Feminage. The logic of feminist collage
The Cross Arts Projects
Thursday 02 August 2012 to Saturday 15 September 2012
Opening Saturday 04 August 2012 3pm
Feminage frames collage as one aspect of the diverse legacy of feminist art practice. In the 1970s, informed by feminism, gay rights and conceptual art, women artists created a logic of collage, together with a feminine subjectivity composed from alien forms, the domestic and child’s-play associations.
Collage’s dynamic, chimerical logic of fragmentation and suture continues to open new angles on sexual, post-colonial and cultural identities.
The small, often violent encounters of family life, work, immigration, welfare and religion, demanded a more nuanced form of collage, a process of cutting-and-pasting together of new forms of identity, new social competencies, and alternative ways of being in the world. Feminist collagists took up the radical lessons of Hannah Höch, boldly presented in the late 1920s to the mid-1930s to examine the equivocal status of women in Germany, and reinvented the everyday in a social as well as purely aesthetic sense, summed up by Miriam Schapiro’s art historical slogan ‘feminage’. Catriona Moore observed in her history of Australian feminist photography Indecent Exposures (1994), that: “The idea of woman as object (but not subject) of the media gaze is thus initially registered and destabilised by forgrounding the material grain of the medium itself.” In this chapter of Feminage, paper itself is the matter — ground, split, flayed and then re-stitched.
The artists in Feminage, keep to the classical approach to collage and use montage and assemblage techniques as their primary medium. In an era when media mash-ups, morphing and online surfing are familiar cultural processes, Feminage weighs collage’s rejection of singularity and paradoxical logic and its enduring ability to fragment and reconstruct the subject. Each artist adopts collage as radical verb, embracing collision and weaving and an affective spectrum running from the slow pulse of stitch and weave to sharp, kinetic shock.
The artists span the first and second-wave feminist art generations. Each considers images of or about women as a ‘body politic’ a site of resistance and deploy various conceptions of the self and its representation as ‘sign’. Some, with great wit, use mock magazine spreads and adverts as an arch field of pornographic desire regulated by commercial interests (Do Prado, Kelly, MacDonald, Snaith); others use collage to paint a guerilla or monstrous feminine based on the ancient Sheela-na-gig figure (Dickens, Smart, Spero, Wyman); or apply techniques of detail and accumulation (Gower, Hunt, Iqbal) or the minimalism of silhouettes or cut-outs (Sandrasegar). All pay tribute to a feminist art historical lineage.
Feminage. Backstory and forwardstory
The Feminage exhibition is the first in a series of three annual exhibitions accompanied by three roundtables to guide a proposed new National Feminist Art Exhibition in March 2015. Much of feminist thinking was seemingly comfortably absorbed into the post-modern movement, yet in most democracies women artists only occupy 20 per cent of the walls of museums and galleries. (See n.paradoxa statistics page.) This lack of statistical redress extends to the institutional neglect of feminist thinking and aesthetics.
Two decades ago, art historian the late Joan Kerr (1938-2004) initiated a three-part women’s art project using Australian Research Council funding. There were three main outcomes. The first, the thematic and collaborative compendium Heritage: The national women’s art book, 500 works by 500 Australian women artists from colonial times to 1955, was launched on the 20th Anniversary of International Women’s Year at the National Gallery of Australia. The National Women’s Art Exhibition organised by Kerr and Jo Holder with more than 150 exhibitions of both historical and contemporary art by women envisaged as a “great imaginary exhibition”, opened on the same day in 1995. Finally, Kerr and Holder edited Past Present: The national women’s art anthology memorialising and critiquing the program with commissioned texts, extracts from catalogue essays and reviews. The National Feminist Art Exhibition in March 2015 will cover some of the decades of feminist art practice that followed.
Feminage Roundtable: Saturday 1 September at 3pm. Chaired by Catriona Moore with Deborah Kelly, Virginia Fraser and Jacqueline Millner
Artists: Karla Dickens, Elizabeth Gower, Emily Hunt, Mehwish Iqbal, Deborah Kelly, Fiona MacDonald, Paula do Prado, Sangeeta Sandrasegar, Sally Smart, Tai Snaith, Nancy Spero, Jemima Wyman Curator Jo Holder with assistant curator Sofia Freeman
Paula do Prado