PERFORMA 09 : Feminine Futures

Sarah Wilson :


Adrien Sina :

Tragédies Charnelles

V. de Saint-Point


PERFORMA New York, 2009
RoseLee Goldberg, founder & director
Centenary of Furturism

Feminine Futures – Valentine de Saint-Point
Performance, Dance, War, Politics and Eroticism

Feminine Futures, curated by Adrien Sina for Performa 09, displayed at the Italian Cultural Institute an exceptional collection on early 20th century feminine performative contributions to the European and American avantgardes. These critical and radical experiments played the most fundamental role in the birth of performance as a discipline, establishing for the first time the artist's body in a conceptual action as a work of art. Over 360 paper-based pieces were presented on two floors in 32 specially designed plexiglas boxes and show-cases: original photographs, letters, manuscripts, drawings, manifestos, first editions and ephemera... This corpus of mostly rare items, not existing in any museum collection or unknown to art historians, aimed to open new reasearch perspectives for rethinking Futurism.
Broadening the field of Futurism, Feminine Futures explores the wide range of possibilities leading to the construction of the futurist woman, surpassing the only marinettian point of view. Without these competing tensions between Marinetti and some women artists such as Valentine de Saint-Point and Enif Angiolini Robert, Futurism would remain a male fantasy made for men and machines.
The feminine contribution to the avant-garde movements is always under-evaluated, considering women artists as followers or assistants. It's forgetting about the strength of their critical and radical, constructive or destructive positions which played the most important role in the birth of Performance as a new discipline in the field of the arts, while men were still experimenting traditional mediums such as painting and sculpture.
Beyond all the ‘isms' initiated by male artists (Futurism, Expressionism, etc.) female artists are building their own avantgarde experiments as a reply to originary forces, mostly rooted in the psychology of desire and the reconstruction of a feminine mythology which confer them the political power they have lost since the industrial revolution, up to the point of having less rights than in their ancestors centuries before.
Strong historical streams link together feminine performative actions since the origins of political tragedy in ancient Greece, initiated by Aspasia, cultural and political muse of Pericles, head of the first democracy, 3rd century BC. Their performances are political, eroticized, rooted in the figures of ethical and political resistance to iniquity such as Antigone, Hecuba, Iphigenia or Medea, up to tragedy and self-sacrifice...

'La femme, incitatrice charnelle, immole ou soigne, fait couler le sang ou l'étanche, est guerrière ou infirmière. Elle est l'individualité de la foule. Voilà pourquoi aucune révolution ne doit lui rester étrangère'
Valentine de Saint-Point. Manifeste de la Femme Futuriste, 1912.

The ground level

was structured around the French aristocrat Valentine de Saint- Point, the first and only woman artist to be part of the executive board of the Futurist movement, the only futurist who performed in New York (1917). In her ‘Manifesto of the Futurist Woman' (1912) and ‘Futurist Manifesto of Lust' (1913), she theorized broadened territories of artistic activities, linking questions of flesh, desire, gender, war, to political and civilization issues. These ideas were the components of the ‘Feminine Action' that she initiated as a new cross-disciplinary field. Her ‘Art of Flesh' was developed with Ricciotto Canudo, another avant-garde leading challenger for F. T. Marinetti in this stimulating love triangle.
The ‘flesh-work' encompasses the history of tragedy, dance and performance, and culminates with her conceptual quest ‘we must make lust into a work of art'. Following her intellectual partnerships, the exhibition dedicated a large section to F. T. Marinetti, then moved to the main figures of Futurism such as Luigi Russolo, Enrico Prampolini, Ardengo Soffici, Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Mario Castagneri, Nelson Morpurgo, Armando Mazza, Enif Angiolini Robert, through issues of theater, performance, war, eroticism and futurist loves.

The second floor

traced a wider scene of radical experiments, with artists responding to forces rooted in the psychology of desire and in the reconstruction of feminine mythologies and political power which persisted in performance art through the 1960s and beyond. Loïe Fuller, Isadora and Anna Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Mata Hari, Gertrude Hoffman, Anna Pavlova, Vera Fokina, Ida Rubinstein, Josephine Baker, Giannina Censi, Mary Wigman, Gret Palucca, Hedwig Hagemann, Valeska Gert, Ruth Page, Myra Kinch, Martha Graham... A film program of mostly unseen early performance films completed this section.

A history of photography

An exceptional convergence filed is opened in the encounter between dance, movement, body language and photography. Genuine artistic strategies remain behind technical processes and their specific pictorial qualities. The photographic pieces of Feminine Futures are also witnesses of the history of photography. Half a century of imaginative mutation between the years 1890' and 1940'... From albumen paper, silver or radium bromides to silver prints, a large chromatic spectrum of chemical experiments are gathered, between stability and selfdestruction of the visible matter.