8 months ago

F*CK U! In The Most Loving Way

Exhibition catalog for "F*CK U! In The Most Loving Way" created by the Northern California Women's Caucus for Art.

highlighting the

highlighting the implicit gendered, racial and sexual structures of the archive. Appropriating these textual fragments, the extended postcolonial poem unearths and connects the long shadows of the U.S. empire, intimacy, violence then and now. Faith and I then collaborated on a “performative reading” of this piece, selecting key moments, and adding music and gesture to think through the state of refugees then and now, and the highly political personal acts of waiting (as subalterns, refugees, immigrants), and welcoming each other. 4 Wilding additionally offered to bring her copy of another documentary on Womanhouse, Lynn Littman’s Womanhouse Is Not a Home, which aired on Los Angeles public television in 1972, for a screening during the exhibition. Like her artist mentor Judy Chicago, Faith Wilding challenged us to expand our thinking about F*ck U! In the Most Loving Way and helped make it a better show with richer programming. 5 In order to call attention to the fact that Womanhouse had been created by young women artists who were at the time also students, the Exhibition Collective sought to feature at least one rising young contemporary feminist artist who was either a current student or a recent graduate. More specifically, we wanted our exhibition to raise awareness about intergenerational issues within feminism by encouraging gallery visitors to reflect on how feminist issues have changed since Womanhouse. We immediately thought of Emma Sulkowicz, who performed her durational feminist Mattress Performance (2014-2015) while she was an undergraduate at Columbia University. We invited Sulkowicz, who was a Whitney Fellow during the 2016-2017, to exhibit her work in addition to doing a performance. She not only agreed, but expressed interested in collaborating with another young feminist artist and graduate student, Violet Overn, who has become known for her performative photographic self-portraits staging her passive resistance in front of fraternity houses in protest of campus rape culture. 6 Additional featured artists included Sheila Pree Bright, whom Leisel Whitlock helped to bring into the exhibition. Priscilla Otani helped bring in Rokudenaishiko, the Japanese artist who was jailed in Japan for her vulva-themed or “manko” art. Otani also helped bring in the renowned artist Ester Hernandez. Finally, I invited my San Francisco State colleague and Guggenheim award recipient Cheryl Dunye to exhibit her important short film, Black Is Blue (2014). Originally I had only signed on to help with featured artist invitations and negotiations. My tasks quickly multiplied as I found it incredibly rewarding to witness the ever-growing buzz and interest about the show. I quickly discovered that with expansion came an exponentially greater workload. Priscilla Otani, who along with Leisel Whitlock served as the exhibition’s project managers, asked me to take curatorial responsibility for “Revisiting Womanhouse.” 30

As the juror Shannon Rose Riley finalized her selections, the Exhibition Collective brainstormed a number of ideas about how the gallery could reference the original Womanhouse installation, which had been housed in an abandoned Los Angeles mansion that the Womanhouse artists renovated from November 1971 to January 1972. Would we, or perhaps more accurately, could we, “update” any of the Womanhouse rooms in the gallery? We quickly concluded that trying to recreate any part of the original Womanhouse installation in an art gallery would be neither prudent nor feasible. But what about “Revisiting Womanhouse”? As its curator I had a very clear vision about should be done to the borrowed office space. I wanted to “revisit Womanhouse” foregrounding, rather than covering up, the fact that the space is actually a gallery office. In so doing, I wished to underscore both visually and materially how women’s relations to their homes have changed over the past 45 years by creating a living space that did not yet exist at the time of the original Womanhouse exhibition. Then and Now At this point it would be worthwhile to review the situation for the majority of American ciswomen during the early 1970s. To gain a better understanding of the historical context of Womanhouse, we have to turn to what has been widely acknowledged as one of its primary sources, Betty Friedan’s watershed 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. Friedan pointed out that the home has been historically and cross-culturally gendered as female, particularly after World War II with the normalization of the presumptive white stay-at-home middle-class suburban heterosexual American wife and mother. Friedan termed this situation, with its insidious consequences for women, “the problem that has no name.” 7 Womanhouse addressed this problem with its critical interrogations of the home as a gendered “female space.” Over the years Womanhouse has been inaccurately derided by some critics for its putative biological determinism or essentialism given its attention to ciswomen’s biological functions such as menstruation and its psychological depictions of women’s despair and feelings of invisibility. More recently it has been vindicated, finding its rightful place within art history not only as the first major feminist installation but also, according to Temma Balducci, as an early feminist deconstruction of the idea of home as “dollhouse” with its parodic performative iterations of women’s stereotypical roles. 8 An alternative, more sociological-based interpretation would reconsider how in the early 1970s the home was at least demographically still the domain of women. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, which offers longitudinal data regarding the U.S. labor force since the 1950s based on its Bureau of Labor Statistics Surveys, only 43.9 percent of American women worked outside the home in 1972. 9 Despite the fact that historically African American women have always worked at a higher percentage than any other ethnic group in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics Surveys only 48.7 percent of African American women worked in 1972. Even as some may question the accuracy of these survey results particularly for working class women of color, it is relatively safe to assume that in 1972 the majority of American women were at least presumed or expected to be homemakers. 31