Dissertation

The Abject-Grotesque: Socio-political Resistance and Female
Empowerment Within Contemporary Art

Dissertation, Glasgow School of Art, 2018.


Extract:
“Introduction: 0.1 terms and case studies:
This dissertation will develop the term ‘abject-grotesque’; an amalgamation of the abject and grotesque as exemplified in Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World (1968), and Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982). This term sees the transgressive quality of each original term as a bridge, discussing how disgust experienced in a psychological sense can be applied more universally to the societal ‘corpus’. This transgressive quality of the abject-grotesque will be seen as a productive way in which to subversively question contemporary society. As the contemporary society with which I, and the artists featured, operate within is a capitalist one, critiques will revolve around this context, with more specific attention paid to the effects of mass consumerism provided by a reading of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. In this way we shall see the abject-grotesque as an artistic device for expressing discontent with the oppressive materialism of this infrastructure. Paul McCarthy’s Pinocchio Pipenose Household Dilemma (1994), Rachel
Maclean’s Spite Your Face (2017), and Mika Rottenberg’s Squeeze (2010) have been
chosen as case studies for the application of the abject-grotesque, as each presents
corporeal disgust and viscera utilised for subversive ends, thus allowing an understanding of the abject-grotesque through their analysis. Discussing not chronologically, but starting with an analysis of a Paul McCarthy artwork largely through Kristeva’s abject, then Rachel Maclean’s lead by Bakhtin’s grotesque, and ending with Mika Rottenberg’s piece seen through conciliation of the previous sections, and a more evolved reading of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1970) . This allows the psychoanalytic 1 groundwork to be laid in order to develop how the political sentiment of the abject links with the grotesque.

One particular political focus will be the female relationship to the abject-grotesque, and how a utilisation of this can provide an emancipatory outlet for female oppression in contemporary capitalist society. Thus, two of the artists discussed are female in order to incorporate this inquiry. Paul McCarthy, provides a male counterpart to this discussion, yet will also be discussed in terms of ‘femininity’, as it is the traditional psychoanalytical view that both ‘femininity’, and abjection exist in ‘Otherness’. In situating the relevance of this term in an updated, contemporary context, the abject-grotesque will therefore be presented as a
useful term for the triggering of disgust towards the socio-political, enabled by a kind of shared, visceral empathy experienced in artworks. All artworks have been chosen because they demonstrate abject-grotesqueness, operating in a state of carnivalesque in order to allow palpable experience of the abject. They present a “beshitten” view of the world as a form of political resistance. By developing this term ‘abject-grotesque’, the aim is to advance a methodology for evaluating the political role of abjection and grotesqueness, creating a dialogue around contemporary political climates.”