In search of the subject : locating the shifting politics of women's performance art
From the late 1960s to the present, women have utilised performance art as a 'form' with which to resist, transgress, contest or reveal the position of women within wider society. However, as both the nature of feminist politics and the contexts within which the work has been produced have changed, the enactment of such oppositional strategies has also shifted. This thesis aims to locate and account for such shifts by mapping multiple subjects, including performance art, feminism(s), contemporary theory, performers and women's performance art. In the late 1960s throughout the 1970s, the strategies most often utilised by women performance artists either offered alternative, supposedly more 'truthful' representations which drew on the real, material lives of women, or completely reimagined woman, locating her in a place before or outside of the patriarchal structure. From the 1980s onwards, however, the practice of women's performance art looks somewhat different. While performers continue to contest the material conditions and results of being positioned as female in Western society, such contestations are now often enacted from within what might be considered a 'deconstructive' or 'poststructuralist' frame. Acknowledging the impossibility of ever representing the 'real' woman, since 'woman' is always already a representation (and is always multiple), I suggest that the aim of this work is therefore not so much to reveal the 'real' woman behind the fiction, but to take apart the fiction itself, revealing the way in which the signifier 'woman' has been differentially constructed, for what purpose, and with what real effects. I have nominated this shift as a movement from a performance and politics of identity to a performance and politics of subjectivity.