Patty Chang as Oppositional Performer Through the Subversive Abject Body

Alex Casselberry

About Alex

After working toward a business major for three years, I decided that pursuing an undergraduate degree in art history better suited my academic interests. With the help of the incredible art and art history faculty at MSU Denver, I have been fortunate enough to find a passion for studying critical theory and contemporary feminist art as well as gaining the ability to answer most art history-related questions on trivia night. After graduation, I hope to pursue a postgraduate degree in order to answer all of those art-history related trivia questions.

About Alex's Research

This essay examines the experience of the spectator through an analysis of abject performances from the early works of contemporary artist Patty Chang. Chang uses her own body to oppose the gaze and confront her viewers with the horrors of rejecting the male fantasy of watching a woman on screen. Using the theoretical work of Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, and Laura Mulvey, I suggest that Chang subverts the gaze through feminist performances of the abject body and resists objectification by becoming a spectacle of disgust. Kristeva’s essay, The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, offers the term of the abject as a contrast to Lacan’s “object of desire,” and her work is crucial in identifying the abject body and its relationship to the self, the loss, and the ambiguity of the concept as being neither subject nor object. According to Mulvey, the relationship of the spectator with a woman on screen has always been reserved for the male gaze, though Mary Ann Doane and Michelle Meagher propel the discourse of the female spectator, a theory in which I apply to my own viewership of works such as Shaved (At Loss), Hand to Mouth, In Love, and Stagefright #3. This essay analyzes Chang’s works from 1998-2004 through personal experiences and reviews of her exhibitions to investigate the abject body as a rejection of boundaries through parodic performances of female repulsion from initial allurement.