Encounters with androgyny - through the visual practice of Chau, Wilson and Bess
Chau, Kenneth Kei Wing
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The thesis examines how aspects of androgyny have influenced the creative practice of Kenneth Chau, Martha Wilson and Forrest Bess. It describes how each of these artists have used androgyny as a means of entering a higher state of mind aiding them in their respective visual narratives. Each of the three artists use different mediums for their artworks – Bess was a painter, Wilson is a performance artist, and Chau employs both photography and performance. This thesis will begin with a brief history of androgyny in contemporary culture, followed by a section contextualising androgyny against critical and scholarly discourse. It continues with three case studies, first with Chau exploring aspects of human behaviour and in particular androgynous behaviours expressed in his major body of work. As part of the completion of the thesis, there is a portfolio of Chau’s major work entitled restraint & hijara, consisting of 14 photographs, 10 enlarged contact sheets, and 3 film stills, which were all created primarily to articulate the original term performed-androgyny. This is followed by a case study of Wilson’s performances and knowledge of androgyny. Wilson questions through her work whether or not the concept of androgyny could be politically driven due to her gender and appearance. The case studies conclude with a critique of Bess’ works, but also how Bess’ expression of androgyny was misguided and ultimately led to his demise. All three share the common thread of using aspects of androgyny in their works. Androgyny is a concept that can be expressed and understood through almost any discourse or subject. Specifically addressing these three artistic practitioners and their shared sensibility for androgyny was the primary catalyst that instigated this research.