Genre and Subjectification in Janine Antoni’s Loving Care
In her 2008 book, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in Popular Culture, Lauren Berlant writes, “femininity is a genre… an aesthetic structure of affective expectation… promising that the persons transacting with it will experience the pleasure of encountering what they expected, with details varying in the theme”. This perspective provides a grounding for Berlant to argue that popular culture offers conventions of female experience marked by sentimentality, specifically, the disappointments in the relationship between fantasy and lived intimacy. Central to Berlant’s work is a desire for conventionality- through adherence to convention, one becomes a social subject. This echoes but is distinct from the work of poststructuralists, who regards the assumption of a sexual identification as how one moves out of the abject into the social realm. The interaction between an individual and the genre of femininity as domestic, intimate, and emotionally fraught is useful to understanding Janine Antoni’s 1993 performance Loving Care. In Loving Care, the artist dipped her hair in a bucket of black hair dye and, on her hands a knees, used it to mop the floor. This essay will argue that Antoni’s performance is a self-conscious reiteration (and exaggeration) of feminine convention. Through dying hair and mopping, Loving Care shows the desire to become a social subject, a woman. Through representions, womanhood has developed a shared understanding of being inherently straining and tenuous, with its obligations of beauty and emotional labor as prerequisite to social belonging and desirability. Antoni’s performance will be analyzed as an experience imagined by the viewer, one that attempts to perform the process of the formation of a subjectivity.
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