Australian Cricket Coach Bill Copeland once quipped, “Not only is women’s work never done, the definition keeps changing.” This show examines that changing definition and works to create a conversation about gender issues. In “Shifting Definitions” both male and female artists explore everything from women’s roles to “women’s work,” from sexual harassment to sexual power, and from the male gaze to the KTV commoditization of the female body.
Through a combination of newly commissioned installations, video works, paper cuts and sculptures, these artists attempt to problematize the binary gender dynamic offering a chorus of voices on a number of subjects rarely voiced in contemporary China.
Artists: Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing, Bovey Lee, Virginie Lerouge Knight, Monika Lin, Phoebe Man Ching Ying, Sally Smart, Heidi Voet, Wu Meng, Cui Xiuwen and Xu Zhifeng
Virginie Lerouge Knight uses the malleable absorbent material of kitchen sponges to make an ironic commentary on the numerous demanding roles a woman must play, from glamorous object, to charwoman, to charming companion.
Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing explore this issue from a different angle, looking at the masks women are forced to wear. Their cloth sculpture depicts a woman with gaudy fluorescent pink lipstick and nails with skin woven out of a patchwork of linen – as if sewn together by a plastic surgeon.
Cui Xiuwen looks at this compulsion to primp and preen, taking her camera into the women’s bathroom of a club. Here she examines the boundary between public and private, looking at women as actors in an elaborate game of seduction.
Monika Lin uses ceramic lilies as a metaphor for the idea of purity, making a reference to “flower houses” or brothels. Here she’s also referring to the objectification and oppression of women (golden lotus bud feet) and issues of shame which contribute to the underreporting of rape.
Phoebe Man Ching Ying also takes the topic of sexual assault as her subject matter, collecting a number of stories from assault victims and weaving them into visual narratives using paper and animation to explore the psychology of the victims.
Bovey Lee examines the issue of violence against women from a different perspective in her paper cut “Peony Mystery.” The work investigates the public’s morbid fascination with crime shows, which depict the demise of young, beautiful women. Lee’s second work “Clams,” depicts two women whose open mouths contain mountains. Another figure pushes back on the faces of the women – illustrating how women often collude to silence each other.
Shaw Xu Zhifeng creates a dialogue on the subject of gender as a series of binary oppositions with a site-specific installation. He has installed a Mona Lisa brand toilet in the wall of the gallery – a symbol of the wall which divides the sexes – at the same time, he refers to the ambiguous gender of the woman in da Vinci’s famous portrait.
Wu Meng looks at women’s work, using photographs of drying laundry which convey notions of women’s labors and struggles. The laundry rather than being hung upside down is reversed as if it is floating – which conveys a sense of airiness and freedom.
Heidi Voet explores the idea of domestic life with delicate origami flowers created out of pornographic magazines. Voet fuses the concepts of the male gaze and sexual objectification with ideas of a 19th century domestic life, keeping one’s hands busy tending flowers and folding paper.
Sally Smart’s practice is greatly influenced by the idea of “femmage” or “traditional women’s techniques” such as sewing, piercing, hooking, cutting and photomontage. Smart employs these techniques and materials with a sense of agency, and offers comment on women’s invisibility in both history and art history.
Curatorial Tour and Lecture
November 7, 4pm
Curatorial Tour: Curator Rebecca Catching provides insights into the methods used, materials and the meanings behind the works in “Shifting Definitions.”
November 7, 5pm
Lecture: Feminisms: Struggle and Choice in the New China
“Feminisms: Struggle and Choice in the New China”
When we speak of the “New China,” feminism, and the arts, we must consider the plurality and complexity of a country newly open to Western feminist theory, practice, and history and yet still steeped within its own specific gendered history. Today, Chinese female artists are creating insightful work informed by not only the vast history of gender issues in China but also by more recent histories of the Cultural Revolution and China’s dramatic turn toward capitalism. Despite frequent aesthetic similarities between the work of contemporary female Chinese artists and their American counterparts, Chinese female artists are in many ways aligned more closely with First Wave American feminists than with contemporary American feminist artists (in that there is no movement as of yet). I will explore these issues through an analysis of recent work by young Chinese women artists who are little known in the West supported by a series of interviews with members of the contemporary Chinese art world.