Anne-Marie Dubois

Author / Summer 2018

To see the body as untouchable is problematic; it is a political construction

An intense image of a tautly muscular person with muddied and bandaged-wrapped hands, clenched into fists, appears on the screen. The person is grimacing while poised mid-blow, their arm embedded in a tall, thick block of clay. Anne-Marie Dubois is presenting her in-progress research, Queering the Visible: Abstraction as a Subversive Strategy, to the group assembled in the shared basement studio of Est-Nord-Est’s residency artists’ house. We are looking at an image from Becoming an Image, a performance work by Heather Cassils, one of the transgendered artists whose work Dubois is examining in the context of her PhD research. The image was captured as Cassils wrestled with and pummeled a two-thousand-pound block of clay to the point of complete exhaustion – in the dark, in front of an audience – while a photographic flash periodically illuminated the scene.

Dubois investigates the work of artists who challenge the notion that the body is a biological given and instead make art that shows how its construction – its representation and identity – is an ongoing and never-ending process. Dubois opened her talk by declaring herself to be a materialist; bodies, she reassures us, are “real.” But however real, material, and subjected to living and non-living forces our bodies may be, biology is not our destiny. This is a dynamic new materialism that is intermeshed and in dialogue with constructivist ideas of continual becoming. Beyond their theoretical relevance, these ideas have political and social implications, as we have seen recently, especially in the refutation of the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people.

In opening up these areas of inquiry, Dubois theorizes, queer artists “use abstraction as a strategy” to destabilize and move outside of the norm, to reveal and undermine the violence that deterministic ideas of biology and the body perpetuate, to question the stasis and truth of the image, and to make space for ongoing transformations. These artists make the instability of identity overt, which perhaps adds to the discomfort that some people feel when confronted with bodies that change characteristics that some people take as immutable, such as gender. When questioned by audience members, Dubois points out that she is not trying to propose a theory that will work for all kinds of artwork or prove a universal truth. In fact, she is “trying to undermine this notion” – to make room for the particular and the notion of bodies, identities, and representations that are always in transition.


Anne-Marie Dubois, a doctoral student in art history, is an author and independent art critic. Guided by a feminist and multidisciplinary approach, she is currently pursuing research around the notions of “object” and “subject” and has a particular interest in new materialism. Her concerns bear mainly on the contemporary rearticulation of identities through the lens of life sciences and technologies and on discursive issues and materials in bio-art practices and those used by artists emerging from the queer multitude. In her critical position, she borrows from the political potential of feminist theories in order to debunk the ontological claim of different discourses of truth regarding bodies and identities.