848 932 3726
The Unfinished Battle: Women, Art/Work, and Feminisms
The Feminist Art Project’s Affiliated Society Session at the College Art Association 110th Conference
CAA Conference Registration REQUIRED.
Kalliopi Minioudaki, Independent Scholar; Connie Tell, The Feminist Art Project
April Nicole Baca, California State University, San Bernardino; Tatiana Mellema, University of British Columbia; Holiday Powers, VCUarts Quatar; Sawyer Rose, Independent Artist; Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art
Reminiscent of the mass layoffs after World War II, five million women lost their jobs in the U.S. in 2020. Re-entry to the job market is expected to be difficult, especially for women of color. Conventional workplace standards fail to support working women, with few child-care, health, and other social support services to keep women in their positions. Are women set up to fail? The humanitarian crisis of domestic workers and the unaccountable women who left the workforce entirely to perform family-care, barely capture the racial and class inequities underpinning the labor crisis shouldered by women.
Under world pandemic lockdowns, radical feminist analyses of “women’s work” at home that sustains capital’s reproduction and its inherent racist, gender, class, and other biases have garnered urgent attention to the deep-seated sources of the devaluation of women’s labor. The parallel ways in which capitalism deems domestic and creative work unproductive—invisible “non-work” naturalized as “labor of love”—resonates with the experiences of women-identifying artists, and the gendered predicament of the cultural precariat in the neoliberal landscape.
This panel explores the ways in which artists, curators and scholars prioritize this deeply intersectional feminist issue, especially the labor of artists, in their work and research. In critical celebration of the multiple anniversaries marking feminism’s contribution to the changed circumstances for womxn in the arts and beyond—including the 1972 establishment of CWA, WCA and the short-lived Wages for Housework movement—it problematizes the role of work in feminism(s)’ unfinished fight for social justice for all.
April Nicole Baca, California State University, San Bernardino
Technologies of Care: The Digital Precarity of Elisa Giardina Papa
This paper will review recent works created by Italian artist Elisa Giardina Papa as visually emblematic of the mainstream rise and subsumption of feminist theories of (invisible) labor amidst increasingly precarious online service economies. Initiating these considerations through Technologies of Care (2017), a series of video-works exploring the ways in which affective and service labor are digitally outsourced, Papa’s work enacts a visual critique against post-work contiguities with Marxist feminist theories of social reproduction. Specifically considering the ways in which virtual platforms that have generated, displaced, and/or co-opted forms of feminized labor throughout the pandemic, contemporary conversations surrounding digital work and automation have arguably stifled critical evaluations of the material impacts on female-identified workers (particularly low-income and/or BIPOC-identified persons). This remains particularly urgent as the ongoing devaluation of “women’s work” has not only shifted pertinent discussions of gendered inequity across labor sectors but has altered and/or eradicated them entirely as these positions become increasingly outsourced to automated bots, third-party hosts, and virtual agents. With a number of Papa’s works visualizing these dynamics, particularly in regard to the consequences and/or material well-being of female care workers, the socio-technological mediation of women-identified workers as participants, agents, producers, and interventionists must be considered.1 Highlighting works featured within Technologies of Care such as “Human in the Loop” (2020), which hosts a female presenting A.I. bot that requires human interaction to engage, this paper will situate Papa’s video works and installations as emblematic of our rapidly evolving relationships with explicitly gendered online service industries, workers, and economies.
Tatiana Mellema, University of British Columbia
Material Traces and Social Reproduction
This paper will consider how contemporary artists engage reproductive labour and its messy, sensuous, gendered, sexualized, and racialized forms in order to address capital as a totalizing social relation at the site of the art object. Social reproduction theory (SRT) offers a way to reflect on the legacies and trajectories of feminist art practices since the 1970s that have looked to the seemingly invisible structures of everyday labour, and the attribution of women’s oppression to the position of such work relative to paid work. How do artists in North America continue to materially engage the devaluation and naturalization of entire spheres of human activity used to extract work from populations of wageless and underwaged workers? I will look to the works of contemporary artists who examine the complexities of reproductive labour and its connections to colonial and Indigenous histories. I will argue that it is through materialism and contradictory positioning of the artistic subject that capital’s real abstractions and hidden abode of labour are revealed as grounded in the social relations of the present day.
Holiday Powers, VCUarts Quatar
Tala Madani and the Politics of Motherhood
This paper focuses on contemporary artist Tala Madani’s portrayal of maternal bodies within her series Shit Moms (2019). Playing with the idea of a bad (“shit”) mother, Madani’s mothers are anonymous bodies that seem to be made of shit, covered in cherubic infants that gleefully consume and destroy them. I argue that there has been an erasure of maternal bodies in contemporary art: maternal labor is coded as an impediment to the untethered mobility expected by global contemporary art, and the ongoing structural sexism of the artworld expects this work to be completely hidden. Motherhood as a topic in contemporary art has thereby become taboo, a state of affairs that is dramatically foregrounded in Madani’s work. Nonetheless, I argue that we must frame maternity and maternal labor as both intersectional and situated, and to reinsert maternity into the intellectual framework of the political solidarities that are accepted in global contemporary art. Motherhood is not a fixed term because it is impacted by so many systems of power. Nonetheless, while the experience of motherhood is situated in geography and culture as well as within larger systems of power (race, class, gender, sexuality), following Adrienne Rich, I argue that there is an institution of motherhood that functions through its universality, that is, by ignoring these differences and indiscriminately framing motherhood through patriarchy. I therefore argue that motherhood and maternal labor need to be reframed as a transnational vector of solidarity.
Sawyer Rose, Independent Artist; Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art
Carrying Stones: Visualizing Women’s Labor Inequity Using Data, Art, and Storytelling
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone’s focus has shifted to the home, women in the United States have been clocking an exhausting average of 65 hours per week of unpaid work, 31% more than men. This massive, largely unappreciated burden of domestic labor has forced one in four women to consider leaving their paid jobs or switching to part-time. The Carrying Stones Project by artist Sawyer Rose takes an intersectional look at these and other gendered labor inequities, giving physical form to the shocking statistics. Large-scale data visualization sculptures, accompanied by poignant photographic portraits of the women whose stories they tell, communicate the diverse and distressing truths of American women and their invisible labor, including the ways in which women of color and low-wage workers are disproportionately affected. The paired sculptures and portraits encourage viewers to confront issues of equity, labor, and community by pairing human faces and stories with the numbers. The artworks in the project profile women of different ages, races, sexual orientations, occupations, and socio-economic statuses — building a broad yet touchingly intimate picture of the essential labor that underpins the complex fabric of our society. The Carrying Stones Project also features hands-on, participatory experiences. A new interactive installation titled Balance Due invites the public to co-create a data sculpture, adding their own hours to the piece. By examining their own workloads, and those of partners and friends, this collaborative experience gives people new insights about how they fit in to the larger labor landscape.