Reviews/Visual Art

Taking care of unfinished business

19 July 2022

Giving voice to sexism and many other forms of discrimination in the education sector, ‘#FEAS Unfinished Business’ is an exhibition that Varnya Bromilow finds strangely comforting in these dark times.

‘#FEAS Unfinished Business’, various artists curated by Dr Jo Pollitt ·
Spectrum Project Space ·

I was listening to an excellent podcast about the overturning of Roe vs Wade on my way to check out “#FEAS Unfinished Business”, an exhibition at Spectrum Project Space. My podcast listening has taken a grim turn of late – the last one was about Steve Bannon.

Dark times.

So, it was a strange comfort to see an exhibition that is itself an act of resistance. Strange because the show’s central theme reflects some of the core socio-political challenges of our time.

FEAS is an acronym for Feminist Educators Against Sexism. The group was founded in 2016 by Professor Mindy Blaise, Dr. Emily Gray and Dr. Linda Knight. The idea was a big one – to interrupt, challenge and otherwise shout out about sexism in academia and other educational spheres.

What began as a group of three now has hundreds of members worldwide, with a social media following in the thousands. In 2020, Knight stepped away from the project, replaced by WA scholar and artist Dr Jo Pollitt.

“#FEAS Unfinished Business” is curated by Pollitt and features works from 13 artists and scholars. It is a sprawling thing, giving voice not only to sexisms (sic) in the educational space but also issues around colonialism, gender, race, sexuality, family, food and body.

Suffice to say, you’ll need to set aside a good hour or two.

Linda Knight’s work, There There, drew me in immediately. Two textile-covered hoops form soft horizontal cone shapes, suspended from the ceiling. The cosy effect is at odds with the embroidery on the outside of each – a patchwork of sexist conversational snippets:

“I try not to be strident to keep the men onside”;

“I bet you were attractive when you were younger”;

“Junior female academics stock copy paper”.

Inside each funnel is a small transistor radio – one with a soothing voice bestowing banal advice about having it all; the other a raucous soundtrack of male laughter. It’s searingly relatable.

There are two installations by the core members of #FEAS. The trio tends to use humour as their main mode – a tricky proposition in the political art sphere. Their recent work focuses on the grimly disproportionate effect of the pandemic on women and minorities. There’s a faux newscast, The #FEAS Report featuring Gray, Pollitt and Blaise, as well as a spoof game show Wheel of (mis)Fortune.

In the echoey environs of the ECU’s Spectrum Project Space it was difficult to fully experience both works – the volume on both pieces was overwhelmed by Natalie Harkin’s neighbouring piece. But the subtitles told a sad enough tale – 25% of professors in Australia identify as women, compared to a student population of 60% self-identifying women. Funny, not funny… but I guess that’s the point.

Three women sit at a long desk, each with a laptop in front of them. They all wear black t-shirts with white writing that says "#FEAS". A banner runs across the photo that says "Professor Mindy Blaise, Dr Jo Pollitt, Dr Emily Gray".
Funny, not funny: Screenshot from ‘The #FEAS report’ with Professor Mindy Blaise, Dr Jo Pollitt and Dr Emily Gray.

Natalie Harkin’s extraordinary Archive Fever Paradox [2] Whitewash-Brainwash also finds a home in this show. Harkin is a Narungga woman from South Australia. Her work combines research of the state archives of South Australia with poetry, to create works that are as devastating as they are compelling.

The focus here is the “women’s work” performed by Aboriginal women for their colonial overseers in a little-known system of state-orchestrated indentured labour. Harkin is an incredible poet as well as a meticulous researcher. The result is brute fact interwoven with elegiac beauty – it knocked my socks off.

Urszula Dawkins’ Wandering Part I, is a series of gorgeous chapbooks filled with words, maps and photographs detailing fictional journeys. Dawkins is a queer writer and the co-creator of A Thousand Threads: Stories of Us, a collective writing initiative for trans and gender-diverse folks. Reading these beautiful little books is like standing inside an incredibly evocative poem; each word, each phrase, so carefully curated it’s like a tiny, glorious adventure into the depths of Dawkins’ imagination.

There’s a lot here. I don’t know if it all fits together seamlessly as a whole – there are so many important questions asked – but, at the moment, it’s just heartening to witness the asking.

“#FEAS Unfinished Business” continues at Spectrum Project Space until 28 July.

There are three events associated with the exhibition:

Event 1: The unfinished business of feminist research
Keynote: Dr Emily GRAY, School of Education, RMIT University, co-founder of #FEAS, plus postgraduate responses.
Wednesday 20 July 2022 – 12pm -1.30pm. Free event. Registrations required

Event 2: #FEAS: Unfinished Business
The #FEAS team share their latest creative activist research projects.
Thursday 21 July 12pm-1.30pm. Free event. Registrations required

Event 3: ACDC Artist Floortalk at Spectrum Project Space
Wednesday 27 July 2022 12.30pm – 1.30pm
Free event. All welcome. No registrations necessary.

Pictured top: an installation view of ‘#FEAS Unfinished Business’. Photo: Jo Pollitt

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Author —
Varnya Bromilow

Varnya Bromilow is a happy dilettante who has worked as a journalist, advocate, oral historian, teacher and train driver. She spent 15 years with the ABC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and The West Australian and enjoys writing fiction. She loves guinea pigs and the thrill of a good slide.

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