In her Prime or Past it?: Reconsidering the Male Gaze and Exploring Feminine Monstrosity and Excess in Feminist Performance Art and Film




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This thesis works to re-envisage Laura Mulvey’s 1975 theory of the male gaze, to uncover the subversive potential of that re-envisaging process when explored and questioned through feminist performance art. This is a practice-based PhD that uses interdisciplinary approaches to investigate the agentive potential of alternative and monstrous femininity that deconstructs women’s relationship to the masculinised gaze. I work to unveil alternative feminist possibilities of utilising female film archetypes, such as the young, apparently naïve and exploitable Hollywood ‘starlet’ and the ageing ‘diva’ actress, whilst simultaneously building on the agentive work of female performance artists when making my own intermedial performance practice. This thesis works in dialogue with Mulvey’s recent revisitations of her germinal essay, whilst also engaging with wider feminist theory to make visible the process of attempting to explode the male gaze, specifically drawing upon Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous’s germinal texts. These writings are particularly useful due to their emphasis on feminine multiplicity, excess, and embodied challenge; all notions key to this research. In the same decade of Mulvey’s publication, a legacy of feminist performance art had begun, which directly challenged the idea of the female body as consumable spectacle, and instead worked to celebrate its agency and autonomy. Throughout this thesis, I build upon the work of feminist performance artists in my writing and practice, who use subversive modes of femininity that reject this notion of masculinised objectification. This includes work by artists that were active throughout the 60s and 70s, such as sex positive artist Penny Slinger and interdisciplinary artist Eleanor Antin, along with more contemporaneous artists who have emerged more recently, like feminist performance artist Lauren Barri Holstein. I place my own practice in dialogue with the feminist artists that have influenced and shaped my work, and use my performance art to facilitate new ways of thinking about and challenging theorisations of the male gaze, whilst demonstrating contemporary ways of using digital practice to deconstruct archetypal performances of women on screen. This providing of deconstruction offers further feminist challenges to patriarchal structures that trade women’s bodies, along with offering beneficial revelations for the female artist who might make productive use of those archetypes.





Research Institute