Aging is a process that actually starts at birth. We are never a day, a month or a year younger even though people say it when congratulating you on your birthday, starting at about the age of 40: “50? Impossible, I’d give you 30 tops, maybe 31!” At the same time, we are offered seats on the bus which is a sure sign that our looks reflect our actual age. The appearance of age has become an important driving force for capitalism and corporate power to control people’s lives. The look of youth is a norm that has become deep-rooted in most parts of the world; to be fit and to have supple skin is the best formula for success, and which not only propels cosmetics companies but also aesthetic surgery, the pharmaceutical industry and employment markets. All manner of pills, a small cut here and a little something added there – it all makes it easier to survive although it is very expensive and only accessible to a certain social class. The rejuvenation industry is a new separation line between the rich and the poor who are now separated from a decent life by yet another insurmountable gap.

We've gone so far, that the mere sight of wrinkled skin makes a lot of people embarrassed and anxious. Sagging breasts and tummy, saggy skin on hands and legs, age-related skin spots, degenerative disc disease and a number of small or deep-lined wrinkles on face, hands and neck have become repulsive signs of age arousing fear because they remind us of our own transitoriness and the proximity of death. The environment we live in determines the view which changes in time. It is a reflection of cultural changes and social processes which establish how we see the world. Using Bourdieu we might call such a view a pure taste that can only bear a certain type of aesthetic, whilst proclaiming the rest primitive and dirty. This pure taste originates from disgust of anything not adapted to high class aesthetics which – of course – does not include age and aging. In this perspective, pure taste is a product of neoliberal production of divisions, otherness, fears and hatred. Neoliberal because it doesn’t know any limits or restrictions, and there’s nothing sacred in its scramble for profit; people are a mere means to an end that can easily be discarded after use. The harder it is on them, the easier it is to use them. It is easiest when you persuade the public of their disposability, and the best way to do this is to declare them, in accordance with high class aesthetics, criminals and savages. Mary Douglas related this concept of clean and dirty to culture which reflects to what extent this neoliberal logic became rooted in a certain environment and thus becoming a part of culture, i.e. internalised patterns of thought and thereby also the view.

The disgust of (or fear for) old bodies cannot be equated with the disgust of old people although it cannot be totally separated, the same as we can’t separate the body and soul. The disgust functions as delusion replacing classical biological categories of youth and age. Due to the fact that these periods get blurred to the extent that it is no longer clear when youth ends and even less when old age begins, they are replaced by other views which strive to replace old biological categories. The aesthetic values of desirable and undesirable looks are one of these delusions that make up an important part of social construction of age and aging.

Art is one of the significant agents of reality construction in many senses. It can either consolidate the relationship with age or reflect and transform it. It is a fact that older actresses find it difficult to get roles because allegedly there’s not enough characters for them to play, and consequently older women do not appear in drama texts. Why is that? They don’t have anything to say? Their life is not interesting enough, not even in the imagination of women and men writers in order to make their way in the text? Or is it that the view of them onstage would more insult the taste of the audience than satisfy it? Older women rarely perform in dance productions, be it contemporary or classic. As if only a certain type of movement was possible or only a certain move could please the taste of a spectator of either gender. It is similar in fine art where only over the last decades and only in little bits have the handicapped, obese and older bodies (re)appeared; indeed, female and male painters and sculptors offend beauty ideals and thereby risk devastating critics. It is evident that art becomes subversive by depicting bodies slightly deviating from the norm let alone an old nude body.

As many times thus far, the City of Women Festival will also this year be subversive. Naked female bodies as old as 75 will hang from coat hangers like clothes that we wear without being covered and decorated, with all the wrinkles, scars and other appendages. It will show a body of a woman covered with burns and tell how she lives and survives. It will tell the story of old women on the Jeju-do island who for centuries freedive and bring from the depths of the sea things that help them and their families survive. It will introduce a number of other stories, but there’s no need to worry that our sight might be offended and our night's sleep disturbed due to potential nightmares caused by too many wrinkles and the effect of gravity which pulls the whole body down to the ground so that it swings and dangles. These women artists don’t worry about that. On the contrary, they speak out with some humour, sarcasm and cynicism which again this year won’t leave us cold and indifferent. They will sip us up, chew us well and they might even spit us out but we will enjoy it. Welcome and enjoy yourself.

Vesna Leskošek, Honorary President of the Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture – City of Women