Christopher Grobe

Associate Professor, Amherst College

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Forms of Feminist Talk: Performance Art and CR

Seminar on "Forms of Talk" (ACLA 2015; Seattle, WA)

During consciousness-raising (CR), the talk-ritual at the heart of second-wave feminism, women would take turns telling stories from their lives, eventually arriving (activists hoped) at larger ideas about gendered oppression.  Often art critics will connect CR to feminist performance art.  As these critical gestures usually affirm, they share their content and their purpose: they deploy personal, even confessional material against the forces of gendered oppression.  Seldom has the connection been pursued much further.

Focusing on California in the 1970s—a fertile place and time for performance art, for feminist art, and for feminist activism—I will argue that CR functioned as both a political and an aesthetic regime, though artists reconciled this double-purpose in various ways.  For some artists (notably, the members of the Feminist Arts Program) CR was literally a phase in their artistic process.  For others (e.g., Faith Wilding) it was a conceptual model for particular performances that deployed and combined women’s stories.  For still others (e.g., Eleanor Antin and Linda Montano) it was a model of politics to be remediated through art—both in the media-theoretical sense of being adapted into art and in the more resistant sense of being corrected by art.  But for all of them, it was an invitation to treat women's talk as the basis for performance.  My archive for this argument will include not only the works of art alluded to above—which I will read for their politics—but also the scant evidence of what actually happened in CR, which I will read for its aesthetics.

copyright 2015, Christopher Grobe