Roseanne nestled in the warmed couch cushion between valium-laced Leave it to Beaver, re-runs of motherhood and the rise of the MILF. In those days feminism felt it had achieved something: a woman was able to say – on air – that she was fat, bored and generally pissed off, without being derailed. Fittingly, the recent exhibition at Adelaide’s Format Gallery Roseanne/Angry uses the TV show as a springboard from which to review the relevance of feminist frustrations and to underline the cultural capital of outrage. As both performance and exhibition Roseanne/Angry not only revealed violence but also actively encouraged the audience to engage with a shared, flawed humanity. Play around with stereotypes long enough, as did the 16 contributing artists, and something intelligent starts to happen. The effort moves (at points) beyond simple or reflexive irony into a space of self-aware irony. Meta irony, if you will, which is a position with a good deal more power than anything conjured by the bitter housewife trope alone.
To borrow from the iconic British writer social critic Susie Orbach, rage is a feminist issue. Its significance in forming the largely unconscious well-spring from which the urge to be represented comes is paradoxically the reason many feminists resist revealing their own. In talking with Amira H., curator of Roseanne/Angry, I was curious about the value of anger in her career:
I remember making my first major sculptural work at the South Australian School of Art, Corrupt of the Earth, in 2004, which was a pathway made of white satin “bricks” installed on the grass at Uni. From the very beginning, anger was my inspiration to make work, and that piece was about homosexuality and women who are forced into marriage. My anger about social injustices has really been the driving force behind most of what I do.
Was there a particular event in your life that made you aware of how underrepresented women's anger is in visual culture?
I’m not sure that I could pin it down to one event, however there is one that sticks out in my mind. In 2007, my friends Romi Graham, Celeste Aldahn and I put on a show called Yoko Faux Mo in Stormy Summers’ old brothel. I made a work called Instruction for Making It in the Art World, which was a text instruction dissing the male-dominated Adelaide art scene. One particular curator saw it, and (allegedly) scoffed and said “that’s not how things are at all.” The gallery where he worked later put on a survey show of Adelaide artists and women were severely underrepresented. That fact got a lot of people angry and talking, and his statement in front of my instruction piece showed just how deluded some males in power are.
The visual language of Roseanne/Angry consistently subverts normative patriarchal culture. Bloody, mangled feminine hands form a white circle on the floor while a neon crucifix perches next to a diamante hotdog in a toilet roll holder; on the wall a skinny model, face masked by the fabric she isn’t wearing, sips diet Dr Pepper while grabbing her stomach flab. It suits what I like about Roseanne Barr: she rarely lowers the bar, rarely tackles the obvious without giving it a kick. You watch her incrementally belly-flop over the everyday, the mundane – a similar thing could be said of feminism.
So Amira, why Roseanne?
I was drawn to use Roseanne Barr as the starting point for the exhibition as she simply embodies everything that I want to be. She is smart, funny, loudmouthed (sic) and never backs down when challenged. She is my personal idol as she shuns dieting and body shame. She is the ultimate matriarch, as evidenced by her famous television show. Roseanne is just brilliant.
Is an exhibition like Roseanne/Angry activist art?
It was definitely my aim to present Roseanne/Angry as an activist event. The show very clearly had a feminist theme running through it, with some works overtly declaring it, while others were a little more abstract. I also chose some friends who I don’t think would consider themselves “artists”, but who I think have excellent things to say. Ben Archist displayed some great t-shirts and posters with feminist slogans, including “You’re either a Feminist or a misogynist. There is nothing in between”. Anna Kingston performed on the night, allowing the audience to pelt her with water balloons while reading out declarations about what made us angry – audience members were given slips of paper to write whatever they liked down. I just hope it has perhaps made some people think twice the next time they decide to shut up about an issue that bugs them. Speak up and call people out! We might not be able to completely fix things, but we can try.
Format Gallery, Adelaide
29 September 2012, 6-8pm