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Spurned by the 1982 translation of psychoanalyst and philosopher Julia Kristeva’s into English, the focus on abjection gave its practitioners, from contemporary artists to feminist theorists, a shorthand to describe the then-ongoing Culture Wars and the identity-based oppressions inflicted by a conservative populace and its conservative elected officials.

The AIDS crisis, the Watts Riots, the Anita Hill trial, anti-feminism, and the general collapse of the American welfare state all pointed to a historical scene replete with crisis.

A thorough elaboration of Kristeva’s theory demands more attention than can be given here, but, to gloss, abjection refers to the condition following “primal repression,” or the subject’s psychic and biological split from the mother in infancy.

In order for the child to assume a self and enter symbolic communication, they must renounce and repudiate the maternal, a zone representing “no clear distinctions of subject and object, inner and outer, ‘I’ and others,” as Menninghaus writes.

By means of artworks using or suggesting bodily fluids and anatomical body parts considered “disgusting” or “offensive,” the exhibition attempted to mobilize the psychoanalytic theory of abjection for an exploration of the limits of taboo subject matters and their political implications.

As the curators stated in their catalogue’s introduction, “Employing methodologies adapted from feminism, queer theory, post-structuralism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis, our goal is to talk dirty in the institution and degrade its atmosphere of purity and prudery by foregrounding issues of gender and sexuality in the art exhibited.” As “abject art,” their curatorial neologism meant to describe an art that either utilized or commented on abjection, it would directly challenge normative notions of morality, cleanliness, decency, and invariably, identity.

When the nostalgia train hits a time when you were actually an adult, you palpably experience the constructedness of history.” Discrepancies emerge between Lieberman’s recollection of the 1993 New York artworld and the inevitably different equivalent on display.This violent fracture from the mother, which necessitates the psychic casting of the maternal as consuming and threatening, haunts the subject their entire life.Kristeva notes, “We may call it a border; abjection is above all ambiguity.The question is, now, in an artworld and social climate grappling with similar if not identical questions, how to contend with these issues of identity, their expression in art, and the perpetual abjection of certain people without entombing them as weird phenomena of the 1990s?Contemporary art has never known what to do with the wounded, injured, and broken bodies, both on TV and in the galleries.

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