Tag Archives: feminist art

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-4

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

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Susanna Heller: A Pussy in the Boardroom

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Susanna Heller, ACTUAL SIZE (A Pussy in the Boardroom), December 2, 2016. Oil, fabric, mixed media on wood, canvas and board, 32 x 28 inches spherical, detail.

In the sphere pictured above you see visceral images: paint marks, line marks, blobs, scumbles, drips, and shapes evoking pussy’s world. The escalation, diminishment, or distortion of pussy’s scale, shape,and actual appearance occurs in every person, but the most powerfully destructive distortions are those coming from that great circle of violent power: the men at the table!

Where is MEANING now? One of many places to find meaning is in the glorious force of the physical weight of marks on surface, something I have always nicknamed ‘groiny-ness’.  Whether making things or experiencing things, groiny-ness is empowering and brings courage and joy.

More and more I realize that simply insisting on this feeling in one’s life and work is pretty frightening and challenging to the boardroom-table-men.

Susanna Heller was born in New York. When she was 7, her family moved to Montreal, Canada. After completing college at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Heller returned to New York in 1978. She has lived and worked in Brooklyn since 1981. Her awards include grants and fellowships from the NEA, Guggenheim Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, The Canada Council, and Yaddo. She is represented by the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto, John Davis Gallery in Hudson, NY, and at MagnanMetz gallery in New York.

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Rachel Owens

Rachel Owens, Ginny’s Fist, broken glass and resin, 2015.

Rachel Owens, Ginny’s Fist, broken glass and resin, 2015.

rachel-owens-mothers-fist-text

Rachel Owens lives and works in Brooklyn. Her first job in NYC was helping Mira Schor where she first read M/E/A/N/I/N/G. She makes sculptures, performances, and videos, teaches at SUNY Purchase College, and works with people in all parts of the world. La Lutte Continue!

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Mary D. Garrard: Three Letters

Dear Enlightened Men,

Thank you for supporting Hillary, even though you never really got it. Nor could you have, unless you’d lived it viscerally, and your support of her is a credit to your moral imagination. But you never understood that to see her candidacy through the narrow prisms of her emails and her flaws (as if our greatest heroes didn’t have any flaws) was to distort reality and deflect the energy. Many of you are saying that this election was really about race, and Obama. Pent-up resentment was part of the story, but this time it was her name on the ballot, and her face in the crosshairs. You kept on saying that she just didn’t inspire us. What do you mean us, kemo sabe? Electing Hillary Clinton president was never some kind of tokenist box-checking, it was the end point of a long historical arc that, we now know, may not necessarily bend toward justice. It was to have been, as one writer (male) put it, the fulfillment of Seneca Falls.

 

Dear Clueless Women,

You say that to vote for her because she is a woman would be sexist. No, it wouldn’t. It would be a recognition that the little extra that is always required of women was especially needed now. To fixate on her rare flashes of self-interest or, for god’s sake, her ambition, in the face of the spectacular evidence in this election of patriarchy’s ever-present leer – pathetic or menacing, depending on its power status – is to be blissfully unaware that the butcher’s fat thumb is always on the scale. Until now, when the opportunity to embody and symbolize women’s fully equal humanity was so close at hand. Hillary herself has called out eloquently to little girls, as the standard-bearer of the most recent generation to put up a political fight for what was once called women’s liberation. It’s a liberation that has yet to fully take root in our psyches, but will eternally bloom in the hearts of little girls.

 

Dear Hillary Rodham Clinton,

As a participant, like you, in that now historical women’s movement, I want to thank you on behalf of our generation. Thank you for accepting and taking forward the torch that, in the reach of historical memory, was first ignited in the fifteenth century by Christine de Pizan, and carried proudly by Laura Cereta, Lucrezia Marinella, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and so many others. Sure, it’s comforting to hear you say that a woman will be president one day, maybe sooner than we now think. But it’s cold comfort to realize that once again, a woman has paid a steep price for challenging the patriarchy, and once again the women’s agenda has been subordinated to supposedly more pressing concerns. This long struggle for equality has seen both victories and defeats, and I am so sorry you had to be the sacrificial lamb this time. But you have brought fresh energy and inspiration to the cause, and you’ve given us another role model for the dream that will never die. Thank you, Hillary, for showing a new generation of women and girls what feminism is. We are all so very proud of you.

Mary D. Garrard, Professor Emerita at American University, is the author of Artemisia Gentileschi (1989), and many other writings on women artists and gender issues in art history, including Brunelleschi’s Egg: Nature, Art and Gender in Renaissance Italy (2010). With Norma Broude, she co-edited and contributed to four volumes on feminism and art history, including The Power of Feminist Art (1994). Broude and Garrard were activists in the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s and ‘80s; Garrard was the second president of Women’s Caucus for Art.

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Kate Gilmore

"It was the Future- Hillary and Mom," 1996.

“It was the Future- Hillary and Mom,” 1996.

Kate Gilmore lives in NY. She has participated in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, The Moscow Biennial (2011), PS1/MoMA Greater New York, (2005 and 2010), in addition to numerous solo exhibitions. Gilmore is Associate Professor of Art and Design at Purchase College, SUNY, Purchase, NY.

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Maureen Connor

For my contribution I’ve used quotes from M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online #4’s Feminist Forum, 2007, as responses to the 2016 election. All of the essays from that issue were moving and inspiring; I’ve chosen these excerpts because for me they can serve as reminders and guides over the next four years.

Sheila Pepe, writing about her mother: As a Sunday painter and homemaker, visibility was not an issue for Josephine. Not like it is for her daughter and her artist colleagues. Service was Josephine’s guiding principle, and as much as I once completely rejected this call as decidedly anti-feminist, I now know its great value. Directing one’s work in the service of a greater good is at the heart of social justice, and therefore, Feminism. And that the art world, no matter how progressive it perceives itself to be, no matter how well the objects it produces claim the ground of good politics, the mechanism of it will always benefit from some old fashioned feminist practice: women willing to work toward a more complex and equitable future.

Carolee Schneemann: (Notes from 1974 for Women in the Year 2000 by CS) In the year 2000, books and courses will only be called, “Man and His Image,” “Man and His Symbols,” “Art History of Man,” to probe the source of disease and mania which compelled patriarchal man to attribute to himself an his masculine forbears every invention and artifact by which civilization was formed for over four millennia.

Faith Wilding: I am NOT interested in canonization or star-making or genius pronouncements. Rather I’m calling for a kind of deep socio-cultural history that can be helpful to all generations of feminists, students, artists, in understanding specifically how feminist artists have used the philosophy, politics, and practices of feminism to embody new images, visions, inventions, ideas, processes, and ways of doing things differently. Dissing “cunt art” was like shooting fish in a barrel for art critics, but let’s see them engage in specific discussions of how feminism can be (and is) embodied as an aesthetic, and as a LIVED ethics of justice.

Mira Schor, speaking about giving tours at the feminist installation, Womanhouse in 1972: One day when I was there, a number of middle-aged ladies from the neighborhood came by in their housedresses. As our little group of young feminist art students realized that we were approaching Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom, filled with feminine hygiene products and “bloody” tampons, we melted away, leaving these ladies to their own devices. Later, they came to find us and laughingly chided us for thinking they would be embarrassed. I realized how much we were still girls while they were women, and also how one should never underestimate any audience for art.

Maureen Connor, collage with photo of “Thinner Than You”, 1990 and images of Fasicat Sexy Whole Body Stockings Unisex Bondage Sheer Encasement Cocoons, 2016

Maureen Connor, collage with photo of “Thinner Than You”, 1990 and images of Fasicat Sexy Whole Body Stockings Unisex Bondage Sheer Encasement Cocoons, 2016

Maureen Connor’s work combines installation, video, interior design, ethnography, human resources, feminism, and radical pedagogy. Current projects include Dis-con-tent, a series of community events that considers the human story behind certain medical advances; and her ongoing projects Personnel and with the collective Institute for Wishful Thinking (IWT), both of which aim to bring more democracy to the workplace. Now Emerita Professor of Art at Queens College, CUNY where she co-founded Social Practice Queens (SPQ) in 2010 in partnership with the Queens Museum, she also co-founded the Pedagogy Group, a cooperative of art educators from many institutions who consider how to embody anti-capitalist politics in the ways we teach and learn.

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Bailey Doogan

Fingered Smiles

Bailey Doogan, Split-Fingered Smile and Four-Fingered Smile, 2013. Graphite on Duralar with Prismacolor on verso, 36” x 24”

Bailey Doogan, Split-Fingered Smile and Four-Fingered Smile, 2013. Graphite on Duralar with Prismacolor on verso, 36” x 24”

These graphite self-portrait drawings, Split-Fingered Smile and Four-Fingered Smile, done in 2013 continue a series of works about manipulating my face to feign a pleasant, socially acceptable expression. I was invited to an opening that I couldn’t refuse, and so I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and used my own hand to push and pull smiles and grins onto my face. Thus a series of large charcoals, small paintings, and these graphite drawings ensued. This body of work from 2008 to 2013 alternately deepened, and ultimately purged, my depression. This July I started a series of paintings of women in long skirts.

Bailey Doogan, Skirt I and Skirt II, 2016. Gouache and oil on primed paper, 17” x 11”

Bailey Doogan, Skirt I and Skirt II, 2016. Gouache and oil on primed paper, 17” x 11”

Skirts

These small paintings on primed paper are the first two works in a series entitled Skirts. They were begun in July 2016. For years, my work has been about the body, usually women’s bodies, often specifically my own. I have always worked from photographs and for the past five years I’ve been unhappy with that process.

The first painting, Skirt I started as an earnest attempt to paint a portrait of my daughter’s Chihuahua, Kiko. After a few strokes quickly done, the women in the skirt appeared. My heart pounded. I kept on painting. I didn’t have a thought in my head. I was filled with joy. There are now six Skirts. Trump was elected. I cried for days but these paintings still fill me with joy, The skirts have a life of their own, girding and girdling my loins—Donald Trump can’t become my president, not mine.

Bailey Doogan is a seventy-five-year old artist living in Tucson, AZ and Nova Scotia, Canada. She is Professor Emerita at the U of A where she taught for thirty-two years. In 2009, she was awarded a Joan Mitchell Painting Grant.

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Suzy Spence: Plotting

We’re so ready, so it’s a shock to learn that society is still not ready for us. There will be no basking in Hillary Clinton’s matriarchal glory. The difficult election proves that progressive politics were not as well seeded as we’d thought. To their credit Mira and Susan’s first issues of M/E/A/N/I/N/G read as if they were written today: gender and racial dissonance are the subject of most of the critical writing from the 80s and 90s and those concerns continue to be central. For sure leftist ideals once relegated to the university fringe have slowly infiltrated the mainstream, in part enabled by the massive transition we’ve made to live a portion of our lives online. It’s as if the digital age has allowed our collective consciousness to grow a subterranean stem, changing our perspectives in ways we could never have predicted.

That said, coming of age in the era of Obama was a stroke of luck for some of us. At eleven, my child is already meeting our immediate predicament with resistance. She is obsessed with the play Hamilton; its multiracial cast and tight poetic score are as poignant to her as the story being told. Nothing Lin Manuel Miranda intended to lay raw is lost on this child, she is for it, and of it.

I’ve also been struck by the work of two young journalists at The Guardian who produced a video series that’s run parallel to election news called The Vagina Dispatches. Mona Chalabi and Mae Ryan’s earnest, confessional reporting is hopeful, and reminds me that the fringe can always work the back end, in order to make the front end look deeply unstable. Their first episode asks the blunt question, “do you know about vaginas?”  The reporters demonstrate anatomy using puppets, photography, quizzes — the material feminist artists have reached for time and again, but this go round is for the general public. They reveal there is a terrible lack of knowledge (almost as shocking as Hillary’s loss), but it’s remarkable to see a major newspaper supporting their earnest investigations, indeed putting them on the home page.

In the final episode Chalabi wears a soft costume vagina on a trip to Washington DC, her head popping out near the clitoris, the labia spreading around her sides. Somehow she manages to stroll nonchalantly about the Lincoln Memorial, stopping briefly in front of Lincoln’s spread legs. In doing so I felt she sent the message that being invisible doesn’t necessarily mean being without agency. In other words even if we’re hidden we can still be plotting. The problem of countering misogyny and racism will be ongoing, a giant project handed down from one generation to the next for as long as it takes.

Suzy Spence, Untitled, 2016. Paint on paper, 11”x14

Suzy Spence, Untitled, 2016. Paint on paper, 11”x14

Suzy Spence is an Artist and Curator who divides her time between Vermont and New York.

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Faith Wilding

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Faith Wilding is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, educator.  Co-founder of the feminist art movement in Southern California. Solo and group shows for forty+ years in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. Her work addresses the recombinant and distributed bio-tech body in various media including 2-D, video, digital media, installations, and performances. Wilding co-founded, and collaborates with, subRosa, a reproducible cyberfeminist cell of cultural researchers using BioArt and tactical performance to explore and critique the intersections of information and biotechnologies in women’s bodies, lives, and work.

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Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Erica Hunt, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, Legacy Russell, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer,  LigoranoReese, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

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Hey Jill Soloway who you going to get to play me on your Womanhouse series?

It took a while for the full implications of a small item I read in Robin Pogrebin’s “Inside Art” column in the Times earlier this month to sink in, “Judy Chicago Does TV.”  The first sentence–“An artist isn’t typically rediscovered at 77”–fit into a category of historicization of women artists that I have commented on frequently, as recently as in a blog post here a few days ago. The article continued, “But that seems to be what’s happening to Judy Chicago of “The Dinner Party” fame, who is now going to be represented by Salon 94.” That Judy Chicago, whose work “The Dinner Party” occupies the most square footage of museum real estate devoted to a woman artist that I know of, at least in the United States, and who has been in the public eye and in feminist history for nearly 50 years, is one of these older women artists who are being “rediscovered” struck me as odd, but, OK, I had noticed recently that she has been showing in Europe, and so perhaps “rediscovery” translates here to that fact that a certain layer of the European art marketeriat is paying attention to her for perhaps the first time.

However the core of my dismay centered on the next paragraph, “Jill Soloway, creator of the acclaimed television series “Transparent,” is also making an Amazon series based on Womanhouse, the 1972 feminist art space that Ms. Chicago organized with Miriam Schapiro.”

Some younger women artists I know posted this news on Facebook saying how “AMAZING” it is. I appreciate their enthusiasm for this signal artwork of early seventies American feminist art, for Jill Soloway as someone focusing on pressing gender and trans issues in her popular series Transparent, and in general for anything feminist to get attention in popular culture.

But, I beg to differ: I was a participant of the project Womanhouse and I find the prospect of a dramatization of it something between violation and farce.

This blog post is to try to examine my own reaction and, though I speak for myself, I write with knowledge of the reaction of a number of the other women who worked on Womanhouse, some of whom I quote below, which boils down to WTF.

First the inference of the article is that Judy Chicago is the principal advisor of this project, and therefore that it is her version of Womanhouse and her views and memories of the other participants that will dominate the narrative. That is disturbing. Why? There is no question that Chicago was the co-director with Miriam Schapiro of the CalArts Feminist Art Program and Womanhouse from 1971-1972. Chicago had created/taught/directed the first Feminist Art Program the year before at Fresno State. I highly recommend the section of Gail Levin’s biography Becoming Judy Chicago: A Biography of the Artist that covers that year of Chicago’s most radical pedagogical experiment, it is inspiring and provocative, and having worked with her and Schapiro in the CalArts program I can vouch for the fact that although our program was pretty radical, the Fresno program was ten times more so. Thus the importance of that Judy Chicago is absolutely paramount. Nevertheless, the idea for Womanhouse came from art historian Paula Harper, and was driven as much by Miriam Schapiro’s ideas, goals, dreams, aesthetic views, and ability to proselitize and fundraise for the project as by Judy’s vision for it. Also, and of course paramount to my own sense of violation, Womanhouse was a collaborative project with 20 young women students from the Program and three or four other unaffiliated women artists from the LA community working on installations, paintings, and performances, emerging from consciousness raising sessions and discussions. In a short, difficult, and intense period of time everyone involved worked to bring the project Womanhouse to fruition for public viewing in the month of February 1972.

The students who participated in the CalArts Feminist Art Program and Womanhouse included some of the women who had worked with Chicago in Fresno, the rest were women who had self-selected to join the CalArts FAP in the fall of 1971. This was a major decision for a number of reasons. First, the program was exclusionary–only women students. The program was given a very large shared studio space with a locked door–that women held significant real estate within the school was so important institutionally. The fact that the program was exclusionary meant that one’s fellow students were only women, which not all young women would find attractive socially. It also at first meant that one was somewhat cut off from the rest of the student body and faculty. Second, it was a major decision because it was not just a class, it was a program, an experimental educational program within an experimental art school, so it represented a major commitment of time, energy, political identification, and personal allegiance as well as a challenge to established views far greater than any of the other ways of challenging art that were operative at the school at that time. Being in the program was a radical statement, it was a public declaration of identification with a political movement, Women’s Liberation or feminism, which at that particular moment was gaining importance across the country but which still was an identification with social risk.

Thus the women who chose to be in the program were unusual, every one of us, even the ones who were shy and quiet  or the ones barely sane enough to function. And we were doing all this while mostly very young. Who were we, why had we chosen to do this, how did we handle the pressure?  Which ones of us went on to lives in the arts? And which ones contributed further to writing the history of Womanhouse? Does Jill Soloway know anything about this? I am told that she does a lot of research for her projects but not one of the original participants or, in the case of Schapiro, the executor of her estate, has been consulted or indeed heard a word about this project until the notice in the Times. And if Judy Chicago is her only source she won’t learn much of who we were and are and what we know,  because Chicago of course was understandably focused on herself and her own significant struggles in the situation. One of the Womanhouse participants’ said that she thought they would only need two actresses, “Judy and ‘the girl’,” another’s fantasy is that in the series “Judy is a character and everyone else is portrayed out of focus.”

On Chicago’s website, her bio page does not mention either the CalArts Feminist Art Program or Womanhouse and her gallery of images tucks pictures of her much referenced and reproduced piece at Womanhouse, “Menstruation Bathroom,” into the bottom page section “Installations and Performances,” so it takes some work to find it. Further, since that time, Judy Chicago has not been an active participant in the many challenging directions that feminist art and theory has taken in the following decades: in fact she–her ideas and her work–was a major subject of, even a cause of, but not an active agent in the very divisive battles over essentialism that dominated feminist art discourse in the 1980s and more subtly ever since.

The little squib in the Times was vague about whether this Womanhouse based series is already in production or just in development. But, again, not a single woman associated with Womanhouse–and, with the exception of Schapiro, all of us are living–has been approached for our recollections and views and our engagements with that shared history or, for that matter, for what we might feel about this dramatization, how each one of us might balance pride in our participation in an important historical work with a sense of possessiveness or privacy about our experiences of it.

Second, it is very common in such dramatizations of real events and docudramas about famous people to focus on only a few characters that represent specific people. Thus, for example, if this Womanhouse series is an actual dramatization of the actual project Womanhouse, Soloway couldn’t get away with creating a composite character to stand in for Miriam Schapiro because she is a well documented historical figure, although some people in the know feel that Judy has done her best to erase Schapiro from the history. The struggles between the two women were visible at the time including in video documentation of the time. But it is their collaboration that creates that particular event in history. However, once past Mimi, it is likely that many of the rest of us would be lumped into generic composite characters. You know, the kind who hang around the great artist’s studio wearing period appropriate clothing and have one line, like “Pablo, that’s really a masterpiece.” In Gail Levin’s biography of Chicago, I believe I am referred to as “a strange girl from New York.”

Well, as it happens, I don’t see myself as a composite character: for example although probably I fit the bill more than I would like, I don’t think I’m the generic Jewish girl from New York. Since I hope Jill Soloway will see this text eventually, I’d just like to say that I happen to think that I’m a pretty unique and complex figure. Also, of the students who was in the CalArts Feminist Art Program and who worked on Womanhouse, I’m one of the ones who has become, with Faith Wilding, a historian of that time period. But the point is that each one of us was a specific and unique person–our choosing to be in the Feminist Art Program alone being evidence enough of that. That was one of the most important gifts of being part of that program and project, getting to know a number of exceptional and unique people with very different backgrounds from my own, but each with a perhaps atypical relation to her own history for having chosen to participate in a revolutionary program. If one is able to see Lynne Littman‘s 1972 KCET document  Womanhouse is Not a Home in particular as well as the better known and distributed film by Johanna Demetrakas, Womanhouse, you get to hear many of the young student participants speak about their intentions and desires for their installations but not every woman is interviewed and anyway even that doesn’t give you the full information about each person’s background and what drew them to the FAP. Looking back I’m not sure any of us knew all about why each of us had joined up for though we learned a lot about each other since close friendships were formed and self-revelation in consciousness raising sessions was encouraged in the search for feminist subject matter; nevertheless there were also centrifugal forces that spun us apart, in the tumult of a small group and of a revolutionary moment.

That this was a revolutionary project and moment is embodied in the reaction of yet another of the Womanhouse participants: “it makes me think about how there is nothing that cannot be capitalized, commodified, and HBO-ized.”

Third, most people who find that something they lived through is the subject of a dramatization must feel quite bemused or perturbed by the strangeness of that experience, and by the knowledge that not even  the greatest director can possibly recreate the truth of a particular moment in time. If, as a viewer, you yourself have not actually lived through the moment, you can enjoy it no matter how removed from historical veracity. Who hasn’t watched all kinds of preposterous actors play the Kennedys? Maybe even Jackie Kennedy secretly watched some of them. If you know anything about the time period of a dramatization of a historical moment, there is a sort of kick of watching both the characterizations and reconstructions as well as catching the inaccuracies, the compressions of narratives, and, yes the composite characters: Ed Harris’ Pollock, Selma Hayek’s Frida, and Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt are very creditable examples of the genre, but there are always those moments that seem inauthentic, if you know anything about the subject, especially if the character is a composite type and not the depiction of a real person, however reductive and distorted.

Fourth, so really, if it turns out that I will be or have already been written in as myself, the character Mira Schor, age 21, who can play me? I realize that I am not much up on young women actresses at this point. Over twenty years ago I had a pretty good idea: in an envelope (currently lost) that I painted, in which I cast myself and the artists associated with a gallery I was represented by, I cast Judy Davis as myself, not that I look like Judy Davis but her characterization of George Sand in James Lapine’s 1991 film Impromptu (pure fiction at least if you look at the photograph of tubercular Frederick Chopin and compare to gorgeous young Hugh Grant, or photographs of plump plain swarthy middle-aged George Sand and compare her to slim Waspy Judy Davis but it was the Bette Davis impulse in Davis’s characterization that I responded to, the drive of intelligence and independence I associated myself with). But now, I can’t imagine. I sat with a young friend who ran through current actresses including everyone from the stars of Broad City to Emma Stone and, her first choice to play me, Kristen Stewart! Frankly I don’t see any of it. The best I can do is think of my admiration for some of the great comedians of our time–Tina Fey, Samantha Bee, Kristen Schaal, Jessica Williams. Yeah, make a composite of them, and I’ll accept that person + a little Semitic New York strangeness. This will have practically nothing to do with me, but at least I will enjoy the character.

Fifth, and most important, probably I am misunderstanding the whole thing: most likely this is a series that will be based on Womanhouse, allowing for total fiction based on whatever research Soloway does and thereby handily preventing law suits. So perhaps some Semitic-looking actress portraying a scowling Jewish girl from New York or a sexy smart ass Jewish girl from New York or whatever works best for the ensemble of the plot line may float through. Perhaps imagination can create a character more cinematically interesting than my own complex self. And a Miriam Schapiro-like oppositional figure to the transformational radical pedagogue Judy Chicago-based heroine may perhaps be inserted to provide some necessary conflict. I can’t help thinking of all the survivor series, the “reality” shows that identify likeable and villainous characters for the gullible audience and that are so carefully edited and scripted to highlight the most conflict in order to maintain ratings.

The young women artists whose enthusiasm for feminism, which is so welcome, makes them look forward to this series as “AMAZING” will accept this fictionalization as reality because what other options would they have.

And why not applaud the whole thing because so few artworks by women artists are the subject of a television series or film? And, further, as an artist, I should trust in Soloway’s artistic vision and her narrative skill in re-imagining a very significant moment in the history of feminism and the American Women’s Liberation Movement–though, heads up, it really wasn’t much like that “Wimmin’s” festival in Transparent‘s Series 2 episode “Idlewild” although perhaps from the outside we were indeed just the younger versions of the women sitting around the campfire critiquing patriarchy. The casting and acting in Transparent are exemplary so why doubt that she would do a more than creditable job in representing Womanhouse?

Certainly I should recall, as a cautionary note to self, my understanding, shared by many others, that Miriam Schapiro’s desire for control of the narrative when working with potential biographers and documentarians (followed, sadly, by her later struggles with dementia) cost her in terms of historicization–for instance, Schapiro does not appear in Demetrakas’ film Womanhouse–allowing Chicago the historical field and the ground to be the one to influence this planned series on Womanhouse.

And it’s always important to remember the rule so succinctly articulated by John Ford at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when a reporter is given the choice between revealing the truth of an important part of the history of the West or sticking with the story as long told, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” However, in that film, the whole story is a flashback, so we, the audience, know the legendary outcome before we learn the truth, and there is a kind of logic to the story, each of the two main protagonists “who shot Liberty Valance” is in a way a hero, so then a related ending occurs to me, of another Ford movie about the West, his 1948 Fort Apache: here the audience has experienced the story of the massacre caused by an arrogant and racist commanding officer diegetically–read Custer’s Last Stand seen from the critical point of view of US soldiers more experienced with and more respectful of their Native American enemy–so when at the end a reporter refers to the martinet as a hero, as depicted in a totally inaccurate famous painting of the event as reimagined by the winning side of history, the hero dutifully but ironically chooses not to correct the “legend,” but the unfairness is stinging.

But you never know, perhaps I will in the end find myself grinning at the contact glow of secondary fame of being in any way associated with a television series by an Emmy Award winning producer-director. Maybe the dramatization will eventually replace my own fading memories of what actually happened and what it was actually like and what I thought of it at the time. And given the simulacral aspects of contemporary life, where entertainment trumps all, that aphasic self will be a totally representative, contemporary, composite character.

***

 

I originally had planned to put a bibliography and filmography on Womanhouse here at the end of this text, but why be a goody goody? Thus I have not included any such references or pictures despite being sorely tempted to do so, except for a picture of the original catalogue.

The+original+catalog+cover+designed+by+Sheila+DeBretville+for+'Womanhouse'+(1972)

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Quick Responses, then and now

Hello again. A Year of Positive Thinking continues but the facts of everyday life are such that it has been impossible to find time to see much art or sit down for a day to address for this site any issues of concern to me. That is a condition of everyday life which I suspect is shared by many in one way or another. But here are a couple of image/text pieces, one from 1994, the other a drawing done this week after the most recent school massacre and the public reactions to it on the part of some politicians.

Hyperallergic included the following text and image in its Sunday October 4 Required Reading section . They picked it up from a October 3 post of this statement and image on Facebook:

With regards to there being bad boy, bad-ass women artists, I created this image in 1994 for How many ‘bad’ feminists does it take to change a lightbulb? a publication by Laura Cottingham (the back of the magazine has text in a small triangle: “It’s not funny”). I continue to be interested in the category of excellent women.

EXCELLENT WOMEN 1994-2015

Then yesterday, struggling with the first cold of the season, directly caused by my work schedule’s interaction with the Achilles heel of my immune system (evidently I can’t get up early two days in a row much less also tromp around the city in a freezing cold rain storm without getting sick), I nevertheless had to do some drawings to express my rage at Jeb Bush’s response to the most recent mass shooting–“stuff happens.” Indeed his family has inflicted a lot of …”stuff”… on this country and the world.

I started with this sketch, held down for the picture with my middle finger for emphasis:

YEAR-STUFF-HAPPENS-IMG_1405

But it wasn’t quite “stuffy” enough if you know what I mean.

Luckily I have a “stuff” colored sketchbook I got in Berlin last spring:

YEAR-STUFF-HAPPENS-IMG_1407

I loved the response of a friend to this second notebook drawing: “like you pulled it out of your guts – told a friend it looks like the walking dead jeb vomited up his own shit for the world to see.”

That’s about right, but did the world see it?

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Just a short message from Venus

This morning Ben Davis published a piece on Artnet entitled “Why Are There Still So Few Successful Women Artists?” Thanks to Ben Davis for addressing this issue and for his constant focus on important political issues in the art world.

As I wrote to him this morning, so much to say and so little time to say it if I want to get a few paintings done before I have to go back to my day job as an underpaid adjunct (Davis mentions the role of practical bread and butter issues and economic inequities for women as in some sense replacing Linda Nochlin’s historical focus on women artists’ earlier lack of access to academic training.)

Davis begins with the important primary question: “What will it take to finally put an end to sexism in art?” He questions the value of strategies of “counting,”, most recently used by Maura Reilly in her ARTnews text “Taking the Measures of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Fixes”,  and he takes care to try to bracket what we mean by “success” for an artist today.

I’ve written so much about feminism–most recently this previous post spurred by conflicting messages coming from the art world, between the sudden interest in the work of older women artists and the insulting absurdity of the Sackler Center giving one of its First Feminist awards to Miss Piggy, and earlier this year, Amnesiac Return Amnesiac Return, published in Kara Rooney’s Critic’s Page “A Feminist Response: Gender Games and the Art Machine” in the September 2014 issue of the Brooklyn Rail. I am very grateful to Davis for linking to my piece which he titled “Amnesiac Returns,” but as I wrote to him this morning, the political point of the title and its humor is in the repetition without punctuation, no plural. At the end of that text I explained the title’s genesis and significance: “The repetition in my title reflects the fact that in 1992, for a special issue of the art journal Tema Celeste dedicated to “The Question of Gender in Art,” I wrote a short essay entitled “Amnesiac Return.” I thought of the same title for this piece before realizing that it sounded familiar—because, in fact, I had used it before.” If and when I write another piece and am tempted to title it Amnesiac Return, I may indeed have amnesia by that point, or will title it to the power of three.

My point is that one writes and one writes and one asks why the situation of women artists (and beyond that of women generally) is fundamentally resistant to change despite the paradox of some visible change, and one asks the question again and again. And yet even that discussion, and the vast and important area of scholarship and theorization applied to the work of women artists and to gender representation, does not ultimately penetrate the art market and nor even the upper strata of academia which may have moved on to newer concerns.

My point is I could go on and on.

So today in response to Ben’s piece, I just want to contrast his article to Peter Schjeldahl’s review in the New Yorker of Albert Oehlen’s paintings. The beginning of one paragraph in that review seems paradigmatic: “Not for nothing is Oehlen a mighty influence on younger artists, showing them the rewards in freedom that may follow upon a willing sacrifice of propriety. (Witness, apart from outright imitators, the devilish impetuosities of Josh Smith, Joe Bradley, Oscar Murillo, and others in a recent survey at the Museum of Modern Art, “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.”) Testosterone testosterone testosterone bad boys bad boys bad boys patrilineage patrilineage patrilineage (for that you have to read the paragraph before, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, bla bla–for some reason this reminds me of one of my favorite book reviews in the Times several years ago, about a book a woman wrote about her dog, a German Shepherd as I recall, who spent the day out and about in her neighborhood in Cambridge, Ma., about how she decided to follow him in his unleashed peregrinations. She observed that his main occupation in life was to go to nearly impossible physical lengths to piss as high up as possible on telephone poles and trees so, she deduced, other dogs would know he was a really big dog.

When I read about the auction value of women artists, when I read Kenny Schacter’s devastating reports on the art market, the most recent being “Kenny Schacter on Why Art Basel left him Mentally and Physically Damaged,” when people suddenly “discover” some woman artist that women artists have known about for decades, and when so many young women still are drawn to using their naked bodies in their work because as the Guerrilla Girls ask, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” I see how little has changed in some respects.

Of course, and it is a kind of a triumph of feminism and feminist art there are tons of women artists active now around the world, and they are successful to a much greater extent than the moment before I entered the art world at the beginning of the feminist art movement, but the world I live in, where Louise Bourgeois was a great artist the minute I learned about her work from Lucy Lippard’s writings in From the Center and from seeing a drawing show at Max Hutchinson Gallery, when she was not yet world famous and a fetish, where the work of countless women artists including some of the artists who have recently been the subject of a wave of articles about older women artists (does 100 count as old enough I wonder?) was a central part of my image world, I mean these works are fundamental building blocks of how I see the world, not to mention of course what art is about for me (deep engagement with form, materiality, art history, politics, politics of representation and abstraction, discursivity–art, you know, not product), that work, that image world of women artists is of absolutely no interest to the men who make, promote and buy the work of the guys drooled over in Schjeldhal’s review. No interest? No, I mean it is invisible. It does not exist except for these little windows of fashion for old ladies who won’t be around much longer to inconveniently have something to say.

When I posted these thoughts on Facebook earlier today, artist Lauri Lynnxe Murphy wrote in a comment: “My first day of grad school at The Ohio State University I walked into the sculpture building and saw a list pinned to the wall for the undergrads of “sculptors they should know.” All of them male, and most of them over 50. I started writing names on it and the other female grads joined in – by the end of the term the entire page was covered with women sculptors. This was in 2010, btw. 2010.”

And meanwhile, and I think this is important to note, I’m putting up the postcard wall that marks a space as my studio, and all the works are by male artists, mostly pre-1600, because I live in a world in which art history was first presented to me as male, the women artists’ works that are so important to me reside in my slide/image collection and in my mind. My point is that any woman interested in art has absorbed and paid attention to work by male artists, you would be an ignoramus if you didn’t and you’d be cutting yourself off from a major part of the history of civilization, which I claim as my heritage no matter who did it, but the connection doesn’t flow the other way

Just a short message from Venus which will certainly never get over to Mars, and now I am going to try to get into the studio.

YEAR-Eva-Hesse-postcard

One of my favorite postcards for my studio wall

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In the September Issue of The Brooklyn Rail

This month’s Critic’s Page section of The Brooklyn Rail, organized and introduced by artist and Brooklyn Rail Managing Art Editor Kara L. Rooney, focuses on feminism and gender in the visual arts. Rooney asked a diverse group of contributors to consider the following questions:

What is it about this particular moment that has triggered a renewed interest in feminine and gendered voices? Is the recent prominence of self-identifying feminist art a sign of social progress or institutional neutralization? Is there a compelling momentum to be gained from these “victories” and if so, where do they lead us? And most importantly, why, over 40 years after the second wave banner was raised, are we still grappling with the issue of equality? What is it about the art machine that lends itself so conspicuously to the male, white perspective? And how, as women, men, trans, queer, or otherwise self-identifying individuals do we combat current (and often invisible) systems of control in a neo-liberal capitalist art world?

Because the communities of The Brooklyn Rail, A Year of Positive Thinking’s subscribers and readers, and my Facebook community don’t overlap as completely as might seem likely, here is the direct link to my contribution, “Amnesiac Return Amnesiac Return.”

*For reference to a previous, related, writing that I cite in my Rail piece, you can read “Amnesiac Return,” my contribution to the forum, “The Question of Gender in Art, Part 1,” published in Tema Celeste, Autumn 1992, here.

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