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Part 2 of 2
Faith Wilding: …feminist
theory, and so little feminist experience.
Miriam Schapiro: Go ahead,
talk about that.
FW: You know, it's interesting
that there's so much feminist theory now, and so much writing, and
so little of that sort of very radical experience, an art/body experience
that we would, you know, this actually hands-on stuff. And you
know I guess this is the way history works, and the way it works in
cycles, and you know these kids are now sort of ready to maybe experience
that again and it's very…you know I've been thinking about this
more and more because I have a young woman assistant who, we were making
some props for a theater piece, and you know I was buying material with
her and then I said 'Okay, now cut it up.' And she said 'What?'
I said 'you know, cut out the material so we can sew this up.'
She said 'I've never cut out a piece of material. I've never
sewn anything. I've never ironed anything. I have no idea
how to do this. Could you please show me?' This is a kid
in a major film school in the city. And I said 'What?'
You know, I couldn't believe. And then I showed her how to cut
out very simple pieces of material, how to join them together with pins,
how to sew, and she was thrilled to bits. She'd never learned…she
can run any computer in the business, you know, and run a film camera.
She has no, you know, no female skills, shall we call them that?
And then I was so fascinated by this that I polled my students at Cooper.
Most of them have never sewn anything, most of them have no idea how
they would go about doing that, they can't embroider, they don't
have any handwork skills, they can't knit, they can't…
Lynn Hershman: You don't need
FW: You don't need to
but I think you've lost something, you know? It's funny because
I was saying, you know these are all techniques which artists should
know, because how do you know, you might want to knit a painting, you
might want to sew some things together, you need to know all these processes.
Just like you need to know how to build a stretcher and, you know, and
build a wall and use a hammer and a saw. You know, you need to
know all of these, you know, because these are basic building skills
to make things as artists. And this was such a revelation.
They said 'couldn't you teach a course in which you taught us embroidery?'
I said 'sure, you know, this old feminist will come and teach an embroidery
class at Cooper Union for young women' you know? And this idea
just fascinates me that, we talked about it at a recent meeting at Harris's
too, is how a lot of these young women don't know how to cook a meal,
they don't have any social skills in entertaining, or, you know, all
of these things, these feminine things that we were all trained to do,
and we were sort of saying 'why don't they know these things?'
Is it because these are not good things to know, or because their mothers
rejected them and so didn't teach them…
MS: Rosalind Krauss was
teaching at Hunter, and sent a student to me, here, in the studio, to
find out what my thinking was because the student, recreating what her
teacher Rosalind Krauss had said, said to me 'but why do you want
to deal with all this stuff? After all, that's not what liberation
is.' So now, let's just think a minute. What do these
people mean by liberation? They don't mean reforming a life;
they mean growing up just like men, or being men.
FW: Well it seems to me
impoverishing if you don't know…you know I keep thinking about Virginia
Woolf's idea for the poor college, which she talks about in 'Three
Guineas.' It's such a wonderful description. She says
'in the poor college, we will learn cooking, sewing, gardening, novel
writing, reading', all of the skills that belong to a proper, well-rounded
life, you know, where you have everything you need, you know, both from
a material point of view and an intellectual and spiritual point of
view. And, you know, in the poor college we'll throw out all
of the old books of patriarchy about how you have to specialize and
how you can't do this and how you can't do that, and we'll put
them all in a pile and burn them and we'll dance around them, and
then we'll have, you know, cooking and sewing and reading and writing,
and I like this idea of that, you know, a real human life incorporates
all of these skills, all these…
MS: But we're leaving
one thing out. These skills should be taught to men.
FW: Everybody should learn
MS: Everybody should learn
these skills. I devoted so much of my life to researching these
skills on the part of women because I had this idea which I still hold,
which is that women, in the humanizing of their environment, reach out
for beauty. And I know beauty is a bad word but let me use it
anyway. In reaching out for beauty, they can do things and did
things which were incredibly simple - buying the smallest piece of
linen, or the smallest piece of cotton, and then taking the needle and
tanning a yellow fringe around. Changing the color and making
it blue and adding on, ultimately pink, ultimately white, ultimately
yellow, till there's this enormous fringe on this plain piece of cloth.
That's a real striving for beauty and making something small and intimate
and wonderful. Okay, why can't men learn to do that? Why
do men have to be directed in the area of competition, competition,
competition? Why do their lives have to be destroyed by that?
I mean, why can't we access, give access
to men, have them access all the wonderful things that we were, by tradition,
trained to do? Why should we give them up? Why not just
extend it? But the women, in their desire to grow up I think,
have thrown away a lot of these traditional means because they feel
that it solidifies them in a ghetto of women, which is a true second
FW: It may also have to
do with, you know, and we're talking about a highly industrialized,
technologized, you know, privileged, white, mostly-white country, although
it's getting less and less so. I mean, in Africa you couldn't
afford that, you couldn't afford to lose the skills of which you make
your everyday living. And you know, in most parts of the world
you couldn't afford to lose those skills, I mean, because that's
what you live by. I know that they have skills that we don't
have, like they're whizzes on computers and things like that, but
it seems to me that they then leave history behind in a certain way
and leave all of this accumulation of human skill behind.
And I notice that in their drawings and
so on too they find it terribly difficult to concentrate, to make many
thousands of tiny, patient strokes, like you do in embroidery or something.
And you know, it's a kind of rejection of history, which I find is
something that a lot of Americans tend to do anyway, it's something
that is very very, I think dangerous and…
MS: Well you have ??? on
MTV, you don't have time for history.
FW: Yeah but, I mean that's,
see I think this has to do with how we've lost even the little feminist
history in a way, you know, how they haven't got it. It's
only been twenty years, and yet somehow it's kind of fallen between
the cracks, and somehow we haven't been able to carry it on fully
or a lot of them haven't got it, or, you know, I don't know.
It's really disturbing to me because there's like this whole rejection
of, even people who are twenty years older than you, they tell me that
I'm an old has-been and nowadays we Xerox things, we don't draw
them, you know, cause I teach a drawing class. And I keep saying
'this is thousands of years of human history you're rejecting, how
can you do that?', you know and it's…
MS: It's interesting because
when we were describing Faith's drawings of the cunt and explaining
how the black obsessively had been gone into, so it was blacker and
blacker, and got shiny, the graphite got shiny from so much black…all
I could think of while we were talking about that, while I was talking
about it, she was talking about it, was Rembrandt.
Because there is no blacker black in
history than Rembrandt's dry points. And he taught us how to
achieve, in printmaking, a special kind of black from working with dry
point. So this part about drawing and making things happen with
your fingers and your hands, no matter what the medium, is being replaced
by technology. I think we should mention here that we spawned
an attitude which has not died, which lives in the various ethnicities
and their kinds of cultural output. But also we spawned an idea, which
nobody talks about, which is the democratization of art. And that
is very much alive. Even though there is still sexism, the concept
of the democratization of art is still very much alive, and you see
it because there are museums for ethnicities now. And this started
FW: I think feminism had…
MS: Feminism has had an
influence on that, and feminism has had an influence on pluralism, and
pluralism is the basis for the democratization of art, and feminism
has seeded many ideas only because of what you asked us before - how
did we have the nerve to do it?
And once we had the nerve to do it, and
Judy had tremendous nerve, and Judy and I together had a lot of nerve,
and Faith, who was the oldest of the students, was very much their model,
even more than Judy and me. Because when Faith spoke, they could
identify with her much more easily, you know. After Judy and I
became historical figures, it was, you could, you know, think about
us. But in the beginning, in the classes, there was often a lot
of anger at us because we were shaking it up so much you know, and we
were demanding so much of them, you know. And change is very difficult.
LH: Question inaudible
FW: Yeah, yeah.
MS: Yeah. But you
know I do believe, I have to say, I believe in change but I also believe
in education and evolution. I believe that things happen slowly.
And I believe that a revolution, as we, as been, it's been demonstrated.
I mean, you think something's gonna change overnight but then it goes
right back, you know.
LH: [Question inaudible]
MS: Slightly higher, right.
But you have to…absolutely…but you have to keep up with the education.
And now we've even described how difficult education is. So…
LH: [Question inaudible]
FW: Well I hate that.
I mean, I really resist that, and there's been quite a bit written
about it, and I, you know, and I tend to fight that a lot because I
just, you know, first of all it would classify me as a has-been because
I'm supposed to be from a second stage, and I'm still alive and
kicking and changing and thinking and theorizing, and you know, I think…
LH: But in the evolution of it
there were shifts…
FW: There were shifts, sure,
there were shifts. But I mean the idea that if you were part of
one sort of historical time that you can't be also part of another,
LH: Well, nobody's saying that.
MS: They say it all the
FW: Oh I think a lot of
people are saying it. You know, they're saying that people like
Mimi and me are from the essentialist stage, and that we're essentialists,
and this was a second stage, and we're into cunts and consciousness
and quilts and, you know, it's horrible because it sort of freezes
you into some moment that just isn't, it's just not true.
And I think you can even damage people…
MS: Let me give an example
of that. I was once taken to a museum by Grace Hardigan, and she
took me into the back stacks, and there there were canvasses all lined
up and there were canvasses which had a 5 on them. And I said
'What's that, what's the 5?' She said 'Those are all
my canvasses, and other people of my generation, and we were the 50's
artists.' I said 'But this is the 80's. What about
you now?' And she said 'I'll never be considered anything
but a 50's artist.' And it was written there, in the museum,
in the stacks, 5. You know like Hester? (laughter)
FW: Yeah, The Scarlet Letter.
MS: The Scarlet Letter.
FW: Yeah, and I think, you
know, we're thought of a lot as 70's, you know the 60's and 70's
women, I mean my students say to me 'I wish we could have the 60's',
as sort of like a commodity that you can take and have, that I had somehow,
and, you know…
MS: You sure had it.
FW: It's very difficult,
you know. I mean, to counter this idea, which again I think is
contributed to a lot by academic feminists who have to write papers
and have to publish books and so on, you know, by discovering periods
and naming periods, instead of, you know, and I think this is very divisive
and I think it's very silly, I think it's very counterproductive,
and I think it pits, it makes unnatural divisions between people, you
know, it makes competition, it makes the dialect...it's not a dialectic
at all, it's a, it's this duality, this split, you know, it's
the same as the mind body split. You know, the man nature split,
and it's ooh…I hate that stuff and I refuse to…of course there
were stages, you know, when we were first discovering all this stuff,
and then there was a theorizing stage, and now there's sort of a synthesizing
stage when all this comes together, but, hell, I mean, a lot of us have
lived through all of them and we're still alive and kicking, we're
MS: The point is that we
ourselves demonstrate the new kind of woman in exactly what Faith is
saying. That we've lived through all of these stages, we're
still active, we're still working, we're still talking about original
concepts. What Faith is talking about now is a whole, a harmonious
whole. That was an ideal for us. We really believe in sisterhood.
We really believed in that. And we still do.
But every time we see the disruptive
elements come in, which are divisive elements, it's painful, because
there was so much idealism in the beginning.
LH: [Question inaudible]
MS: I mean I have a friend
who thinks as I do. That's all I need. I mean I just need
one…we started the whole consciousness-raising concept on the idea
of the grape theory. You know, how a cluster of grapes grows on
the vine. One person tells another person, another person tells
a third person, third person calls up a fourth person, fourth person
brings in her sister, you know her real sister, and pretty soon you've
got a group and you can start talking to each other. And there's
a wholeness about that. When the evening is finished and you've
all discussed exactly what reality is for you, from the deepest core
of your nature, there's a wholeness to that, and you want to go out
in the world still trusting, still believing in that wholeness.
Maybe you're right, maybe I was, my life was changed.
FW: I think you're more
optimistic and idealistic in some ways than I am. I mean I feel
more…because I think in some ways you synthesized it with your art
world. I mean, you have both in a way. I know you don't
think you totally have both, but you have more of both let's say than
I do at the moment, you know.
And I feel very embattled, and I know
a lot of, not a lot of, but the women I keep in closest touch with who
are my age, and have been through the kinds of things that I have been
through, like Mira and a couple other people, we feel embattled because
we feel that we haven't gotten the recognition for whatever reason,
that we haven't got the public visibility for our work. We have
some kind of notoriety, we have names, people know our names, tend to
not know our work, and we can't be seen as artists or we aren't
seen as artists, we're seen as activists and educators and writers
and, you know, but not recognized yet or seen yet for our visual art.
And it's hard to know. It's sort of like, in a way we fell
again between two cracks, because a lot of the younger women coming
up now with the ideas of feminism have really capitalized on them, have
used these ideas of medium, of looking at representation, and all these
ideas were insipient in the first Fresno program where we took photographs
of each other dressed up in certain medium(?) ways and…
MS: Well what about deconstruction?
The incredible attention paid to the word deconstruction? What
in God's name did the artists do when they started to question all
the assumptions? I mean, if we weren't just deconstructing,
all those wonderful playlets that you made up and…
FW: Yeah but that's how
historically movements get famous or get, you know, it's when you
can make the theory, put the theory on the practice, you can write,
you can encapsulate it, you can name it, you can write about it, and
that's when it gels. That's when it becomes…you know, they
can be post-feminists and do this identifiable work, and what we were
doing, was we were trying it all out and we were giving birth to it…
MS: Inventing it.
FW: Inventing it, and we
had very few names for it except cunt art, and who could, you know,
who could rally behind that flag for very long? And in that way
we've sort of a little bit fallen between the chairs because…
[End of Interview]