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    Performative Self-Portraiture, Femmage, and Feminist Histories of Irish Art: Amanda Coogan’s Snails, after Alice Maher (2010)

    Barber, Fionna (2018) Performative Self-Portraiture, Femmage, and Feminist Histories of Irish Art: Amanda Coogan’s Snails, after Alice Maher (2010). Etudes Irlandaises, 43 (1). ISSN 2259-8863


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    In 2010 Amanda Coogan’s Snails: after Alice Maher was performed in front of an audience at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The two-hour performance, during which the artist stood motionless as a number of snails explored her face, body and hair, engaged with concerns of spectacle, abjection and female identity now familiar from Coogan’s practice. The artist has also explicitly acknowledged the relationship between self-portraiture and the use of the body in performance art; Snails investigates this territory through aspects of both the staging of the performance and its subsequent documentation. However a further significant aspect of this piece is its acknowledgement of the earlier work of Alice Maher, whether in terms of similar concerns with abjection and identity or the role of both the art historical canon and the representation of the self. In this paper the acknowledgement of feminist precedent is investigated through the notion of femmage, a term here appropriated to signify the recognition of the influential role of earlier women practitioners, yet here identified also as situated within a history of the politics of the Irish female body since the 1980s. This frames a discussion of the significance of self-portraiture within Coogan’s performative practice through in two earlier works Medea (2001) and Self-Portrait as David (2003). Her practice is subsequently situated in relation to a gendered critique of the role of self-portraiture within the development of art historical canons, returning to a reading of Snails in relation to further precedents for feminist deconstructions of the idealised female body through self-representation in the work of Frida Kahlo and Hannah Wilke. Finally the discussion engages with Kristeva’s notion of “women’s time” to propose a means of reconceptualising factors of influence and affirmation between women artists that cannot be recognised within the canon, concluding with discussion of works by Alice Maher as precedent for Coogan’s performative self-portraiture, and which also operate within the kind of signifying space proposed by Kristeva, an investigative process that suggests further possibilities for the writing of Irish feminist art histories.

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