WASHINGTON DC, 26 May — Performance artist Brian Feldman is following me. Only me. Well, only me for a day anyway. In his current work Feldman has cut through all the chaos of following hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter and for the month of May, he follows just 1 person for each day of the month.
I first learned about Brian Feldman’s work a little over 2 years ago, on Valentines Day 2010 when he performed Brian Feldman Marries Anyone. It was a simple (if getting legally married is “simple”) yet powerful piece where he married Hannah Miller, a stranger he didn’t know or love, at the same Orlando, FL courthouse where a long-time lesbian couple was denied the right to marry.
While this was a beautiful work in support of marriage equality, it also furthered Feldman’s career, yet it may not have done much for Miller. Could Feldman, in the same artwork where he breaks through the marriage inequality barrier, simultaneously recapitulate the art historical tradition of male artists building their careers on the backs of (more or less) nameless women?
Like that hack Eddie Manet who churned out yet more boring canvasses and got famous, even as the visionary Vicky Meurent got nothing for freaking inventing the gaze, an act of confidence and empowerment so compelling and important that is has today, as McLuhan predicted, become so ubiquitous it has become invisible.
THE FREAKING GAZE!? Yeah, Meurent invented that.
And got nothing.
Manet made a fortune selling canvasses.
Could Hannah Miller be Victorine Meurent to Brian Feldman’s Edouard Manet?
I’m being Twitter-followed by a monster!!!
In his sketchbook, Orlando sketch artist Thomas Thorspecken wrote that after the wedding,
Hannah of course, returned to her boyfriend Jack Fields, while Brian faced an increasing barrage of interviews from local and national media.
So typical. They both participated in a simple, yet substantive event. They both ended their unmarried lives and became legally wed. They both put the same thing on the line. The woman returns to her old life. The man ascends to his rightful place in the cultural firmament.
I probably don’t have Feldman’s undivided attention today – who does in a wired world? We’re all just Paris Hilton tweeting duirng sex, right? – anyway, I’m at least the only person he’s following on Twitter, so I thought I should check if he’s still married:
I don’t want to play the sex-role-stereotype card too easily, and I’m not accusing Feldman of taking advantage of this, still, I can’t help but notice that even in a new media assisted, powerful performance artwork, addressing true cultural injustice, still… the woman goes home and the man goes up. Still the art historical misogynist tradition is preserved.
At the bottom of this page is a video of Miller’s statement on the occasion of their annulment in January 2011, it is powerful and bittersweet. Feldman created a simple and powerful artwork critiquing a social injustice. I think he’s real and sincere. But he also has that forever Feldman levity to carry with him. In Miller’s video we feel the real weight that making this statement placed on her. Did the woman pay the higher price to make the same statement? IDK. Perhaps.
Everything about Brian Feldman Marries Anyone is insightful and important.
Miller’s statement below is that, and also sublime.
R E L A T E D . M A T E R I A L S
• Brian Feldman.com
• Brian Feldman’s 1 Following project page on Facebook
• iRez / Brian Feldman Marries Anyone
• iRez / Vaneeesa Blaylock marries Ze Moo
• The Wedding / Thomas Thorspecken’s Sketchbook
• The Annulment / The Orlando Weekly
• Hannah Miller / Facebook
• Hannah Miller / Twitter
7 thoughts on “Brian Feldman Follows Me!”
Hi! Hannah Miller here. A correction for you: I am not a “mostly nameless” woman. I am an artist in my own right, practicing in a field slightly around the corner and maybe just out of sight for you from your home in “performance art.” I work in multimedia, with visual art, music, and puppetry. I am also an activist, focusing my passion for human rights into the areas of feminism, gender/sexual equality, and homelessness. My participation in Brian’s project was carefully weighed by and yes, performed, by me. I played a role and I was thrilled to do so, to support a brilliant statement conceived by Brian. I was careful to ensure that Brian received all the credit he was due as the one who conceived the project, and careful to ensure that who I was and what I do did not color the project in any way. Does the story of two artists marrying sound less compelling than the story of an artist marrying a stranger? Of course it does. It sounds elitist and irrelevant. By taking on the role of the “faceless” woman, I embodied an archetype that lent strength to the concept. And perhaps I’m letting to much out from behind the curtain here, but in this context we are artists discussing our art together, so I feel it is appropriate to open up more about the process behind this project than I have to anyone elsewhere. To accuse Brian of “using” me is really quite an insult to me, unintended as it may have been (and I know it was, no worries). I am no oppressed Olympia, pale in the shadow of the giant men who paint me, longing to be recognized. I am a willing and savvy participant. Also, please know that Brian *tried* to get me to participate with the press as much as he did–I just didn’t react well to calls at 8am from radio show hosts with names like Bucketbottom and The Hose. I DID do my share of presswork, including several long interviews, the statement I made which you link above (that was widely reproduced in print), and a solo feature on Definitely Not The Opera (one of CBC radio’s NPR-syndicated shows). Thanks for taking an interest in what we did. I hope I cleared up your concerns. And thanks for the laugh… I was busy working with performers all day today, so when I took a break and saw that I was being called a drunken, talentless prostitute by a well-meaning stranger, it gave me that boost of esteem I needed to push through the rest of the day. ;D
Hi Hannah, I apologize. I think you read my analogy far more literately than I intended. It was an analogy. Further, while the subject of Manet’s painting was a courtesan, that was not Meurent’s identity.
Victorine Meurent was neither drunken nor talentless nor a prostitute.
Victorine Meurent was an artist. From some perspectives she was, in fact, more successful than Manet.
Meurent performed a particular identity for Manet, just as you performed a particular identity for Brian.
In any case, the misunderstanding is my fault. I have total respect for the work that both you and Brian did and did not intend to insult either of you. It was my failure in conveying a simplistic binary read on a far more nuanced set of circumstances. Please blame this on the great breadth of the Atlantic that separates your performing of the work from my perceiving of it, or perhaps on the smallness of my brain, or very likely, on both.
I think you read my hyperbole far more literally than I intended. It was hyperbole. Winky wink face! Meurent (as a person, not a portrait) was dismissed as a drunken prostitute for a century by biographers, and though that reputation may not be correct, it is entrenched in popular culture and therefore hilarious to reference (IMHO).
I’m interested in knowing more about where you pull your assertion that Meurent “invented the gaze” from, as I am unfamiliar with it and, honestly, suspicious of it, since “the gaze” has been a portraiture technique for a great deal longer than the 1800s. I am actually (ironically) somewhat acquainted with Meurant’s legend & its recent turnabout, as I wrote a presentation on the women of the French Impressionist movement two semesters ago. There is actually a brief discussion on my Facebook with a librarian friend of mine regarding Meurent’s life that I’m too lazy to copy and paste here… though if you’re interested in discussing it further I’d be more than happy to do so! Love a lively discussion.
Yes, yes, I’d love to read your discussion on Meurent, and, no doubt, jump in with more dumb / overwrought comments! 🙂
But instead of doing it in the comments HERE…
Oh, I know… why don’t I take your inspiration to actually, finally, write a post on Meurent, and we can chat about it in the comments THERE! 🙂