Susan Hiller is an artist whose work is tied up with gender and at the time she starting working as an ‘artist’ she looked for female role models and found none. For years she cherished a picture of Georgia O’Keeffe which showed the artist holding one of her paintings, very rarely do we see O’Keeffe portrayed as a working artist, instead we see only fragments of her, the curve of her neck, her work hands. Hiller made this connection later in life and it was formative in her photomat self portraits and her work ‘Incognito’.
Why weren’t women artists portrayed as ‘artists’? Were they still playing the role of the muse, this was certainly true of ‘O’Keeffe married to the Photographer Stieglitz. Her work Hiller suggests,”is shown as part of her body.” (Einzig, Thinking About Art – Conversations with Susan Hiller, O’Keeffe as I see her p81)
Hiller says that to label work as ‘feminist’ is “… to box it off into an area which cannot insert itself, cannot contradict mainstream notions of art.” (Enzig, Thinking About Art -Conversations with Susan Hiller, Dedicated to Unknown Artists p27) and she fears that because she is a woman her work will not ,”be seen properly, it wont be seen clearly. And no matter how much validation I receive from the mainstream, I can only see my presence within it as intrusive. And the difficulties that I get into are, I believe, the difficulties of communication and language based on a different perception of the world…….A woman is mute within our culture in that when she speaks she speaks as a man” (p26)
This is a problem that maybe women still face today, maybe we need more women collectors. Today there are many working craftswomen and artists but how many female collectors are out there and known. I suspect many are out there but quietly getting on with it and not making a big song and dance about it.
Hiller concludes “You can seem articulate and feel alienated. You have to suppress your alienation in order to remain articulate.” but as the questioner suggests this is self destructive as when we try to deal with the contradictions that arise from this experience within conventional frameworks we have no language and so no voice.
One of Hillers themes is to mke the inarticulate articulate and it is apparent that she agrees with O’Keeffes opinion that women can say something that a man can’t that, “I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore – the men have done all they can do about it.” (letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Mabel Dodge Luhan, 1925, quoted in Hoffman, An Enduring Spirit (New York:Methuen, 1984) p21.)
So come on girls its our time now.