Sara Blaylock, ‘Being the woman they thought she was: Cornelia Schleime performs her Stasi file’
111-kilometers of Stasi files remain in public archives, records of complex personal histories. This paper examines how the artist Cornelia Schleime worked through her file in the 1993 photo-text series, Bis auf weitere gute Zusammenarbeit, Nr. 7284/85 (Until further useful collaboration). Today one of Germany’s leading painters, Schleime was then a pivotal force within the East German experimental arts scene: a painter, a filmmaker, and a punk rocker.
For Bis auf weitere…, Schleime assigns fourteen excerpts of her Stasi file to as many self-portrait photographs. In images that conjure Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Series, Schleime performs her file to meet and then exceed the judgments and speculations of her observers. She does not simply visualize the character projected upon her. Rather, she teases and challenges the texts, while still allowing them to sketch her biography, both in the 1980s and in retrospective reflection. For example, in image number 14, she stands in a dreamy field of red poppies, wearing a blonde wig, big round sunglasses, her breasts bared. [Figure 1] The picture is pasted over a grainy copy of a page in her file, which reads “…immediately after she enters her apartment, Schleime pulls down the shades, so that not a single look in is possible.” The pairing is at once defiant, and also in agreement. Schleime’s dreamscape recalls her 1980s domestic space, an erstwhile refuge, which nevertheless could not avoid a Stasi invasion.
Bis auf weitere… reveals the Stasi’s preoccupation with Schleime’s domesticity, more specifically, her perceived failure in the home. Their comments range from assessments of her external and private visages (“modern and Western”) to the time and manner of male visitors (“just for fun”) to her self-isolation (“she has no contact with the neighbors”) [Figures 2-4]. With the exception of one derisive comment on the “naked women [smeared in oilstick] across her walls,” these observations offer no insight into Schleime’s life as an artist. [Figure 5] In its myopia, file number 7284/85 thus reflects the priorities of her Stasi minders.
This paper interprets the Stasi’s desire for details related to Schleime’s domestic reality as reflective of the East German social structure. From languishing sexual pervert to traditional matron to cheeky feminist, her photographs reveal the inconsistencies and contradictions of the very bureaucracy that sought to contain her. This paper argues for the primacy of gender identification as the mechanism by which the Stasi interpellated its subjects. In other words, the Stasi surveilled and assessed artists based on gendered expectations as opposed to whatever political or aesthetic underpinnings their art had. The Stasi’s interest in Schleime’s sex life and emotional status, especially when compared with contemporaneous observations of her male artist contemporaries, illustrates the structural misogyny of East Germany’s oppressive apparatus. Bis auf weitere… emphasizes the realities of living under conditions of extreme cultural constraint, while likewise defanging the lasting power of that constraint by revealing its preoccupation with female domesticity as a sign of state insecurity. This paper then works to highlight Schleime’s East German art practice as at once defiant of and incomprehensible to the state.
Julia Bryan-Wilson, ‘Magpie: Keeping House with Louise Nevelson’
This talk explores the work of Louise Nevelson, from early drawings to late sculptures, to discuss the artist’s contested relationship to the domestic sphere as a site of perpetual accretion, sorting, and incorporation. What sort of formal project was Nevelson’s, and how can we understand her as participating in, and resisting, discourses about “trashmaking? The talk also touches on the legal battles over her legacy and the role played by her live-in assistant to make central the uncertain status of Nevelson’s literal home.
Amy Charlesworth, ‘Unfinished Business: the persistence of the public-private relation in feminist art practice since the 1970s’
A steady chorus on the rethinking of ‘women and work’ – generated by women and feminist artists in the 1970s – has grown since 2000. This interest is intimately linked with the notion of ‘domesticity’ and its place within the history of feminism. If we bookend the last 15 years with Helen Moleworth’s important 2003 exhibition Work Ethic and the curatorial project Users Manual: The Grand Domestic Revolution initiated in late 2011 which sought to re-imagine the isolated activities of domestic labour within a public and collective territory (not to mention increased scholarly interest in ‘social reproduction’) we can chart a resurgence of interest in the site of the private interior as a space latent with political possibilities.
It is therefore necessary to ask why? To consider why a much debated topic, inaugurated some forty years earlier, is still as Lise Vogel has convincingly argued, an ‘unfinished project’ (Vogel: 2013, 185). Therefore, this paper asks how the domestic space has, once more, become acutely connected to the exterior, to the social. Moleworth’s assertion that ‘one legacy of feminist criticism is to establish that it is the private sphere that can help us to rearticulate the public sphere’ (Molesworth: 2000, 83) will function as a prompt for my argument. I will argue that it is precisely because of the seemingly outside (public) stage on which globalisation is known and seen that an interest in the (private) home, the domestic and the labour primarily (but increasingly not exclusively) undertaken in such spaces has received renewed attention.
This paper shall take a number of artworks (Martha Rosler; Jo Spence; Maria Ruido; and Margaret Salmon) from the late 1970s to present day that develop and deploy a range of aesthetic methodologies for addressing the interior/exterior relation. My analysis of selected artworks and associated themes such as the ‘everyday’; the ‘domestic’; and ‘care’ will be used to consider how best we might think the tension between the public and the private when the public is (largely) upheld in Western democracies by a patriarchal system. If a century of feminist struggle has taught us anything it is perhaps best articulated in the pithy slogan: ‘the personal is political’ (not to mention Martha Rosler’s later retort: ‘well, is the personal political?). The relation between the (gendered) individual ‘at home’ and the collective ‘out there’ are realigned in the 21st century. Looking back to look forward provides a thread for my paper as I seek to consider how the domestic space is as politically charged as ever and in what ways it retains a pervading interest for a new generation of writers, academics, artists and curators.
Agata Jakubowska, ‘There is no free love in concrete houses’: House, Work, Eroticism, and the case of Maria Pinińska-Bereś
This paper aims at re-visiting the problematic of home-as-workplace by analysing works by Maria Pinińska-Bereś (1931-1999), the Polish sculptor whose art is just being discovered as an interesting element of global pop and feminism (several of her works interpreted in this text will be exhibited at the Tate Modern at “The World Goes Pop”).
In the 1960s and 1970s Pinińska-Bereś’s artistic practice was strongly related to the domestic and can be perceived as a reaction to her living and working conditions. In 1960 together with her husband – Jerzy Bereś (1930-2012), also a sculptor – she obtained a studio-apartment in a block of flats in newly constructed district of Cracow. It consisted of a single room and a double height studio. This was the place where they lived together with their daughter (Bettina, born 1958) and worked whole their lives. Initially they shared the studio, but after several years Maria Pinińska-Bereś left it to her husband and started working in their living room. At the turn of the 1970s this studio-apartment was also a place of gathering with hippies, which strongly affected the artists’ work.
At that time Pinińska-Bereś created what she called herself “small-psycho-furniture” in which elements of female body are combined with pieces of furniture. Although one could expect works about female (artistic) identity being obscured by the domestic realm, that was not what interested her most. She concentrated on a problem of space and more precisely on a tension between unpleasant feelings of closure on a tiny territory and a need for separation in search of intimacy. Her works from that period form a sort of fantastic boudoir space.
Studio and home in discourses on artistic production function as oppositions, also in terms of sexuality, and it is studio where libidinal energy (most often of a male artist) is assumed to find its sublimation. It corresponds with the traditional notion of domesticity resonating with family life, where the woman in the mother and the man in the father, let alone the sexuality of children, are often silenced [Gülsüm Baydar, Negotiating Domesticity, 30]. Contrary to this modernist assumptions, when Pinińska-Bereś moved to home (her apartment) with the production of her art it was eroticism that became a very important, if not crucial, aspect of her art.
In my text I will concentrate on subversive potentiality of the eroticised domestic imaginary. Subversive both in relation to the modernist artistic discourses and to the reality of the communist Poland.
Teresa Kittler, ‘Living Differently, Seeing Differently: Carla Accardi’s Temporary Structures (1965–1972)’
This paper considers a small group of transparent temporary shelters made by Rome-based artist Carla Accardi between 1965 and 1972. Described by the artist as ‘the simplest idea of home’, these temporary dwellings are made with Sicofoil, an industrially produced plastic material. For Accardi, this signalled a key turning point in her practice at a moment when she had wanted to transform the experience of making and viewing art. A drawing from 1972 and a group of small maquettes of the shelters exhibited in 1968 suggest that Accardi had envisaged these temporary habitable structures as the architecture for an alternative community. As such these works resonate with the utopian thinking of the 1960s as it was underpinned by a rhetoric of alternative living and the popular anti-consumerist image of a life lived free of possessions. Accardi’s dwellings relate to the larger tendency of this period to look to other social models and forms of existence. They bear obvious affinities with the emerging discourse on nomadism, the legacy of Buckminster Fuller’s dome culture, the anti-modernist rhetoric of the International Movement for an Imagist Bauhaus and the inflatable, lightweight, and adaptable structures that animate so much of 1960s architectural practice. In this context, Accardi’s Tenda (1965) has even been described as a prototype for many of the temporary structures made by artists associated with Arte Povera throughout the sixties.
The existing narratives on Accardi have not, however, taken her innovative way of working with transparent material into account. The implications of this use of Sicofoil material are considered here to ask how Accardi’s proposal for an alternative way of living could be premised on a way of seeing differently. Accardi has consistently spoken about these environments in terms of offering another way of living at the same time as she had insisted on the need to be contemporary in her work, which is registered in her use of fluorescent colour. Additionally, when characterising her practice, Accardi echoes the ambivalence and often troubled relationship with which female domestic work had come to be regarded in the 1970s as trivialised and degraded categories of women’s work outside of the fine arts. She takes a mode of working—repetition—long associated with the conditions of female oppression, and declares it a distinctive feature of her own practice and furthermore claims to transform those repetitive operations into something liberatory. I explore this group of works through all their contradictions to ask how the idea of alternative existence is appropriated by the artist and also made to speak to feminist concerns with which Accardi was involved as founding member of La Rivolta Femminile and go on to interrogate in what ways it could signal a radical transformation of art making.
Alexandra Kokoli, ‘Pre-emptive Mourning (or Melancholia)? The home as tomb in art informed by feminism and anti-nuclear activism’
Art informed by 1970s feminism has often cast domestic space as a site of ambivalence if not unhomeliness, inspired by gender-critical dissent. Installations including Womanhouse (1972) and the lesser known British Women’s Postal Art Event/Feministo: Portrait of the Artist as a Housewife (1975-77) mimicked domesticity through recreating home interiors with an unsettling difference. As I have previously explored, Portrait of the Artist as a Housewife (ICA, 1977), subverted the ideal of patriarchal domesticity founded on sexual division of labour and its psychosocial fallout, through creating the interior of an uncanny home, where a rape room could be found alongside bedrooms and a kitchen, the fridge was stocked with female body parts and women’s crafts were used against the grain, to produce decidedly inedible, ‘dirty nappy’ and ‘fly’ crocheted sandwiches. In this paper, I continue my research into the strategic unhomeliness of feminist art by focusing on works informed by anti-nuclear activism as well as feminism. In the art practice under consideration, the home retains its character as haven but only to be transformed into the site of cruelly premature, violent death by nuclear disaster.
In the early to mid-1980s, Sister Seven, a collective of six British women artists and writers, produced a series of posters, texts, consciousness-raising events and performances with the stated intention of promoting pacifism and nuclear disarmament. Sister Seven’s practice is dominated by a curious though not uncommon tension between a sense of impending doom and an urgent call to action, between the elation of activism and the intense pessimism that comes from the near-certainty that the end is both imminent and likely to be ugly. What I found particularly striking about this self-described ‘women’s art, and by implication, peace art’ (Evelyn Silver, 1981) is the degree to which it is discursively dominated by the violence it purports to oppose. The nuclear threat is exacerbated by its capacity to invade the domestic sphere and disrupt everyday routines. Performance artist Shirley Cameron’s contribution to an 1981 poster and event programme includes guidance for a simple DIY performance for the home, using a single nuclear missile-shaped cut out prop, the ‘end-of-the-book mark’, and is troubled by the vision of her own children’s premature deaths. Pre-emptively haunted by the spectre of a nuclear holocaust, the work of Sister Seven offers another version of feminist unhomeliness that is profoundly mournful, if not melancholic, for future losses.
Drawing on Mieke Bal (1999) and Clare Johnson (2013), I also hope to reflect on whether ‘preposterous history’, a methodological tool that liberates comparative discussion from the limitations of origins and sequence, may facilitate a consideration of the unhomely of feminist and anti-nuclear activism and art practice against contemporary new domesticities, in the global context of multiple terrorist threats.
Megan R. Luke, Our Life Together: Collective Homemaking in the Films of Ella Bergmann-Michel
How much space and how much stuff do we need to live a sustainable and healthy life? Where do the elderly live and the unemployed eat? And is self-sufficiency an ecologically viable alternative to a consumer economy or a retreat from the politics of public life and collective action? These were among the questions that motivated architects, urban planners, and industrial designers to reshape German cities from 1925 to 1933, a period characterized by seismic demographic shifts, a widespread housing crisis, economic collapse, and a pervasive concern with the effects of environmental degradation on public health. Their debates about household efficiency and the Existenzminimum (requirements for subsistence living) echo in current architectural proposals for “micro-dwellings” and the popular sociology of “radical homemaking,” but what have they to teach us about the feminist politics of our efforts to improve the world through our homes? To this end, I investigate how women working for Germany’s vast modernist urban renewal projects enlisted various technologies of image reproduction to reinvent domestic space, to model new configurations for collective living, and to mediate how the modern home could structure the reorganization urban and natural environments at large.
My paper revisits the largest of these bureaucracies, “Das neue Frankfurt” (The New Frankfurt), which realized twenty major social housing estates and dozens of service complexes on the periphery of the city. This building program put into practice the proposals of watershed exhibitions of modernist architectural estates, such as the 1927 Werkbund Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart; it actively exported its methodology to the Soviet Union; and it supported an extensive network of international artists working to enlarge the reach of abstract form into graphic design, photo-essays, and experimental documentary film. I shall focus specifically on the films of Ella Bergmann-Michel, in particular Wo wohnen alte Leute? (Where do old people live?) (1931–32) and Erwerbslose kochen für Erwerbslose (The jobless cook for the jobless) (1932), within the context of her work for the Bund das neue Frankfurt and the Internationalen Liga für Unabhängigen Film (International League for Independent Film) as well as her connections with filmmakers Dziga Vertov, Joris Ivens, and Hans Richter, the photographer Ilse Bing, graphic designers Grete and Hans Leistikow, and architects Mart Stam, Lucy Hillebrand, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, and Adolf Meyer. Recent scholarship dedicated to the history of architectural modernism has begun to account for the phantasmatic projections of photography and film, yet Bergmann-Michel’s work in these media offer a singular opportunity to reflect on the confluence of domestic labor and technology within our most intimate spaces. Her films show how a socially committed, feminist subjectivity could manipulate and, ultimately, inhabit the universalizing visual rhetoric of rationalization, standardization, and Sachlichkeit at work in the formation of German cities under the banner of Das neue Bauen.
Barbara Malhknect, Attention! Maintenance: How Do you Keep Going? Domestic, Maintenance and Care Work in Art informed by Feminism
In the age of global capitalism and forty years after artists such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Martha Rosler transferred the notion of domestic, maintenance and care work into the art context and thus uncovered the hidden source of the reproduction of labour power, the highly political subject of a neoliberal reconfiguration of domestic or rather reproductive work is still very controversial.
In 1969, in a period of activism by students, the African-American rights movement and the international women’s movement, Ukeles drew up the Manifesto. Maintenance Art. Proposal for an Exhibition: Care. In response to the contradictions she perceived between taking up a vocation within society, her role of being an artist, and her new role as a mother, she stated that, from now on, she would produce ‘maintenance art.’ She had conceived the Manifesto as a proposal for an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The central theme was ‘personal maintenance’, ‘general [or public] maintenance’ and ‘earth maintenance.’ Ukeles suggested that she should undertake everyday housework, such as washing, cleaning and cooking, as part of the exhibition. The Museum turned down her Proposal. She went on to develop a series of Maintenance Art Performances (1973–1974). Today, Ukeles’ art works—both in regard to its methodologies and to the considerations taken into account—appear to be still very relevant. Most importantly—as Helen Molesworth has pointed out—Ukeles used the term ‘maintenance’ instead of ‘domestic’ to underline that “such labor is not confined solely to the spaces of domesticity” (Molesworth 2000).
In my contribution, I would like to work out what we can still learn from ‘art informed by feminism’ from the 1970s for a contemporary political understanding of the domestic sphere as well as of reproductive work: Under today’s neoliberal economy, there is no longer a clear-cut dividing line between productive and reproductive work. Commodities have replaced goods produced within the household; housework and care-giving are offered as precarious services. How can analyses of art informed by feminism together with materialist feminist thinking from 1970s inspire and put forward a critical and political attitude towards ‘new domesticities’?
To this effect, I will be reviewing the complex linkages—which have so far received little attention—between Ukeles’ Manifesto, Martha Roslers Semiotics of the Kitchen and materialist feminist analyses that were developed at the same time such as the campaign Wages for Housework (1972) initiated by Mariarosa Della Costa and Silvia Federici among others. All the four of the woman revised the feminization of reproductive work, examined the invisible conditions of capitalist and of art production and subjected the private/public split to renegotiation.
It is precisely these debates, political struggles and artistic works that may now be fruitful to investigate the ‘home’ as ‘the site where politics is born and buried’ (Marina Vishmidt 2014). If reproduction as “the creation and maintenance of social forms and relations of cooperation and sociality” (Isabell Lorey 2011) is essential—we need to reclaim the micro sites where the everyday matters insofar it is political.
Alyce Mahon, ‘The Domestic as Erotic Rite in the Art of Carolee Schneemann’
“In the Sixties, it’s pre-feminist analysis, I was entering into a traditional situation in a guise of radicalisation” –Schneemann, interview with Mahon, June 26, 2007
This paper will focus on the art of Carolee Schneemann and the use-value of the domestic for our understanding of her spatialization of the erotic in art. Schneemann has asserted that the role of women as both objects in, and producers of, art has invariably been limited to one of two categories: goddess or pornographer. Schneemann’s own art must be appreciated as refusing these and the binary sexual logic they reinforce. She forges a new erotic category for woman by bringing the inside and outside together, by exploring the dynamic between space and the perception of the body. Focusing on the mid 1960s, a ‘pre-feminist’ moment, and two works, Meat Joy (1964) and Fuses (1964-67), I will assess Schneemann’s use of household stuff (raw fish, chicken and sausages), studio materials (wet paint and paper), family (her cat, her lover), and the psyche (her diaries, her dreams), to create multi-sensory experiences which defied the fetishisation and objectification of woman. In these works, the domestic was harnessed as a means of exploring and promoting a radical intimacy – one where labour and pleasure, the materiality of the art work and the energies of the body, were integrated in new ways.
Mignon Nixon, ‘Mary Kelly’s Mimus: Feminism’s Waves’
In Mimus (2005), a triptych, or “installation in three acts,” Mary Kelly recalls an episode in 1962 when a women’s peace group, summoned to testify before the fearsome House Un-American Activities Committee, took on Cold War militarism—and brought down the house. This lecture asks what Mimus reveals about the dynamics of feminism and militarism then and now.
Harriet Riches, ‘Pix and Clicks: photography, femininity and the new domesticity’
Digital technology has changed the relationship between women and photography. While women in the 20th century were key agents in the taking, collecting and archiving of photographs, digitalisation has apparently displaced her from that role. Some reflections on Kodak’s demise even suggest that women were to blame for the company’s collapse: less ‘comfortable’ with advancing technology, men have replaced them as the primary users of digital cameras and platforms.
This contemporary positioning of women as a pivotal influence on the success (or otherwise) of changing technology echoes the historical construction of the female photographer. Appropriated to sell the simplicity of photographic equipment, she has long been used to market photography itself as the wholesome medium of modernity. At the same time, women were solicited as producers of photography through targeted advertising in magazines, career guides and domestic advice that encouraged them to take up a camera both inside, and outside the home.
This paper looks at that advice to consider the relationship between women, domesticity and photography today. As Grace Lees-Maffei (2014) has pointed out, such literature presents methodological problems: rather than historical evidence, it is valuable for its mediation of the normative ideals that “prescribe desirable behaviours and consumption practices”. Written and published for mass appeal, it both actively shapes, and is shaped by, social changes and fluctuations in gender identities—a fluid medium representative of what Joan Scott argues falls outside of dominant discourse, useful for the feminist historian not for what it shows, but rather what it occludes.
Today, advice for women in photography continues to be produced along gender lines: through magazines aimed at those desiring ‘smudge-proof makeup tips for long days behind the camera’, social networks for ‘clickin moms’, or advice on baby portraits within the pages of trade journals, the ‘woman with a camera’ remains a distinct figure within the discourse of photography. In contrast to the ideological framework of ‘new woman’ femininity in which the female photographer was constructed at the turn of the 20th century, her reconfiguration 100 years later is symptomatic of the retrogressive proscription of femininity emerging within the era’s ‘new domesticity’.
But this paper argues that the reconfiguration of photography and femininity is a product of wider cultural shifts, in which the practice, technology and ontology of photography has itself radically changed. In an age defined by technologies that theorist of digital media Lev Manovich argues are united by an essential capacity for endless manipulation, photography has been redefined through a physical and conceptual relationship to hand-making, tactility and the (female) body that re-situates it within a domestic framework.
By reading the language of discourse aimed at women against the grain of the theorisation of digital technology, this paper exposes a tension between the two. On the one hand, the language through which women are addressed circumscribes their participation within the retrogressive characteristics of domestic femininity; on the other, I argue that the language of theoretical discourse reveals an anxiety over the changing conditions of a medium itself – one that emerges in a gendered language that feminises the reconfigured practice itself.
Elizabeth Robles, ‘Maxine Walker: Imaging the Homeplace’
In 1990 bell hooks theorised a ‘safe’ space of affirmation and a staging site for radical resistance at the intersections of race, gender and class. Emphasising the powerful role of what she names the ‘homeplace’, hooks wrote that ‘we could not learn to love or respect ourselves in the culture of white supremacy, on the outside; it was there on the inside, in that ‘homeplace’…that we had the opportunity to grow and develop, to nurture our spirits. Like many domestic spaces, the homeplace is a feminine domain – its construction left in the able hands of the black woman. However, it is not merely a byproduct of sexist subjugation or idealised feminine service. Rather, it represents a vital form of historical resistance, a space where ‘black people could strive to be subjects, not objects.’
This paper will examine the ways in which British photographer Maxine Walker examines these domestic spaces, turning her camera to the ‘front rooms’ and bedrooms of the black Atlantic in works such as Auntie Linda’s House (1987) and Black Beauty (1991). In these works, produced within a few short years of hooks’ writing, Walker plays at the interstices between ‘space’ and ‘place’; subject and object; public and private; presence and absence. In Auntie Linda’s House she replicates the glossy sheen of Sunday style supplements, photographing the ‘front room’, a space woven through with issues of gender, class, and race and complicated by its ambivalent relationship to historical colonialism. Conversely, in in Black Beauty, her focus shifts to the intimacy of private domesticity. Unlike the broad survey of the ‘front room’, here Walker presents a series of fragmented, close-up images of the homeplace and the rituals of self-performance. Summoning the spectre of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929), in these works Walker makes room for the possibilities of the ‘homeplace’ as a paradigm for a radical domesticity rooted in blackwomanhood.
Catherine Spencer, ‘Fieldwork not Housework: Performing Feminist Sociology in the 1960s and 70s’
In 1968, the Argentinean artist Lea Lublin decided to present her young son, complete with his crib, as her entry to the Salon du Mai in Paris. With this gesture, Lublin re-purposed her domestic labour as artwork for display in a public institution, simultaneously drawing on and parodying behavioural studies and experiments. While living in London between 1970-3, the US artist Carolee Schneemann made a chart documenting her sexual encounters, mapping them according to a pre-determined set of criteria which transposed intimacy into a set of rigid formula, and in so doing mocking both the minimalist geometries of conceptual art documentation and the mode of the sociological survey. In 1973, Susan Hiller conducted her Street Ceremonies performance with invited participants in London, during which they mapped the network of their neighbourhood through small-scale gestures and a communal meal, merging ritual with fieldwork.
Lublin, Schneemann and Hiller’s works traverse the interconnected realms of bedroom, home and street, intimating that the domestic and the social are not separate realms but inextricably interwoven. Although their individual pieces took very different forms, this paper argues that the expanded field of domestic labour addressed by Lublin, Schneemann and Hiller’s work respectively was directly propelled by their engagement with sociological techniques, notably the modes of behavioural study, the survey, and fieldwork as a research methodology. As such, the individual case studies provided by their work point to a wider phenomenon within feminist art of the 1970s, in which the ‘new domesticities’ it sought to traverse were intimately connected to – and opened up by – the use of sociology as a strategy for feminist art making. Sociology provided a toolkit of processes that allowed access to domestic material, while complicating the site of ‘domesticity’ to include the street and the city.
In this respect, works by feminist artists both paralleled and drew on feminist sociology and economic analyses, of the kind gathered together in Ellen Malos’s important 1980 book The Politics of Housework, which united a range of essays critiquing the gendered divisions structuring domestic labour. Other key examples in the feminist engagement with, but also subversion of, sociological processes include Women and Work: A Document on the Division of Labour in Industry (1973-5), Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1973-9) and Martha Rosler’s Garage Sale (1973). This paper, however, tracks a particular strand within this wider phenomenon of feminist sociology in art of the 1970s by focussing on the role of performance in Lublin, Schneemann and Hiller’s work, proposing that it played an important role in differentiating these experiments from pure sociology, inserting a ‘remove’ that enabled each artist to comment both on the shifting site of domestic intimacy during the decade of the 1970s, and the surge of artistic interest in it.
Giulia Smith, ‘Alison Smithson’s Future Domesticities’
Alison Smithson’s semi-autobiographical novel Portrait of the Female Mind as a Young Girl (1966) chronicles the overdeveloped fantasy life of a pubescent girl who, night after night, dreams of escaping the truly grim conditions of a working class household for a more fulfilling life in a modern high-tech environment. ‘I have not the mind to pretend that suburban housekeeping is creative’, she admits to herself in a mixture of shame and pride. Regrettably, the scholarship on Alison Smithson has neglected this text, concentrating almost myopically on the architectural collaboration with her husband, Peter Smithson. Conversely, this paper foregrounds Alison’s authorship, analysing the sexual politics of her designs for the home in light of Portrait, as well as in relation to her remarkably interdisciplinary output (spanning collaborations with artists, fiction, journalism, and the – barely examined – photo-book As in Ds: An Eye on the Road, 1972-83).
I propose to question what it meant for a young woman architect to imagine a completely new domesticity (and a new female self) in the face of the postwar economic miracle and after. Crucially, Alison’s designs for the House of the Future (1956), the Appliance Houses (late 1950s), and her plans for mobile caravan-dwellings (1959-60s) prioritise the elimination of reproductive labour in its most conspicuous forms: childrearing and maintenance. It is only too surprising, then, that up until now the Smithsons’ oikology has not been examined through the lens of materialist feminism (especially if one considers the wealth of historical and sociological studies on the changing role of women in the wake of the welfare state). Might it be because the postwar consensus is often automatically dismissed as a regressive interlude in the evolution of twentieth century feminism? To answer this question, I trace connections (and lines of discontinuity) between Alison’s work and earlier examples of speculative feminism and radical housing campaigns, particularly the work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her influence on the Garden City Movement in Britain (1898-1930s).
Dolores Hayden (1981) has shown how after WWII the ‘grand domestic revolution’ that at the turn of the century had fought to socialise the means of reproduction fell prey to the interests of a booming commodity industry geared towards individual consumption. Indeed, Alison believed that only technological progress, not collective organisation, could grant individual women freedom and mobility – bearing in mind that the Cold War framed the Smithsons’ antipathy for organised politics and their staunch commitment to liberal individualism. On the architectural level, this belief resulted in an almost obsessive focus on privacy in the external and internal organisation of the home. However, this paper does not concentrate on whether Alison’s technophile feminism was essentially fraught or not – i.e. sold to the same economy that capitalised on the gendered division of labour. Rather, it foregrounds two contradictions with wider implications beyond this case study: first of all, the identification of freedom with privacy and privately owned space; secondly, the difficulty of disrupting political isolation from the precinct of domesticity.
Amy Tobin, ‘A Woman’s Place: Radical Domesticity and The Spaces of Second Wave Feminist Activism.’
This paper stages a return to a primal scene of feminism’s domesticities, the Los Angeles installation Womanhouse (1972), as well as opening out to a lesser-known London-based sister work, A Woman’s Place (1974). Womanhouse has been taken as a threshold in women’s art production because it provided a space for women to work, whilst breaking down oppressive domestic symbolism. Yet it has also been subject to critique for its return to the home, and, despite its collaborative production, collapsed into a larger narrative of Judy Chicago’s art practice and concomitantly a problematic ‘essentialism’. In this way, it is often glossed as symptomatic of an early and as such naive feminist art practice and politics. My return to Womanhouse and introduction of A Woman’s Place disputes this, suggesting instead that both installations intervened in the material of the houses and the symbolism of the domestic interior, in order to deconstruct and reimagine the home.
I argue that both works maintain the home as a productive site, whilst attacking its oppressive borders and boundaries. Womanhouse and A Woman’s Place intervene in the fabric of the houses, imagining spaces that disrupt the gendered axis of public and private, as well as the division between nature and culture. In this way, they engender a radical domesticity that troubled the reproductive labour of nurture and care by luxuriating in the possibility of mess. The artworks, dissociate feminine labour from the cycles of domestic care tied to heterosexual family life in order to imagine, not only a space and time for women’s art, but also a new domesticity that could accommodate new models of being, living and working together.
This radical domesticity, I suggest, is particularly important in relation to A Woman’s Place. The installation took place in an ex-women’s centre that there is evidence to suggest was a lesbian squat. As such it provides a lens through which to rethink the interrelation of feminist separatism, queer alternatives and new approaches to family life. One way in which this radical domesticity was literally realised, was through the presence of plant life in the hallways of the old terrace house. Green shoots seemed to sprout from the floor constituting a pun on a feminist grassroots activism that began from the home. But more broadly, A Woman’s Place participated in the entropic decline of the squatted building. Materially it clogged up the rooms of the house, making evident the excessive labour involved in maintaining it. Conceptually it gathered together the multiple uses of the building as family home, squat and women’s centre creating continuity between them. As such, this installation, as well as its forbear Womanhouse constructed a new domesticity that exceeded patriarchal distinctions between public and private, nature and culture, in order to constitute a radical space of feminist community rooted in the home.