‘Against guitar solos, against any kind of sedative art, against conservation of art in museums, reconstruction against any individual retrospective now and in the future’ Kroot Juurak, Naked.
Kroot Juurak is part of the Chicks on Speed collective, currently enjoying their first major solo exhibition in the UK. The show is called Don’t Art Fashion Music and it can be found at Dundee Contemporary Arts until the 8th August. Juurak’s words are at at the top of the exhibition’s programme so we can be confident that she speaks for the collective when she makes her ungrammatical attack on the traditional art establishment but in preceding this anti-art thing with the guitar solo nod she lets us know that they’re not entirely serious you know. This is in keeping with the ethos of Chicks on Speed who are an ever changing mix of mostly European ladies dedicated to railing against all sorts of things under a crudely constructed pseudo feminist-anarchist banner. Banners actually play a big part in the show, daubed with peculiar slogans like ‘click click, foucka, foucka’. The ever popular ‘Kunst’ gets a run out too.
On your right as you enter the gallery is a sheet hung from the ceiling on which is shown a twitchy video of Chicks taking odd outfits on and off to a musical accompaniment: Fashion is For Fashion People. There is something in the aesthetic, if not in the spirit, of this piece that is reminiscent of the old films of the dancer Margaret Morris doing her exercises that can be seen down the road at The Fergusson Gallery in Perth. In the centre of the main exhibition space are a large stage and, beside it, a loom; on the walls are the aforementioned banners and a large, crude (no, it’s Pop Art!) painting. On the stage films of the Chicks doing Performances are projected. The loom, which is at times manned by an actual weaver (the Chicks can’t themselves weave of course), makes a textile with a weave actually ‘generated from a pattern created by an audio installation.’ A little side room boasts a selection of ‘The world’s first wireless guitar stilettos’ which, we are told in the programme, ‘re-appropriate the guitar – a masculine icon in popular culture – and replace it with the stiletto shoe, a playful reference to the fetishisation of fashion commodities and a reminder that the Chicks ‘don’t play guitars”.
The curious thing about all this is that, despite the self confessed ‘playfulness’, we are expected to take Chicks on Speed seriously. DCA are trying very hard to promote this as Counter-Culture Feminist Art with a lineage stretching back to Dada, the Surrealists and the Bauhaus, mixed up with a dash of Agit-Prop, Situationists and so on (and on). Hanging a hat on quite so many pegs at once is not an easy trick to pull off. Probably the most depressing thing about this show is the claim of feminism, for if this is the face of New Feminist Art then something has gone very, very wrong. From the poster (above) onwards the apparent feminism is undermined by lazy cliché (we’ve got our boobs and fannies out, we don’t care if you think we’re fat!) and a relentless refusal to engage in any actual skilled artistry.
There is an issue about whether the use of traditionally feminist materials and mediums equates to making feminist art and it applies to this show. Does the presence of a loom or a stiletto shoe mean anything at all? The shoes were actually designed by a man, Max Kibardin, and loom operators in the real world are as likely to be male as they are female. The artists here have made nothing beyond the sketchy concepts which could have been stolen from a brainstorming session in a first-year social studies seminar. Referencing the hugely influential German design school, the Bauhaus, is especially odd when you consider the Chicks’ determined anti-craft, anti-skill ethos (hey, it’s punk!).
The paucity of actual thought and skill in this show does a disservice to the concept of feminist art and its potential power to highlight genuine discrimination and inequality. This vacuous flapping about fashion and music and self important techno-art like amplifying hats (again, made by a man) is far removed from the work of the 1970s feminist vanguard, such as the performances by Suzanne Lacey and Judy Chicago which involved naked women caked in blood, eggs, mud, writhing about to a tape of first hand accounts of rape. This is not something most sane people would actually want to watch but, of course, that was the point; there was an issue here that people didn’t want to confront at the time.
Could it be however, that there is simply no need nowadays for a real feminism in art or anywhere else? Could it be that we have achieved an absolute equality of the sexes and so we should all just kick back and enjoy the liberty to get our tits out while making crass statements about the relevance of random institutions, objects, tools, whatever and dressing it up as neo-feminism? This seems unlikely as long as discrimination and violence continue to be issues across the world. These subjects will be addressed by artists, just not by these artists.
Claudia Massie is an artist and writer based in Perthshire, Scotland. She is co-editor of NLP and also contributes to Touching From a Distance, the Spectator Magazine Arts Blog.