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Alexandra Kokoli a.m.kokoli@rgu.ac.uk Rethinking the Subject: Feminism and Creative Practice LECTURE TWO Writing the female subject: Feminist Strategies.

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Presentation on theme: "Alexandra Kokoli a.m.kokoli@rgu.ac.uk Rethinking the Subject: Feminism and Creative Practice LECTURE TWO Writing the female subject: Feminist Strategies."— Presentation transcript:

1 Alexandra Kokoli a.m.kokoli@rgu.ac.uk
Rethinking the Subject: Feminism and Creative Practice LECTURE TWO Writing the female subject: Feminist Strategies in Retrospect and Context Alexandra Kokoli

2 Current & Forthcoming Exhibitions in Aberdeen
PEACOCK VISUAL ARTS David Rushton, Memory Maps (23 Feb-5 April) This exhibition by David Rushton includes meticulous model interiors of an artist's workplace; the artist's studios, gallery, conceptual art museum, factory and classroom. A founder member of the Analytical Art Group in the 1960s and later a member of Art & Language, Rushton explores the cultural and material conditions of working in art as an unfinished ongoing narrative. Rushton was also artist-in-residence in Tillydrone between July and December 2007. THE FOYER GALLERY Maria Vuorinen, ‘...so that you would love me’ (28 Jan-15 March) ‘I am asking private questions in public. Despite displaying my work in public it is thus still aiming at a most private communication. […] My work is reflecting a universal theme, love, and yet it is my reflection about silent, one-sided – at times even undirected – but eventually self-destructive love where gender both does and does not play a part.’

3 Your contributions so far
Pollock, Griselda, “The Politics of Theory” (core reading for seminar one) also available on: NB: Core reading for seminar 3 (Alison Rowley, ‘Plan: Large Woman or Large Canvas?’) also available to download in full: The Feminist Future Symposium (MoMA, Jan. 2007) – 21 talks available to download! 1. go to itunes (download it for free if you don't already have it at: 2. go to itunes store - click on link found in left margin in itunes (must be online) 3. search for 'the feminist future' 4. click MoMA Symposia icon at ITtunesU 5. click 'the feminist future' tab and video selection will appear 6. select chosen video and watch or download for free The Guerrilla Girls website now unblocked

4 Peer-reviewed vs. non-peer-reviewed sources
E.g. academic books, articles in academic journals Definition: vetted and approved as legitimate, valid and helpful contributions to an established field by a team of recognised experts E.g. postings on personal or open-access websites, blogs, Wikipedia Not necessarily useless, but should be used advisedly Cross-reference Use as source for further references

5 Feminism and Visual Culture
Critique of popular visual culture (cinema, advertising) Psychoanalytic and Marxist models and terms of analysis The (gendered) gaze; fetishism Critique of art (& design) history and their methods (the canon, etc.) Why have there been no great women artists? (Linda Nochlin) ‘firing the canon’ (Griselda Pollock) Pollock and Parker, Old Mistresses (1981) Challenging the ‘modernist myth’ (R. Krauss) of originality Creative practice as critique The focus of this lecture! All three connected, in theory (same principles) and practice (same people involved) [CRITIQUE = not the same as criticism, though usually critical; detailed analysis that aims to uncover the internal logic of the text/object in question, as well as examine the text/object itself]

6 Linda NOCHLIN Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (1971)
What/who is ‘great’? The modernist cult of originality (cf. Old Mistresses) The gender bias of ‘genius’ (ibid.) Women art students historically led towards minor genres of painting, such as portraiture, landscape and still life Female students of painting banned from attending life drawing sessions as late as the 1890s, to protect their virtue! Life drawing = prerequisite for history painting, thus women confined to the ‘minor’ genres

7 Artemisia Gentileschi ( ), L: Susanna and the Elders (1610) R: Judith Decapitating Holofernes (c. 1618) Artemisia Gentileschi ( ), another celebrated Italian painter did. She painted the same subjects as Sirani but in a decidedly different naturalist style, which replaced images of passive feminine beauty with representations of strength and heroism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Gentileschi was elevated to the status of a feminist icon, not so much for her art as for instigating a trial for rape, withdrawal of a promise of marriage and theft of property against her teacher Agostino Tassi. Even with the collection and translation of the trial transcripts and their scholarly interpretation by Mary Garrard, it is difficult to determine what exactly happened.

8 Tintoretto, Susanna and the Elders (1555-6)

9 Artemisia Gentileschi: A Feminist Heroine (?)
Tragic life story (see Kahlo too; also AG’s contemporary Elisabetta Sirani) English translation of the trial transcripts in Mary D. Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi : the image of the female hero in Italian baroque art (Princeton University Press, 1989) Griselda Pollock, ‘The female hero and the making of a feminist canon: A G’s representations of Susanna and Judith’, ch. 5 of Differencing the Canon, pp : on the dangers of biographism for women artists

10 Griselda Pollock, ‘The female hero and the making of a feminist canon: A G’s representations of Susanna and Judith’, p. 123 ‘[…] not about revenge. Yet it is about killing. But it is a metaphor, a representation in which the literalness of killing a man is displaced onto a mytheme wherein the action is necessary, politically justified, not personally motivated. There would be my difference. Not in her tragic biography, “expressed” in the violent scene of revenge on seducers and rapists. “Judith” could become a means to structure a desire for a certain kind of artistic identity, that of an active woman who can make art, make herself in that action of entering representation, a kind of killing that is not just in the representation of a kill […] AG’s projection of her desire for agency in the world and a figuration of what that desire might be: the image gives it structure, allows it into articulation, into artistic discourse.’

11 Gentileschi, La Pittura (Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1630s); misattributed to Caravaggio until 1962 (Michael Levy, Burlington Magazine)

12 Other examples? Joan Borsa on Frida Kahlo (cf. last week’s core reading) On the persistence of biographism in ref. to Kahlo see: Joanne Heath, ‘Women Artists, Feminism and the Museum: Beyond the Blockbuster Retrospective, in A. M. Kokoli (ed.), Feminism Reframed (CSP, 2008), pp Consider your interpretation of Maria Vuorinen’s show in light of these arguments

13 Feminist creative practice as critique
Feminist practice vs. feminist practitioners (Griselda Pollock) – but: Rediscovery and validation of women’s art = part of feminist agendas Creative practice connected to political movements and events (e.g. community art projects) Different kinds of feminist creative practice AND different classifications (partly overlapping but incommensurable)

14 Parker and Pollock, ‘Fifteen years of feminist action: From practical strategies to strategic practices’, Framing Feminism, pp. 3-78 ‘There is […] a dialectic to be maintained within feminist art practices between the democratic and enabling activities which encourage more women to make art and exhibit it simply as women, and the specialised, theoretically developed feminist interventions in the official cultural sites and apparatuses. It should not be a matter of either/or, alternative or interventionism, populism or the mainstream. The history of the feminist art movement […] reveals a necessary relation and interchange between practical strategies and strategic practices.’ (p. 75)

15 ‘Glorification of an essential female power’
Judith Barry & Sandy Flitterman, ‘Textual Strategies: The Politics of Art Making’, Screen, 21:2 (1980), reprinted in Parker & Pollock (eds.), Framing Feminism, pp A typology of 4 categories of women’s art with corresponding strategies: ‘Glorification of an essential female power’ ‘A form of sub-cultural resistance’ Isolationist: separatist and apolitical ‘Artistic activity as textual practice’

16 ‘Glorification of an essential female power’
Gina Pane (FRA, ) Azione Sentimentale, 1973 (a performance in three stanzas) Corporeality & pain The body as material bearer of the artist’s actions The body as screen upon which images and signs are projected Pain as (ritual) sacrifice  A feminine cliché?

17 ‘A form of sub-cultural resistance’
Judy Chicago et al., The Dinner Party, ‘Redefining art to include crafts and previously neglected skills’ “‘hidden history’ of female productivity” Essentialist? An ‘alternative tradition’ that fails to challenge the mainstream

18 Isolationist: separatist and apolitical
Inclusive of both separatists (aiming to establish their own society) and those who deny that their work is ‘embedded in a social context’ (‘just happen to be women’) Separatist: [Arlene Raven] Terry Wolverton and the Lesbian Art Project (LA) An Oral Herstory of Lesbianism (1979). Collaborative performance project conceived and produced by Wolverton; ten-week series of workshops of consciousness-raising, role-playing and theatre games resulting into a series of dramatic scenes

19 ‘Artistic activity as textual practice’
Mary Kelly, 3.806C [‘C’ is for Cake], Documentation VI: Prewriting Alphabet, Exergue and Diary (1978) The Post-Partum Document ( ) Creative practice ‘evolves from a theoretical reflection on representations’ (p. 318) ‘the image of women is not accepted as an already produced given, but is constructed in and through the work itself.’ ‘meanings are socially constructed’ ‘[…] it is only through a critical understanding of “representation” and a re-presentation of “women” can occur.’ (p. 320)

20 Mary Kelly, The Post-Partum Document (1973-78)
An examination of the process by which the child becomes a subject but also Of motherhood as one of the social and psychical processes by which femininity is produced 6 series of documentation each made up of identical panels, organised in the exact same way Documentation I: Analysed Fecal Stains and Feeding Charts explores the first significant interaction between mother and child -- feeding and hygiene. Feeding chart printed onto (used!) nappy-liner Documentation VI: Prewriting Alphabet, Exergue and Diary: three distinct representational registers which shadow each other in a mimicry of the Rosetta Stone. Prewriting Alphabet: child’s attempts at forming letters; exergue: description of the circumstances of child’s letter-writing; diary: description of the circumstances of MK’s life as mother

21 L: 9 Feb 1974, 03: Not Homogeneous, Documentation I: Analysed Fecal Stains and Feeding Charts (1974) R: 3.806C [‘C’ is for Cake], Documentation VI: Prewriting Alphabet, Exergue and Diary (1978)

22 Why was the PPD controversial?
Stained nappy liners Mixed minimalist and conceptualist strategies with domestic and motherly work Heavily reliant on post-structuralist psychoanalysis Alienating to other feminists? Must one know Lacan to get PPD?  See the PPD Dossier in Framing Feminism

23 Feministo: The Women’s Postal Art Event (1974-77)
Mail art project and resulting installation Evolved out of a private communication (the correspondence between Kate Walker and Sally Gollop) Strategies developed out of consciousness-raising group Anti-hierarchical Professional and non-professional artists, trained and untrained All media and all genres, esp. domestic crafts

24 Sue Richardson, Babyface Sandwich, Butterfly Sandwich and Fly Sandwich
Sue Richardson, Babyface Sandwich, Butterfly Sandwich and Fly Sandwich. Portrait of the Artist as a Housewife, ICA, 1977; installation shot In Feministo, the employment of women’s traditional craft skills, passed on from one generation to the next, exemplifies the fundamental ambivalence of the installation in its entirety. Women’s crafts are valued for their non-implication in the art world, thus allowing for a woman-specific, non-exclusive communication, but they also evoke the ‘internal exile’ of domestic femininity. Finally, parts of the installation will be examined in some detail, exploring Feministo as a multiple but consistently angry and humorous portrait of artists/housewives, and as a proposed escape route from their shared ‘internal exile’. Postal exchange constitutes a critical aspect of Feministo, not least because it highlights its eclectic relationship to ‘mail art’ and, through that, anti-art movements such as Fluxus and Dada. ‘Mama’, the name of a Birmingham women artists’ collective that got involved in Feministo, is clearly a pun on Dada and, like Dada artists, the Feministo group missed no opportunity to express its disregard of, and, occasionally, contempt for fine art aesthetics. In an appropriately irreverent and playful manifesto by Kate Walker, a table comparing ‘Art MANifest’ to ‘Arts Feminist-O!’ the ‘status’ of the latter category is described as follows: ‘Art is like cooking. Art is like childbirth. Art is like breathing. Our art is ancient magic. Art is solidarity. Our artwork is together even when we are apart. Ours is ordinary + useful magic. We don’t boast.’ In the works of Feministo, the use of women’s craft techniques may not be exclusive but it is emblematic. Tainted though it may be by patriarchal projections, the exclusively female tradition of women’s domestic crafts provides a platform other than the Women’s Liberation Movement for an intergenerational dialogue.[i] As Philippa Goodall succinctly put it, Feministo ‘both celebrated the area of domestic creativity and “woman’s world” and exposed it for its paucity’.[ii] The project owes its unsettling quality to the ambivalence of this double focus: comfort and exile, the homey and the uncanny are both simultaneously present in each of the works and the installation as a whole. Richardson’s crocheted sandwiches, arranged on a cutting board next to a load of real bread (fig. 4), do not make packed lunches but eloquent statements about motherhood and domesticity. Babyface is a humorous but harrowing intimation of infanticidal cannibalism, an inversion, perhaps, of the repressed infantile fantasy of consuming the mother, while the Fly Sandwich collapses and parodies the two most futile aspects of housekeeping, food preparation and cleaning, with a sickening effect.

25 Kate Walker, Keep Smiling Chocs (1975-7)

26 Kathy Nicholson, Packed Meat in the Fridge (1975-77)
‘limbless bodies encased, like battery bred poultry, in plastic shrouds’, also literalises the sexist expression ‘meat market’ with a directness so grotesque that prompted the Women’s Free Art Association to reject one of Nicholson’s paintings as ‘unsuitable’, unpalatable even by certain feminist standards

27 Kathy Nicholson, Salad with Woman (1975-77)
Also on the kitchen table, there is a raw-looking papier mâché nude resting on a ‘bed’ of paper lettuce and cucumber slices. Through its pose, Catherine Nicholson’s Salad with Woman (fig. 6) evokes the Orientalist tradition of painting odalisques from Ingres to Matisse, while also presenting a ‘domesticated’ version of Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, rendered simultaneously banal and violent.

28 Making literal the ‘uncanny’ – ‘unhomely’
Alexandra M. Kokoli, ‘Undoing “homeliness” in feminist art: Feministo: Portrait of the Artist as a Housewife (1975-7)’, n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal, vol. 13: Domestic Politics (January 2004), pp Not simply ‘empowering’ but deeply ambivalent. Phil Goodall: ‘both celebrated the area of domestic creativity and “woman’s world” and exposed it for its paucity’ A sophisticated interrogation of the gendered construction of domesticity: what are the psychosocial implications of woman’s designation as home-maker? Making literal the ‘uncanny’ – ‘unhomely’ ‘In Feministo, the home is transformed into a spatial metaphor for “unhomeliness” as experienced by women in the domestic sphere, but also for the state of not belonging in other realms (language, but also the highly invested space of the art gallery) for the sexual other.’

29 SO: Different categories of feminist art or different kinds of (feminist) art criticism?
Content or interpretation? Are (re)interpretations/alternative interpretations possible?

30 Seminar Task (2) Imagine that you are curating an exhibition with the title Feminism Reframed. You must choose 3 objects that you feel best exemplify the relationship between feminism and creative practice, but that also challenge rigid categorisations of feminist art (e.g. theoretically informed vs. celebratory). Which works would you choose? Why? Can you write a short label for each object and explain your reasons for why they have been chosen. You may wish to do this in small groups.  Wack! website for images, podcasts, blogs:

31 1. Identify; 2. Look closely
1. Identify; 2. Look closely! Martha Rosler, Nature Girls (Jumping Janes). From the series: Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain ( ). Photomontage


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