Who am I to produce a perfume for Hannah Wilke? I’ve wondered this lots in recent months. I’m of a mindset that too much perfume has been made unidirectionally, by men for women, and that there are too few women perfumers. Unable to find an answer, I turned to Wilke’s work. And her words.
Once, she was asked if she thought women artists have a “shared female artistic sensibility.” She responded playfully, saying, “Since sexual issues still frighten, and male superiority still flourishes leaving c*nt queens quite lonely…could we possibly find a better name for my kittens?”
Critic James Collins began a review of her first solo show in 1974 by considering his response to this statement, writing that her words have “stuck on her art […] I enjoy immensely Wilke’s outrageous and witty rhetoric and the way it enlivens quite traditional sculpture.” He praised her exhibition: “Myth, I’m gradually learning, is not outside artworks to be ignored but actually part of looking at them. Perhaps the more myths artists get round their ‘dumb’ objects the better. You can either read [her work] as metaphor[…] or as Process [Sculpture…she] would clearly like both.”
Many women critics, OTOH, treated her as a pariah, accusing her of narcissism & undermining the feminist movement for displaying her nude body in her work. I’ll write more about these reactions in a follow-up post. For now, I’ll say it was in one of Wilke’s nude pieces that I began finding the answer I sought.
“Intercourse with…” is a video performance in which Wilke listens to messages left by lovers on her answering machine. She strips to reveal their names scattered across her body, then she peels them off letter by letter, erasing them.
As I watched, I remembered a handful of her one-fold gestural sculptures made out of kneaded erasers, which she called “needed—erase her[s].” She imagined patriarchy itself might speak this expression were it to become embodied. And I couldn’t help but notice one name in “Intercourse with…” that she erases: CARTER.
Of course it’s a different Carter. But it’s my name nonetheless.