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HESSE | WILKE: A CHRONOLOGY

POSING / PERFORMING

1 Text / Image

Hannah Wilke
First Performalist Self-Portrait, 1942–79
Image used for two of three black and
white photographs in triptych
19 1/4 × 35 inches (49 × 89 cm) overall
Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles.

1942–93
Wilke notes that she began performing when she was around fourteen years old, dating her first pose to a semi-nude photograph of herself at that age taken by her sister which she later used in the diptych, Cover of Appearances (1977), Arlene Hannah Butter (1955). However, when she gathers works under the moniker of “performalist self-portraits,” she goes back as far as 1942, to a photograph of herself at two years old taken by her father which she made into the triptych First Performalist Self-Portrait.

The title Performalist Self-Portraits allows Wilke to claim her authorship of the performance, and acknowledge the labor of the photographer who shot the images. Her S.O.S Starification Object Series, as well as So Help Me Hannah (1978) come under this rubric.

Wilke begins performing and photographing herself in 1970, the same year that her mother undergoes a mastectomy. She starts to use her own body in her work a few years later in 1974, in Hannah Wilke Super-t-Art, and after her mother’s cancer returns, she creates a diptych of images of herself and her mother for Portrait of the Artist with Her Mother, Selma Butter (1978–81). With these works and others, Wilke acknowledges the centrality of performance to her artwork and her life, evidencing the ways in which performance is central to the construction of every self. 

2 Large Image

Hannah Wilke during her S.O.S. performance
at the exhibition 5 Americaines à Paris,
Galerie Gerald Piltzer, Paris, 1975.
Image: Hannah Wilke Collection &
Archive, Los Angeles

Wilke begins performing and photographing herself in 1970, the same year that her mother undergoes a mastectomy. She starts to use her own body in her work a few years later in 1974, in Hannah Wilke Super-t-Art, and after her mother’s cancer returns, she creates a diptych of images of herself and her mother for Portrait of the Artist with Her Mother, Selma Butter (1978–81). With these works and others, Wilke acknowledges the centrality of performance to her artwork and her life, evidencing the ways in which performance is central to the construction of every self. 

4 Large Image

Hannah Wilke with Elective Affinities in
her Greene Street studio, 1978
Image: Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles

With So Help Me Hannah (1978), Wilke also seeks to reclaim her own presence in the wake of her breakup with Oldenburg and his erasure of her name from his Ray Gun Wing (1966–77). While Oldenburg’s work is on display at the Whitney, Wilke shoots (with Donald Goddard) a series of forty-eight photographs at p.s.1 in Long Island (October 1– November 19, 1978), as part of the non-profit The Institute for Art and Urban Resources Special Projects series. Wilke poses nude with toy gun shapes in different sites across the complex, acknowledging her part in collecting toy guns for Oldenburg between 1969 and 1978. The installation of 48 photographs are installed with a set of wall texts compiled by Wilke of quotes from authors writing about relationships and a group of ray guns arranged on four boards on the floor from Wilke and Oldenburg’s original collection, emphasizing the collaboration that Oldenburg denies. 

6 Text / Image Right

Installation of Hannah Wilke’s So Help Me Hannah at PS1.
New York, 1978, with Wilke’s mother, Selma Butter, seated.
Image: Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles

Wilke’s commitment to performance extends from 1974 until the end of her life, with her Intra-Venus Series (1993), taken during the treatment for her lymphoma. In these photographs Wilke repeats some of the poses and gestures from earlier works, marking out the difference in time and the connection between her performances, with the effect that the pin-up stance, or the virginal flourish are shown to be performances, not absolute identifiers of Wilke’s self-identity.

Amelia Jones highlights Wilke’s performances as fundamental to her art and her feminism. Focusing on the S.O.S. Starification Object Series, Jones discusses Wilke’s work in relation to the pose and to the wound.70 Connecting the gum sculptures to ruptures of Wilke’s beauty, Jones describes the ways that Wilke stages the violence of voyeuristic objectification entangled with the historical trauma of the Holocaust. 

The S.O.S. Starification Object Series also starts out as a set of photographic images in Wilke’s S.O.S. Starification Object Series: An Adult Game of Mastication. In this way her photographs can compare to Hesse’s own set of performative images taken by Hermann Landshoff in her studio in 1969, a year before her death. In these images, Hesse allows the works to take on new and playful associations as she wears things around her neck, holds things up for consideration, and positions herself nestled between the works in the studio. Although not a public performance and never considered an artwork, these images create an explicit bodily analogue for Hesse’s sculptures that compares with Wilke’s ongoing investigation of the body, form, and identity. 

8 Large Image

Hannah Wilke
So Help Me Hannah, 1978
Vintage black and white photograph
14 × 11 inches (35.6 × 27.9 cm)
Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles.
Courtesy Alison Jacques, London
© Donald Goddard. Courtesy Donald and Helen Goddard and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.

9 Banner

Hannah Wilke
Portrait of the Artist with Her Mother, Selma Butter, 1978–81
Cibachrome diptych
40 × 30 inches each (101.6 × 76.2 cm each)
Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles.
Courtesy Alison Jacques, London.

10 Banner

Hannah Wilke
Intra-Venus Series No. 4, July 26 and February 19, 1992, 1992
Two Chromogenic supergloss prints
Each photograph: 71 1/2 × 47 1/2 inches (181.6 × 120.7 cm)
Performalist Self-Portraits with Donald Goddard
Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles.
Courtesy Alison Jacques, London.
© Donald Goddard. Courtesy Donald and Helen Goddard and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.

[BANNER, LEFT] Photo of Eva Hesse in her studio, 1968, by Fred W. McDarrah / Getty Images. [BANNER, RIGHT] Photo of Hannah Wilke in her Broome Street studio, 1973. Image courtesy Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles.

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Jones.