Men love talking about women. At least then they don’t have to talk about themselves. How is it that in thirty years no man has produced the slightest innovative work on masculinity? They are so expert, so voluble when it comes to holding forth about women, so why this silence when it comes to themselves? We know that the more they speak the less they say – of essentials, of what they really think. [...] Liberating ourselves from male chauvinism – such a stupid trap, fit only for idiots. Admitting that we don’t give a damn about respecting roles and qualities. A system of forced masquerade. What autonomy is so terrifying to men that they continue to remain silent, not inventing anything? Producing no new, critical or creative discourse about their own situation? How long do we have to wait for male emancipation? It’s up to them, to you, to take your independence.
Virginie Despentes, King Kong Theory, Grasset, 2006 (Serpent’s Tail, 2009, p. 127-129)
The exhibition “Chercher le garcon” brings together a hundred or so male artists who, in one way or another, are challenging and destabilizing established models. In rejecting all manner of authoritarianism, and questioning the values traditionally associated with masculinity (effectiveness, authority, heroism, conquest, strength, etc.), the works here all offer strategies which withstand and re-define the masculine paradigm. In them, the masculine is called into questions in all its plasticity. Anthropology has taught us that the minimal and irreducible difference between the male and the female involves the different places occupied in the chain of procreation. The rest is social construction, rooted and dependent on places, periods and cultures.
Favouring slowness, the fall, failure and the invisible, playing with codes representing the masculine idea which, according to George L. Mosse, are “all pervasive in Western culture”,* creating a crisis within a whole utopian and modernist history of art, and thus questioning the artist’s place and function, these works make art history stammer, and are situated rather on the side of the minor (Gilles Deleuze) and the molecular revolutions dear to Félix Guattari. The exhibition develops an approach oriented towards artists and works which can be understood on the basis of feminist theories and stances emerging since the 1960s.
Or how feminism, seen as an undertaking deconstructing every manner of system of domination, informs contemporary creation within a necessary perspective anchoring art in an arena of reflection and analysis of contemporary reality.
In Giovanna Zapperi’s introduction to Carla Lonzi’s book Autoportrait (1969), she describes the contribution made by feminist studies to the history of art as a shift from “the statement of an authoritarian ego to the expression of a multiple and fragmented subject”. She goes on: “Producing knowledge based on subjective experience is one of the distinctive features of feminist practices”, which is rooted in “the narrative of self, the supremacy of subjectivity and the pleasure of conversation”. The works brought together here result from this dynamic: in them, artists express themselves in the first person singular, taking charge of the narration of their own subjectivities.
For, as Virginie Despentes writes: “Feminism is a revolution, not a rearranged marketing strategy, or some kind of promotion of fellatio or swinging; not just a matter of increasing secondary wages. Feminism is a collective adventure, for women, men, and everyone else. A revolution, well under way. A worldview. A choice. It’s not a matter of contrasting women’s small advantages with men’s small assets, but of sending the whole lot flying.” (op. cit. p. 130–131).
If we regard feminism as a theoretical and practical endeavour to resist ALL forms of domination, if we consider that patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity are ideological forms to be fought against, then it seems important and urgent to raise questions about the masculine. To deconstruct it. And to open up a space where men would talk about themselves and their condition, in all conscience.
Obviously enough, it is not a matter of sorting out the question of the exhibition being partial, biased and subjective, but, quite to the contrary, of initiating a line of thinking that will hopefully be fruitful. The exhibition aims to offer multiple, even contradictory voices. The works in it are critical, distanced, analytical.
There are issues involving images, representations, deconstructions, plasticities and bodies. By noting a similarity between the figure of the modern artist (brilliant, utopic, conquering, innovative...) and that of the dominant male, it is a matter of questioning them in one and same movement. In it we find orderly attacks against figures and forms of authority, exploring the plasticity of bodies, theatres of present ideological forces.
*George L. Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity, 1996, p. 3