Free Blog: Hannah Wilke

So I’m in this Bad Girls class (luvv it) and it tends to overlap/synchronize with our art history class, not only in material, but in classmates (hey y’all). It feels sometimes that I am ridin’ on the coattails of my classmates in the Bad Girls class when I write my blog posts about what my peers have presented but their presentations have opened my eyes to many artists that I haven’t heard of; sometimes I do know of them, but never known ENOUGH.

Last night, there was a presentation on Hannah Wilke. I had learned about Hannah Wilke from my high school Women’s Studies class (1/2 a semester, of which the other 1/2 was Art History…. these are your options when there is both a chainsaw class and a logging class as popular options) but only a little bit. I knew of her S.O.S. — Starification Object Series from 1974 but that’s pretty much it. In this series she had the audience chew gum and then she would form vulva from the chewed gum. She stuck the vaginal pieces on herself and then took photos in traditional pinup lady-poses. This was a juxtaposition of glamor and sexiness with scarification or “starification”.


I remember being in my women’s studies class (junior year of high school, four years ago! Thank god) and my classmates laughing and being all country juvenile and squealing about vaginas on her face. (barf, Fall Mountain, barf.)

Anyway, this was my base knowledge of Hannah Wilke. Last night, my classmate presenting talked about her Intra-Venus series, which I had never heard of. (Bad art student)


Brush Strokes, 1992. artists hair on paper.


Intra-Venus Series #3, August 17 and August 9, 1992 


Intra-Venus Triptych, 1992

Intra-Venus is a chronicle of Wilke’s illness and ultimately, death. She was diagnosed with lymphoma and died in 1992. The work was published after her death, with videos being released as recently as 2009. She had sketched the rough idea for the video installation with her husband, who then finished and showed it.


The videos show Wilke from the beginning of her illness to the end.


I thought this piece was incredible and it blew me away. It’s a side of an artist or really, a side of a person that is generally not revealed except to a few chosen individuals. By presenting herself as she dies, she is defining herself as a person. In the past she had been called narcissistic because of the use of herself in her art and because of her appearance as a beautiful woman. This piece shows it is not her beauty she cares about or ever cared about.

She reminds us of what illness is. Cancer is not a pink yogurt, a charity walk, or a marketing device. Cancer is real. Illness is real. Here is illness and here she is. Death is inescapable and this piece is hard to look at because we wish we could deny that we, ourselves, and everyone else will die. This is a chronicle of Hannah Wilke’s illness and death, and my own/your own chronicle isn’t too far away.

I connected with this piece in my own selfish way; last year my father was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer so he dealt with that. He still wasn’t feelin’ too hot. He went back to the doctors and they told him “sorry bro! that ulcer was caused by a tumor! whoops”. He has a decent sized tumor (not super large but not particularly small) in between layers of tissue or something? Something tricky.

Basically, they kept him on some ulcer meds and said “ehhh lets wait and see”. Then, when they figured out that his little tumor buddy wasn’t going to magically say “oh sorry guys I am not welcome here, I’ll just leave”, they stuck him on some chemo pills.

This was really scary to me. It was mild chemo obviously but still I could only think CANCER CANCER CANCER. I drove my dad to the hospital when I was home in the summer (I was home for about two weeks) and they gave him all sorts of drugs and scans and stuff. I asked my dad’s doctor if it was cancer. They replied “it isn’t cancer! but it’s not benign….” (so what the hell is it). My mom said “oh it’s funny to see him all drugged up”.

nah – maybe if you’re his wife, but not really as his kid. it’s not really funny, seeing my dad laying in a hospital bed not knowing what’s going on (he accidentally locked himself in the bathroom which was a little funny, but still). Luckily, his tumor is shrinking and they’re planning to take it out asap. He’s going to have to take a couple weeks off from work to recuperate and he’s strugglin’ with that – “oh but January is such a good month for sales! And February, everybody wants a new couch! Maybe we could wait until the middle of March?” The surgeon was a little taken aback and said the latest he felt comfortable waiting for would be early February.




I saw Hannah Wilke’s Intra-Venus and it really struck me. Welcoming the public into a deeply private moment such as this is such a statement and this piece sticks to me. (Kind of like those little gum vulva’s stuck to Hannah Wilke’s face but more like little reminders on my brain).



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