We conclude the first phase of the Complex Social Change series with a project from the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG). Their stubborn, playful, inventive focus on contemporary feminist issues and gender identity could not be more necessary than at a time when people continue to say “we don’t need feminism anymore” or claim that “ [insert feminist statistic or analysis] seems blown out of proportion.” Even more insidious are the subtle forms of sexism that continue to thrive. The two people at the core of FAG, Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue, asked that their names not be featured in the promotion and are instead are included in the list of 20 artists participating in the exhibition. They are both successful artists with international careers, as well as significant day jobs, and it is precisely for this reason that they did not want to be featured ahead of or above the diverse, emerging artists who they aim to support by including whenever their reputation earns them an invitation to produce a project. Pointing out sexist language and structures is not sufficient to make change, one has to change the assumptions and practices – alter the discourse and the discursive formation – in order to create a major shift and to make that change lasts.
Perhaps the most radical action that FAG takes is to put into place models based on collective practice in order to undermine the negative, competitive notion of striving for lone success and climbing over others (or pulling the ladder up once you make it to the top). This approach goes to the heart of what the Complex Social Change group at the U of L is hoping to achieve. We want to focus on successful areas of social change, such as the strides that feminism has made in our society, but also create more productive, more inviting ways of conducting the research into these issues and then engaging with others to discuss them. Along with collaborative artistic approaches, we have also been inspired by the Matsutake Worlds Research Group who use an attractive metaphor to describe and shape the way collaborative work is conducted. They move away from the tree-like imagery often used to depict the scholarly process (with its various disciplinary ‘branches’), instead employing a micorrhizal metaphor—symbiotic structures formed between fungi and tree roots that nourish the fungi, and provide essential nitrogen for the tree. The manner in which the fungi entangle themselves with the tree’s roots is a form of collaboration that allows the plant’s roots to diversify into multiple different strands. This tangle of fungus and roots then cooperates with other microbes to dissolve the soil, creating new strata and changing the very nature of the landscape.
The Complex Social Change group views the U of L Art Gallery as the micorrhizal structure that melds with the roots of the university, assembling new landscapes of interest, and allowing creative new forms of scholarly endeavour—the fruiting bodies of the fungus—to bloom. In this way, we answer the call of Matustake Worlds: “Might we use the heady rush of creativity and charisma, but plow it back into the scholarly process rather than toward the fetish of individual brilliance?” I hope that this approach is evident in the diverse voices present in “We Can’t Compete” and that visitors to the gallery are encouraged to join the discussion raised by the art works included in the exhibition.
Director/Curator, U of L Art Gallery