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Theme-Led Discussion

Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s

Then & Now

Fri 7 Oct, 18.30–20.00

 Karin Mack, Zerstörung einer Illusion, 1977, © Karin Mack / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection

Karin Mack, Zerstörung einer Illusion, 1977, © Karin Mack / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection

Karin Mack, Zerstörung einer Illusion, 1977, © Karin Mack / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

 Susanne Santoro Sacred Icons, 1971 © Susanne Santoro / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Susanne Santoro Sacred Icons, 1971 © Susanne Santoro / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Susanne Santoro Sacred Icons, 1971 © Susanne Santoro / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

 Margot Pilz Selbstauflösung aus 4th Dimension, 1978/2015 © Margot Pilz

Margot Pilz Selbstauflösung aus 4th Dimension, 1978/2015 © Margot Pilz

Margot Pilz Selbstauflösung aus 4th Dimension, 1978/2015 © Margot Pilz / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection

 Lydia Schouten Cage, 1978/2016 © Lydia Schouten / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Lydia Schouten Cage, 1978/2016 © Lydia Schouten / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Lydia Schouten Cage, 1978/2016 © Lydia Schouten / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

 Suzy Lake Imitations of Myself, 1973/2012 © Suzy Lake Courtesy of Georgia Scherman, Toronto

Suzy Lake Imitations of Myself, 1973/2012 © Suzy Lake Courtesy of Georgia Scherman, Toronto

Suzy Lake Imitations of Myself, 1973/2012 © Suzy Lake Courtesy of Georgia Scherman, Toronto / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

 Anneke Barger, 1980 © Anneke Barger / Photo: Lex Lemette / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Anneke Barger, 1980 © Anneke Barger / Photo: Lex Lemette / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Anneke Barger, 1980 © Anneke Barger / Photo: Lex Lemette / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

 Ewa Partum, Change, 1974

Ewa Partum, Change, 1974

Ewa Partum, Change, 1974

INFO

Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s exhibition curator, Gabriele Schor, chairs this roundtable discussion with exhibiting artists Anneke Barger, Suzy Lake, Karin Mack, Ewa Partum, Margot Pilz, Suzanne Santoro and Lydia Schouten.

Expressive dance is a key part of Anneke Barger’s creative oeuvre. In the performance You and Me [1980] Barger is barefoot, wearing an ankle-length dress and a headscarf; she holds a rope which is alternately wound around a bundle of cloth and her own body. As the performance progresses, the bundle of cloth is revealed to be a marionette or cloth doll, which she carries with her and interacts with continuously. For Barger, performance is always improvised, influenced by the space, the people and objects within it and not choreographed in advance. She is interested in the process of shaping something out of the multitude of potentials and in the interaction that occurs through coercion or confrontation, with regard to the challenge of a situation, and to her own response within this.

Suzy Lake has developed a practice as a photographer, performance artist and video maker. In the 1960s, Lake became involved with the anti-war and civil rights movements. She witnessed the Detroit Race Riots of 1967, one of the deadliest riots to occur in the United States, and moved to Canada with her husband following the political and social unrest there. The work Miss Chatelaine [1973/1998] – named after a popular lifestyle magazine for young women – reflects change in female identity. Here she collaged a range of trendy hats and hairstyles culled from various fashion magazines over some older portraits of herself. Imitations of Myself [1973/2012] shows the artist covering her face in white make-up through serial photography. “If one was a feminist or an activist, the white face had a double function as a mask—to hide behind or to reveal.“ Lake’s use of series within grid structures echoes Conceptual and Post-Conceptual art.

Assuming the role of the keen observer and sensitive documentarian, Karin Mack began taking photographs of artistic gatherings and art-world events in the 1960s. In the early 1970s she began to focus on a more personal exploration of her own life. Reflecting upon her identity as a woman, as well as a wider interrogation of the place of her generation in society, Mack derived her subject matter from a highly personal process of introspection. In Die Zeit in der Tasche [The Time in the pocket, 1978] several female members of her family are featured. Here the artist presents a series of photographs of her mother, grandmother, sister and daughter, along with an image of herself, highlighting the continual transition from one generation to the next, one woman to another. With a subtle sense of irony, Mack also addresses stereotypical bourgeois behaviours and values by transporting them into an imaginary world. Bügeltraum [Ironing Dream, 1975], for example, transforms the mundane task of dealing with household laundry into a sacrificial ritual culminating in the housewife lying corpse-like on the ironing board.

Ewa Partum is recognised as a key figure in the Conceptual art movement in Poland. During the 1970s she raised the issue of a feminist aesthetic and made a defining contribution to the development of early feminist performance art. Alongside text-based artworks, Partum staged numerous performances that explored the theme of the female body and its social coding. Incorporating her own naked body as a medium or work of art – rather than as a natural or sexual object—was an extension of Partum’s investigations into the semantic function of art. Partum’s body becomes a vehicle that conveys social codes and expectations, one that is profoundly shaped by the dominant force of the male gaze and by patriarchal power structures. In Change [1974], which took place in front of an audience, she had a make-up artist transform one half of her body into an older alter ego, and subsequently declared her body to be a work of art. Although Partum’s performance piece remains on the level of allusion, it prefigures the self-determined operative transformation of the body by the French artist ORLAN in the 1980s. For Partum, fighting for women’s right to self-determination is associated with the development and recognition of a specifically feminist aesthetic.

Margot Pilz began to take posed self-portraits after being manhandled and subsequently arrested by plain clothed police officers at a women’s festival in Vienna. Contradictory police records of her subsequent interrogations undermined the men’s authority and became part of a later work of art by Pilz. The Kuckuck [Cuckoo, 1978–1981] shines a spotlight on the patriarchal structure of the family and the disparity between the genders. Here, the artist is seated on a chair while her husband hovers behind her in a rigid pose. As the series progresses, she vanishes altogether, swallowed up by the shadow that, growing out of the figure of her son at her feet, gradually fills the scene. Her work Arbeiterinnenaltar [Female Workers’ Altar, 1981] visualizes the unfair labour practices at a coffee-roasting plant, contrasting female employees’ wages, how long they have held their jobs, and the tasks they are assigned with their male colleagues’ working conditions. Blending sociological research with art, the piece effectively denounces gender discrimination in the workplace.

Suzanne Santoro’s work from the 1970s is directly connected to her involvement with Rivolta Femminile, one of the most important feminist groups in Italy. Her practice at this time was informed by former art critic Carla Lonzi, who argued for attaching political significance to sexuality, representation and self-expression. Santoro also became interested in Etruscan and Roman sculpture and in prehistoric representations of the female body. Among her first works are a series of resin sculptures that directly refer to female anatomy such as Mount of Venus and beyond (1971), for example, which is a cast of the artist’s own sexual organs. In 1974, Santoro created an artist book entitled Towards new expression/Per una espressione nuova, in which she developed some of the issues contained in Lonzi’s The Clitoral Woman and the Vaginal Woman [1971]. Lonzi’s book explores the erasure of woman’s genitals from cultural representations through a series of short texts and photographs of subjects ranging from contemporary graffiti, flowers, ancient sculptures and paintings, and female genitalia.

Lydia Schouten’s work caused a stir in the late 1970s. Her performances were interpreted as critical examinations of existing stereotypes about femininity, identity and gender relations. Schouten’s frank use of the body challenged the existing standards of propriety and the boundaries between public and private. The female body, object of the male voyeuristic gaze, had now become a subject of flesh and blood that actively returned this gaze as an angry actor. In the confrontational performance Sexobject (date), the artist wears a black corset that is tied to a frame with elastic cords. Her head is wrapped with a white bandage and, at first sight, her appearance could be associated with practices of sexual bondage. As she struggles with the chains to propel herself [?]forward to whip the ink-filled balloons on the wall, the very strong reactions by the audience become part of the performance. Schouten hits the balloons violently until their contents drip over a handwritten text on the wall that reads ‘How does it feel to be a sex object’. She then releases herself from the chained corset and stands naked in front of the wall, slowly unrolling the bandage, restoring her view.

Organised with support from the Austrian Cultural Forum, London

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