Instead of presenting a straight narrative of feminist art as a generation- and/or identity-specific style, the exhibition charts a network of multiple references, drawing connections between aesthetically and politically, geographically and historically heterogeneous perspectives. Different narratives and movements thus give shape to feminist tendencies that are not unified by any style or label. Their connection resides rather in a shared attitude towards art as a field of antagonistic relationships and hierarchical structures that traverse society as a whole.
In 1969 this relationship between artistic and social hierarchies drew Lee Lorenzo to the conclusion that ‘there can be no art revolution that is separate from a science revolution, a political revolution, an education revolution, a drug revolution, a sex revolution or a personal revolution’. Understanding the personal as political as two sides of same coin was one of the most central feminist demands of the time: it articulated a common denominator of different, activist, theoretical and artistic feminisms across political and social borders.
In 2019, exactly 50 years later, the relation between the public and the private, personal experience and structural remains a contested terrain. After the Weinstein scandal and various other cases of sexual abuse across the social spectrum, this relation is once again at the center of political debates and media attention. Whether in politics, media, business, science, art or our daily lives, we still have to insist on #metoo: on the fact that experiences of sexism, racism or other forms of abuse and violence are not a personal problem, but a political and structural one.
Straying from the Line presents artistic approaches that explore the political within the personal, the public within the private, and vice versa, positing art’s supposed exterior as its very core. They do so, for example, by examining the social codes of artistic forms, techniques, or models of representation; by expressing desires beyond the boundaries of binary gender logic, or by problematizing the political economies of image circulation.
Martine Syms‘s video Lesson LXXV (2017) investigates such image economies and the ways in which technologies of image production and circulation shape the perception of gender and identity. In contrast, Lee Lozano‘s large-format ‘tool painting’ (Untitled, 1964) subjects devices associated with male productivity to a transformation that is not only comical, but also eludes clearly definable sexuality. In addition to these contemporary and modern approaches (including Maria Lassnig, Lynda Benglis, Teresa Burga, Ulrike Müller and Heji Shin, among others), the exhibition presents a range of practices that are usually not associated with feminist art or never became part of its canon. These include the collective work of Tim Rollins & K.O.S., Constantina Zavitsanos’s and Park McArthur‘s examination of care and exchange relationships (Score for Before, 2012-2015), Irma Hünerfauth‘s almost forgotten kinetic objects (Erste Liebe, 1973), and the collages of Alice Lex-Nerlinger (e.g. Arbeiten, arbeiten, arbeiten, 1928).
Cross-connections and elective affinities within the exhibition set-up, invite visitors to create their own links between different bodies of work. What happens when Claude Cahun’s queer self-portraits from the late 1920s are viewed in relation to Leigh Ledare‘s photographic templates of the biographic and pornographic (Personal Commissions, 2008)? Or when Diamond Stingily’s Kanekalon hair braid (Kaas, 2017) is considered together with Eva Hesse’s organic-like ropes (One More Than One, 1967)? Which affinities or continuities and which differences in terms of desire and corporeality, and their inscriptions in relations of gender, race, class, and ability arise from such links?
By presenting a repertoire of artistic approaches that can neither be limited to womanhood or whiteness, nor to historical, political or aesthetic parameters, Straying from the Line probes art’s potential to give feminist tendencies new meanings and different forms.