Painting by Jo Darbyshire in deep purples, reds and blues
News, Reviews, Visual arts

A moving reflection

Review: Various artists, “NO SECOND THOUGHTS: Reflections on the ARTEMIS Women’s Art Forum” ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

“NO SECOND THOUGHTS: Reflections on the ARTEMIS Women’s Art Forum” is a reminder of where we came from. ARTEMIS Women’s Art Forum was formed in 1985 in Perth, and aimed to advocate for women in the arts, through education, free childcare, workshops, meetings and forums, as well as an exhibition space in the Perth Cultural Centre. In this exhibition at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, artworks (both old and recent) and archival materials from the group and its members are juxtaposed alongside the works of younger Perth artists, whose work engages and responds broadly to feminism, gender, labour and the ongoing project of creating meaningful institutional change.

It’s an exciting project, and as I wandered through the two galleries I felt quite emotional. So much of the work that we do as feminists, as artists and arts workers, can feel like an endless act of digging, of turning the earth over and finding meaning that has already been sowed years previously, rehashing the old and learning what has already been learned. It’s a double-edged sword; knowing that there are people who have done the work before you can be comforting at times, but at other times it can be wearying to know that the work continues on regardless.

Detail of wall hanging by Teelah George
Luminously glowing: detail from Teelah George’s ‘Wall Piece’.

The exhibition’s work of intergenerational exchange, however, provides sparks of hope, recognition and comfort. And it is work, as questions of invisible labour, institutional oppression and organisational structures loom large throughout the exhibition. Teelah George’s Wall Piece (2017-18) hangs prominently in the Westpac Gallery, luminously glowing. The weight of the material hangs heavy with the knowledge of the time taken for the artist to make the work – 7.5 hours a day for several months – and it is a reminder of the kind of invisible, unpaid domestic labour that women have been doing for centuries without acknowledgment. Similarly, Taylor Reudavey’s work is presented here as documentation of a performance in which she marries her own art practice, complete with white dress and wedding ring. It’s a humorous yet pointed act of recognising the ways in which labour such as art-making is undervalued and misrepresented as romantic whimsy.

The work of these younger, emerging artists sits alongside old, as well as more recent, work by original members of ARTEMIS, Penny Bovell and Jo Darbyshire. The inclusion of both newer and older works by these artists provides the opportunity to see how their work has changed over the years, whilst also cleverly resisting any kind of lazy historicisation that places their practices in the “past” (as older women and established artists), compared to the “present” works of younger artists Reudavey and George. In this way, the timelines overlap, forming not one straight line of progression, but a convergence of works that are ongoing.

This feeling continues into the Sheila Cruthers Gallery, which displays archival documents from the State Library archives – meeting minutes, exhibition catalogues, artworks, newspaper articles, drafted conflict resolution policies in colourful texta. Whilst obviously historical, again the texts and images still seem relevant and urgent. ARTEMIS Women’s Forum is, of course, only one aspect of this cause, and the discussions occurring today have evolved, expanded, shifted into different specificities. Nonetheless, collaboration, how best to communicate and resolve disputes, how to gain recognition for your work, and how to overcome structural barriers to equal representation – these are the fights that are still ongoing.

“NO SECOND THOUGHTS: Reflections on the ARTEMIS Women’s Art Forum” is at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery until December 8.

Pictured top: Detail from “The Glorious Decline” by Jo Darbyshire.