Sneaky Peeks: Women in the Bedroom
In the 1960 neorealist masterpiece Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and his brothers) by filmmaker Luchino Visconti, the domestic environment and its features symbolize and represent several interwoven actors: identity, that of a southern family of immigrants; social mobility — that witnesses a progressive emancipation, thanks to both Simone’s first and Rocco’s later profession of boxeur; and behavioural conduct often linked to gender roles. This is the case of key character Nadia, Simone’s lover, often portrayed as a doleful “prisoner” in Simone’s bedroom yet object of the scrutinising and lustful eye of the neighbourhood. In the narrative, the bedroom turns into a taboo environment: an intimate domestic refuge yet a place of perdition in plain sight. The presence of Nadia, an unmarried woman, in the family’s bedroom is the subject of popular scandal and source of discomfort for the Parondi widow, who unwillingly welcomes her; yet, her role questions the segregation of femininity within the domestic environment.
As much as Visconti’s character, several women artists from the mid 20th century aimed at revealing the threatening and disturbing aspects of those domestic spaces often secluded and notoriously associated with forms of security, intimacy, and privacy and to everyday activities and chores.
For example, building on the tradition of the peepshows and preceding the famous Étant donnés (on view from 1969) by Marcel Duchamp, in La spia ottica – o la mia camera da letto (The Optical Spyhole – or My Bedroom, 1968), artist Giosetta Fioroni stages the banality of the everyday life in the form of “a day of a bored woman”, played by actress Giovanna Calandria, who acts as the artist’s alter ego. Fioroni turns the gallery La Tartaruga in Rome in the meticulous reconstruction of her own bedroom that viewers can observe only through a peephole. Giovanna Calandria resembles Nadia in Simone’s bedroom: both exposed in their privacy and intimacy; both object of the alien voyeuristic gaze; and both totally indifferent to it.
Stemming from this premise, this paper aims at analysing certain sources and developments of the representation and “uses” of the bedroom in the practice of an array of women artists from the second half of the 20th century onwards: from the already mentioned Giosetta Fioroni and the scandalous works of Tracey Emin and Andrea Fraser — namely My Bed (1998) and Untitled (2003) — to the series of photos Not Manet’s Type (1997) by Carrie Mae Weems, and the more recent film Mom Makes the Bed (2017) by Andrea Éva Györi.
This analysis won’t be limited to an iconographic recollection, but it shall discuss the cultural, social, and anthropological values of the bed/bedroom and its implications across the decades, and the role of the spectator within these artists’ practice particularly in respect to the outer gaze, which “activates”
the work. The object/subject indeed exists within this tension and sustains issues pertaining to voyeurism, pornography, violation, affection, intimacy.