Tag Archives: Robin Mitchell

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-5

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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Matthew Weinstein: American Dreamers, 2016, on the Precipice

Americans are dreamers. For us, the line between fact and fiction is one drawn in the sand. I can’t condemn this, as it goes hand in hand with our ability to create contemporary culture.

What has happened to our dreams?

Our dreams have been eaten up by a distraction-heavy media. Our imaginations are no longer the stars of our fictive universes, because they have been occupied by nonsense.

Celebrities. What they think. Who the fuck cares what they think? Cute endangered animals. They aren’t our fucking friends.

Celebrities getting the Congressional Medal Of Freedom. How about a school teacher. A nurse. How about an unsung activist? How about a damned struggling artist? How about attainability? No wonder most of the country thinks it’s all rigged. We don’t honor the nameless. We should. Not that anybody with an ant-sized amount of brains, or conscience, would accept an Iron Cross from the Nazi Elect.

For all the good that has happened in the last eight years, there has been an above average level of stupid.

High/low distinctions are idiotic. But useful and useless distinctions aren’t.

We have become mired in horizontal thinking. The Huffington Post tracking an actor’s political views, Trump, and an amazing cat that will amaze you, have become equally vital news. And this is linked directly to people blind to the radical horror of a Trump presidency. It is not all the fucking same.

Why does the left always think that revolutions are for us? Because we think and forget to see. Art is about both of these things: thinking and seeing. It can sort of help.

Our art world is mired in auction results, gigantism, art fairs as the places to see art rather than galleries and museums, and online art gossip sites with cute names. There is nothing inherently bad in any of these things. Got to make the donuts. But the problem is that we read them, and about them, when we should be connecting to what actually matters; art, politics, sex, napping, eating the wrong foods, quality nonsense and each other.

If you want to say that artists are just another form of entertainer, say it. But you’re wrong. We aren’t superior. But we offer something else; an alternative to mass experience, when we are doing our job. Just more mass experience when we are sucking up.

A work of art that opens up your mind and or heart, pisses you off, makes you actually laugh, makes you deliciously sour, makes you want to rush to your own studio, or makes you want to grab a friend and talk about it; these things are not protected. Art is as fragile as Democracy. Fight for it. It won’t take care of itself. We are responsible to protect it. Not museums; us.

Art needs to present a safe haven for the personal, the specific, the unpopular and for people who care about unjustifiable things; a safe haven for us to talk about art as if it matters deeply. Because it does. And criticality matters now more than ever. We are forgetting how to do it. It’s too often scorned. Which leads to art feeling like propaganda for art.

Anyone who uses the word ‘hater’ needs to put a dollar in my mistake box. I’ll buy cool stuff with it. Be a critical asshole. Lot’s of things completely suck. I mean within reason.

I love art. Always have. I’ll never go negative on the art world because it’s my brain home, and because it is always and has always been raw potential. Which is why I get upset when I see it squandered.

In this time, as artists, all of our opportunities and impulses have to be treated as if they are our last ones. We need to do and say exactly what we mean, without apology or fear. We may not know how to fix things, but we can demonstrate what urgency looks like.

Keep the dreams flowing. But let’s make sure that they are our own. Respect the animals. They are us.

Matthew Weinstein is an artist who lives in Brooklyn NY. He also writes for ARTnews and Artforum.

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Jennifer Bartlett

Jennifer Bartlett, A few days after the election a pop-up artist/therapy piece began growing in the Union Square subway station. Passersby were encouraged to write a message to the world [in response to the election] on a "sticky note."

A few days after the election a pop-up artist/therapy piece began growing in the Union Square subway station. Passersby were encouraged to write a message to the world [in response to the election] on a “sticky note.”

My note says: "I am not retarded." I have cerebral palsy, and I was frustrated that I could not get to a flat surface to write on. Ultimately, this became part of the effect because the writing "looks retarded" i.e. what Donald Trump and most abled people would construe as "retarded" or distasteful or stupid. The message was directly based on the fact that the US elected a man who called a Deaf actress "retarded" and coined the term "libtard." In reaction to Trump mocking a disabled reporter, in the way I have been mocked continuously throughout my life, Ann Coulter attested that he was just making fun of "general retards." Virtually no one responded in protest, and as Trump moves toward the White House, there is still not protesting of able-bodied people in defense of disabled people. That is the one line people won't cross. So be it.

My note says: “I am not retarded.” I have cerebral palsy, and I was frustrated that I could not get to a flat surface to write on. Ultimately, this became part of the effect because the writing “looks retarded,” i.e. what Donald Trump and most abled people would construe as “retarded” or distasteful or stupid. The message was directly based on the fact that the US elected a man who called a Deaf actress “retarded” and coined the term “libtard.” In reaction to Trump mocking a disabled reporter, in the way I have been mocked continuously throughout my life, Ann Coulter attested that he was just making fun of “general retards.” Virtually no one responded in protest, and as Trump moves toward the White House, there is still no protesting of able-bodied people in defense of disabled people. That is the one line people won’t cross. So be it.

Jennifer Bartlett is a poet, occasional writer for the New York Times, and working on a biography of Larry Eigner.

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Ann McCoy

Our country is in turmoil, and tomorrow seems uncertain. In this Saturnian winter, as we wait for the solstice and return of the light, it is ever harder to gather one’s resources—keep one’s spirit intact. During these months our ancestors lived indoors, huddled around fires. We have no such kinship and are disoriented by electric illumination and central heating. Experiencing the darkness seems harder without nature as our guide. During a winter much like this one in Berlin, I remember walking through the snow to a small Cranach museum on a lake in the middle of a forest. An advent wreath in a window led the way to a nativity scene by the Elder. I was moved to tears by the Bethlehem scene tucked in this dark hunting lodge. Today I lit my advent wreath, hoping for a similar miracle, a light bringer, a candle in the darkness. In my neighborhood a group of Coptic brothers and sisters invited me to their morning prayers. Most of them are from upper Egypt and are from the same village as the twenty men who were decapitated by ISIS in Libya. I am honored they have invited me, the singing in Coptic is transporting. I am grateful to have a place around their fire, as I light a beeswax candle in front of the Theotokos. Their optimism, charity, and kindness touch me deeply.

Ann MCoy, “Lunar Birth” with the artist, 2001. Pencil on paper on canvas, 9 by 14 ft.

Ann McCoy, “Lunar Birth” with the artist, 2001. Pencil on paper on canvas, 9 by 14 ft.

Ann McCoy, “Processional with Lightbringer,” 2005. Cast bronze with silver crown, 19 in. by 7 ft. 2 in.

Ann McCoy, “Processional with Lightbringer,” 2005. Cast bronze with silver crown, 19 in. by 7 ft. 2 in.

Ann McCoy is a New York-based sculptor and painter whose career began in 1972. She is a working artist as well as a curator and art critic who writes for the Brooklyn Rail. She lectures on art history, the history of projection, and mythology in the graduate design section of the Yale School of Drama. McCoy is a winner of the Prix de Rome, the D.A.A.D. Kunstler Award, and American Award in the Arts.

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Mimi Gross

On the election
Shadow of shadows
Caught, cut, & painted (black)

Present and future disasters
Goya could.

We are leaping into an abyss
Black air
Somehow, mid-air, breathless truth,
Calls out: the Arts will conquer!

Which
Blue sky
Is brighter
Than the sun itself
Or is it
A late moon?

We will challenge the falling columns.

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30 years, Forums on:

Meaning: combining amazing and absurd. So many dreams broken, glued together
overhauled. Now a new generation will share the wide spectrum of “Meaning.”

Motherhood and art: Bathed in love. My daughter is long married and has two
wonderful daughters, now 17 and 13. Difficult to have imagined 30 years ago. The juggling of time before, has
become a privilege, without sharing responsibilities.

Racism: Confusion within the sphere of art matters. The attention to African
American and of mixed ethnicity artists is totally exciting. (A much longer
response is needed to recognize and discuss the great from the trendy.)
Highly recommend: the Kerry James Marshall exhibition at the Met Breuer.

Feminism: Will we be in danger of disappearing? I don’t think so. The younger
women artists (in all fields) have no concept of the difficulties
encountered by the invisible generations before them.

Resistance: This is our strongest positive hope.

“On art making over a lifetime, from youth to older age:”

(76!) What is Real?

Find forms,
Listen to history,
See more.

Time:
Wood, plastic, paint,
Cardboard, band saw, blades,
Hot glue.
Still:
Scaled for future details,
Depth, present, murky,
Let go!

Unlimited perspectives,
Counterpoint concepts,
(disparate images)
careful creation:
artifice
make a detail,
blow it up,
Let the scale go,
Without forgetting it
For a second.

Drawing all along the way.
Study by means of doing.

(Diaphanous)

A line,
A shape,
To do
The idea
Brightness of space, of light:
Integrate the white line,
Marry the line with paint.

Imposing,                     Or, vertical lines
Serious,                         Layers of thoughts
Things past                   Catching quickly,
Remember.                   Time passing.

Find personal (line).

Mimi Gross, design collaboration with Douglas Dunn: Aerobia, Choreography Douglas Dunn, 2001

Mimi Gross, design collaboration with Douglas Dunn: “Aerobia,” Choreography Douglas Dunn, 2001

Dance/ Collaboration, sets and costumes:
To fly: is it Dance?
Disjointed together
Chaos in place
Literal becomes abstract
Abstract becomes literal
Speed of images
Capture. Drawn out
Put together
The silhouette is
The darkest weight
Hear the dance.

Travel

Travel experiences transform, broaden perspectives, escape from “provincialism,”
accumulate new ideas.
Portraits become landscapes, landscapes become metaphors,
Psychology of place, of scale, of texture, of color.
(direct fun)
(breaking all the rules)
A form of sanity.

Mimi Gross, 4.Village outside of Gaoua, Ivory Coast, West Africa, 2013, watercolor and ink.

Mimi Gross, “Village outside of Gaoua, Ivory Coast, West Africa,” 2013, watercolor and ink.

Mimi Gross, Mercado Sonora, Mexico City, 2012. Watercolor and ink in sketchbook.

Mimi Gross, “Mercado Sonora, Mexico City,” 2012. Watercolor and ink in sketchbook.

Mimi Gross is a painter, set and costume designer, teacher, who lives and works in NYC. Recent group shows include: Brooklyn Museum of Art: “Stephen Powers, Coney Island is Still Dreamland”, 2016; Brattleboro Museum of Art, VT, “After Old Masters”, 2016. AMP Gallery, Provincetown, MA, 2016. In 2017, her mural for the University of Kentucky, Medical School, Louisville, will be installed; her work will be in a three-person exhibit at Derek Eller Gallery, NYC, and in a large group exhibit at Grey Gallery, NYU, “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965”, Jan.-April, 2017; she will have an “Art Project” in Art Journal, spring 2017. Mimi has worked with Douglas Dunn and Dancers since 1979, designing sets and costumes for over 25 different dances, including Antipodes at St. Mark’s Church, NYC, ” Feb 2, 3, 4, 2017.

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Myrel Chernick

Some questions I ask myself:
What does it mean to live an ethical life?
Does a creative life imply an ethical life?
Can I make art that is substantive, relevant, and meaningful, that makes a worthwhile contribution to the lives of others? And what does that entail?
What is my responsibility to those who have so much less than I do?

The problems seem insurmountable: poverty, climate disaster, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, unmitigated greed. What is the best and most effective way to move forward?

I first encountered M/E/A/N/I/N/G with #12, Forum: on Motherhood, Art and Apple Pie (1992). There I learned that my difficulties with the art world that had increased after I decided to have children were by no means unique, and my subsequent exploration of maternal ambivalence became a group exhibition and then a book. Twenty-five years later, I know of no other American art periodical with an issue devoted to this topic. Thanks to Susan and Mira for their pioneering work on so many topics.

myrelchernickresist

Myrel Chernick is an artist and writer who lives in New York.

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Robin Mitchell

M/E/A/N/I/N/G has put forth questions of and about meaning in art for 30 years.

Meaning in art and culture has not changed in those years, but what has changed is how art has meaning. Critical thinking is propelling art rather than art generating critical thought.

When I was in school I was often confronted by the question “What does your art mean?” I have continually asked myself, “What does my art mean?” “What does it mean to me?” “What can it mean to others, other artists in an insular world, or to others in the wider culture and beyond?”

My experience as an artist has deep personal meaning. After a lifetime of artmaking, I feel that I making the best work that I have done and for me art making is a rich and rewarding process. I understand my artwork better and more completely as I continue making art. Artmaking for me has become personal reflective process, more of a world inward, and I find the richness of this experience deeply rewarding and gratifying. By exhibiting my artwork I am part of a dialogue with other artists and the larger art community. I would never expect for everyone or even many to make a connection to my work. What others find meaningful may be different than the meaning I intend. Yet when I exhibit the work, I am humbled by the connection that some people communicate to me that they can make to the artwork. This connection so often mirrors my own intentions.

I want to be counted for my stand and my beliefs. In light of the recent election I feel this even more vehemently. The act of being an artist is in some ways an act of defiance. I want my concerns and beliefs to be counted in the world, whether through my art or my actions. Marshall McLuhan said that he looked to artists to see where the rest of the culture was moving towards. “Art at its most significant is a distant early warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen.”

Robin Mitchell, Numinous, 2016. Gouache on paper, 24” x 18”

Robin Mitchell, “Numinous,” 2016. Gouache on paper, 24” x 18”

Robin Mitchell is an artist living and working in Santa Monica, California. Her paintings are represented by the Craig Krull Gallery also in Santa Monica. Her artwork has been recognized by a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Anonymous Was a Woman award, a City of Los Angeles grant, and a California Community Foundation mid-career fellowship. She holds a BFA and MFA from Cal Arts. While a participant of the Feminist Art Program at Cal Arts she was part of the historic Womanhouse project.

Judith Linhares

I am writing my account of what it is to be an artist and a feminist in very transitory times, not even two weeks after the election of Donald Trump. I do not know what the future holds what I do know is I have had a lifetime of political involvement. I would characterize that involvement as recognizing that other woman are struggling with finding their own agency struggling with the various rolls and fantasies placed on them by the dominant culture and like all of you I am looking for a way forward at a time when racism and misogyny are returning to the White House.

I believe my fate is connected to the circumstances of all other women. I have more energy and confidence when supported by others. I have been involved in feminist politics for a long time I owe a lot to the recognition and support of other woman I believe we share common cause. I have great respect for Mira Schor and Susan Bee for their decades long project M/E/A/N/I/N/G. This project has given legitimacy to woman’s ideas and opinions over the decades I am proud to be included in this valuable document.

I do not see clearly as yet what future challenges will look like. My plan is to keep working and try to see the truth as I experience it day by day. My hope is that I have the courage to speak out in opposition to injustice when I see it.

Judith Linhares, “Back Talk,” 2012. Gouache on paper, 29.5 x 44.25 inches

Judith Linhares, “Back Talk,” 2012. Gouache on paper, 29.5 x 44.25 inches

Judith Linhares’ paintings have been the subject of 40 one-person exhibitions. Her solo shows at the Edward Thorp Gallery, as well as a survey, “Dangerous Pleasures: 1973-1993,” received numerous reviews. Marcia Tucker’s inclusion of her paintings in “Bad Painting” and the Venice Biennale encouraged this fourth-generation Californian to ride the New Figuration wave to New York City. She has received many prestigious awards and was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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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, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Erica Hunt, Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin, Hermine Ford, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, Legacy Russell, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Michelle Jaffé, Nancy K. Miller, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer,  LigoranoReese, Robert C. Morgan, 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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