Non fare la femminuccia (Don't be a pussy)
For my bachelor thesis, I developed a project around the construction of male gender identity using performance, writing, drawing and making books as ways to create a set of narratives formed around the four performances I realised.
The starting point for the research was a simple observation on how couples act in public: usually men wrap their arm around women’s neck, as a natural way to show love and protection while walking together.
At the same time, in that period I was exploring the relationship I had with my body 1, finally not taking as a given a series of facts and obvious assumptions, so exploring the male body and its habitus 2 was something deeply interesting.
What came out of it is a series of four small booklets, each telling a single action (performance) I made, in order to focus on particular interactions between social spaces and the male habitus. Specifically:
- men and intimate space—standing next to both men and women’s bathroom door, I opened them the only access they had to the restroom whenever they were approaching it;
- masculinity and the dirt in public spaces—I sat down on a bus stop bench with a big coloured towel, and every minute or so I stood up, shook the towel, folded it and sat down on it again;
- men and their relationship with culture—I went to a local bookshop, took up some books, browsed them, started to read one and after a while, when I saw there was at least one person next to me, I began to silently crying and expressing some emotional response that the book was producing on me (e.g. slowly covering half my face with one hand and imperceptibly shaking my body);
- male body and appearance, vanity, fashion—in a big clothing chainstore I stood still and fixed my gaze on a mannequin with a t-shirt on which was printed “sale!”—I observed it and moved around it and then took a step back to set my eyes on it as if I was hypnotised.
Each performance lasted between half an hour and an hour.
Part of the process was to find alternative ways to tell what happened during those moments, in which I was performing without apprising anybody about it in advance, and in which I was avoiding the use of photography and video as forms of documentation.
For this, I employed writing and drawing as the two selected methods to build up a narrative for every performance. Specifically I assembled each booklet with three sections: (a) a short introductory text setting the atmosphere of what happened, and describing what I did; (b) a series of mental maps showing how I perceived the situation (place and people) around me while I was performing; (c) a selection of verbs related to the action performed and used as part of concrete poetry exercises.
For the final thesis presentation, oral speech has been essential in recreating a particular atmosphere in people’s mind while I was explaining the whole project, and in setting my physical presence in the space.
Nonetheless, the booklets are conceived as autonomous objects, able to give enough informations to anyone interested in the work. In fact, they are intended to let anyone imagine how things might have gone, or how she or he would have behaved if she or he was in my position or part of the people 3 around me in that moment.
Mixing up the tools of graphic design with more art-informed approaches to the work is one of the reasons I developed the project. Another was being able to explore—and I’m aware just at a more or less superficial level—how gender construction works on the male body and how this affects many many things on a person’s behaviours and on the personal perception of self.
Lastly, going around the mountain town where I attended the BA in Design (unibz), to make performances all day long, e.g. warming up in the morning exercising with a classic Vito Acconci’s “Following piece” for then moving to other personal appointed actions, was what pushed me till the end.
Shame! Body shaming!
The summer before entering the thesis semester I made my first performance, for a small project part of the local art festival. ↩
«Bourdieu defines habitus as “a durable, transposable system of definitions” acquired initially by the young child in the home as a result of the conscious and unconscious practices of her/his family»—source.
More on this concept from Bourdieu’s perspective (the one I used) here. ↩
We could change the word “people” with the word “public” or “spectators”, but since the performances were staged making it not clear they were “experiments” or “an art project”, probably it’s up to each of them realising there were different gaze dynamics or spectatorship going on. ↩