The feminist baroque

Roland Barthes in his fundamental essay on photography maintained that: ‘Since every photography is contingent, photography cannot signify except by assuming a mask’. The mask that Antoshina adopts for her art practice is the staging of theatrical settings and of images passed on to us through the history of western art.

The concept of ‘staging’ goes way back through the history of art and reaches its apogee during the baroque period. This was when the catholic church being at its most triumphant and confident political power wanted to convey its ideology through dazzling show pieces. Artists and architects of the period came to view the world as a stage where the classical forms and ornamentations were borrowed to create supreme theatrical visions that swept the viewers off their feet.

The baroque artists’ conviction that the space should be framed with real or metaphorical draperies and actions represented in that space should be staged, had its most natural development in photography. What is photography if not an action of framing? Although at the beginning it was considered the ultimate means to record the ‘truth’, we are now conscious that what it depicts can be very far from reality. In fact from its inception many artists used it as their own ‘stage’. Duchamp’s Rrose Selavy was nothing but a photographically staged persona. Yves Klein’s ‘Leaping into the void’ –from a high wall into the street- was an ‘impossible’ action carefully constructed for the camera. Cindy Sherman orchestrates her own face in order to project on it through the camera all the role models offered by the media. The camera recording process might be neutral but it is certainly not naturalistic. Just like the baroque artists, whose works were stages for the ideology of the church, Antoshina orchestrates her images to forward her own narrative of feminist references. Most of her photographs are directly connected and derive from an artistic iconography that was conceived mainly for the male consumption and desire. As painters and artists historically were almost exclusively men, men were generally depicted as heroes of grandiose deeds, while women were reduced to being their seductive and passive entourage and not much else. By reversing the roles, Antoshina creates scenes were languid male bodies lounge in spaces that belong to the ‘feminine’ and others where women actively assert themselves in actions conducted in open ‘male’ spaces. The tactic is simple but it is extremely effective to displace and subvert the gaze of the viewer. Although her work refers directly to the Russian society where the climate is still very much male orientated, Antoshina, through her allegorical procedures deeply embedded in the history and the aesthetics of western art, manages to make her strategies to resonate much more vastly than just Russia.
Francesca Piovano
London 29.02.2004