Art

The Legacy of Art and Feminism in the 1970s

Katy Deepwell discusses the feminist art practices explored by herself and co-editor Agata Jakubowska in All-Women Art Spaces in Europe in the Long 1970s.

The book examines all-women art spaces in the long 1970s in Europe, can you explain how it came about?

Most of the contributors met at a panel, ‘All women art spaces as heterotopias’, that Agata Jakubowska had organised at the European Arts and Modernism’s Utopia conference in 2014 in Helsinki. She had the idea that it would be productive to consider the initiatives of women artists from the 1970s in the light of Foucault’s distinction between heterotopia as an actual realised space and utopia as a projected ideal or future vision. Heterotopias are spaces which are distinctive because of how they juxtapose (even in self-contradictory forms) in a single space many other spaces or facets of society, the art world and views of culture/sub-cultures. It is this relational sense of all-women’s art spaces that the book addresses by demonstrating the diversity of those spaces created for and by women in relation to their location within society and politics as well as in their attempts to build an alternative view of culture, a separatist cultural space, a temporary corrective measure for the art world, develop a new way of living and working amongst artists in relation to society, provide a support network, bring together a group of friends or make a radical demonstration of difference, dissent and possibility. The diversity of women’s initiatives is not only tackled in relation to the distinct politics within the twelve countries in Europe (which include liberal democracies, Socialist countries and dictatorships) covered by chapters, but also in relation to the feminist and non-feminist politics of collectives and co-operation which enabled them. The book encompasses “travelling views of feminism” across continents and countries and a wide variety of attitudes to political activism and political forms of art from strong engagement to pronounced hostility. It is necessary to state that feminism does not represent one kind of politics or approach and when this diversity of political views is discussed, it is a question of examining the art and politics in the sense of different tactics, strategy and effects.

Can you describe the content of the book?

The all-women spaces are highly varied in the activities they produced and the programmes they organised in both form and substance. They include analysis of the formation of groups of artists in different models of art organisation or arts association: from VBKO, SVBK, UFPS to Cooperativa Beato Angelico and the Erfurt Women Artists’ Group. It includes how women artists organised around a single exhibition (like Kvinnfolk or the Portuguese women artists exhibition at the National Society of Fine Arts or the activities of Resjning and Store at Charlottenborg or SVBK’s work for the Feministische Kunst International) as well as the formation of groups because of protests about an exhibition (even a UNESCO Year of Women exhibition and a state-sponsored show of women) for its exclusions (Intakt, Collectif Femmes/Art and Femmes en Lutte). In the book, there are several examples of the founding of galleries (by Intakt and Art et Regard des Femmes), an art school (Schule fur Kreativen Feminismus) and galleries/ libraries/ meeting places (LaSal). Many events, meetings or symposia (like Women’s Art in Poland or Intakt) are discussed as well as the making of collective artworks, films and projects (from Fenix, Hackney Flashers or Rejsning or Erfurt Women Artists). Many exhibitions and initiatives and people are referenced in the book as exemplified by the extensive index.
Even still, the book really presents only a few case studies and makes no claims for a comprehensive history of this timeframe or geography. Depending on how you count, there are 28 countries in the EU (including the UK) or 44-50 in Europe as a geographic area or continent and there remains plenty of scope for other analyses of All-Women Art Spaces which would look at other parts of Europe or other parts of the world in this timeframe which would highlight other types of projects or women’s art initiatives. The kind of co-operation between the European colleagues who wrote the chapters within the book is not new within feminism, but it forms a mirror of the collective activity which informed the all-women art spaces which are discussed.

Did you come across anything that you found particularly interesting or surprising?

Talking to colleagues, I realised that this book probably could not have been written until now, even though it is more than 40 years since most of the activities it addresses took place. The breadth of scholarship needed to contribute to a broader understanding of these initiatives has only really been undertaken in the last two decades across Europe and many of the contributors to this book have published the key books or articles in this field in their own languages. The overall book sets the stage for transnational comparisons between local sites in different countries and looking across the book what is demonstrated is the unevenness of developments and the clear differences in women’s politics and art practices in relation to the art scene and to the politics within their own country.

What does this book represent as a contribution to feminist art histories of the 1970s?

Feminist scholars have been looking back at the legacy of feminist art practices in the 1970s in many different initiatives since the 1980s and it should be noted here that there are several waves of scholarship especially in curatorial work in the USA and in Europe which have attempted this task. However, the emphasis has generally been on individual artworks and/or artists and most of this scholarship has been organised around discussion of how exhibitions were made. This retrospective reconstruction of “oeuvres” and tendencies in feminist art is also discussed within the book and several authors draw close attention to problematising any sense of history as offering any simple coherent linear narrative between past and present.
There have been remarkably few articles and books on the collective activities of the women’s art movement in many European countries documenting these histories, outside exhibition catalogues: notable exceptions include Griselda Pollock and Roszika Parker’s Framing Feminism (1987) or Women down the Pub’s anthology Udsight/View (2004) or articles and interviews within n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal (1998-2017). The last two decades have seen many of the older women artists involved pull together as well as open their personal archives to younger generations of scholars. This book would not have been possible without the close co-operation of individual authors with the artists who took part in these initiatives and provided access to this archival material. It is richer because of this dialogue. I think that this book opens the possibility for feminist scholarship to emerge from many other countries who also have similar initiatives which need to be documented and discussed in relation to women’s art collectives, not just exhibition histories, and in relation to ideas about feminist art practices and the politics of feminism.

Agata Jakubowska is Associate Professor at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland.
Katy Deepwell is Founder and Editor of n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal and Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism at Middlesex University, London.

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