Director of Rollo Contemporary Art Gallery in London and Curator of The Body in Women’s Art Now series; Philippa Found (joined by featured artist; Helen Carmel Benigson) took some time out to answer a few questions for spilt about her new exhibition ReCreation which is on until 2nd March 2012.
s|A: Why should people come and see the exhibition?
PF: I think that in the UK there is a lack of education about women’s art and feminism in museums. One of the main inspirations behind doing the show to begin with, was when I was a student studying History of Art. I specialised in the body in art from 1960-2000 where feminism and women’s art was undoubtedly the biggest contribution to that movement. Then when I started working in the gallery and taking note of our public and national collection, I couldn’t see that history of art being represented. I mean, I love the Tate Modern and yet when you go around that museum you get a very masculine history of art. They’ve got the wall chart of all the different movements and feminism is there but where actually is it in the gallery? It’s actually gotten better in the last few years but when I was thinking about putting the theories together which was around 2006/2007, when I started formulating my ideas I really felt that the UK was far behind the US in the attention that we gave women artists and I feel that women artists have such a unique relationship to the body in art and not much critical attention has been given to it in the UK compared to the brilliant shows like New Feminisms in the US and WHACK! So I wanted to bridge that gap and say actually, can we just please look at what women artists are doing? So that’s why I think people should come and see it; to actually learn about the brilliant and unique contribution that women artists have to the history of art.
s|A: Why did you think technology and the body was a particularly interesting theme for this exhibition?
PF: Well what I was doing when I started trying to think about the shows, I knew I wanted to split it into three parts and in each show I wanted to address a different theme so really I just kept my eyes open to what was going on and it was a kind of natural thing that just came to me. I started with show one, that looked at the return to political performance based art. Two was a lot more about the representation of the body but unashamedly, feminine sexual representation of the body for a female subjectivity which I felt was unique to the setting. When it came to the third show, I really wanted to push it into the future. The first looked back and referenced 1970’s art and how we’ve moved on from then. With the second show I referenced the Bad Girls movement and how it’s moved on to embody female subjectivity and going to the third and final instalment, I really wanted to push it into the future and think what is really happening now and I think this use of new technology, the internet and web 2.0 is really current that in the future, like in ten-twenty years we’ll have critical theory written about it. But now its cutting edge and I thought it was the perfect way to finish the show, to leave on something that is really just getting going now.
s|A: To go back to what you said about the art in the show being unashamedly feminine and to reference Helene Cixous about there being a female sensibility and feminine aesthetic, do you think that women artist can visualise the body in the same way women authors can write the body?
PF: I…yes! Personally, yes, but that is a very personal opinion and other people might differ. When it comes to writing, all my favourite authors are female and all my favourite artists are female and I am a woman. So I think there’s something going on there. I think that when you look at the exhibition programmes in the collection, in our national collection and you look at the directors, the exhibition spaces with a predominantly male exhibition programme and collection are normally managed or directed by men and the one exhibition space that has a predominantly female programme is the Whitechapel and Iwona (Blazwick) who is the director there… I definitely think there is a male/female subjectivity. Art is so subjective that women are more likely to be interested in women’s issues than men, personally and that’s a kind of basic way of explaining it but I genuinely think there is something in that. Which is also why I think we’ve had such an imbalanced representation. As a majority, it’s been the men who are directors, the decision makers and collectors and slowly, slowly you will see women infiltrate that domain.
s|A: As quite a young, female Gallery Director, have you come across many challenges or obstacles in an art world still dominated by men?
PF: I’ve been doing this for six years now, but I definitely feel a difference from when I first started.
s|A: You are more established now?
PF: Yes and because this series of exhibitions has luckily been so well received and we’ve had brilliant critical reviews of the show, in turn I have been taken more seriously!
s|A: Do you think that female artists still get the same kind of slack?
PF: I think it’s difficult because obviously in my gallery 95% of the artists I work with are women. Someone like Helen (Carmel Benigson) has such a phenomenal amount of attention on her work at the moment she probably hasn’t felt the kind suffering, but if you spoke to someone like Tracey Emin she would always say if “I were a male artist, my work would sell for ten times the amount at auction” and she really feels it and she’s someone who has broken through over the past twenty years. She’s really seen a change in that world.
s|A: She made things change.
PF: Yes, she really did. I love her! (laughs)
s|A: I’m not sure if you’re allowed to say, but do you have a favourite work in the exhibition?
HCB: You can actually!
s|A: Or at least one work that you think sums up the exhibition that can be viewed on its own.
PF: I don’t think they could see one by itself, because I think each of them are bringing different aspects of the show together. My personal favourite piece is Valentines Day Rap; it’s brilliant. It’s so subversive and so unique and was something I received in an email, before I represented Helen, from Princess Belsize Dollar for Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago, saying that she would be doing these raps should you require one for a loved one as a surprise and I thought that work really embodied the idea of a new generation of artists using new technologies as a mode of exploration and performance and I think that really embodies all of the issues in the show. It’s a work that maybe if you go around the exhibition may be overlooked because it’s not on a giant screen but I think it’s a really critical piece, so my little tip is to go and read through it.
s|A: Do you have any recommendations for artists spilt readers should look out for in 2012?
PF: Helen. Without a doubt, Helen. That’s not in a biased way; the amount of attention she’s gotten is phenomenal. From critics, curators cultural icons like vogue and collectors. I think Helen’s work is very subversive because it appeals to such a wide demographic…so the fashion industry, like Vogue love it because it’s so vibrant feminine, poppy aesthetic and yet it’s so deeply rooted in feminist theory that the critics also love it and because Helen’s work crosses over a lot of media from video, print and performance I think she’s really cutting this new terrain and having this alter-ego out there that performs and makes work of art. A lot of people have this real intrigue about the line between Helen and Princess and how that relates and the kind of issues involved. I think she’s a very complex artist moving in a new terrain but appeals to young non-art lovers, all the way through to art critics.
s|A: I was just discussing that with feminist artist Caroline Halliday whilst watching Miri Segal’s BRB. We were saying that the works will appeal to all people, even those who are not necessarily art aficionados or your archetypal gallery goer. We agreed that almost everyone would be able to understand it.
PF: Yes, although the works here are predominantly video based, these artists are also creating works on their websites. For example, Helen’s website is like a work of art and so one can access it in a completely different way. You don’t have to be in a gallery to actually encounter these works of art and I think that makes a difference to the way the audience actually perceives them.
s|A: If you were given the opportunity to work with any artist dead or alive who would it be?
PF: Well I would have gone for Tracey Emin, but she was included in the first show. That’s a really difficult question because…I am just running through my entire inventory of everyone I’ve studied to give everyone a fair overview…either Pipilotti Rist or Carolee Schneeman in the 1960’s because of the ground breaking performances that she was doing and I think it would have been amazing to be a part of that, when no one realised what impact it was going to have on the whole history of art.
(Found later went on to remark that Francesca woodman would be the artist she would love to work with, as she dedicated her dissertation to her work as a student)
s|A: And finally, could you spill any details of projects or exhibitions our readers can look forward to in the future?
PF: Yes! One that I think you’ll like, is an exhibition called Blurring the Line. Which again is all women artists. It’s looking at the subversive uses in the line in art. So we’ve got Ana Mendieta coming up in that show, Jessica Lagunas, Sarah Lederman, Chloe Piene who is a brilliant artist…actually I’d like to work with Chloe Piene as well, because I technically haven’t worked with her yet! The line literally crosses video art to drawing, to embroidery, thinking of Ghada Amer’s work and Jessica Lagunas’ work is a one where she is applying make-up (mimics the application of lipstick) and is blurring the line with the body and the lip line and it encompasses a really wide spectrum, so that is one to look out for.