Magazine article Art Monthly

The Feminist Future

Magazine article Art Monthly

The Feminist Future

Article excerpt

Can one really begin to talk about 'The Feminist Future' in the upbeat manner suggested by the title of this symposium? In terms of public response it would seem that the answer might be 'yes'. The conference was an immediate sellout and MoMA's 400-seat auditorium was packed, with a video feed for an overspill audience, and live audio streaming on PS1's radio station. There were stalwarts of the women's movement and younger acolytes and adherents: critics, theorists, academics, curators, artists, activists, perhaps even collectors--an almost exclusively female audience, of predominantly white, well-to-do, American women--apparently united in celebration.

When Lucy Lippard appeared to give the opening keynote address, the audience surged to its feet. An energetic figure in black jeans and T-shirt bearing the anti-war legend 'We will not be silent', she made it clear that, for her, feminism represents a political position: 'a value system, a revolutionary strategy, a way of life.' Her account of the unfolding of the women's movement in art in the 70s was presented as a rapid montage of facts, aphorisms and images, in a manner that recalled her iconic Six Years: The Dematerialisation of the Art Object: from 1966 to 1972. She dedicated her talk to the art historian Arlene Raven and the curator Marcia Tucker and paid tribute to artists such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Harmony Hammond, Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer. But Lippard was no longer content simply to celebrate the successes of women within the world of art. She rejected gender separatism and insisted that feminism involves activism and that the most important battles--those relating to the global class struggle and the ecological movement--are still being fought.

After this rousing start, the first day settled into two sessions, one supposedly on Activism/Race/Geopolitics, the second on Body/Sexuality/Identity. But the terms felt unfocused and anodyne, bringing little critical purchase to the discussion. The first session veered from a brilliant performance lecture by Coco Fusco to an informal presentation by the Guerrilla Girls, thence to a meticulously constructed academic paper by Carrie Lampert-Butler (a subtle analysis of Dr Rebecca Gompert's offshore abortion clinic initiative, Women on Waves) and finally to Richard Meyer's exposition of some of the forgotten radical feminist work of the early 70s. Such wide-ranging material required some synthesis, but MoMA's moderators seemed ill-equipped for this task and members of the audience, with few exceptions, preferred to use question time as a marketing platform for their own promotions and publications, or simply as an opportunity to pay homage to the conference and its speakers.

The lack of direction was even more acutely evident in the afternoon, when the panel comprised the artists Marina Abramovic and Martha Rosler, the architectural historian Beatriz Colomina, and the critic and curator Geeta Kapur. Colomina's otherwise fascinating investigation of the fate of Eileen Gray's E1027 house at Cap Martin felt frankly out of place here and found little common ground with Kapur's carefully judged account of the work of two contemporary Indian artists, Rumana Husain and Navjot Altaf, both of whose practices offer resistance to the rise of religious sectarianism. And Abramovic's recent explorations of the erotic practices of 'the Balkan' were in another universe from Rosler's retrospective work review. …

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