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New Ways of Knowing in Feminist Art Histories

This session examines feminist ways of knowing, such as anecdotes (Gallop), autotheory (Fournier), creative writing (Grant and Rubin), omitted footnotes (Dimitrakaki), gossip (Butt, Chave, Rogoff), imagination (Latimer), intuition (de Mille) and queer formalism (Simmons) as answers to incomplete or inexistent archives and sparse or biased literature.

What are the implications of working with/on non-traditional forms of writing, and/or anachronistic methodologies? How have Indigenous, Black, queer, and trans critiques of and collaborations with feminisms developed new forms of intersectional art historical narratives? How does this destabilize institutional(ized) feminist art history?

We welcome contributions that address such questions and discuss how these experimental processes probe the unknowability/instability of art historical research as a subject, alongside the pedagogical need for such ways of knowing and ways of working.

Session Convenors:

Béatrice Cloutier-Trépanier, Queen’s University

Laura Ryan, Queen’s University

Speakers:

Helena Anderson, University of Bristol and Amgueddfa Cymru-Museum Wales

Translating the Archive: New Feminist Ways of Reading and Knowing Art

In 2000, Joanne Morra entreated art historians to ‘think translation into art history’ through close reading of works of art to reveal their ‘polyoptics of meaning’. Ten years later, art historians Ian Boyd Whyte and Claudia Heide, and translation theorist Lawrence Venuti, again highlighted potential sympathies between art history and translation. However, the potential value of recent feminist theories of translation for reading the art and archives of women, queer, and non-binary artists and exploring the unknowability/instability of transference between art and text has yet to be investigated. This paper will advance translational art history through bringing translation studies’ feminist turn into the debate for the first time. Feminist translation began as an activist effort to reinscribe the feminine in language. According to Barbara Godard (1989), ‘the feminist translator, affirming her critical difference, her delight in interminable rereading and re-writing, flaunts the signs of her manipulation of the text’. Since then, the field has expanded to incorporate intersectional, transnational, and queer approaches to writing and translating. This paper will specifically explore Judith Butler’s (2004) call for constant cultural translation as transnational feminist practice and Pilar Godayol’s (2014) understanding of ‘translating as/like a woman … as a borderland in which identity and textuality are constantly (re)written’. Using my own research into the archive of the artist Gwen John as a case-study, I will demonstrate how these theories of translation provide new transnational, feminist ways of reading, knowing, and working with the multilingual, incomplete, repetitive, undated and/or multimedia artist archive.

Ellen Suneson, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

To show but not tell: formalism as means to rearrange and destabilize memories of 1970s feminist art

Over the last decades, a body of feminist research (Angkjær Jørgensen & Åsebø 2020-2025, Freeman 2010, Halberstam 2022, Hemmings 2011, Tesfagiorgis 1993) has problematized established stories that chronicle the development of Western feminist movements’ recent past. Drawing from this strain of previous research, this paper is particularly influenced by a number of scholarly works that analyse how conventional but simplified stories about the 1970s tend to produce present-day scholarly frameworks wherein certain kinds of feminist representations become discarded as politically naïve, awkward, or uninteresting (Angkjær Jørgensen & Åsebø 2020-2025, Robinson 2008, Rogoff 1992, Wadstein MacLeod 2012). This paper stresses the potential of employing formalism (Doyle 2006, Getsy 2015, Pollock 1988, Simmons 2021) as a methodological framework for studying visual representations of the experience of subordination in feminist and queer feminist art produced in the Nordic countries during the 1970s. This methodological framework, this paper argues, proposes both new interpretations of already recognized artworks and suggests the artistic importance of a number of previously largely overlooked artworks and performances from the time. As noticeable in its title, this paper explores the implication that a different methodological framework, focused on showing (describing/watching/comparing) rather than telling (placing visual material into established narratives of the past), will have for the interpretation of feminist and queer feminist artworks produced in the Nordic countries during the 1970s.  

Lauren Houlton, University of Westminster

‘Sisters!’: Feminist Collaborations and Coalitions in Artmaking

This paper discusses Sisters! (2011), a film by Petra Bauer and Southall Black Sisters, a London-based organisation dedicated to supporting women escaping domestic and gender-related violence. Sisters! provides an intimate and measured insight into the organisation’s daily operations, illuminating the challenges of political organising through their history of campaigning.

The paper examines the collaborative process between Bauer and Southall Black Sisters that informed the film’s production. Focusing on the developmental process, an aspect of the artwork that was not readily accessible to its audiences when it was first exhibited at The Showroom, provides an alternative method of art historical enquiry and interpretation. I propose the artwork as an example of a feminist inquiry into epistemological and methodological concerns in cultural production by locating artist Bauer’s motivation to work with the group in an interest in the underlying power structures that govern who gets to speak, who gets to produce, whose concerns get legitimised and whose get overlooked and not deemed worthy of recognition. Exploring both the successes and difficulties of the collaboration in its neoliberal and institutional settings, this paper seeks to propose new ways of knowing about an artwork that is itself concerned with the politics of social and cultural knowledge production.

Carla Kessler, The Courtauld Institute of Art

The Art Looks Back: Social Media as Method in Taryn Simon, A Cold Hole (2018)

In order to foreground embodied experience as the key material of the artwork and its meaning, the primary evidence in this paper consists of diaristic testimonials by people who participated in the piece — including myself. In A Cold Hole, a participatory installation conceived by the artist Taryn Simon at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art from May 2018 to March 2019, members of the public signed up to plunge into freezing cold water while other museum visitors watched in an adjoining gallery. These firsthand accounts, primarily found in images, video, and text posted publicly on social media, are the definition of anecdotal evidence. However, they are no more subjective than descriptions of aesthetic experience authored by individual scholars throughout history. Unlike the sparse documentation released by the artist, the 188 public posts on Instagram offer a crucial sense of the intersubjective exchange between participant and spectators that ignites A Cold Hole. The testimonials foreground public risk, reciprocity, and vulnerability, and the piece demands analysis that privileges these things. I thereby give up the comfort and myth of analytic remove, and share my own raw reflections from the experience in August 2018, when I observed the piece and took my own plunge into A Cold Hole. Ultimately, I argue that such unofficial documentation enables access to the sensory and emotional histories of Simon’s work, and more broadly, demonstrates how social media can be seen as a readymade archive of otherwise ephemeral experiences.

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