BETHLEHEM, NEW MEXICO — It has been 50 years since woman’s house debuted, directed by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. The installation and performance space opened in 1972 inside a dilapidated Hollywood mansion as a result of Chicago’s year-long experimental Feminist Art Program at California State University, Fresno, and her co-teaching period with Schapiro. at the California Institute of the Arts. To celebrate the occasion and offer a contemporary perspective, the exhibitions Looking back at Womanhouse Y Wo/Manhouse 2022 they are on view in Belen, New Mexico, Chicago’s adoptive hometown of 30 years.
Looking back at Womanhouse is installed at Through the Flower Art Space, the Chicago nonprofit gallery in its second year, and includes reproduced historic photographs and original ephemera from woman’s house. The photographs show installations and the artists who made them, whom Chicago still refers to as the “Fresno girls,” even though they are now in their 70s. In one corner of the gallery, Chicago recreated “Menstruation Bath,” last seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1995.
The facility features a toilet, an overflowing trash can, and a variety of menstrual products, including sanitary napkins and tampons with fake blood. The labeling on one of the product’s containers uses language co-opted from the pro-choice movement, taken from the slogan “Your body, your choice”, an unfortunate marketing decision that conflates bodily autonomy with purchasing power. This has become even more topical since the US Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade on June 24, 2022, after 49 years of protection. Along with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the events serve as landmark guides through which to experience both exhibits.
A few blocks from Through the Flower is the installation and performance art site of Wo/Manhouse 2022, in which 19 New Mexico-based artists created site-specific artwork in every room of a quintessential 1950s-style home. Gender roles, identity, the family unit, work, sex, desire, abortion, birth and death are explored throughout, even the ceilings and pool bottoms were touched up with paint.
On its own, the house serves as an apt site for contemplation of the gender roles that were enacted within its walls and reflected in its architecture. Some aspects of home décor, including pink and blue bathrooms, are emblematic of nuclear family and social ideals. Seen today, the house raises questions about how our relationship with home and work, once two distinctly separate places for non-domestic workers, has changed, especially in recent years. In our pandemic age, the phrases “essential workers” and “working from home” have become more prominent in our vernacular, conjuring up images of healthcare providers and Zoom calls in makeshift home offices.
Unlike woman’s houseconsisting predominantly of white women in their early 20s, the artists of Wo/Manhouse 2022, which were selected from an open call, span ages 17 to 74 and include more artists of color and artists from across the gender spectrum. Although the current exhibit is more inclusive, it would still benefit from more BIPOC artists, a broader intersectional dialogue, and a broader lived experience.
What it means to feel at home in one’s own body stands out as a powerful addition to the exhibition as a whole. “Trans Bathroom”, an installation by Vladimir Victor Dantes in the pink bathroom, contains infographics on the effects of testosterone, a collection of syringes, and a bright pink and blue fabric that fills the tub and sink. A strong element of the installation are the chest folders embroidered with flowers in the form of upper surgical scars. Those pieces could stand alone, but the minimum is not the style of Wo/Manhouse usually. The spirit of most installations tends towards “more is more”; the installations sometimes include kitsch, to which the house lends itself, and are too didactic.
The use of text works successfully in some rooms, including Jen Pack’s participatory installation “그림자가 핀다 (And the Shadow Blooms),” which employs Korean and English writing to address complex personal narratives informed by imperialism. Stephanie Lerma’s “Dirty Laundry” features child-sized, handmade paper dresses hanging on a clothesline, embroidered with phrases and statistics about gun violence, domestic abuse, and child sexual abuse. It’s a visually stunning meditation on how home and school can be both sanctuaries and places of violence, its placement in the laundry room serving as a metaphor for possible renewal.
Nearby is Helen Atkins’s “Divinity Bathroom,” a Sacred sentiment installation in shades of blue featuring original paintings printed on wallpaper of nude women in pairs, as if suggesting multiple parts of oneself, siblings or ancestors. The installation feels like the “background” of the house, where the women go to get their hair done, get advice, and be with themselves and each other.
Installation of the wardrobe in the room of Apolo Gómez “Pleasure Closet” explores queer desire, shame, and Christianity in a visual mix that combines a confessional, glory hole, and altar. “My Life as a Bed” by Kara Sachs features the artist’s childhood bed with a television monitor embedded in the headboard, as if to give viewers the point of view of the bed. On loop is a series of shorts about everything that happens in a bed.
Performances take place every weekend in the backyard and have the feel of a neighborhood theater workshop with mature content. rosemary Carrol, performing solo and with collaborator Bett Williams is particularly captivating to watch. In the solo piece “Hairy Testimony,” Carroll sits facing the audience with her head bowed behind a curtain of long, curly red hair. In a strong, powerful voice, he details how he survived rape and the ways his community failed him when it went public.
During opening weekend alone, two original Fresno girls, Nancy Youdelman and Karen LeCocq, recreated their “Lea’s Room” piece. As Youdelman read an updated original monologue about the aging body, LeCocq sat behind her, applying makeup at a vanity. (Youdelman also served as the 2022 Artist Facilitator, bringing her perspective as an artist, educator, and Chicago alum to the group.)
Other woman’s house The original that received a 2022 update is “Cock and Cunt Play,” written by Judy Chicago and performed by Faith Wilding and Jan Lester in 1972. It is currently performed by two men, Jerah R. Cordova, former mayor of Bethlehem, and Logan Jeffers . . With large, plush genitalia strapped around their waists, they argue in exaggerated chant about gender, sex, and dishes. Jeffers also performs solo with his piece “Crying,” in which he sits in front of the audience and cries, provoking a mixture of empathy, satisfaction and discomfort. Also of note, selections from the International Honor Quilt, a feminist quilting project Chicago started in 1980, are on view in a separate backyard room.
That there are nearly six decades between the oldest and youngest participating artists is one of the exhibition’s strengths, with perspectives on the social and political issues of each generation. The work of Wo/Manhouse suggests parallels between the house and the body. At the most essential level, both operate autonomously but within much larger networks, neighborhoods, and societies. What goes on inside them is constantly changing, as is how they are governed and how safe they feel. Additionally, the house-as-art installation and the themes it addresses are reminiscent of important conversations about the housing crisis across the country, the rise of homeless populations, and, to get away, climate catastrophes in our shared home on Earth. . These issues, along with attacks on reproductive rights and LGBTQIA, most acutely affect BIPOC and point to the need to include more voices in the room or home, such as it is.
The project as a whole offers an opportunity to reflect: Do we have a suitable language, objects or images to describe the beauty and complexity of the ever-expanding spectrum of identity? How could the title of this project be read in another 50 years? What does survival require?
Looking back at Womanhouse Y Wo/Manhouse 2022 continue at Through the Flower (107 Becker Avenue, Belen, New Mexico) through October 9.