Artist Statement: Glass Ceiling
By Jill Greenberg, 2011
The “Glass Ceiling” project is about the “set up” of being a woman. These women are professional athletes and dancers; therefore, they are dressed for work. In 2008, I was commissioned to do a “fashion” shoot using the US Olympic Synchronized Swim Team as models. Two of the set ups included high heels for the athletes.
Inspired by the shoots outtakes I hired a local synchronized swim troupe in 2010 and directed the women with gestures as I sat at the bottom of a pool in full scuba gear with a then state-of-the-art 65 megapixel back on my digital camera.
As these athletes attempt to pose the water knocks them into awkward positions. The heels are overtly absurd and hinder their movement, amplifying their lack of control in this underwater world.
“The disciplinary project of femininity is a setup, it requires such radical and extensive bodily transformation, that a woman is destined in some degree to fail.”
This quote by Sandra Lee Bartky was the crux of my senior thesis, “The Female Object” at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989. At the conclusion of the multimedia presentation that was the “Female Object,” the final projected slide declared “Exit the Powder Room.” It was my assertion that this project of femininity is a self-created distraction from accomplishing more serious goals.
“Glass Ceiling” marks for me the return to my explorations throughout the 90's of the depiction of the female body as if directly channeled from internalized patriarchal male gaze. In these images, the identities have become inconsequential as their heads are cut off, the sexualized bodies are the focus. As a female artist, I have experimented with imagery which explores the objectification of women for many years. First, a series of drawings of women as seen by men, just breasts, vaginas, heels, then a multimedia digital piece commissioned for RSUB in 1996, called "Eve of the Future" which posited that if man could genetically engineer the woman of his dreams, she would have multiple orifices and no head. This work was later acquired as part of a collection by SF MOMA.
The images channel the feelings I have of being powerless in a culture run by men. The psychic violence is made pictorially overt. The subjects are victimized despite their physical strength, health and any other good luck they might have been born into. The fact that they had the bad luck of being born women makes them a punchline. The violence in our slang and street vernacular used in discussing women and sexual intercourse makes it apparent that the collective male culture feels aggressively dismissive of women. I felt it was important to show the violence and emotion I feel as a woman in contemporary culture, from a woman's point of view. The images might be read as violent towards women, they are meant to be. This is what it feels like to exist in the female body.