I’ve been to this exhibition twice now. The first time saw me so confused and perplexed by reading the artist statement that I didn’t really give the work enough attention. So I went back, with OCA student Holly Woodward.
The Fox Talbot Museum is showing three exhibitions of women’s work this year. This first one shows work by six solo women artists and one partnership. The work is mixed media in a range of formats.
So here is the artist statement.
This statement was by Lori Vrba, one of the women whose work was shown. I’m actually quite puzzled by how far this statement distracted my attention from the work itself and coloured my appreciation of some very engaging work. I needed to understand why the words had such an effect on me and I need to engage more critically than a simple “fart-speak” or “it’s feminism gone too far to the other way” proffered by another visitor to the gallery. I was impressed by Holly’s observation that the statement was marginalising the work. I think this “marginalising the work” is what was getting to me. The artist statement barely mentions the work, which is such a shame as the work has much to say. I’m puzzled that there is absolutely no overlap between the “greats” listed in the statement and the 40+ female artists showcased at the Avant Garde Feminist show at The Photographers Gallery last year. Granted, “feminist” and “feminine” are not the same thing, but I am surprised that there is no overlap at all given that female identity is such an important base to this work. Where is Judy Chicago? Nan Goldin? Francesca Woodman? Julia Margaret Cameron, although not American, was clearly an influence with her delicate images of women and children. The second paragraph didn’t engage me at all. It’s odd because much of my work is rooted in the female experience and the feminist perspective, but I wouldn’t consider or describe myself as part of the “greater good” simply due to having a womb. Equal, yes, greater, no. I am uneasy too about the use of “feminine without apology” – how many men apologise for their work? Come to that, how many women apologise for their work?
From my point of view the work was about family, about stories. It was about using craft and materials with photographs, to tell stories. The scope to me is primarily about the personal, the family rather than wider society, with the exception of Kirsten Hoving and Emma Powell’s environmental saga. Most of the work is rooted firmly in the past – either in style, colour or presentation (I suppose that fits with the nostalgia in the artist statement).
Anyway. Moving onto the work. The artists showing work were:
- Tama Hochbaum
- Lori Vrba
- Heidi Kirkpatrick
- Heather Evans Smith
- Anne Berry
- KK Depaul
- Kirsten Hoving & Emma Powell (mother and daughter)
KK DePaul’s work was physical collage with objects in a vintage, faded palette, they were shown inside a recessed mount in a recessed frame, I had the sensation of traveling back through time before even reaching the collage. The work is a mesh of stories, and the more you look the more you see. “Barbara” is a mix of the inside and the outside – photographs of a face, drawings of a skeleton, and actual medical slides. Text is used sparingly and with precision and it was so rewarding to take the time to look in detail.
Heidi Kirkpatrick’s work is object orientated too. I loved the vitrines of little things – tobacco tins with photographs printed onto the inside, mah-jong tiles with photographs on their backs. My daughter loved the vintage dresses calotyped with ferns and plants, and wanted to know if we could buy one. The calotypes on embroidery hoops were exquisite too, but I’m not sure how far I get with unpacking their meaning, although I would love to make one myself.
The work with the most contemporary feel for me was Kirsten Hoving and Emma Powell’s series. Made with a process using pigment over palladium, this didn’t make me feel as if I was looking back through history, even though it’s about a fictional fairy tale.
It is amazing how much of my photography learning seems to be about text, this is the second time that I’ve seen the impact of a statement that’s misaligned with the work it’s introducing.
Holly Woodward’s review of the same exhibition is here. My thanks go to Holly for seeing the exhibition with me and helping me to deconstruct my initial response into something more rational and balanced, and thus seeing past the artist statement to the actual work.