"… Marianne Wex’s collated image bank, ‘“Weibliche” und “männliche” Körpersprache als Folge patriarchalischer Machtverhältnisse’ (‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures), is a scrupulous study of‘gendered’ kinesics in photography. In this show, co-curated by the Badischer Kunstverein and Mike Sperlinger, Wex’s own photographs of unsuspecting members of the public, originally taken as research for her paintings, were interspersed with pictures from advertisements, German newspapers and magazines (such as Stern and Der Spiegel), as well as examples of historical figuration. In nearly 5,000 photographs in total, the anonymous rub shoulders with celebrities and politicians.
While the exhibition display gave the work a contemporary aesthetic, the project itself very much reflects the time in which it was constructed. A typical portrait of a male would be that of stolid, proud character, whereas women seem to be generally portrayed as either pretty or self-restrained. Considering their historical context, Wex’s juxtapositions seem to suggest that women embodied their ‘femininity’ as much as men did their ‘masculinity’. Do these distinctions still hold up today? The relevance of showing this particular work now – so rooted is it in the 1970s – is that we are asked to consider whether, or how, hierarchical social conditioning of the unconscious body has changed in the past 40 years. The exhibition also raised the notion of whether taxonomy is still crucial to contemporary understanding. In the era in which Wex made this work, it was discussed as either ‘research’ or ‘art’. Such indexical art practices were being used predominantly by male Conceptual artists. Yet Wex’s project is also still very reflexively revealing to the viewer. One’s own individualized body can easily be read into her photographs – an illuminating effect on behaviour that usually feels ubiquitous and embedded.
It was interesting to note the occasional exceptions within groupings, which Wex sometimes separated out from the other images – for example, a man whose poise might appear effeminate, or an elderly woman whose attitude seems more masculine in disposition. These could be read in terms of a possible development of androgyny within society. The panel ‘“Männliche” Posen’ (‘Masculine’ Poses) shows staged photographs of men and women who, under the instruction of Wex, were asked to pose as the opposite sex. The results are amusing: men look particularly awkward and embarrassed, while many of the women – including Wex’s teenage daughter – pretend to be men with exaggerated confidence, mocking machismo.” - (x)
Marianne Wex Extract from the book Let’s Take Back our Space. “Female” and “Male” Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, 1979
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