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Seminar 2- Site and Situation: (Not) at Home

Cooking up the Self: Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings “Do the Kitchen”. (Interfaces/Women/Autobiography/Image/Performance.pp.186-210)
Racz, I:(Art and the Home: Comfort, Alienation and the Everyday. Chapter3.' Female Space', pp.55-79)


Summarizing from both above books and combined them in to below text help us to understand both cultural and political in female and male modern artists' history:



Nineteenth century male artists including Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard painted interior as well as outdoor scenes; although when, in 1863 Charles Baudelaire exhorted artists to paint modern life, he did not mean life in the home, but the urban life outside. From the cafes and the public squares, these were places where male artists would study and capture what Baudelaire characterised in commenting on Édouard Manet's 1862 work Music in the Tuileries Gardens, the “...transient, the fleeting, the contingent” of everyday life in the arts.

A fundamental truth is that a woman's experience in this society – socially and physically - is radically different from that of men. If art comes from the inside, as it must, then the art of men and women must be different too. Is that true?

Most female impressionist artists painted the life that they had access to; typically, that which was contained within the home and selected outside environs. In the 1970s, British performance artist Bobby Baker and African-American dancer/choreographer Blondell Cummings used interior space for their performances. In this, they sought to manifest their interests and challenge perceptions by reconfiguring notions of the public/private, and outside/inside that tended to dominate male artistic expression. In this, the theme of gender emerges as the main trajectory of their narrative.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, women began to increasingly perform their own roles for the first time and embodied their presence in the public space after long (and still ongoing) societal disputes on what constitutes the public/private. The 1970s in particular were an important decade for feminist art and its history in three main areas; the art and idea of female artists become permanently fully legitimatised; the historiography of art was revised to account for why female artists had previously been marginalised and to reinsert them into the meta-narratives; and thirdly, new paradigms for art and its criticism were created.

Women who had long been primarily socially and culturally relegated to the home and to silence, could become public women with a voice. Unlike the men and their dominance of the street, the perception was that the home was a uniquely female space, and that domestic creativity operated outside any accepted notions of' 'high' art. It was not until the late 1960s that female artists began to reverse the negative stigma associated with the home and domestic expressions of art.

The most striking aspect of both Bobby Baker and Blondell Cummings performances is that they cleverly take note of something as the domestic terrain, for their performance art; something recognizable and familiar to everyone, male and/or female and transcribe this into interpreting their own life through performance art. Postminimalist German-born Jewish sculptor Eva Hesse wrote in her dairy in January 1964: “I cannot be so many things[...] I cannot be something for everyone […] Woman, beautiful, artist, wife, housekeeper, cook, sales lady […] I cannot even be myself or know who I am.”

All these artists challenged the hierarchy of materials and previously default-masculine methodology very succinctly. Through a mixture of controlled, expressive, and rhythmic movement, Cummings evokes the kitchen table as the site of her family history, a history cohesively held together by the stories and presence of women. Various stories fold into a short but highly complex and dense work. Each gesture, every movement is imbued with multiple meanings giving the audience an opportunity to become actively involved in its interpretation.

The specificities relating the narratives of these women - the body, the kitchen, the domestic work - are highlighted. Bakers body is both the guiding artistic device and the body artistically styled through performance.

Both Cummings and Baker present themselves to the audience as a single agent; a person offering a range of emotions, memories, meanings, and resistances to conventional templates of domestic life, Both women manipulate their bodies: Baker with literal objects, Cummings with physical movements. Such marking calls upon us to witness constructions of gender, class, race and sexuality that characterize the artist, but also to observe them as a subject-specific, particular, and speaking from their own localized, marked experience.

In undertaking their performance art from a female perspective, there was no pre-existing comprehensive framework of subject matter, techniques or histories to work within to counter the dominant understanding of what constituted art as ratified by powerful forces of institutions, critics and historians. Their efforts reclaimed a hidden history of female artists, developed patterns and themes of artistic practice that were relevant to their needs and histories, and paved the way for future developments. And no more felt trapped, isolated and bound by an idealised depiction of femininity.


“Postmemory is distinguished from memory by generational distance and history by deep personal connection. Postmemory is a powerful and very particular form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation,” (Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames, 1997, p. 22).


In understanding the marginalisation of women to art – and art to women – by a large establishment, women artists wanted to create a “safe space” where they could develop their own voices. Having their own experiences as women, feminist performances of the 1970s and 1980s gave multidisciplinary artistic practices new life by daring to be political and by affirming group and individual identity with confidence. It was an immediate and direct way of engaging with particular issues, and was also linked to the theatricality of occupying buildings and the marching and singing of demonstrations, emblematic of the political activism of the era. Jeremy Strick, at the time Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, wrote in the opening statement of the catalogue to the 2007 exhibition WACK!: “...feminism transformed social relations, personal identities, and institutional structures […] it is difficult to overstate the movement's impact. The feminist revolution in art was no less radical and trasformative […]. The very terms of current practice are made possible in numerous respects by the ground-breaking works produced by feminist artist in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Although feminist artists have paid a huge price to be established in their current place in society and art, they remain vested in the artistic depiction between people and their lived environment. “You see, wholeness has all kinds of fracture in it. It has all kinds of ruptures in it, but it is a wholeness nonetheless”, Carrie Mae Weems, IN BELL HOOKS, Art on My Mind.





Comparison Notes

  • Both Cooking up the Self and Art and the Home focused on female art practice emerging from a primarily masculine environment, and within a wider context of women's liberation. It in art practice, it is argued that females were pressured to focus almost exclusively on the inside/private of the home, rather than explore the wider world in the manner Baudelaire encouraged male artists a century earlier to do.

  • Both works discussed how live performance was the primary medium for feminist artists in the 1960s and 1970s to represent their new ideas.

  • Each describes females artists activities, their individual characteristics and the cultural and political movements the operated within. In this biographical data, one can understand how their memories and their own life experiences can be seen in their art and transfer that understanding onto other arts.

  • Self center, using their body as a solo performance

  • Founding 'Home' as a 'Safe' space and domestic terrain as a stage for their performances

  • Interior/Exterior

  • Private/Public

  • Femininity/Masculinity

  • Cultures/Movements

  • Home/Street

Critical Evaluation:

  • Personal reflection from  own life experiences.

  • A comfortable and 'Safe' place, whether inside/outside place for female/male artists

  • Boundaries or division and separating into parts, group or partitioning.which still a massive issue in many countries around the world.  

  •  Gendered an art in society.

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