Barbara DeGenevieve, “I Want It All” (1991-5)
Barbara DeGenevieve was a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship in 1988 and 1994, only to have the $20,000 revoked after controversy around the sexually explicit nature of some of her work, among others. Shortly after these controversies, NEA grants for individual artists were cut altogether.
In the years since her denial of funding, her work has become even more directly engaged with the social extremes of sexuality. Her artist’s statement includes the following:
I have used sex as subject matter for more than 25 years in combinations of photographic images, videos, theoretical writings, and sexually explicit monologues. I often call my current work pornographic — when I don’t, I can always be sure someone else will. When I do, it becomes an unstable signifier. What does it mean for a middle-aged woman, a professor, a teacher of theory, a feminist - to write like this, to speak like this, to think these thoughts, to exhibit such bad behavior? I like playing with the vulgar, with the low-class, low-brow, language of traditional porn. I’m suspicious of distinctions that elevate erotica over porn as well as create an incommensurability between art and pornography. I’m fascinated by what happens when private language and action enter the public domain, when vernacular “pornographic” vocabulary intersects with cultural analysis, when everything we believe about political correctness is subverted by intemperance, indulgence, desire out of control, and logical reasoning.
My work is not a critique, but rather an embracing of what has been vilified. It is also an acknowledgment of the ways in which pornography [locates/implicates] [me/us] in a realm of what Judith Butler has described as “psychic excess,” that which is systematically denied by the notion of the volitional subject. “The refusal to conflate the subject with the psyche marks the psychic as that which exceeds the domain of the conscious subject.” It is that realm of the unconscious she describes that that becomes so problematic, the consciously inaccessible that creates such turmoil because it compromises volition — what we think we are or what we’re told we should be. In a vain attempt to keep this excess under control, priests deny their obsession with little boys, evangelists with prostitutes, business executives with infantile humiliation fetishes, and feminists with rape fantasies. These are not accusations but rather recognition of the fact that fetishes, whether horrific or benign, become part of this psychic excess.