Subject in Process symposium (2009)

Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, 5th September 2009

Co-organised by Kathryn Elkin, Louise Shelley and Sarah Lowndes

A symposium into the obligation of artists to connect with events in the real world with speakers Sam Ainsley (Glasgow School of Art), Dr Fiona Bradley (The Fruitmarket Gallery), Kathryn Elkin (writer, curator of Moots Points and Critical Applause), Dr Adele Patrick (Women’s Library) and chaired by Dr Sarah Lowndes (Glasgow School of Art). With screenings of films including the documentary Town Bloody Hall (1971) artist’s films by Cathy Wilkes and Emma Hedditch and a live set by Muscles of Joy.

Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer, still from Town Bloody Hall (1971)
Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer, still from Town Bloody Hall (1971)

Transcript of Adele Patrick’s paper, “Making space for women: a review of the work of Women in Profile and Glasgow Women’s Library, 1988-2009”

Subject in Process

Lizzie Mitchell, “Subject in Process”, The List, 14th August 2009.

The 1971 documentary Town Bloody Hall is a seminal document of 1970s feminism. A packed-out New York City Town Hall roars with approval as Germaine Greer, glamorous and sharp as hell, rips into Norman Mailer in what remains one of the most stimulating debates on women’s lib on record.

As a starting point for Subject In Process, an upcoming symposium on feminism and art run by the CCA, Town Bloody Hall is a powerful reminder that, 38 years down the line, many of the big questions which drive 21st-century feminist discourse are still broadly the same as those which drove Greer and her peers in the 70s.

But in 2009, the word ‘feminism’ also carries a very different set of associations, and as the name suggests, this symposium will be an exploration of a “subject in progress” as well as a celebration of long-running ideals. In recent years, a series of new exhibitions, publications and projects have suggested that feminism is discovering new impetus, but at the same time, the f-word has become harder and harder to categorise as interpretations, applications, and criticism of ‘feminism’ have multiplied.

In this spirit, a whole range of backgrounds, interests and media will be represented at the symposium. A morning of talks will be followed by more films, an afternoon of open discussion, and a performance by rising art pop group Muscles of Joy. Sarah Lowndes, one of the organisers, stresses that the day will be open and relevant to comers of all ages, ‘from 15-year-olds to grandmothers. And grandfathers as well.’

To give an idea of the diversity which the symposium will embrace, Lowndes quotes Julia Kristeva, ‘I favour an understanding of femininity that would have as many “feminines” as there are women’, and promises a lively assortment of feminines and femininities for the morning’s talks and the afternoon’s discussions.

The issues at stake will be live ones. One of the speakers, Kathryn Elkin, recently sparked controversy by tabling a motion (on behalf of the Yes! Association) that the Glasgow gallery Transmission should make a commitment such that 50 per cent of the work on display would be by women artists. Meanwhile, The Fruitmarket Gallery’s Fiona Bradley will be talking about her ongoing exhibition of Eva Hesse’s studio models, a project which brings up a very different set of issues: what does it mean to use feminist terminology and ideas to talk about an artist who would never herself have thought about her work in feminist terms? Is it a valid art historical method? Would it be valid, or possible, to think about Hesse’s work without bringing the language of feminism into play?

Apart from anything else, Town Bloody Hall is a reminder of the rich history of activism and debate which has always been so central to the feminist movement(s). By opening Subject In Progress with this classic documentary, one hopes that the symposiasts will spark off a day of lively discussion and disagreement to keep a vitally important set of issues alive and squirming.

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