December 16, 2015

Art Blogger of The Week: Sally Deskins near Pittsburgh, USA


Photo: Thompson Higgins

Sally Deskins found me before I found her. She contacted me for her blog Les Femmes Folles to talk about art criticism and feminism. I knew the subject of art criticism tends to be masculine (it's easier to publish about (white) male artists in mainstream art magazines (and I don't know many art magazines that are not mainstream, except for some online, independent ones, like the critical Africa Is A Country ). But is the gender of the art critic also dominantly masculine? When it comes to an art critic with established "authority", I guess I can only name Roberta Smith. Since 2011 Sally Deskins challenges in her blog such inequalities. Les Femmes Folles, also named LFF, is even more than a blog, Sally Deskins calls it an organisation, one that hosts events, talks, conferences, and exhibitions. It even publishes books - indeed, a micro feminist press! You can check her interview with me here, and to know more about  Sally Deskins's feminist engagement, read my interview with her below: 


Art scene

There was some discourse about the amount of women featured recently at the Miami Art Fair which was awesome and I hope a growing trend. In general, trends for art direction might include more globally-minded artists creating work with knowledge of the world at large daily through social media, and with this recognition that their work, too, could be seen worldwide via just an upload (see Fiona Amundsen for example); environmentalist-focused art (see Barbara Roux, for example); social justice-themed art (see Leslie Sotomayor, for example); and a growing technological / new media field with online art (see Alinta Krauth, for example). Even considering the excitement at Miami Art Fair, what has not changed enough is the representation of women in art collections, exhibitions, texts and commercial galleries. A whole issue of ARTNews was dedicated to the issue last summer. LA-based artist Micol Hebron is curating an ongoing collaborative project dedicated to showing visually the gender break-down of commercial galleries via posters by artists that is now worldwide, that I’m a part of, called Gallery Tally. In fact, as Griselda Pollock recently wrote, women are still left out of the story by mainstream museums, and this impacts our understanding of history. As Susan Bee keenly wrote for the Brooklyn Rail special feminist issue last year, “…even when woman artists are shown, the wall texts, catalogues, and reviews too often situate their work in relation to male artists, as if that is what makes the work valuable.” There are of course other collectives, galleries and groups still addressing this issue today, including, albeit on a small level, my blog, Les Femmes Folles, which is a forum for women in all forms of art, and I’m thankful to now know of your blog! But the fact is, it is still an uneven playing field and not enough people recognize this—or the importance of recognizing this. 

I create and write in a town with less than a handful of galleries in West Virginia, near Pittsburgh. One recently opened by two art students so hopefully that will shake things up. Otherwise, Pittsburgh has a really outstanding and growing art scene with diversity and encouragement from various nonprofits for experimentation and growth. I have had the opportunity of having a solo exhibition at Future Tenant which is run by art administration students,  and enjoyed collaborating, and in an exhibition there curated by one of the curators of the Andy Warhol Museum which was really exciting because their curating always proves innovative and exploratory, which I admire. Last month I was in an experimental show at Most Wanted Fine Art, looking at the art of blogging, which I write more about below … 

Blog 

I started Les Femmes Folles, the blog, in 2011, after an exhibition featuring the work of five women artists curated by the late artist Wanda Ewing, my friend and mentor. Long story about how the exhibition, titled by Wanda, came to be, but I was producing a performance event inspired by the female writers of the Beat movement and invited her to curate an art exhibit to accompany it. It was amazing, and inspiring; I was in awe of the talent and the strength in the work and messages by Wanda, Leslie Diuguid, Rebecca Herskovitz, Jamie Lamaster and Lauren van Wyke!  I was in stoked that there were other women using the body in their work and doing it simultaneously with strength and grace. I wanted to know more about them, see more of their work–but was unable to find almost anything. Then I started looking online for other work about women artists and did not find much (locally, at the time I was in Omaha, Nebraska). I was also an arts writer for the newsweekly there, and began to notice the majority of exhibitions I was writing about featured men…so I pitched a new column idea to a few publications to write solely about women and feminist issues in art, including conversations among artists and professionals, as well as reviews and timely feminist topics. No one was interested, so I asked a few community members what they thought of the idea of starting my own blog, and everyone was really excited and supportive, so I did! I asked Wanda what she thought of having a blog to feature solely women artists, and was encouraged to do it! Wanda being right there, “of course use my exhibit title, the drawing I made for the show, anything, just do it!”  It debuted to some major excitement, and followed up with six more shows (and counting) as well as readings, panels, books and other collaborations. I also have a long story about how it began, as well as about Wanda Ewing, on the blog if anyone wants to go there and read it.

I like blogging because it offers a more raw perspective on art, unedited and free to write whatever I want!  I assume other bloggers are as well, so it’s a great gritty alternative to the more formal art publications which are of course, important too. But blogging adds a nice personal aside to that—and, my own story is a testament—my column idea was rejected, so I started my own blog.

As far as being connected to other bloggers, yes and no. Lots of artists and writers also keep blogs, and I’m in a few art blogging online conversation groups. I am not literally in a solid, regular, meet-up bloggers group however, that would be fun! I am in this “Art of Blogging” exhibition right now, at Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery in Pittsburgh, which is really interesting. I’m also an artist and my blogging definitely impacts my artwork—many times directly, as in my work exhibited in this show, alongside other artists who blog, or bloggers who create.  I think it is a really great curatorial idea for a show; the curators are really great promoters, and are hosting some blogging awards, and next to each artwork, including the artist’s statement and a bit about their blog. It’s interesting to see the variety of works and how people work their blogging into their work or vice versa. These two particular pieces of mine are from my Voice series that I started after LFF debuted. I grabbed quotes from interviews about being a woman or being a woman artist, and scripted them alongside a series of body prints (inspired by Yves Klein’s Anthropometries).  So as blogging and interviewing all these women is helping me find my own way as a woman, it is also evidence of so many ways to be a strong woman, whatever that means in the form of these abstract body-print forms.

Expertise 

My undergraduate degree is in studio art, drawing. But after that I spent five years in nonprofit administration doing fundraising, events and promotion. I got a Masters in nonprofit administration, then decided I just wanted to write about art, so I wrote a column about the art scene in Omaha for the newsweekly there for a few years before starting LFF as I mentioned before. 

Besides blogging, I’m currently a graduate student in art history, looking at curating with a feminist perspective. Les Femmes Folles totally impacted my choice of study, focusing on feminist issues in art, and women in art, etc. Interviewing so many women in art about being a woman artist definitely served as an impetus to dig more into the issue with graduate research.

I’m also a freelance writer, reviewing art and books, with a focus on women in art and seeing art with a feminist lens. So, my blog similarly impacts my perspective with this writing.

And, I’m also still a practicing artist! As previously noted a lot of my art comes directly from my blog, and some of it indirectly.  I met writer Laura Madeline Wiseman via a LFF interview and another event I was producing a few years ago, and she asked me if I’d like to do a collaborative book together! So our first collaborative book was Intimates and Fools, in 2014, which actually just won a Nebraska Book Award for cover design and illustration! That is really exciting. That started the Les Femmes Folles Books collaborative series which is an outgrowth of LFF. We also then started on our next project together, Leaves of Absence, exploring nature and the body, which will be out Jan. 1, 2016 from Red Dashboard books. 

I’m also a mom and a wife which is another interview, but seeps into all of my work directly and indirectly as well. 

Money


I wish I were business-savvy and able to turn the blog into a profit-making venture, or even a bartering venture. I should be, considering I’m married to an economist. But I’m shy and understand there are so many artists out there asking for donations for major projects that I help promote. Being a freelance writer doesn’t pay the bills either. I’m hoping that once I graduate I can find a way to get paid for some of my labor! I do have one advertisement on my blog but it’s never paid anything to speak of. The books I sell, the annuals, I don’t make any money from either, nor my other projects with Madeline Wiseman. I sell art occasionally, but it barely pays enough to buy supplies. It is literally a labor of love, though I’m fortunate to be able to pursue it, it would feel much more solid—not just for me, but for art in general—to get paid. That’s the thing with art, isn’t it, it’s given away (or it’s expected to be). I hope someday to have a column or regular space in a major publication to write about women and feminist issues in art. I’ll keep submitting and plugging away! But LFF will remain.

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