Feminist Avant-Garde in (not only) Czech and Slovak Context

11. 2. 2019 – 12. 2. 2019

House of Arts

Feminist Avant-Garde in (not only) Czech and Slovak Context
A conference accompanying the exhibition “The 1970s Feminist Avant-Garde / Works from the Collection SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien”

11 and 12 February 2019
The Brno House of Arts
The two-day international conference held in the Brno House of Arts will accompany the running exhibition “The 1970s Feminist Avant-Garde / Works from the Collection SAMMLUNG VERBUND Wien”, curated by Gabrielle Schor from Vienna. The exhibition presents an extensive body of works created by feminist artists from Europe, North and South America and Asia between the 1970s and 1990s. This kind of collection of feminist art is on display in the Czech context for the first time ever, and thus poses an array of questions concerning gender issues present in the cultural, social and political situation in the former Czechoslovakia.
The conference was initiated by Terezie Petišková, director of the Brno House of Arts, and Vendula Fremlová and Anna Vartecká, curators of the exhibition “Grey Gold, Czech and Slovak Women Artists 65+” (the Brno House of Arts, 2014).

Conference Program
Monday, 11 February 2019

morning section

10.00 am
Inauguration by the director Terezie Petišková and introduction by the conference authors, Vendula Fremlová, Anna Vartecká (curators of the exhibition “Grey Gold, Czech and Slovak Women Artists 65+”, the Brno House of Arts, 2014, and “At My Fingertips”, Kunstverein Schwerin, 2018)

10.15 am
Gabriele Schor, collection Sammlung Verbund, Vienna/AT
The founder and director of the collection Sammlung Verbund, Wien will introduce to the circumstances of the collection’s establishment and to its character and extent. She will present its systematic efforts in mapping out and elaborating on the gender issue in Austrian art from the 1960s to the present. Since 2010, Gabriele Schor has been forging the use of the concept “feminist avant-garde”. Her paper seeks answering what it means calling the 1970s feminist art movement “avant-garde”. Her explanation of the creative positions departs from international context and from comparing the standpoints of women artists in Europe and the United States. Revolutionary tendencies crystallize in working with new media as well as in the courage to open subjects, which seem to be purely personal. These include social fixation on the status of mother, wife and housewife, playing with various roles, female sexuality, the dictate of the ideal of beauty, violence on women and exposition of female body, while the latter is rather a cipher and a code instead of a self-portrait. Inspired by the women’s movement and convinced that even the so-called private matters are a public issue, both European and American women artists created a radically new “image of a woman”. This art movement on the threshold of post-modernism deconstructed the projections and stereotypes of femininity, handed down for centuries. It is therefore high time to incorporate feminist avant-garde into the context of world art history. (45–60 min.)

11.00 am
Susanne Altmann, curator of the exhibition “The Medea Insurrection. Radical Women Artists behind the Iron Curtain”, Dresden/D
Under the cloak of the accepted artistic media, they provoked, protested, played with fire and experimented. These women artists from the former people’s republics of Hungary, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic rejected socialist and bourgeois role models alike. With this double refusal, they usually exposed themselves to more risk than their male colleagues. Yet it is precisely this compounded degree of defiance and energy in their pictorial language that still makes itself felt today. If their artistic approaches contradicted the teachings of a given art college, this was not so much because the doctrine of Socialist Realism was demanded everywhere with equal fervour, but because innovative techniques and motifs tended to rouse suspicions. The tighter the grip of state repression, the more established independent counterpublics became: in urban subculture, in church circles, in rural havens or in applied fields such as crafts or architecture. “The Medea Insurrection” draws together these female positions and presents them in the context of their Eastern European origins. At long last, their aesthetic originality and struggle for visibility are given a stage. (30 min.)

11.30 am
Kornelia von Berswordt-Wallrabe, curator of the exhibition “Women Artists in the 20th Century / Künstlerinnen des 20. Jahrhunderts”, Museum Wiesbaden, 1990
Revisited: The Exhibition “Women Artists in the 20th Century”, 1990 (30 min.)

The talk gives an insight into the first large exhibition of female artists of the 20th century, 1990 in Wiesbaden. A number of works by the 58 exhibiting artists will be shown and commented on. The analysis of the four largest catalog texts of the thoroughly groundbreaking exhibition project shows that the male-dominated awarding practice of those responsible has given away the great opportunity to determine the cultural-political as well as theoretical positioning of the art.

12.00 am
Alena Wagnerová, German Sociological Association, Section for Women’s Research, CZ/D
The aim of the paper is to provide a brief overview of the points of departure, traditions and developments present in the Czech women’s movement and of its specificity as compared to western feminism. It follows the developments of the woman’s emancipation from the national to the socialist model of equality and, finally, the “real equality” during the period of the so-called normalization. It also discusses the Charta 77’s lack of interest in the given issue and closes with touching upon the consequences of the return of capitalism and its impact on women and the women’s issue. Wagnerová bases her ponderings on the thesis forged by the leading gender theoretician, Joan Wallach Scott, who claims that, “the changes in the organization of social relations have always corresponded with the changes in the representation of power”. She also departs from Františka Plamínková’s statement that the woman’s issue is the most difficult social issue ever, since it involves all spheres of both private and public life. (30 min.)

12.30 pm discussion

1–2.00 pm refreshment in the House of Arts

afternoon section

2.00 pm guided tour of the exhibition “The 1970s Feminist Avant-Garde” with its curator, Gabriele Schor (c. 45 min.)

2.45 pm
Milan Kreuzzieger, Center of Global Studies, Institute of Philosophy, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, CZ
Five Perspectives: A Temporary Manual of the Gender Movement on the Global Arena
The paper is based on the interdisciplinary background of sociology, political philosophy and visual culture studies, while these points of departure serve the author to propose five perspectives of the gender movement (from the 1960s). They can simultaneously be viewed as diverse chronological stages, which – especially with the so-called cosmopolitan turn – exceed the horizon of the “western” world and redefine the very conception of modernities (multiple modernities). These include various gender identities the distinct civilization variants of which meet on the global arena. In the environment that faces the increasing influence of new technologies, we at the same time should not omit their impact on gender studies and resign researching their eventual emancipation potential. The manual should help understand various approaches rather than present a definitive chronology. (30 min.)

3.15 pm
Jan Matonoha, Institute of Czech Literature, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, CZ
An Attempt at Outlining the Periodization of Literature Written by Women between 1948 and 1989 from the Point of Gender and with Special Focus on the 1970s
The paper, exclusively devoted to Czech women writers, follows the measure of their feminist fulfillment and visibility in the period between 1948 and 1989. It departs from the mechanism of the so-called “wounded attachments” (Wendy Brown) and “wounded identities” (Judith Butler), i.e. a condition when pursuing one goal makes another goal invisible: in the given case, there is the effort to oppose the contemporary regime, while the issue of gender and feminism becomes invisible. There are various dynamics of making gender either visible or invisible, which correspond with this mechanism and which the article follows. The text, with a certain degree of schematization, classifies the gender dynamics present in the individual decades and the position of selected writes in them. It shows up that in contrast with the writings by authors-men, which have been displaying more or less constant sexism, the works by women authors are significantly more varied. Moreover, in some cases (Vostrá and, in part, perhaps Kriseová), we can possibly talk about their gender-progressive orientation (albeit not about feminism, which was present for almost a century in the development of Czech culture and society and, as Libuše Heczková points out, ended with the execution of Milada Horáková). It would be right to ask from this point, whether it is more appropriate to talk about gender avant-garde instead of a feminist one. The paper is grounded in the writings of Alena Wagnerová, Libuše Heczková and Marcela Linková and mainly in the book A Voice Dispossessed, edited by Hana Havelková and Libora Oates-Indruchová. (30 min.)

3.45 pm
Edith Jeřábková, Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, Prague/CZ
Hidden Forms of Film Directing – A Project Researching the Oeuvre and Inheritance of Ester Krumbachová
The oeuvre of the author of film and theater costumes, jewellery and stages, the director, screenwriter, writer and artist, Ester Krumbachová, was rather trandisciplinary considering the time of its origination and is characteristic of philosophical crossover, holistic understanding of the processed subjects, their timelessness and original artistic methods liberated from the limits of art categories, established procedures and professional hierarchies. Many most significant works by the 1960s’ and 1970s’ filmmakers, such as Věra Chytilová, Vojtěch Jasný, Jaromil Jireš, Jan Němec, Otakar Vávra and Karel Kachyňa, were born exactly in cooperation with Krumbachová. And yet, her contribution to Czech culture has not hitherto been sufficiently reflected upon. One of the reasons of this absence was the inaccessibility of her inheritance as well as her official invisibility in many projects in which she participated as an author. From the position of a costume designer and a screenwriter, she would often noticeably influence the general tone and the leitmotifs of films as well as the psychology of the characters and scenes. In 2016, the research team Are | are-events.org (Zuzana Blochová and Edith Jeřábková) along with the artist Anja Kirschner acquired Krumbachová’s intact inheritance for the temporary twenty-year guardianship. The three employ experimental methodology to open it up for interpretations of many experts and students, and initiate various formats of working with the developing archive. (30 min.)

4.15 pm
Libuše Heczková – Kateřina Svatoňová, Philosophical Faculty, Charles University, Prague/CZ
In Search for Women’s Creativity during Socialism and Its Paranoid Caricature: The Ester Case
The paper will be devoted to the film Killing the Devil by the costume designer and artist, Ester Krumbachová, and its various media variants (film short story, radio adaptation, script). It will discuss Killing the Devil on three levels – each murderous for the film medium –, which are the following: the perfection of a film mise en scène, the luxuriating, luxuriant and luxurious orality, and the sophism of philosophical humor. All these “corpses” are exciting traces of the intellectual and artistic life of Krumbachová, and carnally culminate and at the same time spectacularly die in her sole directorial exploit, Killing the Devil. The treatise not only follows the film’s historical background, which reflects a very specific period between disturbing norms and their re-establishing. The extra-ordinary figure of Krumbachová also represents an opportunity to trace the possibilities of searching for women’s voice/morphology in the socialist Czechoslovakia where every sign of originality and authenticity was strictly suppressed. (30 min.)

4.45 pm discussion

5.30 pm dinner for the participating lecturers, Spolek Café, Orlí Street 22, Brno

8.00 pm guided tour of the exhibition “WE WILL NOT CHANGE OUR SHOW”, Gyula Muskovics (HU), Martin Vaněk (CZ), and the FLUID performance in the exhibition, House of the Lords of Kunštát, Dominikánská Street 9, Brno

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

morning section

10.00 am
Martina Pachmanová, Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, Prague/CZ Feminism and Avant-Garde in the Mirror of (Czech) history
Complex understanding of the position of women in the post-war art requires looking further back to the past. I will try to show in my paper that the minimum response to the second wave of feminism, present on the 1970s’ and 1980s’ art scene (as well as in the entire society of that period) – while the consequences of such a response are tangible even today – was not only closely linked with the post-February, ideologically motivated need to erase the First-Republic women’s emancipation tendencies and its protagonists from history. It also had its roots in, among other things, the ambivalent and often intolerant relation of the very inter-war leftist avant-garde to feminism even despite its protagonists’ repeated proclamations about the equality of genders. It nevertheless remains paradoxical that the communist nomenclature and its cultural policy viewed avant-garde postulates during the entire era of its domination as similarly dangerous as the challenges of the feminist thinking. (30 min.)

10.30 am
Jana Geržová, PROFIL of Contemporary Fine Arts / The Contemporary Art Magazine, SK
From the Visible to the Hidden, from the Universal to the Auto(bio)graphic. Two Perspectives of Viewing the Oeuvre of Adriena Šimotová
The treatise explores the oeuvre of the Czech artist, Adriena Šimotová, in the context of place and both historical and private time during which it developed. It aims at showing that although paper objects are autonomous artifacts, which gradually emancipated themselves from the life story of the artist, the specific political situation and biographical narration significantly co-formed not only their content but also their form. The paper lays main emphasis on the biographical aspect of Šimotová’s work and its interpretation via the prism of feminism in the sense of autographic writing (Domna C. Stanton), i.e. “writing oneself”, which is an act of self-confirmation with a considerable therapeutic effect. The interpretation of the artist’s oeuvre, especially accentuating the periods of the 1970s and 1980s, will employ two interlinked perspectives of viewing. One, based on a selection from Šimotová’s authentic statements (published interviews, her own texts), reconstructs the process from the personal to the universal, i.e. from words to images, while the other instead deals with the standpoint of the observer who works his/her way from the visible to the hidden. (30 min.)

11.00 am
Mirek Vodrážka, The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, CZ
The Women Who Write Art Manifestos Are Dangerous
The post-1948 regime in Czechoslovakia not only managed to liquidate the leading “bourgeois” feminists, headed by Milada Horáková, and the women’s movement. It also produced a peculiar episteme as a specific system of corporeality of history or, in other words, an order pre-determining “what and how” to discuss in the framework of such discourses as feminism. However, although the regime tried hard to suppress most various western art tendencies and theories, it merely succeeded in the case of the tendency and movement that required the assumption of developing women’s artistic subjectivity and identity. What causes and circumstances actually made it possible to turn the feminist discourse into dis-course? Inspired by various media and culture theories and departing from the differences between scriptural and sculptural thinking, the author also finds a “technological” explanation of this issue. Czech women artists were aware of countless (both social and artistic) inequalities, but did not view them as specifically significant, instead striving to rise above the differences and to equal men. However, they were doing so without interpretation, without text, without any specific “political” scriptural subjectivity. On the one hand, the dis-course and the technology of women’s “self-denial” and, on the other hand, the unlearned “technologization of word” helped annihilate women’s artistic and political subjectivity. (30 min.)

11.30 am
Jana Oravcová, Designum magazine and SDC Bratislava, SK
The Taste of Eden: Space, Time and (Critical) Cartography
For more than two decades, the field of feminist history and art theory has been witnessing many researchers interested in re-evaluating the modernist canon of (western) art history written from centristic perspective. There have been attempts at changing the existing paradigm not only along the Anglo-American axis, but also across the territories of the so-called post-socialist countries. Today, the voices calling for the re-evaluation of the centristic model of art history arrive from geographical margins and marginalized cultures as well as from the so-called centers that began paying attention to peripheries as parts of the globalized world. One of the tools pointing out at the deconstruction of the so-called alternative canon via global cartography has also been presented by international exhibitions displaying (feminist) art.
The paper focuses on the issue of time and space and employs a case study (works by the Slovak artist Jana Želibská from the 1970s) in order to illustrate the turn from the time to the spatial perspective or, respectively, the global view. This allows for asking important questions as to historical, ideological and social factors linked with a particular setting into which women’s art in Czechoslovakia under the so-called normalization, too, was situated. (30 min.)

12–12.30 pm discussion

12.30 – 1.15 pm refreshment in the House of Arts

afternoon section

1.30 pm
Pavlína Morganová, Academy of Fine Arts, Prague/CZ
Margita Titlová-Ylovsky between Neo-Avant-Garde and Post-Modernism
The presented several notes on the oeuvre of Margita Titlová-Ylovsky will try to designate her rather complex inter-generational position on the Czech art scene. The paper will mainly focus on presenting the research linked with the artist’s unique 1985 exhibition held in the burnt-out Trade Fair Palace in Prague. (20 min.)

2.00 pm
Petra Hlaváčková, CZ
We Wanted to Do Something Together: With Adéla Matasová about Women’s Encounters
Can emancipation be separated from its denomination and the reflections upon it? The question, formulated by the sociologist Hana Havelková in connection with the socialistically conceived women’s emancipation in, what once was, Czechoslovakia, suggests how colorful a discussion on this subject can be. People frequently talk about the absenting influence of the western second-wave feminism in the country; on the other hand, the local legislative reality during that period allowed women to enjoy an extraordinary equality as compared to the western countries. It is rather paradoxical that while women themselves often held a reserved standpoint towards feminism, many of them at the same time proudly boasted their independence and power. The turn of the 1970s and 1980s, i.e. the era of severe normalization restrictions affecting all spheres of public life, bore a group of women artists regularly gathering to present their lectures and later also exhibiting their art produced at that time. Some of their works topically reflected the lived experience of a woman and the reality of her body. (30 min.)

2.30 pm discussion


House of Arts

Malinovského nám 2


Exhibition Opening: 25. 1. 2019