Art comes in all forms to the University of Oregon, but few exhibits have as direct of a mission statement as the Object/Subject exhibition currently being put on by the Feminist Museum. Now, there are few things I enjoy more frequently than lively discussions about feminism with intelligent people, but encountering discourse of this kind through art was a particularly revelatory experience. This exhibit features pieces from local artists, including those from members of the Feminist Museum. This is the first exhibit organized by the group.
Any on-campus feminists who hadn’t yet heard of the Feminist Museum need not berate themselves quite yet. The group is still in its somewhat developmental stages, consisting of five female graduate students in the University of Oregon Arts & Administration program. Throughout their undergraduate and graduate studies, Britt Bowen, Mattie Reynolds, Stephanie Johnson, Cat Bradley and Sarah Turner noticed the severe lack of female representation in art galleries across America. Their collaborative goal within the Feminist Museum is to promote discussion regarding the underrepresentation of females in art galleries and museums, as well as to celebrate feminist art.
“I was an art history major in college, and 99 percent of the artists I studied were white males,” said Britt Bowen, one of the members of the group. “It depends on how far back you go, but for example, during the 1500s there are only a few notable women; largely, they weren’t allowed to produce art. Nowadays it’s different in that there are more female artists, but there’s no platform for them.
The five women are testaments to the power of feminist art in various forms, as the Object/Subject exhibit displays. Each member has her own piece to present. Though the exhibit is small, each piece captivates one or more of the senses. Part of Mattie Reynolds’ work, for instance, is even interactive: There’s a huge graffiti wall where viewers are invited to take chalk in hand and communicate their definition of feminism.
The other part of the exhibit is no less impactful, however; it consists of three podiums in the middle of the room, displaying groups of different male-associated objects that have been drenched in pink paint. Reynolds herself explained the inspiration behind the artwork.
“I have this huge problem with going into hardware stores and seeing these traditionally ‘male’ tools that companies make applicable to women by making them pink,” she said. “It’s as if women can’t handle these tools that are so male-dominated, so they just vomit pink on them, make them a ‘women’s’ color so that they can use them.”
The effect of the piece, called “The Pinking of Things,” is one of both irritation and humor. At the very least, it sure is fun to look at all those big masculine power tools doused in pink.
Other pieces are more evocative, like the two featured works by Cat Bradley. “Turn-Ons” is composed of three individual sculptures, and was inspired by her split with a significant other. The art is powerfully forthcoming and though the inspiration is deeply personal, the message is decidedly accessible.
As for her other creation, I had never experienced art in its particular form before. On one side of the room a projector plays audio clips of five women, each speaking about one of the five senses, in five different languages.
“Each woman is talking about something she’s attracted to, not necessarily sexually, but just in general. One woman is talking about what she loves to smell in her mom’s kitchen,” Bradley said.
The idea is for observers to listen to each clip and to try to infer, based on the inflections and tone of voice, which woman is talking about which sense. If that sounds difficult and slightly intimidating, believe me: it is. If you’re like most people, you’re almost sure to get them wrong.
“The woman who refers to touch is telling about having sex with her boyfriend,” Bradley said. “And people always think it’s the woman speaking French.”
I won’t give away which woman is actually talking about touch, but I can assure you: it’s not the one speaking French.
The exhibition will run through Friday, March 14, and I’d argue that a trip to LaVerne Krause Gallery in Lawrence Hall is well worth it. The art is fascinating and interactive. It also manages to strike a unique balance between weak and confrontational, so it ends up being attention-grabbing for those who may not even believe they identify with the term “feminism.”
At the very least, you’d be surprised: You may learn more about your own definition of feminism than you thought you could from seeing guns adorned in dripping pink paint.