It’s about four women, at least. One of them fictional, all the others infected by this fiction. So it’s not always recognisable which character is actually animated by the focus on another. Whose face you imagine when I describe a journey to the outskirts of a city. Like the women’s biographies, these routes have also been visited several times, by different generations and with a constantly shifting view of the surroundings and what they can stand for: as the real background for a cinematic representation of living conditions that can hardly be escaped, as a possible backdrop to project one’s own life into, or, decades later, as geographical coordinates from a film that are visited again without knowing exactly what is to be experienced there. (Aller-retour et aller, Performance, KW Berlin, 2019)
It’s so long ago. I’m afraid I don’t remember much about that day except feeling annoyed by the women present who dominated the proceedings with their complaints about childcare in the UK!
When I think of my situation in the year 2011 I mostly remember fatigue and a feeling of loneliness. I had worked joyfully and eagerly all throughout the first five years of my son’s life, had been moderately successful and had been able to take good care of the two of us, but I somehow hadn’t managed to create a feeling of security and stability for us. I had always hoped that all my love and energy would bring me to a place and maybe a person where I could find some respite and where I would be taken care of for a while. Instead my life seemed to be as volatile as ever; I could never see beyond the next exhibition let alone when I would be able to get more sleep. When I had announced that I was pregnant my gallery gave me the impression that I would be written off henceforth, which added to the constant pressure I put on myself. I wanted to prove to myself and everybody else that I can be a good mother and a productive artist. More, I somehow wanted to meet that challenge all by myself, as if it wouldn’t count if I asked anybody for help. As if it would be cheating to ask for anything (like an artist’s fee for example), because it would bias the people I worked with into granting support that isn’t merely based on the quality of my work but on my personal needs.
And God forbid my needs ever should play a role in that rather twisted scheme.
In hindsight, I find it hard to understand all that pride and blind faith. It feels like l put letters without addresses into a postbox, hoping that, if only the letters are written well enough, there will be an answer. Simultaneously expecting far too little from other people and far too much from some kind of cosmic law.
So, when we met in Berlin I neither knew what to give nor what to take. I was willing to contribute to a theoretical discussion, but wasn’t willing to share my personal life. I remember that one woman brought up the question of children and it was decided that we shouldn’t talk about children. I didn’t contradict because this only confirmed what I already thought. Namely, that private life is something only to be discussed with close friends.
Again, the logic being: if I mention my son in a professional context people will either doubt my artwork or be tricked into being more lenient with my shortcomings. If this would happen I wouldn’t be able to trust compliments anymore, they might be pity after all.
I truly liked some of the women I met during our gathering, but the concept of community or professional exchange was alien to me. It was either friendship or work relationship in my world. For a friendship to establish we would have had to meet more often so that I would have become relaxed enough to suggest a cup of coffee.
What can I say? I am glad that my friendship with some endured such dysfunctional and self-centred behaviour.
Are things different now? My life has certainly changed for the better and I also think that women speak more openly. Or is it just that I am more open? Systematic disadvantages have been addressed to a point where it’s hard to doubt them and commonplace to mention them. I think this wasn’t the case ten years ago.
A private meeting in a semi-public space
It’s true that I would have preferred a smaller group. A smaller room as well – one with a carpet – so that the sounds of our voices, and our chairs being scraped into position, would have been less harsh. Perhaps a few lamps in the corners instead of the fluorescent lighting, and a later hour. I like the idea of women getting together and talking, but I decided, long ago, that I would have very few friends.
As it was, the venue was a gallery that used to be a house. It was novel, for me, to meet people in the morning. And unusual to meet that many, around thirty, at the same time. Some of the names were familiar, but only three of the faces. Also familiar was the quiet panic that comes with being surrounded by almost-known faces that almost-know mine. And these were all women’s faces which made it worse, or better.
We formed a circle with our chairs: it filled the room. Someone had brought a baby, her own I suppose, and its buggy took the place of a chair in the circle. The baby was laid down on a baby-sized blanket on the floor. There was no crying that I can remember but it was curious and unnerving to observe him or her, there on the floor, surrounded by thirty seated women in a room with tea and biscuits and bare white walls.
As our roundtable had no table I was able to study the arc of shoes and boots and trainers around me, and as I was working out the ratio of crossed to uncrossed legs the conversation began.
Here, things get blurry. Someone mentioned a survey show at Gagosian that included only one female artist. I said I enjoyed wearing a dress to private views. And whilst the various subjects were raised and stories told, I thought of painting a woman.
Or many women. Part me, part dreamed-up ancestors, with smudged faces and emphatic hats (the kind we no longer wear). Surrounded by my ladies I would preside over pithy debates and bouts of silence, that would lead, in time, to particular forms of camaraderie.
These endless conversations about horses and carts. You probably remember that summer right, the one where I had to start taking diazepam for my neck. You sent me flowers and a little card. I watched episodes of CSI Miami at home. But anyway, that summer. I couldn’t remember which stories I had told, and which you had.
[Edited excerpt from text for WE (NOT I) at South London Gallery and Raven Row, London 2015]
When I heard about WE (NOT I) I was immediately drawn to its questions around feminism, collectivity and art practice. They were topics that I had also been preoccupied with in my writing (and still am). In the events that I attended what sticks in my mind is the generosity and openness of the conversation, an excitement about sharing ideas and spending time with one another.
My presentation was on ‘a time of one’s own’. The idea of ‘a time of one’s own’ obviously plays on Virginia Woolf’s famous lecture/book A Room of One’s Own (1929). I use it as a way to describe how artists engaging with the histories and fantasies of feminism are creating a time of one’s own both by bringing together a cast of historical moments and characters for us to use in the present, as well as providing a durational space for us to engage with this material. A time of one’s own also points to the necessity of having time, time to spend in that room of your own, time that is not instrumentalised towards paid work or domestic labour.
For Woolf, a room of one’s own was a way to visualise the freedom to be creative –imagined by having enough money and space to obtain creative autonomy. Today, we might have a room, but it is often not possible to have the time to use it. This sense of time-poverty, both of being in an increasingly full present and having only a dim awareness of the past in the face of the new, is something that underpins the talk I gave as part of ‘WE (NOT I)’, an extended version of which is published in the Oxford Art Journal.
When dealing with the historical material of feminism, so much seems to slip from memory and out of history. In Woolf’s discussions of temporality and its cultural and historical shifts, she pays attention to what can and can’t be lived at a particular time, for example, citing the inability for the poetry of Alfred Tennyson and Christina Rossetti to be hummed alongside the conversation at luncheon parties after World War One. I wonder what poetry can no longer be heard one hundred years later? Woolf speculates in 1928 that it will take one hundred years for her fictional author Mary Carmichael to write poetry: a hundred years, a room of her own, and five hundred pounds a year.
The ability to gather together enough money, time and space is still a challenge as we draw closer to Woolf’s projected future. In the artworks that I have researched as part of the project on ‘a time of one’s own’, time is given over to re-enact a history, to research it, imagine it, discuss it and embody it, by both the artist and viewer.
After the talk at WE (NOT I), I was asked why it was important to engage with these histories. For me, it was obvious, but I realised that I needed to make it clearer. For me, these histories provide tools for living in the present, for imagining a future, for being feminists together: creatively, politically, poetically.
Bookshelf with gravestone from Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell’s Killjoy’s Kastle: a lesbian feminist haunted house, 2014; spread from Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, Toxic: a play in two acts, artist zine, 2013 (photo: Lisa Castagner)
Mirjam Thomann Door, 2020 Acrylic paint on window glass Dimensions variable Installation view Studio im Hochhaus, Berlin
In 2013, as I played with the sound and the meaning of the words “men” and “women,” I composed Rips: Future Works (Poster 1), which included an arrangement of the letters “we” “me” and “n.” I’ll bet many of us classified as “female” have played such games, at least in our heads. What does “woman” stand for? Why, in many languages, does “man” stand for a male and also a human?
At the “We (Not I)” event I heard Dara Birmbaum recalling her father addressing her as a feminist although she hadn’t thought about herself as such. I remembered once being called “a fighting feminist” at an opening of a group exhibition. I asked the curator: “Why are there so few women artists in your exhibition?” and a friend in common, an art historian, called me that as a joke, apparently to enable the curator to avoid answering. Then another joke came, from an artist present who took me by my arm saying: “Let me save you from these brutes.”
Mind you, all of these men were supposedly highly enlightened. Where to go from there? Since Dara’s time as the only female in the architecture department, since my time as a young female artist, things have changed. And they keep on changing, and they will change for the better. But nothing will be given, nothing will be gained forever and we will have to keep on pushing if we want more rights and more equality.
Anna Ostoya, Rips: Future Works (Poster 1), 2013
(An audio transcript of a spoken testimonial)
I’m talking to you rather than to an archive because I feel for me to do work of recollection,I need a destination. And I need some type of channel to through, so establishing a channel with you here, me being the person who emits the message and you the one who receives and interprets it.
When I thought about the conference, I recalled that I was part of a workshop. I don’t think I participated in many other events, probably having to do with parental duties and babysitting being scarce or having run out babysitting credits – who knows? – but I attended a workshop on voice that was ran by Angie Keefer and I was sure that I would have notes on it.
I went back to my little bookshelf where I keep my notebooks and surprisingly didn’t find many – didn’t find any – notes about the day of the event.
I did find somewhere a place where I wrote down that [this workshop] was happening and weirdly enough right next to that place I wrote “I need to pay more attention to–” and then it didn’t – I didn’t – finish that sentence. And I thought that that was so relevant: the question of paying attention to and note-taking. I usually am a fervent note taker, which means that I’m at a slight remove from events. I feel the need to process them, I feel the need to record them for – who knows what – my future self, someone else, a text that I may produce.
So there’s this sense of: I need to, I need to, I need to make this into an object that is recorded so that I can, I can do something.
And it didn’t happen here. Maybe, maybe I forgot my notebook but then I probably would have found another piece of paper. But maybe I felt that, given that it was a workshop ran by Angie, I felt I should be more present and less note-take-y.
I wanted to take away messages from here to use somewhere else and just give, give my own experience.
So, that’s I feel something that is worthwhile to dwell on, in the sense that being in the moment or the drive to be productive later on, versus participating. And maybe I was more the participating and not the spectrum that I usually am. I usually am very much thinking of what can be produced out of this, now.
Back to the workshop: It was about voice. I remember being at a moment when I thought a lot about that because I was starting a podcast and was thinking of how to have non ego-driven voices. I feel our culture is very much set on recognising people’s voices.
You know, the kind of personality cult that is very pervasive throughout our current media landscape. In the podcast that I had, I wanted to have voices that were not connected to personalities. Personalities that would be understandable, interesting but not follow the ego-driven culture. I’m not sure if I succeeded in that.
I do know that during the voice workshop there was a lot of talk of assessing our own voice. I remember we went around the room and each said something and then the voice coach who was there together with Angie leading the workshop was saying, kind of giving comments. I remember being struck by what she said about my voice, because I felt it didn’t really jive at all with my personality and I might have interpreted that as, ‘she doesn’t get it’.
But looking at it in hindsight it might have actually been much … I could have received it in a much more positive way. In the sense that, that my voice is an instrument of power and I can do things with it that, you know, might not be so revealing of my own kind of inner psychology. And that could be a plus. To think of that disconnect. And again thinking of voice and disconnect in the way that I’m thinking about disconnecting it from an ego. So, as I look back I think there were some interesting moments. I didn’t capture them but now thinking on it they do bring me elsewhere.
I also remember not being so comfortable in the workshop setting. I always feel that some people tend to overpower or take too much space or real estate. And I felt that was the case in this workshop.
And at that moment I felt disappointed by it because we were all women and somehow you expect women to be more democratic or concerned with everybody getting a fair share. But there were some voices that were overpowering and I didn’t really feel that they were very insightful. I felt that some of them were just repeating cliches that I wanted to get away from, about men versus women for example. I didn’t feel particularly drawn into that dynamic.
So, that’s the most vivid memory I have of what was actually said. or what happened in the workshop. But perhaps there is a way of distilling thus into a question of, one of the one hand, attention and attention being directed towards the moment itself, or what happens later on: where do I want to be productive, say. And then, also a question of memory: maybe I should just trust my memory, instead of trying to look at the notes. These subjective recollections are important, after all.
For me personally, that moment was very much about a group dynamic and about certain things happening that I felt were repeating things that I see every day in society.
But then, also now looking back at it, I think there are interesting things to think about, of what was said about voice and the disconnect between certain areas that are often seen as one singular entity.
I don’t want this to come across as a ‘missed opportunity’. I think, in hindsight, I got a lot out of it. Just a few days ago I had a conversation with someone who is starting a project and a woman (a very smart creative) declined to participate because she “doesn’t like to hear her own voice”. I think that the workshop had to do with this – as in: get over it, you have more power over your voice as you think, your voice is not your ego but a channel, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot classic woman-victim style. And, in the end, you don’t speak for yourself but for someone else – you are not your own listener.
A practice to form we:
gather together in a circle
go around introducing yourselves
as others join the circle begin again
reintroduce yourselves, differently
repeat this process until I become we
I’m afraid I don’t remember the meeting too well (I only came to one, at Raven Row). What I do remember, and which kind of explains why I don’t remember much else -– was that it was the first time I left Iris with someone other than Christian. She must have been pretty young and I was very sleep deprived. I felt about a million miles apart from other members of the group and from my former self.
Even if it’s god-awful
In PERSONA (eds. Melissa Gordon & Marina Vishmidt 2012), writer Eva Kenny builds a connection between embarrassment and capitalism. While the emergence of the service economy began to produce performance instead of things, performance also crept increasingly into social relations. The changing mode of work made people into aesthetic objects, also making interactions between people into “professional or highly stylised encounters”. Kenny ponders whether the connection between embarrassment and performance is not a result of interiority or identity, but is produced from the outside, from “the social system inhabited by the subject” – capitalism internalised. We began to see ourselves increasingly as “performing creatures observed from the outside”. Technological progress intensified the constant monitoring of ourselves as well as others, and introduced the omnipresent possibility of embarrassment. This hyper self-awareness demands us to produce ‘best versions of ourselves’ presentable. Sociologist Erving Goffman made an analogy between our social interaction and theatre and used the language of art in his 1950s studies to define embarrassment: Embarrassment occurs when the performance of self-presentation “is unsuccessfully separated from the backstage”. Embarrassment was an aesthetic before it was an emotion. [Kenny]
I’m digging into a box of printed matter picked from a shelf at the Glasgow Women’s Library. Xeroxed A4 pamphlets on a variety of coloured papers containing drawings, cartoons and statements that are provoking, inflamed and funny. I’m pulled in by the humour and urgency. The ephemera is definitely historical, yet it still speaks in the present. It is sincere – it has feelings. While browsing, I feel elated by the documents I’m handling. But I also feel something else which is not sentimentality, not nostalgia – something I can’t quite determine. More like a smell – difficult to describe. Kenny asks, “In what way can embarrassment be read as an allergy to the immediate past, or to that which is otherwise somehow too close?” The closeness to the present makes contemporaneity to cross it out in an attempt to cancel the past and start anew. Like getting rid of your old diaries.
A confessional VHS tape; art that looks like a cunt; fertility imagery; a performance with your body on display. Overly expressive (“an excess of presence”) yet hard to argue against. The forward-pushing energy of embarrassment.
In a 1979 interview 2 the writer and activist Lucy Lippard recalls how she felt embarrassment for the feminist activists around her in the 1970s. This changed after an intense period of writing, away from the New York art world in Spain (“a horrible place to be for a seventies radical”), where Lippard came to the realisation that in fact, she was ashamed of her gender. [And what is the difference between shame and embarrassment?]
“I did nothing but write fiction for the first time in my life. It was just three and a half months, and all these things came out. I realised it was a shame to be a woman. That was just very peculiar: to be ashamed of something you were, irrevocably [laughs]. It didn’t look like a good place to be. I started thinking about all that, and it turned me into a feminist, and I came back and just fell into the movement…Whatever women do interests me, tremendously. Even if it’s god-awful.”
When chancing the possibility of unease, embarrassment can turn into persuasion. It prevents stagnation by resonating and carrying the momentum forward. A threshold has been crossed and the rest of us can step over it. It is possible for awkwardness to win you over and convince, in the same way humour does. But while witty humour keeps you at a distance, embarrassment warms you up and pulls you close. Embarrassment gives permission; its kitsch is a release.
I’m watching a video tape3. Medieval choral music. The protagonist is contemplating a painting of the Virgin Mary with a flower – a metaphor for the way Mary’s sex has been fragmented and detached from her body. The protagonist, too, feels removed from her genitals, while her gender is always on display: “In the course of my daily life, my sex feels separated from me. From the me with the brain, from the me with a history.” Sex and embarrassment – the gender and its aesthetic rendered inferior. Sex and gender – blended together historically, one equating the other to justify abuse. The way one’s body is extracted from the self and put on display, like a witch at the stake. To categorise one, to frame one in order to induce embarrassment so that one will abandon ideas about themself.
But historical feminist activism managed to turn embarrassment into a resource. Abandoning the good taste of modernism, it was do-it-yourself and intervene on a shoestring budget. Feminist campaigning deconstructed the idea of the political poster being sober and earnest. Women’s presses and publishing houses were set up, and video as a new art form was deployed: a medium without the baggage of male art history. Through various forms of design and art, activists applied the ideal of collective production to develop processes and aesthetics specific to their politics and interests in order to communicate on their own terms. The collective production rejected the idea of the lone genius artist, focussing instead on inclusiveness and interaction, and dissolving the division between the private and public realm. As the personal was political, so was the embarrassing. Sheila Rowbotham has pointed out some of the questions faced by 1970s and ’80s activism: “How to develop resistance on the basis of personal experience when that experience could eclipse the subjectivities of others? How to jolt consciousness while maintaining communication with people who were not necessarily sympathetic towards experimentation with form?” Since then, the movement has opened up, expanded and morphed into numerous operations that share ends. It has been cracked open into political clusters with aesthetics that carry that faint, indeterminate and exhilarating whiff from the past that is too close.
(1) Eva Kenny, ‘32 Things You Need to Know About Embarrassment’, PERSONA, Eds. Melissa Gordon and Marina Vishmidt, 2012.
(2) Lucy Lippard, ‘Lucy Lippard 1979: An Interview’, Video Data Bank, 1979
(3) Vanalyne Green, ‘A Spy in the House that Ruth Built’, WMM, 1989.
I remember the odd moment when I realized that Gina was also the name of the Fuerstin of Liechtenstein. There on a postcard, her face, Georgina Norberta Johanna Franziska Antonie Marie Raphaela……. Gina! How could I not have realized this back in 2002, when on the very day of the famed publication release of “naked came the *****” three canon balls fired from her castle above Vaduz. And now, how can it be that she graces the cover of the very publication that “G.I.N.A”, Gina Ashcraft’s latest story, would find its premier with the launch of Persona at the famous Kunstakademie Duesseldorf. The Rectorin, whose title is Magnificence, is reading the story aloud to the shock and horror of the students gathered in room 121. Fuerstin Gina’s face is quivering slightly in the hands of the Magnificence who holds Personain front of her face to hide the blush that is rising from her throat with every vulgar word she utters. The flimsy Persona newspaper print begins to flutter violently as Magnificence reads on with more force and driving repetition until now delivering a swift fold of the cover, removing the Fuerstin’s face to reveal a set of saucy lips release the words: sex is emotion in motion
(til Pernille Nygaard Zidore) igen det er det der med at jeg ikke vil undervurderes derfor insisterer jeg på en hård skorpe eller en kold kant
(for Pernille Nygaard Zidore) again is the thing that I don’t want to be underestimated so insist on a hard crust or a cool edge
I’m sitting writing in a room that didn’t exist in 2015. Just to be clear, the building didn’t exist then either. I sit in air once suspended above a basketball court that itself only came into being for the 2012 Olympics.
I spend more of my time teaching now than ever it seems, and now of course that is from home, at home into others’ homes. I read and write and speak and feel I feel for others. I understand that this is so they might acquire what it is that I might to them seem to have. Perhaps they want much more.
The I that felt so newly present to me in 2015, and which I thought at least partly explained my reluctance to provide an effusive paean to the We, has got different concerns now. Feminism’s turn at the performative turn has also taken a different turning.
I look over the two pieces that I wrote and then read aloud, one at Raven Row and then another, possibly indulgently, at Flat Time House. I remember the emotion I felt reading in that room in the roof at Raven Row. Perched on a countertop at Flat Time House brought other feelings. I look back at that time and wonder if perhaps I was a little mad.
I wanted to say I not We. I feel the same awkward antagonism to the proposition I am being invited to respond to as I did in 2015. It’s awkward – partly because I’d rather not feel like that, but only partly.
I message Fiona. What do you remember? The chorizo!
Every time I refresh my resumé, I have to consult M’s website, look up her Amazon author page or outright Google her to check our publication dates, the dates of our readings, the events she’s invited me to and that we’ve done virtually or in real life: this archive will now be a one-stop shop for any future CV emergencies, providing a home for a substantial chunk of my writing history. The first and best thing I ever wrote, ‘Frau mit Viel Zeit’ was for PERSONA magazine in 2013; in the same issue the clickbait version of my dissertation ‘The 32 Things You Need to Know About Embarrassment’ is more or less the only record in print of the five years I spent researching that topic. With M and Jen Liu I gave a reading of ‘Frau mit Viel Zeit’ at Printed Matter, New York: we celebrated this event with Pádraig Timoney and an empty suitcase that we carted up and down the stairs of Chinatown bars until it was dawn. In 2014 I wrote ‘Painting Behind Itself’ for Mel’s exhibition in New York; this was printed in an extended essay in her exhibition catalogue of the same title in 2015 and excerpted in Girls Like Us magazineas ‘Ptg.’ I wrote a self-help treatise ‘Fear.doc’ and a quiz for Mel called ‘Are You a Female Genius?’ around the same time, the latter of which debuted at her event, WE (Not I), at Flat Time House and South London Gallery. Our Gemini placements must contribute to this intellectual twinsiness: Melissa has introduced me to so many artists, filmmakers and writers, not least Christine Battersby, author of the seminal work “Gender and Genius”with whom I gave a lecture on the subject of female genius at South London Gallery for that programme in 2015. Some of our most fun events have taken place without me: a reading of my second female genius quiz “Are You a Female Genius II?” at Kunstverein. And at WIELS Centre for Contemporary Art, my favourite one to date: the Female Genius Night Club in October 2017. In the throes of finishing my dissertation, the thought of a full nightclub happening without me filled me not with FOMO but provided me with a kind of dream world, in which I left the library by night and teleported to Belgium, to a smoky underworld cabaret slash field hospital, where my as-yet unwritten fictional characters propped up the bar and spilled red wine over the shoulders of their blouses while gesturing wildly, making absolute pronouncements on all life, all truth, all art…
The fountain, the hairdryer and the scream
Does writing about things instead of taking action make me a coward asks the coward.
Does thinking that writing is a form of action and not being able to decide if thinking should be replaced by hoping make me an even worse coward mumbles the even worse coward.
I do not even write a pamphlet for all the women I want to support I tell myself it is because I wouldn’t know where to begin.
Can I write a pamphlet for dead nameless women?
I write a p o e m.
It is not even really a poem more an idea for a conversation on stage between three types (generations?) of feminists:
A fountain filled with eternal dishes with endless patience A hairdryer (me?) always doubting A scream.
I think we need a square where anyone could run into the conversation but I would like good light and no rain and sound that can carry far so I would need an inside square which is what I feel surfacing and cornering in my stomach.
I think these are my insides mushed up fears and hushed ambitions making a place for my words and their actions mute, immune, impossible
and still I expect to find a diamond !
But. Anyway. And. Even if. Nonetheless
The fountain stacked with sieves and overflowing cups and pans sighs all we need is patience all we need is patience. She is filling herself with her selves hiding behind the soap landscape that is constantly changing around her.
The scream screams: enough is enough is enough is enough is enough!
The hairdryer breathes hard and hopes
the warm movement in the air will change some people’s minds – or at least one or at least it will have been tried.
Fountain: Calm down, now these things need time
Hairdryer: Do you know Rosemarie? Scream: Where are our bodies? Where do we begin? We do not even recognise ourselves.
Fountain: Shush now hush now.
Hairdryer: But. Anyway. And. Even if. Nonetheless!
I do not remember the name of the event I attended, nor the date. I remember sitting round a table and everyone was asked how they felt participating. One said she was contented, wonderous even at the luxury of long sentences and thoughts that had time to weave ideas. She said, with childcare most of her thinking was pruned by interruption. Hearing her I felt a surge of recognition, like spring. Over that afternoon I remember walking streets with a researcher seeking out histories of the female dandy. I watched a woman who generally bristles with fierce energy soothed while describing her recent research.
I gave a presentation touching on flexible labour in the art world and the acrobatics of early modern theatre. I spoke of Commedia Zanni, migrant servants tumbling for ridiculous whims who manifest prowess in stunts of failed balance and pressurized contorted bodies. Of late my work has moved from charting these histrionic attempts at meeting impossible labours to the contemporary migratory screen and notions of ‘wellness’ and body codification situated within its aesthetic framework entangling affective labour, intimacy and performance assessment.
Younger I thought I could be like a man, pregnancy and birth have taught me I am not in control.
I see now there is a beauty to that, a chance to experience a primordial reality accessed via the body rather than via the mind.
She helped me see it
The camera peers down to the street below, tracing the movements of an elderly man dressed in a white shirt and fedora sifting through rubbish. Another man, pacing a nearby street corner observes him, seemingly irritated. A woman walks by. She minds her own business. A sex-worker talks to the driver of a car as they wait for the traffic lights to change. The camera cuts between bodies walking up, down and across the city streets to building facades and shop fronts: the details of everyday life and survival in Lower East Side, New York City in 1981.
How She Sees It By Her (1981) is a film – part documentary, part performance, part piece of poetry – that intimately observes a period of time through the eyes and words of artist Arleen Schloss. The film is structured around Arleen’s 58-page poem of the same title. Spoken out aloud by the artist throughout the film, the poem guides the viewer through deeply personal diary entries, marked by dates and times.
Her camera turns in on itself, pressing against Arleen’s painted face, framing her left eye, shifting the external gaze of the previous scenes, inwards. Her voice is high; she talks fast, informing us that it is “3pm on June 6th, 1981”. On this day he told her to “forget about that sweet fuck baby…” as he “kiss[ed] her and cut her throat simultaneously”. Descriptions of emotional abuse, insecurity and physical pain are all placed within the messy and addictive category of love. Reminded at one point that vulnerability is strength, this work touches on what it feels like to be dependent on someone, paralleled with mundane observations and often unjust realties of life in New York City.
Interpreted as a ‘public-personal-multi-media journal’ the film is a montage of documentation of Arleen’s body and the bodies of her friends and collaborators, alongside samples of super 8 film, painting, video, text and audio. Included are a range of participants who were, and still are, active in cultural and political spheres in the city and beyond, from Tomiyo Sasaki, Buster Cleveland, Kwok Mang Ho, Ernie Gusella, Ginny Lloyd, Linda Burnham, David Mora Catlett and Lona Foote to name only a few. Their music, voices, bodies and camera direction shift in and out of frame.
Arleen describes herself sitting in a Chinese restaurant “feeling like moderate shit”, in the same breath she observes workers struggles at a local publishing house that she might, herself, need to work with but “the staff want to unionise, and are anti the publisher.” She looks to her infected foot and ruminates on who and what can take care of her. Her voice-over reminds us that only the poor stay in the city in the summer while images of her face performing, lips out-of-sync with the audio, fill the screen. In this work she seems to speak to a necessity to manage expectations, as well as face life’s many contradictions without giving way to complicity. Life is both “warm and fun but also cold and political”. A little high, she watches “destressing news from the Middle East crisis on television”. The summer continues.
Towards the end of the film, we shift from the streets of Lower East Side to abstract, undefined spaces, well-lit artist studios and the sea, perhaps on-route to Coney Island. The camera now held by another, observes Arleen’s relaxed body. I pause Vimeo and stare at her. Younger than I ever knew her, she is lying down with her leg’s balanced in the air. She is wearing light blue trousers and a white t-shirt; her hair is mattered. She looks happy.
This image prompts a memory from 2005: Arleen and I are lying with our backs on the floor, our legs straight up in the air, supported by the walls of her immense studio. We are surrounded by papers, books, dust, plants, film reels, pens, glasses of water and left-over food. Whenever she felt us getting tired, stressed, or anxious with the archiving of her past she would pause us for this leg elevation rest. In these moments of recess, she would tell me, or perhaps encourage me, how to see it through my eyes.
We would expect that the world would become more and more egalitarian but that isn’t the case. Therefore continuing to brainstorm is quite relevant. To share opinions on how to operate as artists, discuss art and our work, or even consider alternative ways to organise society, are vital topics that we should keep exploring. Hopefully we will be able to stay generous, inclusive and supportive of each other, just like we have been doing in the past 10 years. I guess that we are all thankful that Melissa founded this group. I enjoyed participating in group visits to each others shows, as well as studio visits and discussions or other initiatives like exchanging art works. Beside keeping the discussion on art and society vivid we also had other kind of exchanges. For example, in 2012 we had a meeting during which we, the women group in Amsterdam, exchanged a special edition of 20 art pieces with each other. I’m still enjoying those works. In this site I include some pictures of that event that took place at Evi Vingeling’s home in Amsterdam. We were all almost present in that meeting. In the pictures you can see Uta Eisenreich, Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky, Katja Mater, Helen Verhoeven, Evi Vingerling, Jennifer Tee and myself.
My most treasured memory of WE (NOT I) was a walk through London; moving together through the city in small groups, being physically close while thinking together and giving each other time to talk through and finish a thought rather than summarising it.
I must confess I do not remember much about my contribution, which was on ‘radical empathy’. I remember Melissa being kind and there was a general thoughtful and open-hearted atmosphere at the South London Gallery. I was excited to see my old lecturer, Christine Battersby, who has done great work on gender, genius and phenomenology. I remember I was thinking a lot about empathy at this time, because I wanted to try to come up with a politics that was based on a kind of negative solidarity, this idea that followed from thinking about the old and new feminist discussions about emotional labour and paying attention to the social aspect of existence, even when the social bonds seem very frayed. I was thinking about what it might mean to feel solidarity with everyone on the basis of a kind of ‘lack’, a kind of negation of anything but what unites us as a collective subject, because I was thinking a lot about police violence, state violence and asylum, how to turn a sentimental feeling (upset at a photograph of a drowned migrant child) into action (hosting an asylum seeker, for example). I regarded this focus on empathy as a feminist project, without wishing to pin women down to being tethered to the emotional dimension of existence, but rather through a thought of what empathy could mean, despite differences, a sort of void-like global humanism. I think I was very tired at this time, and not very well.
In the years since this event, I feel that the possibilities for dialogue have become colder, and that empathy, and the discussion around emotional labour has, like everything, become commodified and predicated on an idea of calculation and exchange, whereby the concept no longer refers to social reproduction as a whole – everything it takes to reproduce humanity – but has rather been shrunk to an idea of interpersonal therapy (I can listen to your problems as your friend, but you need to send me some money in return). I am not sure that empathy was the right direction to take politics, because excessive empathy is also very useless sometimes, and even unhelpful (I empathise with your pain so much that I am myself unable to do anything to help you). I also think the kinds of vulnerability that a discussion or indeed a practice of empathy would involve is difficult and dangerous when levels of trust are extremely low. I think a world without face-to-face conversations, where divisions and differences of opinion are exaggerated by the internet, is a world that does not want to think of ‘humanity’ as such, however empty the concept might be.
I respect the thoughtfulness of the WE (NOT I) project: I wonder if it would be possible now. I cannot find my notes for the talk. I probably extemporised them, which I often do. I can only find a later talk I gave on the topic, which is here:
As life had thrown me in ‘the middle of nowhere’ with a little baby, WAGA (Women Artists Group Amsterdam) has been one good antidote against isolation at a time where social media didn’t really exist, babies were rarely seen at openings and being away from a city felt like living out in space.
The feeling of being connected with like-minded women who share same interests, passions, problems, work, etc. and, although from a distance, still being able to participate in an artistic discourse, visit studios, hear from one another on a regular basis changed my view on my living situation and life choices. I could fully enjoy waking up ‘in the middle of nowhere’ surrounded by nature, ride donkeys with my son and yet continue my art practice and be part of that community I love so much, I could have both, I could have it all. I am grateful for that.
I was reminded about the voice coach who lectured our group of participants on how to speak with confidence. We began by introducing ourselves, but according to the coach none of us took sufficient ownership of the act – and so we each had to say our name again – but do it more boldly. It felt awkward and corporate. We were the wrong crowd. She decried up-speak and vocal fry. Conscious of our voices, some of us resorted to body language – passing each other glances that unmistakably said, what-the-fuck-is-this?
Body language can’t be heard. But it’s the body that forms and informs the sounds that any of us make and receive. Anne Carson describes how we evaluate people based on the sounds they make – we judge them as, “sane or insane, male or female, good, evil, trustworthy, depressive, marriageable, moribund, likely or unlikely to make war on us…” She doesn’t directly account for the body’s role in all that. But perhaps it’s implied in her telling of an episode involving Ernest Hemingway – and the time he was repelled by the sound of thought fused with body. Overhearing Gertrud Stein call out to Alice Toklas—“Don’t, pussy. Don’t. Don’t, please don’t. Please don’t, pussy,” – the man ran out of Stein’s house flustered and disturbed by how an intellect like hers could be connected to a voice needy and pleading. After that, it was impossible for him to maintain a real friendship with her, “neither in my heart nor in my head.”
The refreshing opposite of Hemingway: Angie Keefer wrote something I read probably over ten years ago. At some point in the text – if I remember right – she references how she didn’t fully appreciate Ludwig Wittgenstein until she read a biography mentioning his high-pitched voice. This crumb of trivia productively shifted her engagement of his disembodied ideas on ethics into something with more life.
You would think you could be kind to each other and distant from the law It is when you don’t inhabit aren’t capable of inhabiting darkness that you spew it unknowingly “She has a dark side” or She desires to appear to herself in the dark?
Just want and even love
I’m the man who has everything anyway My face went flying forward and I flipped and fell in the fog Snow then fog I could barely see the front of myself the man my dad who skied right past I yelled he’s me but it was very foggy Snow, black dots, he’s fine in a good way
What part of the law is huge for me?! It seems to go against reason and weirdly against people
The law is the strange
You can see one here and I’m inside one, tinted
Oh right red red times three I’ve got a beautiful picture of you inside my head Sounds romantic It is and it isn’t
It’s like that anyway
INSTITUTIONAL CRITIQUE: RACISM & SPIRITUAL PRACTICE IN THE ART WORLD
March 2019 London/Paris
“Grace Wales Bonner is bringing meditation and spirituality to gallery in London” ID magazine (2019)
‘Shamans act like a gateway; they take on a problem from the community and can transcend it. Artists can be like that. Art is a powerful force; and if used in the correct way, it can be really transformative.‘ Grace Ndiritu – Time Out: Essay by Sarah Kent (2007)
Today I met with three sweet, young RCA student curators to discuss my practice. We sat in Eurostar terminal as I waited for a train back to Paris already feeling the pressure of Brexit beginning. As we chatted about relational aesthetics, performance, and post-internet art, what moved me most was there real concern for the artworld. As young curators, they wanted to know as an experienced artist, how best to negate the difficulties of making shows in today’s political Neo-liberal climate. In the deafness of the white cube space, how could make they the museum alive again?
They of course were referring to my essay Healing The Museum. “In 2012 I began creating a new body of works under the title Healing The Museum. It came out of a deep need to re-introduce non-rational methodologies such as shamanism to re-activate the ‘sacredness’ of art spaces. I believed that most modern art institutions were out of sync with their audiences’ everyday experiences and the widespread socio-economical and political changes that have taken place globally in the recent decades. Museums are dying. And I see shamanism as a way to re-activate the dying art space as a space for sharing, participation and ethics. From prehistoric to modern times the shaman was not only the group healer and facilitator of peace but also the creative; the artist.” Grace Ndiritu (2016)
The RCA students Costanza Simonini, Irina Sinenkaya and Ottavia Lunari had reached out to me partly because of my 18 years of research into rural/urban living. In fact Simonini stated she felt she couldn’t really relate to the post-internet art her peers were making, as she had grow up in an Italian family who had encouraged a life of simplicity and getting back to rural life. All of which I understood as in my research I had taken the radical decision in 2012 only to spend time in the city when necessary, and to otherwise live in rural, alternative and often spiritual communities. My research had taken me to both Thai and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, permaculture communities in New Zealand, forest tree dwellers in Argentina, neo-tribal festivals such the ‘Burning Man’ in Nevada, a Hare Krishna ashram and the ‘Findhorn’ New Age community in Scotland. And had resulted in the founding of The Ark: Center For Interdisciplinary Experimentation. The Ark was an post-internet living research/live artistic model for creating an off-grid community within an urban setting; one for the post-internet age! . Part-scientific experiment and part-spiritual experience. It focused primarily Plants, Biology, Shamanism, Meditation, Food, Philosophy, Communities, Education, Architecture, Future of Cities, Democracy and Activism. The Ark had no audience for the first 6 days, so the participants could go deep in this process. Instead it was closed in order to encourage creativity and vulnerability in order to come up with radical, new ways of thinking about life and the problems of today’s world. All invitees were asked to participate and share in each others offerings whether that was a lecture, meditation session, cooking, creating a performance or Non Violent Communication (NVC) or poetry workshop etc. Moreover, the ancient Indian Vedic chakra system is the conceptual and energetic foundation for the holistic nature of The Ark i.e. the daily spiritual workshops, academic talks and performance schedule. It is also the inspiration for the visual design of the uniforms, banners, flags and the menu of food which the participants will consume during The Ark. The Ark took place from 2 to 10 July 2017 at Les Laboratories Aubervillers, Paris.
I had come a long way from when I finished my post-graduate studies at De Ateliers in Amsterdam and had begun to formally study meditation and other spiritual practices (please note I had already had many shamanistic experiences as a child. At that time in the art world no one was interested in those subjects. In fact quite often when I bring up the fact that I was learning to meditate, people would laugh and dismiss my genuine spiritual interest as either naive or un-grounded in reality (logical reasoning). Now years later the world has fully embraced Mindfulness Meditation and shamanism by way of Ayahuasca ceremonies so much so that every Tom Dick and Harry knows what it is. In a interview with Best Friends Learning Gang (BLFG) in 2018 I discussed the possible issues with this trend happening (…)
On 1 Dec 2020, at 10:36, Melissa Gordon wrote: Hey! It doesn’t need to be very formal, I’m just trying to gather all the pieces and yes I remember there being this ‘break off’ designer session and you all were very very animated, and we were in the other room doing something serious and we heard all this laughing, then I think people started breaking off and going to talk to each other in the kitchen, like, ugh, lets have some fun. Kaisa might remember, she was there, and she has a pretty good memory: Kaisa I’m CCing you here, do you remember who was present at the designer session at the WE Not I series of meetings upstairs at Raven Row? Kind regards! X Mel
—————————————————————– On 17 Dec 2020, at 22:26, Sara De Bondt wrote: Hey KaisaHow are you? We are ok here, glad this stupid year is finally over… I really don’t remember very well who was there, do you?I think Frith Kerr, Sarah Boris and Mia Frostner… Was Merel van den Berg there? And Veronica Ditting? And Kate Morrell probably. I think I did some kind of talk before we started, in the other room. Do you know it’s already been almost 10 years since we published Born in Flames? I still love that book. x Sara
On 18 Dec 2020, at 11:16, Kaisa Lassinaro wrote:
Sara, good to hear from you and sorry I failed to reply to you earlier about the RR meeting. But, Raven Row. Yes, I remember Frith Kerr being there and Vero [Ditting] too, now that you reminded me. The names kinda ring a bell. But my memory is bad with names — I have to say I don’t remember much of it. It was all quite professional. I remember the cakes, those were good; I think I took some home with me And how time goes, BiF ten years; hope it’ll keep doing the rounds in the future. Perhaps I should send Lizzie a note. x Kaisa
—————————————————————– On 30 Dec 2020, at 14:51, Sara De Bondt wrote: Hi Kaisa Hmpf, I really don’t know what to write for Mel’s thing…Feels so long ago. Maybe just a sentence or two about the event then… I’m curious to read your text on feminist aesthetics, that sounds great. Have you seen our latest OP, Natural Enemies of Books? https://occasionalpapers.org/product/the-natural-enemies-of-books/ Happy new year! x Sara
—————————————————————– On 5 Jan 2021, at 10:48, Kaisa Lassinaro wrote: hi Sara, Yes, that Natural Enemies-book seems great — I haven’t managed to get my hands on it (Finland…) — maybe I should order it? Are you still dealing in GBP (this brexit-blah…)? A good beginning of the year to you! x Kaisa
—————————————————————– On 5 Jan 2020, at 11:53, Sara De Bondt wrote: Hi Kaisa Send me your address and I’ll have a copy of Natural Enemies sent to you.You’re one of our authors after all We’re doing an event around it at Printed Matter Online Art Book Fair at the end of February. I’m designing this book at the moment, shelf documents you might like it. https://second-shelf.org/second-shelf-alive/
—————————————————————– On 5 Jan 2021, at 15:57, Kaisa Lassinaro wrote: Hi Sara,& thank you for offering to send the title over! Seems like my thesis revolves around the same topic as the book you’re working on; expanding knowledges. Well, I suppose it’s something we’ve both been working on, in our ways over the years. I’m starved for interesting things these days. Outside of my flat, that is, with people, face to face. Finland for starters is not the most happening corner of the world, and places being shut and things canceled, I’m left to wander the shores of Helsinki in practical outdoor clothing with the other sensible people. The sound of windproof trousers everywhere; shuh shuh shuh. Here’s to more open times again. Kx
—————————————————————– On 8 Jan 2021, at 10:40, Kaisa Lassinaro wrote: Ps. I wrote to Lizzie to thank her again for the support & involvement in making the BiF book, y’know, in the light of the 10-year anniversary, and she replied how much she enjoyed book. So thanks, once again for keeping it going. x Kaisa
—————————————————————– On 8 Jan 2020, at 13:26, Sara De Bondt wrote: Hi Kaisa Oh that is so nice, thanks for sharing! xS
—————————————————————– On 8 Jan 2020, at 15:13, Sara De Bondt wrote: Hi Mel,I’ve been emailing with Kaisa since you got in touch, trying to remember what happened. We mention some stuff we’re both working on now in the messages. Maybe we could just publish them as my contribution? I still need to ask Kaisa if she’d be ok with it. I also gave a talk on that day, perhaps you could use some slides as images.The bulk of it were these data visualisations we did on women and graphic design, see attached. And I found a list of questions we discussed at Raven Row, maybe you could put it somewhere? 1. How do you address gender questions in interviews or lectures? 2. Have you experienced gender inequality in dealing with clients, and how have you dealt with it? 3. What about students and teachers? How can we encourage more gender equality in schools? And how can we mentor young students or graduates to keep at it and encourage more confidence? Any experience as a student? 4. Staff: Are you aware of gender issues when hiring? 5. Ideas for how to make things better? A mentoring system? Women’s group? 6. Colleagues: How can we support each other better, do we need to? 7. What do people think of women-only exhibitions/books/blogs? What do you think? x Sara
Sara De Bondt and Kaisa Lassinaro
In the meetings I felt I had a limited language. I mostly listened. I thought I would have had more ground. But realised I had largely been avoiding the question of how being a woman shaped my work. And that is somehow where the conversation started. We were all women and we were all artists. What experiences did we have in common, thoughts and ways. And how could that be shared as awareness. Not just as individual experiences. But between us, as awareness of structures and cultures. During the conversation it was mainly formulated as questions.
Then after, when we met again at openings or at the playground, we would recognise each other. Each other’s names and faces. And know that we had shared those thoughts, spent that time, in that room.
Thinking back at the meetings, it feels different today. I feel different. Maybe because I am older. Because I work differently. Maybe through the books I have been reading. Because of the public discourse that has been shaped since then. And the voices that have provided a new language. The conversation feels different now. I feel that what I do is shaped and motivated by me being a woman. That I have another kind of language and practice to support that. That other female artists do. And that it is recognised in between us.
A CONVERSATION TO KNOW IF THERE IS A CONVERSATION TO BE HAD (2010–11)
PROPOSAL FOR A FEMINIST COLLOQIUM (2005–2010)
A LIVING ARCHIVE
A Living Archive is a website documenting the archive of ten years of feminist activities. Starting in 2010 artist Melissa Gordon organised a number of open-ended ‘conversations’ in New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and London, titled ‘a conversation to know if there is a conversation to be had.’ These meetings, often eight to ten hours long, including between ten to forty women artists, were an open call to ask if and what women artists had to speak about, in 2010.
Ten years later, this archive brings together a sprawling set of activities: magazines LABOUR and PERSONA published in 2011 and 2013 respectively, edited with Marina Vishmidt and Gordon, and designed by Kaisa Lassinaro, are here, as well as the documentation of all of their various launches and live events that were commissioned at the time.
Also further meetings of women artists groups are documented, as well as interviews with members of the groups now in 2021, looking back and trying to define what roles the discussions played and what needs the conversations were trying to address. Also included is the large series of meetings and presentations titled WE (NOT I) which was held in 2015 at Raven Row and South London Gallery in London and then Artists Space in New York. The original intention of WE (NOT I) was to create a collective editorial ‘feminist magazine’, and all of the content of these two weeks are brought together here in A Living Archive for the first time.
A Living Archive is the next iteration of these many strands of feminist activity, and its aim is to forefront the voices of women and trans practitioners in the art world, into the future. It is a developing resource for researchers to find and discover a wide and widening community of female artists, whilst also documenting a particular moment in feminist history which has not been written yet, and yet was a very different moment from the moment of developing this archive in 2021.
UPCOMING Summer 2021: Audio interviews on the value of women’s art work
September 26th 2021: Launch of A Living Archive website as an open invitation conversation
Launch of Conversation #3:
Atelier Gordon Evans, Brussels February 8, 2020 Angie Keefer, Marie Lund, Alice Channer, Melissa Gordon
At a launch at the studio Atelier Gordon Evans in Brussels in February 2020, Angie Keefer presented her book ‘Second Thoughts’ with a talk titled Where Were We, accompanied by a video screening. Also that night readings from ‘Conversation #3’ titled BEAT- a back and forth poetic exchange between the sculptors Marie Lund and Alice Channer, who were both present, was read aloud.
For the website, a year later, Angie has produced a video of an essay, The View from the Window at Le Gras, that is ordinarily presented as a talk, including at WE (NOT I) in 2015:
The View from the Window at Le Gras, Angie Keefer
Conversations is a series of feminist publications which commission ‘conversations’ between artists, writers and curators. This is an extension of the feminist magazines LABOUR (2010) and PERSONA (2013) that Gordon co-edited with Marina Vishmidt. ‘Conversations’ aims to publish small, timely publications, over the course of many years, which will add up to a larger feminist conversation.
Conversation #3 2020
BEAT Marie Lund and Alice Channer
The back and forth friendship and exchange of the artists Marie Lund and Alice Channer is captured in their joint writings in the publication BEAT.
An interview between Chris Kraus and Melissa Gordon, initially conducted in person at Raven Row in 2015, then updated in 2018 before publishing.
All Women Together, Or Reading After Kathy Acker at the Female Genius Night Club, by Natasha Soobramanien: a text developed at the “Female Genius Night Club” at WIELS, in 2017.
Female Genius Night Club was developed in conversation between Melissa Gordon and Eva Kenny, on imagining a space with a semi-fictional character, a female genius, who would host a series of events that began with a stand-up presentation, and were followed by an evening of drinks at a bar within the space.
Rehana Zaman, Marina Vishmidt, Isobel Harbison, Melissa Gordon
On Value was a panel discussion addressing historic, contemporary and future questions around the value of women’s art, with speakers Melissa Gordon (artist), Isobel Harbison (critic and curator), Rehana Zaman (artist), and Marina Vishmidt (writer), chaired by Fiona McGovern (Director, Alison Jacques Gallery). Speculative Value: The Future of Women’s Value in the Arts is an event that aimed to address questions raised by female practitioners during the WE (Not I) events of 2015. In recent years there has been a shift in the presence, appreciation, and exhibiting of art by both historic and contemporary female artists across all art fields. The panel will address what these changes entail for the re-evaluation of the past, the understanding of the present, and the potential of the future of art and art made by women.
Contributors: Becca Albee, Juana Berrío, Anna Craycroft, Moyra Davey, Sonia Louise Davis, Sarah Demeuse, Dorothée Dupuis, Silvia Federici, Lia Gangitano, Melanie Gilligan, Guerrilla Girls, Ellen Greig, Kara Hamilton, K8 Hardy, Larissa Harris, Nadia Hebson, Laura Hunt, Angie Keefer, Chris Kraus (in absentia), Jen Liu, Liz Magic Laser, Park McArthur, Kathy Noble (with Judith Bernstein, Dara Birnbaum and Joan Jonas), Jeanine Oleson, Lisa Oppenheim, Anna Ostoya, Amanda Parmer, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Ariana Reines, Kari Rittenbach, Martha Rosler, Karisa Senavitis, Mary Simpson, Meredyth Sparks, Kianja Strobert, Lisa Tan, Lynne Tillman, Marina Vishmidt, Lise Soskolne / W.A.G.E., Amy Yao.
WE (Not I) convened four days and nights of discursive meetings, presentations, and events that brought together a wide range of female artists, writers, curators and thinkers identifying with feminist practices to exchange and produce content addressing questions around the role of ‘we’ in contemporary art practice.
Daily work meetings at Artists Space Books & Talks revolved around the topics of the development of a non-singular voice in art authorship, the gendered and accumulated nature of art historic genius, the radical gesture of “dropping out”, the value of the historical legacies of feminist art, and generally the edges of the self as a practitioner.
Angie Keefer led a one-day workshop on the question of voice, along with a voice coach that she had been working with. A discussion was instigated from the Anne Carson essay “The Gender of Sound”, and carried out as both physical vocal exercises as well as a consideration of how our affected voices function in public.
Curator Larissa Harris gave a presentation on the ambitious Queens Museum show ‘Maintenance Art’ which ran from September 2016 until February 2017. It was a survey of the decades-spanning work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who gave radical attention to maintenance and value.
Angie Keefer & Lynne Tillman A talk, a reading and a conversation in assorted voices
Lynne Tillman (adapted from her author’s page, Amazon.com):
Here’s an Author’s Bio. It could be written differently. I’ve written many for myself and read lots of other people’s. None is right or sufficient, each slants one way or the other. So, a kind of fiction – selection of events and facts. So let me just say: I wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old. That I actually do write stories and novels and essays, and that they get published, still astonishes me. Right now, I’m working on finishing a novel, MEN AND APPARITIONS, my sixth. As I work on a novel, I write stories and essays also, for example one on Cindy Sherman, for the Broad Museum Catalog, and one on Joan Jonas’ work for a book to be done by the Wattis Institute. Many essays from the last 15 years were pubbed in WHAT WOULD LYNNE TILLMAN DO? my second collection of essays. Curiously, it was a Finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism (2014). I hadn’t expected that.
MY last collection of stories, Someday This Will Be Funny, pubbed by Red Lemonade Press, had no story in it called Someday This Will Be Funny. It’s a title that comments on all the stories, maybe, and is also an attitude I like. Each spring, I teach writing at University at Albany, in the English Dept.. And I regularly do visiting artist/writer gigs, and make studio visits to artists. I’ve lived with David Hofstra, a bass player, for many years. It makes a lot of sense to me that I live with a bass player, since time and rhythm are extremely important to my writing.
As time goes by, my thoughts about writing change, how to write THIS, or why I do. There are no stable answers to a process that changes, and a life that does too. Writing, when I’m inhabiting its world, makes me happy, or less unhappy. I also feel engaged in and caught up in politics here, and in worlds farther away. When I work inside the world in which I do make choices, I’m completely absorbed in what happens, in what can emerge. Writing is a beautiful, difficult relationship with what you know and don’t know, have or haven’t experienced, with grammar and syntax, with words, primarily, with ideas, and with everything else that’s been written.
Someone asked me recently whether I could recall the first time I was affected by a work of art or an exhibition. I do remember learning to read. I remember the special intensity of reading fiction when language was new. And I remember learning in a first grade drawing class that eyes sit in the middle of the head, not at the very top, a fact that surprises me still. The first exhibition I remember seeing occurred around the same time I discovered language and the rudiments of anatomical proportion. It was a touring show of Amish quilts that passed through the art museum in my town. The Amish, a Christian sect committed to communal, agrarian living, reject electricity, motorized vehicles, birth control, military service and Social Security. They drive horse-drawn carriages and wear simple, dark clothing reminiscent of the American pioneers: ankle-length dresses and bonnets for women; long pants, vests and flat-brimmed hats for men. In large part, they preserve the habits and mores of their 18th-century Swiss-German founders, including exquisite handicrafts. Amish quilts, often made of the same violet, indigo, and madder colors as their clothing, are startlingly graphic, however, somewhere between the black paintings of Ad Reinhardt and the digital landscapes of Q*bert. What I remember best about the exhibition, aside from mental images of particular quilts that deeply impressed me, is the explanation I was given as to why every regularly patterned quilt contained a conspicuous deviation—an error. “That’s to let God out,” I was told. What is this god, I wondered, and what would happen to it if there were no mistake? What kind of fallout are we talking about in the event God gets stuck? I was too intimidated to ask. I accepted then that a perfect quilt would be an affront to the gods and internalized that whatever warranted display in museums rivaled divine perfection. Now, when I consider exhibitions, I bounce between two poles. At one extreme, I wonder, “Why in the world has someone done this, when anything at all was possible?” while at the other, I perceive, “All the world is here, in this,” but my axis is subject to all sorts of vagaries, from time to weather to war. Sometimes it bends round, and the two poles meet to form a circle.
Ariana Reines, Chris Kraus (in absentia), Melissa Gordon and Meredyth Sparks
Ariana Reines opened the evening with a reading of “Littoral Madness”, a section from Chris Kraus’ forthcoming critical biography of Kathy Acker, and completed the evening with a reading of her poetry.
In between Reines, two talks were delivered by Melissa Gordon and Meredyth Sparks on the value of presence in art in relation to gender, history and genius.
Dara Birnbaum & Joan Jonas, moderated by Kathy Noble
This discussion considered the construction, performance and broadcast of gender archetypes over the last fifty years, and how these have been transformed, critiqued and subverted within visual art – specifically in the work of Dara Birnbaum and Joan Jonas. Both artists were part of a generation of women artists who began working in the ’60s and ’70s, and were pioneers in their radical address of subjectivity, imagery, artistic processes and technology. Within the wider social and political context, their work contained a powerful message of transformation that was extremely prescient: firstly, in relationship to writing by theorists such as Judith Butler and Donna Haraway in the early ’90s; and, more recently, the digital and virtual revolution’s effect on identity construction and performance.
Artists Space regrets that Judith Bernstein was no longer able to participate in this event, due to unforeseen circumstances.
Link to event: https://artistsspace.org/programs/how-to-be-a-woman
Silvia Federici, Melanie Gilligan, Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, Lise Soskolne, and Marina Vishmidt led a discussion around the value relations of art production, and what kinds of (feminist) value-critical politics can create transversal connections between crises in the different spaces where we practice.
Link to event: https://artistsspace.org/programs/on-value
Raven Row and South London Gallery April 27- 2 May 2015
Contributors: Christine Battersby, Sara De Bondt, Ellen Feiss, Andrea Francke and Eva Weinmayr, Melissa Gordon, Catherine Grant, Maria Guggenbichler and Rosalie Schweiker, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Fiona Jardine, Eva Kenny, Kaisa Lassinaro, Ghislaine Leung, Daria Martin, Karolin Meunier, Rosalind Nashashibi, Nashashibi/Skaer, Kathy Noble, Andrea Phillips, Nina Power, Irene Revell, Lis Rhodes, Jenny Richards, Grace Schwindt, Lisette Smits, Natasha Soobramanien, Corin Sworn, Joanne Tatham, Cara Tolmie, Marina Vishmidt, Jessica Wiesner, Vivian Ziherl. Hosted by Anna Gritz, Antony Hudek and Alex Sainsbury
Six days of events were held on the upper floors of Raven Row and at South London Gallery in late April 2015. About 50 women artists were invited to present and take part in a symposium-meets residency like environment where artists and writers would come to meet, discuss and present their research each day. The goal was originally to create a collective editorial situation which would produce the next magazine, in order to dissolve a single editorial voice. The form became quite expansive, and many of the participants focused on their relationships to ‘a collective’, whether that is historic, contemporary, potential or imaginary. What happened was a rich, active week of activities, that each had public events in the evenings, and culminated in a day-long symposium at South London Gallery.
WE (Not I): On Creativity and Value South London Gallery, May 2nd 2015
A full day symposium at the South London Gallery including presentations by: Christine Battersby, Eva Kenny, Andrea Phillips and Vivian Ziherl.
– Christine Battersby, ‘Three Models of Creativity: Individuality without Individualism’
– Eva Kenny, ‘Female Genius (Response to Christine Battersby)’
– Andrea Phillips, ‘The Struggle with Value in Contemporary Art: Gender and Dispossession’
– Vivian Ziherl, ‘A Feminist Claim to Numeration or “Reproductive Realism”’
– Panel Discussion
WE (NOT I) was a series of collaborative working meetings, presentations, and events with over 40 female artists, writers and curators, producing and distributing content addressing questions around the role of “We” in contemporary art practice. Events took place across the SLG, Flat Time House, Cubitt and Raven Row from 27 April – 2 May 2015.
Sidsel Meineche Hansen & Tom Vandeputte (Eds.) Published by Open Editions/Funen Art Academy
Interview with Marina Vishmidt and Melissa Gordon about ongoing projects and WE (Not I)
An interview with Sidsel Meineche Hansen and Tom Vanderputte with Marina Vishmidt and Melissa Gordon on the projects, conversations and magazines detailed in this archive. The book looks at radical forms of pedagogy in a changing landscape of education, and has contributions by Judy Chicago, Andrea Fraser, Melissa Gordon & Marina Vishmidt, Brian Holmes, Timothy Ivison, Gal Kirn, Suhail Malik, Gerald Raunig, Ruth Sonderegger, and The New Centre for Research & Practice.
Edited by Melissa Gordon and Marina Vishmidt, designed by Kaisa Lassinaro
Contributors: Gina Ashcraft, Alison J. Carr, Céline Condorelli, Avery F. Gordon , Melissa Gordon and Marina Vishmidt, Nadia Hebson, Eva Kenny, Chris Kraus, Mason Leaver-Yap, Jen Liu, Marie Lund, Daria Martin, Rita McBride, Karolin Meunier, Sabeth Buchmann and Josephine Pryde, Audrey Reynolds, Elisabeth Subrin, Sue Tate.
PERSONA magazine, edited by Marina Vishmidt and Melissa Gordon, and designed by Kaisa Lassinaro, followed from LABOUR magazine by developing an in-depth publication that aimed to follow the second main concern of the women artist meetings: subjectivity, relationships, self-presentation, authorship and genealogical histories. PERSONA was developed over two years of ongoing conversations with its contributors, and the numerous overlaps are testament to an embedded editorial practice where all participants were aware of and thinking of the other works. PERSONA aimed to put these voices at the front of a developing concern for artists: who we showed to the world when we made work.
PERSONA Magazine was launched at multiple venues throughout 2013 and 2014. Like LABOUR magazine, each launch of PERSONA was intended to be a place for new content or discussions to be produced and developed. The launches felt like a turning point: events around the topic of feminism began to be central to programs of institutions.
A full list of launches and activities are listed here:
Showroom, London October 23rd 2013: Shulamith Firestone Reading Group
A reading group hosted by Marina Vishmidt and Melissa Gordon of the book ‘The Dialectic of Sex’ (1970), in honor of Shulamith Firestone (1945 – 2012). The event aimed to be a long-reading of the book, in relationship to the contribution of Elisabeth Subrin to PERSONA about her movie ‘Shulie’ (1997).
Education Research Centre, Liverpool January 12, 2014
Led by Jessica Wiesner, with Chris Evans, Rosalind Nashashibi and Melissa Gordon joining. East Coast/West Coast: A re-staging of the Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson argument as described by the Video-data Bank:
In this rare and humorous record of the art dialogue of the late 1960s, Holt and ‘guest’ Robert Smithson assume opposing artistic viewpoints: the uptight, intellectual New Yorker versus the laid-back Californian. Their play-acting lays bare the cliches and stereotypes of a ‘bi-coastal’ art world. While Holt stresses analytic, systematic thinking, Smithson represents the polar opposite, privileging visceral experience and instinct, saying, “I never read books; I just go out and look at the clouds.” and “Why don’t you stop thinking and start feeling?”
Bureau Publik, Copenhagen January 9th, 2014
Marina Vishmidt and Melissa Gordon gave a talk on the concept of the Drop Out in the context of a presentation of PERSONA magazine.
Archive Books, Berlin January 10th 2014
Karolin Meunier gave a reading of her text ‘Return to Inquiry’ and Melissa Gordon presented the magazine.
Edited by Melissa Gordon and Marina Vishmidt, Designed by Kaisa Lassinaro
Contributions by: Rachel Bradley and Jessica Wiesner, Lizzie Borden and Kaisa Lassinaro, Emma Hedditch, Henry VIII’s Wives, Avigail Moss, Nina Power, Lisette Smits, Claudia Sola, Meredyth Sparks, Marina Vishmidt, W.A.G.E
LABOUR magazine was developed and edited as a collective team by Marina Vishmidt, Kaisa Lassinaro and Melissa Gordon. After Gordon had finished hosting a series of women artist meetings, she approached Vishmidt with the idea of developing a publication that would address the main concerns of female artists that were raised at the meetings. The first and foremost concern was that of Labour: work, wages, economy, authorship and effort. All aspects of the magazine were commissioned and looked to put the voices of these artists at the forefront of an emerging conversation on how artists were treated.
LABOUR magazine was launched in multiple venues in 2011. The editors Marina Vishmidt and Melissa Gordon wanted each magazine launch to be a a place for new work, new events or new content to take place. This ethos came out of wanting all aspects of the project to be a space which was both useful for artists, as well as to have each state of the project to be a space to host a female voice.
See here for a full description of all the launches:
New York, Elisabeth Dee Gallery September 2011
Berlin, Luttgenmeijer Gallery November 2011
Kunstverein Amsterdam December 20, 2011
London,Ancient & Modern Gallery October 2011 Performance Theater of Pain by Melissa Gordon and Jessica Wiesner
A description of the development of ‘property’ told in a monologue projected outside a gallery space – turned shadow box.
Jessica Wiesner & Rachel Bradley, Henry VIII’s Wives, Lizzie Borden
On the occasion of the launch, Kunsthal Oslo presented work by some of the artists featured in LABOUR – the performance No Comment by Rachal Bradley and Jessica Wiesner, and a mini-retrospective of the artists’ group Henry VIII’s Wives (Rachel Dagnall, Bob Grieve, Sirko Knupfer, Simon Polli, Per Sander and Lucy Skaer).
The performance No Comment combined a scripted conversation – between Rachal Bradley, Jessica Wiesner, Melissa Gordon, Rachel Dagnall and Simon Polli – with the live production of a giant screen print. Sabotaging the framework of the artist interview and the implied validation of those involved, the choreographed scenario of No Comment drew on the controlled slapstick of Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton to aid its investigation of the conditions of art production.
March 2012, Brussels LABOUR launch and impossible re-staging of Mina Loy’s play ‘Collision’: Jessica Wiesner and Melissa Gordon faxed a version of the play to be printed and hung up live, one word at a time.
Series of women artist meetings, New York 2011-2015
After the first meeting at Dexter Sinister in New York in 2010, Jen Liu and Meredyth Sparks continued to organize and host a number of meetings in New York at various private locations. These meetings turned into magazine and book launches and involvements in various curatorial projects in New York, and were briefly resumed in 2015.
The women artists who attended the meeting at Kunstverein Amsterdam formed an active group of artists who have continued to meet for ten years. They have hosted studio visits, visits to exhibitions, art swaps, as well as developing a community that is supportive and present at each others openings and events.
An interview with Helen Verhoeven and Noa Giniger about the development and activities of the Women Artist Group in Amsterdam can be found here:
We would expect that the world would become more and more egalitarian but that isn’t the case. Therefore continuing to brainstorm is quite relevant. To share opinions on how to operate as artists, discuss art and our work, or even consider alternative ways to organise society, are vital topics that we should keep exploring. Hopefully we will be able to stay generous, inclusive and supportive of each other, just like we have been doing in the past 10 years. I guess that we are all thankful that Melissa founded this group. I enjoyed participating in group visits to each others shows, as well as studio visits and discussions or other initiatives like exchanging art works. Beside keeping the discussion on art and society vivid we also had other kind of exchanges. For example, in 2012 we had a meeting during which we, the women group in Amsterdam, exchanged a special edition of 20 art pieces with each other. I’m still enjoying those works. In this site I include some pictures of that event that took place at Evi Vingeling’s home in Amsterdam. We were all almost present in that meeting. In the pictures you can see Uta Eisenreich, Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky, Katja Mater, Helen Verhoeven, Evi Vingerling, Jennifer Tee and myself. (Maura Biava)
After the meeting at Raven Row in 2011, some meetings continued to happen at the Goldsmiths Women’s Library in London. Kaisa Lassinaro transcribed this meeting below, and is the only meeting that has been recorded and transcribed.
A CONVERSATION TO KNOW IF THERE IS A CONVERSATION TO BE HAD
First Meeting April 24th 2010 Dexter Sinister, New York
Attending: Melissa Gordon, Mason Leaver-Yap, Miranda Lichtenstein, Jen Liu, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Jesse Presley Jones, Lucy Skaer, Meredyth Sparks, Elisabeth Subrin, Mika Tajima, Lisa Tan.
In the spring of 2010, Melissa Gordon sent out over a hundred invitations to women artists in New York to attend an open-ended event titled ‘A conversation to know if there is a conversation to be had’. On the last Sunday in April, this event was held at Dexter Sinister, a semi-private exhibition space on the Lower East Side, and lasted over eight hours. Topics discussed were participation in the market, aesthetics and personas, professional relationships, solidarity with feminist politics, amongst much else.
Second Meeting September 12, 2010 Kunstverein Amsterdam
Attending: Maria Barnas, Maura Biava, Gwenneth Boelans, Melanie Bonajo, Sara Seijan Chang (Sara van der Heide), Uta Eisenreich, Hala Elkoussy, Noa Giniger, Yvonne Grootenboer, Iris Kensmil, Irene Kopelman, Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky, Rezi van Lankveld, Katja Mater, Eleonora Meier, Maaike Schoorel, Claudia Sola, Jennifer Tee, Esther Tielemans, Helen Verhoevan, Evi Vingerling (amongst others)
After the first meeting in New York, Melissa Gordon decided to try to continue hosting meetings of women artists in cities around the (western) world, in local events that would be open to all working women artists who could easily attend day meetings. She sent further invitations out to a wide range of practicing artists in the Netherlands, and the second meeting was held at the Kunstverein Amsterdam when it was in an apartment on the Ruyschstraat, also a semi-private institution. The meeting lasted about seven hours, and topics discussed included trajectory of careers, working conditions and artist fees, relationships with institutions, amongst other discussions.
The women artists in Amsterdam formed a group which has been meeting consistently over the past ten years.
An interview with Helen Verhoeven and Noa Giniger about the development and activities of the Women Artist Group in Amsterdam can be found here:
Attending: Anna Barham, Becky Beasley, Lisa Brice, Bettina Buck, Alice Channer, Céline Condorelli, Annabel Frearson, Beatrice Gibson, Melissa Gordon, Nadia Hebson, Alison Jones, Emma Kay, Leslie Kulesh, Kaisa Lassinaro, Marie Lund, Ursula Mayer, Elizabeth McAlpine, Rosalind Nashashibi, Grace Ndiritu, Amalia Pica, Philomene Pirecki, Clunie Reid, Audrey Reynolds, Karin Ruggaber, Cally Spooner, Milly Thompson, Jessica Wiesner, Maria Zahle (amongst others)
The fourth and final women artist group meeting was hosted by Raven Row in London, a semi-private public art institution.. A large group of women attended, sitting in a circle in an empty gallery. There was a review of all the discussions in the other meetings, and at the time, Melissa Gordon, Marina Vishmidt and Kaisa Lassinaro were already underway making a magazine titled LABOUR to deal with some of the discussions in previous meetings. There was a long active discussion about self-presentation in public, and there were many perspectives on how to ‘treat’ feminism in ones life and work. This meeting led to further meetings at the Goldsmiths Women’s Library.
Art historian Sue Tate and artist Melissa Gordon began organising a symposium of women artists in 2008. Their conversations were the impetus for the later, more ad-hoc meetings that Gordon organised in 2010 titled ‘A conversation to know if there is a conversation to be had’. Here Sue Tate and Melissa Gordon discuss the context of 2005-2010 in which they attempted to start a conversation between female artists.