You’ve got a mouth
Saturday 3rd March, 1 p.m.
“You’ve got a mouth” was one of the Round Table events held as part of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art show Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism, 2107-2018. I invited a panel of artists to each provided a written statement of approx 500 words. As they arrived they made a pile of these statements in the centre of where the group and audience sat. Then as presenters each artist read the statements provided by the other artists; they read each other’s statements. The artists on the panel and the audience were then invited to deepen their understandings of each other’s ideas about Feminism and the visual arts through discussion. The statements were presented as a stimulus and were diverse in nature: biographical, historical, performative, poetic, provocative, questioning or quoting others’ ideas relevant to this moment in time. Most audience members stayed for the duration while some came and went.
Nina Ross reading, et al…
Caroline Phillips explores topologies of feminism through material explorations of objects. The conjuncture of craft practices and abstracted, minimalist form activates relationships of movement, agency and affect. Her work seeks to propose a potential aesthetics of relatedness.
Danielle McCarthy is an interdisciplinary visual artist with a special interest in the expanded fields of painting and drawing that includes large-scale installation and performance projects that seek to engage with life’s momentums and the elaboration of difference through repetitive gestures, interventions and actions. Her creative practice acknowledges its debt to feminism through an engagement with those forces that hold bodies together.
In a world that is increasingly disconnected and alienating, Janice Gobey is interested in connecting with the viewer, giving them the opportunity to sense the emotions of the human and animal subjects in her paintings, to feel the tactile qualities of fur and drapery. She enjoys experimenting with creating empathy in paint.
Juliette’s interests span both classical art history (covering design and applied art as well) and contemporary art/design. She is widely published as a classical art historian in Australia, as well as British and North American publications including Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture and the Dictionary of Women Artists, also published many essays relating to contemporary art and feminist studies in Australia.
Kalinda Vary’s practice is a technique to explore emotionality, vulnerability and power, humiliation, constraints of language and the problems with representations of identity. Recent key works have focussed on queer concerns of the body, performance within social structures and imposed cultural identities.
Kathy Heyward is a Melbourne based artist, designer and educator who’s practice also involves authentic and meaningful community engagement. She has maintained both independent and collaborative arts practices since graduating from the VCA in 2000 and again for post grad in 2009.
Nina (b.1982) is a Melbourne based artist working predominantly with video, performance and photography. With a strong research lead practice, Nina’s work responds to experiences using and sharing language and it’s repercussions on the body as a metaphor for a sense of self.
Tania Smith is a performance artist with a sense of humour. She works with video, photography and costume, and her work explores liberation, bodily freedom, and pleasure.
Veronica Caven Aldous
Veronica’s practice includes printmaking, painting, sculpture, light works, installation, curating shows and discussions that draw on her interests in Feminism, art history and the history of philosophy particularly from Indian Vedic literature. Rather than only exhibiting works she is interested in the ideas that surround them.
I introduced the idea of reading another’s ideas rather than your own with the aim of setting up a relaxed open ended discussion throughout. The aim further was to consider if this format would allow the reader/writer to hear the words differently; hear the words in a fresh way. Can we really understand each other? Can this facilitate a more relaxed deepening of ideas as often speakers are anxious about delivery and judgment of their own words and performance.
Most people in the space spoke at some time and the discussion was wide-ranging, informal but deep in history, philosophy, anecdotal and personal insights. Each reader did not know who or what they would read until they actually picked up the paper from the stack of papers in the centre.
Read by Janice
A Call to Arms.
Hello. Stand up. Thank you.
Something big is calling you. What is it? That’s a good question. It’s an excellent question. There is something, something that you want and it’s not a little thing. You gotta go. You have to allow yourself to go in the direction of what you want.
Catch on! Hold on, fight for yourself. It’s about letting yourself be what life has caused you to evolve to. Don’t look to other people for approval.
It’s nice to be a pleaser, it’s nice to be an uplifter. It’s nice to offer up the appropriate behaviour and see immediate results from other people pleased by your behaviour. But the longer you live, the more you begin to realize that there are a lot of people who are seeking behaviour from you. And no matter what you do it doesn’t necessarily make them happy. It’s not about pleasing others. It’s nice to be agreeable. It’s nice to care about other people.
Do not use some sort of guidance outside of yourself. Indecision is a problem. This is really what I want to say to you, it isn’t that there are others in your life that are misguiding you, it’s the indecision that you feel because you’re trying to please someone by doing something that you really don’t want to do. It’s the most natural thing in the world to resent anything that’s keeping you from your true potential.
Whether you’re resenting yourself or whether you’re rescinding past decisions or whether you’re resenting someone else’s desire, if you could just drop everything, and with gay abandon do exactly what you’re wanting to do. What would it be?
If you don’t know what it is you want to do then do you know under what types of conditions it would be? Let’s talk about negative emotion. What are you feeling? If you are not aware of what you’re feeling, don’t worry, your discomfort will get bigger and then you will get a raging headache.
So stop and do the work. Identify exhilaration. What patterns of thoughts have you developed that are keeping you from letting yourself go? You’re probably not even admitting that there’s something that you want. What’s with that? Everything is all queued up for you. How do you see your role in life? Why are you here? What are you about? How do you dovetail with the other people in your life?
Just have some fun. What are you doing on a day to day basis? Spend more time doing the things you want to do. Get the stimulation that you need. I’m not kidding you.
You’ve got a strong desire that you are not acknowledging. Begin watching it. What thoughts are keeping you from going with the flow? Focus longer on your natural patterns of thought.
You’re almost afraid to think. Thinking won’t be a problem as you care less and less what other people think and more and more on what you want. You can stand right where you are and feel different, feel better. It isn’t about doing, it’s about the mental approach. It’s about love and appreciation. Feel empowered.
A lack of control is a lack of freedom. How you feel emotionally is your indication for what you really want out of life. You will learn this as you pay attention to how you feel more often.
Often you develop patterns of thoughts that are contradictory to who you really are and what you want and these dominant thoughts can become beliefs. A belief is a thought put into words. You might be thinking you can’t have or do something and then you believe this to be true when it’s not. You can be or do anything you want, so lie down and relax.
You don’t have to figure it out all at once. What is it that you want? You can figure this stuff out. You don’t have to change your lifestyle. You can have it all. Ideas will come to you. It’s no
Austin Thomas, catalogue essay for There’s something happening here, Caroline Phillips, NARS, NYC
Read by Caroline
*note to the reader, font in italics is an action. Font in bold is sounds you are to make. (thanks)
I am here to give a speech. Giving a speech is something I maybe shouldn’t be doing. It has something to do with a distrust in words, usually I prefer to listen, see how other people do it. I am certain almost all of the time that I am misunderstood or not making sense. or saying something people already know,
repeatedly not making sense. Apologising right the way through.
this is a speech. not an apology. sorry.
Rules are abstracts. words are abstracts.
I have a voice which one friend has told me is very soothing, good to go to sleep to. I keep this in mind when I talk. Having a soothing voice that puts people into a relaxed and sleepy state
shouting into the void
to counter the sedation, I use my hands excessively, expressively – some have said aggressively – (particularly when I point)
— – – prodding people to keep awake.
When I publicly speak, I am embarrassing to watch. I go red, my voice quivers, eye contact is impossible, hands shake. I swallow my words. I am suspicious of every sentence written.
I speed up
or skip over the important bits, (kee-yi! kee-yi! kee-yi!
((note to reader: you should feel this sound coming out of the top of your head)). )
hiding intention, lest anyone should know that was an important bit ~~ and so have a chance to judge me on that.
I should have sung a song today, I have a bag of techniques to allow me to sing at you. Singing out loud is so directed, powerful, especially when you are cloaked in a haze of dry ice. Strong, committed, unwavering. Untrained determination.
feel your feet attached to the floor, keep your body open.
oh yeah and singing isn’t talking.
I am an actor a performer, give me a script a costume and some lights and I am grounded on stage.
The body the vehicle to talk about something other than me. But still talk about me hidden in amongst it.
sorry, i wish this speech was funny. humour aids digestion, disguises the stab. none of this is supposed to be funny at all.
I’m so sorry.
All you can do is listen to my speech in respectful silence.
(do tongue stretch once)
When do we ever expose our tongue to the world! tongues are almost as private as our anus.
And we all got one of each.
(yawn with tongue stuck out for 30 seconds)
(stand up and do a spinal roll)
One the the core tricks to public speaking is BREATH to breathe deeply, into your diaphragm, employ your chest! To ACT confident, be assertive in your words, and, when you breath deeply and employ your chest as a resonator of sound your tone deepens, thus is more commanding, thus people pay you attention. No little rustles from the audience.
I understand none of these aspects, acting confident, breathing into chest resonator, lowering your voice are masculine but they seem to have been assigned as typically masculine traits.
(make voice drop down low. Hit chest)
OK so I have this friend, lets just call them Ubiquitous anyone, they exist in-between. they are here and there.
They inhabit rooftops and unisex toilets, they live outside of the rules.
Ubiquitous Anyone relies on mediators, others who “pass” for access to everything else. They don’t live in Melbourne or Shanghai, they live in chromakey green.
They are not bourgeoisie or working-class, a first Australian or a coloniser. They would be the curve between the yin and the yang, day/night
the maybe of yes or no. You either are or you aren’t,
Us or the other, Then they are the other other, every. word. means. something,
every word has a value, so do the maths, what is the total the value of the sentence, how much are you worth?
Read by Veronica
The politics that arise when you present as a ‘woman’ and work with ‘female’ materials.
When I first started including thread within my installation work a question was posed to me somewhere along the lines of ‘do you realise and are you ok with the notion that your would be considered “feminist” because of the materials you have chosen?’
I had most certainly not considered my work to be ‘feminist’ nor to be making any kind of statements regarding gender politics. Was I confused or naive or ignorant to what feminist artwork was or could be ‘about’?
I wasn’t making any statements.
I was simply relaying mathematics and sculptural form. Wasn’t I?
Is artwork made by women intrinsically ‘feminist’? In the same way that we have been told that ‘anything erect is phallic’?
Do I need to be making any actual, defined statements about feminism or a feminist agenda?
Do I actually even understand what feminism can or does mean?
Was I making feminist work or ‘female’ work? (in terms of the historical trope)
If a man works with wood is he making masculist work? Are we really still harping on about the same gendered ideas?
If a man works with thread is he subjugating a particularly and historically gendered material, is this a statement?
I feel that the real feminist agenda for me in the work that I choose to undertake is in regards to the ‘inferiority’ attached to craft within arts practice.
Why are some artists – female – who work with (in this case) threads and fibres lauded and applauded and considered part of the fold, valued and respected as contemporary artists whilst so many others are considered lesser?
What is wrong with craft?
Why do I feel like if women ‘do’ craft it is considered in a completely different manner to when men ‘do’ craft?
Read by Juliette
In 1975 I was 18 and in first year of art school at Caulfield where there was only one woman on staff teaching life drawing. I spoke very little with other staff who largely ignored me and who I perceived were largely dysfunctional (dominant, alcoholic, lecherous etc). Mostly male students controlled the undivided painting studio spaces and so unable to find a space I painted at home. I was largely unnoticed. I don’t know any other female artist in my year that is still practicing. One lecturer gave me a key to the printmaking studios, which I then used extensively. The library and art history component was limited to European art history but I found bookstores and the Theosophical Society library that extended my art history, psychology, philosophy and theory education. In my final year 1977 I learnt Transcendental Meditation, which I still practice, and in November of that year took off backpacking around Europe for three months. This was an intense and pivotal time. I went to every gallery I could find and printmaking workshops in Paris and Barcelona. I was appalled to see in most cases no art at all from women or from artists from diverse cultural backgrounds anywhere.
In 1975 I also attended the Lucy Lippard lecture at the George Paton Gallery at Melbourne University. This was hugely pivotal and all those women of various ages were role models for me. This event was intensely supportive for everyone there. There was a real sense of unity of purpose and strength of voice. Art school was a desert but this experience had thrown me a lifeline. I didn’t know anyone there except for Adrienne Swinton (previously Axelrad) who was an American/Australian with whom I went to the event and who is now deceased. After this event I received letters from the organisers and so attended meetings over the next few years mostly at Erica McGilchrist’s home. I helped with the collation of a few of the early Women’s Art Forum Annuals. I have entries of images of artwork and writing in the 1978 and 1981 W.A.F. Annuals. I remember Erica, Bonita Ely, Sandy Kirby, Micky Allen, Isabel Davies and others at these meetings.
These formative experiences in and out of art school led me to establish an isolated approach to my art practice. I worked in a vacuum particularly after art school. So my approach to non-representation was not a response to well-known male abstract artists but a personal exploration of the materiality of painting, printmaking and installation. I work with real materials and objects in actual space. From my perspective representational art dealt with a false pictorial space that was part of the male history of art story. My non-representational practice will never be pure abstraction as I aim to make concrete ideas and feelings about not only colour, light and space but about being, and being in the world. My practice includes a sense of resistance and individuality against endemic discrimination and biases against individual thought, being a woman and working with abstraction.
Read by Kalinda
I would not say my art practice is feminist, however I think that taking up a paintbrush and attempting to paint is a feminist act after all I am not a male genius destined for greatness.
Our suburb didn’t have many girls, I became friends with the boys, we rode bikes, climbed trees and flew kites. I formed a gang, we all had to perform the initiation rite, to sit on the immaculate lawn of the childless couple under a big thorny tree until the old lady came out to shout at us and chase us away – we bonded over this, we were all equal.
My first experience of difference – as a teenager studying with a private art teacher, she seemed 100 years old, from the UK, known for her crazy patterned cat suits and apparently no underwear. I would attend classes and be instructed in technical drawing, endless plastic fruit and liquor bottles. Then I could work in watercolours. My brother decided to join at this stage, male and 4 years older he skipped much of the technical, endless drawing and was allowed to paint in oils. I asked if I could paint in oils – the reply “young ladies can’t paint in oils, only watercolours”. I gave up lessons and my brother’s only oil painting was framed above the fire place, my drawings still gathering dust in the old portfolio.
Georg Baselitz on women artists “The market doesn’t lie. Even though the painting classes in art academies are more than 90% made up by women, it’s a fact that very few of them succeed. It’s nothing to do with education, or chances, or male gallery owners. It’s to do with something else and it’s not my job to answer why it’s so.”
So why is it so? Is it because we are not taken seriously? Because we bear children? Because we are inferior and don’t deserve the attention? Because we are not male geniuses?
Art School, VCA – “That (insert male name here) will go far – he is so talented”. His talent escaped me, however he had a swagger, he believed he was damned good and like the emperor’s new clothes others believed so too.
Masters Class, 16 people, 6 men, 3 dropped out, all men. Only a handful of us remain making work, most have given up. The art market is a winner take all scenario, there are no rules, there are no answers, how do you become successful? Is it luck? Self-belief? Networking? Your gender? Your socio-economic status? Nepotism?
Gallery Manager says to me, ”you have to be able to speak about your work, have that snake oil salesman approach, the ability to lure curators, clients, galleries to you”. Confidence and self-belief.
I curate a small show of 3 females: a male hears about it and sends me an email “What do I have to do and what work should I bring?” I don’t remember inviting you, but I am in admiration of your confidence that you believe you should be part of the show – I wish I could be like that.
I only have questions and no answers, but one thing I know is that I am not stopping making
Read by Danni
Recently I undertook Anne Marsh’s Doing Feminism residency with a collective I’m part of called Art/Mums at Norma Redpath house. During our stay, another member, Gabrielle de Vietri and I observed the names of authors on a bookshelf. It was littered with male writers.
This is the Unfinished Business exhibition booklist:
Read by Nina
I have a mouth, my mouth has lips. I have lips above and below that connect the in-between that is mine. A passage that operates in its own temporality, the becoming that is me. This space/time is my embodiment, or more precisely, the harmonic or resonance of my body is a material thing. This “thingness” is contingent upon the actions and interactions that happen between my body and all the other bodies of this world. All in their own states of becoming and on their own trajectories. This is my unfinished business, the business of becoming, which for a woman is a serious business. I search for myself in maleness, in his gaze, his desire, between my lips. I must hold myself together just enough, to rise from culture by searching for myself in it, for what is not there. This becoming requires a different orientation to the world, because the world is always already pressing on us. So the process of self-creation must begin with what exists, and then reconfigure, reconceptualise, reconnect and inflect through my body, to invent new possibilities and potential worlds. A reclamation of space and time through something earthly or elemental to hold it all together, between my lips. Through my heart that beats and lungs that breathe, the respirations and circulations of my blood, connected to the rhythms of this world. Between my lips an eternity of becoming. A direction, a trajectory, an orientation to this world, operating at its own frequency. This is my unfinished business, to be seen and to appear in the world, to be temporally located, give birth to myself between my lips, above and below. Beyond the two poles of a man and a woman. To inhabit a new position that asks nothing more than the question “what can this body do?” To create a passage through these two pillars resisting all constraints and limitations placed on my body, my sex, to hold the becoming that is me together. Moving through actions and interactions, but maintaining an interval, a space, a breath, a sigh, that allows some self-realisation rather than, assimilation. For the world is intrusive, it seeks always to penetrate, to press in. The forces of other bodies come to press up/on my becoming. This is my unfinished business, to hold myself together just enough, to be attentive to my desires, my space/time, my needs, through my movements. From my lips to yours a space must be maintained; an interval must exist so that my bodily becoming is not overrun, subsumed and appropriated by all other bodies. Between my lips is all that I am, and through artistic gestures, I can consolidate and experiment with these thresholds and limits. My practice is an ongoing and creative feminist becoming that is mine.
[Irigaray: 1974; 1977; 1993; 1996]
Read by Caroline
Women artists’ traction of traction in public memory has always frustrated me
Why do we always see the same images and the same artists in books and galleries
When a search of old newspapers and catalogues reveal many more women with practices
Why do galleries still show so many works by the same select male artists at once and so few women
Why do we forget the women artists of the recent past and forget what they achieved
Why did Frances Pheonix have to be dead to be a star
Why did the major pioneer of abstraction Erica McGilchrist die in a suburban aged care home, virtually anonymous and have only 2 curators at her funeral
Why do we use such criteria as innovation, strategicness and newness to erase women through the myth that women do not show these qualities in their practice
Why do people not realise that activism and post colonialism also deeply false and inaccurate news to communicate its argument
Protest racism and white privilege by all means but realise that it is merely the rancid melted butter that seeps through the already rotten muffin that is public culture – why attack the garnish when the cake is already putrid
Why don’t we protest the decisions and choices of academics, curators, critics – especially when they prioritise their friends
Nina Ross, ongoing discussion group behind
There was discussion between each reading and ongoing afterwards. Formally closed after 1 and ½ hours but links between readers and audience continued afterwards. Feedback as follows:
- I feel I am now considering what I read as my own so will work through it
- I was more focussed on the meaning
- A curator said she really enjoyed hearing what artists really think from their perspective rather than taking a curatorial perspective
- So much to take away, think about and digest
- Made me reconsider some other ideas
- I did listen more attentively for longer
- Can’t get the words out of my head…really took them in
- Realised that their own work was political
- Questioning what is feminist art
- Questioning categorising art by gender rather than more open
- These ideas will stay with me for awhile
- This format would be able to be used again…You’ve got a mouth format is born
- Liberation from ownership
- I could not have said what I read for myself but was able to through another person’s words
- I would have tidied it up…not good…raw had more effect on me
- It has begun a process
- Considering other views more deeply
- I didn’t self-censor the other person’s words
- One reader asked for a copy of what she had read as she wanted to read it over and over as it is what she feels too
- Discussion about the NGV collection of women’s work that is not exhibited and so remains obscure led to the idea that several people in the group will begin a petition asking the NGV to have a show perhaps titled Uncovered
Janice reading, et al….
Nina reading, Danni smiling, … et al