Where Are We Now?
Rosanne Robertson responds to the pluralistic environment of the artist by utilising stolen modes of communication from the ‘real world’ and nominating them in an art context in order to explore and understand the relationship between artwork, artist, viewer and institution. Notions of experience, validity, truth and identity are explored and are often presented in familiar ‘packages’ of information presenting fact and fiction in the same context. This experimental and investigative research based work is often time based bringing the space between art and viewer into direct focus. Repeated outputs for ideas have included online and offline documentation, archived information, process, installation, imagery, video and performance. The relationship between the original and the copy in the light of new digital media, on line sharing platforms and ways of viewing is a current interest along with research into the live art space.
I have just had a video chosen for an online video show called UHU-Tube no. 1 curated by Jon Purnell and Andre Black of Cack-U-Like and Scare in the Community. Although I am not enthused in an anti-establishment way as these two artists very much are, I do find making art outside of the institution an interesting subject to investigate. I am excited about FAIL, 2011 being shown as I made the video especially for youtube and it is influenced by the way that people view moving image online. I am interested in what it means for a work to be solely viewed online. We can share whatever we want worldwide within seconds and we chose to share misfortune, porn and kittens riding on the backs of tortoises. Does this provide the context for which an artwork on youtube is viewed or can it hold its own in these circumstances? That’s why I like this experimental show as it chooses a selection of art from the abyss and creates a new context within the bombardment of information that is the internet. The video is 1 min 30 sec which is about average for the length someone can be asked to concentrate on a youtube clip and it is ‘#tagged’ with the word FAIL- which has been a trending on line word for a while now i.e. “ I totes just burned my toast #Fail.” The video itself shows me working on a proposal for a piece that never made it to the show it was supposed to. I have been rethinking failure and the difference between making and showing work a lot- reading essays in Lisa Le Feuvre’s recent book ‘Failure- Documents of Contemporary Art’ and re looking at artists like Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Lawrence Wiener, Martin Creed, Jon Baldessari, Liam Gillick and Isa Genzken.
Where are we now?
I think it is easy to forget where we are as when a certain level of equality is reached and things become less obviously unequal it is dealt with less urgency. Things might be better but are they equal? In many business, industry and career instances and in terms of the ‘art industry’ things are very much still unequal. I find in my everyday working practice there are many female artists in my peer group, I can go and see a great number of artist led and independent shows in Manchester and beyond on a daily basis of interesting work by female artists, I can see big shows by big female names quite often but then I come to read an art theory book such as the previously mentioned ‘Failure- Documents of Contemporary Art’ and I would estimate 10% of the writers are female and 5% of the artists mentioned are female.
One show that stuck in my mind as something that shaped my ambition in 3rd year of my fine art degree was The Tate Triennial - Alter Modern. It contained the type of conceptual, process, archive and investigative work I wanted to be making but 75% of the work in it was made by men. This is probably a good figure compared to shows from further into the past. But the fact is that if it was a show that was 75% female it would probably be a themed show. As a female art student (as I was at the time) does this say to me fewer women make this type of work or that it is more difficult for women to be recognised for this sort of work? I would say based on my experience and the female artists I have been surrounded by that the latter is true. I would say the journey between art school and recognition as a respected, studied and exhibited artist is infinitely more difficult for women because of the traditional attitude towards parental responsibilities in this country. I would say it is also more difficult for women to get recognised for the type of work mentioned because of a strange continued attitude of uneasiness at women being less emotional in their decision making processes. I believe there is still a bad attitude towards women and intellectualism carried on from when women weren’t allowed in the academies, banned from making work and not allowed access to paying patrons.
If you look at Hanne Darboven she worked alongside and was respected by Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, and Joseph Kosuth for her conceptual and minimalist work using systems and process. She is celebrated by many but doesn’t hold the same engraved place in art history as say Joseph Kosuth. There are many other examples of women working at the same time not getting the same attention. Somebody somewhere along the line likes their artists to be male and I don’t know it is- the writer, the art historian, the gallery owners or the public. Things of course are changing and women make and talk about serious work and are taken seriously for it. But things need to keep going in the right direction and if our documentation doesn’t show this in a balanced way what will it mean to future generations looking back? Will people still find it harder to dig out information about female artists who shaped and changed the landscape?
What's to be done?
I think that ensuring that there are equal opportunities across the board including the ‘power’ positions. If you look at the Power 100 list by Art Review it is predominantly male and predominantly non artists. So the steering force behind the art world is made up of male gallery owners and publishers. I would guess that if this was more equal the whole of the art world may begin to equal out.
I have met female artists who are also single mothers who cannot continue their practice due to being told by the job centre that they have to take a job that in no way relates to their career path or skills in order to receive benefits to survive on. Child benefit is going to be cut massively under the new coalition government and therefore things are only going to get worse and more difficult for female artists in this position. Being an artist needs to be recognised as a career and resources need to be made available for anyone that may find it more difficult than others to advance. This includes any single parents; it is just that the vast majority of single parents are female.
An arts professional that really inspires me at the minute is Claire Bishop for her original thinking on subjects such as installation and participation in art. I also think that her research and writing for recent article ‘Con-Demmed to the Bleakest of Futures: Report from the UK’ is a vital resource on the subject of cuts to the arts under the new coalition government. I think she will continue to have lots of valuable and interesting things to say in the future.
A group of artists that I find an inspiration to my day to day practice currently are Louise Woodcock, Debbie ‘Elvis’ Sharp, Jennifer McDonald and Helen Shanahan. They are all visual artists, performers and musicians and work in or around Islington Mill in Salford. They form the most part of a band called Womb which also contains members Fiona Ledgard, Sian Williams and Lauren Velvick amongst others. Louise Woodcock’s work has a connection to the female body that I have never had with my own work and her direct and unapologetic approach to performance in very empowering. I find Debbie ‘Elvis’ Sharp’s approach to performance (she is also a visual artist/photographer) also liberating to watch as she puts herself out there and that is something that I have historically shied away from. I hadn’t been inspired by music as a visual artist until I heard Womb, so I find it quite unusual and brilliant.
http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/209 - Claire Bishop’s ‘Con-Demmed to the Bleakest of Futures’.
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Womb/154801944576807 Womb, Facebook page.
What are you looking forward to?
I am currently running something with Louise Woodcock called The Artists’ Bonfire and we had the first one in Manchester in January at Islington Mill. We have been asked by Ian Hunter of Littoral and the current Merzman Project to take a selection of Bonfire artists to spend some time at The Elterwater Merz Barn. We aim to spend the time focussing on economic and political collapse and revolution in the context of Kurt Schwitters and his work. We aim to discuss this in relation to contemporary art and political writing in light of the current economic disaster. There will hopefully also be an opportunity to make work and collaborate. So I am looking forward to spending some time collaborating with a really interesting group of artists in such a unique and important place.