Do women have to be naked to get into the Metropolitan Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the modern art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female
The question posed by the feminist art organisation Guerilla Girls, receives an answer in the work of the Swiss performance artist, Milo Moire. Moire’s “PlopEgg painting” performance, in which she stands nude, pushing eggs filled with paint out of her vaginal canal onto an expanse of canvas below, has been described by a Guardian art critic as “absurd, gratuitous, trite and desperate”. But is this assessment of Moire’s project as nothing but a shallow caricature of the self-regarding pretentiousness of the art world quite the end of the story? Moire’s act of inserting and releasing these eggs from her vagina chimes with the experience the Bulgarian philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva refers to as “abjection”. For Kristeva, abject acts place focus on the unstable borders of the body, “disturb(ing) identity, system, order”, and refusing to “respect borders, positions, rules”. The female body – prone to the leakages and monstrous transformations of menstruation and pregnancy – has historically been the very prototype of abjection, even as Western art has worked to sanitise it in the perfected beauty of the female nude. When the boundaries of a female body are broken for reasons other than patriarchy-sanctioned intercourse or childbirth, it upsets and disturbs us, to the point that we immediately push away. This is the feeling that Moire plays on, and our impulse to dismiss the performance as preposterous may be evidence that her scheme has worked.
Moire starts out by appearing to risk reinforcing the myth of there being an inextricable link between the female sexual organs and fertility: she still uses an egg after all. But what transpires in the performance is a thoroughgoing dismantling of conventional artistic myths of femininity in precisely Kristeva’s mould. The ideal nude protested by the Guerrilla Girls remains, but is now herself the object of disgust: while a myth of female fertility need no longer be the consolation prize for women’s traditional exclusion from the masculine realm of artistic creation, because the egg itself is now part of the painting process.