We are GraceGraceGrace (GGG), a three-person Live Art collective concerned with the process of aging and gender. Through our work, and as people who identify as older, it occurred to us that we may have expanded the territory inhabited by Live Art in relation to self-defined subjectivities of the aging woman. To cut a long story short, the Live Art Development Agency (LADA) is publishing our book: GraceGraceGrace explore gen-age and selling it on their online shop Unbound and we are thrilled to be guest editors of this month’s Unbound monthly newsletter.
Note: We have adopted the handy neologism gen-age, to describe the intersection of gender and the process of aging as we reframe Live Art practice. You will hear our voices here (just as in our book): the voices of artists, not theorists; distinct, yet in agreement on many fundamental principles.
So, to begin with, we ask ourselves:
Q. Why do we need to write ourselves into art histories?
A. Katharine Meynell: There was always at the back of my mind a sense that history did not reflect my own experience, but then how could it? History inevitably is concerned with the dominant discourses of whichever time and place it is written from. Constructed retrospectively, there is the additional sense of a time-lag.
I am both under-represented, whilst simultaneously having the advantages of being around feminist and post-colonial discourses, and I went to art school in London in the 1970’s and 80’s when the art world considered ‘Time Based’ work as largely outside of exchange and use. This was liberating because it never occurred to me that it ought to be worth something other than itself, and yet marginalising in that it was ephemeral, it existed in the moment and was largely unaccounted for. But Fast -forward and this starts to feel very skewed.
As GGG we found a desperate lack of information about ‘Live Art’ artists thinking through the intersection of gender and aging, and realised that this had been doubly overlooked, our history in the making was invisible. And from that idea the book emerged. It felt important to make something about a collective, critical mass, which is at odds with an art market intensely monetised and infused with ideas of individualism and exceptionalism. So, we hoped to simultaneously reflect the work GGG was doing, and to position it within a wider context acknowledging the hugely supportive and exciting milieu that reflects our lives and work more accurately. In addition to the individual artists we had some financial support, we had LADA’s support, we had Guest Projects’ support – we had the wherewithal to build on this context.
Sonia Boyce has explained how ‘being troubled by the past’s imagery became a moment of epiphany’, believing that ‘we don’t have to settle for the past as it is presented. The past is not fixed... its future use is beyond the control of the past’.
A. Teresa Albor: Books and publications have a certain status. As a short-form writer, I have always felt a jolt of pleasure in seeing my work published, and - there in print - my by-line. For a decade (1980s) I was very prolific and yet, that tingling feeling was ever-present every single time I pounced on a newly published article, re-reading the piece, revelling in the transformative, elevating power of the well composed page.
I think we collectively experience that moment when we see ourselves “in writing” and so creating a written history is about self-recognition and validation.
And, of course, it’s also critically important to make sure our versions of history are not only out there for people within, but for people outside our communities.
Finally, we can’t sit around and wait for historians to find us. And who better to curate, collate and archive our collective histories then those of us with lived experience—writing from the inside out rather than observed and dissected.
A. Lady Helena Vortex: The point of our book is to share a dark romance with the self (that’s what I got out of it: a sort of subletting of psychic studio time). We wanted to collect stories of people who describe themselves as artists and as women and as aging in one place, and then investigate how they experience their lives and the world, and how they share that information. From there, we want to think about how we are to perform this portion of our lives. I found that I couldn’t find anything about this (I can’t find anything in general at this point in my life), so we thought it would be really handy to bring it all together in one book.
Our book recommendations:
Abstract Vaudeville: The Work of Rose English, Guy Brett, 2014
This is a gorgeous complex book which does many things simultaneously. It is a monograph that gives space to a range of collaborations with Sally Potter, Jacky Lansley, Simon Vincenzi and many others. It also gives us multi-layered accounts for English’s practice through notes, photographs, scripts, eye-witness descriptions (Deborah Levy, Annabel Nicolson, Peter Gidal and others) and essays. It introduces us to the interests and sub-texts that infuse Rose English’s eclectic body of work - Tommy Cooper, Ruth Draper, the prop as protagonist, magic and philosophy merging with the political and theatrical all mixed up with irony and deadly serious sleight of hand. It illustrates her timing and precision, relationship to the audience and much, much, more. Recommended by Katharine Meynell.
The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, Shulamith Firestone, 1970
I have my well-thumbed, yellowing, 40-year-old copy with me wherever I set up my writing space. Written over a few months when Firestone was 25, this book is described by Wikipedia as “a classic of feminist thought”. I read this book when I was not yet 25 and it absolutely blew my mind and set up the way I perceive/negotiate the world. The goal of the feminist revolution, Firestone writes, must be "not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself" so that genital differences no longer have cultural significance. How f**king ahead of her time was she? Recommended by Teresa Albor.
Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations, Kathleen Woodward, 1999
Note: of critical importance the essay Performing Age, Performing Gender, by Woodward.
When we began the project of writing our book, it soon became apparent that there was a dearth of scholarly (or any) sort of writing about the intersection we were looking for (gender, aging, Live Art). Luckily, we found Woodward’s essay which guided our further research, and moreover we found Woodward, who sent us a reading list. Recommended by Teresa Albor.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes,
Music, Music, Music,
Boys, Boys, Boys,
Viv Albertine, 2014
That's what her Mum said, was all she was interested in. Viv Albertine’s poignant strangely beautiful memoir of the perils of being on the cultural frontline is cool, pithy and smart.
She was an art student, played lead guitar in the SLITS, made films and is now back to making music and art. She is a feminist female and fierce who has had ‘Typical Girls’ adventures in life, art and music. Recommended by Lady Helena Vortex.
These are titles that Unbound doesn’t stock, but we wanted to recommend anyway:
Drift, by Caroline Bergvall, 2014
This is an artists’ book from performance poet Caroline Bergvall, with mark-making, night skies and accounts of people desperately drifting at sea. Recommended by Katharine Meynell.
Performing Difference by Rohini Malik Okon and artists, 2004
This book is a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural account from the holders of Artsadmin’s Artists’ Bursary scheme. It is a small ring bound book with a provisional flavour - short essays, a spread of images for each artist and a CV. This is a source book for artists and ideas, a snapshot of a particular moment. Recommended by Katharine Meynell.
Our Bodies, Ourselves, a health book by and for women Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.1973
My copy is falling apart. I pick it up, and because the glue in the binding has perished, new pages flutter to the floor each time. I pick up these pages and read them and learn or rethink something about my body every time this happens. A whole generation (including me) read this book, which encouraged us to get out our mirrors and explore our bodies without shame, to rediscover anger and to ‘learn to value ourselves’. Although this is essentially a DIY health book, it’s important to Live Art making. There have always been cross overs between politics, activism, feminism and Live Art practices. In the context of this book… think Annie Sprinkle: Public Cervix Announcement (1990s), a performance in which she invited the audience to view her cervix with a speculum and flashlight. Straight out of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Despite the fact that this book was published in 1973 it’s super relevant today. Maybe I should get a new copy. Check out their website here. Recommended by Teresa Albor.