Was it Macramé or was it Destiny? Wednesday Lupypciw’s LOOM MUSIC and Feminist Craft Legacies OR We Are Going To Talk About Judy Chicago Whether You Like It Or Not – Nicole Burisch

Jayne Wark has argued that “the relationship between feminism and performance art since the 1970s has become so inextricably linked that it is inconceivable to speak of one without reference to the other.”[1] Despite a lack of equivalent scholarship and attention, a similar claim can also be made about the relationship between feminist art and craft. La Centrale’s fortieth anniversary publication is a timely space to think about this relationship. Forty years ago was 1974, an important time for feminist art; it was also a period when craft in North America was experiencing a notable popularity in back-to-the-land movements, fashion and home décor, post-secondary art programs, and major exhibitions within both craft and art spaces. Now, in 2014, echoes of this period are ubiquitous, albeit filtered and remixed through hipster culture, DIY and indie craft collectives, slow/local movements, and a distinct turn towards process-based and materially-oriented practices in contemporary art. This current craft revival provides an important opportunity to think through how shifting perceptions and uses of craft over the past forty years are linked to the recent histories of feminist art and art organisations.

These kinds of reflections are taken up in Wednesday Lupypciw’s 2013 work LOOM MUSIC, presented at La Centrale from April 25th to May 10th, 2014. With a profound respect and admiration for the women who mentored, taught, and inspired her, Lupypciw’s video revisits aspects of 1970s crafting and women’s organisations, while gently poking fun at some of the language and preoccupations of this time. The video presents the story of Pam, a filmmaker struggling to complete research for a documentary about the founding meeting of the Alberta Handweavers, Spinners, and Dyers Guild in 1975, interwoven with “footage” from the original meeting itself. By revisiting and fictionalizing aspects of this history, a small gathering of weavers is developed into a kind of feminist craft origin story, a site of pilgrimage, a moment for future feminist crafters to learn and draw inspiration from.

Production still - LOOM MUSIC, courtesy Wednesday Lupypciw, 2013, photo credit: Stacey Watson.

The use of craft, and particularly fibre arts, by feminist artists in the 1970s was often a strategy of drawing upon historical associations between women, domesticity, femininity, and craft,[2] in order to revisit, redeem, or aestheticize previously neglected “aspects of women’s cultural contributions.”[3] Similarly, the use of techniques like sewing, quilting, knitting, or macramé (or the live performance of this labour in the gallery) connected crafting to conversations about the value of women’s work in private/public arenas,[4] while it also offered a means to critique modernist art and craft hierarchies that excluded the work of women artists.[5] Forty years ago was also when Judy Chicago began work on the The Dinner Party, a piece that still stands as a key case study in how these ideas were put into action, and one that significantly broadened the possibilities for using craft within fine art contexts. Chicago’s work also remains a well-known and controversial touchstone for many of the criticisms levelled at 70s-era feminism: notably, the presentation of “woman” as a unified or universal category, and the omission of women of colour and lesbians.[6]

LOOM MUSIC includes its own negotiations of sometimes-conflicting feminist histories, as well as a desire to move past essentialist versions of this history. In the section “DIVERGING HERSTORIES,” when the enthusiastic founders of the guild are asked to define their raison d’être, they shout over one another with a multitude of conflicting responses.[7]

Production still from LOOM MUSIC, courtesy Wednesday Lupypciw, 2013, photo credit: Stacey Watson.

Similarly, Lupypciw’s distinct approach to working with video – using outmoded technology to patch together narrative fragments, and often simultaneously featuring the artist as director, actor, and narrator – speaks to the challenges of fully accessing or representing the (feminist) past. It also acknowledges the multiple perspectives and insertions that historians and researchers inevitably add through their work.

Presenting this work at La Centrale provides a chance not only to reflect on the evolving uses of feminist craft, but also the history and status of feminist art organizations more broadly, which is especially important at a time when artist-run centres have become increasingly institutionalized. As Pam struggles to finish a press release, questions arise about whether the founding of the guild might have detracted from the “costumes, the mirth, and the woods.” Lupypciw, a former artist-run administrator herself, is well-positioned to raise questions about the desire for creating stable organisations or movements that can still engage in spontaneous, radical, or more flexible ways of operating. By describing and addressing the sometimes-tedious administrative tasks required of Pam or the guild founders, Lupypciw also points to the continued over-representation of women in low- or non-paying arts jobs.

The climax (and decidedly funniest part) of the video is “Weave Chat 1975,” an excerpt of Pam’s “found” source material. In it, Professors Dickerson and Dickerson[8] discuss the new book “Weaving on Trees, Hugging Trees, Understanding Your Uterus Through Sheeps And Wool.” Throughout their conversation, the Professors make extensive use of some of the more utopic language around 70s crafting, linking both craft and women’s creative production to vague notions of nature, earthiness, and feminine spirituality.[9] Through this simultaneous parody/tribute, Lupypciw acknowledges the longer history of positioning craft as necessarily simple, rural, natural, or anti-technology. While much work has been done in recent craft theory to unpack and counter these problematic assumptions, many of these more romantic associations are still present in contemporary applications of craft, such as those mentioned earlier. This exaggerated, yet familiar, language shows how longstanding or out-dated ideas about craft – or feminism – can continue to colour present-day perspectives.

Still from LOOM MUSIC, courtesy Wednesday Lupypciw, 2013.

As Julia Bryan-Wilson has noted, shifts in contemporary artistic practice and the “feminization of the global labor force” mean “that some earlier feminist uses of craft in art – as an institutional critique of gendered hierarchies or as a political recuperation of the decorative and the low” may no longer carry the same significance.[10] However, Bryan-Wilson goes on to describe how current concerns about global economies, labour conditions, consumerism, and immigration continue to find voice in contemporary craft and craftivist projects[11] – issues that should certainly be of concern to contemporary feminists. Furthermore, if the hierarchies of high/low, inside/outside, public/private are less distinct than forty years ago, they still continue to feature in how craft is positioned, received, and interpreted – indeed, many artists who are using craft now are doing so precisely because of its “abject” or “outsider” status.[12] Additional dialogues around queer, indigenous, and non-Euro-Western craft have added important perspectives on how these categorizations can be rethought. Within these multiple uses and expanding conversations, it is worth asking: what does a contemporary version of feminist craft look like? Is it still possible to claim craft as a specifically feminist endeavour?

Given the diverse uses of craft, it may not be possible to fully articulate a response to these questions now, but LOOM MUSIC underlines the importance of acknowledging and working with recent feminist craft histories as a way to understand and contextualize the present. In fact, if as Elissa Auther has observed, “the most elite circles of today’s international contemporary art world have increasingly adopted craft media, especially fiber, without regard for its historically low status in the hierarchy of the arts,”[13] it is also important to ask: what histories and practices are forgotten or omitted as part of this disregard? The need for more historical research and scholarship remains clear – especially research that seeks to acknowledge the diversity, complexity, faults, assumptions, and gaps in those histories. As feminist art organisations and craft practices continue to evolve and gain new relevance, these histories will only become more important in informing and contextualising feminist futures.

 

Image Credits:

Figures 1 and 2: Production stills from LOOM MUSIC, courtesy Wednesday Lupypciw, 2013, photo credit: Stacey Watson.

Figure 3: Still from LOOM MUSIC, courtesy Wednesday Lupypciw, 2013. (lupypciw_fig3.jpg)

 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Jayne Wark, Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America. (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 3. See also Peggy Gale, “Preface,” in Performance By Artists, eds. AA Bronson & Peggy Gale (Toronto: Art Metropole, 1979), 7.

[2] See Roszika Parker’s The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine (New York: Routledge, 1989) for discussion of the historical links between craft (and in particular embroidery) and traditional femininity.

[3] Jayne Wark. Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 62.

[4] Marina Roy, “Corporeal returns: feminism and phenomenology in Vancouver Video and Performance, 1968-1983.” Canadian Art, Summer 2001, 58-65. See also Helen Molesworth, “Housework and Artwork,” October 92 (Winter 2000), 90.

[5] Elissa Auther, String, Felt Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 158-160.

[6] Ibid, 158.

[7] Jayne Wark has discussed some of the tensions around the founding of La Centrale itself and “the question of whether their main objective was to show art made by women or to show art that was specifically feminist and critical in its outlook…these tensions were further complicated by the fact that Powerhouse had its roots in the anglophone community, which aligned itself with the North American feminist movement as a whole yet was surrounded by a francophone majority culture that was engaged at the time with its own complex identity issues.” Radical Gestures, 50.

[8] A nod to fibre artist Katherine Dickerson, who was one of Lupypciw’s weaving instructors at the Alberta College of Art and Design.

[9] This facet of 1970s feminist art practice has also been criticised by some for its “regressive tendencies” or essentialism. Wark provides an excellent overview of how aspects of ritual, personal mythology, and “goddess spirituality” were incorporated into feminist performance in the 70s, as well as criticisms of this kind of work. Radical Gestures, 62-69.

[10] Julia Bryan-Wilson, “Sewing Notions,” Artforum February 2011, 72-75.

[11] Ibid, 74-75. See also Kirsty Robertson’s discussion of the erasure or omission of feminist and activist craft histories in contemporary craft revivals. “Rebellious Doilies and Subversive Stitches: Writing a Craftivist History,” in Extra/ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art, edited by Maria Elena Buszek (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 184-203.

[12] Glenn Adamson, Thinking Through Craft (New York: Berg, 2007), 111.

[13] Elissa Auther, String, Felt Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), xx.

Nicole Burisch is a Canadian curator, artist, critic, and cultural worker. She holds a BFA in Ceramics from the Alberta College of Art and Design and an MA in Art History from Concordia University. Through various independent and collaborative projects, much of her work has focused on contemporary craft and craft theory, and she has researched, published, exhibited, and lectured on this topic in Canada and internationally. Her research (with Anthea Black) into curatorial strategies for politically engaged craft practices is included in milestone publications The Craft Reader (Berg) and Extra/ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art (Duke University Press). Burisch’s writing on contemporary art, craft, and performance has also been published by FUSE Magazine, Stride Gallery, the Richmond Art Gallery and in the Cahiers métiers d’art :: Craft Journal.

Burisch worked as Administrative Coordinator at Centre Skol from 2011-2014, as the Director of Calgary’s Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival from 2007-2009, and is currently Managing Editor for MAWA’s 30th anniversary publication about feminist art in Canada. She occasionally does collaborative performance work as one-third of the Ladies Invitational Deadbeat Society and one-fourth of The Brick Factory. In 2014-15 she will be Critic-In-Residence as part of the Core Program at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. http://nicoleburisch.com/

Wednesday Lupypciw is from Calgary, Alberta, where she pursues chaotically overlapping video and performance art practices. To make money she is a part-time maid and physical labourer. She also maintains a concurrent practice in textiles – weaving, machine knitting, embroidery and crochet – but this is done mostly while procrastinating on other, larger projects. The purposefully lazy Feminist art and activist collective LIDS, or the Ladies Invitational Deadbeat Society, is one of those projects. The aesthetic output from all of these things is different, but the politics are the same: queer, pluralistic, fairly compensated, critical.

Lupypciw is a Fibre programme graduate from the Alberta College of Art + Design, and has worked and exhibited in various spaces throughout Canada including the Textile Museum of Canada, The Art Gallery Of Alberta, The Banff Centre, The Klondike Institution for Arts and Culture, TRUCK and Stride in Calgary, the Feminist Art Gallery and FADO Performance Art in Toronto, Centre SKOL and La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse in Montréal, and EMMEDIA (also in Calgary). http://wednesdaylupypciw.com/