to social discourses on regulating sexuality and obscenity. What most accounts have in common is that the life class is largely confined to ‘the past’, ie Europe and European colonial cultures between the seventeenth century up to the start of the twentieth. There is almost no discussion of the life class after world war two, except as the reserve of amateur art societies and soft porn drawing manuals. The social history of the female artists model, would indicate that the 19th century life class was where the iconic role of contemporary representations of women in consumer advertising were initially developed. Borzello argues that the social relations that govern the employment of catwalk models and fashion “mannequins” were derived from those developed from artists models in Europe.

In any case, the social histories of artists models and the life class have been influenced by a second circulation of art history, the “meta-discourses” of representations, which have largely referred to the life class in its relationship to the discourses on the nude. The classic approach to this is Kenneth Clarke “the nude”, which described the symbolic values attached to the fine art nude in terms of a rather problematic appropriation of Platonic aesthetics, and this has been thoroughly critiqued since, largely by Marxists such as John Berger and feminists like Lynda Nead and Griselda Pollock. Critiques of Clark had two components, one which sought to historicise the gendered and social relations in which the images were produced and circulated and the other was to try to problematise and deconstruct the nature of representation itself.

Clark’s discourse on the nude, like that of his critics, focussed on the gender and sexual relations in figurative art, and the fine art nude largely as a representation of female bodies and female sexuality within a discourse largely created by and for heterosexual men. In relation to the life class, as well as to the history of figurative representation, this emphasis on the nude model, and the young, female, idealised model excluded much of the social history of the life class, artists models and figurative images which, as discussed by Borzello, historically featured equal numbers of men and women, as well as elderly and child models. Many social histories, seeking to challenge Clark’s through “a materalist account” of the history of the nude, by confining their studies to the gender relations encapsulated in the female nude and male dominated drawing academy, ignored other factors which influenced the history of the life class, such as the historical relationships between art and medicine, and the social links between modelling, poverty, criminality and the procuring of corpses for anatomical study.

The emphasis in art historical literature on the fine art nude as a metonym for representation and regulation of gendered sexual relations, generated an aesthetically critical approach which has been used in wider areas, such as cultural studies, to analyse other genres such as photography, pornography and advertising. It has arguably also contributed to the redundancy of plastic figurative representations to contemporary discourses on the body and visual culture. If the social practices which have generated the fine art nude, life drawings, life paintings and other plastic representations of the body have only been a means of representing and mediating the sexuality of the human body, then it is little wonder that plastic representations are largely redundant in a consumer culture which is saturated with figurative images, with far greater verisimilitude and credibility that the staid and staged repertoire of images from the history of fine art nudes. With the proliferation of photographic technology, the social forums for viewing the nude exploded beyond the life class, and images produced in the life class, to the mass consumer fields of pornography and sexualised advertising.

Many art critics, informed by a feminist agenda towards challenging the gendered social relations imbedded in visual culture, sought to articulate interventions within the visual arts that could challenge “viewing regimes” which were deemed to objectify women’s bodies. In such literature, the life class was seen largely as an anachronism, a nostalgic re-enactment of the 19th century heyday of heterosexist scopophilia, confined to reactionary or ill informed dilettantes. Contemporary interventions relied on utilising the verisimilitude of figurative representations ubiquitous in contemporary visual culture and rather than producing plastic figurative images of other bodies, artists were encouraged to present or document presentation of their own body. Where artists use other bodies, or “models”, they were encouraged to use photography or film or digital manipulation, where the artifice is enclosed within a reference to verisimilitude. Some art critics, such as Pollock, almost tended towards a type of iconoclasm in their rejection of figurative images, declaring that all acts of representing or invoking the body are repressive, and favouring largely abstract or text based ‘scripto-visual’ interventions.

The criticism of the life class that emerged on most feminist texts from the 1970’s and 1980’s, relied on theories of spectatorship which implied that the viewers, artists, were voyeurs, or passive spectators. The typical analysis described the female nude (model) as operating as a metonym for men’s own physical embodiment, sexuality, irrationality etc., in effect functioning as a phantasm of the men’s own selves projected on to women. The platonic ideal, represented by the nude, being encapsulated in such words as beauty, sublime etc. really was little more than the phallus, and had nothing to do with representing actual women. This totalising view of the nude, while elucidating some of the socialised and gendered grounding in which images of the nude circulated, has had very little to say about how these images have been produced, and what they consist of. (male) Artists working from (female) naked models were conflated with (male) spectators of naked images of women. These were described as intrinsically complicit or directive of the voyeuristic gaze of the spectator. Most of these theories were derived from structuralist theories of popular culture and film, and then adopted by art theory. And what they do is to collapse all image making into the same order of activity. Photography was located as a uncontested heir to the apparent verisimilitude of slick looking 19th Cc salon paintings. the determining capacity of the images was ascribed to what they were representing, rather than what residues of their production or construction were legible.

What these types of analyses ignored were they types of temporal differences intrinsic to differing mediums. Photography in the 20th C became largely instant. Even though a photography shoot may take hours, it consists of a mechanical recording of a series of multiple glances, which mirror, more closely the types of looking that viewers of 2D images have. Drawings and paintings however are much slower, and sculpture even more so. The act of life drawing is largely dependant on the model, and also on the artists own physical capacities to mimetically reproduce their (controlled) or uncontrolled visual and physical responses to the model in front of them. Given this perspective, the artist is no longer a type of voyeur, spying the singular performance of the model, but a type of participant in the performance, but not quite a central performer, but a participating witness. A witness is different form a spectator, they feel a part of what they are watching, they feel impelled towards and action from it.

Representation was a thickly contested field in art history for over twenty years. Many art critics used semiotic approaches, derived from Roland Barthes, and later from Jacques Lacan in order to articulate the social significance of figurative images. Images of the nude, and the female body in particular were deemed to be referents, metonymic signifiers of “the female” itself constructed through dominant social discourse and imposed on a semiotically disempowered and unwitting feminine public. Such theories increasingly relied on an assumption of the verisimilitude of the dominant images, and thus were largely localised to a historical period were photographic images proliferated as a credible representation of reality, and were seen to have superseded the inadequate artifice of plastic representations.

Contemporary art theory has enclosed itself in a third discursive circulation, largely responding to the dilemmas raised by contemporary visual culture, in the destabilising of the criteria of verisimilitude and artifice which governed much art theory of the twentieth century. Contemporary art itself involves a deliberate play on the credibility of photographic representations, by the use of digital manipulation, in combination or separate from plastic surgical interventions in the structure and appearance of the body. Contemporary social theories have explored a “post-human” condition, one in which humanity is itself construed as a product of discourse, a set of gestures or linguistic intonations that are themselves derived, not from an original real world referent, but from discourse itself. The state of hyper-reality which is said to constitute contemporary culture is based on the circulation of copies without an original, a penultimate secession of simulacra which culminates on the body itself only existing in secondary relation to its discursive construct: the mannequin.

The contemporary quandary of the post humanist condition has inspired a flurry of writing under a loose rubric called “body theory”. Much of this has looked to aspects of phenomenology to inscribe a post humanist subject in philosophical discourse. The type of body that is theorised in “body theory” is described as being mute, unstable, slippery, stammering, inept, lacking, driven and contagious. Furthermore it is mostly abstracted as “the body” not a body, his body, her body, that body, those bodies, or my body. This abstracting tendency is probably the most problematic aspect of body theory, as it leads to a singularity of corporeal denoting, which is a very shallow slide from essentialising tropes such as “humanity” or “mankind”. While some types of “body theories” sees to be premised on using “the body” almost like a completely abstract term, that is absolutely undescribed as a quantifiable physical entity, other aspects have allowed a more flexible and eloquent articulation of the fraught nexus between the representation and reality.

In terms of art theory, the emphasis on bodies as material entities has led to a fascination with the material study of the body and of medical anatomy. Contemporary artists have used medical imaging techniques and created wax sculptures of bodies and body parts, and art history increasingly has started to explore the history of medical anatomy and its relationship to the history of art. The conspicuous erudition of writers such as Gilles Deleuze has led to an increasingly interdisciplinary approach in discussing the history of images of the body. A number of recent exhibitions have produced texts which have provided social histories of medicine, anatomy and art academies often describing the theatrical elements of the dissection room, and the mimetic exchanges between doctor, patient and image as a theatre of corporeal pedagogy.

This latter approach is probably the most fecund in terms of its capacity to articulate the multiplicity of relations in the life class both past and present. Hopefully some of these articulations can elucidate why the life class would have persisted and proliferated when its capacity to express and regulate sexuality has become largely redundant. This thesis argues that throughout the twentieth century, sexuality became a diminished aspect of the artists/life model exchange, and that the major imperative governing the life class has increasingly been that of mimicking and arresting death.


Many artists (and models) will state that being a good model has very little to do with stripping naked or having a “good” body, but in knowing how to pose. Posing itself is nothing like photographic or fashion models or of body building contestants, and is not an inert “display of bodily excellence” but is a type of performance. The closest description I came to what life modelling involves were in the “paroles sur le mime” by Etienne Decroux. Decroux’s ideas of “mime statuaire”, of mime as being a corporal language, not aiming to translate words into gestures, but to move the body into configurations that would suggest or invoke abstract, emotional and non linguistic states.

Decroux’s mime statuaire aimed to invoke the arrested tension of Rodin’s sculpture. Rodin’s sculptures were actually assemblages of sections that were modelled and cast seperately. It is almost impossible for a live model to pose in the contorted arrangements of a Rodin sculpture, or to sustain the position for a duration of a sculpture class. (6 and 30 hours). Rodin’s forms are based on movement and not repose.

My intervention into art theory with this project is largely to articulate figurative images in terms of the embodied gestures of the artists. Again this is largely Artaudian. In its search beyond the “text” or language, to a stammering onomatopoeia of movements and noises which convey something beyond language. I don’t look at figurative images in terms of the narrative of what is being pictorially depicted or represented, but look at the traces of gestures, the marks, the residues of embodiment , the artefacts of gestures, movements made by the artists. This is what gives the work its temporal edge. Drawings and paintings are not taken, they are not located in an instant, but occur in a state of duration, over time. They are a product of multiple glances, actions movements, blinking. The artists is not struggling with the less than ideal body in front of them so much as their own less than ideal dexterity in tyring to represent the body in front of them. What is the nature of this trace? Is it a tracing off a mimetic gesture, imitating the pose (not often? is it a tracing of a series of gazes, often a disciplining of the stochastic glances to a linear progression along contours? Is this is what is represented by a line?

I’d differentiate between an artist and performer, in that a performer does not generate a plastic residue of their actions. A performance is isolated spatially and temporally within the theatrical timeframe. Art generate residues, (images, objects) that transmit something of the performance beyond its immediate situation. Possibly these image residues can be seen as analogous to text, and the way that oral histories and stories and songs get transcribed and written into text, but I’m not sure. Writing is largely governed by fairly strict semiotic conventions. While spoken language can be stretched, strained murmured interjected and distorted, written languages have fairly straightforward rules for the translation of phonetics into written text. The nature of the rules for drawing, or painting have been considerably challenged however. The “decline of academic life drawing” has meant that contemporary figurative images are heterogeneous and not so much lack versimilitude, but are characterised by an absence of conventions for how marks on a page, canvas or on an object are articulated as either gestural or reresentative signifiers. Art historians don’t have any sort of consensus on ascribing the representative capacities of various visual elements (be they formal, abstract, gestural or representational) to any sort of “authentic” theatre of mimetic exchange.


"I'd gone to sessions where people draped the model in all this stuff and fussed about the folds in the cloth and then argued over the pose for an hour. It used to drive me nuts. The Charlottesville group was much more 'Stick the model in a chair, put her under the light, and let's go!' When I saw that, I said, 'This is the real thing. This is challenging and it's going to be worth it.' And it sure was."

Thursday, March 31, 2005

ethics proposal

Introduction:
There is a large and increasing amount of literature in art history and theory concerning how the human body has been represented in the visual arts. The body is a major preoccupation of contemporary philosophy and theories of visual culture. Amongst this there is a small amount of literature describing or referring to the historical uses of artists models in generating representations of the human figure in art both internationally and within Australia, but much of this indicates that the use of the model has declined in the latter half of the twentieth century.

This study includes a survey of art literature, citing that the artists’ model has become redundant, inappropriate or anachronistic in relation to the practice and study of visual arts in Australia since 1945 as this was a time when representing the body became problematised in art, especially painting and sculpture. Much art literature, relies on analyzing the representative aspects of contemporary art images, without observing the social practices which constitute them. The purpose of this study is to compile a record of the social practices which constitute the generation of visual arts and compare it with the literature of the same period.

Artists’ models have continued to be used in a number of settings, connected with the training and practice of the visual arts. These range from life drawing in undergraduate and postgraduate schools of art, design, animation and architecture. In addition artist models are employed increasingly in adult education centres, community art centres, public art galleries, and private sketch clubs as well as artists studios. This is also a time when social and cultural attitudes to the body, to nudity, sexuality and art as representation have gone through enormous changes. There is no literature within art history describing why this occurs and how they have been used and the relationship to contemporary theories of art practice.

Aim:
To examine how “the body” has been used by visual arts practitioners in generating figurative representations within image based and temporal art. To examine the hypotheses below.

Hypotheses
1. That artists’ models have become redundant to contemporary art and visual culture in Australia since 1945.
2. That artist models have continued to play a role in the teaching and practice of contemporary art and visual culture in Australia since 1945, however literature on art history and theory has ignored their participation.

Methodology

This thesis will consist of three sections surveying various aspects of visual arts practice since 1945. These will concentrate on the Sydney area as manageable amounts of information in all three faces can be compiled within the time frame of the study. The first will be a survey of contemporary literature in visual arts, body art and design, and visual culture since 1945.

The second will be a statistical survey of the numbers of institutions which have employed artists’ models. It is anticipated that most of this information can be obtained from government records. Where artists’ models have been employed privately, more questionnaires may have to be developed and distributed. In this case a separate application for ethics committee approval will be made. It is anticipated that this will commence in 2005.

The third aspect will consist of recording interviews with artists who have worked as artists’ models, used models in their own practice or training, or used their own body in generating representations of the figure. The selected sample of interview subjects is reasonably small, and will consist of practitioners who have been working in the six decades since 1945.

The oral history component of the thesis is probably one of the most valuable in terms of a wider contribution to recording the activities of visual arts practitioners within Australia. For this reason, the researcher will be liaising with oral history associations and professionals to ensure that, where the subjects consent, that copies of the interviews are kept in public archives. Due to the age of some of the anticipated subjects it s quite important that this be undertaken as soon as possible. Given ethics committee approval of the research, these interviews will commence in September 2004.

Participants

The participants have been identified as prominent practitioners in the visual arts since 1945, through the popular press and specialist arts media. Up to 25 will be approached and it is anticipated that recorded interviews with at least 10-15 will be used. A provisional guide to the age and genders of the anticipated participants is listed below.

0-20 none
20-30 one female, one male
30-40 one female, one male
40-50…..three female
50-60 one male
60-70 two female
70-80 one female
80-90 one male
90-100 one female

The participants will be asked a number of leading questions, but encouraged to describe their use of models and the figure in their own terms. While much of the evidence derived from the interviews may be anecdotal, some of this information will indicate areas for more empirical research. By interviewing practitioners, this research study hopes to gain a thorough idea of the practises which have informed much of the theory in art literature, as well as gaining an insight into the processes which have generated the types of images, produced by these artists which have been discussed in literature about the visual arts.

List of questions to be asked:

1. Where and when did you do your visual arts training?
2. Did you do life classes with artists’ models?
3. What was your experience of these classes?
4. How has your own practice used the figure since?
5. How has your own practice been affected by your experiences in life class rooms?
6. Have you ever worked as an artists’ model? Can you describe your experiences?
7. How did working as a model affect your own artistic practice?
9. Have you ever taught figurative art using models? How would you describe this?
10. Have you attended any sketch clubs using models? (where and when)
11. Can you describe any changes in how models have been used throughout the course of your career?
12. Have you ever used your own body in making images or time based pieces?
13. How would you describe the way you use your own body in your practise?
14.. Have you ever used the bodies of partners, family or friends in your practise?
15. Have you ever used models in your own studio practice? Can you describe this?
16. How do you find or recruit models? Or do you use family and friends?
17. When do you not use ‘professional’ models? Why not?
18. What do you think of contemporary figurative art?
19. What do you think of contemporary art training?
20. What do you think of the relevance of using models in art training and practise?
21. Do you have any other comments to make on this area?

Outcomes

This research hopes to generate a number of important outcomes, in terms of its research area and as a contribution to the discipline of art history and theory within Australia. The oral histories of the participants will constitute an important social record of the participation of a marginalized group of artsworkers within the training and practice of art and visual culture.

The research also hopes to make a critical intervention into contemporary theoretical discourses on the body and figurative representation in art history and theory and challenge a perceptible bias within the literature against empirical approaches to observing the social realities which constitute any field of cultural practice.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

2005 Introduction

Over the past thirty years, contemporary theory has become increasingly preoccupied with the body, both as a subject for representation, and as a field of experiences and desires. In much contemporary philosophy “the body” has become a generic term denoting the deconstructed subject of contemporary anti/post-humanist discourse, however the precise qualities of “the body” are largely left undefined. This thesis seeks not merely to put the body back into art, but to specifically localise and specify the bodies, or the traces of bodies and various circuitous narratives, that are present in the objects and practice connected with visual arts. This thesis is critically concerned with contemporary art practices of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries which involve representations of human bodies. This includes a wide range of practices from performance art, or performative interventions involving the bodies of artists, to images derived from such practices, and images made by artists of the bodies of the human subjects, models and audiences of their work. In developing a critical theory of contemporary figurative aesthetics, this thesis will focus on practices involving artists' models. Regarded in the nineteenth century as obscene and dangerous, the use of artists' models in the last century became ob-scene in an entirely different sense. Since the mid twentieth century, the life class has been described as increasingly redundant to contemporary art practices or ignored altogether. The perceived anachronism and coyness of practices involving artists models have has shifted these practices away from the arena of critical cultural theory into the marginal zones of journalism and social history.

This thesis does not seek to ameliorate or challenge the perceived anachronism of the life studio, but explore its potentially volatile elements in order to articulate a reactive cultural agency in contemporary figurative practices. This involves a perverse fascination with elements of contemporary social culture that are perceived as obsolete, anachronistic or inept. This approach is inspired by Jacques Derrida's writings on the importance of the margins and parergons as deployed by Nead in “Art, Obscenity and Sexuality”. Nead cites Derrida's ideas on social discourses which “frame” a subject as being central to the way that the subject itself is constituted in and by cultural discourse, and links this to Mary Douglas's writings on the role of filth and abjection in “purity and Danger”. Cultural taboos around corporeal concealment and display have been central to most academic discourses on nudity and embodiment, and the ideas of abjection in Douglas and Kristeva offer fecund explanations for social preoccupations with corporeal hygiene and discipline. Under such an approach the life class can be reconceived as more than marginal to contemporary visual culture, and more than a vestigial remnant of mythologised artistic tradition, but as a specifically abject remnant of a number of social and cultural exchanges. The life class, particularly in its contemporary formation, falls somewhere between cultural studies, art history, gender studies, sociology, biography, aesthetics and social history. Its relative sitelessness offers considerable potential to destabilise contingent boundaries between disciplines, and also to challenge the apparent seamlessness of the virtual economies of social and cultural exchange which characterise much contemporary cultural studies. Arguably, locating alternative possibilities for how bodies can be represented, experienced and communicated, requires a genealogical approach which is implicated with what Michel Foucault described as “the vast and tender freemasonry of useless erudition”. .

The spectre of the artist's muse has been central to Western European aesthetics since the Renaissance, with its origins being cited in Greek antiquity. Many of the central questions of European aesthetics concerning presentation, mimesis and representation, have revolved around the mythical triumvate of the muse (or model), the artist and the image produced. In grappling with some of the questions of aesthetics, this thesis will refer to a historical practice where this triumvate can be legibly traced, described and situated within social relations. This historical tradition can be legibly escribed as the employment of artist's models, for private studios and largely for the “life classes” within art academies that emerged in Western Europe in the Seventeenth century, and has continued into the present, increasingly in vocational training and recreational centres.

This thesis will consist of two major areas of research and discussion. One area explores literature on artists, models and figurative representation, and the other area explores the practices and experiences of contemporary artists' models as well as students, teachers and practitioners. This thesis has involved an original research project “The Use Of Artists' Models In Figurative Art In Australia Since 1945”. (see appendix).This research involves interviews with contemporary figurative art practitioners, as well as arts workers who have extensive experience of the life class in its latter formations. The inclusion of an oral history project in this research is largely to ameliorate for the absence of any empirical or descriptive information on practise and teaching of visual arts which characterises most art history literature.

The first chapter of this thesis discusses literature on artists' models and social practices connected with the life class. This describes contemporary practices involving artists' models in artists' studios, training institutions and recreational centres and clubs, and is contrasted with its absence in literature on contemporary art. Academic studies on the life class and life models have been largely based in social history, sociology and cultural studies, with some art history research covering biographies of famous artists' models. This is in contrast to an enormous amount of literature within art history and theory on figurative art, the nude, obscenity, pornography and contemporary performance art which articulates aesthetic and philosophical aspects of these practices. While the critical vacuum surrounding literature on artists' models and the contemporary life class suggests that life drawing is an anachronistic social activity rather than a critical cultural pursuit, this chapter argues that the literature which would dismiss the life class should itself be interrogated. This thesis is motivated by a curiosity into how certain socially lived practices, certain forms of cultural information and informal knowledge become incorporated into academic research, and why some are included and not others. What types of wider cultural agendas are at play and how does intellectual property gain wider social currency, and whose interests does it serve? While academic research within art history, develops languages by which “new” or even “old” genres and art works can be promoted to museums and buyers, ideally theoretical research would contribute to articulating a critical language by which dominant interpretations of visual culture can be contested by practitioners as well.

The second chapter consists of a historical survey of the use of artists' models, linking contemporary practices to the history of anatomy and the changing social cultures around death, nudity and sexuality in which the life model is implicated. This chapter will describe many of the conventions of the life class and the life studio and how these arose in the context of European academies and training institutions within Australia By exploring the historical volatility of practices and discourses on the body in areas such as medicine, law and art, this chapter will articulate the volatile aspects of the apparently benign contemporary life class, particularly the aspects of the life model which are reminiscent of death.

The third chapter deals with the more conventional aspect of obscenity, in the realm of sexuality and nudity as it has pertained to the life class. This chapter explores more thoroughly feminist interventions into art history and theory which have sought to challenge practices involving marginalising or degrading representations of women's bodies. This chapter challenges the heterosexism implicit in early feminist criticism of the use of artists' models, and seeks to explore performative strategies for critically engaging with ambiguous representations of female embodiment. This chapter cites the slippery rubric of `Queer Theory” principally as a destabilising strategy, arguing that the potency of critical strategies derived from identity based social movements, has not been to successfully plead for an inclusiveness in what are narrowly defined and controlled cultural discourses, but to challenge the ontology of subjectivity itself. From the post humanism of Michel Foucault to the performative iterability of Judith Butler “Queer Theory” has challenged cultural philosophers to articulate the contingent specificities of the subjects which they are describing. As Grosz argues, queer politics and sexuality is not formed from a reactive, regressive condition of marginalisation but from a proactive, libidinous activity. For this reason the critical engagement of “Queer theory” is fuelled by a dynamism, akin to the types of libidinous play engendered in creative activities such as dance, song and art making.

The fourth chapter will develop a comparison between the life class, as a specific situation of figurative presentation and representation, and theatre. The life class has often been described as a theatre in perjorative sense, invoking passive theatrical “staged” elements of the model, the dias, the timing which have their affinities with “tableux vivants” which were a brief craze in music halls in 19th c England. The picture that emerges is of a rather false environment that is both coy and eccentric. To describe the life class as theatre is potentially meaningless in a discursive milieu where almost every social setting is now described as “theatrical” and all states, acts and intentions, the very condition of being is also described as performative. So apart from describing the obviously “staged” aspects of the life class; the dias as proscenium, the easels and donkeys as confining architecture by which to restrain and separate the audience of artists, and the model as a performer, this thesis will explore what theatre is or could be by utlising Artaud's writings in “Theatre and its Double”. Artaud is attractive to contemporary cultural philosophers and art historians, especially the aspects of the theatre of cruelty, in its condition of impossibility By exploring ideas of theatre as an explosive site for metamorphosis and as being that which vanishes at the point where it arrives, it can be argued that the volatile elements of any pedagogical site of mimicry and exchange can be reimagined and harnessed as a socially dynamic force.

The fifth chapter argues that aspects of the contemporary life class, or the life studio still resonate with the tension of unresolved corporeality of the artist and the subject as well as the depictions generated. These aspects are probably more easily articulated according to theoretical models derived from contemporary writings on phenomenology, particularly in performance studies, as well as Michel Foucault's social theatres and Judith Butler's ideas of the self as inscribed through performative repetitions. By calling for a theoretical approach which attempts to articulate the temporality and materiality of embodiment, mimesis, gesture, and representation, this thesis argues that life class, or life studio generates a set of exchanges that are very relevant to the dilemmas of representation which continue to plague contemporary theories of embodiment. This chapter explores further the fraught nexus of imitation and gesture, which has plagued contemporary feminist writings on visual art. Sidestepping ideas of gestures as the Kristevan semiotic, this chapter explores a phenomenological approach to how the body of the artist is controlled (or otherwise) in the life class or studio and how the gesture can be a type of docile reiteration of these conventions or a disruptive, transgressive or incompetent response. By exploring notions of iterable incompetence, this chapter hopes to articulate the volatile aspects of gestures, and stammerings in an Artaudian sense as a challenge to the potential for bland positivist assertions of agency which characterize many contemporary invocations of Butlerian queering performativity.

By exploring a notion of performativity that is fraught with the threat of failure and incompetence this section will discuss the tension between expression and representation which has characterised aesthetic criticism since the emergence of photography. The chapter will explore the Artaudian notions of gestures, and define the nature of the mimetic artefact or trace as a relevant concern to contemporary art criticism.


The final chapter explores spectatorship, in `theatres” of figurative representation as the multiple, fragmented and reversible. This chapter aims to articulate a critical discernment of various facets of spectatorship and how they interplay within the theatres of figurative encounter. This chapter addresses the nature of viewing as involving a complexity of responses from voyeurism, imitation, witnessing, looking away, absent staring, and argues that the nature of looking is fundamentally grounded in the type of corporeal affective response which it engages. The contingent nature of spectatorship is at the heart of this thesis, which explores the nature of metamorphosis, and the point where mimesis and metamorphosis intersect, and art, “the arts” challenges spectators to become witnesses and participants. By articulating a spectatorial strategy of witnessing, this chapter argues for an analysis of figurative interventions that evoke possibilities for spectatorship as metamorphosis.

This thesis embrace notions of spectatorship and participation in visual culture founded on a profoundly pluralistic imperative. Such a theoretical commitment to articulating cultural agency founded on inclusiveness, may appear to be incompatible with a critical project which is necessarily imbricated with privileging some cultural strategies over others. This tension between a positivist embrace of cultural agency and a critical discernment between socially grounded cultural activities is not easily avoided. In invoking “queer theory” as an epistemic methodology, this thesis does seek to align itself with the disruptive, slippery and ambiguous facets of queer interventions in cultural production, spectatorship and critical theory. One of the most disturbing of these, especially to structuralist feminist analyses has involved the positivist assertions of identificatory enjoyment of visual phenomena as seductive. This thesis insists on the importance of identification practices as central to active spectatorship, and asserts that they do not have to be divorced from a rigorous critical analysis of the social relations in which they circulate. The notions of “camp” which are employed by queer theory, fundamentally involve a playful, ironic, ambiguous engagement with culture. Implicit to such “queering” accounts is the threat of suppression, repression or elimination of the types of affective responses located within sexually marginalised spectators. “Queer” spectatorship is fundamentally grounded in it's own sense of danger and risk, and for this reason offers a reminder that identificatory elements of viewing regimes, such as seduction and affect, can and need to be articulated as problematic, difficult, disruptive and potent social phenomena.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Embodied Spectatorship

In this paper, I want to start with some of the mass media images of life class and artists models, and explore a little bit, how they have intersected with feminist interventions into art history and visual culture. To discuss the body, and practices involving the body, necessarily involves and engagement with a feminist intervention, since women's bodies have occupied such a troubling position on the history of art as well as philosophy. So while I don't want to confine my discussion to female models, I am interested in how women models and artists mediate their own cultural agency, in dealing with performing and representing their own and other bodies.. I want to explore a critical engagement with the life class and contemporary figurative art, and try to articulate some possibilities for how the critical cultural agency of female practitioners and subjects can be described.


I also don't want to be trying to evade or ignore the many aspects of the life class which are extremely problematic for a feminist project. My study of the life class, and artists models, is in order to destabilised, to transgress and rupture those relations imbedded within it.

In many ways, the life class has become a historical oddity, or a kitsch anachronism confined to the nostalgia of doddering amateurs who refuse to accept the saturation of electronic images, with greater verisimilitude, distribution and influence than traditional art forms. Most life drawings look kitsch, flat, inept and uninteresting. There is a curious shrinking cowardice attached to the clothed artist who stares and draws from a naked human being. There are awkward residues of elitist social relations, the objectifying of one person by another, financial coercion, a power imbalance, the speaker and the spoken for. The artists who draws from the nude appears to shrink from accepting and expressing that it is only our own bodies that we can manipulate, and not the bodies of others, or cartoon copies either.


My research is inspired by the very anachronism of the life class and its awkwardness and coyness in a culture saturated with images of the nude and of bodies generally. Firstly I want to explore some of the reasons why the life class has been ignored or marginalised by feminist art historians. The images I'm showing you are from a basic google search on life classes. They present the common garden kitsch amateur life class. the quotes Also come from popular press articles about the life class.

Most literature on the life class, features artists models, and mainly female artists models, and has done so since the mid 19th century. Most literature, and research on models, consists of biography - showing that muses had names, lives, diaries, careers and brains, or social history. The emphasis on “subjectifying” or specifying the life history of models, is a tension that runs throughout the research, press and popular literature throughout all of the twentieth century., Like this article form le monde, (October 2004) they how to articulate the agency of the female model, projecting her body and protecting her self mediating the fine line of dignity and decorum. Such articles act in two ways, to remind reader that yes, capitalism does let fat women be accepted, b) that the life class is respectable, progressive serious cultural pursuit c) that women don't prostitute themselves just because they take their clothes off for money. (anyone can do it!!!!)

This insistence on the “safety” and acceptability of the life class is often contradicted by some of the amateur images of the life class, which reveals it as a scenario for fairly blatant objectification and exploitation of women, by men. Almost every female model has one slightly sickening anecdote of a sleazy gig, a dodgy artist staring at them without drawing or chatting them up in the breaks, making pejorative comments on their bodies, or taking photographs and putting them on the net. Male models seem to experience these problems less frequently. By highlighting this ambiguous experience of life classes, I'm tyring to emphasise that the life class itself and the literature on the life class is and has been intensely preoccupied with controlling the volatility of the sexual and power relations embodied in the figure of the naked model. Even in contemporary culture, saturated with images of the nude, and of sexuality, this coy setting is still imbued with a strong protocol for control and respect. My theory is because the “spectators” in a life class are not disembodied voyeurs, but are involved in a physical affective activity, that is not merely mimetic, but also performative as well.

"One of the expressions of life modeeling is that "I'm suffeirng for your art'"

"Ever have nightmares where you're naked and everyone's staring at you? Not me."

"People are afraid to life their dreams, says the 30 years old. "I want to challenge myself and do different things. I want to inspire someone to creat a masterpeice."

I want him to feel what it feels like to be amodel." she says.

"It's just hard work." she says. "I really wanted to get that intense feeling. There's nothing sexual about it. these people were completely invvolved in painting."

These quotations all come from accounts of contemporary life classes. The first four are from models, and the last is from an artist, herself as unknown as the models. The quotations were all published in popular press or amateur art journals, and reinforce the conventional view of the life class as something slightly risqué, but fairly tame, predictable, and in “I want to inspire someone to create a masterpiece” lamentably banal. Given such a context, it is little wonder that the life class is almost completely ignored by contemporary art theory. The continued prevalence of life classes in training institutions and recreational clubs imply that it is more of a subject for sociology or (at a stretch) cultural studies, than art history and theory. Furthermore, the historical anonymity of models is reflected in the contemporary anonymity of the countless amateur or quasi professional artists who flock to sketch clubs. Successful artists don't hold day jobs and can hire models for their private studio. It is arguable that successful contemporary artists don't even hire life models, but work with collaborators or found images.

The evening life class is indelibly tinged with the doomed aspirational smear of the dilettante. It has, in the past 20th century, been increasingly dominated by women, who are students, models, and teachers, the mainstay of amateur or traditional art schools. In the 19th century and enormous amount of literature was devoted to the threat of women entering life class. in the 20th century, the life class disappeared from Art history and theory, and figurative art itself has experienced various declines.

In any case the fields of critical scholarship around art practices have been mostly based on identifying and describing a succession of `modern masters', significant artists whose individual practice can be explained as exemplifying the historical epoch in which they are situated. Feminist scholarship which sought to revalue the anonymous contributions of women artists, of craftspeople and folk artists have made little impact on a discourse historically tied to the promotion of innovative cultural products. To wade in the murky backwaters of cultural practices which are marginalised, vestigial, anachronistic does not only imply exposure to the immense tedium of critically uninformed idiosyncratic narratives but also to risk being enmeshed in a painfully limited circuit of cultural revisionism.

My argument is based on a suspicion that the phantasm of female spectatorships and cultural agency, the way women look at their own and women's bodies, is profoundly threatening to contemporary culture, and it has also been undertheorised by feminist art historians.

“Sculpting the nude figure”

She wears steel capped boots, denim jeans and a rough shirt. She has taken the other woman by the foot and is twisting her leg, pulling it over her head. The other women, naked and covered in sweat, grimaces, moans, and contorts her other limbs to keep the balance on her remaining foot. Finally the first woman pushes her too far and they both collapse on top of one another, laughing briefly before resuming again. The clothed woman, holding her partner by the foot reaches for a pile of newspapers, which she holds up against the naked woman, twisting and crushing the papers between them, using the tension of both bodies to shape the paper and cardboard mess. The paper is compressed with hands, hips and feet, twisted and turned by both women, folded in between elbows and knees, finally shaped into a form, that seems stable. Eventually they cease this play, and the naked woman gets dressed. The clothed woman continues, sweating in her clothes as she uses all her force, all her powers of movement, flexibility and control, tested against the naked body of her partner, and the pliable strength of paper, against the brute force of iron bars and molten steel.


This description is based on a photograph, not from “Love Bites” by acclaimed lesbian photographer Della Grace, but from an exhibition catalogue from 1985. The photograph is contemporaneous with Della Grace's images, but has been ignored by feminist art historians. This may be due to the images in the same catalogue of clothed male artists, engaged in equally intimate combat with naked female models. The intense physicality of such exchanges leave little space for wry analyses of scopophilic regimes of the artist as voyeur, and from a feminist perspective are deeply uncomfortable to contemplate, as are the macho poses of the male artists in the forge, the ultimate site of phallic mastery.

The catalogue “Have you seen sculpture from the body?” London's Tate Gallery which I have is a photocopy, and the photographic quality is not particularly good, so I have chosen images which show what the exchange I've described isn't. Aspects border on all the areas I've shown, but don't really represent what was happening at all. In many ways, this is analogous to the way women exist in art history and theory. Women's artistic practice continues to be marginalised ignored or trivialised, and women are still largely discussed as or conflated with their representations or phantasmic projections by men.

My research is largely fuelled by level of frustration with existing feminist art history, as well as a firm commitment to its precepts of articulating women's cultural agency. I am doing this by exploring current practices in figurative art made by women, and the use of artists models in life classes, and private studios since the mid twentieth century. Most literature cites the life class as becoming redundant and anachronistic at this point. The increasing amateurisation and marginalisation of the life class was coupled with it being increasingly open and populated by women. What I am exploring is the ambiguous, and largely untheoreised relationships between women artists and female models. This includes the fact that many women artists and artsworkers have worked as models, and many models are women artists.

The feminist project within art history and theory, which has tried to articulate the authenticity of women's cultural agency practice, has largely been based on a disavowal of representations of women. In its attempts at challenging the inauthenticity of representions of women in visual culture, feminist art theory has been fraught with the ontological dilemma of an “:authentic” female subjectivity. Feminist strategies have been bifurcated between an essentialist reclamation of “authentic” female agency (from Chicago to recent psychoanalytic, body writing style analyses) or a deconstructive project of critique and disidentification with phallocentric culture. (Mulvey & Pollock) What characterises both approaches is that neither did or could effectively describe or theorise the encounter which I have just described. Feminist art theory to date has not articulated female agency in spectatorship or participation in cultural production. While thankfully contemporary theories of the gaze, are less iconoclastic than in the 1980's, and female pleasure is acknowledged, this is still arguable according to murky derivations from riviere's theories of the masquerade. Women viewers are seen to be transvestising men, or engaged in narcissistic mimetic plays with the cultural phantasm of “woman”.

In returning to the image I described, of a female artist and naked model, I want to discuss the areas of tension and ambiguity. Is the sculptor “playing butch” is she transvestite? And what is the naked model doing? Such questions skirt around the most obvious and uncomfortable tensions between the two, which is lesbianism. The homosocial grappling between and naked and a clothed female figure, the process of looking, re looking, reimagining, touching etc., are imbricated with the same levels of tension, traditionally ascribed to the heterosocial relationship between the male artists and female model. (show EAKINS SLIDE) Most popular literature is desperate to deny, mediate or reduce this tension. The protocol governing the life class, how the model undresses, the poses, the ban on touching, the taboos against looking, all reflect this presence of sexuality as a threat. Equally the reified language of art classes, Kenneth Clarke style discussions of the nude, the muse, emphasis on drawing as an academic study, the citation off anatomy, the physical schema of easels and donkeys all act to constrain and regulate the physical reponses of the artists who view the model.

What I would insist on, however, is that the sexuality is not only heterosexual. The process of presentation and spectatorship, especially between women, is an enormously powerful aspect of contemporary culture. Women's magazines are full of soft porn eye candy, all designed to stimulate affects of desire, envy which are displaced onto fetishism of beauty products. (Cleo images) Female theories of the gaze have been described as either narcissistic, or transvestic, interjecting the Male gaze of desiring women's bodies as an object to be acted on. I believe that this reduces the male gaze, again to a model of compulsory heterosexuality, which is problematic, and completely flattens the complex aspects of female homosexual desire. I think that the discourse of “narcissism” of transvestism” operates largely to deny the threat of homosexual, or intrasexual, intraphysical desire, fascination, largely to contain sexuality In the life class and visual culture within a normative heterosexual model.

I think that feminist art theory has been complicit with this normative “straight” viewing regime, largely because of the, domination of 1970's and 1980's feminism by straight middle class women, or women committed to a dissimulation of heterosexuality, and who deliberately sought to avoid being caught up in a queer gaze. In my use of queer theory, what I wish to do is to take this further. My queering the canon, is not in order to force lesbian scopic regimes upon definitions of feminine agency. This is totalising in itself, and assumes that there is a definable lesbian gaze, (which is problematic) and also silences the difference in viewing, desiring and representing bodies that exists between straight and lesbian women.

What I'm saying is not particularly revolutionary. Since the 1990's, the increasing pop cultural presence of lesbian desire, and theorised lesbian spectatorship has fortunately intervened in feminist art theory, to challenge disidentification, to insist of pleasure and play in female self presentation and spectatorship, but this is still largely fraught with ambiguity and tension. The “bad girls” moment was probably the best illustration of the effect of this paradigm shift. The other major contributor was queer theory, and in particular, the use of Judith butler's theories of performance and performativity within gay, lesbian and popular culture. I want to distinguish between butlers quite complex and subtle writings on subjectivity by interpellation and the wider citation of performativity. Over the past decade, the citation of performativity and ambiguity as a viably transgressive cultural strategy has been seemingly done to death, and as such, has become recuperated and robbed of its destabilising potential. So I want to be careful in the way that I describe the agency of women artists models as performative, so it doesn't have a totalising smear off positivist affirmation but can be engaged with critically.

My citation of a “queer aesthetic” is not merely to embrace potential instability of sexual categories, and the latent androgyneity or bisexuality of most images per se. I think it is useful to articulate a lesbian aesthetic that is founded on affect, on pleasure and agency. This is quite distinct from the process of subjective identification as a women which, despite the best efforts at essentialist reclamation is not intrinsically by desire or affect, but by social inscription. As described by Irigaray, women are interpellated, not even as woman, but as “not men”. As Grosz, states, to be defined as women is largely to bear the burden of men's corporeality as well. Women exist in representation as metonymic phantasms of men's desires, fantasies projections and fears, having no language by which to articulate our own. In art history this is more obviously seen in the figure of the muse. The muse, the phallus, are all problematic and have been disavowed and deconstructed. But what ontology of women do we have in place of this lack? To be a woman, is to be a non man, if it is not founded on activity, agency, then what is it?

Unlike “woman”, being a lesbian is not only a reactive process to interpellation, but involves an active libidinous process of desire and enjoyment. This notion of affect, of identity through affect, recognition offers the possibility of articulating agency as something more than more than disavowal. It is also analogous to the processes of art making, which is itself grounded in desire, activity and enjoyment. I want to insist of the possibilities for an active female spectatorship. By this I don't mean applying a complex interpretative framework on existing tropes of female spectatorship. Feminist theories of spectatorship have used the phantasm of the “voyeur”, which implies that spectatorship is a seamless, singular act, embedded in corporeal detachment and physical inactivity. What I want to do is insist on the physicality off viewing, not only as a “gaze”, but as a series of glances, glimpses, blinks, flashes, stares and stammers. I want to describe a process of spectatorship that is not analogous to the cyclopean authority of a camera lens, but as flawed, temporal and gestured as that involved in a life drawing. This is the reason why, my research is exploring spectatorship and presentation within plastic media, such as drawing, painting, sculpture. Even slick post-modern pastiches are imbricated with a cultural fascination with mimetic machinery, which is only now being unravelled by digital media.

My critiques of feminist art history and theory, are very close to the critiques of feminist epistemology made by e. Grosz in the 1990's. I also want to use Grosz's ideas on the destabilising of the subject and a preconceiving of women's cultural agency according to Grosz's citation of Deleuzians ideas of the body without organs and subjectivity consisting of libidinous flows. While I am not comfortable with abandoning the depth model of subjectivity to a series of surface exchanges, I believe that the awkward descriptions of interiority characteristic of much art criticism, belies the fact, that our encounter with art images is as superficial cultural phenomena. I think then that it is useful to attempt a phenomenological description of spectatorship as a series of machinic encounters, which are ambiguous, confused, contradictory and deeply libidinous. I want to explore a queering aesthetics of affect and desire, that disrupts the striated schematics of, “heterosexist” scopic regimes, but also any assumption of “masculine”, feminine” in attributing an affective response. In problematising feminist art theory, I try to reimagine how feminist interventions in art history and theory can be reconceived as a way of describing practitioners, and how these can and destabilise phallocentric culture.


To end, I've included a couple of images from Arlene Textaqueen, whose playing card, included naked portraits of 52 heap of Sydney women (ad some boyfriends), including Kerry Nettle, Lenny Ann Lowe, and even me. Textanudes give a completely fresh interpretation to portraiture and have many references to pop art, performativity, transgressive subcultures and general showing off. They are viewed, rightly, as portraits more than nudes, because the subjects of each are identified, in the drawing and subjectified and personalised. Textanudes fit in easily with the feminist project of conveying strong, creative women in a playful manner. The female subjects, like the artist herself function well as role models, more than nude models, showing that ambiguity, performance, play can be fun, and that nudity is a “safe” form of self expression and revelation.

Textanudes do not have the slick bodies of sophisticated digital imaging but consist of wobbly lines that trace all over the bodies and through the rooms of her subjects, and they invite our eyes to follow them. Textaqueen's drawings are characterised by a compelling attention to detail and a distortion of perspectival space as well as the subjects. Reviewers describe the soft flesh or floppy breasts as very real and human, but they leave out the nature of drawing, of distorting the images to fit in each page, of Textaqueens own playfulness in drawing each detail and selecting text. Each texta nude starts as a (larger than) life size line drawing in black texta. Instead of getting her subjects to send in a photo to be copied, Textaqueen sits in front of her subjects (or a mirror) and draws them directly, with no pencil marks or rubbing out. By using indelible ink, she is forced to concentrate and get the mark right the first time. The initial drawings can take from twenty minutes up to a couple of hours to do, and involve Textaqueen and her sitters chatting or reading to each other, rapping or singing, so most of the captions on the picture are from comments made during the drawing. After doing the initial line drawing, Textaqueen makes smaller photocopies to experiment with colour schemes that remind her of her subject, then painstakingly colours one of these schemes into every detail on the original drawing. This process may take weeks to complete.

While Stilettos, Toranas, and Princess Di are barely icons for radical cultural agency, they characterise a perverse and playful strategy for how young women negotiate their identity in an imaginative and proactive manner. As her subjects dress up or dress down to pose Textaqueen spends time drawing with them, and the drawings are a record of time spent together, an imaginative and creative exchange between the artist and her subjects. This experience of intimate amicable imaginative play, is one that is common to many artist studios. The studio ambiance of even more conventional female figurative artists, such as Wendy Sharpe, is very similar to that depicted in Textanudes. In this way the life studio can operate as a seminar of consciousness, a particular theatre of proactive and reactive spectatorial, imaginative and performative agency. I hope my research contributes to documenting and describing this further.

My research seeks not merely to put the body back into art, but to specifically localise and specify the bodies, or the traces of bodies and various circuitous narratives, that are present in the objects and practice connected with visual arts. The epistemological imperatives for this thesis are derived from feminism and queer theory, the scope of this thesis will not confine itself to the marginalised categories as proscribed by identity politics, looking at female, feminist or queer artists, but will explore the potential volatility of a number of practices connected with the visual arts. In “queering” figurative art, this thesis will not confine itself to the cultural studies habits of interpreting images as semiotic elements, but explore the practices themselves which generate images which reflect, represent or invoke the bodies which made them. Like D&G's idea of becoming woman - rather than being defined by exclusion & slavishness, women can and do participate in activities where we negotiate, invent & enjoy our affective relationship to our own and other's bodies.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Life Class As Theatre

Over the past thirty years, contemporary theory has become increasingly preoccupied with the body, both as a subject for representation, and as a field of experiences and desires. In much contemporary philosophy “the body” has become a generic term denoting the deconstructed subject of contemporary post-humanist discourse, however the precise qualities of “the body” are largely left undefined or awash with psychoanalytic terminology. This thesis seeks not merely to put the body back into art, but to specifically localise and specify the bodies, or the traces of bodies and various circuitous narratives, that are present in the objects and practice connected with visual arts.

I guess the major preoccupations of both performance and art theory, concern the fraught notions of mimesis, representation, authenticity that are central to aesthetic inquiries in European traditions since Aristotle. What is more compelling for my inquiry is the nature of spectatorship, and the nature of metamorphosis, and the point where mimesis and metamorphosis intersect, and art , “the arts” challenges spectators to become witnesses and participants, or enables them, us, to realise our own possibilities for social and cultural agency.

The life class, or life studio generates a set of exchanges that are very relevant to the dilemma of representation which is at the heart of aesthetic & philosophical theory. A significant body of art history has dealt with representations of the nude, and the relationships between artist and model/subject of figurative works. Within the art historical discourse on the body from the past 40 years, models occupied a significant discussion point on exploring discourses of the nude, the social relations of women's bodies and the male voyeur. However models were largely discussed as, and conflated with their representations. Art theory largely deals with images and objects as largely atemporal phenomena. There is almost no literature which describes the life class or the experiences and history of artists models. For this reason Performance theory is attractive in trying to articulate the temporality and materiality of embodiment, mimesis, gesture, and representation which are central concerns of corporeal aesthetics.

Literature on contemporary figurative art has almost no discussion on the life class or artists models . As artists increasingly used their own bodies or relied on mechanical representations of their own or others bodies, the nude artists model has become increasingly redundant, and overshadowed by the saturation of reproduced images of models or mannequins, which characterizes visual culture. However I would contend that aspects of the contemporary life class, or the life studio still resonate with the tension of unresolved corporeality of the artist and the subject as well as the depictions generated. These aspects are probably more easily articulated according to theoretical models derived from aspects of performance such as Michel Foucault's social theatres and Butlers ideas of the self as performed, inscribed through performative repetitions.

In many ways, the life class has become a historical oddity, or a kitsch anachronism confined to the nostalgia of doddering amateurs who refuse to accept the saturation of electronic images, with greater verisimilitude, distribution and influence. Most life drawings look kitsch, flat, inept and uninteresting.. There is a curious shrinking cowardice attached to the clothed artist who stares and draws from a naked human being. There are awkward residues of elitist social relations, the objectifying of one person by another, financial coercion, a power imbalance, the speaker and the spoken for. The artists who draws form the nude appears to shrink from accepting and expressing that it is only our own bodies that we can manipulate, and not the bodies of others, or cartoon copies either

I have a perverse fascination with elements of contemporary social culture that are perceived as obsolete , anachronistic or inept. This certainly fuels my own genealogical approach, and is reinforced by Derrida's writings on the margins, or parergons. So for me, studying how the body is situated in contemporary visual culture, involves studying activities that are relatively marginal, vestigial, and yet which circulate in similar economies of social and cultural exchange as other more compelling or cutting edge areas. For me, locating alternative possibilities for how bodies can be represented, experienced and communicated, requires a genealogical approach. My current research is involved with what Michel Foucault described as “the vast and tender freemasonry of useless erudition”. I am interested in anatomical history, physiology, philosophy, interrogation my own practice, and employment and I am pursuing oral history of other artists and models, at the risk of being enmeshed in a lacunae of daft empiricism.

Aside from a labyrinthine aspect of genealogical research, my thesis is largely directed by a theoretical comparison between the life class, as a specific situation of figurative presentation and representation, and theatre. By describing the life class as theatre, I hope to explore some affinities across research in performance theory and art history, which explore the nature of representation, mimesis and spectatorship. The life class has often been described as a theatre in pejorative sense, invoking passive theatrical “staged” elements of the model, the dais, the timing which have their affinities with “tableaux vivants” which were a brief craze in music halls in 19th c England. The picture that emerges is of a rather false environment that is both coy and eccentric, lying somewhere between nudist camps, and sewing circles..

To describe the life class as theatre is potentially meaningless in a discursive milieu where almost every social setting is now described as “theatrical” and all states, acts and intentions, the very condition of being is also described as performative. So apart from describing the obviously “staged” aspects of the life class; the dais as proscenium, the easels and donkeys as confining architecture by which to restrain and separate the audience of artists, and the model as a performer, I have to ask what is theatre? Is it a site of social relations defined by performer, audience and architecture? Or is it a more specific set of conventions which generate social space place of prescription, presentation representation, pedagogy? Or is it site of magic, or transcendence?- where unspeakable forces are harnessed by shaman/sorcerers and set loose upon the spectators? Is theatre a socialised site where spectators realise their own forces as well as their passivity? My research is largely informed by Artaud's ideas on theatre from theatre and its double. Artaud is attractive to contemporary cultural philosophers and art historians, but the aspects I like about the theatre of cruelty, is its condition of impossibility. When and how does “theatre” take a place? When is theatre not an imitation of life, but a force that challenges even destroys it? It is this critical, even apocalyptic notion of theatre which I like to explore. I like the ideal of theatre as a becoming, theatrical practices being those which seek to provide the conditions where this could take place. maybe I should have titled my paper, the theatre as life class?

In trying to articulate some of the aspects of what is an unwieldy field of enquiry, I have based my discussion of the analogies between performance and art theory, between the life class and the theatre on three facets. I intend to explore each facet as contentious and contested, in order to articulate them as sites for a type of reimagining, not only of the life class, but of embodiment and embodied spectatorship itself. These fields are the performance of the artists model, the performativity of the artists as spectators, and the potentially explosive aspects of the classroom and life studio as a mise en scene.

There is almost nothing written on the practice of life modelling, aside from fairly superficial biographic accounts. It is certainly hasn't been described as a metier, and has a history of being largely poorly paid, casual, unreliable amateur, and short term employment. In the 19th century this was less so, especially in Europe where whole families would work as a artists models, often for their entire lives. Part of my research involves interviewing some of the 200 artists models currently working in Sydney, to gain some empirical record of the aspects of formalised physical presentation in which they are engaged.

Many artists (and models) will state that being a good model has very little to do with stripping naked or having a “good” body, but in knowing how to pose. Posing itself is nothing like photographic or fashion models or of body building contestants, and is not an inert “display of bodily excellence” but is a type of performance. The closest description I came to what life modelling involves were in the “paroles sur le mime” by Etienne Decroux. Decroux's ideas of “mime statuaire”, of mime as being a corporal language, not aiming to translate words into gestures, but to move the body into configurations that would suggest or invoke abstract, emotional and non linguistic states.

Decroux's quotes are interesting for art history. He aligns sculpture and art with performance, and articulates the agency of the performer in arranging their own body with that of the sculpture who generates a representation. (translate quote)

Decroux is an awkward figure in the history of performance. He developed an institution of mime corporeal in the mid 20th C, when art was becoming increasingly abstract. The body that Decroux sought to explore was the idealised body of neoplatonism, isolated, reified and abstracted into idealised geometric principals. Decroux body was the utopian body of a machinic socialism, trained, disciplined, singular, and able in its rigorous materiality to break down the messy artifice of mixed theatre. Aspects of the body were conceived as a site of authenticity in the theatre, where the authority of text, scenery, props and costume were regarded as flawed, frivolous. Decroux's bodies look almost Stalinist in their almost naked effacement. Decroux presents the body as an awkward hybrid of automaton and mannequin.

Decroux's academy of mime was a training ground for some of the greatest mimes and mime actors of the 20th century, such as Jean Louis Barrrault and Marcel Morceau. What is attractive about Decroux was an insistence on the possibilities of the body as being able to convey, even create meaning that was beyond a mimicking of language or objects, but could convey something of the body itself. Decroux's words on the internal sculpture of the body are also extremely evocative. They are grounded in art history, and incorporate some of the limitations of modernist art practice. I will discuss this more, later. Buto has a had a smaller but more significant impact on contemporary performance theory. Ichikata's ideas on the body in flux, and on the relationships between bodies and objects have a strong affinity with Deleuze's ideas on the BWO, a mutable whole of surface exchanges rather than a reductivist specialisation and isolation of certain internally viewed but largely abstract anatomical zones.

Decroux's mime statuaire aimed to invoke the arrested tension of Rodin's sculpture. Rodin's sculptures were actually assemblages of sections that were modelled and cast separately. It is almost impossible for a live model to pose in the contorted arrangements of a Rodin sculpture, or to sustain the position for a duration of a sculpture class. (6 and 30 hours). Rodin's forms are based on movement and not repose. St. Martins school of art were exploring how to generate the type of mobile tension. Models would twist and hold parts of their bodies in succession, and sculptors would work with them. Almost like a form of contact improvisation. And what I really found attractive in this movement was that it explored the artists own body, the body that performed, than mimed the model, that enacted gesture and used gesture as a residue. This movement emerged in the later 70s and early 80's and then seemed to vanish, with education cuts, and also a art historical milieu in England that was profoundly hostile towards the body.

The criticism of the life class that emerged on most feminist texts from the 1970's and 1980's, relied on theories of spectatorship which implied that the viewers, artists, were voyeurs, or passive spectators. The typical analysis described the female nude (model) as operating as a metonym for men's own physical embodiment, sexuality, irrationality etc., in effect functioning as a phantasm of the men's own selves projected on to women. The platonic ideal, represented by the nude, being encapsulated in such words as beauty, sublime etc. really was little more than the phallus, and had nothing to do with representing actual women. This totalising view of the nude, while elucidating some of the socialised and gendered grounding in which images of the nude circulated, has had very little to say about how these images have been produced, and what they consist of. (male) Artists working from (female) naked models were conflated with (male) spectators of naked images of women. These were described as intrinsically complicit or directive of the voyeuristic gaze of the spectator. Most of these theories were derived from structuralist theories of popular culture and film, and then adopted by art theory. And what they do is to collapse all image making into the same order of activity. Photography was located as a uncontested heir to the apparent verisimilitude of slick looking 19th Cc salon paintings. the determining capacity of the images was ascribed to what they were representing, rather than what residues of their production or construction were legible.

What these types of analyses ignored were they types of temporal differences intrinsic to differing mediums. Photography in the 20th C became largely instant. Even though a photography shoot may take hours, it consists of a mechanical recording of a series of multiple glances, which mirror, more closely the types of looking that viewers of 2D images have. Drawings and paintings however are much slower, and sculpture even more so. The act of life drawing is largely dependant on the model, and also on the artists own physical capacities to mimetically reproduce their (controlled) or uncontrolled visual and physical responses to the model in front of them. Given this perspective, the artist is no longer a type of voyeur, spying the singular performance of the model, but a type of participant in the performance, but not quite a central performer, but a participating witness. A witness is different form a spectator, they feel a part of what they are watching, they feel impelled towards and action from it.

My intervention into art theory with this project is largely to articulate figurative images in terms of the embodied gestures of the artists. Again this is largely Artaudian. In its search beyond the “text” or language, to a stammering onomatopoeia of movements and noises which convey something beyond language. I don't look at figurative images in terms of the narrative of what is being pictorially depicted or represented, but look at the traces of gestures, the marks, the residues of embodiment , the artefacts of gestures, movements made by the artists. This is what gives the work its temporal edge. Drawings and paintings are not taken, they are not located in an instant, but occur in a state of duration, over time. They are a product of multiple glances, actions movements, blinking. The artists is not struggling with the less than ideal body in front of them so much as their own less than ideal dexterity in tyring to represent the body in front of them. What is the nature of this trace? Is it a tracing off a mimetic gesture, imitating the pose (not often? is it a tracing of a series of gazes, often a disciplining of the stochastic glances to a linear progression along contours? Is this is what is represented by a line?

I'd differentiate between an artist and performer, in that a performer does not generate a plastic residue of their actions. A performance is isolated spatially and temporally within the theatrical timeframe. Art generate residues, (images, objects) that transmit something of the performance beyond its immediate situation. Possibly these image residues can be seen as analogous to text, and the way that oral histories and stories and songs get transcribed and written into text, but I'm not sure. Writing is largely governed by fairly strict semiotic conventions. While spoken language can be stretched, strained murmured interjected and distorted, written languages have fairly straightforward rules for the translation of phonetics into written text. The nature of the rules for drawing, or painting have been considerably challenged however. The “decline of academic life drawing” has meant that contemporary figurative images are heterogeneous and not so much lack verisimilitude, but are characterised by an absence of conventions for how marks on a page, canvas or on an object are articulated as either gestural or representative signifiers. Art historians don't have any sort of consensus on ascribing the representative capacities of various visual elements (be they formal, abstract, gestural or representational) to any sort of “authentic” theatre of mimetic exchange.

The sort of academic or avant-garde scepticism towards linking plastic images with any project of authentic representation is what fuelled contemporary movements of performance art. This is also called “body art” in art history circles. Performance art, is meant to enable theatre to take a place within the refractory viewing spaces of the art gallery. Most performance art interventions have been informed by surrealism and Artaud's ideas of the theatre not as imitating life, but of providing the conditions for a transformation of reality. The mise en scene of the gallery, with viewers ambulating around art objects and through a space dedicated to internalised visual contemplation is fecund as an alternative theatrical architecture. Viewers and actors are less separated, viewers are not constrained within the theatre but can enter or leave (especially in durational pieces), viewers are occasionally invited to participate or collaborate with the performer. Many of these pieces are reminiscent of guerrilla theatre, underground theatre, situationist stunts like “massing” or even TAZ interventions like raves. Presenting an inflective culture, which intersects with life, mimics it and in miming it as a sort of disruption generates a challenge to social conventions of passivity.

What I like less about performance art is the type of “knowing passivity” enacted by the sophisticated art connoisseur. I know from my own gallery performances, that viewers are reluctant to even laugh let alone participate, speak , question or engage with the performance. So I think that performance art needs to be activated by discourses and practices that energise the spectator to be an active witness, not a cool voyeur. I really like some of the reflexive interventions by Mike Parr recently, where he has articulated and acted on his own spectatorship of the mass media, and generated a hysterical mimetic response. Also what Parr has done with this as well is to exploit the mise en scenes of his performances. Parr has used durational pieces, the recording, representation and transmission of his durational pieces, the transmission of these representations and the construction of virtual and physical forums for spectatorship. By inviting an online audience to torture him remotely, he disrupted the cool remoteness of electronic communication, and in his durational work, he invited the audience, ambulant where he was immobile to witness his suffering directly. Parr's and Abramowicz's work from the 1970's both pushed the boundaries between performer and audience to an almost fatal limit, which is terrifying. Possibly what is the most unnerving of this type of guerrilla theatre is the risk involved if spectators refuse to play “with” the performer, or `with” the spectators. Just as in pedagogical theatres of classrooms, seminars etc., the performance is predicated on the establishment of an artificial realm or one bound by separate and distinct rules of behaviour. Otherwise the performer, the initiator, the medium or shaman is too vulnerable.??????

This leads into the area of life class, which I believe has the most possibilities for a volatile engagement with the becoming of theatre, and that is the mise en scene elements.


There have been precious few attempts made to activate or even articulate the volatile elements of the life class, since the nineteenth century. The most obviously volatile element of the life class, and one which made it the centre for literature, legal and even theatrical concerns was its role in the presentations and regulation of sexuality. The issues which were once largely confined to the life class in the 19C have in the 20th C, been mostly encompassed by the proliferation of explicitly erotic or pornographic photographs, films, literature, websites in the commodities domestic sphere, and by the proliferation of strip shows and other social theatres connected with the sex and hospitality industries, such as parlours of brothels and massage parlours, escort agencies, phone sex agencies and topless bars. Life classes proliferate in “recreational arts” spheres largely in continuation of the tame but slightly risqué nostalgia for 19th bohemia. Many sketch clubs feature artists models that present themselves according to the conventions of eroticised display and comportment associated with mainstream visual culture (i.e. they are young adults, slender, female), and are dominated in many cases by the types of heterosexist, masculine scopic regimes criticised by most feminists.

Comparisons between erotic art, erotica performance and the life class are easy to make. The pedagogical role of the life class in representing and regulating the display of sexuality has been largely superseded by pornography, and the proliferation of “obscene” practices, images and fantasies in the littoral zones of hyperspace and the personals columns. These contemporary social theatres of sexual (re)presentation are more compelling to cultural theorists than the life class, so it is of limited interest for me to explore these areas of the life class further. I believe it's possibilities for the regulation and exploration of sexuality per se have been exhausted.

However there are other volatile elements of the life class, concerning spectatorship and death. Performances are usually isolated temporally and spatially to a theatre, or performance venue, be that an interactive website, a theatre or a temporal intervention in public space. There are often video or photographic records of such performances which circulate later, but they function as an unmarked evidence of the event. With the life class, involves a type of spectatorship specifically geared to creating gestural and mimetic residues of a performance. These residues function to create a second sphere of spectatorship, that of the gallery audience of the images and objects, which are far less legibile “records” of performance as a type of secondary performative, gestural utterance themselves., and they challenge the “scopic regime” within the life class itself. By creating an mimetic image or a gestural residue of their spectatorship of the model as performer, the artist, and the work of the artist becomes the subject of the models own spectatorship.

I regard this volatile element of the life class, which has been largely overlooked in art history is the unstable and reciprocal roles of spectatorship between model and artist, and the types of agency or action that spectatorship can imply. Artists are acknowledged as audiences for models, and who need to control and regulate their own movements so as not to violate the models vulnerability as naked, and not interferes with or breaks the performance. However models are audiences for the artists own performance in mart making and are bound by a silent contract, not to interfere with, comment on or disrupt the artists own artwork. Tamar Garb story about the male model and female spectator. The invisible spectator, removed form the performer is less vulnerable. Which returns me to the conundrum of what drawing/painting a body actually is. How is it different from gawking at someone, glancing at them, staring at them, taking a snapshot of them, or acting on their body. It has elements of all of these tings. I feel it is less invasive than taking a photograph of someone, and yet insomuch less personal than touching someone. I feel violated when artists and students touch me when `m posing and horrified that they presume it is their right to do so.

So what I hope to do, in describing the life class as a theatre, is to imagine these volatile elements, and to imaging the life class potentially as an Artaudian theatre and as something which does not exist, and is destroyed at the point where it takes place..

I don't' regard this as a privileged site of authentic representation of the body. Not at all, but I see it as a space where spectatorship can potentially be enlivened (which is not happening at the Arthaus pub). Life drawings a s a set of plays, imaginary games, games with textures, gestures, desires, reimaginings, and a space where representation, as repetition can have polyphanic resonance. Not an exchange between image, self and commodity. But self, image, abstraction, performance, imitation, imagination, gesture, the substrate of stuff.

If I had seen parrs performance, I would have probably drawn him, as this is how I know how to bear witness to something or someone. This is how I know how to be present with someone or something and to enter a space of active conscious stillness. I'm not sure if he would have liked this to happen. Parr's performance evoked to a lot of what Scarry wrote in “the body in pain”, and also what Lingis wrote in “the community of those who have nothing in common.” Pin is that which destroys language and destroys meaning. Witnessing pain is horrible because we are witnessing someone's own incapacity to articulate or contain their affective sensation, and we are taken into a space where meaning no longer operates according to the rule of simulacra (a representation of a representation of a representation. All of which function as units of exchange) but into a space of death, death being a finality that cannot be exchanged. As Foucault says dying is a pure event that can never verify anything. It cannot be exchanged, or reversed and cannot really be represented. Death is a great unnamed unbearable mystery that is only really cognicised in the individual trauma of grief. As Lingis writes however, death is the immanent condition for living, and life is the activity which we carve out of death. Lingis also described the importance of being with those who are passing form life into death, of bearing witness to the most singular and isolating experience that exists. This is where I start to wonder about what spectatorship is, what is bearing witness, and what is appropriating or violating someone's experiences by representing it, or what is giving it expression. If pain (and death) is characterized by its own unspeakability, it's own unrepresentability then for someone to depict or represent someone else's pain is to a certain extent to speak for them, which is problematic.

My own awareness of this dilemma real only emerged in the past year. As an artists model I have a social circle of friends who are models and artists, some who are models only. I have modelled with some friends, and drawn others, and others have drawn me. So I am familiar with a type of mimetic exchange and comfortable with it. The last `doubles” gig I did was with a friend, with whom I'd collaborated on guerrilla theatre performance projects and also drawn. We'd done a series of crazy poses, standing on our heads, pretending to throttle each other, whip each other, writhe on the ground and culminated with a six hour tableaux vivant from Gericaults raft of the medusa. He was crouched in a slump of despair while I slid off the dais in contorted death agonies using a type of shoulder stand where I rested on his shoulders. All fun stuff and a very intimate and precious experience, because models posing together have a type of complicity. Because we are performing “silent” models are able to speak, quietly, and implicitly in the double modelling are the quite comments, gestures and squeezes where we feel each other's pain thresholds and physical limits. Talking is a great distraction from pain and discomfort of extended poses. Anyway the next time my accomplice modelled, I persuaded him to be tied to a crucifix and pretend he was Jesus dying on the cross. A few weeks alter he was diagnosed with cancer. I found at that point impossible to imagine drawing him, because I knew that all I would be seeing would be his corpse. Earlier this year he had to go into hospital and his partner (also an artist and model) kept a vigil by his bedside and took her watercolours to draw him. We'd all read Lingis and all decided that spending time with him was the best way we could show our support. We were all sitting around drawing each other pretty much. That's what artists do. When our friend saw this he was horrified at the thought that we would draw him in hospital bed, and expressed it as a violation. He wasn't presenting himself to us, he wasn't in control of how he was presented before us, and he wasn't in control of his body, or able to understand or articulate what was happening, at all. My last memory of him is of a type of wild eyed terror and rage, a desperate rage to cling to life. Actually my last memory of him was the last time I read his weblog from April, and the last brushmark I put on a painting of him that I finished after his death. What art objects do (like written texts) is they change temporal order. Time doesn't proceed in a sequence but loops backwards and forwards, in the way that memory does. The way we carry objects with us, horde, discard, exchange, destroy, create and collage them is a similar way to how we actualise our experiences and memories. I think that this looping, this disruption of the continuum off birth, life, death is a way we have to try to mediate death, to cheat it, to alternate it, even generate a simulacra of it that can be exchanged.

I guess this is anecdote is a long winded way of arriving at my argument that the life class is a theatre which is based around exploring and representing and deferring death. I believe that this largely overlooked aspect of the life class can elucidate why the life class would have persisted and proliferated when its capacity to express and regulate sexuality has become largely redundant. My research involves exploring this form a social history of medical anatomy and the life class, as well as a discussion of how the practices of a life class, mimic and mediate death. The historical emergence of the life class coincided with a significant historical changes in the way in which they dying, death and corpses were institutionalised and exhumed from the social spheres. Michel Foucault described the emergence of social institutions in the nineteenth century which regulated and institutionalised madness, deviance, illness, criminality and sexuality, and also discusses the history of medicine in a way in institutionalising and isolating death. A lot of recent art historical research is exploring the links with the history of anatomy, and social histories of medicine are emerging with social histories of art.

Recently I came across an account of a demonstration of electricity on the nerves of a man, hung at the gallows, and reanimated in a demonstration of electricity. Previous to this I'd read a number of startling descriptions of how ecorches or flayed figures, which are standard prop in old style art schools were created, and been horrified. The Ecorche, a “flayed St Bartholomew” was actually made from a criminal, who had been hung, flayed, arranged in the pose and then cast in plaster. No art or artifice was used in representing the exactitude of the muscular structure. Just a kind of macabre sadism. Other texts recount how the bodies of criminals and the poor were used for anatomical study, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. This coincided with two social developments, one was the removal of executions form the public sphere to the walled realm of the gaol, and the second was the emergence of the public hospital as the place where dying and preparation of the dead for burial took place, instead of the family home. This was true initially especially for poor people, but later spread.

In most art institutions, students spent from one to two years drawing from plaster casts of ecorches. These were more popular than classical casts of Venus, who was deemed in England to be too erotic. These ecorches were known to be live casts from recently hung criminals. People must have been aware that they were coming as close to drawing the dead as possible.

The second aspect relates to the practices of the life class and life modelling. Life models work naked, and they hold a series of poses that are still. Acting in “freeze frame”, playing statues. In the 19th century a craze swept through the theatre called “tableaux vivants” I'm tyring to see if there is any literature on this and why it was so popular, apart from the references of actors pretending to be paintings. What I believe is occurring is that the life class is the one accessible theatre where death is enacted, or mimicked, and where people can mimic it in turn. The model's alternance between stillness and movement is one contributor to this atmosphere of playing Lazarus, also the model is naked, which sets them apart from the drawers as a type of shaman. but other aspects of modelling and drawing lead me to conclude that this is what is going on.

Working as a model, often the poses that come to mind are ones from paintings or sculpture, and half of the fun is pretending to be a work of art, but the other aspect is holding “death” poses, and the more tortured and contorted, the better. The atmosphere of the life class is like watching a group of people in a trance. Drawing from a model is largely an experience of being in a trance, acting spontaneously or automatically in a state of suspended animation. What models do is not so much strip or display their bodies, but enact a state of suspended animation, and try to induce an affinitive response in the audience. A “good” model is someone who can induce this trance like state, who can fascinate and mesmerise the audience, and it isn't usually through beauty or extraordinary feats of contortion and endurance. (although the latter help), what is mesmerising in a model is to witness a believable metamorphosis, not between model and statue but between model and corpse. This requires a curious type of absent presence. The model doesn't become a corpse for the duration of the pose but hovers between a lifelike and a deathlike state, generating a feeling of suspense, and a sense of an imperative to respond - to “catch” the pose before it changes. To pose, and to adopt a position that is credible as a pose is not to “act natural” at all but to act profoundly unnaturally, to generate a suspension of belief. If to watch a pose is to witness a type of endurance, or suffering or alternation with death, drawing is to participate in its magic. In a drawing we try to capture the moment between life and death when a body hovers at the point of being a statue before resuming its fluid mobile state.

I like the Aristotelian idea of the theatre as a space of learning, and the idea of mimetic gesturing as the primeval act of knowing and cognising phenomena. I think theatres should be spaces where the “audience” becomes witnesses rather than voyeurs and are compelled to take that witnessing into our own lives. Where people have a space to mimic, to incorporate what is performed in front of us. I am still uneasy about the role of spectatorship, witnessing, retelling or representation of theatres, conventional of Artaudian theatres. And hope that my presence here today may create some cross fertilizations in the reflective thinking and practice of cultural interventions that may enable theatre to take a place.