Defining the body
The human body is fundamental to how we understand aspects of identity such as gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity. Individuals typically adjust and alter their body image to conform with or rebel against social conventions and to express messages to others around them.
The body in art
The 1960s witnessed the beginning of a series of dramatic nongovernmental social movements engaged in activism related to the issues of human rights. These included the civil rights movement which included resistance to colonialism, imperialism, slavery, racism, patriarchy, apartheid and oppression of indigenous peoples; as well as women’s rights in relation to sexuality, reproductive rights, the family and workplace; and gay rights. As the body is a site for expressing identity, many artists began to see the body as a way of commenting on identity politics – gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity - as well as to develop new concepts of art.
Contemporary Art of Today: The Body (2017) by Modern Art OxfordModern Art Oxford
The body as art
Many artists forefront the physical body as the site for their work. Since the 1950s, Stuart Brisley has been a pioneer of performance art, using his body in radical and innovative ways. Brisley’s most iconic work traces enduring themes such as the body as a tool for directly addressing individual autonomy and fundamental notions of power, authority, community and freedom.
Ending Imperfect (A Provisional Title) (2011/2011) by Stuart BrisleyModern Art Oxford
Embracing performance as an autonomous foundation for a new rapport between artist and audience, Brisley often exposed his own body to danger, discomfort and durational stress to make highly charged works.
Chair (2011/2011) by Stuart BrisleyModern Art Oxford
Brisley's 2014 exhibition, 'State of Denmark' surveyed the breadth and inventiveness of the artist's work and asserts his influence of one of the most important and enduring voices in international contemporary art.
The body as a contemporary medium
Artists today continue to explore a complex range of ideas relating to the body from notions of sexuality and gender, to the impact of artificial intelligence and notions of the post-human.
Lynn Hershman Leeson's 2015 exhibition at Modern Art Oxford included the Roberta Breitmore Archive. In the late '70s, Hershman Leeson conceived, constructed and lived as the fictional persona and alter-ego Roberta Breitmore. A fully-fledged and complete personality who existed over an extended period of time, Roberta's existence was 'proven' in the world through physical evidence, from a driver's license and credit card, to letters from her psychiatrist. The artist even captured documentation through a private detective she hired to follow Roberta.
Eva Kotatkova uses video, photography, found objects and drawings as records of her own performances, working collaboratively to explore the language of sculpture and to reevaluate so-called normal situations. Her works are proposals for living in an awkward age; blueprints for difficulties that must be overcome in order to explore limits of human relationships and behaviour.
A Storyteller's Inadequacy (2013/2014) by Eva KotatkovaModern Art Oxford
Working with a group of performers at Modern Art Oxford, Kotatkova created a series of tableaux in the galleries; each work presents a performer connected with an object to form a ‘living’ part of a sculpture.
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