Abstracts

Keynote: Professor Sanja Bahun
Lyubov Popova, Varvara Stepanova, and the Female Artist as Producer of Reality

In the summer of 1923, two artists belonging to the group of Russian futurists/constructivists, Lyubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova, were hired by the First State Textile Printing Factory in Moscow, USSSR. With this appointment, the factory hoped to develop attractive designs that would improve its profits and visibility in a precarious market of the New Economic Policy and the social context of the rise of communal housing and changed gender relationships. Yet, the artists’ aim was to put in practice their belief in the role of the artist as an engineer of reality. More than just a series of exquisite textile prints came out of this brief engagement: our ideas about both artist-as-a-producer and the object (or the object of art) changed. Stepanova and Popova helped us reidentify the artist as a producer attuned and adjustable to the demands of the material object and the vital contributor to the shaping of a processual cultural sphere. The object itself was reconceived as applicable, materially, emotionally and ontologically incomplete, and transitional in its function, wavering between high capitalist fetish and socialist use-value. Part of an ongoing research project on modernism and the affect/experience of home, Professor Bahun’s lecture focuses on this rendezvous between socialist industry and art and the ways in which it articulated, and bore witness to, modernist changed relationship to home and objects that comprise it.


Dr Megha Rajguru
Constructing Modernity: The Indian Home in the Vistara Exhibition

This paper will focus on the Vistara: Architecture of India exhibition held in Bombay in 1986, travelled to Russia in 1987, Tokyo in 1989 and Berlin in 1991, as part of the Festival of India. The architect Charles Correa led this project and worked with a team of designers, researchers, architects, film makers and photographers. Correa stated that the aim of the exhibition was to showcase Indian architecture to the world. Artefacts, films, photographs, textiles, furniture, architectural models and reconstructions of fragments of architectural forms were on display, covering approximately 3048 square meters. The exhibition positioned modern architecture in India within the context of Indian pluralism and postcolonial advancement. Sections of the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue focussed on domestic interiors and tried to typify an Indian way of life and home.

This paper will examine the concepts of living posited through a study of the lives of rural Indians, slum-dwellers in cities and ‘tribal’ communities, and the roles these played in the narrative of modernity and modern architecture on an international stage. It seeks to interrogate this form of postcolonial ‘primitivism’, the significance of poverty fetishism and the relevance of the bricolages of self-made dwellings within a construction of modern life. Lastly, it will address current perspectives towards the exhibition as expressed by the designers and cultural figures associated with it, to underscore its relevance and meanings today.

Kasia Jezowska
‘Too tentative.’ On the reception of Polish exhibitions at the Milan Triennale during the Cold War

In February 1956 the organisers of the Milan Triennale sent letters of invitation to Poland, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Hungary, and shortly after to Yugoslavia, for the first time. As they explained in an official statement, this extended invite was motivated by ‘the strong interest to compare ideas, tastes and creative modernity from those two opposing worlds’. However, as the archival material demonstrates, the actual reception of these pavilions proved to be less enthusiastic.

The timing of the invites was not incidental. The late 1950s marked a new chapter in the relationship between the West and the East that followed the political Thaw in Eastern Europe. That was also a transformative moment for the Triennale, which presented an increasing ambition to define what good design is on a global scale. Interestingly, the design profession was visibly changing too, including a shift from mid-century modernism. This paper takes a close look at the Milan Triennali in 1957 and 1960 and suggests that the political, institutional and disciplinary turns at the half of the century influenced the reading of the Polish exhibitions. By analysing the international critics’ responses to these two displays, this paper raises a broader question about the potential of exhibitions as sites of international exchanges.

Dr. Rosemary Shirley
Festive Landscapes: Well-dressing and place in contemporary rural Derbyshire

This research examines well-dressing, a festive practice that takes place in many Derbyshire villages during spring and summer. A well-dressing is a large, clay covered board into which flower petals are pressed to make intricate patterns and pictures. Once completed they are placed over local wells and water sources. Focusing on the village of Tissington, this paper looks at the relationship between well-dressing and place. It shows how this decorative practice, in the main carried out by women, articulates and/or produces a set of affective relationships with landscape, both locally and globally. These include relationships with the botanical landscape, the community landscape and the hegemonic landscape. The study reveals a set of complex personal and social relationships to place that texture the experience of rural modernity.

Madi Acharya-Baskerville
‘Walking through the forest, Searching for the sea’
  Finding, Collecting and Making

Madi Acharya-Baskerville is a visual artist who works with found objects and materials. Her presentation ‘Walking through the forest, Searching for the sea’: Finding, Collecting and Making, takes a journey through the forest, inspired by organic shapes and surfaces. Walking the coastline collecting objects and materials is also part of the process.  She discusses her work ‘Stories in My Shed’ created following a residency in Neryi, Kenya. This work started with going for a walk and collecting silver birch bark and then using this as a basis for constructing a home as a place of sanctuary. She also presents her recent sculptural work in which she often uses intricate beadwork and delicate textiles as a way of deliberately slowing down the process of making work.  She concludes with a discussion about ‘I will go wherever you take me’, a site-specific work based on the idea of home as a transient space shifting according to need and circumstance.

Dr. Louise Purbrick
Rags and Resistance: everyday protests around the twentieth century

My paper reflects upon how the meaning of domestic textiles is transformed when used as materials of protest. It recalls the interwar and post-Second World War working class home of a modern period, although neither modernism nor modernity may not be its defining character. The fabrics used within this home, especially the scraps of fabric that circulate in a domestic, feminised, even matrilineal economy is re-examined as they put to work as signs of opposition, as forms of protest in public spaces. They create a critical, visual material intervention but, alongside modern, public may not description of the remaining spaces of protest.    

Dr. Hope Wolf
‘Womb Life’: Portraits of Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff at Home

Why are Surrealist and psychoanalytic artists Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff not better known? In this short talk I will discuss a recent exhibition I’ve co-curated: ‘A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism’ (at the De La Warr Pavilion from 6 October – 20 January 2018, and at Camden Arts Centre from 12th April – 23rd June, 2019). I will focus on my efforts to interweave the artists’ life stories with a display of their paintings and drawings. Linking with the themes of this symposium, I will be talking about how they decorated their homes (and how this linked with their thinking and their politics), and why it is neither an anomaly nor insignificant that these artists, who exhibited with leading Surrealists in the 1930s, ran ‘The Little Georgian’ antiques shop in Battle, East Sussex, in the 1950s.

I will move on to make some broader points about the importance of the idea of retreat for the artists (or, to use their words, ’womb-life’), and how their reticence contributed to their relative obscurity. I will suggest one further reason why they have been omitted from so many art historical narratives: that the privileging of Fine Art, the ‘spectacular’ and the ‘refined’ in museums and galleries leads to the formation of a historical narrative that excludes those who for structural reasons were unable to find platforms, publishers and patrons for their work. This short paper discusses how and why a space has been made to explore the ways in which Pailthorpe and Mednikoff made a flawed but fascinating work of art of their lives.

Nicole Morris & Maria de Lima
INGEST/ digest / excrete: Performing Domestic Space

Our presentation will look at the current exhibition at SPACE, where we have worked collaboratively for the first time using the media of audio, textiles and print to consider themes of absorption; or more specifically, the objects, narratives and gestures that enter into our bodies.  

A large scale fabric work uses the features of the face to partition the gallery space and temporarily house a new series of audio works. The audio, mirroring the architecture of the fabric uses the facial features as a structuring device. Both systems of display purposefully set out to house another work, evolving a continuing interest in the discourse of sharing space and cohabitation. The concept of ingestion, as both a temporary and permanent action, is reimagined through these new structures of presentation. The talk will be an occasion to reflect on the exhibition and the process of making through exchange to tackle questions of domesticity and labour; visibility and protest.

Enam Gbewonyo
‘Yarn, Power and Patriarchy: An Exercise in Unravelling the Seams of Oppression’

This paper argues that to exist is to be political. In that we have strayed so far from our natural existence that all attempts to return are framed as political. As defined in the Collins online dictionary, one of politics’ meanings is any activity concerned with the acquisition of power, gaining one’s own ends, etc. As human beings are we not in constant search for power (freedom) of our own ends. By extension our thoughts, our words, anything we produce is political. However, its politics differs from that of the modern politics that governs our daily life, society and the world. Its politics is philosophical, spiritual, transformational, alchemical. Therefore, it’s indisputable that the decorative is political, the question lies more in why its power has been stripped away and is now relegated to the margins.

My practice is intrinsic to my existence, in fact it was preordained being that my Ghanaian ancestry lies in weaving. So, while the content of my work is by its nature political (in the modern sense), my reason for craft making is not. It is merely the only way I can express myself and my art. It is my truth, so too, the themes that inspire my work are my truth. The agenda that does underlie my practice is a mission to return others to self, to the art and alchemy of making by hand. It is my belief that craft is the undoing of modern politics, the undoing of the layers of oppressive regulatory code that imprisons the human mind and body. Through this paper, I will uncover the importance of my artwork’s every ruffle, stitch and knitted loop in undoing the mentality and physicality of my oppressions. Oppressions that mute MY femininity, MY spirituality, MY sexuality, MY expression, MY blackness, MY intelligence, MY artistry, MY essence. In the processes of thinking and making, the artwork restores my voice and confidence in my own power. Further by exposing my work to others it provides space to open others to their freedom and power in self. This paper reveals the power we as craft makers are charged with to undo the systems of patriarchy.

Claire Mead
Disruption and Collaboration: collectively queering the museum and archive through craft

Queering cultural institutions makes visible narratives once hidden in plain sight, as an activist act in itself. Proposing queered alternatives to a traditional archival or curatorial format can often be directly related to a practice which is both collective and collaborative. This subverts the usual status quo of the individual curator, artist or institutional « voice » to imagine spaces in which many voices can be heard. These notions are strongly linked to craft, rooted within collaborative and communal making alongside queer and feminist activism – and often marginalised as a sub-category after fine art. Its reclaiming, making and curation within museums and archives in this queer feminist activist contexts can become a strong way of questioning categories and become a catalyst for collective disruption.

I will explore my collaborative practice at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art working with local LGBTQIA communities via public workshops to co-curate an exhibition queering the museum’s collection. This involved both working around interpretations linked to craft and partaking in collective making processes allowing participants to open up about their own experiences of queerness. MIMA enabled this experimentation, as an institution in which traditional notions of craft and curatorial practice are subverted, with its space repurposed into a socially engaged community platform where users can produce and curate their own content and perspectives around protest and change. I would explore the outcomes of participatory programming developed for the grassroots activist LGBTQI Archives Collective in Paris, notably the workshop ‘Make your Exhibition!’ for which participants brought their own personal, activist and cultural LGBTQI archives to collectively set up an exhibition, with a vast focus on activist craft practices. The experimental format of these community-based projects involved participants outside academic or institutional circles, challenging with us what a queer archive should include – seeking to build our own models based on queer emotion, making and experiences of protest, rather than reflect an institutional framework.

Priya Khanchandani
Decolonising Culture

This paper will address the colonial legacy of British culture with a focus on visual culture in museum collections and displays. It will highlight ways in which the presentation of objects acquired from South Asia heighten the museum’s complicity in perpetuating colonial narratives leading to histories that privilege the coloniser. It will go on to discuss ways in which such narratives can be opened up through fresh perspectives and modes of public engagement.


Dr. Hana Leaper & Jenni Råback

The Famous Women Dinner Service: In Conversation with Contemporary Art

Following the rediscovery of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Famous Women ceramic dinner service last year, we will end the symposium on a work in progress film placing them into conversation with contemporary art. Commissioned in 1932, the whereabouts of the complete set of 50 plates (featuring portraits of ‘famous women’ throughout history) were unknown to art historians. This film is a conversation between Judy Chicago, The Women’s Art League, and Hana Leaper, filmed by PMC Research Fellow and Filmmaker, Jonathan Law, at Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum.