Positioning Paper 1


Visual representation of Positioning Paper 1, Inkjet on found images, Hari MacMillan 2014

MFA Art, Society & Publics – Positioning Paper 1

Harriet MacMillan, Feb 2014

“Venus trying to make nice to hear her own voice speak and know the sound of it.” [1]

“The key to my work is that it’s about my experience,” “If you really want to be an artist, you search yourself, and you find a lot of it comes from earlier times”. We must “engage our surroundings, to use the material around us in imaginative ways.”[2]

“If gender be defined as the culturally establishes correlates of sex (whether in consequence of biology or learning), then gender display refers to conventionalized portrayals of these correlates.”

“The divisions and hierarchies of social structure are depicted microecologically, that is, through the use of small-scale spatial metaphors. Mystic historic events are played through in a condensed and idealized version. Apparent junctures or turning points in life are solemnized, as in christenings, graduation exercises, marriage ceremonies, and funerals. Social relationships are addressed by greetings and farewells. Seasonal cycles are given dramatized boundaries. Reunions are held. Annual vacations and, on a lesser scale, outings on weekends are assayed, bringing immersion in ideal settings. Dinners and parties are given, becoming occasions for the expenditure of resources at a rate that is above one’s mundane self. Moments of festivity are attached to the acquisition of new possessions.”

“We are socialized to confirm our own hypotheses about our natures.”

“And isofar as natural expressions of gender are – in the sense here employed – natural and expressive, what they naturally express is the capacity and inclination of individuals to portray a version of themselves and their relationships at strategic moments – a working agreement to present each other with, and facilitate the other’s presentation of, gestural pictures of the claimed reality of their relationship and the claimed character of their human nature.”[3]

“Those (policewomen) who are there already have provided a devastating new weapon to the police crime-fighting arsenal, one that has helped women to get their men for centuries. It worked well for diminutive Patrolwoman Ina Sheperd after she collared a muscular shoplifter in Miami last December and discovered that there were no other cops – or even a telephone – around. Unable to summon help, she burst into tears. “If I don’t bring you in, I’ll lose my job,” she sobbed to her prisoner, who chivalrously accompanied her until a squad car could be found.”[4]

“What the human nature of males and females really consists of, then, is a capacity to learn to provide and to read depictions of masculinity and femininity and a willingness to adhere to a schedule for the portrayal of gender, and this capacity they have by virtue of being persons, not females or males. One might just as well say there is no gender identity. There is only a schedule for the portrayal of gender. There is only a schedule for the portrayal of gender. There is no relationship between the sexes that can so far be characterized in any satisfactory fashion. There is only evidence of the practice between the sexes of choreographing behaviourally a portrait of the relationship. And what these portraits most directly tell us about is not gender, or the overall relationship between the sexes, but about the special character and functioning of portraiture.”

“Bracket Rituals”[5]

MacMillan “seeks to disempower the hegemonic male gaze offering up her multifaceted contingent self as the object of her own intense scrutiny. Directly on the surface of the” collage MacMillan has placed snippets “of text documenting the fragmented complexities of,” “life”. “Like” MacMillan, many “women” artists “seek to know their own voice and recognize their own body through the refracted agency of the looking glass.”[6]

MacMillan uses “collages as a means of disrupting ideologies at work in popular imagery such as advertising,” “and she occasionally used techniques of self-portraiture to question relationships between women’s bodies and consumer culture.”

“Self-portraiture has long been a staple element in the construction of an artist’s identity, for the genre has historically helped to define the artist as artist (or at least painter or sculptor).”

“over the past few decades, as more women have the opportunity to become and to succeed as artists, they have used self-portraiture as a means of thinking through their identity as women and as artists.”

“destabilizing the categories of gender”

” explore the consequences of the instability of the category of “women.” When they make their own gender a focus of their work, at least within their own self-representation, they tend to question, rather than affirm, the status of that gender.”[7]


“OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
You don’t need no papers
That man is not your maker”[8]


“You’ll have to go to the back of the queue now”, I pipe in an obviously jokey manner. Even when I follow it up with a friendly “I’m only joking”, you still look a bit put out. It was as if I had scolded you. “Well thanks for not putting me in my place”, you reply as you make your exit (coward). What does this mean? Do you think I look down on you because you are a workman? I thought I was your subordinate; I am a student, a dodger of reality and lunch hours, you are the worker, the keeper of society. You stop the streets from turning into jungles. Don’t you? I am disempowered by you. I woman, you workman. You have the power to smash or magic any idea of myself with a momentary glance or whistle, a raised eyebrow, a pursing of lips or a gravel of laughter.

As I’m leaving college we passed each other on the steps. You carrying something heavy, me not. We exchange smiles and respective ‘hiyas’. Of course, it’s obvious; now that we ticked the boxes, we are friends.


[1] text taken from Self-Portrait as Woman Recovering from Effects of Male Gaze (What’s Underneath), 1992, by Julie Hefferman
[2] Claes Oldenburg in an interview in The Wall Street Journal by JS Marshall, January 2012
[3] Gender Advertisements, Erving Goffman, MacMillan, The Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication, First edition 1979, Reprinted 1985
[4] Excerpt from an article on female policewomen, Time magazine May 1, 1972, p.60
[5] Gender Advertisements, Erving Goffman, MacMillan, The Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication, First edition 1979, Reprinted 1985
[6] From the Foreward  by Joyce Henri Robinson, Through the Looking Glass: Women and Self-Representation in Contemporary Art, Palmer Museum of Art, 2004
[7] Dr.Sarah K. Rich ,Through the Looking Glass: Women and Self-Representation in Contemporary Art, Palmer Museum of Art, 2004
[8] Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke, Pharrel Williams, T.I., 2013, Star Track Recordings

link to Artworks produced

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