Lynn Hershman: So could you tell me what your involvement with the whole feminist art movement was, and how you got involved?
Joyce Kozloff: Ok. It was the fall of 1970, which was kind of the moment when it was happening nationally and very much in the air. Um… I was in Los Angeles. I was a faculty wife. My husband was hired to teach at Cal Arts. I had a young ch- a very young child. Um, and, another faculty wife invited me to come to a consciousness-raising group. Her name was Phyllis Stein. And, um, her husband was teaching Cal Arts as well. And the group didn’t have any other artists in it. It had women in various different… states of- stages of life, and different professions. But there were the basic consciousness-raising subjects that we discussed… about what… how you felt about your mother, how you felt about your body, et cetera. And very fast one’s consciousness gets…uh… gets raised by having those discussions.
Then, that fall, um, I was invited to a brunch at June Wayne’s. And, um…
LH: When year was this?
JK: Fall of 1970.
LH: [Question inaudible]
JK: OK… um… Maybe we should start over. Let’s start over. [fixing her shirt, etc.]
It was the fall of 1970. I, uh, my, my husband and I had moved to Los Angeles because he was asked to at Cal Arts. Um, it was the first year of Cal Arts and they were in temporary headquarters in Burbank. Um, we were living, um, in Santa Monica. I had an infant… I had a toddler. And, um, I had a sh-, my first show scheduled that fall in New York, and I was a young artist.
And, um, at a meeting, a faculty meeting, I met another faculty wife who was transplanted from Boston. Her husband was teaching also in the critical studies department at Cal Arts. Her name was Phyllis Stein, and she invited me to a consciousness-raising group. I had no idea what that was. Um, we pulled together… she went to the local women’s center and found women in the Santa Monica area who wanted to join a consciousness-raising group. We were the only two who had, who had any connection to Cal Arts, and none of the others were artists. Some of them were… had different jobs and were in different ages and different stages of their life, and it really didn’t matter. And every week we met and we had a subject, like, how do you feel about your body? How do you feel about your mother? And within a very short amount of time, we were very angry and we were very radicalized.
Anyway, later that fall, I- the person who brought my husband, Max, to Cal Arts, was Paul Brach, who was married to Miriam Schapiro…is married to Miriam Schapiro, I should say. And she had begun to get involved with feminism as well. And she invited me to a brunch at June Wayne’s. I do not remember everyone who was there, but I remember almost everyone. And I met almost all these people at that brunch. One was Moira Roth, one was Clare Spark, who was doing arts programs at Pacifica Radio. One was Judy Chicago. Um… one was, um, I think, perhaps [Beverly O’Neill]… no. Um, I don’t know. But there’s the ones I remember. You’re going to edit this, right? Um… I, I’m not sure, so I don’t want to say people who might not have been there.
In any case, um, all of these women were very high-powered, and mostly older than me, and mostly much more experienced than me, and, um, had big plans for feminist projects. And, sud- they were all talking about what they were going to do. And, suddenly, Miriam turned to me and said, ‘And what about you? All you do is talk about having your consciousness raised and you don’t do anything.’ And I remember I felt like tears were going to come to my eyes. I felt humiliated in front of all these people. So, um…
LH: Hold that thought.
JK: So, um, it was decided by the others that I would organize the women artists of Los Angeles. I didn’t know any women artists in Los Angeles, except the ones in that room. But they all did, and they gave me long lists. So, I felt like had to prove myself to them, and I started calling all of these people, and we had a meeting, and I think fifty or sixty women came, and were crowded into the living room of my small apartment. And at that, uh, that was when I met many people who are still close friends of mine.
Um, and, the first proj- the group actually… several things happened at that meeting. One was small consciousness-raising groups of artists were formed. That, some of which existed for ten or twelve years. And, also, we decided to take on the Los Angeles County Museum. The Los Angeles County Museum was planning an Art and Technology show. And the red flag was the cover of the catalogue with a grid with fifty heads of men on it. And, um, we went to the museum and counted the works on the walls. I went with a woman named Judith Reidel, who I haven’t been in touch with in a long time, and we literally counted the works on the walls to get our percentages of what percent… And, you know, and then we went into their library and we went through all the exhibitions they’d had, and we counted the cat- the exhibitions, the catalogues, and that’s how we got our statistics. Statistics were like, I don’t know, one percent of the shows they’d had. I think… once they’d had a Dorothea Lange show, I remember. I don’t remember the statistics, but they’re probably published somewhere. And in their collection, they had an [Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun]… hanging… that may be the… that’s what I remember. But it was, it was infinitesimal. And, so, we had some people in the group who were in the media who were very savvy. And we did a press conference. And we got the press there. And we got media coverage.
And… then I left Los Angeles and came back to New York. Um, but others continued the negotiations with the curators and the director of the museum. And in the end, the major thing that came about as a result of that action, was the show ‘Women Artists 1550 to 1950,’ which was cura- curated by, uh, Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin. And that was a major, um, exhibition that traveled. I know it came to the Brooklyn Museum in New York as well. And… a beautiful catalogue, and… the, really… the first serious… there were many, a lot of feminist art historians doing research on the older women artists, but they did pull it together in a very public way through that exhibition.
LH: And how did you make them aware of the percentages?
JK: Well we published- I mean, we had, you know, handouts.
LH: So you personally were out on the streets handing out statistics?
JK: Um, we… I’m trying to remember. I want to be historically accurate. Um, I think we had a press release and it had the information. I don’t think we were standing in the streets handing them out. But we, we distributed it to the press.
LH: And what did the museum do when you started it? What was the reaction?
JK: You see, that was around the time when I left Los Angeles. You really should interview… I can give you some names. I’m trying to remember who would have been there, following through in the next stage.
When I- I was there for one year, from, um, late summer of 70’ into June ‘71. Just when this was all happening. We went on the… excuse me. We went on the radio, um, you know we had colleagues… feminist colleagues in the media, on the radio and in the newspapers, and we embarrassed them, and they felt they had to negotiate. And, but I wasn’t there myself for the negotiations.
What was your reaction to finding the statistics? Were you surprised?
JK: The women in New York were doing the same thing. Um, you’ve probably interviewed the ones who were doing the statistics on the Whitney and some of the other museums in New York. Um, and, we were, we were surprised, but we weren’t surprised. You know? It was like, the statistics were worse than you could have even imari-, imagined. But we knew that we grow up, we grew up without seeing any women’s art, and that, um, this was all part of a kind of process of recovering the past, and finding role models for ourselves.
LH: How did you start Heresies?
JK: Um, ok, so this is a slightly later moment. I returned to New York in ‘71, and, uh, I was a member of some of the feminist groups here—the ad hoc committee of women artists, particularly.
Um, by about ’75, and I was constantly talking to my friends, who were other feminist artists, uh, by 1975, we felt that, um, we had gone through one stage, which was a lot of exhibitions of women artists, and the formation of co-c-uh- of A.I.R. Gallery. You’ve probably interviewed people who started A.I.R. Gallery and SoHo 20 Gallery, well that was very important, because there weren’t places for women to show. So we organized the shows, the women artists. And groups of them organized these women’s collective galleries. But we decided by 1975, there should be publications. There should be, um, uh, a school.
So the first meeting of the group that was to become Heresies was actually in this loft. And the group… there were about twenty women. And, um, we each had a different idea for the meeting. I remember… my next-door neighbor is [Michelle Stuart], and she and I had been doing the laundry the week before, together. And we were fantasizing about a women’s magazine that was issue-oriented. So we brought that to the meeting. Other people came with the idea of a school. And, um, some-, at the end of this meeting, some women only went off to work on the school, and you’ll probably interview the people that did that. Um, and some people stayed to work on the magazine. And other people worked on both.
But I, I didn’t get involved with the school. I got involved with the magazine. And then we maybe invited more people and we became a collective of twenty-one women. And, um… started to meet regularly, and talk about what kind of a magazine we wanted, how to structure it, um, and we came up with this very inefficient, unwieldy structure, uh, by which we were the publishing collective, but there-, each issue would have a different editorial collective and would be a group of people specifically involved with that subject and that issue. Um, and that it would be a quarterly. Though I don’t think it ever came out four times a year. It came out whenever we were able to bring it out. Um, what else?
How was Heresies different from some of the other magazines that happened afterwards, and why was it important?
JK: Ok. You also had a question about the title. It took us months to agree on a title. Um, we’d come in with names and we’d vote and we’d argue, and I think that Heresies was actually a, uh, a compromise choice, because there were certain other ones that people were passionately attached to and other people hated. So, nobody hated Heresies. Um… what was your question?
LH: How was Heresies different from some of the other magazines?
JK: Ok, well… I, I think our structure, I think our structure was pretty unique. In other words, there were women on the Heresies core collective who never worked on any of the issues. And, um, we did, we did, uh, distribution. I mean we literally took it out to the bookstores ourselves. We did distribution, we did mailing, we, we did, um, uh, design. We did all the work on it. But the content of each issue, we gave to these other groups. And many of us participated in some of the other groups… some more than others. I worked on only one issue, which was called ‘Women’s Traditional Arts.’ That was the fourth issue. Um, but people worked on the issue that was related to their own passions.
LH: So was there only structure or was it focused on [inaudible]?
JK: Um… again, you probably should speak to more people besides me because everybody will think differently about it. But, um, we wanted this to be, uh, a magazine not like some of the magazines like The Feminist Art Journal, was about
women articles- uh, uh, women artists, with monographic articles about specific women artists. This was not what Heresies was about. Heresies was about ideas, and ideas that women artists were interested in.
JK: Like… uh… Patterns of Communication and Space Among Women, uh, Women’s Traditional Arts: the Politics of Aesthetics, Lesbian Art and Artists, I’m trying to remember the… The Great Goddess. These were names of some of the early issues. These issues were generated, the first issues, by members of our collective. Um, and, later issues, other wo- groups of women came to us with subjects they wanted to work on. There was an issue on, uh, women in music, and an issue on women in architecture, and none of our core members, or maybe one or two only, worked on those issues.
LH: Can you say a little bit about the relationship between political activism and the feminist art movement? Is there a relationship?
JK: Well I think the feminist art movement was an activist movement. I mean, most of us participated in, in demonstrations in the street, and some of us participated in demonstrations for issues like abortion rights and childcare, as well as issues in the art world. Um, uh, I think we saw ourselves as part of the larger, uh, feminist movement.
LH: Why did it happen at that particular time?
: It was… massively happening in the media and in the real world. Um, and there were all these books that came out, the Germaine Greer book and the, uh, Kate Millett book, about feminism that all the women were reading. And um, there was a kind of-, I remember, what I remember is all of the optimism and energy and excitement, that, that we could actually change things in the larger culture. I mean it just seemed-, we seemed to be riding on a ra-, a wave of that, at that moment, of viewing a different kind of society that we thought was possible. And, um, being part of that meant, uh, it, uh, as you know, m-, makes you feel as if, um, that y-, y-, there’s endless amount of hours in the day in which to juggle your, your family and your work and this activism.
Um, I think for many people, later, there was burnout, there was disappointment, because historically the feminist movement has gone in waves, and we knew that history, but, somehow you don’t really internalize that when you’re going through it. [interruption] And there were changes in the society, but not as quickly as one might have anticipated, or as totally as one might have anticipated, or, or desired.
LH: Do you feel that the optimism of the early years was lived up to? What happened?
JK: Well, again you’ll ask this question of a lot of different people. I keep re-invigorating myself. Somehow I’m addicted to collectives, so I keep getting involved in different forms of political activism, and I keep… then I have to run away to do my work because it takes over my life. But it started, for me, with, with those, that, err, those early days in Los Angeles. And I must really feed off of that. It’s important to me.
[Interviewer asks Kozloff to adjust shirt]
This is my current group, Artists Against the War. Um, which, um, came together during the period which is now called the lead-up to the war in Iraq. And we do actions and projects which are visual and, um, but we do it as activists. And, um, they’re mostly women. Not entirely. Mostly younger than me. Not entirely. And some of them have become full-time activists. And this statement on my T-shirt is WE WILL NOT BE SILENT, something that The White Rose, which was, um, a student group in, under Nazi Germany said, and um, we have this in Spanish, Arabic, and English. And that, and we have lots of other projects, but I don’t know if you want me to talk about t-, that today.
LH: Did this have a relationship with your movement to public art?
JK: Well I went into public art in the late ‘70s. Wait… yes. I started working on my first public art project in 1979, so this only goes back three years. This… I mean, I certainly, like most people in my generation, was in the anti-war movement during Vietnam, um, and now I look around at demonstrations today- there was just one two weeks ago here in New York. 350,000 people and a lot of them were my age. Um, I wish the younger generation were more act- activated. But what was your question?
LH: Did the activism connect with the public art?
JK: Um, ok. Um… I, I have gone through a whole cycle of feeling about public art. I stumbled into. I, my work had become installation-scale in the late ‘70s, and I was working in craft materials, specifically ceramic tiles. And so it was kind of a natural to go into public spaces. But I wasn’t thinking about it.
I got a, a form to fill out, um, that must’ve been sent to thousands of artists, to apply for the new art program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and that was the first transit art program in the country. And the person who pioneered it, her name is [Jennifer Dowley], she later went to the NEA. And I submitted my slides and went through the process, and I was a finalist, and I did a model and a presentation… got my first public art project, which is in Harvard Square in the subway station.
And at that time, pu- the percent for art programs were just beginning in this country, and I think that in a certain way, public art was much more open to women than the galleries and museums, because it was a new field, and the galleries and museums had all this baggage of art history—western male art history—and the public art was just at a new stage, and many women went into it, and I’ve always felt that. I’ve always felt that, first of all, we had had the experience working collectively together and being activists, and those are a whole different set of skills than, than what it takes to make art in your studio, um, because when you do public art, there’s a lot of negotiation with… architects, and contractors, and city agencies, and insurers, and truckers, and all kinds of different negotiations, and it’s not for everybody. For intensely private artists, it would be the most painful experience.
Um… but there were a whole group of us who had gone through these kind of, uh, experiences where we worked together with a, a variety of people. So there was that and then there was, um, I know in the early days of public art, I, I felt that, I embraced the idea of a much wider audience than the audience you have in the gallery-museum world, of a much larger public. And that was a political idea. That was a social-political idea, that if you were making art in the subways, you would reach a very, very broad cross-section of the public, and you never would in the galleries and museums. So there was that. And I think for those of us who had been in all of the, the anti-war movement, and the civil rights movement, and the feminist movement, that was a kind of natural gravitation.
Um… so, I, I don’t know if I’m saying everything about it. So I, I was very, uh, um, excited about the possibility, and then, just as an artist, and a narcissist, cause all of us artists are, the idea of being able to make your art on a very large scale, which you could never be able to generate yourself as studio artist. So the combination of, I make work, which is small in its units but its expansive, and I got to make it on a large scale, got to make it for a very large public, and… also, each public project that I did-, and many artists, not just women, did-, you had to c-, be concerned about things like the community, the, the site, and these became the, uh, parameters of the project. Um, and, I found that I didn’t find that restrictive, I, at least in the beginning. I found that really challenging.
LH: Is there a difference in the way feminism developed on the east and west coasts?
JK: I’ve been back to the west coast, you know, a number of times to work on public art projects, and, um, and I feel very close to a number of people I know from those days because those days were so important in my life. But, so I don’t know what it was like the first year here, I only know what it was like the first year there. I mean, I, some of my friends had been involved in 1969 before I went to California here. But I wasn’t. I was drawn into it in California. So, that kind of heady excitement, I associate with California. Though, I’m sure you could speak to people here who had the experience here.
So by the time I came back here, um, it was in its second or third year, and I, there were a number of groups that had been established. I remember, I didn’t know which group I would fit into, so I went to the meetings of the different groups to see where I felt comfortable. And none of them had the kind of excitement for me that I had felt earlier in Los Angeles, because I was part of the group that created it, and, um, but that’s not really an answer to your question. It, it was different, but… um…
And then, of course, I wasn’t in Los Angeles in that period when they building the Women’s Building, and, and, um, I was only there for the very first stage. But, um, I mean… I think you have to ask me more specific questions.
LH: What are some of the innovations the feminist movement added to culture and added to the art world?
JK: Um… a lot of the work in the ‘70s, particularly the early ‘70s, that women did, came out of these consciousness-raising discussions, and w-, w-, were a kind of exploration of, um, of being a woman. And, as you know. So there was an exploration of the cultural history, of the, of the, of the body, of the relationships, and that was new in art. I mean I think that some of those things were being explored by men too, uh, particularly female-identified men.
Um, but… and a lot of it was absorbed into the art world in the form of body art, and decorative art, and, uh, performance art, but I think that a lot of it, a lot of the early experimental stuff was being, came out of things that were going on in the women’s movement.
LH: So would you say the women’s movement actually changed the way that art was perceived?
JK: It was one of the things that… you know, the ‘70s was a period of a lot of exploration, and, certainly I think the feminist movement was one of the forces that fed into it. I think there was also all the other social movements… the gay movement, the civil rights movement, uh, the anti-war movement, and the general counterculture.
LH: And who now—are they younger or older artists—are inspiring you?
JK: Um, I like the work of a lot of younger artists, and older artists. Um… I, I saw that question on your list and I started bouncing off-, I love the paintings of Julia Jacquette, um, and the little sculptures of Ann Agee, and, um, I don’t know how much younger you wanted me to go into, I’ve just… um… I’m very interested in Janine Antoni’s work. I know you’re interviewing her, and, Julie Mehretu too. I find those large paintings incredible. Um… and what do you mean ‘older’? You mean my generation, older than me? I love Ida Applebroog’s work, for instance, and I was just in her studio last week. Yeah. Yeah. Well she was part of the Heresies collective.
LH: How was the feminist movement effective when it came to innovating the art world?
JK: Um, you know, things change and they don’t. I, I think that um, we never would’ve imagined, 35 years ago, that there would still be a need for women’s galleries and women’s shows. We would’ve expected to be totally integrated and equal. I mean, for me, feminism meant justice and equality, um, and, um, it’s… you know, I mean it certainly is better than it was when we entered.
If you go around, you can see the, the work of women artists, but it’s still harder for women than for men, it’s still a struggle, and the statistics are, are still pretty awful, particularly as you, you know, you can look at the latest Guerrilla Girls statistics, and they’ve been great at keeping those statistics going. It, it hasn’t changed as much as we would like to think it’s changed, and that’s always very sobering.
LH: What would you want to see specifically change? Is it about freedom? Equality?
JK: You know, the, because I, for the first, I had taught feminist courses in the ‘70s, and then I didn’t teach one until last year, again, and so I did a lot of catching up in the reading. And each generation, as you know, has been very different from the… I call them the grandmothers, the mother, and the daughters, meaning the ‘70s, the ‘80s, and the ‘90s, and now we’re in a fourth generation. Um, and, there was a kind of, um, feeling in the, in the, among the second generation that the first generation had been too essentialist, and that our identities are culturally formed, rather than a reflection of our biology, and then the third generation seemed to want to make a, take from both of those ideas and move it somewhere else.
And I don’t know what’s happening now, but, um, I would like to see, and I don’t even know if this is an answer to your question, I would like to see, um, all of this kept open so that it can be constantly seen from a perspective of each moment. And I know I had a conversation recently with Moira Roth about this, about there being lots of things for future feminist art historians to research, and that it not be codified and narrowed what feminism was, who was a feminist, that it be inclusive, and that all these different uh, creeks and rivers and streams, uh, be moving. Because you don’t know how things are going to look at any different moment.
I mean, in the, in the ‘90s when people were so concerned about AIDS, they were looking, when they looked at ‘70s art, they looked at the work that had to do with the body, because it related to what was going on then. And, in a different moment there will be other work from the ‘70s, I believe, that will suddenly seem relevant to people, and um, and I think the way the theory has changed has been very interesting as well. And, you know, I always want to know what the next view of things is going to be.
LH: What advice would you give to young women who want to be artists?
JK: I do talk to young women who want to be artists. Um, and I just want to support them and encourage them. It’s very hard financially in New York now. I mean it always was, but it’s gotten brutal. It’s gotten really brutal. The greed of the real estate industry is, uh, equivalent to the Bush administration’s foreign policy on an-, on another level, and um, so it’s very, very hard for young artists to come here and work and, and survive. Uh, but they do. And, I, that really, really saddens me. I think it’s hard in the west coast too, but it, I think it’s worse here.
LH: Why did you choose to embrace decorative and ornamental in your work? Can you also describe the movement and how it got started? Was it feminist in its origins?
JK: Um, I was trained in the ‘60s, um, in, as a painter in formalist, mmm, abstract painting, and when I got my MFA from Columbia, that’s what I was doing. Very simple shapes painted very flat colors. Um, it really wasn’t my sensibility, and after I came out of school, um, little by little I started putting more texture and nuance into the work. And, actually, I’m a very detail-obsessive kind of artist, left to my own devices, but I was sort of trained out of that, and then I gravitated back toward it.
And, so then in the early ‘70s, these paintings, which had a geometrical structure, started having all this, this, this intricacy in them, which eventually started to become pattern-like. And um, it sort of came together for me the summer of ’73 when I was living in Mexico with my husband and child. And I kept a sketchbook of all the patterns I saw. And, of course, when you’re looking for something, you see it everywhere you look. And then I came back to New York and those sketches were developed into large paintings, and those were my first pattern decoration works.
Um, and the only person in those first year-, first few years, that I really talked to about this, was Miriam Schapiro. Um, and then around, I think it was 1975, I was invited to a Pattern and Decoration meeting, or I don’t know if it was called that, but a meeting. There were six people there, and the other four I was meeting for the first time. Miriam invited me. Robert Zakanitch was there, Robert Kushner, um… Amy Goldin, who was a critic, and… um, Tony Robbin, another painter. And it was very exciting for me, because um, I didn’t know there were oth-, these other people thinking about this, and I felt further and further away from the mainstream art, art world.
And… mm, I, I remember several things that came out in that discussion. It was a long afternoon. It was Sunday afternoon. It was in Bob Zakanitch’s loft. Um… we were talking about… all of us had some, um, strong connection to other cultures outside of our own. And for me it had been-, begun in Mexico. Others it had begun in other places where they had… actually, some of them had actually lived or grown up elsewhere in the world. And then there was the feminism that Miriam and I brought to it, um, looking at women’s traditional arts.
And um, so it was like looking outside of the way we’d been educated in the history of western art to other traditions. And um, and, and then the realization that most of the work that women did was not, was categorized as craft and not as art, and we weren’t looking at it in the same way, and that, and then there were many discussions afterward and more people were invited into the group, and it got larger, and there were many discussions about the hierarchies between high art and craft and how to break them down, and how to, uh, how to acknowledge, um, and equalize, in a way, the great traditions of art all over the world, rather than have these categories which were invented a couple hundred years ago in the West. And, um, that’s been, uh, something that I’ve, has been a kind of source and inspiration for me to this day.
[Break in tape; new tape?]
LH: And the school?
Nancy Azara is a good person to talk to about… oh Miriam was part of it. They were in a building over on Spring Street. I never had anything to do with it and I can’t tell you about it.
LH: The dolls?
My mother collected them for me in my childhood, and they were in parents house until a few years ago, and I, uh, I mean, my parents traveled, and she always brought me dolls. They’re not really dolls that you can play with as a child. Um, and a couple of years ago I was at their house and I noticed that they were getting eaten by moths, so I said, ‘Maybe it’s time for me to take them.’ And my friend, Jane Kaufman, who was an early feminist and a member of the pattern-decoration movement, restored them. She always worked in, in sewing and textiles. She beautifully restored them and I just have them there in a case, but they never really… they’re not part of my art. They’re part of my life.
Um, the masks are a piece I’m working on now, which I can explain if you want. Um, the piece is going to be in a building, uh, a not-for-profit space in the Arsenale in Venice in September and October, and it’s a very, very large space. I have a model of it, but it’s like a hundred and eighty feet long, and it’s brick with huge arched windows and a skylight, and very little… there’s no white walls and no continuous walls, but there are these five- or six-foot piers between the windows, and I… when I was in Venice thinking about this piece—I’ve been working on it… it will be two years—um, I became interested in these traditional Carnival masks, which are for Carnival, and um, the Venetians hate them. They’re tourist kitsch. They’re sold in every shop in Venice, painted in the traditional ways, and they’re made out of paper pulp. They’re very light.
So I started buying them and painting them, and th-, I’m painting them with islands over the world on them. I’ve been working with maps for the last… almost… since the early ‘90s, in different ways. All my work has been cartographic. This piece is called ‘Voyages,’ and um, because Venice was a center of navigation in the age of discovery. And this building that I’m working in is actually a former shipyard in uh, uh, I wanted to talk about that earlier pis-, period of western expansion and globalization, and try and… other parts of the piece will connect it with America today.
But this part of the piece, uh, the masks… the masks that I’m painting on their faces, that I’m appropriating, are from old maps from the… mostly 1500s, and they’re maps that were made by western cartographers who were on the boats that sailed around the world. Um, so, so that’s, that’s the masks.
So the pieces become, uh, not only about the history of navigation, it’s also about the history of Carnival, and these wall pieces, which are part of it, have elements from different cultures, and um, I don’t know what else to say. It’s a piece in progress.
LH: Aside from the financial difficulty of moving to New York, what other advice would you give to young artists?
JK: I think community is extremely important. I don’t believe that people art in isolation, particularly when they’re young, starting out. So, I mean for me, in my life, it’s been ex-, extremely, I have a wonderful, wonderful support community and, um, I really encourage them to build that among themselves, particularly women artists.
LH: How would you define feminism?
JK: That what, you know, I said to you earlier, um, I thought I knew in the ‘70s, you know, and now I question it more and more because, um, and I know there are these people curating shows now, and I would not want to be one of them, to have to make those choices, because… I don’t, any longer, feel that the work which is necessarily the most accessible in its content or image, is feminist art. I mean, I think that it can, I would like to see a variety and very subtle ideas and variations and interpretations of feminist art. I don’t want to see it narrowed into work which, you can understand the second you look at it, and um, and I didn’t always feel that way.
So that, you know, in terms of public art, for instance, there were a whole group of women who became public artists in the ‘70s, Mary Miss, Jackie Ferrara, Nancy Holt, Michelle Stuart, Jody Pinto, Alice Aycock, who were all feminists. And they were all part of the Ad Hoc Committee [of Women Artists] that I was in, and very often when people talk about feminist art in the ‘70s, they don’t talk about that work, and I think they should. I think it’s, it’s, it’s really important work. It’s beautiful work, and it comes from a kind of connection to nature, connection to the earth, connection to culture, that… is feminist.
LH: What public art projects did you think were the most exciting?
JK: See I don’t know when I saw them, if it was the ‘70s, the ‘80s, whatever, but…
I mean, Mary Miss’ South Cove at Battery Park is just great and I go there periodically, and I see how people experience it and enjoy it, um, and Mary was in the Heresies collective, and Ad Hoc Committee [of Women Artists], and is a very strong feminist.
LH: What was the breakthrough for you?
JK: And I also think that Maya Lin’s, you know, very well known Vietnam, uh, memorial in Washington is a very powerful anti-war and feminist piece. Just, I’m mentioning ones that are very famous so that people will know what I’m talking about.
LH: And for you personally, what was a breakthrough that you felt in your work?
Um… a breakthrough in my work…. Um, well there were certain pieces that were sort of personally iconic. Um… that I saw as personal breakthroughs, but I’d rather more talk about public breakthroughs. When I did the installation, An Interior Decorated, which I created in ’78, ’79, and it was shown in a couple of different places in, in ’79 and ’80, where I decorated an entire room with fabric and tiles, um, and took on the notion of the degraded notion of interior decoration in our culture. Um, and it got a lot of attention, both pro and con, because it was provocative. I don’t know… it wouldn’t be provocative today, but at that time it was provocative. And that was not easy for me, but I understood that I had put and idea out into the culture, um, that was somehow of its moment, and that was important for me.
LH: Were there conflicts between the philosophies of east and west?
JK: I think it was more between one generation and another.
LH: Could you say that in a sentence?
JK: I think the conflicts weren’t so much between east and west—maybe they were and I’m not aware of them—um, as between generations, um…
LH: Were there racial or class conflicts?
There probably were, um… There probably were issues of race and class and sexual orientation, um… that were conflicts… I think I’m not the best person to talk about that. I think you’ll f-, you’ll hear about that more from other people. I mean, I was always trying to… make connections between these groups wherever I could.
But um… clearly when the women of color started forming their own groups, that was because they felt they needed to do that at that moment, and it was important for them to do that. And um, the lesbian artists started to do that at a certain point, too. And um, and I think it was very important that they did that. Now I don’t know that I would characterize that as conflict. Perhaps it was. But I think it was a, a s-, a s-, discussion that they had to have among themselves.
LH: How long did Heresies go?
JK: Heresies went into the ‘90s. But, um, Sue Heinemann can talk to you about that. She would know. She was probably the longest member of Heresies. You know, I left Heresies in 19… uh… ‘78 or ’79. I w-, I was in it very intensely, but only for about three years. Um, that’s kind of my pattern [laughs].
LH: What are the political ways or gestures now [somewhat inaudible]?
JK: You know, it’s such a different world now, and this is an issue that we discuss in, in my current political group. Um, the technology and the media are so much vaster and, and so much more, uh, pervasive, and so much more sophisticated, that to reach people you have to have different skills, and you have to have different… um… I, I, I think it’s, I think we’re in a very tough political moment, and um, [phone rings] many people are very frustrated. It seems like there’s so much grassroots organizing in this country, political activism, but it’s very hard to move the people who are making the decisions for this country and for the world. Whether it’s about abortion, or about the war in Iraq, or about… the economy or any of the other issues, the environment, um… I don’t know. What was the question again?
LH: Were you at the WAC protest?
JK: I was at the Guggenheim protest, but I was not a member of WAC.
LH: [Question inaudible]
JK: No, each of us had different motivations. Um, and… and, you know, I mean, yes. I mean, mine was informed by coming out of the women’s movement and, um, but I wasn’t only looking at women’s traditional arts. Some of the arts that I was looking at, um, were male.
Um, I was looking at Islamic tiles and, um, uh, a whole range of things. So I, I don’t… you know I think it’s more a matter of each of us bringing our own concerns, our own experience, our own sources to it, rather than, ‘the women did this and the men did that.’ You know? I think that in that group, the men were very female-identified, very sensitive to the female part of them. I don’t know if they would say that, and I don’t even know if you should put this on the tape, but… I never felt like a, in any way… I always felt a total peer relationship within the group, and that any issues about, uh, gender, could be discussed.
LH: Is there anything we haven’t covered?
JK: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ll think about it. Probably will come to me later, but…Anything we haven’t talked about that you want to talk about?
LH: [Question inaudible]
JK: I was never in those groups. I actually only met her once in my life.
LH: But it’s also the idea of when the moment begins [inaudible] how that affected you.
JK: Oh you want to talk about, like the very early first meetings in the fall of 1970. Um, it completely, uh, disrupted my family life, my marriage. I had very traditional ideas and came from a very traditional family, and suddenly everything was up for grabs and I was questioning everything. And within my consciousness-raising group, I think all the marriages except mine ended, and mine was pretty rocky. And I came back and, and, and went into a consciousness-raising group in New York. I felt I had to continue that process. And it was in my neighborhood. I lived on the upper west side, and none of the women were artists, again. So I was never in a consciousness-raising group with other artists. Um, the issues were basic issues of being a woman, having a career, having a family, and um, it shook everything up for me… totally shook everything. Threw everything up into the air, and let it fall down wherever it did. Um, did I answer your question?
LH: How did the consciousness-raising group work? What was its structure like?
JK: Um, well I’ve done individual therapy as well, um, and I think that this was a particular phenomenon of that moment, um, where, a, um, the model came from China, that these consciousness-raising groups were formed in villages all over China under communism as a changeover from the earlier regime. And somehow it got picked up on by the feminist movement. So that people in each community in China would discuss these very basic issues, and uh, formulate their politics.
So somehow it got, I don’t know how, it got picked up by the feminist movement, and um, it, it was, it was a group but there was no therapist. There was no leader. There was a subject agreed upon for the night, and you went around the room, and each person addressed that subject from her own experience. Um… you were usually given a length of time, depending on the size of the group. Maybe ten minutes. Maybe fifteen minutes. And you weren’t supposed to abuse it, and you weren’t supposed to interrupt, and, and only at the end would there be a group discussion, which was some, uh, something that came out of what everybody said.
And the group discussion put it together as a larger phenomenon, something that had been experience by everybody, or not experienced by everybody. So that it wasn’t the usual therapeutic thing where, ‘this is your problem.’ The focus was, ‘this is society’s problem and we’re trying to deal with it collectively.’ So in other words, it’s not, it’s not your problem that you had a bad relationship with your mother. Um, it’s, it’s, it’s about a whole generation of women’s experience and the whole next generation of women’s experience growing up with that other generation. It was very, very different. Many of us had already done individual therapy.
LH: Who were your role models as artists?
JK: Well you know, actually, at-, in those early year, I had friendships with several women artists who were twenty years older than me, some of whom you’re interviewing, maybe all of whom. Uh, and… Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Spero, May Stevens, June Wayne, and others, um, who… those friendships and relationships were, and have been, very important to me… cause…
LH: Most of the women… [inaudible]
JK: Oh as pai-, as artists. You know… in those years, I was, I was looking at decorative traditions, and not so much at, um, western art. And so, I was very, very excited about all these sources. But a lot of it was anonymous.
LH: Did it bother you… the anonymity?
JK: Well this was something that we, w-, wanted to change, and examine… examine the reasons for the anonymity, because this, this art—and some of it is great art—was made by women and non-western people.
LH: Why is there that urge to make [inaudible]?
JK: Well, one of the things that, that we discovered in doing the women’s traditional arts issue is that a lot of this has to do with the nature of different culture, and in many traditional societies, men make the objects of ritual use, and women make the objects of daily life. And so, if women make baskets and carpets, and men make carved figures, um, now it varies from culture to culture. But within those cultures, what the men make is considered art, and what the women make is not.
So this… we had to, you know we, we have a subtitle to that issue under Women’s Traditional Arts, which is The Politics of Aesthetics, because in examination, we had an anthropologist working on the issue—[Elizabeth Weatherford]—um, and a number of anthropologists wrote essays for that issue. We had to change our rhetoric, which was simplistic and culture-based.
[End of Interview]