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Contemporary flâneuses in late capitalism: the representation of urban space in two Hong Kong women artists’ works

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Abstract

In literature on modern urban life, a flâneur is a man who wanders seemingly aimlessly but with the intention of observing people or events in urban life and perhaps recording these observations in text or images. This article shows how contemporary women artists in Hong Kong—a city in late capitalism, perform the role of the flâneuse, the female counterpart of the flâneur. The article analyses Stella Tang’s series of paintings Sauntering Through My City Series (2009–2016) and Annie Wan’s ceramic works Looking For Poetry in Wanchai (2005) and Collecting Moonlight (2017). The article takes a nomadic nondialectical approach to explore how the two women artists practise their flâneurie, and how they transform such experiences into art projects that are different from the conventional flâneur art. I identify three aspects of the alternative representation of urban space in the works of the two flâneuses: reconfiguration of conception, the creative appropriation of alternative art forms and public engagement. full article available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/N6M3JNVAAJU9JFFUEKPW/full?target=10.1080/10304312.2020.1750565
Contemporary âneuses in late capitalism: the representation
of urban space in two Hong Kong women artistsworks
Hong Zeng
Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, China
ABSTRACT
In literature on modern urban life, a âneur is a man who wanders
seemingly aimlessly but with the intention of observing people or
events in urban life and perhaps recording these observations in
text or images. This article shows how contemporary women artists
in Hong Konga city in late capitalism, perform the role of the
âneuse, the female counterpart of the âneur. The article analyses
Stella Tangs series of paintings Sauntering Through My City Series
(20092016) and Annie Wans ceramic works Looking For Poetry in
Wanchai (2005) and Collecting Moonlight (2017). The article takes
a nomadic nondialectical approach to explore how the two women
artists practise their âneurie, and how they transform such experi-
ences into art projects that are dierent from the conventional
âneur art. I identify three aspects of the alternative representation
of urban space in the works of the two âneuses: reconguration of
conception, the creative appropriation of alternative art forms and
public engagement.
KEYWORDS
Chinese contemporary art;
hong Kong art; womens art;
âneuse; nomadic subjects;
feminist art
Introduction
The eeting, anonymous, ephemeral encounters of life in the metropolis(Wol1985, 37)
has attracted Baudelaire and his successor Benjamin since the literature of modernity in
nineteenth-century. In BaudelairesThe Painter of Modern Life (1863), he portrays the
illustrator Constantin Guys as the ideal âneur/artist, a person who wanders aimlessly,
but with the intention of observing people or events in the city and recording these
observations in texts or images. Half a century later, Benjamin centred the gure of the
âneur in daily urban life. Yet some feminist scholars argue that because of the gender
divisions in the nineteenth century, women had to stay mainly in private spaces like
homes and private gardens. The gure of the âneur is thus inherently gendered male
because women had limited access to public space (Wol1985; Pollock 2003). The female
counterpart of the âneur in French the âneuse’–is invisible in the literature of
modernity. Elkin (2017) points out that most French dictionaries do not even include the
word âneuse. Parsons (2000) notes that in modernity, the activities of the âneurie are
the privilege of bourgeois males. Therefore, only they can be the artists of modern life.
However, today, women in late capitalist cities such as Hong Kong are no longer pre-
vented from accessing public spaces; theoretically, they have the same access to
CONTACT Hong Zeng zenghong0808@gmail.com
CONTINUUM: JOURNAL OF MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES
https://doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2020.1750565
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
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Although the social status of women in Hong Kong has changed significantly in recent decades, Hong Kong women continue to perform mothering, caregiving and homemaking tasks into late adulthood. Employing an agential realist approach to analyse the homes and discursive–materialist practices of three older women, this paper explores how the entanglement of materialities, discourses and subjectivities at home as a site of cultural action contributes to the ongoing enactment of divergent subjectivities of older Hong Kong women. The structural–spatial configurations of the three homes manifest the patrilineal and male-dominated family system in Hong Kong, and such older women perform a set of ‘normal’ (house) wifely and motherly duties linked to the maintenance of the male-dominated family system. Nevertheless, these older women’s subjectivities and their domestic worlds evolve through ongoing discursive–materialist practices. This paper further argues that, even if such factors as materialities, structures and practices either are neutral or indeed reinforce existing power imbalances, the dynamic and ongoing intra-action of these factors results in exclusionary but open conditions that may stabilize or subvert social phenomena, such as the ones discussed in this study: patriarchal domestic practices in Hong Kong homes. (Please go to the following link to download the full text: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09589236.2018.1429256)
Article
The literature of modernity, describing the fleeting, anonymous, ephemeral encounters of life in the metropolis, mainly accounts for the experiences of men. It ignores the concomitant separation of public and private spheres from the mid-nineteenth century, and the increasing segregation of the sexes around that separation. The influential writings of Baudelaire, Simmel, Benjamin and, more recently, Richard Sennett and Marshall Berman, by equating the modern with the public, thus fail to describe women's experience of modernity. The central figure of the flâneur in the literature of modernity can only be male. What is required, therefore, is a feminist sociology of modernity to supplement these texts.
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