The Second Sex
28 October - 14 November, 2015
28 October - 14 November, 2015
The Second Sex,
Works made with paper by Ness Alexandra
My arts practice explores a perspective on a suburban Australian woman and the space in which marketing and media interacts with self-perception in western society. This has taken many forms, from utilising typically female objects such as tampons to make flowers, or advertising materials to make the shape of a women. My last exhibition, “She Is…” focused on the allure and dis-empowerment of female marketing in glossy, mass market women’s fashion magazines. Inspired by themes from Naomi Woof’s The Beauty Myth the show examined the power and fascination of these images alongside their insidious function to disarm the reader and reduce her status politically and economically.
For this exhibition, it seemed like a natural next step to incorporate words into my paintings and sculptures. Cutting up and rearranging feminist texts in the shapes of women, is at once destructive and creative, remixing the gospels to create the foundation of each form, with specific words or chapter headings as highlights in the creations. One reading of this approach is literal – a blatant way of expressing the concept of the subconscious feminist influences suburban Australian women absorb.
I chose three recognisable books that have had an influence on the feminist movement in the last century, most notably The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, a French philosopher. In 1946, de Beauvoir began to write her landmark study of women. It became a milestone in feminist philosophy and, one that inspired other feminists texts such as Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique and Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics. I have to admit, I find the text long (over 700 pages), overbearing and, densely philosophical, but the shimmer and emotional memory retained from past readings inspired the sense of this show. What does the book mean to me now? Is it a clichéd signifier of a marketed concept of feminism, along with The Female Eunuch and The Beauty Myth? Labelled but not understood? The “sense of outrage and injustice” resonates. Are the reasons women have been forced to accept a place in society secondary to that of men, despite the fact that women constitute half the human race still contemporary? What happens when those words are crafted into an image of female form? Does it trivialise their intent? Or by stripping, painting and breaking the words and weaving them together anew as the fundamental scaffold of her form, does it reignite new destiny and perspective?
All works are made with paper to empower the link to the written word. By creating this self-imposed limitation, I was liberated to play with one of my favourite mediums, while giving a unity to the final collection in the show. The archival standard in each work has been part of the development of my practise, I have used UV varnishes and fixatives, acid free glues, as well making my own paints with raw pigment & acrylic medium. Although time consuming, I enjoyed the resulting control over colour density.
Collage is an organic and valid way to bring old to new; it adds texture and depth to a work both physically and thematically. I have been influenced by Mark Bradford’s beautiful erasure techniques, where he removes layers of paint he has placed on street posters and William Kentridge’s charcoal drawings on newspapers and books, that feel immediate, slightly unfinished and emotive. The Kentridge influence can be seen in the netball drawings.
The series of Netball drawings are from one game I photographed late in 2014, I was inspired by the dynamic shapes and movement captured in just one game. Netball is the largest female sport in Australia and a personal passion. As with the collaged feminist texts, I am asking the viewer to consider why women are still the second sex in sport, a traditionally male dominated arena. Emphasised when media reportage is limited and in the recent past national finals haven’t been played live on free to air TV in favour of a male sport.
The movement and stances in these images capture a strength and “otherness” as defined by De Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”. Instead of being an object or in opposition to men, they play competitively against each other as equals.
It is four decades on from Greer’s “Eunuch”, and defining a feminist understanding is more complex and nuanced that ever. My art practise highlights the importance of asking questions and revisiting personal definitions and boundaries of feminism. Still relevant and evolving in a current context where women’s circumstances seem to have progressed very little. A recent campaign by ANZs female CEO, called “Equal Future” summarised the inequality simply:
1. Globally women make up 40% of the work force and only control a ¼ of the worlds wealth;
2. Globally less than 25% of senior management positions are held by women;
3. Globally, women make up less than 20% of government;
4. Women earn up to 36% less than men
5. 31 million girls worldwide are deprived of a primary education
Girls start off so far ahead but the system’s not designed to let them succeed.
 ‘The Social Significance of Sport’ (1989) makes the point that gender stereotypes exist across society and within its various institutions, and sport has a traditional stereotype of being a male dominated activity.