art
 and 
context
Staging Act Three
April 2016

Jesse Jones has anchored her project, No More Fun and Games, in the creation of a mock institution, ‘The Feminist Parasite Institution’. The institution, a gathering of Jones’s acquaintances many of whom are engaged in feminist activism, set up space and platform within the Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery, the host, and selected work by women for exhibition from the gallery’s collection. These seven works are shown as both individual pieces and a collective, the latter to highlight the under-representation of women artists in galleries and museums generally.  Their newly appointed space is differentiated to excess from the rest of the Hugh Lane by silver painted walls and one is drawn towards the space via a long entrance or, to be exact, two rooms and a large landing area in between. This lead-in is unveiled by the device of a large translucent curtain ceremoniously drawn by an actor along a curving ceiling track through to the silver room. Also drawing the viewer towards the silver room is wistful flute music which emanates through the total space. Such is the opening gambit of No More Fun and Games which unfurls in time as well as space as further instalments present themselves for at least its duration at the Hugh Lane between February and June. The above forms the material staging for Act One and, as I write, the second and third Acts have been launched—a second publication and an event, ‘Laugh a Defiance’, which is based around women’s laughter—with further instalments to come. Part art exhibition, part theatre, part performance, part music, part gallery tour, part film, part talk shop, part text, part publication, one might ask whether the parasite in No More Fun and Games might transform into feminist agency, and if so, what might that look like?

An initial interpretation of this still evolving work is to cast the fundaments established in the first Act at the parasitical end of events. The borrowing from the Hugh Lane is already noted. In addition, an image of a female arm runs the length of the large curtain; the video and sound clips available on the Gallery’s website—Jones in interview—inform us that the arm belongs to her mother and that the idea for using this image is derived from Robert Altman’s film, 3 Women (1977). The music in the gallery space is by the same composer as Altman used for his film. The hand on the curtain—and there are several variations of the gesture of the hand from curtain to publications—can be seen as a slight beckoning movement of the fingers, an invitation into the artwork, or into women’s space? We are also informed through a brief textual introduction from the Hugh Lane positioned in front of the entrance that No More Fun and Games is in reference to the title of the magazine produced by Cell 16, a feminist group. Cell 16, operative in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was also separatist. The three paper publications that are circulated beginning, middle, and end of the course of the show emulate the plain cover format of the original magazine, the title forming the front; however, the back is an image of the beckoning hand. By the opening of the third Act it seems as though Jones’s control of the situation has assumed a back seat and that events could take on a life of their own—or at least that might be the hope. ‘Laugh a Defiance’ is full of stream-of-consciousness type text from other actors along with choice clips of women’s laughter sourced from popular entertainment which seems to leave the ‘political articulation’ referred to by Jones in her video clip interview as subliminal.

So, is the hope that the participants in No More Fun and Games will help develop agencies that are not pre-determined by Jones? Or, that No More Fun and Games will further the other activities that the participants are already engaged in or will engage in? It is worth pointing out that the particular Issue of Cell 16’s magazine referenced here had the working theme, ‘What do you Women want?’ The you points and pointing calls for response whereas the we that is so often used in feminism beckons and offers support; but ‘we’ also can appeal to the comfort zone, acceptance, or passivity.

No More Fun and Games draws from the history of feminism; it incorporates women across generations just as it is inclusive with participants across the spectrum of feminism. It is in this regard that an analogy with Nancy Fraser’s recent book, Fortunes of Feminism[1], may be made. The book is a selection of essays Fraser wrote between the 1980s and the recent economic crisis. Its historical trajectory is from the decline of the welfare state and state regulation to the rule of de-regulated capitalism and globalization. Fraser has chosen to split the chronology of the essays into three Acts, or three imaginaries. The first reflects the early phase of Second Wave Feminism as circulating around the concept of equality. The emphasis in the second Act is on issues of identity as these came to the fore in the eighties; as Fraser puts it, there was a shift in focus from ‘re-distribution to recognition’. For Fraser, identity came to dominate feminist discourses at the cost of equality with its more focused political goals. Fraser is a socialist feminist who seeks an inclusive feminism, but a feminism that does not lose sight of the political battle for equality—by which she does not mean the number of ‘femocrats’ who sit on corporate boards. Most especially this involves the interrogation of notions of justice as legislated and practiced through institutions including the home as these have evolved from the nationally defined to an increasingly international level. Justice not only requires equality but also identity and Fraser argues that in the imaginary of Act Three, equality and identity must be calibrated, one with the other. Fraser’s distinction between equality and identity and the need to align both is useful in thinking the pathway of feminism, even while the practice is often less clear.

 

[1] Fraser, Nancy. 2013. Fortunes of Feminism: from State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal crisis. London and New York: Verso.