My area of artistic research targets constructs of gender, power and war. My most recent research examined the Cold War as a case study for these political forces, specifically how war and the related gender politics infiltrated virtually every aspect of society. The resulting paintings target genderization by exploring the unusual arenas where the Cold War was fought – space, the kitchen, and the mass media. These paintings refer to the presentation of the scientific research required for inter-continental ballistic ability as the heroics of the Space Race. The art works also include objects as vacuums to allude to the Kitchen Debate that became public knowledge when Vice-President Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev began a boasting match in Moscow during 1959, each claiming that their system produced the best domestic appliances. The housewife became the new persona of the American way of life in the age of technology and consumerism. And finally these pieces refer to the sexualization of the Cold War in mass media. Fashion, novels and movies, such as the James Bond series, depicted adventurous male spies, while women played minor roles that served to emphasize the masculinity of the men. While men could fly the spacecraft, women could stand beside them for publicity shots and sexualize the technology.
In his paper, Power, Sex, and Violence, Dr. David G. Winter analyzed the relationship between gender roles and war. As a psychologist who specializes in war and authoritarianism, his research cited studies that concluded that societal violence was “positively related to having a rigid differentiation of sex roles, which in effect means male dominance.”1 Winter’s theories lead him to conclude that the only way to break the pattern of past wars is to understand these mechanisms of differencing and the damage that can result. My artwork proposes that there are strong links between the power-striving of the Cold War and the gendered propaganda of the time. I have selected acrylic painting as my medium for this exhibit and an illusionistic style of realism that references the mass media of the Cold War period, such as magazines, movie posters and billboards.
The painting Cold War Web contains numerous signifiers from the Cold War era that express my perception of the penetrations of the war into every aspect of life. This conceptualization was the result of research that I had conducted on the Rhizome as theorized by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.2 They elaborated upon a philosophical model that used nature’s rhizome root as a model of thought. This root grows off in numerous directions at once with no one clear central stalk. The rhizome root theory contributed to my personal visualization of the Cold War’s penetration of every element of society and life.
I have based the painting, Sex, Bombs, and the Cold War II, 2010 upon both the two female roles of from the British cult television show, The Avengers (1961-1969). The painting contains a likeness to the face of Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale, as well as the black leather cat suit designed for the Emma Peel character portrayed by Diana Rigg. The characters were written and acted in a manner that challenged the accepted gender norms of the period.
I intend for everyday objects to take on new appearances and reveal some of their hidden codings. My 2010 thesis exhibition, Sex, Bombs and the Cold War investigates the serious subjects of repressive gender roles, power and war, but it does so with what I hope are elements of humour, beauty and a touch of fetish. This body of work aims to remind us that we are the possessors of our own power and that we should construct our own roles.
1 David G. Winter, “Power, Sex, and Violence: A Psychological Reconstruction of the 20thCentury and an Intellectual Agenda for Political Psychology,” Political Psychology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (June, 2000), p. 389.
2 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Anti-Oedipus”, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, (London: Continuum, 2004). P. 21.