Conversations in Contemporary Feminism and Art

Danielle Durchslag, Artist/Art Educator

On Saturday, March 27, 2010, I sat down with Danielle Durchslag, New York-based emerging artist and art educator and discussed her art, feminism, and social justice art education.  Danielle is in her second semester at New York University’s Master’s program in Art Education.

So Danielle, I know that your relationship to feminism has changed significantly over the last few years.

That’s true.

And I think your previous work was very much about feminist issues, more directly than it is now. What was that transition like for you, from early work to where you are now?

Well, I would say that I initially understood feminism through the lens of what I was against,  which is also a very classic young person’s way of crafting identity—that you craft yourself against things to know who you are—and my feminism was very much in that niche.  I remember telling people I was a feminist when I was ten years old. I have no idea where I got it from, not from my mom; I know that for sure.  She never bandied that word around, and I’m not even sure she would have identified as it when I was kid. But I’ve always felt that was a label for me.  What it’s meant has shifted a lot.  My feminism in college in particular came from a very rageful deprived place, which I think in any justice movement is an understandable beginning but not a very sustainable method of continuing.  So the work I made in college was very much a direct result of the kinds of feminist work I looked at and the kind of feminist work my teachers made. It was a highly sexualized, it seemed to not count unless I was naked, or someone was, and it was deeply rageful. I did performance pieces and I was always naked in them, I was always doing something unappealing to my body in front of others, and there was a sense in my mind at the time, and maybe it was the simplicity of my own links, not an issue with the movement at the time, I’m not sure, but in my mind at the time, feminist art meant a kind of grueling endurance test for the viewer that specifically had to with issues of sexuality and lack, that you were lacking something that you deserved, with a capital “D.” When I started making paintings a few years ago when I got a studio in Long Island City. I really devoted myself to making non-photographs for the first time since art school, which had always really appealed to me but also really scared me. My first paintings had to do with pin-up imagery and I thought about them very much in a classic feminist art lens.  The words “co-opting,” and “reclaiming,” was really present for me, so they were pinup images and my focus at the time was that I was reclaiming those images as a source of empowerment. So I made those paintings on and off for about a year. And to date, they’re by far my most successful work, although I would not make them work.

Glare, 2007, Danielle Durchslag

You mean commercially successful.

[Laughs] Yes, meaning they sold. They weren’t expensive but they sold well.  Hilariously, I sold one last month.

People like to look at them.

People do, which is funny. I don’t particularly anymore.  They were all based on this portrait of me as a six-year-old, the head of me as a six year old looking very serious and concerned, combined with these pinup bodies that were 1950s era, very sexualized bodies.  And that was my first crack at non-photographic feminist art.  Since I’ve started meditating and I’ve become a Buddhist practitioner, my life has changed in all areas. And feminism is just one of those areas. But I’m much more interested now in healing and whets shared and what I can celebrate from a feminist point of view than I am in exclusively a critical lens.  I think there is a mistake that’s made in contemporary art and art school programs where content can suffocate this transcendent, beautiful, impossible-to-verbalize quality about images.  I was definitely taught in art school in a very academic way, to sit down, figure out my content, figure out my agenda, and then start making.  And now I make, and the rest of it doesn’t really feel like my job.  You know, it feels like someone else’s job. This is partly because I don’t believe that objects are static, that they continue to only have the meaning that I ascribe to them, and I also don’t believe that they’re within my control.  Once I’ve made them, it’s really not mine to control anymore, including the narrative about what they mean.  Do I consider my art feminist art? Of course, because I consider myself a feminist, the same way I consider it Jewish art, even if there’s no Jewish content, or Human art, even if there are no humans in it, because I’m the one making it and I am these things.

Interestingly though, my recent portraits that I’m most excited by are of my friend Eunice and my sister, who are two of the most incredible feminist heroes in my life.  My sister professionally works around issues of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and she runs a not-for-profit [Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation], and my friend Eunice is a feminist art historian and memoirist who writes very much from a feminist perspective.  So it is interesting that I happen to be making work about feminists, but I would be lying if I said that I sat down and said I’m going to make portraits of important feminists in my life—not at all.  I sat down and thought, I want to make portraits of people I love.  This actually drives Eunice a little nutso because she wants me to tell her about what its really about or have a narrative beyond that.  She comes from a different wave of feminism and the notion that I can be naïve about these matters is unusual for her.  And I think it’s unusual for a lot of feminists of that generation because my feminism is in there but its not explicit, or even explicitly thought about by me.

The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, 2010, Danielle Durchslag

I know that you’re not devoted to actively entering the commercial art world anymore

That’s true.

And if you are entering that world, you’re supposed to have a talk about your work.  I wonder what yours would be.

What an interesting question.  Well, when you say that, my immediate thought is I’m trying to picture what Van Gogh’s would be. If you take any artist who predates this academic system of presenting art within a gallery space, what would theirs be?  Would Van Gogh stand there and say, I’m really interested in my postman and issues of postal juxtaposition with more atavistic means of communication? I think he might find that whole thing a little ridiculous.

[Both laugh]

So, what would I say? I’d like to think that I’d stay really true to what I believe and not talk about my work that way.  I used to really believe in talking about your work from a place of conscious intention, and I know how frustrating it can be for the viewer when an artist refuses to do that.

Eunice, 2010, Danielle Durchslag

We used to hate that.

We used to hate that! [Jovially] I remember when Tina Barney came to talk at MassArt and we all went over from the Museum School to see her. She refused to talk about issues of class and race, and that was ALL we wanted to talk about.  We found that to be totally unacceptable and we were mad about it because we had formed a narrative of what that work was about, and she wanted to talk about form and color and line. And we were really judgmental of her choices; we thought it was evasive.

The Ancestor, 2001, Tina Barney

I also remember when Nikki Lee came to speak at Wellesley and we were all woefully disappointed because she said outright at the beginning, “I’m not interested in some kind of social critique about what these groups get or don’t get in society.” She honestly said, “I really like making different kinds of friends, I really like meeting new people, and I found a way to do that through my work.” And we were appalled!

The Hispanic Project, 1998, Nikki S. Lee

I remember when you first told me about that and my response was very skeptical—I thought, that is completely not true.  But I wonder—

And they’re two feminist artists! Or are they? Who the hell knows?

Well, I think the issue of what is feminist art is really interesting because it absolutely lies in the viewer. But maybe there is something to not thinking about this stuff first.  I mean, these are two of the best photographers of the last 30 years, they’re incredible, and maybe they couldn’t have made such good work if they’d had such a strict agenda set before making the work.

I think that maybe the best thing for Tina Barney is to not go and speak at art school [laughs]. You know what I mean? Because if her agenda is not to fit into that narrative, then it’s very hard for her to give a presentation that students find edifying, because that’s what art school is contrived to do: further that narrative.

I wonder if it’s helpful though. This is why I keep trying to get Bill Burke to come speak to my graduate class, because he’s not interested in any of that critical discourse; he wants to talk making images that capture an uncommon moment and that are beautiful and moving. He told me a story that Graciela Iturbide came to speak to his school’s grad program and she is older now and has no concept of talking about these academic issues, and this really upset some students.  One of them asked her a very pointed question about, “Where does your work lie?” or something like that, and her response was something like, “Well, I photograph in Mexico, so that’s where I have my studio.” I think this is really important for us to hear about because we can get so wrapped up in they why that we lose sight of making something that actually moves the viewer and moves us while we’re making it.

image by Graciela Iturbide

It’s an interesting point because I remember so many of those question and answer sessions in art school had that defiant tone.  We were about trying to catch the artists on a social justice or critique issue to prove that the student had thought it through in a more advanced way than the artist had.  For myself, when you’re in any kind of social movement, be it feminism or anything else, and the model is one exclusively of defiance, that way of interacting bleeds into all your interactions so that when you’re in the presence of anyone, a peer, a brother or sister, in the process of art making, which is not an easy field to be in and god knows we need all the friends we can get, your immediate response is to try to find a way to knock them down one. I’ve seen now that my feminism has shifted from being about defying to being much more about bridging with people, about a process of compassion and listening, as that’s shifted, so has the way I regard someone coming to speak to me. The point isn’t to knock them down or to show Nikki Lee that she’s wrong about her work, that I’m right about her work. Speaking of feminism, there’s this amazing Joan Didion essay, called Goodbye To All That, where’s she talking about coming to New York as a young person and I always think of it because she says that at the age of 21, 22, 23, we’re all convinced that nothing exactly like this has ever happened before, that we alone know this experience. And I sort of feel that way about how we think about art when we’re in art school.  You think, I’m the first person to use my naked body in a way that really puts these feminist messages across.  So when someone comes to speak to you, it’s almost like a threat to your supremacy, so you say, let me explain to YOU why you’re wrong.  [Laughs] It’s a very insecure time, you know?

Yes.  You know, what you’re describing is very much what early 1970s feminist art was about. I just spoke with Martha Wilson about how she got started and she said she didn’t know what feminism was until she had something to work against. It was about being against something, for her, and I think that’s true for a lot of women of that era.  It was about endurance, it was about pushing your body to these limits…

And you always have to be naked! Why do you always have to be naked? Naked and uncomfortable.

And the point remains that this work had never been done before, it was really important for these women to do at the time, so when we repeat these actions now we see this as not particularly interesting or even necessary.  As an educator, what do you think about teaching or talking about this particular movement?

Well, first of all, I think it’s important to state that I’m probably going to be teaching elementary school children. There are probably two answers.  One is, I don’t connect to that work very much; it feels like the 1970s stuff, I appreciate why it rose up, but I don’t really connect with it.  I used to connect with it much more.  I think there is definitely a way to say, let’s look at how feminist art has shifted over time, why do you think that is? Show this work and ask what about this feels distinct to you? What remnants of it do you see today? Etc. I definitely think there’s a value in looking at that. But I have to say, in my classroom, I doubt I’d bring it in, I really do, because I want students to see—and this is my personal bias—that there’s a method of art making that comes from a place of joy and compassion and social awareness and a critical lens, but that visual art doesn’t have to be about what is shocking, what is new, what is confrontational. Part of why I want to do that is because anyone who engages with a contemporary art gallery or museum will get so much of that.  It’s so much harder to find the stuff that comes from a different place. Critical critique that’s about covering yourself in menstrual blood is a dime a dozen. It just is! I mean, sticking stuff up myself, taking it out of myself, covering myself in my own stuff that comes out of me—you can find that at every corner.  But to have a classroom that really focuses on and celebrates and revels in an art making that comes from what is personal and tangible and magical and kooky and all those things aren’t necessarily hip words—I mean, even in my art education program, I get stuff for using words like magical and kooky because they aren’t serious enough.

It’s funny that it’s same dialogue as in an MFA program, but you’re learning how to teach kindergarteners.

Absolutely.  Although, it’s so interesting to see the difference between being taught how to teach art from someone who’s mostly an academic vs. someone who is mostly an active elementary school art teacher but also teaches at NYU.  They’re radically different; we will actually get oppositional methods. I think, once again, the relationship between feminist art and the academicization of art making practice.  For my more academic teachers, it’s very important that everything is about theory and the head.  But for those who are teaching me who are active participants, they talk about love and teaching from the heart—terms that are not academically popular.  And with feminist art, too, it feels like I have to use a certain set of academic words, they come from a head place, not a heart place.  I would say that my work is joyfully un-academic.  I have very little say to about it, period, but I have very little to say about it from that discourse.

But it’s beautiful and it’s moving.

What’s really interesting is that the work I made in art school that was so theoretically based, no one particularly liked that much. Number one, because it was boring, and number two, because I’d already figured it all out.

It doesn’t leave anything for the viewer to figure out, and that’s one of the beautiful things about art—the mystery that allows each of us to put our own meaning to it.

Absolutely.  The other thing I wonder about so much is, can an object move beyond its context and its intention.  Because if we judge art exclusively let’s say through the lens of whether or not it was intended for a feminist purpose or the person who made it was a misogynist, if we considered all those objects made by those kind of characters sexist objects, you know there are a lot of pieces I would not give up for the world. And there are a lot of pieces I know were made with an intention I don’t agree with but that I have a relationship to that’s different.  The Origin of the World, by Courbet, is one my favorite paintings.  I think it is sexy and beautiful; when I look at it I feel excited and in awe, and it was made to be viewed exclusively by men behind a curtain.  It’s all about the male gaze. You can look at that painting and see it as pure evil.  But I love that painting. Its original context of being in a room with a curtain that only specific men were allowed to see, that’s not my relationship to it, and I think that in today’s contemporary museum, that painting actually has radical feminist implications. So that wasn’t his intention—I don’t care.

The Origin of the World, Gustave Courbet

That’s a pretty big idea, that art can move beyond it’s own birthplace. I agree with you, we’re in agreement, but I’m just starting to do this. It’s new for me to make work without thinking it all the way through first.

There’s a guy in my program, this wonderful guy, Keith, who’s going to be such an amazing teacher, and he always uses the Sistine Chapel as an example as to why this approach to art doesn’t work. You can stand under the Sistine Chapel and talk about gender and class and race and come up with all the answers of it being a work of evil, you really can. It’s also majestic; something happens in there that is so transcendent beyond human understanding or verbalization that has nothing to do with any of that stuff.  Which is why millions and millions of people schlep to see it.

And why it’s one of the first things you learn about in art history.  Most artists learned about it on day one.

Right. And you could sit here and knock it to pieces: God is a white male with a beard; patriarchy is all over the place; the notion of Heaven is this gilded place which implies that you have to wealthy to be righteous. I mean, we can go down the list, but it just seems like such a stupid, thin way to experience something that is so much more powerful than that.  And it also, for me, this is a feminist question I grapple with all the time, when I walk into a room, sometimes it feels like contemporary theory would dictate that I walk in exclusively as my race, class, and gender. And there’s nothing else I’m walking in as, there’s no human component that comes with me; I’m only those three things. I find that really problematic.

So how do you reconcile needing to talk about those things? Because I think they are important conversations to have when looking at art, talking about art, especially early on when you’re starting to make these things. So how do you talk about it without losing that majestic quality?

I think you view it as one component of what an objects about, but not the only component. I don’t know about you but I would say that 90% of the conversation is about gender, class, and race stuff. It definitely feels like that’s one component, but not all of it.  Just recently we had a class where we were talking about Disney.  You know, I’m going to be teaching little kids and little kids LOVE Disney movies. And we would all agree, myself included, that Disney sends some really problematic messages about, let’s say, women, as an example, but pick any category.

In college, I took an entire course called Deconstructing Disney, which I loved.

Right. And you can deconstruct Disney along all those lines, and that’s valid and important.  But the question then becomes, as an educator who has kids in the class who love Disney movies, do you explain TO them, and the word “to” is very important here, that the material they’re watching is racist, sexist, and classist and therefore they should stop? Which not only is a top-down approach, but also denies, as academic discourse often does, the pleasureful elements of Disney. Or do you celebrate what’s pleasureful and use that as a bridge to talk about these other things so that the other stuff they’re going to continue watching anyway, they watch with a more critical lens but they don’t give up what’s pleasureful.  For me, singing “I wanna be where the people are” from The Little Mermaid is not diminished by the fact that there’s some really problematic stuff in that movie.  I want to be able to hold both.

You know, I think a lot of this stuff boils down to whether or not we’re comfortable as human beings accepting that life is complicated; it’s not black and white.  Disney’s not pure evil; it’s not perfect. Kids know that. Kids are open to exploring that.  So you bring that discourse in, but in my experience, critical analysis was about shutting down the worth of something.  You know, you should not teach Degas to children because he was an anti-Dreyfus and an anti-Semite. I don’t quite know how to explain this, but I don’t want to co-opt or reclaim anything. Does that make sense?  I don’t want to reclaim any word that is a curse word about me, and I don’t want to co-opt anything.

Doing that doesn’t feel like moving forward.

No, it doesn’t.

It feels like getting stuck in something that already doesn’t work and that causes us pain and stagnation.  I loved your description of feminist art: this is feminist art because I’m a feminist. This is something I’ve been asking others, and one person said her work had a feminist voice but it’s not part of her artist statement.

Do you think my work is feminist work?

Hmm, I guess it’s hard because I know you so well. I might say that it’s in it, but I don’t think it’s about that.

And the other question is, does it matter?

This is what I get from it, but it’s so personal.

This is important for me to say.  Because I don’t feel like it’s my job or within my control really, if someone who’s Jehovah’s Witness looks at my work and says this is Jehovah’s Witness art, I’m cool with that. Great! I’m glad it’s that for you.

Well, another person I spoke to said there is no longer feminist art. She thinks there was but isn’t anymore. I think she’s referring to a specific type of work and a movement.

But also, if it is referring to that 70s movement, that work abounds today, it just isn’t taken that seriously because its very repetitive.

Do you think that’s because it’s not necessary in the same way anymore, it doesn’t play the same role?

I mean, it certainly doesn’t pack a punch like it used to. I hope it’s not necessary anymore.  It seems like any movement that feels disenfranchised starts by screaming at the top of its lungs, regardless of the movement. Politically, you start from a sort of rageful, I-demand-to-be-heard place.

It’s like being a little kid.  When you’re young, you act out when you don’t get what you need or want, but as you grow older you, hopefully, learn to work through conflict calmly.

I’m so glad you said that because it’s partly why when I’m going through an art fair or even a lot of the biennials I’ve been to I’m generally fairly disappointed that a certain type of artwork is still lauded and sold at really high prices that I think has not moved beyond that place.  It’s something that the contemporary art world is in kind of perpetual adolescent.  Look—I can make a stop-motion animation where people are having sex up the butt—I can do that and get away with it. It’s kind of like, great; let’s all go out behind the school and smoke cigarettes. It’s deflating to me as a viewer when I see that again and again and again.

I remember when George Bush was President the second time around, and the acts of heinousness that were occurring under this man’s leadership and there was so much to try and change and talk about as visual artists.  I went to Miami Basel and there was just piece after piece of someone wearing a Bush mask and masturbating, or someone making a drawing of Bush doing something filthy or in a video piece covered in feces.  I mean, is that as sophisticated as we’re going to get about really important matters? I was so deflated from that work. It felt like 13-year olds were talking about the president, and we’re not 13 year olds.  It’s connected to why I’m less and less involved in and goal-oriented around the commercial art world because it’s a world I feel very alienated from.

All of us are working out issues of some sort through our art. To sort of start winding down at this point…what do you hope for your kids to take from your classes later in life? You are in a social justice art education program, so these issues are clearly very important to you and your role as an educator.

All of that is true, but partly because of this program, my understanding of what social justice art education is has changed dramatically and I see it very differently than I did some time ago.  Before, I would have said that social justice art education is dealing explicitly and constantly with social justice issues in the art classroom.  Every lesson has to do with race, class, or gender.  I’m so not sitting there anymore. I feel like what I really want first and foremost, for my kids to walk away with, regardless of their behavior or their own stuff they walk into the classroom with, is they experience the art classroom as space where they feel deeply loved. When I look at the social justice movements that I’m in awe of and inspired by, they come from a place of love. The kind of classroom I want to create is about radical love.  And I think as a teacher, you have an amazing opportunity to impart kids with empathy.  That’s much more important to me than having a kid leave the classroom understanding exactly how a woman is paid less than a man for the same job.  That information matters, and I’m going to have it threaded in there, but that’s not, I think, what really creates change. And partly why I think that is because we’ve all seen in news outlets over time, heinous images again and again of the worst injustices you can imagine in all parts of the world. And our response most of the time is, wow, that is just the worst, and then we go on about our day and wonder where we’re going to get our latte and what our retirement is going to be like.  Building empathy and experiencing compassion is really how you make them an agent for social change.  So if they’re going to be an activist or a banker or an accountant or a lawyer or whatever, they have this empathy tool that enables them to love people and understand people’s perspective and not live in a world of good guys and bad guys. That, to me, is being a social justice educator.  I would say that some people in my program do not agree with that definition, but that’s what I’ve come to that makes sense to me.

I also want them to experience art making as a place that is about thinking and loving and joy and complication and a place where something like Disney can be celebrated and critically understood simultaneously.  And I really want them to fall in love with the act of unconscious decision-making.  Right? Because when you present kids with a problem and give them 45 minutes to solve it, like here’s colored paper, I want you to do X, make a collage about this, you’re asking them to make decisions that are so innate and organic and intuitive that there’s no time to get stuck in their heads.  I want them to know what that feels like because for me, it’s taken me years to give myself permission to do that in my studio. I want them to know that that counts.  So I would say all those things and, god-willing, through increased empathy through my teaching, I hope they’re also better citizens to each other as the years progress, because you’re not just prepping them to be citizens in the world; you’re also prepping them to be citizens in middle school and high school, times when empathy and compassion are at woefully low levels. That’s what I consider social justice.  I think any movement that, at its core, is based on empathy is more long-lasting and powerful. I have to say I’ve been really blessed in my friendships to have a feminism that is based on empathy, but that’s not the feminism I was taught in college and art school.  It’s almost like we felt we weren’t safe enough to empathize.  That if you somehow also perceived men as stuck, also as limited, and not just the aggressor, that you were somehow giving them an unfair advantage or letting them off the hook.  It’s a great way to feel like you’re right and end up completely isolated.  There’s something about the feminist movement that it hasn’t yet found its abundance.


31 women and no one wants to talk about it?

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion, 31 Women in Art Photography: Past, Perspectives, Projection, organized by the Humble Foundation in conjunction with their latest exhibition, 31 Women in Art Photography, being held at Affirmation Arts.  The panel consisted of Jon Feinstein, Co-Founder and Curatorial Director of Humble; Sasha Rudensky, one of the artists in the show; Marla Goldwasser, Director of Affirmation Arts; Justine Reyes, artist in the show; Charlotte Cotton (who needs no introduction); and Vanessa Kramer, Director of Photographs at Phillips de Prury and Co.

image by Sasha Rudensky

Overall, it was disappointing because very little was said about issues around being a female artist.  There was one moment, one question, where they discussed what it means to be a female artist and how that informs the work of the artists present, but neither artist present had much to say about it.  Cotton brought it up as well, but no one bit.  I, needless to say, took the Q&A as my opportunity to put it to them again and voice my concern that no one was really talking about gender issues, and Cotton immediately posed another question in response: in short, do women need a sort of positive discrimination to make it in the art world, such as this show they were in?  It didn’t take off like either of us had hoped, but I did get to speak to Cotton afterward, and hopefully we will be able to continue a dialogue about this via email, and then hopefully you will see it here.

image by Justine Reyes

But what about that positive discrimination?  We all sat there amongst the 31 images chosen because their creators were women.  We would never see a show called “31 Men in Photography” because, ostensibly, ALL shows are predominantly if not exclusively male.  Do we need this type of show, a sort of affirmative action for women? What happens to these women after the exhibition?  If this is the (or a) pulse of contemporary women in photography, where will they go?  Will they make it?

Surprisingly, Kramer from Phillips de Prury had nothing to say about the representation of gender in her department. She is in an interesting position to see who is really making the cut of history.  Arguably, those whose work she is currently selling at auction are closer to having a spot in art history than those exhibiting in the Humble show, for now. It is a dilemma: to show as a “female art photographer” or not. Rudensky pointed out that her classes at Wesleyan, where she teaches, are easily 75% women. So where do they go?  Why do we then need to have a special show just to give them a chance?  What do we have to do?  Just like photographers in the 1980s started making enormous prints so that they could hang with the painters and be considered on the same level as the “serious art” of painting, what do we have to do to be considered on the same level as male artists?

Moreover, the argument can be made either way that women have a better chance in the medium of photography than other media because we’re not up against hundreds of years of a male-dominated and -mastered art form such as painting.  This is true.  But we are also, I find, up against a medium that is highly technical and equipment-oriented, which is, to be blunt, a guy thing.  Men love equipment and technical stuff, if I may make a generalization, and often feel like it’s their territory.  For women to use these items, these heavy, complicated machines, sometimes feels like a threat to men.  I have experience on numerous occasions, while working in public with my camera, a male condescendingly asking me how I can manage that all by myself. It’s clear that women in photography have mastered it, and I might argue that someone like Cindy Sherman is responsible for actually making it into ART.  So why are we still struggling to get shows and earn a living doing this far more than men when women have been some of the most important artists of the last 30 years?  Who knows, but what would happen if the folks over at Phillips and Sotheby’s and Christie’s turned their attention towards gender and really examined how they are perpetuating gender disparity in art sales.  Kramer mentioned during the discussion that sales are what dictate how they organize shows:  whether a photograph is placed in a photography sale or a contemporary art sale, is dependent upon how much money it can bring in if featured in one sale versus another.  I do not criticize this, for they are an auction house, not a museum.  But the amount of power they have in the art world is astonishing, especially when you think about their motivation (money).  This New York Times article makes some interesting claims about calculating the economic value of art, and a really good book on the art market and auction houses is Don Thompson’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art.

Another point I find interesting was when Jon Feinstein commented that the work they selected (he co-curated with Cotton) was not what is typically associated as “women’s art,” i.e., body art, issues of gender, etc.  He made it clear that this was his conscious choice. Feinstein said they received many submissions that were body art and focusing on these issues of the female body and female presence, but they really wanted to stay away from that.  The work is overall very clear, crisp, objective, and lacking warmth and connection.  Was Feinstein trying to help women make a place in the contemporary art world–see, women can do art which isn’t overtly about being a woman or having a clear female voice?  Must a woman artist omit that feminine voice in order to become commercially successful in the mainstream art market?  Is Feinstein presuming that this must be the case?

As an artist who makes some work that is clearly about my female relationship to other women in my life and the history of women and feminism and who also makes work that, I think, could be construed as aesthetically genderless, I certainly do choose which work goes where.  Personally, when I sent my submission for this show (sadly, it was not selected), I knew not to send them my work about feminism.  The curator and founders of Humble have an aesthetic taste and they like it.  Perhaps the key is to learn this and play it as best you can.

It was really interesting to hear from these various panelists, although it would have been nice to hear more.  But the folks at Humble, while advocates of a particular photographic aesthetic that is not my personal favorite (think Yale, think cool in tone), they are in an interesting position to be a valuable part of the community here in New York. We’ll see what comes of their efforts.  It is great to see these young men and women working to get us photographic artists exhibitions, sales, and grants.  Thanks, Humble! And thanks to the other panelists for sharing their time.

Wendy Olsoff, Co-Owner of P.P.O.W. Gallery

On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, I met with Wendy Olsoff at her gallery, P.P.O.W., in Chelsea, and she told me about starting her gallery 27 years ago, about idealism, sellable art, the death of feminist art, and our need for a woman president… amongst other things.


Anna Ogier-Bloomer: How did you get started in this business?  You’ve been doing this for over 25 years.

Wendy Olsoff: Yes, we opened in 1983.  I was working in a gallery before. I went to college as an an English major, actually. Then I moved to New York City and worked in retail and hated it. I wanted to do something else and a friend said, ‘Why don’t you work in a gallery?’ I didn’t really know anything about galleries. I thought about what he said and thought it might be a good idea to meld my interests in art and retail. Eventually I got a job in Soho in a little gallery on the ground floor on West Broadway.

What was your mission as a gallery when you started, and what is it now?  Was feminism ever explicitly a part of that?

We’re talking about 25-28 years, so it’s a long time. Politics and feminism were not in my mind at this time.  Working in or owning a gallery hadn’t even occurred to me. I was just very young and trying to find a job in something I liked. Penny [Pilkington, co-owner of P.P.O.W.] came to this gallery about six months after me and we met and became roommates. By 1983, we were both done with our galleries and the East Village was starting up. We had gone out a lot in the East Village; we knew the scene. So we went down there and we opened a gallery within two weeks. We took a ground floor space.  And our apartment on the Upper East Side was the same rent as the ground floor space in the East Village plus an apt on the sixth floor. The guy who owned the building wanted to gentrify it. There was a real estate interest to gentrify these tenement buildings—fix them up and get the drug dealers out and all that. So they were very happy for us to open a gallery and fix up their building. We did everything ourselves.  We knew how to do consignments, we knew how to do insurance, we knew how to do all the paperwork, and we were really very businesslike from the start because we were both trained really well. What we didn’t really have was a mission; we weren’t artists, and we didn’t have any artists. [Laughs]

Sue Coe, El Salvador, 1984, photo-etching on paper plate: 5 3/4 x 8 7/8 in. Image courtesy Smithsonian Museum website.

Our first show was Sue Coe, which was phenomenal because she’s fantastic.  We, about a year before that, had heard of her and met her because there was this thing in New York called ‘Britain Salutes New York.’ There was a show of young artists in Staten Island that a curator said, ‘Come and see the show; I did a show of the real Britain.’ It was a very political show. We loved Sue Coe’s work and we said, we have to find that woman. We opened in the fall and had a little group show, and then we opened Sue Coe. She was technically our first show and it was a big hit. And the East Village was so trendy that the limousines and the collectors and the press just rolled up. We opened with a bigger opening than anything I had seen in the gallery on the Upper East Side, and we sold the show out and got reviewed in Art Forum. We were immediately on the map in the East Village. We were in the first ten galleries to open in there, and in the next year or two, there were up to probably 60 galleries there. We were really one of the originating, and we were very much a part of the scene down there.

That’s really incredible.

It really was.

So when did politics and feminism start to be important to you?  Do you identify that as part of your mission now, or do you see it more as just an interest?

Politics were always important. Sue Coe was our first artist, and the reason we gravitated toward Sue was because at the time, the work they were showing in Soho was extremely apolitical and boring to us. You have to imagine, 25 years ago, political art was not shown. Art about ethnicity was not shown. Feminist art—these words were not part of the vocabulary at all, and no one was really doing it. There are always exceptions, of course, but it wasn’t like it is now. We were taking on Sue and our identity was pretty much sealed early on. We’ve pretty much stuck to it always. Although there have definitely been many little roads and journeys we’ve taken outside of it, politics and political art have always been at the heart of our program. Still, many artists we show are not political. That’s just how it is. But there is always an interest in it.

Nancy Spero, The Bomb, 1968, gouache and ink on paper, 34 x 27-1/4 inches. Image courtesy

Sue was very influential, but we’ve shown such phenomenal people since.  We showed Carrie Mae Weems before she was well known, we’ve shown Nancy Spero, we show Carolee [Schneemann], Julie Heffernan. We show many women artists and political artists as well, like David Wojnarowicz, and Dinh [Q. Le], whose show is up now. But it was a never a manifesto or anything written down. If you look back at our mission statement, it was just to show contemporary art in all media, like we showed photography before people showed photography. We never really specialized like that. We always think of ourselves as showing narrative, figurative work. But we never openly say we’re a political art gallery because there are so many artists we show that aren’t political.

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Man Smoking/Malcolm X), from the Kitchen Table series, 1990, Gelatin silver print. Image Courtesy Brooklyn Museum website

You have such an amazing roster of people. I love that it’s political work and it’s also stuff that’s not overtly political. I think it’s a great mix.

Thank you. It’s very easy to find artists that make political art, but it’s very hard to find good political art. There’s a real trick to it, and it’s not a formula. The best political work is that which people can see without being scared off or feel like they’re being lectured to. There’s a subtlety to it that takes a really amazing ability to make an aesthetic object, an intelligent statement, so it’s not just like, I’m an artist and I’m anti-war. You know, you can’t do that. You have to be a really deep, thoughtful person who’s a really good artist and who knows what good art is, and who is not just redoing what George Grosz did, or Sue Coe, or Kathe Kollwitz.  You’ve got to invent something new that people want to look at and learn from and also be relevant in the art world. So even during all those years with George Bush there was very little political work, I don’t know why. It was really, for me, I thought, the emptiest time, because of the market maybe. But people say, ‘Who have you taken on as political work?’, and I say ‘Oh no, it’s all very personal, just biographical.’

I wonder if that’s because of the time, maybe people were turning inward and sort of feeling more introspective.

Maybe trying to make things to sell was the goal. Now I think you’re finding people realizing it’s going to be really hard to sell so what the hell. But really it was the right time in the right place, because people like Sue Coe, Carrie Mae Weems, Nancy Spero, and Carolee–they’re not ordinary artists who are just going to keep coming along.  In terms of making a feminist agenda—I was thinking about it recently in fact… I was a teenager in the 60s and 70s, so feminism was bra burning and Gloria Steinem on TV and The Dinner Party, which I remember seeing as a kid. I was caught between a very traditional 50s mother who totally gave up her life like so many other women who had totally mastered the mop and cleaning the sheets and was totally unhappy, and also having a TV broadcasting all the great things women were doing constantly in the backgroud. I don’t think I ever really understand that until recently—how much early feminism played a part in my personal suburban upbringing—because it was so not taught to me by my mother or my school or anything I read. It was never clearly articulated.  I think now for girls it’s articulated. If you look at the timeline the Sackler Center [for Feminist Art at The Brooklyn Museum] has on their website of the feminist movement, it’s like—now—boom—all these shows. In the 90s it seems like there were more things to do, more shows being done, more books being printed, so it’s unavoidable in a mass media way, and everybody has to see it, whereas before, you were labeled a feminist and it was sort of an insult if you kept it a secret. Now it seems more like a strong badge or a positive label… it is a different time.

screenshot of Sackler Center's Feminist Timeline U.S.

Does it feel like it’s more mainstreamed now?  Does it feel like that shift occurred in the 90s?

Yeah, more mainstreamed. No, I think it started actually in the late 90s. I think it’s worth looking at the timeline at the Sackler Center. If you look at how spotty it is all through the 60s, 70s, 80s, and all of sudden now, there are dozens of shows out and so many books being published. I am sure at universities and all over, the corner turned so that feminism isn’t a scary word anymore. We even get movie stars saying they’re feminists even if they’re not. Men are embracing the word feminist–it doesn’t scare them…it just doesn’t scare people as much, that’s what I think. I could be wrong and I could have a warped perspective…but I think a shift has occurred.

But in terms of the gallery, it wasn’t as if we ever saw ourselves as a feminist gallery.  We were always a more political gallery. However, we got an award from A.I.R. Gallery for women in the arts, and I was really happy that they did that because it made me think there was recognition for what we stood for. Over the years I didn’t come to any brilliant conclusion or defining moment where we said “let’s be a feminist art gallery”, but I choose art that I like and it happens to be made by women. It is not something we do on purpose. If two people come in here and show us work, I tend to like what the woman is doing more – I relate more to the content. I don’t know why, because I’m never making a choice based on gender; it’s just based on the work. So I’m never picking work because it’s a woman who made it. Being recognized was important for me – like being celebrated for an integral part of myself that I didn’t choose to exploit….

But you just found that your tastes tend towards women artists?

Yes, exactly. My tastes go that way, but I think it’s just because they’re doing more interesting work.  I never say, oh, let’s show the man because it might sell better or get better prices, which may be more an agenda of other galleries.

Do you think that’s the case in the commercial art world?

I don’t think anyone would ever say it.

But you think it’s true.

Well, it has to be true because men make more money and galleries are businesses. However, you know maybe that’s changing a little bit because women like Alice Neel and Marlene Dumas have hit higher prices, so maybe the bigger galleries, like Pace and Gagosian, are seeing potential for women to make money. If they are businesspeople, and they are, they’re doing an analysis. Then it’s a slam-dunk that men are going to make more money. So I don’t know how they choose their artists, but why then do they show more men than women?

Alice Neel, T.B. Harlem, 1940, Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in. Image courtesy

It’s reflected in other industries, too. More women are in school for art, and in school for everything right now, it’s 75% women, and when you look at who’s at the top of this field making money, its about 2% women.

It’s true.

So where do they go? Somewhere in between, we lose the women?

I don’t know. They go home, to the house and children? I don’t know. Yes, it’s true, I know. Studies have been done in lot of schools, and art schools, and I know that liberal art schools have more women than men in every incoming class. It’s kind of weird now that if you’re a white boy, you have a better chance of getting in than a white girl.

Yes, I heard that on NPR, they’re considering doing a form of Affirmative Action for men over women.

I’m lucky; my son is 14.


My daughter just applied to college and their Dean of Admissions came out and said if we’re looking at two identical people, we’ll take the boy [over the girl]; she just came out and said it, and was very honest about it, and everyone was like, oh my god. There are more girls being rejected.

Wow, I wonder where that’s going to take us in the next 10-20 years.

Well, reading about it, it’s like, the feminist movement was so successful that now there’s a big rush for girls to get educations and there are too many girls – how crazy is that?

How did you come to start doing the events that happened last fall, the panel discussion [Post-feminism: Do We Need To Go There?] and the show with Dotty Attie and the Capricious [magazine] show [Looking Forward, Feeling Backwards, Oct 29-Dec. 5, 2009] at the same time?

A year ago January, we had a fire in our space. We had a much smaller space down the block, which we’d been very happy to be in and was a much more traditional space. We had a bad fire and had to move really, really fast. This building had a lot of space for rent because of the recession and offered us a space for great rent to get us in here.  And we opened really quickly; we did sort of this heroic thing. So we found ourselves in a traumatic situation with the economy and then we had a fire and we ended up in this big space.  We decided to use the opportunity to do more performances and do more events.  Jamie Sterns is amazing and she does all that; she programs everything. Dottie Attie is an artist we’ve shown for a really long time. And artist we show named Melanie Bonajo, from Holland, is very tied into Capricious, and Jamie suggested we talk to Sophie [Morner, founder of Capricious]. We’re trying to build a bigger audience, to use the space to bring in more energy. Jamie herself is tied into a much younger group of people and we work really well together. When I hired her, I said I need someone who can go out, and who wants to do stuff because I have two kids, you know; I can’t do it. And it’s a different time in the art world. We like the programming to be innovative and keep growing and growing, and Jamie has done it, we support it. We try to tie programming into shows, but she’s done a lot of performances here on her own. It’s been good for us and good for the artists and good for Jamie, and that’s just how it turned out, because of the fire.

Becca Albee, Response Killings, Newspaper and Flowers 2008, archival inkjet print, edition of 7, 12 x 16 inches. Image courtesy P.P.O.W. website.

How did you meet Liz Linden and Jen Kennedy who now do the Feminist Reading Group?

We met Liz through Suzie Treister. We had a show and there’s a woman, a fantastic woman and artist named Suzanne Treister who lives in England, and Liz is friends with her. When we had the opening maybe a year or two ago, Liz came to a dinner party and said she wanted to do something with us and she ended up on the panel. It was like the network of people who knew each other. I’m on the council of the Sackler Center and Liz is also showing and doing something with them, so it was sort of like this network that brought Liz to us.

It was a great event, and I loved the reading group. So, what do you think feminist art is? Is there such a thing? Is all women’s art feminist? How does that work for you in what you’ve seen here?

Well you know there’s a New York Times article about a woman artist in her 90s, Carmen Herrera, an abstract artist. Have you seen that? She has been working in obscurity her entire life. She’s been showing lately in museums and does really beautiful paintings that look like reductionist abstract work, and she’s just been discovered. In interviews, she says how she was totally ignored. It’d be really interesting for you to read it because she’s a great example of someone whose work isn’t feminist but who has been totally obscured and pushed over by the male status quo. Her work was important to her and she just kept working and her life trajectory was that she had a husband and followed him around, but she always worked and always made real paintings. Now someone saw some and bought some and put her in a show, and she’s finally selling her work. There’ve been a couple interviews with her and I read one recently because she says, I was totally looked over, no one was paying attention, I was in a few group shows.

It made me think about Carolee Schneemann and her paintings  —if she didn’t do her seminal performance work, her paintings never would have been looked at because, being a woman, the other artists, like Rauschenberg, eclipsed her. Was it because their work was better, or was it because they were men? And then she started doing her feminist performance. And now you can look back at her paintings and they struggle to still be recognized because she’s so identified with that period which was defined by the male practitioners. Now you look at this other woman and she’s a clear case where her work was really beautiful and she was dismissed, because other work made by men was getting attention and getting sold, she was pushed aside. You know, Carolee really tried to stand up and fight the battle, but it didn’t do any good, while Herrera just kept painting in silence. She knew what was going on. So, I guess back to your question, I think there is no longer feminist work, but I think there definitely WAS feminist work. Someone like Carolee or Nancy Spero makes work about feminism or politics and, because of the feminist movement, they’re always going to be important historically.  It’s about struggle. But if you discuss power, it is about women as well, it’s just not clearly stated. Carmen Herrera is a feminist by her life choices – her choice to believe in herself and keep working. Her work can now stand shoulder to shoulder with her male peers – she didn’t give the male dominated historians a chance to dismiss her and they cannot do it now – the work is too good and we have come too far.

Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll (collab. w/Anthony McCall), Gelatin Silver Print, 1975. Image courtesy Artnet

During the panel, someone asked Dotty about her work and whether it was feminist.

Dotty’s answer wasn’t clear on that.

Yeah, she said she didn’t think it was feminist.

Dotty Attie, Father Always Swore, 1991, oil on linen. Image courtesy P.P.O.W. website.

But Dotty’s work clearly is. Dotty’s early work, too, was deconstructing male artists.  I think that Dotty didn’t want to be labeled as a feminist and I think that’s where she’s coming from. She has a whole different take on it. Maybe she herself didn’t want that label, even though her work is political and feminist, whether she wants to think it or not. All her work is about taking the male image and changing it; it’s all gender-based.

What do you see happening in the near future?

Well, now they’re making a big fuss about the biennial having more women in it. That’s good. There are definitely more women curators at all levels and feminist curators as well.  Maybe because we have more women in schools there is going to make a difference because you have an incredible amount of really brilliant hard working women now in high places, and that’s going to continue because you have all these young women in schools that are going to be educated and looking for jobs in the arts. And if the women have the freedom to make the decisions they want to make, then things will change. Ironically you have the Whitney Biennial that was curated by men, right? Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari. Someone in the New York Times said this is a ‘‘women’s biennial.” It’s ridiculous, you know? Men picked the work. I have to ask: did the Whitney do this to get attention? The show is not exciting….was it a hook?

But it is interesting because we are getting to a point where it’s normal to not exclude women – but it is still far from the norm. The art world is always the first place to move, so maybe the glass ceiling in the corporate world will move too, but who the heck knows. We need a woman president.

Babette Mangolte, Composite for How To Look…, 1978/2009. Black and white photograph composite, 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). Image courtesy

L. Mylott Manning, Artist

On Friday, February 19th, I spoke with New York-based artist, Laura Mylott Manning about her work and her relationship to feminism.  In her home near the United Nations in Manhattan, we discussed her transition from sculptures into performance, gender neutralization, and the equality of humans.


Anna Ogier-Bloomer: Laura, I came to you because your work involves a lot of domestic artifacts; the clothesline and clothespins, dresses and aprons, and it got me thinking of the relationship between your work and the women’s art movement of the 1970s.  Why don’t you tell me how you got started in artmaking and how you got to where you are now?

Laura Mylott Manning: I was a sculpture major at Rhode Island School of Design where I’d started to do a lot of street installations. I’d make sculptures, mostly animals, and place them around the street and take photographs of them walking around or moving from one place to another. And that’s where I did my first road kill stuffed animals project, that’s where that came about. After school, I did different projects—painting, collage—and then during my grad program, I meshed them all together, these different avenues of my art practice.

I did a second road kill stuffed animals project, which was the beginning of pushing myself into performance work. The first time I did it, I just took pictures of the animals on the street after they’d been manipulated. The second time, in 2008, I photographed and filmed myself displacing the animals to the curb on 14th Street in New York City. People were filming and photographing me and as I was doing it, I was photographing the animals. So more perspectives were added to the project the second time around, more of a performative aspect, using my body as tool. That was kind of a breakthrough piece for me. From there, I started to think more of my body in art and what my body was doing and how its actions were performative and how it was art.  It pushed me into more performance pieces often using domestic objects, bringing domestic objects outside of the interior, into the public realm. So I did have an interest in feminist art of the past, and I found myself coming up with similar ideas that had already been executed in the 1960s and 70s coming forward, and wondering what the significance of it was in contemporary context and how its different if I do a similar project or use a similar domestic object—what it means to do it in today’s world. So I started to really research feminist art.

I knew it!  What’s an example of something you saw that influenced one of your pieces later?

The project Womanhouse was a foundation of feminist art. It’s amazing and I found it really interesting to study.  And I think my interest in that stemmed from an installation piece I did with a knocked over table and a bucket, and it was in a domestic setting.  It had a lot of domestic objects in it. So studying Womanhouse helped me in figuring out what I was going for and what the artists had done back then. Studying that piece, I really liked how they exaggerated and showed an emotional and psychological exaggeration of the domestic space, and that’s something that I strive for in my work, to show an emotional state through exaggeration, humor, and irony. So I found Womanhouse to be really beneficial to study. The performances that were included in that piece, like ironing, you know, simple, daily tasks and rituals, to have them taken seriously as a piece of art. You know, the time it takes to iron—all these tasks to be thought of on a higher level.

So what have you found by reinventing or reexamining these works today, 30-40 years later, to be different from what they were doing then?

Well, I think that no matter what, I’m going to be referencing these works but it will always be different because it’s me making the work, and it’s a whole new time, each day is a new day, so each day will be different, each project will always be different. But I’m definitely building on those works as references and then presenting it in present day.

I’m very curious about people’s self-identification. There are so many shows for women artists, etc. I wonder how you fit yourself into that, or if you don’t. Do you identify as a feminist artist?

Well, that’s a good question. I wouldn’t call it NOT feminist. It’s not in my artist statement that it’s feminist work. I try to redefine or expand the term “woman” through the use of domestic objects and by bringing them into the public realm.

I think it’s really interesting that you’re trying to redefine the term woman.  It’s a word that’s been played with a lot through the feminist movement, and I wonder about what we are? Are we women artists? Are we just artists?  I think of myself as a feminist and an artist, so I guess I’m a feminist artist because I think it informs everything I do all day long, even if I’m not thinking about it.  Is that something you identify with in your daily life?

Yeah, I would call myself a feminist… and an artist. It’s funny; you know the work, it is what it is. I don’t know, it’s a really good question.

It’s a spectrum, you know? There’s a show up at David Nolan Gallery called “The Visible Vagina” and its fifty different works of just that—visible vaginas.  There’s work like that that is so clearly labeled as feminist work, and then there’s work like yours which I think is much more subtle and influenced by these movements but not screaming at you. Have people observed this about your work?

Yes, it’s always been an area of interest and a study of mine.  It definitely has a feminist voice.  But I think the term feminist is hard to define and always changing, so I would say my work has a feminist voice.

I like that. You know, the term feminist has been on my mind lately. I went to a panel discussion last fall at P.P.O.W. Gallery about “post-feminism”, which most of us there thought was a really detrimental term. But a lot of the discussion that came up was about what is feminism and how it’s so different for so many people. People discussed how feminism needs to be humanism, it needs to encompass everyone in the world, which I think it does, but it seems like it needs to become something bigger than it is. What does the term mean to you?

I would say a feminist is someone who doesn’t play into conventional gender roles necessarily. Who believes in women, wants to empower females, believes that women don’t belong in the kitchen, that women can do the same things as men, that people should be equal. I think the term changes with the times. Feminism has been more accepted into popular culture and that’s why I think it does change because as more young women grow up, its sort of this assumed thing. You know, the younger generations don’t see the struggles [that women came from] as much. And there are men, too, who call themselves feminists. Before I’d heard any men call themselves that, I thought it was a strong woman who is equal, can do what she wants. Men who call themselves feminists, maybe they value the equality of humans.

Equality of humans—I like that, I think it’s a good way to think about it. So as a woman making art in this art world that is, like other industries, male-dominated, do you feel like marketing yourself as a woman artist is important to you?

I look for art venues that seem appropriate for my work. If they exhibit artists, female or male, that have similar qualities to my work or my work would fit in well, that’s who I approach. Or I just go look at the work there because I’m interested in it. I don’t look for women-only exhibitions.

In a couple of your pieces, like What Is DUMBO?, you’re tearing pieces off of this dress you’re wearing that you’ve constructed, that’s amazing. What does that signify for you?

Well, in that performance, I walked around the DUMBO neighborhood and observed it, took pictures, read a lot about it. So the performance was my subjective interpretation. The dress was constructed out of the papers and blogs that I’d read about the area, and when I ripped the pieces, I drew a picture of something I’d seen in the neighborhood. Taking a piece from the dress was to make it personal with my personal observations of the DUMBO neighborhood.

So you’ve talked about the importance of the body in your work. Do you see a significance to tearing apart something that is part of you? What is that about?

I think of the body as a vehicle, so it’s the action of ripping. The body is a tool. I’m ripping these pieces off, and using the body to create the work.

What do you see happening in the art world today in terms of feminist issues?  Do you see anything shifting?

You know who’s getting a big retrospective at MOMA? Marina Abramovic, which I think is so great. I haven’t been observing so much what’s going on in the art world right now in terms of feminist shows. I follow the artists that I’m influenced by. But I’m trying to get out there myself right now, and the more I do that, the more I’ll recognize patterns.

And this is the first year that the Whitney Biennial has included more women than men. It’s 55% women.

I have noticed that in the art schools, the majority is women, but then when you hear about new young artists, most of them art men. It’s there; I just don’t focus on it too much. When I display my art, I display it as L. Mylott Manning, and that’s to avoid a gender identification. So people don’t bring their associations or assumptions with them when they see my name, but then when they see my work, then it’s obvious.

It’s a masking of your gender altogether. It’s sort of a neutralizer. Is that something you chose to do based on past experiences?

I just felt like I needed to do it. It just felt right.

It’d be interesting if we all did that, if we never knew what gender any artist was.

It’s just good to keep thinking about these topics, and feminism, and being a woman in the art world. This is good practice, to keep asking questions about who’s showing and why, and whose out there, and what trends there are.

Absolutely. So what’s next for you?

Well, I have a piece in the 2010 Wearable Art Exhibition in Vancouver. It’s made from a 24-foot bright orange soccer net. The garment is beautiful but it’s very difficult to walk around in. It’s spears about entrapment and beauty, and I’m photographed in the piece, so it deals with being a woman. I’m also designing another sculptural garment for a different wearable art exhibition in New Zealand. Lately I’ve been looking at a lot of architectural work and artists who deal with architecture. I’m going to be designing garments that incorporate architecture into the pieces where they will be able to turn into a temporary structure, and then I can invite people to come to the structure and interact. I’m moving towards more community-oriented interactions, sculptural garments that open up dialogue across fashion, art, architecture, and design.

When those pieces are exhibited, how are they displayed?

The piece in Vancouver is a static exhibition–the piece is just displayed; the performance was more the making of the piece. The piece in New Zealand will be a fashion show. The life of the piece will live on through a fashion show, and that’s something new for me, but it’s a fun way to make and exhibit my work.

Well, thanks so much Laura.

Thank you.

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All images Copyright Laura Mylott Manning.