Interview with Kerstin Rajnar the creator of the VAGINAMUSEUM.at
Joy Rivault : Who are you?
Kristin Rajnar : My name is Kerstin Rajnar, and I am an Austrian artist who works in the middle of splendid pink worlds and clearly structured contextual pieces of art. My focus lies on psychosocial and critical topics which are processed aesthetically and in a content-related way so that recipients may experience themselves in a personal context. In the center of my pieces stands the “I,” its role, identity and function as a woman in a social (patriarchal) system. One of my main artistic concerns, which has emerged over the years, is the creation of spaces/places/spots in order to link art with society.
I am the founder and art director of VAGINAMUSEUM—the first virtual museum for the female sex.
J. R. : How did you come up with the idea of creating the VAGINAMUSEUM.at ?
K. R. : VAGINA is the colloquial term for the entire female sex, although anatomically it refers to the canal from INSIDE to OUTSIDE. The vagina also represents the female sexuality and can be found symbolically in all myths, religions and societies. Various representations of female sexual organs indicate the existence of a female role model in social systems and allow conclusions to be drawn as to the importance of women in different environments.
Up to now I still haven’t found a single neutral or extensive informative platform for the entire female sex, which is not either negatively influenced or unilaterally specialised. Due to my further research, I have come across an indefinite number of opinions, ideas, truths and approaches by a wide variety of people concerning the topic “female sex,” which still is a taboo but hardly experienced an artistical and comprehensive approach up to now. This is the reason why it was important to me to design an extensive and accessible information medium which helps to show up many different issues regarding this topic.
Positive OPENING from INSIDE to OUTSIDE.
J. R. : For what purpose?
K. R. : The discussion of visualising feminism reaches back a couple of years and allowed/still allows numerous interesting approaches which offer some solutions. However, although a lot has been done already, concepts regarding female sex and a resulting positive self-understanding of one’s own female sexuality still could not be anchored. Fear, shyness, shame and amusement often are recognizable features connected to the female sex. In an indirect way it is obvious that this behaviour has an impact on the personality of women.
According to Naomi Wolf (American feminist author of Vagina: A New Biography), negatively occupied terms trigger pressure in a woman’s brain. This stress does not only inhibit the excitability and lubrication of a woman but also to give birth to a child and breastfeed it. Being sexually stressed over a prolonged period means that other areas of a woman’s life successively can turn bad as well. This pressure inhibits the release of dopamine, which consequently inhibits the further release of substances in the brain which are important for self-confidence, creativity, faith … and particularly are of weight in the case a woman has to compete with the polluter on an academic or professional level.
The pelvic nerves of women are not protected the same way as those of a man and that’s why she physically is much more vulnerable. The Frank Netter images show how highly complex thick nerve cords reach from the pelvis up to the brain. Neurotransmitters send signals from the clitoris, vagina, cervix … up the spinal cord and finally reach the hypothalamus and the brain stem. This internal electrical nervous network is that strong and powerful that it inevitably sends impulses: bottom up and top down. A traumatization of the vagina leaves deep traces in the female brain and conditions and shapes the body and mind of a woman. And so—I assert—it also works the other way round.
My approach to eliminate those injuries is the positive visualisation of the female sex. It will take time, but as the pornographic image disappears, a woman is allowed to shine in her splendour, magnificence and power.
Those changes in the views on the female sex and thus on the woman would break down prejudices, break norms, and move appreciation of femininity to the foreground.
NOT RADICALIZATION BUT NORMALIZATION!
J. R. : What were the reactions of the public following the creation of this museum?
K. R. : See above: Fear, shyness, shame and amusement often are recognisable features connected to the female gender.
J. R. : Could you present the museum ?
K. R. : VAGINAMUSEUM.at is divided into two main areas:
The virtual GALLERY presents different artistic perspectives on the female sex.
The virtual ARCHIVE explores and files essayistic and scientific articles about femininity.
Exhibitions in the GALLERY
VAGINA 2.0 (2014) broaches the issue of current terms and subjective meanings of the female sexual organs. Reflections in dealing with the term vagina are based on ideas, expectations, attributions, associations and emotions by means of art. The artistic inputs range from earlier depictions of vulva symbols in different civilizations and times to the life and work on social media online platforms and sex-positive feminism in cyberspace.
Artists (alphabetical order): Collective AMAE (GB), Teresa Ascencao (CA), Mattia Biagi (US), Iwona Demko (PL), Collective Freudenweide & Villefort (AT), Faith Holland (US), Barbara Klampfl / Gisela Reimer (AT), Petra Mattheis (DE), Sofia Ntontis (AT), Angela Proyer (AT), Melinda Rackham (AU), Rosa Roedelius (AT), Grit Scholz (DE), Ulla Sladek (AT), Christina Strasser (AT), Myriam Thyes (DE), Dorothée Zombronner (DE)
GEBURT _ to animate (2018) is an exploration of the “inner“ functional female body as a point of reception and a place where new life is born—a cultural place of origin. The artistic contributions address natural and artificial processes that create life within a cultural dynamic. They depict desires for the composition of “creation” and range from the metaphoric realization in artistic processes to the “self-design” of life.
Artists (alphabetical order): Zara Alexandrova (DE), Teresa Ascencao (CA), Rachelle Beaudoin (US), Yvonne Beelen (NL), Ada Kobusiewicz (AT/POL), Renate Kordon (AT), Bernhard Krähenmann (CH), Gertrude Moser-Wagner (AT), Boryana Rossa (US), Barbara Schmid / Ulla Sladek (AT), Maja Smekar (SI)
Articles by: www.motherhoodinprehistory.wordpress.com – www.doula.at – www.erdbeerwoche.com
Contributions in the ARCHIVE
ART HISTORY (2014) gives an overview of the depiction of the female sex starting from the European Palaeolithic up to present day art by means of various examples. The texts about different periods serve as an introduction to offer information on the political and cultural events of the time, on the women’s role and stylistic characteristics relating to art. The art works of particular periods were chosen to exemplify particular times. They illustrate the style of the period and serve as documents for particular stages of development.
Upper Palaeolithic, Copper Age, Iron-Bronze Age, Ancient Greece, Roman Empire, Early Christian Art, Late Antiquity, Pre-Romanesque Art, Romanesque Art, Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Classicism, Romanticism, Historicism, Realism, Impressionism, Modern Age, Postmodern Era, Feminist Art, Contemporary Art
VAGINALOGY (2016) offers insights into the topics of woman, body, sexuality and society. For a long time, various forms and functions concerning the female sexual organ have been a matter of mysticism. Additionally, research remains reluctant when it comes to new insights in sexology—they often go unnoticed for a long time. VAGINALOGY shows the current state of research as well as different perspectives on various issues and problem areas. It clarifies present thought patterns and presents the latest scientific insights.
Stages of Life, Gener Identity, Sexual Orientation, Intrior View, Exterior View, Sexuality, Contraception, Birth, Menstruation, Orgasm, Repoduction, Sexual Medicine, Venereal Diseases, Procedures, Violence, Terminology
Kerstin Rajnar: Founder / Director
Doris Jauk-Hinz: Exhibition concept and Curator of: “VAGINA 2.0 – The virtual opening exhibition” and “BIRTH_to animate”
Sara Buchbauer: Scientific contribution and Text of: “ART HISTORY – An overview of the depiction of the female sex”
Jana Studnicka: Scientific contribution and Text of: “VAGINALOGY”
Christine Wilhelm: Translation AT / EN
CHOICE OF WORK
An ancient presentation about the Vulva
I pretty much like the BAUBO sculptures.
In ancient Greek mythology the story about goddess Baubo is narrated like this:
Demeter was mourning the loss of her daughter, Persephone, who was kidnapped and had disappeared. Then, Demeter visited Baubo who offered her a drink. When she declined it, Baubo felt rejected and tried to cheer up the goddess by shaving and uncovering her vulva to her. Baubo’s act made Demeter laugh, and cheered her up.
In science it is questionable whether Baubo really was a goddess but there are several interpretations, which among others include her being a female demon, a queen, or Demeter’s nurse. In the 19th century, a Demeter sanctuary was found at excavations in Priene, where so-called Baubo figurines were discovered. One figure shows the face in the torso. After this archeological find, research spoke of “vulva personifications.” Monika Gsell (Swiss Cultural scientist, gender researcher, psychoanalyst, lecturer and author) writes in her book Die Bedeutung der Baubo – Studien zur Repräsentation des weiblichen Genitales that the figurines received the name Baubo figurines due to the obscene act conveyed in mythology.
The pig-riding Baubo acts as witch leader in the Walpurgis Night. In older sources, there are various theories on the interpretation of the figure riding on a pig’s back. I especially like that it is a part of Goethe’s first part of Faust:
“Baubo riding on the pig” appears as follows:
“Old Baubo comes alone,
I see; Astride on farrow sow is she!
So honor be where honor is due!
Dame Baubo first!
To lead the crew!
A hag upon a sturdy sow!
All witches come and follow now!”
A contemporary presentation about the Vulva in ancient times is the Flash animation:
GLOBAL VULVA by Myriam Thyes, 2009
The animation “Global Vulva” connects female figures and vulva symbols from different times, countries and cultures, while they morph into each other—cultural meaning of the female genital becomes visible again. You’ll see Paleolithic engravings, the Greek goddess Baubo, a winged woman from an Ice Age culture in Siberia, an Irish Sheela-na-gig, drawings of vulvas and of their symbols, the Indian goddess Kali and a Yoni stone, the Tibetan goddess Naljorma Dewa, a statue of a noble ancestor of the Lwena in Angola, the Aztec goddess Mayahuel, the Black Stone at the Kaaba in Mecca, a double-tailed mermaid from a church in Tuscany, the protecting Dilukai from Micronesia, hands forming the mudra “Lotus and Bee” in a labyrinth, an amulet of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, a winged sun disk, and the oldest human figure ever found, the so-called Venus of Hohle Fels.
J. R. : What is the place of Antiquity within the museum ?
K. R. : The section about ART HISTORY, which was worked out by Sara Buchbauer in the archive of VAGINAMUSEUM gives an overview of the depiction of the female sex starting from the European Paleolithic up to present day art by means of various examples.
“In prehistoric times, the depiction of the vulva represented the female power as life-giver. Her value regarding the existence of humanity was highly respected. Mostly, the pudental cleft and the vulva triangle were depicted, some Venus figures also showed the labia. In Antiquity, the woman’s pubic area was an even vulva triangle; the sex was tabooed and presented incompletely. At the time, the existing vulva charms had an apotropaic effect in order to prevent disasters. The vulva of Baubo figurines was shown in a stylized way. During the Middle Ages, the image of the woman changed, which was partly due to the church. Woman was regarded as being inferior to man and as the incarnation of sin. Figures which are pointing to their vulva might have been a caricature of the Celtic goddess Mórrígan and were positioned outside of churches in order to prevent people from misbelief and to show woman’s dangerousness. Art history often accesses classical works of art; for example, those of the Renaissance and Classicism. This is why the incomplete depiction of the female sex in the form of the even vulva triangle was adopted and represented in European art history through centuries with the exception of the Nordic Renaissance artists around Albrecht Dürer.Their intention was to depict people as lifelike as possible. Therefore, some pictures from this latitude and time occasionally showed the vulva together with the pudental cleft in a mythological context and thus idealised. During the Baroque, in “salon painting” as well as in Classicism and other styles, the woman was an erotic object of desire and served men’s curiosity. During Modernism, society changed and this period of transition created new ideas and styles. The vulva was naturally in the center of the picture and was no longer depicted in a passive way. The women in nudes were active, for example in Klimt’s works, insofar as they were painted in masturbation scenes. According to different styles, the vulva appeared in an abstract, stylized, fragmented and imaginary way. In Postmodernism, artists among others engaged in gender and identity topics until feminist art called for intensive work with topics like woman, vagina and vulva.” (Text by Sara Buchbauer)
J. R. : Who can contribute to the museum’s archives?
K. R. : Currently we are building up a virtual ARCHIVE which files essayistic and scientific articles about femininity.
Everybody can send their work in order to present.
The project team thanks Kerstin Rajnar and VAGINAMUSEUM.at for their interest in this material and for providing a helpful link to the Genitalia & Co. site.