It's not often that feminism in mainstream media and art makes us laugh. But despite allusions to the contrary, feminism's foundations lie within irony and humour and feminist artists have long employed laughter as a tool within their work, as you'll see at the VCA.
It's not often that feminism in mainstream media and art makes us laugh. But with a large proportion of feminist opinion vocalised in response to the very serious issues of misogyny, oppressive inequality and violent crimes against women, perhaps it’s solemnity is understandable. Despite allusions to the contrary, feminism's foundations lie within irony and humour and feminist artists have long employed laughter as a tool within their work.
BACKFLIP: Feminism and Humour in Contemporary Art aims to subvert ingrained stereotypes of feminism as dry, dull and run by angry women. Embracing feminism's rich (and perhaps largely unknown) legacy of wit, satire and playfulness, the exhibition is a collection of reworked and contemporary feminist art. It’s ironic, it’s absurd, and, yes, it’s funny.
Curated by Laura Castagnini, along with Margaret Lawrence Gallery’s director Vikki McInnes, the exhibition aims to give feminist art largely by female artists the platform it deserves. As you enter the gallery space picket signs by New York’s Guerrilla Girls (Museums Cave into Radical Feminists, Museums Unfair to Men) highlight an amusing, but inextricable gender inequality within the art world. This harks back to Louise Lawler’s 1972/81 text and audio work, Birdcalls, also featured within the exhibition. Through parody these works combat the institutional bias that continues to inhibit the success of female artists.
A convergence of artistic mediums within BACKFLIP means that something is always grasping for your attention, demanding to be looked at and considered. Single channel video provides a captivating platform for female performative work, as with Patty Chang’s 1998 Melons (At A Loss) and the more contemporary video work from Melbourne artist Hannah Raisin.
The exhibition is constantly backflipping to older generations, cultures and nations. Humour that was employed by pioneering feminist artists has been reworked and reappropriated to explore the presence and experience of feminism in contemporary Australian culture. The collection sees Alice Lang’s text-based works represent feminist conversation through Gen-Y slang and Melanie Bonajo re-enact VALIE EXPORT’s iconic 1968 Genital Panic for contemporary audiences.
BACKFLIP also features digital video from renowned artists such as Tracey Moffat, Mika Rottenberg and Pipilotti Rist. The representation of female relationships is played up by cultural stereotypes — be enchanted (or repulsed) by the idealisation of female friendship with a live installation of nat&ali’s Friendship Is and witness a ridiculous rivalry in the form of two robotic vacuum cleaners. Perhaps one of the most absurd works in the exhibition is the Hotham Street Ladies’ use of icing to create a large bleeding uterus in the gallery’s male toilets — crude, funny and undeniably sweet at the same time.
Humour is a patriarchal game, but one that BACKFLIP uses to subvert the stereotypes of feminism to allow female voices to be heard — and laughed at.
Image via Brown Council
Want to live near this spot?
Check out our handy Neighbourhood Guides to find out how you can.