Difference: On Representation and Sexuality

Kate Linker, 1985

Recent interest in representation has brought with it a profusion of painted bodies. But on the edges of this production, a more intellectual artistic practice has explored the powers inherent in representation, questioning representation’s privileges and authorizing force. Reversing the expected relationship, by which the human subject controls and expresses its reality, this practice has exposed the way in which the forms of subjectivity in society are developed in, and through, representation. The world of images, symbols, and, in general, language, acts to construct the subject, determining our deepest selves.

This exhibition presents some of the research, now nearly a decade old, into the cultural formation of sexuality; although restricted to the visual arts, it belongs to a direction, encompassing literature, criticism, and ideological analysis, that has questioned a view of sexuality as natural, biological, “fixed.” Indeed, much of the work shown here challenges the very idea of identity, contesting the rigid and oppressive meanings imposed on sexuality as eternal and unchanging truths. The exhibition’s thesis—the continuous production of difference in language—offers possibilities for change, for it suggests that this need not entail re-production, but rather revision, of our conventional categories of gender.

As their linear structure implies, many of these works are designed as texts to be “read;” to be pieced together in sequence. Most contain a theoretical subtext; they draw on psychoanalysis—in particular, the writings of Jacques Lacan—for its account of the development of sexed subjectivity. Some works were chosen for the illuminations they elicit when seen through the lens of psychoanalysis. However, on the whole, they follow psychoanalysis’ injunction to attend to the small detail, to the undercurrent in the event that is consciously masked as in-different. They direct us to the insistence of sexuality in language, to the sexual pleasures that inhere in the look, and to the inscription of sexual bias in the apparatuses of representation—photography, television, film—that define our contemporary horizon. They impel awareness of how gender infuses, influences, and complicate a range of social forms, permeating supposedly neutral fields.