Philomena Epps (UCL) - 2022-23 Students

Sex Drive: The Body as Fetish Object in the work of Alina Szapocznikow and Hannah Wilke, 1960-1978

My research will analyse and compare artwork made between 1960 and 1978 by the Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow (1926-1973) and the American artist Hannah Wilke (1940-1993). It will question how their idiosyncratic, fetishistic representations of the body interrogated the triangulated relationship between accelerated consumerism, the sexual revolution, and post-war cultural production in Europe and America. The singular project facilitates an opportunity to expand the existing scholarship on both artists, paying critical attention to their multifarious output, which included sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, and in the case of Wilke, performance.

The research will ask questions about the relationship between the commodity fetish and the erotic fetish in their work, oscillating between libidinal drives and death instincts, and thereby enabling interrelated critiques of patriarchy, the legacy of war, and the capitalist economic system. The interdisciplinary methodology will synthesise cognate forms of fetishism in psychoanalysis, philosophy, and cultural theory, which all understand the fetish as an object endowed with a special value. The research will specifically draw on the Freudian notion of ‘polymorphous perversity’, in addition to feminist and queer theory that has complicated sexual difference, reflecting contemporary discourse surrounding expanded gender binaries.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Mignon Nixon, UCL
Secondary supervisor: Prof. Tamar Garb, UCL

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