Archi-Féministes! Publication Review – Eva Morrison

MAY 21, 2019

In 2011, the artist-run-center OPTICA presented the exhibition “Archi-Féministes,” exploring the work of female artists who had shown at the gallery since 1972 with a new, explicitly feminist perspective. This year, the center builds on this exhibition’s mission by publishing a bilingual collection of texts, Archi-Féministes!: Contemporary Art, Feminist Theories, which emphasizes the plurality of feminisms and the meeting point of activism, research, and art history in Canada and elsewhere.

The editorial note, written by Marie-Eve Charron, Marie-Josée Lafortune, and Thérèse St-Gelaise who jointly curated the original exhibition, expresses a hope that the text both sparks new interest and “that it contributes to rebuilding our store of knowledge.”[1] This idea of rebuilding is present throughout the collection: there is an overarching theme of reflecting on and re-reading archival works as notions of feminisms evolve and move forward.

In the text “Raison et/ou Passion: Réinventer Joyce Wieland Pour le 21eme Siècle”, Johanne Sloan considers engaging with the archive as a site of alternative discourse, looking at artists Cynthia Girard-Rénard and Maryse Larivière appropriating and re-interpreting the work of Joyce Wieland within a contemporary, Québecois, and feminist context. Sloan recognizes the changing impact and influence of works such as Wieland’s as they become canonized, and asserts that interventions in the archives allow researchers to re-construct meaning and epistemologies, and actively reconfigure history.

Philippe Dumaine also reflects on how we approach the archive, considering the role of cultural identity in the making, reading, and conceptualization of art history. In the text “Faire Ca Queer” Dumaine distinguishes a history of queer art, which focuses on explicitly queer practices through time, from a queer art history, which has more to do with how we read archival works. With this method of analysis, we can critically re-consider cultural memory and dominant narratives.

The act of reading art history is also important to Rinaldo Walcott, who considers a deciphering practice as an intersectional exploration of the past and of a possible future. Drawing on history to understand the contemporary black Canadian experience, his text “The Work of Contemporary Art (in Black)” discusses how artists Camille Turner and Abdi Osman represent issues of gender and race in Canadian society. Walcott argues that the strength and importance of contemporary art lies in its ability to become an exercise of thought reflecting social and political realities and shifting culture. Like Sloan, Walcott acknowledges the importance of the impact of intersectional feminist artworks. He writes that art influences our way forward, as it moves beyond the gallery space to encourage the viewer to reconsider their own cultural context.

The collection presents historical analysis and personal reflections on feminisms, queer theory, and de-colonizing methodologies, examining how social issues and identity are framed by different art practices and time periods. There is a constant urge to look back in order to move forward, as new insights on art historical perspectives are brought to more contemporary communities and activisms in the Canadian art scene. While critical theory progresses, the impact of art historical works evolves and merits re-examination in terms of the present moment and possible futures. As Walcott writes, “time does not stand still, no more for the art object than for our modes and ways of life.”[2]

Archi-Féministes! is available at the bookstore Librairie l’Euguelionne, at OPTICA contemporary art center, and online.

[1] Marie-Eve Charron, Marie-Josée Lafortune, and Thérèse St-Gelaise “Seeking New Insights” in Archi-Féministes!: Contemporary Art, Feminist Theories ed. Marie-Eve Charron, Marie-Josée Lafortune, and Thérèse St-Gelaise (Montreal: OPTICA: 2019) 11

[2] Rinaldo Walcott “The Work of Contemporary Art (In Black)” in Archi-Féministes!: Contemporary Art, Feminist Theories ed. Marie-Eve Charron, Marie-Josée Lafortune, and Thérèse St-Gelaise (Montreal: OPTICA: 2019) 85

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