Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thoughts on Feminist Art 2/2010

During February I went to 2 Symposiums put on by the Feminist Art Project - One in Chicago and one in New Harmony, Indiana.

There was an art exhibit in New Harmony at the Contemporary Gallery, associated with the Symposium. It was a juried show - where the criteria was Feminist Art - without a description - so it was left up to one's own interpretation.

Some Feminist art - especially as described by one of the art historians in Chicago - is pretty far out there. Essentially pornography as art. The Wikipedia page of the "Feminist Art Movement" features a photo of a naked Carolee Schneemann performing her piece Interior Scroll.

Artists featured at the Chicago event included an artist who became a "cheerleader" for feminism, and a panel of "lesbian" artists (one did not identify with that label - I don't think any were esp. interested in being categorized in that way).

The artists that were chosen to be included in the New Harmony exhibit included some who used stitching (tying their art to women's crafts (as Margarita Cabrera does), artists such as Kathryn Waters and Sarah Bielski with paintings of interiors and latches, and artists including Mary Ann Michna who painted images of cheerleaders and such.

I like Bielski's painting of the hallway with the cast shadow of the unseen plant on the wall with the photos of men (where you could only see the ties). It could be in a business or a school - some sort of institution.

The women artists on the panel in Chicago were more abstract in what they did. One mainly making textures, others with some recognizable images.

From reading the juror's statement in the New Harmony show - Ester Adler seemed to be trying to find groups or categories to put the women in. This seems rather restrictive to me. I suppose it's one of those things that art historians like to do - but it seems like that can leave out some of the more creative and original artists.

One artist - Jane Case Vickers, with her Roadside Debris Brooch with Crystal, made with exploded tire treads and crystal, was an artist that I could relate to. Bringing together a traditional woman's object and making a statement with the discards of society mixed with something like crystals.

It was interesting to know of Yara Cluver's work. She spoke in New Harmony, she works at IU. Her photo collage of her breasts with a babies head created quite the controversy at Depaw, apparently. The "authorities" were not comfortable with the image going out on a brochure for the art exhibit. It seemed pretty tame to me. Perhaps it upset the Mother/Whore dichotomy too much for some people.

Thinking about how Feminist Art was presented and essentially defined by these two Symposiums, I think that visual art by women can be overshadowed and essentially lost with the inclusion of Naked Women Performance Art, in a similar way in which it is lost in relation to men's art. In fact, I'm not entirely sure that Naked Women Performance Art is essentially different in effect from men's art. The patriarchy is still in place. Women's bodies are objects, they have power as sexual objects - on men and on women (especially lesbian women, obviously).

While I fully support the concept of challenging many of the existing premises regarding women (and our expected place in society), the shock value of women presenting their body pornographically and/or of a woman pulling a scroll out her vagina ends up rendering the rest of "Feminist Art" relatively mute. It may be the most helpful to consider those types of female activist art, Feminist Art - but to still want Woman's Art to have an equal place with Men's Art. In fact - while the the New Harmony exhibit was called Feminist Art of Indiana, the title of the Symposium referred to "Woman's Art" - not Feminist.

Some women worry about how the "F-word" has been defined by others. But I think that organizations such as the Feminist Art Project have to consider their role, as well. The way Feminism and Feminist Art is defined in Chicago affects the way it is perceived in New Harmony.