About this artwork
Since the late 1980s, Chicago-based artist Jeanne Dunning has become known internationally for her provocative photographs and videos that employ the human body to explore gender norms, sexuality, and our visual apprehension of reality. In many of her works, she initially fosters moments of misrecognition, leading us to think that we are looking at something other than what is actually represented. The artist also often develops a degree of tension between the grotesque on the one hand and the sensual or erotic on the other.
In the video Icing, the hands of an anonymous, off-screen woman are shown as she prepares a bowl of white cake frosting. Slowly, over the course of thirty minutes, she uses it to cover the head of another woman, as if decorating a cake. This cool, methodical process depersonalizes the seated woman, gradually obscuring her features. In the end, the sitter loses her individual identity, becoming instead an inert sculptural form vaguely reminiscent of a marble bust, which is accentuated by a white paper collar around the neck that effectively serves as its base. Meanwhile, the actions of the faceless pastry chef resemble the strokes of a brush or palette knife, evoking the act of painting.
Notably, these allusions to classical art forms emerge through activities and materials that traditionally carry feminine, household associations, which are underscored at the end of the video as the woman washes her utensils. In this regard, Dunning’s work recalls feminist video art of the 1970s, which depicted homely activities with a sustained, concentrated focus, aiming to legitimize the place of the domestic in art. The nature of the interaction in Icing complicates this kind of practice, however, by suggesting that a fixation on supposed women’s routines can be potentially restrictive or fetishizing—not unequivocally liberating.
- Jeanne Dunning
- United States
- Made 1996
- Single-channel video, color, with sound, 30 min. loop
- Gift of Donna and Howard Stone
- © 1996 Jeanne Dunning.