Domestic Intervention: Women Making Houses into Artworks 1970-75

Domestic intervention: women making houses into artworks 1970-75

Read the full essay here 

(Extract)

As a child, in the chaos of part renovated houses of family members or family friends or in rubble outside my father’s workshop on the farm surrounded by pigs in arched shelters that spread like needlepoint across the horizon, I would seek out bricks and lay them in straight lines with junctures, delineating spaces within, and blank spaces for doorways. They were never more than two bricks high. I did not play house in it. By sundown or home-time, I would return them from where they came. I would do this often. Build it, break it and build it again.

Repeat

Women, together, women in libraries, in swimming pools and ice rinks.[1] Women inside houses.

The house as a home, as a domestic space is laden with notions of making and togetherness and structure. So it was, that between 1970 and 75 women artists began to question that space and reclaim it, in response to the public institutions they were largely banished from and the private institution in which they had so long been contained. Within the four walls and on the four walls of houses with hot tin roofs[2], women generated things. They deconstructed and rebuilt the home, as a conceptual framework through which they could articulate their individual experiences, preoccupations, emotions and struggles. And this representation of women in the private sphere was a vital statement of refusal, without which ‘we would be accepting the male capitalist definition of the areas of importance and significance in society’[3].

In the early months of 1972, in a semi-derelict mansion in LA, a group of women led by Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro and consisting of students from the Feminist Art Program at the CalArts constructed ‘Womanhouse’. With hammer and saw and paintbrush, these women set to work rebuilding the interior of the house. By retaining the basic layout – the bathrooms remained bathrooms and so on – they created a fragmentary proposal of women’s various experiences and concerns, suitable for the dreams and fantasies of what they envisioned as an exclusively female environment – like a collective version of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Open to the public for a single month, the show gained international media attention and saw 4,000 visitors pass across its threshold.[4]

Read the full essay here or at The Women’s Art Library, Goldsmiths (University of London). Collection reference: WAL 707 HIG

[1] Rose English and Sally Potter’s performance Berlin (March–April 1976), moved between their squatted property at 41 Mornington Crescent, an ice rink and swimming pool.

[2] Poster for A Women’s Place, 1974, in 14 Radnor Terrace: A Woman’s Place (2017, Raven Row), p.1.

[3] Catherine Hall, ‘The History of the Housewife’, Spare Rib no.26, 12 Dec 1975. P.13.

[4] Stephanie Crawford, ‘A Re (Re) (Re)—Telling Of The Narrative Of Womanhouse, Or In The Beginning There Was A Woman With A Hammer’, 16 February 2016, <http://www.womanhouse.net/related-content> [accessed 12 March 2019].

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