In This Issue

Rooms Of Our Own

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Following is a collection of interviews with women artists, curators and arts administrators who establish spaces and organize exhibitions specifically for women. Neither concrete, nor authoritative, they cover specific moments of reflection, looking back and forward from the position of Feminism Now. They occurred in my kitchen (via Skype), in an airport (via Skype), and on the phone while seated at the head of the conference room table in a large tech corporation..

I was inspired, mostly, by Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”, She wrote that “the question of women’s equality—in art as in any other realm—devolves not upon the relative benevolence or ill-will of individual men, nor the self-confidence or abjectness of individual women, but rather on the very nature of our institutional structures themselves and the view of reality which they impose on the human beings who are a part of them. The women in dialogue represent new institutional structures that inherently repeat the question, “Why have there been no great women artists? as both a challenge to greater culture, and as a personal reminder that consciousness raising is forever work, not just now.

NOTE: Missing on this publication date is my upcoming conversation with Koyo Kouoh, curator and founder of RAW Material Company in Dakar, Senegal. Of specific interest is Kouoh’s exhibition, BODY TALK: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of Six African Women Artists, curated with assistance from Eva Barois De Caevel. It will be added here in March 2016. WEAD readers: come back soon for more!

  

KATARZYNA KOZYRA, Artist and President

KATARZYNA KOZYRA FOUNDATION, Warsaw, Poland

Agnieszka Katarzyna Kozyra (b. 1963, Warsaw) is a sculptor, photographer, performance artist, filmmaker, author of video installations and artistic actions. Katarzyna consistently questions stereotypes and subjects socio-political discourses to critical revision. Her works raise the most fundamental issues of human existence: identity and transience, life and death, religion and sex. She explores the area of cultural taboos and clichéd behaviors embedded in our everyday life. Although Kozyra is classified as a new media artist, her use of multiple techniques makes labeling her art difficult. Her work has been featured in major festivals and exhibitions in Poland and abroad, including: Venice Biennale; San Paolo Biennale; Sydney Biennale; Busen Biennale; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Dusseldorf; Kulturhuset, Stockholm; Museum Voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem; Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Vienna; Brooklyn Museum, NY, and Kiasma, Helsinki. She lives in Warsaw and Berlin.

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KATARZYNA KOZYRA: The Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation was founded two or three years ago. It has two branches. One is run by Anna Walewska, and focuses on actions connected with me. The other branch uses my name as a logo. It gives possibility to other young women and their activities that otherwise wouldn’t be noticed. As a young artist, my name was abused and harassed by media because of the controversial diploma work I did. I think they did it mostly because I was a woman, because if a male would do the same work he probably wouldn’t be such an object of aggression. I’m not sure, of course, because it was a complicated time. It was the early 90s, a turn from one system to another. The media discovered their potential, their freedom, to write about anything.

MEGAN STEINMAN: Scandalizing you in the news was a freedom from the state?

KK: Yes, freedom to write about anything without censorship. For ten to fifteen years, my name was used as a symbol for scandal, or an artist making scandal. I was totally used. So, I thought I would make a platform to reverse the positions. I use my name now as a logo to help and promote females. Not only female artists in the visual fields, but more generally in culture and cultural activities. We’ve done two projects called Komentatorki (“commentaries”). One was an an international exhibition wherein we invited women that talk about contemporary issues—social, political, and economic—to establish that women also talk about situations or things that usually only men have a right to talk about. We try to take females and things they do out from the ghettos of “female art” or “female ‘this’ or ‘that’”. This is why we would never be so strict that we will never work with, or invite, males.

MS: Were there men also in the exhibition?

KK: No, there were not. But if there would be an occasion we will invite males. Not to reduce. You know what I mean? No ghetto.

MS: The Women’s Center For Creative Work in Los Angeles is also very adamant about inclusivity. Its stance against this ‘ghettoization’ is to be radically inclusive of everyone.

So, it’s two projects. What was the other one?

KK: The other project, also part of Komentatorki, was a festival where we invited young women artists from Ukraine and Russia during their countries’ conflict with one another. It was interesting for them to meet on a neutral level, and to hear and see from one another how things happening in their countries are seen from other points of view. In the beginning they wouldn’t talk to each other. And at the end, they started to learn from one another. There were also Polish women invited to talk about Polish people’s views of this conflict.

komentatorki_photo by Maciej Ratuszny

MS: Do you think this conversation had specific traits because it was among women? Would it have been different if men were involved?

KK: Maybe. I only intended for artists – especially women artists – to meet on a neutral ground.

MS: But was it created with the intent that it would be a different conversation?

KK: Of course! …I hoped, and it took a lot. Only at the end did they open up, The Russians opened to Ukrainians, and as well to us, the Polish. But this was difficult. For us, it was very intense because there was an exhibition, conferences and performances. Everything was recorded and ran for one month inside the exhibition. The people coming to see the exhibition could listen to everything said during the three days of talks and performances.

Currently, we are doing research about employment: specifically the disproportion of female students and female employees in the Polish academies. We asked sociologists to investigate eight different art academies in Poland. The results will be presented to the public in the Zachęta National Gallery of Art.

MS: When we first discussed this project, you mentioned that the female university employees, and students who might become employees, submitted their information anonymously. Is this still the case? And if so, how will their identity be affected when the results are presented in public?

KK: It’s still anonymous. Interviews were collected, but no names will be printed.l. It’s only to understand how does it happen that art society is more conservative than all others. The disproportion between students and teachers/employers is comparable to the theological academy. Can you imagine?

MS: No! But in many countries, it’s similar. In the US, for example, there are still less than 50% women directors of major art institutions. Yet in my own graduate program (and many programs like mine) men were the minority.

KK: With us, it’s the opposite. There are many more female directors of art institutions than professors at the art academies. Men use the argument all the time, “You see all the galleries and all the curators are female.” Everything you see is not true.

I’m only talking about the art academies. It’s been like this since the communist times (and also later). High level positions in the art system (like national galleries, museums, etc.) were not paid much. The incomes are rising, so this will change.

MS: Has this research affected any of the students or female academics? Has giving a voice – even if it’s anonymous – to what they’re going through changed the way they work, changed the demands they make?

KK: You know, it was done totally hidden. Nobody knows—not the professors, not the female, not the male students, or employees—that it’s a feminist research project. It’s seen as research about employees and students in the academies. But what the researchers want to understand is how it happens that nearly 80% of female students result in only 22% female employees in the art academies. So, that it has a feministic touch comes out at the end.

MS: With how you read the results?

KK: They want to be totally objective. They did the research in a way that as many females and as many males – half half – were taken into account. We have to defend this kind of research from an assumption that they will take a feministic aim.

MS: Did you instigate the research, or did you discover that this research was already happening?

KK: For this project I am providing my name, the logo. The researchers are just doing their job.

MS: It’s an interesting relationship between your name and logo being a prominent public stamp on an anonymous research project.

KK: Well, I know all of them—the professors, their assistants, male and female—and it was just a call for help, to cooperate with the researchers because of the Foundation and its projects.

MS: So, the sociologists do have an aim at the end, but they are asking in a neutral way. The collection of data is neutral, but they do have a hypothesis to prove.

KK: Of course. They have many hypotheses to prove.

MS: Will it be presented in a way that’s a conversation, trying to get responses?

KK: On the 17th of December we will have a public presentation and invite a lot of influential women and men from different fields. There they will reveal six or seven hypotheses with percentages on whether these hypotheses were right or wrong. For example, one hypothesis is that males have greater chances to come by a mentor, including other male students and people who will give him support and encourage him towards a career in the academy. Females will get less of this positive input to do such a career. Then females don’t see the academic career as something attractive because they think that it’s not a possible option for them. Of course, female artists don’t believe in themselves as much as males. This is also because they get less attention and less encouragement. They say for a female it’s much harder to work as an artist because of biology. That it’s easier for men, because it’s hard work to be an artist. But nobody thinks that it’s physically demanding for women to bear children and raise families. So it’s fake reasons.

MS: This reminds me of Linda Nochlin’s essay, “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” She claimed that it’s not that there have been no great women artists, it’s that the channels of acknowledgement and dissemination for women do not exist. Women artists are working, making, and creating—and what they’re making is of course on par with their male counterparts—but because of fake social constructions it’s as if the work dissolves the minute that it reaches the public sphere.

KK: It’s also true that if you don’t have role models, you don’t get the idea that you can do it.

MS: Based on the two projects you’ve described today, do you think there is a distinctly female perspective on education and culture–that is both necessary, and the reason why there should be more women in the academy and politics?

KK: For sure. If I didn’t think like this I wouldn’t exist!

MS: But so much of what gets lost or conflated in the idea of inclusivity, or trying to create equality, is that women should simply operate like men to achieve their equality.

KK: No, I think that females should be able to bring totally new points of view and different values than males. Then it will be just more point of views. Of course women should have the same rights and pay. But it’s not that we have to be the same to get this. It’s not what females invented. But this is obvious, no?

MS: Yes obvious, but also needs to be repeated (often!), because I think in modern feminism is being shaped by an idea that now that we are in the workplace, have many accomplishments, have the power to define our names as logos, and create space for ourselves, that that space cannot be defined on patriarchal values.

KK: That space is not defined until you bring in the totally different female values and points of views. Women don’t even know their capacity yet. It’s not about repeating the same.

MS: Discussions of feminism today often pushes away from words like “female” or “woman,” and towards “gender” and “gender equality.” This has to do largely with making space in the movement for Trans men and women, or a more fluid concept of gender. But I wonder if by erasing the terms women and female we losing political ground? Do we need to keep these words?

KK: I think yes. What do you think?

MS: I think yes!

KK: Gender for me is like, I’m not a gender, I am a female.

MS: Is this something that you’ve found in your own research – that “gender” is replacing other words?

KK: Yes, it’s very “in” right now: gender, gender, gender. Whatever it means, this gender. No?

MS: It doesn’t have any urgency to it.

KK: Any connection either. Or a body, even. I am a female. I will always be, and never want to be something else. I don’t want to be on the side of the conquerer someone who is using their privileged position.

MS: What are some strategies that women can use to be recognized as distinctly women?

KK: For me, women are not so categoric, to assign this or that or the other in the things they are creating. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s what i think. They are open to many different points of view.

MS: You have an example of this from the Komentatorki project?

KK: Yes. There was this incredible moment when a Russian artist asked a Ukrainian artist, in a non-aggressive way, “How can it be that you as a Ukrainian were participating in the St. Petersburg Biennial [Manifesta 10] when so many Russian artists were boycotting it because it was Putin’s glorification?” The Russian woman asked for an explanation: “What did you think doing it?” The Ukrainian was not able to explain. It was totally emotional; she could not ask herself.

MS: And did they just leave it at that? There was no answer?

KK: Yes, probably because there was no answer. For me this was something very strong.

MS: It makes you think about the styles of communication that women allow amongst themselves that men do not, or the public performances that a woman would allow herself to be involved in that a man would not.

KK: There are things about femaleness that just come out, whether you try or not.

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SUSANNE HUSSE, Artistic Director

District Kunst- und Kulturförderung, Berlin, Germany

SUSANNE HUSSE (b. 1982, Goerlitz) is a curator, cultural researcher and author living in Berlin. She collaborated with Ute Meta Bauer on The Future Archive at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, and served as editor for Monica Bonvicini’s artist book This Hammer Means Business. She was awarded with the Goethe Institute’s curatorial research grant for her investigations on collective art production and urban activism in South Korea. Since 2012 she works as artistic director for District Kunst- und Kulturförderung in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg, a trans-disciplinary think and work space engaging at the thresholds of visual arts and other forms of knowledge production.

MEGAN STEINMAN: Tell me about the Studio Grant program for women artists, how it started, and where you are now?

SUSANNE HUSSE: The Studio Grant program has been in existence five years. Frank Sippel, District’s founder, and Susanne Modelsee, its first curator, wanted a small satellite connecting District as a space of both production and presentation. So, they dedicated a small space for artists to use six months at a time. At the time it wasn’t yet defined as a studio for women artists. That came from Ulrike Gerhardt, the curator prior to me, who decidedly named it the “Studio Grant program for women artists.” Ulrike also made it a grant that involved a jury and a public call.

When I took over, my biggest change was to work with the selected artists. This move opened the conversation towards a mode of reflecting: to understand where artists were in their research, where we were in our research, and to mutually inform each other’s practices over a longer period of time. Sometimes, as it was with Miryana Todorova, this leads to a collaboration materialized in forms of a project much later. In that way the relationship between District and the Studio Grant program is cyclical. Artists return to work here.

MS: When reviewing applicants, are you considering your programmatic calendar?

SH: Our exhibition themes aren’t necessarily the criteria, but I’ve witnessed in the past years that artist applications do connect closely to our program. There is a community being built around certain topics, certain practices, like dealing with urban space, different types of histories, different types of archival practices. Lots of things that you could call socially engaged or politically active, but also conceptual practices, performative practices, discursive practices, artistic research practices.

MS: A dialogue is developing between your space and the artists applying to the Studio Grant program.

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SH: Yes, but we’re also trying to look at absences. There have been many artists from the former Eastern European countries. This created a strong discourse on post-Socialist practices, especially by women, and especially in relation to language. Bu there hadn’t been many artists dealing with post-colonial questions, questions of race and ethnicity in relation to the German context, and in relation to our neighborhood. With Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo, it became clear that we needed to look—especially in current times—at the post-Colonial process within German society.

MS: When I first started working with you at District, there was a goal to connect the patrons of Malzfabrik with the Studio Grant artists. Have you moved beyond that?

SH: It’s still a very big wish for us to fund the Studio Grant and provide material resources to the artists. I’m of two minds. We’re interested in finding ways to structurally support these artists. But I also have to say, that I really like this condition that has not so much to do with funding or not, but has more to do with committing to an outcome or not. When artists come here, they they don’t have to make a project. The exhibition space can be used for rehearsals or workshops, but it’s not for exhibiting. If you want to use the space it’s because we develop something together. And that can be in five months, two years, or the very far future. We put a lot of our resources towards supporting artist research and making connections for them in Berlin. For example, the next Studio Grant holder is a young artist from Canada. We are working together on making a Queer science-fiction film. Which means also reaching out for help to other self-organized film schools, et cetera. It’s a process for us to get to know other initiatives in the city.

MS: Is this conversation different because it’s being had, being led, being structured by women? Try to think about it in comparison to all the other talks, lectures, symposium that you have organized or been to that are not, by definition or intention, women driven.

SH: What I really enjoy about District is that we always take care for people to actually spend time here. This means having food, and having places to sit. Making it comfortable to actually stay and not just drop by then leave. There is a always a mix of people that come for the first time, a mix of people that have been here a lot and are familiar with the place. I’m not sure if it’s a female trait, but there’s a lot of trust. I see faces who I have had a conversation with. They know what I am about, I know what they are about. It’s a growing circle of intimacies that holds a space for being more direct. I feel I can be more radical and really say what I think. But I also don’t have to be antagonistic. They’re leaky situations. They have a start, but no real end. At some point you start to smoke, bring your drinks in, start to eat something. It gets a bit more like a living room. Other times, of course, it’s very formal. It’s a program, and then it’s over.

MS: I was recently talking to Katarzyna Kozra. One of the projects she is organizing with her foundation brings women from countries in conflict together for discussion and exhibitions. When I asked her a similar question about what makes a space specifically female, she had a beautiful description that in such places questions can be left hanging in the air without a need for answers. We sit together and ask the questions together, such as “why would you behave like that?” and “where do those behaviors come from?”

SH: I also think what is informing the way we speak to each other… of course, not all the time, it’s not an ideal space nor an idealistic social situation. There is antagonism, there are power structures, and there are roles that you take… But I think that because District is a feminist driven space, and a queer space, there is a certain type of awareness. That’s what I really like about the perfomativity of making or trying to bring embodiments of problems into a more playful, but also more critical, proximity.

MS: I just watched hours of bell hooks in conversation at the New School University in New York. An audience member brought up Alice Walker’s claim for the Women’s Movement over Feminism. hooks critiqued this position, saying that the Feminist Movement is a political movement, and that you detract from its objectives by reducing it to a women’s movement.

SH: Feminism today has to go far beyond the women’s question. For me, it’s a tool. A way of understanding what’s happening through different types of awareness.. It’s also a way of relating to each other. I think that’s really valuable. For us, it’s not to make a women’s space. It’s to make a feminist space with a certain political project, sure.

MS: I love that you describe Feminism as a tool. Can you talk a little more about that? What shape is that tool for you? How do you use that tool?

SH: First of all, it’s the awareness that I spoke of: checking on yourself about power structures and authorities that you inhabit,. It’s a self-reflective tool. It is a way to understand one’s own position in a certain moment and social order, and then being able then to question yourself within a future goal, research aim, or a team decision.

For me, I have also learned to listen to my body–this has to do with body knowledge. Taking that serious. Not in terms of health issues, but where do certain experiences and knowledge about histories come from and how do they relate to certain physical constitutions and where do they come from, how are they discursified, how they become images and what do they do?

MS: How do you feel them inside of you?

SH: Because I’m really interested in body politics, for me it’s a somatic tool. Which also has to do with being critical about the massive whiteness around me. It’s super tricky, but it’s really worth it to work on that.

SH: It’s also a structuring tool. I find it liberating. Because if anybody applies and they have a list of artists that’s predominantly male, and predominantly white, I can say, “Sorry, we’re a feminist space that’s not going to work here.” And you can explain the reasons. It also means that you can get into many political discussions because there are also people who are truly offended by this. Which is mad, but quite interesting. There’s still a lot of antagonism.

MS: The antagonism is a defensive move.

SH: You can’t imagine, it happens so many times. We had a show that brought together all of the works that artists made during their time here or had begun during their time here. There were a lot of artists—male—who said, “but it’s not fair to open this only to women. What am I supposed to do?”

MS: Do you know about Micol Hebron’s Gallery Tally project? She asked collaborators to tally the percentage of women and men artists represented by select galleries and present their findings as a poster. Maybe two galleries had a majority of women.

SH: And then you look for Trans artists. Nothing… Look for gallerists with nonwhite artists…

MS: It is scary how easily you can swing predominantly male, and predominantly white.

SH: We had this discussion during our show [Say It Loud: on words and actions]…

MS: Exactly! I recently curated a panel discussion in San Francisco wherein artists asked their friends to participate. The people organizing the event are all women, and on stage are all men. We put the evening together on auto-pilot. Then we look up and…

SH: How did that happen?!

MS: I feel like I’m always thinking about the representation of women, and always working to embody a Feminist position. But the minute you stop paying attention… it happens.

SH: I also want to say I didn’t come to District with this big feminist project. I came from a practice focused on collaboration, what micro-spaces could be, and how they could be spaces for change. At that time, I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist. That came slowly and with an understanding that you want it or not. You take an institutional position. Which means you have to question your own authority, and be able to relate not only to your own desires, but also understand a bit more where these desires come from and how they are situated within a political landscape. For me, the program we are creating at District is about self-learning, getting better at articulating things, and also at changing things. This is what I mean by Feminism as a tool.

MS: I want to ask you about the relationship between the terms feminism, womanhood and gender equality.

SH: I think feminism should really be beyond any question of gender. As it should be beyond any question of race. But of course it’s not beyond. It’s understanding structural exploitation from a body based position.

MS: It’s a political question. As you and I have discussed so often, language is critical. It’s also a tool. How do we create the language that conveys a contemporary feminist message? What are the words, and what do they mean? In order for there to a “Feminism Now” today, and a Now tomorrow, and a Now in the far future, there has remain a new crop of women taking up our cause. I’m trying to tease out language that we can use for a movement.

SH: I love writing and reading. But I also find language problematic because things are fixed, at least for a time. It’s also really necessary to be clear about what you find problematic, even if the words you’re using are not the right ones or are not yet the right ones or until now have not been the right ones. With regards to District, I’m really of two minds when it comes to describing our program and using these words that are circulating, creating economies of representation (especially within the art world) and are appropriated all over the place. Has feminism become a big trend? We might say in performance or academia, and I’m not completely sure that’s a good thing. Maybe we should communicate beyond these words, which I’m doing anyway. Maybe it’s more productive to not call it a feminist program. But then again, I really like it. I like to say that this is what we’re about.

MS: It’s a clear word. It’s a word that means something.

SH: Yeah, and not only because you use these terms. It’s also about the program you’re doing. How you describe things in your program and what you actually do. How you actually materialize the relationships. If a young, queer artist arrives to the city and is looking out for spaces—where to be, where to find others, and where to create relationships that might be meaningful—it’s important to be identifiable.

MS: It’s important to make a home.

SH: Yeah, and to have an address.

MS: To have a room of one’s own.

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SH: And then within that all that can be questioned, and it needs to be questioned. The Studio Grant Program started out of strong feminist thinking that women are underrepresented and structurally excluded from the art economy. But we could get more specific and say, for example, “ok for the next three years it will only be Trans people.” Or, “this is now becoming a space or an art studio grant program only for artists who come from the Middle East… women Trans artists who come from the Middle East.” And that might mean we only get three applications. I think that would be taking it further. Not that we’re focusing on the terms, but instead on the absences and the structural problems within Feminism as well. And say, okay, let’s address this. Then ask, who am I to define these absences?

MS: You’re one person in the relation. A network has got to have its links. You’re not the ultimate link, because it sounds like what you’re creating is a network of many directions and different forms: from city, to community, to women, to countries.

SH: It’s an important thing to spread [out], so that District becomes part of the discussion about representation. I’m traveling more with the program, and being invited internationally to speak on District’s behalf. In terms of the discourse that we’re trying to inhabit, I find it super liberating to be the feminist on the panel. You’re expected to say some radical things. I’m not always adhering to that, but if there’s five people speaking about their programs, and most of the things that have been represented are male dominated and that is a thing that comes through only through awareness because somebody is speaking it out – not in an accusatory way, but to say ok we’re looking at this problem. And this is how we’re structuring our program and this is what it means.

MS: And you become the tool. Or the space becomes a tool.

SH: It helps me to think clearly, and to engage with people further in conversations that are fruitful for me. Not only to take the role of being the invited person who then rolls out their product.

MS: You can start discussions on the topics you have questions about. The things you would like to know more about.

SH: Exactly. What I find super productive is that it also allows me to talk from a position of vulnerability. Or to say, I’m not the expert. We’re doing this at District, but I have loads of questions about it. What do you think? Or how does gender come in to play? Things that are still open questions I find related to a way of talking that might be called a “queer feminist tool.”

Exhibition walkthru at the Hammer Museum with curator Jamillah James

Sarah Williams, Co-Founder and Managing Director

WOMENS CENTER FOR CREATIVE WORK

Founded in 2013, the Women’s Center for Creative Work, or WCCW, is a not-for-profit organization which cultivates LA’s Feminist Creative Communities and Practices. WCCW’s home in Los Angeles’ Frogtown neighborhood combines a co-workspace, project incubation facilities, residency programs, a rapidly growing network of over 7,000 followers, and a full calendar of artistic and professional development programming for female creatives. The project is simultaneously the work of its main collaborators –designer Kate Johnston and producer Sarah Williams– as well as a platform for their growing community’s ideas, works and projects.

MEGAN STEINMAN: I read that you were named the Best Feminist Art Space of 2015 in the LA Weekly!

SARAH WILLIAMS: [laughs] It was very flattering. I’m not sure who we were up against, but the recognition is nice.

MS: Well, I love that you went from creating a feminist space motivated by necessity and lack, to becoming the best of all of them.

The Women’s Center for Creative Work considers itself a space of plural feminisms. Can you talk about how you came to pluralize the word? I’m sure that was intentional and very thought through. Was there any discussion on how making it plural might affect the larger political movement of Feminism?

SW: There was definitely discussion on the history of the word and what it means. For us pluralisms felt natural, as I think it does for a lot of people engaging with these ideas in this moment. There’s been a lot of critical dialogue about ‘capital F Feminism’ especially within the ‘Second Wave.’ With time and space from this movement, we all as feminists, are able to see what was left out of that, and from that space a variety of ways of engaging with feminist ideas and concepts have emerged. And not to say that people working within feminist politics at that time weren’t thinking about this too, but I think over time we have all made more space within the word. We definitely wanted to highlight that scope at WCCW, because we wanted to be a center without the constraints of a specific feminist theory, where if your understanding of feminism comes from somewhere other than academia, or theory, you can still be comfortable and have a voice.

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MS: And do these multiple feminisms affect the political movement of feminism, with clear political aims? For example, First Wave feminism was defined by Suffragists and their fight for women’s right to vote. Second Wave Feminism demanded equality in the workplace, equal pay, reproductive rights, an end to domestic and sexual violence, et cetera.

SW: For us, feminism today’s work is furthering the idea of intersectionality. I think that’s what’s most important right now and what’s at the forefront of contemporary feminism. This furthers the idea that race and class, sexuality, where you are from, et cetera all have to be looked at, even when we’re discussing gender. I think Feminism’s work today is to look at how oppression functions across these varied lines, to work to try to break them down and call them out in whatever corner of the world you’re operating, wherever your community is, wherever your interests and expertise are. For us, we’re in L.A., we’re talking about creative work—art, design, writing, theater, filmmaking, etc.—and examining gendered experience in light of that, and how we can support those who have not traditionally been supported by these systems.

MS: A big critique of First and Second Wave Feminism was its whiteness and Western centrism. How is WCCW addressing this?

SW: It’s something that’s always at the forefront of our minds, for sure. And we’re working to address it within our community as best we can. For us right now, again, trying to build a creative feminist community in Los Angeles, the process is about trying to break down and discuss some of these issues within the larger art, theater, film, music, worlds, and so on, where the power tends to be very white and very male across the board. We’re relatively young, this is a new organization, we by no means have this all figured out, but for us it’s about always thinking and talking about it with people from different backgrounds and inviting lots of voices to take part in the organization. And most importantly trying to actively have these conversations, but then to try things out, to be willing to make mistakes and then try something different next time.

MS: I don’t think you ever want to stop having these conversations. You don’t want to stop doing the work of questioning your own positionality: where you are in relationship to everyone around you.

SW: Totally. And how do you further equality while continuing to talk about it? One of the problems that Feminism faces today is the perception that the battle is pretty much over. And that’s really not the case.

MS: Every time I hear that we’re “post” anything, I think, “I’m not so sure we’re there yet…”

SW: Feels like we have a little more work to do on that…

MS: Could you describe a big success where WCCW accomplished inclusivity? A moment in which you were tackling the issue of exclusion, in and of itself.

SW: Our WCCW Feminist Reading Group is where a lot of that discussion happens. Right now we’re reading This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, and that’s shed a lot of light on what’s missing in both Feminism, more generally, as well as the Women’s Center.

Johanna Hedva’s lecture on Sick Women Theory, titled “My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic, but I Also Love It and Want it to Matter Politically,” addresses sickness and bodies in protest. This proved to be increadibly relevant to many people. She and I met and we’re were excited to present it, but thought we’d do it at our space, expecting maybe 30 or 40 people, and it would be great. Then 700 people RSVP’d on Facebook. Over 150 people ended up showing up, and we moved it to Human Resources [a neighboring art space]. It took a very different form than she had imagined. But beyond the content of the talk, it was a learning experience in thinking about accessibility of space and of the material we might be producing to those who aren’t able to attend in person. And trying to meet these needs in light of the concrete situation of WCCW as a young organization. Of course we’d like to film everything and make it available online too, but we have little or no budget for most events. We’re super grateful someone offered to film Johanna’s talk so it’s available…but there is often this dilemma of balancing what we’d like to do, to make things as accessible as possible, with having little money and an all volunteer team to execute it.

MS: It’s amazing that so many people yearned for a space to experience, hear, share and feel with somebody…

SW: And mostly women! It’s exciting. It often feels like this is how it happens at the Women’s Center. From the beginning, it felt like we scratched the surface and a community was there ready to take part. And now we try to make space for people to bring their ideas, their work, and this ever expending community is there and excited to have this ongoing conversation. There is this sense, of “Yes! We need that. Let’s make that!” This feels like what we can lend to the cause the ability to make the frame for these things to happen. I have experience running an arts organization, and Kate [Johnston] is a designer. These are the basic skills that created our space, but it’s really been the extended community that’s made it what it is today. It’s been a crazy ride.

MS: It seems one way that WCCW is making a very contemporary project is in its user’s experience. WCCW’s website has a really lovely and accessible design interface. Add to that your self-described “Feminist Administration” background. Do you find these elements were missing in previous feminist organizations?

SW: Well, I obviously wasn’t there [for previous movements], but it’s a set of skills we have. Kate talks about it all the time, that Feminism, needed a rebrand within the popular imagination. It got branded horribly at the end of the Second Wave. Not at the fault of anyone involved in the actual movement, but it got torn down and came to represent something that’s really difficult, and mean, and angry. And I think within art-making practices, “Feminist Art” had come to be very passé, a throwback to the 70s, but there are tons of interesting makers now picking up the cause and making work that is rethinking these politics in our time. And I am excited that WCCW can be a place for some of these activities, and hopefully a very welcoming one, that gives people somewhere to belong in rethinking or reclaiming feminism for themselves or within their practice.

MS: Somebody that came to WCCW while you were scratching the surface of something, and wanted to dig deeper for themselves.

SW: Exactly. Someone who says, “I don’t know if I’m a feminist, but that looks like an interesting group to be involved with.” and “What I thought Feminism means doesn’t look like what I am seeing here.” I think that creates the interesting conversations. Of course there are women who participate who are very confident and firm in their feminism before they come, and I think they’re excited by the shared community and opportunity to dig deeper into these ideas.

MS: I wanted to switch gears a bit and talk about the physical space that WCCW has created. I love that you selected a house of all structures.

SW: It’s a house form, but it’s in an industrial area. This is not what we had in mind when we started looking. We assumed we’d be in a warehouse or small storefront. But then we ended up getting a lead on this property. We came to look at it and thought: this is really amazing. It’s by the LA River, and a bike path. It’s very beautiful. It alludes to Womanhouse. There was something nice about it that fit what we were going for.

MS: What do you think are the traits of a Feminist space?

SW: A sense of safety, or protected-ness. A place where you feel comfortable. We try to do as much as we can with our concrete floors. We provide a space where your basic needs are being met. But we also want to create safety in the tone of interacting with people and with the vibe. And especially in trying to make sure that people’s voices are valued. We want to talk to as many people as possible. We’re not such a big space. We actually had to knock down one of the walls because it was our main area was originally two smaller rooms. So now we have one larger room that works really well for sitting in a circle together. It works for performances, workshops, and everything else that happens at Women’s Center. For us, a feminist space is malleable. It should be lots of different things to lots of different people. There’s very little that we’re not down to try and make happen in our space.

We did wonder if being set off the street was a good or bad thing. It does provide a sense of safety, but there is also a sense of removal from the neighborhood. Or from appearing to be a public space that everyone is welcome to come into, and not just if you’re invited to come. This is something we’re still trying to figure out.

We also wanted space for the Feminist Library on Wheels, which is a node project that grew out of the Women’s Center. We’re always thinking about who we want to surround ourselves with and make space for that too.

MS: So, now that you’ve created the space, who shows up? Is it who you envisioned would come?

WINTER at the Space

SW: It’s gone way beyond that. When we started the WCCW dinners we invited everyone we knew, whether or not we thought they’d enjoy being at a feminist art dinner! Admittedly, we were grad students at art schools in Los Angeles, and those types of circles are where a lot of our friends came from. As we grew, we kept encouraging whoever we invited to invite others and spread the word. Now it’s way beyond any one type of person we could have gotten here. People use the space in a variety of ways: it’s a shared workspace during the day which members can use. The Feminist Library on Wheels lounge is often used for meetings or studio visits. Our membership tiers provide a basis for support, and we like that it has a co-op model where everyone’s bought in and hopefully feels a sense of ownership.

We program 25 events per month, if not more [laughs, in disbelief]. We have a series called Community Programming that is free (or at most suggested donation, but we don’t turn anyone away). This includes yoga classes, the Feminist Reading Group, the Trans Feminist Potluck, meditation sessions, and an improv group with its own workshops and performances.

We also have an artist-in-residence, and we do lot of specific programming around their interests and projects. These last few months it’s been Allison Conner, who was an inaugural recipient of CalArts’ Feminist Works Program fellowship. Her project is largely about self-publishing and she makes this magazine called Loose Pleasures, which connects her own personal narrative with larger narratives on women of color within Feminism. We’ve been doing a lot of self-publishing workshops while she’s been here. Riso printing, screen printing, book binding, and zine making.

The nodes can also program. For example a Feminist Genealogies course taught by the F.L.O.W. or One Axe Plays (our other node), which hosts women acted and directed one-act plays. Earlier this Fall we presented Condi, a one-woman play about Condoleezza Rice by LaShea Delaney that ran for three nights. So, our space can even be a theatre!

MS: Despite the wide ranging creative works, what seems to anchor every activity is its women-centricness. In all of my conversations, I’ve been exploring what happens to a space when, from its outset, it is defined as ‘Feminist.’ How that in and of itself changes the work.

SW: Totally. For the people involved it can feel very good. And from an outside perspective it’s sometimes… confrontational isn’t the word… but people will ask, “is this a place I can come if I’m a man?” or “If I don’t identify as a woman, is that a space for me?” Ultimately, yes, most of our programming is open to anybody. But that’s the goal: a woman-centric space. It speaks to one of our core values: the Female identified being in a place of preference, unqualified and unapologetically. So often we as women apologize for taking up space. It’s an ongoing project and process, and an experiment in challenging that status quo.

MS: You are clearly a Feminist organization. I wonder if in your process semantic issues around terms like ‘Women,’ ‘womanism’, or ‘gender equality’ have come up and how you address them?

SW: Most of the conversations we’ve had so far come from a place of challenging the gender bianary. Like you said, we’re a Feminist space. Most people that find their way into a conversation with us are already on board with using that word.

MS: I’m thinking through the ‘nowness’ of Feminism Now. How do we keep it current and interesting to people who are 16-, 15-, 14-years-old? How does Feminism remain open enough to encompass fluid gender identifications, but remain steadfast in Feminist political aims? A patriarchal system and the powers that be can systematically dismantle a movement by altering the semantics that are used to talk about said movement and its participants.

SW: We need more examples, so many more examples, of what it can mean to be a feminist in the world. You can’t be what you don’t know. You can’t emulate what you don’t see. Going back to the original question that not everyone wants to use the word ‘Feminism.” I can see why. If you felt excluded from earlier feminist movements, you might want to reclaim or use a different term that feels more inclusionary. I can definitely see that. I feel strongly that doing this work [we are doing at the Women’s Center] interpersonally can help create these exciting examples of being feminist, and a filmmaker, and a mom. A feminist, and musician, and construction worker. To create more space and more opportunities for connection.

MS: Hence, even more reason to have a space where people can come and be interpersonal.

SW: Exactly. The power of social media is to spread information and connect people. But I think real political power occurs when we can get people to be in the same space and continue their conversations.

MS: That’s what books do, institutions, newspapers, and universities too. These are spaces for disseminating information. How do you create a space like that in form, but with an information generating machine that’s feminist driven?

SW: It’s what we’re thinking about all the time. And also what we’re checking all the time. To see if it feels like feminism. How do you run and organization that’s based on feminist principles? How do you fundraise for a non-profit in a way that feels feminist? Charge people for services in as fair a way as possible? It’s a problem of a capitalist society. It’s also an exciting problem to think about! It’s definitely a process, and a learning curve.