Magazine article Art Monthly


Magazine article Art Monthly


Article excerpt

WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles March 4 to July 16

At the ICA's recent 'Secret Public' show, there was a welcome revival for Tina Keane's video In Our Hands, Greenham, 1984. The idea of protesting against your own country's nuclear arsenal seems quaint, now that 'non-proliferation' has been reduced to keeping bombs out of the hands of non-western nations. Mutually Assured Destruction, aka MAD--they don't make acronyms like that anymore.

Back in the 70s, of course, you could not move for acronyms and the title 'WACK!' playfully invokes icons of the era such as Women Artists in Revolution, Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell and the Society for Cutting Up Men (Valerie Solanas is included in the artist list). Feminism and nuclear disarmament have always had a lot in common--not least in being struggles that were prematurely declared defunct. Playful or not, 'WACK!', like In Our Hands, Greenham, is a serious testament to feminism's unfinished business.

The single most immediately striking thing about 'WACK!' is its sheer scale. This is a measure of its accomplishment as a work of loving recovery, as well as the stigma of a pluralism that is both sisterly and sometimes undiscriminating. The show, put together over almost a decade by curator Connie Butler, includes work by 120 international female artists from the period 1965 to 1980. One room alone features almost ten hours of feature films, and as a whole it is almost certainly unassimilable for any one viewer even over repeated visits.

The sense of being overwhelmed by the scope is matched by the microscopic density of some of the work. You could spend a healthy amount of time, as I did, negotiating the tiny text of Adrian Piper's Concrete Infinity Documentation Piece, 1970, her degree-zero daily diary in which self-portrait photos taken in the mirror are combined with affectless itineraries of her routine (with the emphasis on the physical). A concrete infinity is one which is not set apart from the finite, the meagre, the quotidian. In a text accompanying the documentation of Washing/ Tracks/Maintenance: Outside, July 22, 1973, 1973, one of her 'maintenance art' performances, Mierle Laderman Ukeles quotes the Rabbi Kook on the combination of the holy and the profane: 'The strict division between them has its place not in the character and attitude of the holy but in those of the profane.' This incongruously talmudic reflection is perhaps the show's most succinct statement of the feminist drive towards a truly concrete infinity, and the consequent assault on artistic autonomy. If it is possible to apply one broad characterising brushstroke to the art in 'WACK!', it is the desire to contaminate modernist forms with socially substantive content.

Throughout the show, for example, minimalist idioms are employed for explicitly personal and political ends. As in Piper's work, grids of images are repeatedly used for self-portraiture in endlessly complex ways--not only satirising the sovereign impersonality of serialism, but also the diaristic subjectivity traditionally allotted to female artists. In Eleanor Antin's wonderful Domestic Peace, 1971, the artist gives a diagrammatic account of several conversations with her mother during a visit home, based on a set of calculatedly risky topics. …

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