Feminist, activist artist criticizes gender politics

Feminist, activist artist criticizes gender politics

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Feminist, activist artist criticizes gender politics

Preparation for Connor’s exhibit takes three years. It focuses on works that quintessentially reflect problematizations of feminist art, says the curator Kahraman.

Feminist activist multimedia-artist Maureen Connor’s Istanbul exhibition “Contradictions,” which opened at Akbank Sanat on May 31, displays a selection epitomizing milestones and twists in the artist’s lengthy career. Curated by Professor Hasan Bülent Kahraman, the show spreads over two floors of the venue, with each floor focusing on a significant theme of Connor’s artistic investigations.

Connor’s works from the late 1970s to late 90s depart from investigations of the body and gender politics, questioning male-cultivated social conventions through overt depictions of their grasp on the female body. Her sculptures and video installations on the issue are exhibited on the first floor.

After the late 90s, Connor slowly moved to an overall critique of capitalism through investigations of labor conditions in workplaces, chiefly art institutions. This led to the establishment of the Institute for Wishful Thinking (IWT) in 2008, which Connor co-founded with Gregory Sholette. The videos dealing with these two career sections are displayed on the ground floor.

Right after entering the venue, the viewers are welcomed by a collage of Connor’s 2000-2010 video series “Personnel.” The project displays interior design interventions at work places, in order to make the working environment more homely, more personal and more comfortable for employees. On the whole, the project offers criticism of labor conditions in late capitalist work places, as well as solutions to make them more employee-friendly. The work places featured are art institutions such as Tapies Foundation in Barcelona, Mendel Art Gallery in Canada, Whyspa Art Institute in Poland, and Queens Art Musuem in New York.

The second video on the same floor is a 2011 work carried out within the framework of the IWT. Departing from the social transformation zeal visible in the “Personnel” series, Connor’s “Proposal” series solicits proposals from individuals and artists that try to make residences for artists and art groups within public offices. The project relocates the artist as a mediator between the public and the government, with the belief that his or her work can affect social improvement.

A very serious attempt

Connor says this project started as a very serious attempt, but some of the proposals seen in the video exhibited under the title of “Recruiting Video for IWT,” made in 2011, are hugely ironic. Connor thinks that the recently-developed ironic tone of the participant artists stems from their disbelief in their cause’s efficiency - not because of its feeble merits, but because their general disillusionment with public offices and officials.

But Connor is resilient in her faith. She said she recently picked up an even more direct project titled “Social Practice Program,” in collaboration with her colleagues at Queen’s College. The project aims to meditate between the New York Municipality and the residents of the local Corona neighborhood, to render the latter more participatory in the administration of their neighborhood while letting the former know better about what the locals want for their social environment.

According to exhibition’s curator Hasan Bülent Kahraman, Connor’s work represents a continuous problematization of the co-dependence of the artist and the art market, through an analysis of various dynamics of late capitalism.

“Preparation for the show took three years. In the formation of the selection, I paid attention to works that stand for different eras and aspects of Connor’s career. I particularly focused on works that quintessentially reflect problematizations of feminist art.

The first floor of the show displays Connor’s 1993 video installation “Time Matters,” 1990 sculptures “Thinner Than You,” “No Way Out,” and “Wishing Well,” 1996 video installation “Narrow Escape,” 1989 sculpture “Untitled,” 1988 sculptures “The Bride Redepressed,” and “Penis,” 1991-1992 video installation “The Sixth Sense, and 1991 mixed media with sound installation “Ensemble for Three Female Voices.”

Connor’s 1978 performance video “Performance for Fluxus wedding of George Maciunas” on the same floor is particularly emblematic of Connor’s activist zeal.