Vancouver Art Gallery

This review on Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution is written from my viewing of the exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery, as well as in response to an existing article on A-N by Alex Hetherington on the same exhibition when it was shown in New York’s PS1 gallery.

On my first visit to the opening of the exhibition I was extremely excited having never seen such a large collection of women’s feminist art in one place. Most of the work predates 1980 and manifests within a wide range of media including film, photography, performance, painting, sculpture video and installation. The work is divided by 18 different themes which include Gender Performance, Body Trauma, Body as Medium and Social Sculpture, which dissect the wide range of work on display. These works continue to influence and inspire artists today through concepts that question social frameworks and what it is to be a woman: bodily, socially and politically.

One work which really stood out for me was Chantel Akerman’s film: ‘Jeane Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’ 1975 198 mins. This beautiful film is certainly a time investment, portraying the life of a widow, mother and prostitute. There is hardly any sound other than the mundane, hypnotic acts of household tasks, cleaning, cooking, replenishing, living. The woman does not smile and rarely looks up, continually focused on the rhythm of her day, questions about her life, her past are never answered. Small surprises break the silence and isolation, a parcel arriving; a baby; a conversation with her son, all of which lead to a shocking climax at the end of the film.

The gallery space proved problematic for me however, abundant with monitors, images and display cases came across as neat and formulaic, whilst the thematic ordering seemed to push the art into the corners and walls making it a little impenetrable. Socially engaging work should be exactly that, socially engaging. Reference material on feminist art and literature does exist within the exhibition as well as talks and events, although little advertising exists outside the internet and participation is sometimes expensive. There is a lot of excellent work in this show, although I feel a lot of the power and excitement surrounding it visually and contextually is lost within the institutionalized atmosphere. Conversation and feedback should be regular and invited in a show which should pour with the combined energy of the women who created these works.