WOMEN AND THE CREATIVE ARTS

This day conference celebrated the installation of Annabel Nicolson’s Large Drawing (1987) in the Quiet Senior Common Room of Keynes College. An impressive piece, shown at both W.A.S.L. and her recent exhibition at Chelsea Art School, it combines textile, paper, paint, and graphite, which in its shedding triangular form evokes the sensation of deep menstrual pain.

Annabel Nicolson began the day by speaking about her decision to place the work there and proceeded to place the making of the work in relation to her earlier works in diverse media. She described her work from her 1972 performance with a sewing machine and a projector, through more ritualistic, less audience-orientated outdoor performances like Combing the Fields, to performances using fire in the late 1970s where the use of story-telling elements or snatches of experiences became more prominent. Her performance at the Women Live Festival grew out of her frustration with the act of sewing in finishing a textile piece and the dreams which arose because of her conflict with the work.

Her later textile pieces continue to extend her performance concerns with particular aspects of women’s traditional social/cultural labour and creativity as home-makers, carets, textile-makers, and embroiderers in our own and other cultures. The strong emotions aroused through her reconsideration of such activities form the focus of these works as their initial therapeutic role in her own experience emerges as part of a more public discourse.

Such works include One of my wishes was to have a Sister … where the text was both cut through, embroidered into, and written in blood across the red muslin overlaid on white fabric, and many sewn pieces where the hidden ‘private’ messages of the text are revealed through slits in the ‘abstract/public’ qualities of fabric. Her talk concluded with her showing of vaginal drawings and ceramic works begun three years ago in Cornwall, and the Menstrual Hut as a private space for women produced at the conclusion of her residency at Norwich Art School which had led up to the creation of Large Drawing.

After lunch there was a presentation by Margaret Harrison on her art practice and a paper by Gerlinde Gabriel, curator of the recent Nam June Paik show at the Hayward, on the work of six women artists in Germany.

Prefacing her talk with a view to women’s art practice in the 1990s, Margaret Harrison criticised the notion of ‘post-feminism’ which implied a resolution or end to the issues which had been put on the agenda by feminist art practices of the early 1970s, though she was aware that after nine years of Thatcherism the forms feminist art practice appeared in would evidently be different.

Gerlinde Gabriel critiqued the Royal Academy exhibition of German Art where the youngest woman artist, Hannah Hoch, was born in 1889. Acknowledging the pattern of neglect contemporary women artists suffered in international shows, she argued that unlike many of the men included in the RA show who had ‘returned’ to paint and sculpt after establishing names for themselves in performance, video and conceptual work, many contemporary German women like Rebecca Horn and Ulrike Rosenbach had refused this trend because of their active engagement with alternative media. Her interesting argument was flawed however by the detailed presentation of largely experimental works by German women artists from the mid 1970s and its conclusion with the large painterly works of Astrid Klein and Christiane Ney from the 1980s. This presentation, however, usefully led into a discussion of the differences between Britain and Germany in terms of opportunities for selling, exhibiting, and the status and public interest attached to the exhibition of contemporary art in both countries.

This interesting conference should encourage the University to hold more events on the visual arts.

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