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Margaret Harrison: Is Feminism dead?

Posted: 25/09/11 15:44

Margaret Harrison is an artist I admire tremendously. A show we had a few months back in the gallery was hugely popular. Here Margaret talks about:

"In the UK there was a wilderness period for many artists of my generation from the late 80's onwards, in the US it was somewhat different in that many artists of the generation following on from us acknowledged our influence, for instance 'Group Material' named themselves after a show of Conrad Atkinson's (my Partner) at the Feldman Gallery in New York in 1979, and artists such as Jenny Holzer, Alfredo Jaar and Tim Rollins also acknowledged our work. The show that Lucy Lippard mounted in Artists space in New York called Artists of the British Left had a large impact.

In the UK there has recently been a reassessment of work from the 1970s, starting with the show Live in Your Head in 2000 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the recent interest of work from that same period being acquired by the Tate and European Museums.

In recent years there have been a series of exhibitions, which have examined women's work, in North America and across Europe, both historic as in WACK (USA), Gender Battle (Spain) orRebelle' (Arnhem) which included younger artists from around the world. This has encouraged other artists to tackle feminist issues in their artwork. It is significant that there hasn't been any survey shows of women's work in the UK. The curator of WACK, Connie Butler (drawings curator MoMA NY) was surprised by the lack of interest in the UK for this influential show in the US, seeing as several British artists were included.

It seems that the private gallery scene (with a few exceptions) mirrors the current political scene of a male upper class bias (the current government being dominated by male public school educated at Eton/ Oxbridge).

The validation of an artist's work has shifted from the museum acquisition to a much more market orientation. Artists need to earn a living from their work but are faced with a situation where a few artists' work fetches enormous amounts of money and therefore as their validation as art stars for investment purposes, other values are ironed out.

There is no doubt that our work influenced the generation known as the YBA group but the influence has not been, by and large, acknowledged. Such groups as the Women's Workshop of the Artists union and the Womens Postal Art Group whose work has, to put it charitably, been 'mined' by Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas without acknowledgment and made 'respectable' and financially lucrative by a number of dealers in the UK (mostly white males from public school with museum connections).

Arguably the radicalism of the seventies largely but not wholly lead by women and other marginalised groups has been lucratively appropriated and often plagiarised by a white male establishment in the UK without acknowledgement. Arguably the dangers of the radical notions of the seventies were brought to heel with the eighties and its conservative retrenchment whilst the nineties did take their lead from the seventies but unlike the artists of the seventies who knew there could be no financial returns, and so just went for it in a dangerous and direct manner developing non saleable questions at a rapidly radicalising society, which was subsequently buried under the Thatcherite and Reaganite consumerism of the eighties the YBAs went for the money which was being used to underpin consumerism.

The seventies argued that ideas were important and change was possible
The subsequent artists on the whole argued with no one, and thought that being rich, famous, inoffensive and vacuous was possible and desireable.

Younger artists I think are interesting are

Zanele Muholi Young black South African Artist
Bernie Searle also South African performance artist
Shadi Ghadirian Iranian
Forouhar Iranian
Pia Lanziger German
Regina Galindo Guatermalian
Catherine Bertola : British
The Girls/ Zoe Sinclair & Andrea Blood British

They are women artists most have emerged in European Group shows I have been included in recently, I find them interesting because they are mostly from Countries outside of the UK/US (with a couple of exceptions) axis who are courageously tackling subjects in an inventive way.

Margaret Harrison
13th May 2011

 

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