OWWO Exhibition- Summerhall opens 11am daily and runs until 27th September.
This exhibition has already been mired in controversy due to the decision by its curator-Sarah Wilson – to make it a show exclusively showing female artists and for, the first three weeks, only to other females. There has been much criticism of this in other factions of the press about this brave decision- I myself did not initially understand it and am generally resistant to segregation– and a bulk of hostility has arisen mainly from other women; so much for the solidarity of sisterhood then.
The initial premise was that it housed many works and subject matter which women may feel more comfortable viewing then later discussing away from the penetrative male gaze which has critiqued and censored their work –harshly on occasion- for years. The fact that women have been excluded from so many sections of society, including the chauvinistic and male-centric art world, for centuries and have only managed to gain some inroads in the last few decades to be taken seriously as valid artists seems to be getting ignored..
Surely therefore they could have just one thing to perhaps call their own. Especially as it was only for several weeks and at the same time in a city which has literally thousands of other cultural experiences on offer where both sexes are more than welcome. I have heard it said that this exhibition is operating as some form of segregation- which may be one take on it- but I see it more as some form of elitism and exclusivity and that goes on in many other business and social circles without an eyebrow or objection ever being raised.
Let us not delude ourselves that equality as anything more than a concept exists in our society. Whilst attending a party over the Festive period the gender divide could not have been clearer as the men took over one room discussing football and business, drinking bottles of beer. Meanwhile women were exiled to the beautifully modernized kitchen and talked of schools, their children and fashion. Both factions fell into their own roles quite willingly and submissively and this scenario caused me more discomfort than Wilson’s aims of banning men from her exhibition for whatever reasons. At least she was vocal about what she was doing and it did not fall into the so-called ‘natural’ order of things. Personally I cannot see what all the fuss is about and as Wilson will happily declaim in typically irreverent manner ‘I’m a conceptual artist so just get over it!’
So what about the art then?
With the exhibition now open to everyone I am pleased to report there are some very worthwhile pieces of art on show. Wilson’s own work involving collages of ceramics and other mediums barely contained in frames and actually quite fun. A million miles away from the radical feminist exploits you would expect after some earlier press reports. The jacket with false breasts by Jill Skulina that Wilson wore for press shots- and elicited some sexist and derogatory comments along the way- hangs on a wall and is another piece that contains humour whilst still sending out a serious message.
A series of paintings by Beth Fisher showing one woman’s diagnosis of breast cancer and the impact this has on her life and those around her is evocative, touching and quite beautiful. Jannica Honey’s gritty portraits of strippers is as bleak as it sounds and none the less impressive for this fact. A room with three screens showing different sets of women moving around to music is captivating. Val Atkinson’s shots depicting the mind and thoughts of women is also amazing especially the piece which operates as a modern day take on Medusa with winding serpents signifying the mental turmoil.
There was also a piece of performance art but as I am not over 6’6” I was unable to capture any of it but apparently it involved nudity, water splashing slapping of thighs and dripping honey. With that description I can’t say I will cry myself over not seeing it and performance art of this type sets things back a few decades further than barring men from the show. Mind you it gave the men something to gawp at and one of the reasons I couldn’t see was it was mainly the taller elements present-mostly males then- who crowded round the front and afterwards a lot of talk revolved around how sexually-or not- arousing the piece was. Maybe Wilson had a point about originally excluding them after all.
Wilson has been extremely brave with this exhibition and has used the space very well. No stranger to controversy-her Axolotl gallery also provoked a hostile response with a particular show last year and her decision to make it women only still escapes me but it was only for a short time. Usually I am against any form of segregation and believe wholeheartedly in the blurring of gender and making it more non-specific as opposed to specific. It has not however done the work any harm and whilst it deals with serious subjects very cleverly it also maintains a sense of feminine sensitivity and fun while not disappearing up its own conceptual arse as so many others wished it had.