Rotliebend: Read to Deconstruct

Melissa Steckbauer

She’s Watching, She’s Being Observed (Steckbauer watches Bruckner) 2007, Video and Still Photographs
The beauty and importance of hybrids in cultural iconography cannot be overstated.  These are the elements that bring the mainstream system from monotony to the excellence of diversity.  By taking any system and tweaking its parts out-rightly with catalytic elements, members of the system often feel over-stimulated.  Given enough time and repeat association, those stimulants begin to grow familiar to members of the system and soon become culturally located icons.  What the project Modes of Gazing, Watching, and Being Observed aims to do is tweak the system by hybridizing the current model of the traditional male gaze while simultaneously critiquing it.  

While there is more room for poly- and post- dialog than ever before, we as artists and femme-identifying figures see not only a lack, but a void of femme perspective with regard to issues of sexual identity in mainstream Western culture and representation in general.

Cultural construction with regard to the femme, largely takes for granted the male gaze as normative.  We as femmes are confronted with the challenge to upright ourselves while acknowledging that we have long since adopted the ‘male’ gaze and taken it on as our own when ‘looking’ at ourselves and one another.  As artists we rebuke the stark boundaries between high gloss, hetero-normative porn culture:  visions of tan, faux tits on hyper-thin, predominantly Caucasian bodies, and endlessly shaved beaver; and the unmodified but largely under-represented figures and sexual representations of ‘lived experience’.   

The danger of these bipolar constructions is that they encourage a feeling of alien-ness in femme sexual experience.  On the one hand there is the offer of life experienced through a properly groomed/modified physique which media representation will construe as accessible and mandatory (based on a commitment to daily consumerism) and affording of power and social affluence.  On the other hand we may experience the banality of everyday, non-modified, and non-pejorative sexual and emotional display.  This ‘lived experience’ offers less shimmer than its attention grabbing, over-stimulated counterpart.  Therefore what is curious is the drive toward this attention hoarding and resultantly what appears to be needed is more ecstatic experience within the daily, lived sexual experience.

Solutions for facing a loss of femme vocabulary in a system overwhelmed by the male-gaze are two-fold:  to discover ecstatic experience in the everyday sexual encounter, and to re-script femme sexual autonomy.  This means restructuring our vision to include a feminine sexual autonomy that lives within the system and that is governed and defined by a plurality of femme voices, ours included.  

Where our eroticization lies is still to be determined as in our film, Modes of Gazing, Watching, and Being Observed, we look at each other through a historically clouded lens.  While I, Melissa eroticize Johanna’s body (albeit her body is not a mainstream sexual icon as she has a full head of hair on her pussy and noticeable curves), she balances between autonomy and a feeling of being out of control, gazed at, and possibly even scrutinized/categorized.  However there are moments when Johanna is ‘inside’ of herself and seemingly enjoys her own brand of iconic sexuality, which is in point-of-fact the primary intention of the action.

What occurs when Johanna films me is that this same energy works in the other direction.  What is so easy for me, Melissa to ‘put on’, i.e., my disguise as a sexual icon, is briefly taken off when Johanna films me.  This dynamic between us as artists, to be able to dress and undress each other’s emotional façade is our bond and core distinction.  

As artists and modifiers of representation we see an opportunity to reveal an alternative model that is still embedded in the system at large.  What is of interest is not only challenging the idea that the nude femme body belongs to popular culture but more interestingly, how if it is no longer pre-packaged and mis-appropriated, it can once again belong to the femme herself.  This means acting with authority and exercising proactive life-force energies within a hegemonial system.