Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cityscapes: A Feminist Perspective

Water Tower #1
I was very fortunate to have curator Shanna Steals assist me with my current show at the Arbor Gallery. The Gallery has done a great job of promoting the show, and arranged for a reporter with the local newspaper, Felicia Latour, to attend the vernissage last month.

Shanna, Felicia and I had an interesting conversation at the opening. We talked about the feminist aspect of artists working in fibre, and I was pleased that Felicia's article in The Review touched on this element of my work.

Here are some excerpts from the article, published on July 2, 2014.

"[The exhibition] features a collection of urban landscapes rendered in black thread, colourful dyed fabrics, and the undercurrents of feminist history."

"At the exhibition's opening..., the Review was able to speak with the artist and learn more about the larger statements in her work."

Water Tower #3
"For Dubreuil, the legacy of her craft comes from the context of women's culture and the generations of women who practiced needlework due to their enforced domestic lifestyles. The act of handling needle and fabric, according to Dubreuil, is one that provided solace to oppressed women for centuries and also afforded social opportunities commonly known as 'sewing circles.'"

"Shanna Steals, a University of Ottawa art graduate and curator of Cityscapes, describes Dubreuil's work as showing 'modern perspectives of repetitive architecture but through the lens of a long tradition of women's work, stitching.'"

In fact, my artist statement refers to this aspect of my work. It reads, in part,

"I see my work in cloth and stitch as a contemporary expression of the culture of women's needlework."

Water Tower #4
This conversation raises several interesting questions.

Is there a feminist element in all fibre art?

If so, does this apply to female fibre artists only, or also to those (rare) men working in the medium?

Or is the feminist perspective brought to the work by the viewer?

Would this perspective be welcomed by all those working in the medium? Or would some resent that label, and ask why a woman cannot make art in cloth (or any other medium) without having it identified as a feminist statement?

What do you think?

Water Tower #7
I will have another conversation with Felicia this evening, when she interviews me for a local radio program, and perhaps we will be able to explore these questions on air.

Something else to think about: If you were asked to choose a piece of music that would illuminate your work, what might you choose?

Felicia asked me this very question, because she plans a musical introduction to our radio interview.

I chose Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

What would you choose?


Maggi said...

An interesting perspective. I don't feel that I would like to have my work identified as a feminist statement, probably because feminism has come to be seen as an extreme view in this country. I can't think what music I would choose, I know what I like but it's not the same thing.

Linda Bilsborrow said...

I'm with Maggi on the current UK interpretation of feminisim. My work is my work and I have the feeling that others would resent, or at the least, bring their own agenda to the feminist label.
As for music I have no problem - it would be Vivaldi, small controlled steps, variations but no great surprises.

Linda Bilsborrow said...

In answering your questions I forgot to say what a wonderful body of work you have. Your use of colour is amazing

Heather Dubreuil said...

Linda, I understand that you want to have your work seen through a strictly aesthetic lens or, as for some art, for its significance as social commentary. So do I.

But I think that there can be a feminist perspective on any topic. Given that the reality of needlework is that it has been almost exclusively a women's pursuit in Western culture for the last 500 years, fibre/textile art is going to be examined in that light by some, even though you're not explicitly dealing with women's issues. That is the right of the viewer.

As Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." And I don't think fibre is a "neutral" medium. Yet.

I look forward to continuing this conversation!

Hilary said...

Three comments from the UK and all agreeing that feminists are generally seen as strident and aggressive here.

I am having a problem understanding exactly what a 'feminist element' is.

Sure there is a long history of women sewing but that is a cultural thing. Men worked, women did the housework and home-making. Men came home from work and expected their dinner on the table and to put heir feet up. The only men who learnt to sew, embroider or make clothes were soldiers and sailors and tailors. There were a minute number of men who made a living as quilt markers in the north east of England. Then because all this work was done in the home it was considered 'women's work' and a craft and not art however creative and artistic is was. It was functional in a practical sense rather than functional in a decorative sense.

There has been a long cultural/gender divide of putting girls in pink and giving them dolls to play with and to sew samplers, while boys wore blue and played with soldiers. Our quilting groups are full of women who learnt to sew from their mothers. We now have generations of young people whose mothers went out to work and who have not had the opportunity to learn to cook and sew. In modern families the chances are that both parents work and the 'modern man' has started doing more around the home and being more active. Whether we will see men pick up needles and thread remains to be seen.

I don't call myself a feminist but I pay homage to those feminists who fought for the freedoms and privileges I sometimes take for granted today. I might become an active feminist if I thought those rights were threatened. I don't see that it is necessary to behave like a man to be equal. I would rather have respect than equality.

I don't think my work/art is influenced by or contains any feminine/feminist element. It is influenced by where I live and what I experience in my day to day living. My mother sewed but both my parents painted. So while I see my use of fabric/textile and paint as a heritage from my parents and environment, I don't see any 'feminist element'. I see a cultural history of women working with textiles but no 'feminist' influence. I honestly think this is art critic speak.

I am open to be persuaded but I love Heather's work and the very individual style she has happily developed to express herself. I do not see that her choice of working with architectural elements has any feminist element. Her choice of working in textiles is a cultural and historical heritage.


(This is the second time I have written a comment and as usual the first effort was more focused and logical - the first comment failed to appear.)

Heather Dubreuil said...

I SO appreciate getting your comments. I apologize to those who have wanted to comment but have met with technical difficulties. I have made technical changes to this blog, and I hope they will help, but it is possible they will only apply to future posts, and not retroactively.

At this point I am wondering if there is a different sense of feminism in the UK, in contrast to here in Canada. I would love to get some comments from this side of the Atlantic.

Perhaps some of my perspective can be explained by the fact that it has been some years since I have exhibited my work in quilt shows, where all the work is in cloth. Instead, my venues have been art shows, where my medium is a distinctive feature. Viewers bring to the work their associations with the culture of women’s needlework, and see my work as a contemporary expression of that culture.

The issue of whether my work is art or craft never comes up: it seems to be evident to viewers that it is art. The craft element is no different to viewers than the craft element in painting or sculpture.

I am not dealing overtly with women’s issues in my work. But the fact that I am entering work in cloth into mainstream art shows, to a wide, general audience, is to me a feminist act. I am embracing my medium, along with its associations with “women’s work”, and “putting it out there” as art.

The women who made the Gee’s Bend quilts were not making their work as feminist statements. But I think that the exhibition of these quilts as art can be seen as a feminist statement, a recognition and celebration of these women as artists.

What do you think? I really welcome this discussion as it is helping me to refine my own thoughts on the matter. Thank you so much for contributing to it!

Dianne Robinson said...

I'm an ardent feminist, but I have never thought of my art in that context. It is simply work that I enjoy doing and doesn't have a deeper meaning than what is on the surface. I'm not sure I could create something "feminist". And I don't think I want to. Although I wouldn't like people to look at what I do and say "a woman did it" it's probably what would happen because my medium is textile.

I think being accepted into the art world has more to do with pushing a different medium than anything else.

And textiles haven't always been a female domain - certainly in Egypt it's definitely a man's world for creating all the applique fabric that they do.

and good luck with your upcoming exhibits.