There were a couple of thoughts that came to me most strongly out of Harmony Hammond's talk. The first thing that struck me was the way in which she spoke about her art, which sometimes seemed impersonally analytical. By that I mean that there were several points in her discussion of her work that sounded like a written treatise about an artist other than herself, very formal, planned, reflective but not in a way that sounded personal to me, more like what someone else viewing her work might write about it for an article or review of an exhibition. I just found that curious. Especially because I noticed it most when she spoke about her more recent work. I would expect this approach to be more likely when describing earlier work from which one was more distant, both in a time sense and in the sense of artistic/emotional attachment.
Her work that was least compelling to me were the bags and "Presences" of the early 70s, though her idea that they could be altered, "retouched, reconfigured and repaired like women's lives" [paraphrased], something she referred to as having a "survivor aesthetic," made them more interesting to me, especially when considered in the context of the time.
What I found most interesting was the idea that feminist ideas/ideals were explored artistically not so much through subject matter as through materials, texture and placement. Especially I found the "Floor Paintings" the work that drew me most. Those were the large-scale, thick braided rugs as paint surfaces, exhibited on the floor with blank walls around them. I felt this best captured her desire to integrate traditional feminine crafts with contemporary fine art painting, and the idea of calling into question the assumptions about the "place" of painting, as far as feminist/queer art. I really liked when she said that and found it most thought-provoking.
I especially thought about this idea of subject vs. medium/materials/surface/placement approach (need a good word for all of that together, but can't find one at the moment, "content" maybe, though that still suggests something synonymous to subject) - I especially thought about that in contrast to some of the pieces in the Nash gallery show, in particular that print (?) of a close-up of a used tampon being removed from a woman's vagina. When I saw that I thought how the artist was trying to use a "shock and awe" attack through her subject matter, but it fell far short, in my opinion, to being thought-provoking or promoting any kind of social advancement. Honestly, it felt artistically immature to me.
Comparing that tampon piece to Hammond's "Flap," is very telling. "Flap" was the near-monochromatic orange piece shown towards the end of her lecture. It was a large canvas with a sort of seam in the middle where two portions of canvas meet and slightly overlap. Only the edges of the seam were sown down, so that the middle was slightly loose and had a bit of natural shadow from the lighting, suggesting an opening or, as she put it, alluding to a "hidden space,...an equal third zone under the flap." In this simple way she brought forth her rejection of a polarized idea of gender. The tampon, on the other hand, does the opposite; it instead creates more distance, it is not embracing but repulsive (in both its senses.)
The last thing that really struck me was how far feminist art had come in such a short period of time. I do think there are great women artists that did not necessarily specifically think of themselves as feminist artists but are definitely part of this story that she did not speak about (Louise Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, Georgia O'Keefe and Frida Kahlo for example), but of course that brings it into a larger art historical context. It is exciting to look at the way things have changed in just one lifetime and look at it all in the context of one artist's experiences as both creator and participant/observer, especially one involving the local Twin Cities scene. I remember both the WARM and Glen Hanson's gallery in the Wyman Building, and was pretty active in that Warehouse District scene, though a little later in the eighties and nineties. Still it makes me aware of all that was going on and being attended to that I did not put much thought into at that point in my life. Women artists do need to be consciously aware of what these feminist art movements of the 70s and early 80s achieved, because it did dramatically change the conversation of contemporary art. It is easy to be complacent about it at this point, yet today's artists and others in the art scene, even though they might not be aware of it, continue to benefit from this work.
-- Allison Ruby
January 27, 2013