Feminist Avante-Garde of the 1970s (The Photographers Gallery)
There are over 200 works of art by 48 artists, from 20 countries on display over 2 floors. This was my first visit to the photographers gallery and I liked it’s intimacy but spaciousness. The exhibition is a mixture of works by famous photographers such as Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Martha Rosler as well as one less familiar ones.
The exhibition addresses the female form, ownership, domesticity, sexuality, violence and female identity and is arranged in four themes: The seductive body, Domestic agenda, In my skin and Alter ego. Along with conventional photography there are exhibits of video art, photo montage and sculpture. The exhibition “is intended to reflect ‘a moment during which practices of emancipation, gender equality and civil rights protest movements became part of public discourse” (Written and Brookman, 2016). It explores the art of women “whose taboo-breaking, norm-questioning works changed the art canon forever, and opened up new ways for understanding gender, representation and sexual politics” (De Pressigny, 2016). These artists addressed political issues and challenged sexism in society and art.
Works attacking the domestic agenda were interesting and thought provoking. I was intrigued by the “semantics of the kitchen” Martha Rosler (1975) where a woman at a butchers block methodically names implements in alphabetical order, starting with a deadpan expression “but as she demonstrates the use of each appliance her actions become increasing aggressive, suggesting murderous intent”( Güner, 2016).
(Martha Rosler, nd)
Birgit Jürgenssen’s self-portrait in a housewife’s apron, with a bored expression “redefines the phrase ‘bun in the oven’ (Time, 2016).
(No date, 1)
Renate Eisenegger Hochhaus’s image is another attack on the domestic agenda and an interesting representation of this.
Renate Eisenegger Hochhaus (Nr.1), 1974 © Renate Eisenegger / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna (Written and Brookman 2016)
Martha Wilsons “A portfolio of models”(1974) is descriptive but more straightforward presentation of the various roles of a woman in the 70s, where she depicts models in 6 frames as a goddess, a housewife, a working girl, a lesbian, an earth mother and a professional in their stereotypes.
There are also many humorous depictions such as Penny Slingers work “wedding invitation” (Art is just a piece of cake)
(Slinger 1973, No Date 3)
An emphasis of the 70s feminist avant-garde was the female body, this decade was a time for the conceptual eradication of all that the female body had come to symbolise over thousands of years of patriarchy. I was attracted to the playful work of Katalin Landik (1978) using 6 images where a face behind a glass sheet is represented as distorted views as the subjects face presses against it.
This work is contrasted by Ana Mendieta’s “Untitled “ glass on body imprints face (1972 ), a similar project where her face is pressed against a glass screen but presents much more distorted appearances; the colour in these for me gave a more violent mood to the images. It’s performance, the poses, and documentation is unsettling, “to describe the work as disquieting is an understatement” (The Photographer’s gallery, 2016).
(No date, 2)
I was also struck with the “Destruction of an illusion” Karin Mack (1977) where a black and white facial image is gradually over the five frames reduced to a fragment and has pins placed in it.
(Ewa Partum, Change, 1974)
Annegret Soltau’s (1975) self-portrait in 15 frames with black thread increasingly wound around her head and shoulders is an effective way to portray a woman as distorted, “My most important aim is to include bodily processes in my work and to use myself as a model – because I can go the furthest with myself,” (Pangburn and Dazed, 2015). I found this to be rather like Renate Eiseneggar’s (1972) “isolation” in 8 frames where a head with Cotton wool and plaster tape is wrapped around them increasingly until they obscure the face.
On a slightly less disturbing level for me was Francesca Woodman’s work explores the formal and psychological potential of the body to create poetry, such as her portrait “self- deceit”.
(Francesca Woodman Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978/1979)
The artists displayed were pioneers challenging depictions and ideas of women in the 1970, hence the exhibition title “Avante garde”. However to be honest as a photographer I was struck not so much by the feminist issues raised and confronted but by the variety of the ways that this was represented. This was a good lead in for me to conceptual photography where ideas are stressed rather than the subject being photographed, or through it, and where the focus is drawn to expression and interpretation. It has given me inspiration for photographing “The unseen” for assignment 2. I will reflect on the many alternative and creative ways that ideas can be represented, such representation, distortions and alternative depictions of reality, as well as using metaphors and text to underline messages.
The exhibition will also be useful to reflect on when I am preparing for assignment 3 photographing the self.
De Pressigny, C. (2016) 70s avant garde feminist art show coming to London’s photographer’s gallery | read. Available at: https://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/article/70s-avant-garde-feminist-art-show-coming-to-londons-photographers-gallery (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
Ewa Partum, Change, 1974 © Ewa Partum Courtesy of Galerie M+R Fricke, Berlin / Bildrecht, Vienna, 2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna (Written and Brookman 2016).
Francesca Woodman Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978/1979 © Courtesy George and Betty Woodman, New York / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien (From Written and Brookman 2016).
Güner, F. (2016) Feminist art of the 1970s: Knives, nudity and terrified men. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/oct/03/feminist-art-of-the-1970s-knives-nudity-and-terrified-men (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
Ltd, A. (2015) Paul Carey Kent’s Curated London Art Exhibition picks November 2015. Available at: http://www.artlyst.com/reviews/paul-carey-kents-curated-london-art-exhibition-pick-november-2015/ (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
Martha Rosler: Semiotics of the kitchen (no date) Available at: http://collection.fraclorraine.org/collection/print/469?lang=fr (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
Rosenbach, U. (no date) Penny slinger wedding invitation. Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=penny+slinger+wedding+invitation&client=safari&hl=en-gb&prmd=isvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiR8rniyszRAhXGlxoKHRBVAIoQ_AUIBygB&biw=1024&bih=672#imgdii=JaU6BZDDqzwlXM%3A%3BCJkHWFVc-hGhjM%3A%3BCJkHWFVc-hGhjM%3A&imgrc=CJkHWFVc-hGhjM%3A (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
Pangburn, D. and Dazed (2015) The dA-zed guide to 70s feminist avant-garde art. Available at: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/26094/1/the-da-zed-guide-to-70s-feminist-avant-garde-art (Accessed: 1 February 2017).
The Photographers gallery (2016) loose associations, vol 2 issue iv, Autumn 2016. London.
Time (2016) Feminist avant-garde of the 1970s. Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/feminist-avant-garde-of-the-1970s (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
Written and Brookman, J. (2016) Images of the feminist avant-garde in the 1970s shine a light on an artistic movement too long overlooked. Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2016/09/images-of-the-feminist-avant-garde-in-the-1970s-shine-a-light-on-an-artistic-movement-too-long-overlooked/ (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
(No Date 1) Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/feminist-avant-garde-of-the-1970 (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
(No Date 2) Available at: http://thenewinquiry.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/haley-1.jpg (Accessed: 18 January 2017).
(No Date 3) Available at: https://artblart.com/tag/penny-slinger/ (Accessed: 1 February 2017).
Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this post are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.