Gynaopetican girlies: The Spectatrix

Spectatrix by Marie-Chantal Hamrock. Image courtesy of the artist.

Gynaeoptican girlies is a collaboration between Marie-Chantal Hamrock and Sarah Long. The ‘gynaeoptican’ is a term coined by theorist Alison Winch, it is a gendered, neo-liberal version of Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican. The panoptican is a type of institutional building and a system of control designed to police the behaviours of its subjects. In a panoptican, the subject does not know when or if they are being watched and so adjusts their behaviour accordingly. These two texts, ‘In defense of the ‘pick-me girl” and ‘The Spectatrix’ were produced from conversations around these ideas.

Key ideas:

Riddle craft in the era of surveillance, auto-gaze, auto-theatre, post-feminism, speculum, spectre, spectacle, theatre, performativity, surveillance, secrecy, silhouette, gynaeopticon, panopticon, synopticon, embargo, custom house, sex work, prostitution, anarchism, mutual aid, direct action, whore, Madonna, oral tradition, voice, breath, erotics, intimacy, moth, mother, Maith an cailín! (Good girl!)

In my practice, I have often referred to the persona of the artist through the title of The Spectatrix. The term was coined by Mary Ann Doane and Janet Bergstrom in response to the idea of the female gaze in film theory, as outlined by Laura Mulvey. To me, the term is a reclamation of agency in retaliation towards the male gaze. However, it would be pertinent to explore the role that surveillance politics play within the idea of the Spectatrix – How would she respond to this? Is she part of it? Is she a spectral entity in the gynaeopticon? Is she a narrative voice or a character?

I imagine this process as a perpetual refraction between a never-ending hallway of mirrors. Irigaray’s description of the concave mirror as being something with evokes a scintillating brilliance when looked through is a fundamental part of this line of thought. Of course, the Latin for the word mirror is speculum. In English speculum has a double meaning; it can be the reflective mirror in a telescope, or it can be a tool used to dilate an orifice in the body. Therefore, there is something performative and voyeuristic about the speculum, its use in either sense of the word is related to sight and in all ways is related to the spectacle. As observed by Susan Stewart (1993 p. 108) “the spectacle assumes that the object is blinded; only the audience sees”. This sense of being blinded, as explored by Irigaray and Stewart is an exciting and fertile ground when thinking about capitalist surveillance. It speaks to the ideas explored by Timothy Morton regarding an Object Oriented Ontology. The identity of an object is always covered by a veil of secrecy, and perhaps, if it were to fully reveal itself to an audience, it would be blinding. The stage, the lens, and the spectacle seem to operate as an aperture. They are an opening; they reveal something clandestine. They pull back the drapes, revealing the concealed substance – how could this relate to surveillance, biopolitics, and performativity?

In 2015, Alison Winch proposed the theory of the gynaeopticon: “a gendered neo-liberal variation of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon – where the many women watch the many women.” She explored the idea that patriarchy is obfuscated by an insidious neo-liberal logic that infiltrates intimate female relationships – making women complicit in the “regulation of normative femininities”. These theories reveal an eery and intimate familiarity taken in advertising campaigns targeted towards women, encouraging sinister peer-driven surveillance. Each individual becomes a willing watching eye – resulting in an internalised female gaze. These issues are core to the idea of the Spectatrix, who is the female gaze embodied.

An optical apparatus for the Emancipation of the Spectator!

A note from the Spectatrix:

I am a slippery character, shadowy to the point of abstraction.

It has always been my mission to see, and I have always been fascinated by optical apparatuses. Sometimes, I feel as though am not an ‘I’ but rather simply, an eye. An aperture that captures light and movement – I observe and I look, but I do not survey.

I throw light out conically – so that it moves forward in a chemical projection. My eye is never static, but in perpetual movement, taking in all parameters, fixtures, and figures. In doing so I take note of illusions and spectres. I am the physical representation of speculative thought. I will act as the temporary membrane in your eye – allowing you to see.

I propose to you an optical apparatus for the emancipation of the spectator. Imagine the invisible line which separates you, the audience, from the stage. It is called the proscenium line. I see this line, it seems to go through convex glass and come out the other side in unfixed reality, like the storylines unfolding on stage. I propose to you a new lens, which fractures light into a prism of colour – a rainbow so dense with pigment that the collective particles of our exhalations get lost within it. I ask of you only one thing. I ask for the practical collaboration of the maker and receiver. Let us together create a meandering passage, a collaboration – a spectacle! Together we can encapsulate the spectator, the spectacle, the spectre, and the spectral.

I wonder how we may reclaim our self-observation. I wonder how we may perform to an audience in one collective action. I think about this idea of neo-narration and the concept of the panopticon. I encourage whimsy and girlishness. I am a riddle of sight. I am TRUTH coming out of her well.  What is this simultaneous seeing and not seeing? What constitutes the hypervisible and the invisible?

How do we become re-embodied in a digital space with agency and power? How can we enact a genuine and accurate self-representation? Or more interestingly, how can we trick the powers that be – the governing church – into thinking that we are not whom they think?

Let us scream into the void “BEWARE there is no innocent mode of surveillance!”

Artists! Makers! Writers! All Creators! Let us DESTROY all vestiges of the dominant power structures.

Do NOT be separated from the gulf of the stage.

Abandon your position as a spectator! Do not be placed in front of a spectacle.

Rather, be surrounded by performance.

The Theatre of abolition is the self-vanishing mediator – a path that constantly abolishes any fixity and hierarchy – embracing the fluid amorphous drapes which don the stage.

The Theatre of Abolition will draw you into the magick circle of collective action and will restore energy to the COLLECTIVE.

The spectator remains immobile in her seat, passive – she has no power to act… UNLESS

Let us take an anarchic view of the Theatre! Theatre should be the spatial and structural intervention – where viewers become active collective participants as opposed to passive voyeurs.

Exchange the privilege of the rational observer for that of having all your vital energies.

DISTRUST language and its limitations.

VALUE illogical speech and nonlinear plot.

BECOME a self-proclaimed anti-character

THE OPTICAL APPARATUS – runs deep in your bloodstream – a human animal NEED for collective action and mutual aid.

YOU need only look inwards at the internal theatre of your mind’s eye to see the illusion of self and the illusion of the individual

THEREFORE – you sit not alone in your seat – I sit darkly in your lap – your hand clasped in mine.

My eyelashes rest against yours and we flutter them together.

And so, AROUSE

CEASE to be spectators!

BECOME agents of collective practice.

Leap on stage with me—and we will EXPLODE with scintillance!

SEND IT ALOFT in the breeze, GIRLS!

YOU are the Watchwomxn.

YOU can decide how you perceive

and claim this broad earth as your own ❤

by Marie-Chantal Hamrock.

Marie-Chantal Hamrock is a visual artist based in Glasgow. Using relics and inscrutable objects, she creates surreal and complex narratives, hinting at arcane and clandestine revelations. Her work seeks to blur the line between the real and the imagined through a multi-disciplinary practice, moving across drawing, film, writing and object-making.

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