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This violent fracture from the mother, which necessitates the psychic casting of the maternal as consuming and threatening, haunts the subject their entire life.
Kristeva notes, “We may call it a border; abjection is above all ambiguity.
By means of artworks using or suggesting bodily fluids and anatomical body parts considered “disgusting” or “offensive,” the exhibition attempted to mobilize the psychoanalytic theory of abjection for an exploration of the limits of taboo subject matters and their political implications.
As the curators stated in their catalogue’s introduction, “Employing methodologies adapted from feminism, queer theory, post-structuralism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis, our goal is to talk dirty in the institution and degrade its atmosphere of purity and prudery by foregrounding issues of gender and sexuality in the art exhibited.” As “abject art,” their curatorial neologism meant to describe an art that either utilized or commented on abjection, it would directly challenge normative notions of morality, cleanliness, decency, and invariably, identity.
She notes the most prevalent impression of , its overall melancholic and mournful tone.
“The show was heavily skewed toward AIDS, gender politics, kinky sex, prostheses, fucked-up doll parts … We had lighting and white walls in 1993 – but I don’t recall it seeming so harsh,” she writes.
On the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger.” Abjection is fundamentally an anxiety of proximity, of what constitutes the self and what does not.With this nexus of feeling, history, identity, and art, we might approach an understanding of the veritable moment in the 1990s of so-called “abject art.” Abjection, the phenomenon of tossing away the undesirable elements of life and their related affects of disgust, became a key explanatory in both the Anglophone artworld and the academic humanities – cultural spheres basically coterminous to begin with.German scholar Winfried Menninghaus, in his (1999), notes that between the years 19, 28 pages in the Modern Language Association Bibliography appeared with the word “abjection” in the title.“[At] the Whitney, where ‘transgressive’ art is just the byproduct of haute-couture theory, both exhibitions have a juiceless, frozen, inorganic look, as if they were shrink-wrapped artifacts of something already called the Early ‘90s.” Between exhibitions at the New Museum and the Whitney, the personal experience of time is already alienated as a historical moment.For Lieberman, the recent past returns as an object of museological study, and for Cotter, the present curiously brackets itself as a historical paradigm.
A thorough elaboration of Kristeva’s theory demands more attention than can be given here, but, to gloss, abjection refers to the condition following “primal repression,” or the subject’s psychic and biological split from the mother in infancy.