School of the Arts

Barbara DeGenevieve to Speak at IU South Bend

Barbara DeGenevieveBarbara DeGenevieve

Barbara DeGenevieve will present a lecture at IU South Bend at 7:30 pm on Thursday, March 3 as a guest of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts in their 20th anniversary season celebration.  DeGenevieve is an interdisciplinary artist who works in photography, video, writing and performance.  Her lecture, titled “Exploitation, Political (in)Correctness and Ethical Dilemmas” will be held in Northside’s Recital Hall.

Barbara DeGenevieve’s work is project-based and inspired by the collision of ethics, critical theory, and the politics of sexuality.  She received her MFA in photography from the University of New Mexico and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she is a professor and chair of the Department of Photography.
There are two reactions to Barbara DeGenevieve’s work – people either love it or hate it.  Although the first response might be preferable, the second is a much more complex and interesting reaction.  As an artist whose entire body of work has involved the representation of sexuality, the way in which the viewer responds, and that the viewer does feel strongly one way or another, has always been a driving force in her work.

Artists who work with sexual imagery face much more critical, and more recently legal scrutiny than is given to any other form of visual production, often having their work described as “pornographic.”  Pornography is the imaginary cultural standard by which all representations of the sexual body are measured - imaginary because neither feminists nor the Supreme Court have been able to create an unambiguous and stable definition that can be applied when visual or literary material is called into question.

With pornography as a framing device for the analysis of her work, DeGenevieve will show selections highlighting her career-long focus on sex.  The title of the lecture, “Exploitation, Political (in)Correctness and Ethical Dilemmas,” refers to both admonishments of her work and the strategies she uses to expose and analyze the usually unchallenged language of academic critique.  DeGenevieve will also address some of the troubling legal and social changes artists are currently facing that have occurred since the 1980s culture wars. 

Tickets for “Exploitation, Political (in)Correctness and Ethical Dilemmas” are available through the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts Box Office for $5-$9.  Tickets are free for students and children.  For more information visit or call 574.520.4203.

Barbara DeGenevieve
“Exploitation, Political (in)Correctness and Ethical Dilemmas”
7:30 pm Thursday, March 3
Northside’s Recital Hall
1855 Northside Boulevard, South Bend, IN
Tickets $5-$9 | Free to students/children


Barbara DeGenevieve
Artist Statement

The world is base, messy, and equivocal.  We live in a political climate in which the suspicion of deviance is epidemic.  As an American artist, this cultural moment is exemplified in the collision of three ideological concepts: pornography, kitsch, and morality.  Within a social system that depends on binaries to understand value, these concepts are revelatory in elucidating the high/low divide.  Seemingly simple oppositions are invoked with each term: pornography vs. art, kitsch vs. good taste, morality vs. perversity.  Distinctions between high and low are dramatic - above the neck / below the belt; appropriate / inappropriate; the refined / the vulgar; the beautiful / the grotesque.  The ever-present fear is that the privileged term will be overwhelmed and enveloped (perhaps inevitably) by its nemesis. 
Since the 16th century, pornography has been closely linked with political and religious subversion.  In it, cultural taboos and the complexities of class, gender, race and power are manifested in the most troublesome and intriguing ways.  The disruptive power of pornography, attacked by liberals and conservatives alike, embodies the most problematic of cultural fears - fear of the abject, of defilement, of uncontrollable desire.  My interest is in recuperating the word, playing with its social mark of disgrace, and moving it both performatively and theoretically from the private to the public realm.
I have used sex as subject matter for more than 25 years in combinations of photographic images, videos, theoretical writings, and sexually explicit monologues.  I often call my work pornographic; when I don't, I can always be sure someone else will.  When I do, it becomes an unstable signifier.  What does it mean for a middle-aged woman, a professor, a teacher of theory, a feminist - to write like this, to speak like this, to think these thoughts, to exhibit such bad behavior?  I like playing with the vulgar, with the low-class, low-brow, language of traditional pornography, and I am very suspicious of distinctions that elevate erotica over porn as well as create an incommensurability between art and pornography.  I’m fascinated by what happens when private language and action enter the public domain, when vernacular "pornographic" vocabulary intersects with cultural analysis, when everything we believe about political correctness is subverted by intemperance, indulgence, desire out of control, and logical reasoning.

My work is not a critique, but rather an embracing of what has been vilified.   It is also an acknowledgment of the ways in which pornography implicates all of us in a realm of what Judith Butler has described as "psychic excess" - that which is systematically denied by the notion of the volitional subject.