PJAS 11 Spring-6

Justyna Wierzchowska
Imaging, Desiring, Remembering Home: Home as a Locus of Meaning in the Works of Mary Kelly
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 11 (Spring 2017), pp. 73-84

Abstract: This article examines selected works by American visual artist Mary Kelly (b. 1941) through the category of the home. Home is theorized both as a physical structure, which shapes female subjects’ identity and their life practice, and a profoundly conflicted symbolic site of struggle that allows for a renegotiation of the social contract. The article reads Kelly’s early works, Antepartum (1973) and Post-Partum Document (1973-79), understanding home as a mytho-physical dwelling place, the mother’s body, which the artist presents as ideologically interpellated and, at the same time, problematized by her own experience. Kelly’s later work, Interim (1984-89), is discussed as juxtaposing received ideas concerning femininity with the voices of women who fail to fulfill them, and thus are rendered symbolically homeless. Symbolic homelessness seems also pivotal to the 1992 Gloria Patri, in which the artist exposes the cultural alienation of women who enter the military. The 1991 Mea Culpa and the 2001 Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi also take up the subject of cultural homelessness. Here, the artist addresses traumatic dimensions of military conflicts, which she understands as tightly connected to the victims’ tattered or lost ethnic and national identity. In the 2005-07 Love Songs, Kelly changes her focus to envision home as a physical and semantic vessel for the 1970s women?s movement voices, which, in her installation, are united by a transparent home-like structure. Finally, in the 2010-12 Habitus, co-authored by Ray Barrie, the artist returns to the subject of home, which, in this case, is profoundly disturbed by the lingering context of the Cold War. This article discusses Kelly’s diverse uses of the home along the lines of art theory, psychology of the object, and feminist criticism (Nancy K. Miller, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva) in order to present their social and political implications. It understands home as evoking (utopian?) associations of eternal return or a desired horizon, towards which the spectators are encouraged to travel both through their memory-work and life-activism.

Keywords: Mary Kelly, feminist art, home, cultural homelessness, Post-Partum Document, Interim, Gloria Patri, Mea Culpa, The Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi, Habitus

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.11/1/2017.06

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