Since the title of this exhibition is an English one, I was immediately struck by how everything in Karin Felbermayr’s exhibition „folds“ into one another. I use the word „fold“ in a Leibnitizian sense, both as Baroque (using Deleuze’s theatrical analogy) and as monadological – things that run in parallel but retain their own sense of autonomy.
Gender is „nurture“ rather than nature in this sense – by nature I mean simply biology. To gamble is to take a risk, another product of nurture, nature conserves wherever possible, nurture allows for freedom and risk. Gamble like its alliterative word „gambol“ is to play as in gaming, specifically with the body. To gambol is to do what children do, perhaps, handstands, somersaults, and place the body in different positions. To play itself … also has polyvalent meanings, to play games as in childhood, to act in a play, to perform, to pretend, to manipulate as in to play around with, to compound as in the verb-noun „masquerade“. It is surely not surprising then that the preview book-catalogue-text for this exhibition is call Stereotype as Masquerade.
Michael Meuser says in his essay (for the above catalogue) „nothing verifies one’s gender more than the body one has.“ I would prefer to be more cautious and rather say „nothing verifies one’s gender more than the body one APPEARS to have.“ I say this because appearance is the basis of all stereotypes as they relate to the body. The body appears male so one assumes maleness; the body appears female so one assumes femaleness. But we all know that gender does not always fit along such clear and stricture-d lines. This I think is the fundamental meaning of the term Gender Gamble, and it is a characteristic that Felbermayr uses to a great extent – freely detaching gender from the taxonomies of biology and the determinism of stereotype(s) – she is other words uses the forms (the poses of male and female fashion models) in Gender Gamble to reveal their opposing and theatrical mechanisms. That is to say both in the context of their adopted making, and in the visual text of their illusion-based enactment.
The body as physiognomy (its forms, types, characteristics) as opposed to physiology (it biological functioning) is where Felbermayr begins. Her aim then is not strictly to question the role of gender as an existent reality, so much as posing the question as to whether that reality conforms to identity. In this context stereotypes are nothing more than a masquerade which is presented as an identity, or at least a possible identity a set of associations we embrace through the allusions to that identity as they are formally presented to us. Nowhere is this more theatrically expressed than by the fashion model, their poses and postures, and where the set of associations are the lies of an identity – one we seem prepared to embrace and assimilate. The necessary associations of affect if you like … Life if you want is always a form of theatre, in which the body is an integral part.
Indeed, I am adopting a stereotype here and now, less formal that a fashion model (and in any case I have neither the age, looks nor body required for the job), but an adoptive pose of the art critic-art historian discoursing on the possible meanings in Felbermayr’s work. You are no doubt at this very moment measuring me up to the task – do I fit the stereotype of my task I ask myself – does it give you access to my identity, my gender. This is the gamble „I risk“ at this time, the amorphous stereotype I present
I am reminded of a work in a show I have just co-curated in Cagliari, Sardinia, by Greta Frau (the artist’s alter ego and second identity), called The Five Continents. Instead of using five ethnicities he used five elderly white males he found in the Tiergarten, Berlin. They were ageing homosexuals aged 68–80 years, who lie naked and sunbathe every summer – something of a cult in Berlin is taking your clothes off and lying naked in the parks. The work shocked many viewers, not least the Minister of Culture herself who tried to exclude the work from the show. The attributes of the continents were intentionally vague, and the work was installed as three metre long banners in a circular arrangement. As the exhibition was an intervention into the Ministry of Culture, I sort of took my revenge by having it installed in the emptied adjacent office to the Minister. The nub of the issue being the old male body, a stereotype of the not beautiful – the old male homosexual body even more so – since the gay world is even more obsessed that the heterosexual world with the body beautiful. Any in any case they could not even qualify as the benign old grandfather. Old male bodies as a stereotype of dis-attraction, and are certainly never used by advertising in the media savvy world of consumer capitalism. Ironic sense the European population is generally an aging one.
Perhaps this tells us something about stereotypes? GENDER IS A CONTINENT: BUT THE GAMBLE LIES IN THE PROCESSES OF PERCEPTION, AND IN THE NATURE OF THE MIND THAT IS RECEPTIVE TO IT. This is fundamentally as regards masquerade and stereotypes what Karin Felbermayr may be trying to reveal.
Mark Gisbourne 2006