Womanhouse

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Womanhouse (30 January - 28 February 1972) was a feminist art installation and performance space organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Feminist Art Program. Chicago, Schapiro, their students and women artists from the local community participated.[1] Chicago and Schapiro encouraged their students to use consciousness-raising techniques to generate the content of the exhibition.[2] Only women were allowed to view the exhibition on its first day, after which the exhibition was open to all viewers. During the exhibition's duration, it received approximately 10,000 visitors.[3]

Origins[edit]

The Feminist Art Program resumed at the California Institute of the Arts in 1972 after an experimental year at Fresno State College. It was their intention to teach without the use of authoritarian rules or a unilateral flow of power from teacher to student.[4]

The program utilized a method of teaching that relied on group cooperation. Students would sit in a circle and share their thoughts on a selected topic of discussion. The circular teaching method was intended to provide a "nourishing environment for growth" and to promote a "circular, more womb-like" atmosphere.[4] The goal of these discussions was for each woman to reach a higher level of self-perception, to validate their experiences, as well as the "search for subject matter" to incorporate into artwork and to address their individual aesthetic needs.[5]

The project's goals, as professed by Schapiro and Chicago, were to help students overcome some problems of being a woman. These included "a general lack of assertiveness or ambition", an "unwillingness to push themselves beyond their limits”, “lack of familiarity with tools and artmaking processes”, and an “inability to see themselves as working people". It was thought that by teaching the women to use power tools and proper building techniques, they would gain confidence and subsequently "restructure their personalities" to be consistent with their artistic goals. It was Schapiro and Chicago's belief that "society fails women by not demanding excellence from them."[6]

These techniques were to result in an "exclusively female environment" that included a greater community of female artists. The goal of this community was to expose the students to "established" female artists not limited to Schapiro and Chicago.[7]

Paula Harper, an art historian for the California Institute of Arts Feminist Art Program, is credited for suggested the idea for Womanhouse.[8] Schapiro supervised Womanhouse's dramatic works, while Chicago focused on other media.[2] Their intention was to transform a domestic environment into one that fully expressed the experiences of women.[9]

Construction/Process[edit]

The group broke into teams in order to find a suitable location for their "dreams and fantasies".[2] They found a 17-room,[10] 75-year-old dilapidated mansion at 533 N. Mariposa St. in a rundown section of Hollywood. Members of the group knocked on doors to find the owner of the house, who one neighbor remarked would "certainly not be interested in the project".

After a visit to the Hall of Records, they found the owner to be Amanda Psalter. The group described their intentions for the house in a letter to the Psalter Family. In response, the house was granted through a special lease agreement[9] for the 3-month duration of the project. After this time, it would be demolished.[2] Construction spanned from November 1971 to January 1972.[9]

In order to renovate the house, the women tackled tasks included cleaning, painting, sanding scraping and wallpapering walls, replacing windows, sanding floors, and installing lights. New walls were built for practical and aesthetic reasons and women learned wallpapering techniques to refurbish one of the rooms. Eventually a crew was needed to paint the exterior of the house, install locks and advise the women on basic electrical wiring.[4]

The women encountered a variety of struggles during the house's renovation. The house had no water, heat, or plumbing. Additional tasks included replacing 25 windows and replacing banisters that had been pulled out by vandals. They worked 8 hour days[9] in a “manner they were unaccustomed to”, soon coming to resent the intense, “impossible” demands, even coming to see their administrators as “monsters” and complaining that they would fail.“[7] Some former students now see this tension as a result of Chicago's authoritarian presence, feeling that she imposed her own goals on the group.[9]

Participating Artists[edit]

Chicago and Schapiro invited other local artists Sherry Brody, Carol Edison Mitchell and Wanda Westcoast to participate and to hang their work alongside that of the other women.[7]

Among the artists and CalArts students that collaborated were:[1][11]

  • Beth Bachenheimer (Shoe Closet, Dining Room)
  • Sherry Brody (Lingerie Pillows, The Dollhouse, Dining Room)
  • Judy Chicago (Menstruation Bathroom, Cock and Cunt Play)
  • Susan Frazier (Nurturant Kitchen, Aprons in Kitchen)
  • Camille Grey (Lipstick Bathroom)
  • Vicky Hodgetts (Nurturant Kitchen)
  • Kathy Huberland (Bridal Staircase)
  • Judy Huddleston (Personal Environment)
  • Janice Johnson
  • Karen LeCocq (Leah's Room, Dining Room)
  • Janice Lester (Personal Space, Cock and Cunt Play)
  • Paula Longendyke (Garden Jungle)
  • Ann Mills (Leaf Room)
  • Carol Edison Mitchell
  • Robin Mitchell (Painted Room, Dining Room)
  • Sandra Orgel ("Ironing", Linen Close)
  • Jan Oxenburg
  • Christine Rush ("Scrubbing", Necco Wafers)
  • Marsha Salisbury
  • Miriam Schapiro (The Dollhouse)
  • Robin Schiff (Nightmare Bathroom)
  • Mira Schor (Red Moon Room)
  • Robin Weltsch (Nurturant Kitchen)
  • Wanda Westcoast
  • Faith Wilding (Womb Room & Waiting, Cock and Cunt Play)
  • Shawnee Wollenmann (The Nursery)
  • Nancy Youdelman (Leah's Room)

The mansion contained a variety feminist installations, sculptures, performances and other forms of art. By transforming a "woman's space" (such as a kitchen) into a radical feminist art truly made a statement.[12] Here they spoke out about women issues, as well as criticizing the patriarchy. This helped women artists and architects gain recognition and acknowledgment that their work could be seen on the same level as men. Using a mansion as their chosen setting furthered their statement.[13]

Rooms/Installations[edit]

Nurturant Kitchen - by Susan Frazier, Vicki Hodgetts, Robin Weltsch. Present in the kitchen are plates of food under a line of light bulbs, resembling it to a factory worker's assembly line. This highlights the dehumanizing aspects of a woman's role as nurturer.

  • Aprons in Kitchen - by Susan Frazier A display in Nurturant Kitchen. Aprons are fashioned with breasts and other female body parts. This allows the female to remove her bodily features when she is done with housework, implying that her physical body is inextricably linked to her societal role.
  • Eggs to Breasts - Forms cover the ceilings and walls, starting as eggs on the ceiling and gradually transforming into breasts as the pattern continues down. Underscores the woman's traditional role as a nurturer by combining images of the kitchen and of a woman's sagging breasts.[1]

Dining Room - by Beth Bachenheimer, Sherry Brody, Karen LeCoq, Robin Mitchell, Miriam Schapiro, Faith Wilding. The Dining Room features a crown molding of lifelike painted fruit. A mural, based on a 19th-century still life by Anna Peale, is displayed on a wall behind the dining room table. The table itself features a bread dough sculpture, turkey, ham, pecan pie, vinyl salad bowl, vinyl wine glasses and a wine bottle. A chandelier hangs above the table. Below the table, a stenciled-rug is painted directly onto the floor. Dining Room is the most collaborative project in Womanhouse, utilizing the efforts of seven women to complete. It is meant to express a generous, bountiful and romantic aura.[14]

Bridal Staircase - by Kathy Huberland. Features a life-size doll replica of a bride, complete with veil and wedding dress, descending the stairs. She is fixed against the wall on the landing. Gauzy fabric adorns the walls and garlands of green and flowers encircle the bannister.[14]

Personal Environment - by Judy Huddleston. Intended by the artist to be "an entirely different world" that transcends the "established plane".[1][11]

Crocheted Environment - by Faith Wilding. Resembling a "primitive womb shelter", the room is painted black. Crocheted thread covers the wall, and a single light bulb illuminates from the ceiling.[14]

Leaf Room - by Ann Mills. A room with painted leaves. The leaves represent cycles; of seasons, life and feelings. They also functioned as symbolic “shields” for the artist, allowing her to both expose herself and hide at the same time.[1] [14]

Leah's Room - by Karen LeCoq, Nancy Youdelman. Lea, a character based on the aging courtesan from Colette's novel Cheri, sits in a watermelon pink bedroom. The performance occurred continuously on a daily basis, and involved Cheri applying makeup meticulously then removing it in an endless cycle. The performance incorporates the norms of beauty maintenance experienced by middle class housewives. Lea makes continual efforts to keep the attention of a man as her beauty deteriorates with age.[1]

Personal Space - by Janice Lester. A bedroom that serves as the artist's personal fantasy, a room that only she can enter. The secret room acts as both a sanctuary and a trap.[14]

Painted Room - by Robin Mitchell." An otherwise white bedroom with painterly splashes of color on the walls and floor.[14]

Red Moon Room - by Mira Schor. A painting features a self portrait of the artist and a rising red moon over rolling hills.[14]

Shoe Closet - by Beth Bachenheimer. Hundreds of pairs of shoes were collected, painted and treated for this installation. A 'spike heel' features real spikes driven from the bottom of the shoe.[14] A closet with a comically extravagant number of shoes conveys the desperate attempt of women to be fashionable.[1]

Linen Closet - by Sandy Orgel. A female mannequin is installed in the closet, with shelves and drawers bisecting her body parts. Folded towels sit on the shelves.[14]

Lipstick Bathroom - by Camille Grey. A bathroom where every fixture is painted bright, 'Lipstick' red.[1] The room features 200 plastic lipsticks, a fur-lined bathtub, and a female figure painted entirely red. Stage lights were used to light the bathroom.[14]

Menstruation Bathroom - by Judy Chicago. The bathroom is painted a stark white, and a layer of gauze covers the shelves. A single trashcan is overflowing with what appear to be used tampons, a woman's "hidden secret" that cannot be covered up.[14]

Nightmare Bathroom - by Robbin Schiff. A bathtub hosts a woman's figure with most of her body obscured in water, made entirely from loose sand.[14]

The Dollhouse Room - by Sherry Brody, Miriam Schapiro. According to Schapiro, The Dollhouse Room juxtaposes themes of "supposed safety and comfort in the home" with "terrors existing within its walls".[14]

  • The Dollhouse - The Dollhouse serves as the centerpiece of The Dollhouse Room. It is a six-room miniature house. The artist's studio room contains a miniature nude man atop a pedestal, with an erect penis and bananas at his feet. Downstairs, a miniature woman sits at her dressing table. There are many monsters present in the dollhouse, despite its familiar domestic aspects. To the left of the artist's studio is a nursery with a baby replaced by a monster. Outside the window, peering in, is a grizzly bear. Downstairs, a group of ten men stare in through the kitchen window. A rattlesnake is curled on the parlor floor.[14] The Dollhouse was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution after the project's completion.[1]

The Nursery - by Shawnee Wollenman. Oversized furniture and toys simulate the feeling of being young, a small person in a big room. Special attention was made to make the space an androgynous, ideal living space for a child.[14]

Garden Jungle - by Paula Longendyke. What resembles the skeletal forms of dead animals is present in the garden area. This is meant to convey the weakness and vulnerability of such animals.[14]

Necco Wafers - by Christine Rush. Pastel colors contrast the otherwise organic colors of the garden. The ground is painted, and "fanciful clouds" create a "fantasy sky".[14]

Performances[edit]

Performance workshops, lead by Chicago, were held in the Living Room of the house. Ideas for pieces were derived from "informal working sessions", in which the women acted out aspects of their lives.[14]

Three Women - Three 'types' of women are represented; the hustler, the hippie, and the mother. They wear exaggerated makeup are initially meant to be comical. They tell the stories, all 'trapped' in some aspect of being a woman.[14]

Maintenance Pieces: Scrubbing, Performed by Christine Rush and Ironing, Performed by Sandra Orgel - Two performance pieces pertaining to maintenance. A woman scrubs the floor on all fours with a brush in a continuous, repetitive motion. Another woman irons identical sheets over and over. This isolated monotonous tasks for an audience to highlight their performative nature, and how these performances play a role in the construction of gender roles.[1]

Cock and Cunt play - Written by Judy Chicago, performed by Janice Lester and Faith Wilding. Two characters wearing costumes featuring comically large genitalia converse as "She" and "He", each acting out the roles of their designated sex. "He" argues that her lack of a penis justifies having to do the dishes. This is meant to show how exaggerated essentialist notions about the female body contribute to her role in the domestic sphere and to reveal the consequences of stereotyping.[1]

Waiting - Written by Faith Wilding. The actress sits in a rocking chair and slowly recounts how her days were structured around 'waiting' for things to happen; her husband to give her pleasure, her kids to leave home, and waiting for some time for herself.[14]

The Birth Trilogy - In the first section, a group of women stands in a line as they symbolically 'give birth' to one another. The 'babies' in this scenario lay on the ground until their 'mothers' come to hold and nurture them. In the end, all of the women gather in a circle as they chant and sing with heads bowed. The chant grows louder with time, ending in a "peak of ecstatic sound".[14]

Reception[edit]

Womanhouse was the first feminist art project to receive attention on a national scale following its review by Time magazine.

A 1972 review in the Los Angeles Times by William Wilson described Womanhouse as a "lair of female creativity" that "reminds us that the female is our only direct link with the forces of nature". Though he remarks that "man's greatest creative acts may be but envious shadowings of her fecundity", this review may also highlight stereotypical patriarchal attitudes surrounding connections between women's bodies, the domestic, and nature that Womanhouse attempted to critique.[1] Paula Harper argues that such language is attempt by critics to soften the impact of Womanhouse by assimilating it according to conventions of femininity.

Some critics claimed that radical feminist art displays such as Womanhouse "undermined aesthetic standards" in the 1970s. Others claimed that it was more therapy than art. Paula Harper challenges this critique, arguing that challenging the definition of art is a "function of the avant-garde".[9]

Lack of scholarly attention paid to Womanhouse is attributed to its very early production in the context of Feminist art, its lack of controversiality in relation to other installations of the time (most notably Chicago's own The Dinner Party), and some accusations of essentialism. However, it is also argued that the piece illustrates, complicates and subverts a "false binary" of essential and constructed identity which enhances its value and relevancy.[15]

Film[edit]

Miriam Schapiro arranged for a 47-minute documentary film to be made about the project and released in the summer of 1972. The project was produced by Johanna Demetrakas under the auspices of the American Film Society. Demetrakas was said to be "impressed" and "inspired" by the project.[7] [16] Its European distribution is assured by le peuple qui manque. [17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Revisiting Womanhouse
  2. ^ a b c d Recalling Womanhouse
  3. ^ Meyer, Laura (2011). Sondra Hale and Terry Wolverton, ed. From Site to Vision: The Woman’s Building in Contemporary Culture,. Los Angeles: OTIS School of Art and Design. p. 91. 
  4. ^ a b c The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse
  5. ^ Schapiro, Miriam (Spring 1972). "The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse". Art Journal (College Art Association). Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  6. ^ "Womanhouse catalog essay". Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  7. ^ a b c d Womanhouse Catalog Essay
  8. ^ Phelan, Peggy (2012). Live Art in LA: Performance in Southern California, 1970-1983. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 9780415684224. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f First Feminist Art Program
  10. ^ Harper, Paula (Summer 1985). "The First Feminist Art Program: A View from the 1980s". Signsl (The University of Chicago Press). Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  11. ^ a b "Womanhouse". Womanhouse.refugia.net. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 
  12. ^ Performance Anthology. San Francisco CA: Last Gasp Press. 1989. 
  13. ^ Jones, Amelia (2003). The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York NY: Routledge. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Womanhouse.refugia.net
  15. ^ Balducci, Temma (Fall–Winter 2006). "Revisiting "Womanhouse": Welcome to the (Deconstructed) "Dollhouse"". Woman's Art Journal (Old City Publishing, Inc.). Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  16. ^ Schapiro, Miriam (Spring–Summer 1987). "Recalling Womanhouse". Women's Studies Quarterly (New York, NY: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York). Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  17. ^ "WOMEN MAKE MOVIES | Womanhouse". Wmm.com. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Harper, Paula, The First Feminist Art Program: A View from the 1980s, Signs, vol. 10, no. 4, summer, 1985, p. 762-781.
  • Raven, Arlene, "Womanhouse," The Power of Feminist Art, London: Thames and Hudson, 1994, p. 161-172.
  • Schapiro, Miriam, The Education of Women as Artists: Project Womanhouse, Art Journal, vol. 31, no.3, Spring, 1972, p. 268-270.

External links[edit]