Raunch, Feminism and Design


A confusing trend has developed whereby through a desire to emancipate the female body and its diverse modes of sexual expression, women have come perilously close to returning their bodies to the status of mere objects of desire. What is known as ‘raunch culture’, in which it is considered daring to foreground women’s sexuality quickly threatens to re-objectify the woman’s body, and make nothing further of her powers than her sex. An architectural exemplar might be the uninhabitable, laser-cut perspex folly within which is trapped a go-go dancing figure, designed by Cassandra Fahey of Cassandra Complex for the 2005 Pavilions for New Architecture show hosted by the Monash University Museum of Art (September 1 – 29 October, 2005). How are we to read the sexy, girating body trapped and inaccessible in this glass-like enclosure? Similar ambiguities are much more readily available in the visual arts, where at the same time women practitioners appear more daring to explore the issues – think Tracey Moffat’s video vignettes Love, which explore Hollywood desire, and Patricia Piccinini’s Big Mother where a not human/not animal breastfeeds a human baby (both works were part of Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum). But why this focus on sex to define what woman can be or can do? Clearly this work is edgy, if not controversial. What does this work contribute to architecture and art-based research and feminism? And, further more, how can these ambiguous exemplars act as precedent for design research and teaching?

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Niki Kalms is a Graduate of the Architecture Program at RMIT University. She has a Master in Landscape Architecture (RMIT) and is current working on research to contribute to her PhD. Niki teaches in the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT University.