Tessa Boffin, an artist who battled with the confliction of transgressions, the AIDs epidemic, and all the negative and destructive ‘pop’ culture surrounding such ripe topics of the 80’s and 90’s.
Boffins archive here at UCA Farnham is formed by a selection of her raw journals and collected material, a body of work that plays an important part in the progression of further understanding the position of the feminine in today’s culture. Boffin’s work materialised during a time when the word ‘Feminism’ was becoming a word of transgression, The Knights Move 1991, ‘her muscles exaggerated by a robust suit of armour’ (Cherry, 2002, 109) – The Masculine the new Feminine.
The definition of the word itself was changing; feminism was becoming a threat to political and social structure associated to the masculine identity – hence the media adopting it as a form of destruction of any remaining positivity on the subject matter. Through this social, cultural and political battle of the sexes in society the feminine was discarded, a quality seen to be suppressed, weak, controlled… – but this can and should be challenged. Arguably, the feminine and the masculine identity are only man-made identities used as a tool to feed or protect ones desire for power.
Women have not always been the passive subject nor vulnerable object, but warriors and a respected figure of nature; the giver of life. In reference to Yin and Yang, the harmonious balance, which originated from, I Ching, China’s most spiritual book – later the Han scholar Dong Zhongshu manipulated this philosophy into a tool for power by associating gender to philosophy; making yang more inferior to Yin, Yin being the female, the feminine, and the Yang the male, the masculine. This is not only an example of a man-made separation of sexes twisted into the harmony of the universe but further evidence of the use of Confucian used to control and suppress women politically. Along with, Mary Magdalene’s portrayal has been subjected to – and in many cases overshadowed by – the identity of a prostitute. Could it be possible that this is yet another example of a constructed identity used to un-stabilise her role as an important companion of Jesus? Philosophy is a form of religion – and in the wrong hands can become ones foundation to dictatorship.
It’s important to state that the masculine is not the bad guy here; the masculine is also a man-made identity used as a tool for power. It is nor the subject of feminine and the masculine which is the problem but in fact a political structure put in place to provoke the battle of the sexes. In reference to the Tang Dynasty, Empress Wu was the first female emperor to rule China and saw her own existence beyond gender, as a neutral being. This adds to our notion of the suppressed gender, which slowly becomes a way to unconsciously formulate some kind of social and political construction within society, helping form the word ‘civilisation’, and all stemming from our primitive desire for power and control.
Boffin conflicted between battles of her own sexuality and where this stood not only politically and socially but most poignantly, her mind. An on-going personal battle is evident within her journals and collected material; so is a spirit to challenge, which remains relevant and current to our times.
Through her playful practice of role playing, Boffin brings forth a sense of artificial existence within political and social structures that feed into the mainstream of pop culture. She provides questions as a way of trying to understand the world around her and gains control by adopting the power element associated to the identity of the masculine – an experience that manages to deconstruct both identities of the masculine and the feminine.
Boffins collected materials and journals are intense, and in some cases quite disturbing. Yet Boffin’s work demonstrates a depth and sensitivity to the world that surrounded her – and played part in Boffins on-going battle with social and cultural corruptions, hidden by the many blind corners of many constructions.
By Katie McGurk
Learning Support Advisor, UCA
MA student at Royal College of Art