Emily Reese talks to artist Mira Schor.
Mira Schor fuses ideas of gender, politics, and representation of the body in her paintings that advocate the medium itself. Mira has shown in 56 Bogart at Momenta Art and Agape Enterprise, and she brings the perspective of someone who has had intermittent, extensive experience with the building in its many roles.
56B: Firstly, what kinds of work have you featured at Agape Enterprise? How has the space been conducive to your work’s perpetuation of its intended discourse?
MS: I’ve shown some drawings at Agape Enterprise. I was delighted that Eric and Kiko invited me to be one of the artists they wanted to feature when they began Agape. I love the space they occupy, I mean that room with its wacky fake or cheap dark wood wainscoting, the drawings looked great on those dark walls. I can’t say that experiences at 56 Bogart street have led to new ideas but I think the building is a great gift to all concerned, it’s synergistically good for all the arts organizations to be there and great for the art community, in New York City, not just Bushwick. I’m really happy to be associated with it, through my earlier connection with Momenta Art, and some contact with NURTUREart as well, and I’m excited about the possibilities of doing something at Agape that would not exactly be performance but might fit in with their developing direction.
56B: You mentioned in an interview with Bradley Rubenstein that you formerly painted the body of a female growing into her sexuality, but that now your figuration is a “barely gendered, barely embodied person walking around, sleeping, watching, reading”. You also mentioned that you have sought the loss of control within your painting technique itself. How does this near-total lack of gender, body, and control supplement ideas about female power?
MS: In terms of your question “How does this near-total lack of gender, body, and control supplement ideas about female power?” I think first of all that any cultural utterance by a woman who is critically aware of gendered power relations in our culture contributes to female power. This is consistent with the theme of my recent work that was shown at Marvelli Gallery, “Voice and Speech.” I am interested in giving “speech” to “voice”—the knowledge of the body, the knowledge of craft, of experience, of visuality—“speech,” speech here meaning the power of articulation in public and theoretical language. In terms of lack of control, what I’m trying to get at in the work is a quality of expression that an come to you when you trust your perceptions and your craft enough to let go of some overdetermination. It’s a bit of a game, because it’s hard to really lose control when you know how to do something but in the little moments where that seems to happen you can get to something interesting.
56B: You grapple with the gendered narrative of art history. How do you fit yourself into the female art historical canon, and how has your perception of your own role changed since you initially started making work?
MS: How do I fit into the feminist art historical canon? That is a huge subject and at times a bit of a sore point. I’d refer or have to defer to my essay, “Generation 2.5.” My generation hasn’t fared very well in getting into the feminist art historical canon, even though we are the first full generation who contributed to the development of most of its tropes at the same time or very close to that of the pioneer generation before us. I’ve worked with autobiographical representation and narrative in ways related to Frida Kahlo and Florine Stettheimer, starting before either of those artists were widely known (and before I ever heard of them). That was when I was a student, in the early ’70s. I very early on became interested in language as image. Starting in the mid-70s, I moved from interpreting “the personal is the political” as necessitating my being in the picture via recognizable self-portraiture, to allowing my handwriting, legible and not, to stand in for myself and to put forward the idea of women being filled with language. My works from that period were in line with the appearance and sometimes also the meaning of works by Hanne Darboven and Mary Kelly, among others, but my work from that time was not widely seen and has not yet received the critical attention I hope it will eventually get.
56B: Is there such a thing as the history of art production as an ungendered whole, or do we inadvertently separate female artists from their male peers through our discussions? Is this fruitful or detrimental?
MS: The idea that the history of art production is ungendered is an illusion and a fantasy that, even now, after forty years of feminist art and the dramatic transformation of art historical practices stemming from the feminist art revolution, still persists and that people cling to. Women artist still want to be seen as artists, not women artists. You can understand why: woman retains associations with second-class citizenship and the term woman as a theoretical category in particular is very devalued, which then has an effect on political activism. Yet work by a woman who is looking critically or with conscious awareness and criticality at her own life and society will somehow invest her work, even if it’s abstract or about other things entirely, with something that enlivens form and iconography. Women who don’t may have more commercial success but they also may end up subsumed to a (male) universal. We separate female artists from their male peers by omitting them from discussion and comparison. If they are seen as the same, the world still tends to gravitate towards male artists while subscribing piously to the myth of the universal. Just recently a young woman artist told me she wanted to be seen not as a feminist or a woman artist but as a human being…of course she does, and she is a human being, the whole point is that whether she likes it or not she will be considered as a woman. It’s a tough issue, constantly in contention, as it should be. If it disappears from contention, we’re back at the (male) universal.
56B: On the other end of art history, where do you think the “art future” (either feminist or otherwise) is headed?
MS: The future of art? There will always be cultural utterance of some form or another and these days we’ve accelerated the art critical recognition of various forms of cultural utterance as art (gaming etc..). Some of the ways of making or thinking about art that made me an artist in the way that I am, a fine artist, a painter, a maker of individual hand made things, are fading right now under pressure from the digital and the spectacular. Advanced theory demolished aura, and presumed relevance of the non-photographic. The market pushes spectacle and brand. As a teacher it’s hard to instill the potential of painting to express or comment on culture or to be a space of resistance (another old idea!). But you have to feel sorry for all the artists who just can’t figure out how to make works they see in galleries, museums, and fairs, that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just to produce. Meanwhile every year at least one art supply I rely on for my work is discontinued.
56B: Have any of the conversations or experiences you’ve had in 56 Bogart led you to explore new themes or ideas, either in your work or in your thought processes?
MS: What I like about 56 Bogart Street is that it’s a human scale situation with art organizations and galleries that have evolved from a community and that remain committed to a diverse range of work that artists can and do produce; it’s not exactly not part of the market of course, but it feels like a more organic and accessible space.