Monday 19 October 2015

Archive Materials Workshop at University of St Andrews

On October 7, I attended a conference at The University of St Andrews called "Archive Materials: Feminism, Performance, and Art History in the UK" organized by Victoria Horne and Catherine Spencer. The workshop consisted of five female speakers who all touched on very different aspects of writing feminist histories and the ways in which archives are used to document experiences and events.

One thing that particularly stood out to me was Freya Gowrley's presentation of her research on A La Ronde in Exmouth, UK. She explained how the home was occupied by two female unmarried cousins who spent much of their time working on the interior decoration of the all-female domestic space. Gowrley spent a long time discussing a particular tabletop which consisted of different stones, shells, painted ceramics, and even tiny mosaics assembled in a collage-like manner. She went into detail on the act of collecting and how the cousins would have brought some of these items back from their travels. What was particularly interesting for me was the expansion of what I normally consider to be "archive materials" to include a tabletop that documents the lives of these women and helps us to reconstruct their histories. I liked the idea of the table as an archive that exceeds legal paper documents or photographs. Moreover, it is fascinating that the women instructed in their wills that the house be only acquired by another women following their deaths (although there is some evidence that this was not wholly respected).

In addition, I have been interested for a while in the notion of ornamentation and decoration as something that is inherently (or not) feminine. I remember being blown away by some textile works by Sophie Taeuber-Arp that I saw at the Whitechapel exhibition put on last year titled "Adventures of the Black Square". I wish to investigate further into the ways in which the domestic space might prove to be a creative one rather than an oppressive one for women and the ways in which women have historically embraced and produced spaces designed for women. I am also hoping to explore how we might view ornamentation and kitsch as participating in the uncanny, and the ways in which the home might produce "unhomely" (or "unhemlich") spaces.

The workshop was in the context of a larger project, "Writing Feminist Art Histories". The blog in conjunction with the project can be found at 

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