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Doorknob in the desert: Agnes Martin’s queer becoming

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Alongside recent knowledge of her schizophrenia, Agnes Martin’s lesbianism and its relation to her extraordinary achievement as an artist needs to be better understood. Anterior to activist Monique Wittig’s infamous 1978 public statement that ‘lesbians are not women’ (Wittig 1993: 32), in 1973 Martin (refusing compulsory heterosexuality’s sex and gender dimorphism) humorously protested that she ‘was not a woman but a doorknob’ (Johnston 1998: 300). Ultimately, Martin’s liberation was a liberation through identification with non-human being: a painterly practice of queer becoming that can be thought of as the Foucauldian creation of life as a ‘work of art’ – a desubjectivization of the self or ‘death of the subject’ enacting a Barthesian ‘desire for the neutral’ (Barthes 2005) to become one with the vitality and vibrancy of matter itself.
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Keywords: care of self; desire for the neutral; desubjectivization; queer becoming; same-sexuality; transformational object

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Royal Academy Schools, London

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • Journal of Contemporary Painting responds to the territory and practice of contemporary painting in its broadest sense, viewing painting as a context for discussion, exploring its sphere of history and influence, rather than as a medium specific debate. The JCP combines a thematic approach with an open call, each issue opening up and problematising pressing concerns in contemporary painting.

    As well as contributions to current debates on contemporary art, a particular feature of the Journal of Contemporary Painting is the publication of archival or newly translated texts alongside current responsive articles, based on the premise that contemporary painting cannot be understood without reflecting on its history. Dedication to understanding the nature and forms of painting research has also led to the inclusions of an original visual essay for every edition. Additionally we respond to current exhibitions, books and symposia, nationally and internationally, in our reviews section.

    Our aim is to be responsive to current debates in painting and related art practices, drawing from a wide geographical field and across discipline boundaries to provide a discursive space in which a range of subject specialisms can be brought to bear on the culture of painting. We are particularly interested in writing emerging from practice-based research as well as from academics working in different disciplines.

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