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Artist Rachelle Beaudoin on Kathleen Hanna's "Slut" proclamation and co-opted sexuality

Artist Rachelle Beaudoin on Kathleen Hanna's "Slut" proclamation and co-opted sexuality

Artist Rachelle Beaudoin examines the female identity in popular culture using commercial icongraphy. Challenging what is presented as mainstream feminine sexuality, Beaudoin's take on figure-shaping and labeling is as jarring as it is thought-provoking. This Saturday, March 16, Beaudoin will be performing selected pieces of her work, alongside poetry readings by Eric Baus.

In advance of this event, the artist and professor spoke to Westword from her current residency at Anderson Arts Center in Snowmass about the selective censorship of her work, and the examination of the self-sexualization of women in American culture.

See also: - Photos: On Being a Woman at Wazee Union, 2/18/11 - MCA Denver's Feminism & Co. 2013 lineup announced - Meet the 2013 MasterMinds: Counterpath Press

Westword: What will you be presenting at this particular event at Counterpath?

Rachelle Beaudoin: I'm going to do three different performances kind of relating to clothing, underwear and intimacy in different ways. The first one is called "Locker Room Tease"; it's a piece that I initially performed for a webcam art show, Low Lives. It's where different people do performances all over the world at set times, and they could be viewed at UStream.

This piece involves taking on and off clothes without getting completely nude. It comes out of these experiences I've had growing up and playing sports -- girls teaching each other tricks to take off a bra and put on another bra.

The next is called "Booty Pop" and it uses these commercially available underwear called Booty Pop that I layer on top of each other. They are supposed to make you look more desirable, but the more I layer them, the more monstrous and undesirable the form becomes. It's kind a like a soft sculpture using my body and these available products altering them.

I tried to get Booty Pop to sponsor me, but they only offered me like a discount on 144 pairs of underwear. (Laughs.) I was like, well, I don't really need that many.

The other piece, "Absolute Control," has never been performed before, live - I've just done it for video. It's sort of the opposite of Booty Pop; I am using all sorts of Spanx, wearing them to create an uber smooth silhouette, almost like a mummy character.

I love this idea of sharing tricks of concealment in a place like a locker room, where we're supposed to be taking off our clothes. I distinctly remember when I learned the bra-through-the-shirt-sleeve trick.

Playing women's ice hockey, I felt like growing up, there would be more sex positive, body positive people. But yeah, we would always change our bras that way - constantly never walking around with anything on.

 

I read that a few years back, an exhibition of your running piece, "Cheer Shorts!," had to be censored - or put behind a curtain at a gallery show.

It was actually at a state college where I taught in New Hampshire. People basically said it would be okay for a faculty show, and then later someone on staff came in before the show opened and said he found them offensive. It ended up being really interesting hearing what his actual complaint was. But the solution was to cover them up, so you had to actively pull open this curtain to look at them -- which, of course, just made it more interesting to the audience. In a way, it just made the piece blow up more for me. I think it worked out fine.

In the end, his complaint actually had a lot to do with academic structure; he was sort of treating the gallery as just another place on campus. (A place) where he as a staff person couldn't use the language that was on the shorts, so how come, because I'm a professor, I could use that language?

It was an interesting issue, when looking at people who all work together at the same institution. It turned out to be really fascinating - even though I felt he was in the wrong for being so upset about it. But when it was all said and done, I can appreciate his position, even if I disagree with it.

The "Cheer Shorts" are such an interesting piece because we see little girls in mass-produced apparel with similar things written on them, except they are under this view of what is supposed to be socially acceptable and "cute," versus literal.

Yeah, you know I first started thinking about this when I was teaching middle and high school art. This girl had a Playboy Bunny shirt on and she was in seventh grade -- I thought, oh, this is going to be a weird conversation where I have to send her home. But before I tried to talk to her about it or asked her to change, I asked her, what do you think this means?

She said, "It means cute! Cute and fun." I said, do you know that it means more than that? Do you know that there are other associations? It was this weird thing where I was trying to get her to say it, and she wouldn't say it - but maybe to her, it's all it did mean.

That got me thinking about all of these shorts that were so popular: "Juicy" and "Pink." I thought, those are implicit; what if you made them explicit? What if you made it kind of, it is what it is. The first time, to my surprise, there was very little reaction to it, in public. And I almost think the same man who complained about them in the gallery wouldn't complain about them in public. They would be under that veil of, "oh those are cute," or, "oh, it's not my place to (say anything.)" Because no one says anything in public, even though the language was the same.

I started to really think about this line of how something can start out as being empowering and then become self-sexualizing and self-objectifying and the weird line between those two things. That research kind of lead me to maybe the first time Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill wrote "slut" on her stomach -- it was super empowering. She asked all of the boys to leave the room.

But so quickly, within two years, it was then pushed over into some form of "girl power." And then, to some form of these like Abercrombie-style T-shirts that said "Pink" and "Juicy" and even worse, like "who needs brains when you have these?"

We know how easily things get co-opted 0- it may be that people feel empowered to a certain point, but then when does it switch over? It's the same with like, stripper workouts, or something. It's a funny place, and I'm very interested in it.

Me, too. I'm fascinated by what gets appropriated or co-opted - especially when women start to own these super bizarre labels.

It was so pervasive when I was doing that piece -- I just saw article after article about these shirts getting banned. JC Penney even had a shirt for girls that said, "Math is hard" or "I hate math" or something. Even around Christmas, I remember seeing this like, sexy Christmas shirt that said "Vixen" and it had a reindeer on it. Like, really? This is where we're at right now? I'd rather wear an ugly sweater.

Especially when it's marketed toward little girls - who don't really have an understanding of how detrimental these labels are. I think a lot of it is, I don't want to be against women showing their sexuality. But I think the type of sexuality is very one-sided. So these shorts or shirts are all one expression. I think there's a lot of other ways women can express their sexuality that don't go back towards this more porn-inspired version.

Saturday's performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at Counterpath, 613 22nd Street; the event is free. For more information, visit Counterpath's website.


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