Maike Hemmers: Empty as a doorknob - a feminist artistic practice of destruction through the pursuit of nothing

Advisor/tutor: Rachel O'Reilly

Arnhem, June 2017


What might the concept of nothingness mean to a feminist artist, and what can it do for a feminist art practice? What are the conflicted legacies of nothingness, and what is the potential of the void to and for an artistic practice influenced by the current conditions of aesthetic infrastructure and labor? This thesis argues that while the inescapable invisibility placed upon artists by patriarchal and capitalist processes forms an oppression, the desire and use of invisibility as a search for autonomy can be a force for opposition and negation. First, it engages Maria Mies' materialist feminist history and theory of housewifization to consider the connection of the female body to the everyday occupation of space to ask: How can this body move beyond culturally and historically imposed positions? How can the subject escape the expectation for aligning with either the housewife or the architect? I argue that aiming for nothingness creates a space where the subject can place itself anew. Criticizing Hegel as an inheritance cultivating the persistence of patriarchal divisions of subjects and objects, I use Melanie Klein's implicitly feminist critique of patriarchal freudian developmentalism, to expose how the subject begins groundless. The subject starts empty and inherits only later the distinction between inner and outer, good and bad objects. By reflecting on Carla Lonzi's 'spitting on Hegel', the subject-object relation that comes from a patriarchal mode of thought, based on domination and colonization, are questioned. The feminist artist can position herself anew in and through a practice of negation. In the aesthetic production of art lies a potential for the eradication of unwanted, internalized objects. Nothingness is precisely the potentiality for destruction.