Space blankets and Emergency Weaves

Initially developed for space travel, emergency blankets, also called space blankets, consist of a thin sheet of plastic coated with a metallic reflecting agent. The blankets work by reflecting up to 97% of radiated body heat back to the body. Consequently, the emergency blankets don’t work if the body is already cold, neither do they insulate from low temperatures.

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‘Emergency Weave’ is a series of works where emergency blankets are cut into strips, woven together and then pinned to a stretcher. The weaves are site specific, reflecting their surroundings, the people in front of them, shapes and light. References to the contexts in which they are made and show are put together to reflect constellations of interwoven emergencies. As the economical crisis has slowed down parts of the commercial art market, ‘Emergency Weave 185x180cm’ is presented at Focus at Frieze Art Fair, London (2012). This weave is dedicated to a set of interwoven emergencies, which have created a double setback to half of the world’s cultural producers. Counting the 2500-something artists that the fair’s participating galleries represent, I found that 3 in 10 were women. This might be a telling figure of the representation of women by commercial art galleries at large. However, this inquiry does not include information on how the 3 in 10 artists are further affected as a gender influenced price system sets the value of her work.

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One of the Emergency Weave’s companions, ‘Cosmonaut-Woolf portrait weave (A World of Our Own)’ (2012), consists of a print out of a portrait of Virginia Woolf that has been cut into strips and woven into a printed still of footage featuring Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space (1964). Cosmonaut-Woolf is a feminist pioneer, a singular space explorer that invents a future of liberation and equality. As her rocket takes off and disappears into the sky, she suggests equality as the default setting in space. Woolf’s essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (1927) maps the historic sabotage mechanisms inflicted on women cultural producers and their work. Cosmonaut-Woolf takes this investigation with her as she ventures out into a space exploration, – claiming a room as well as the universe as her rightful space.

In Valie Export’s film ‘Invisible Adversaries’ (1976) the space-exploring protagonist searches for aliens in human drag who have invaded earth. During her investigation of a woman, possibly an alien, the question ‘When is a human being a woman?’ comes up.

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‘X -when is a woman a human being’ (2012) shows a photographic evidence of UFOs on the Norwegian sky. The image is printed out twice, once inverted and then put together vertically to make an X. The title appropriates Export’s question by turning it around. The UFOs look down at a country that is often presented as one of the most gender equal countries in the world. What does a human cultural producer look like with a view from space? When is a human cultural producer a woman? Or when is a woman a human cultural producer?

At the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo: During the decade of 1990 and 2000, 18.3% of the art works collected by the museum and 8,6% of their solo shows were by women. (Billedkunst, Nr 6, 26/10/2010).

With a wider view, the UFOs can see that women have made 2-3% of the current content in museums across the world. (BBC Radio 4, Judy Chicago on Women’s Hour, 13/11/2012)

If the history of cultural production defines what we are as humans, as people and gives us an account of where we come from, then what is a woman? Where does she come from and what does she look like from space?

 

‘Cosmo-Kate Bush’ (2012) is a printout of a portrait of a very young Kate Bush decorated with a cosmonaut helmet drawn in blue pen. Kate Bush had the first number one hit in the UK that was both written and performed by a woman (Wuthering Heights, 1978). In an interview she explains that she had to imagine her composer-self as a man to be able write her music. Similarly, Judy Chicago tells us that she was in man drag for the first decades of her art practice (Talk, Whitechapel Gallery, 2012). Her ambitions didn’t match with what she was taught or not taught at art college about women and cultural production.

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Confronted with the unequal situation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, the previous director Allis Helleland was asked what she thought of allocating recourses to balance out the unequal representation in their collection. She replied: ‘But there is actually not that many to buy. There will always be a gap. Men dominated, and we can’t just invent female artists if the quality [of their art] is not good enough.’ (D2, DagensNæringsliv, 28/08/2008)

In Woolf’s essay ‘A Room Of One’s Own’, Shakespeare’s equally gifted but neglected sister Judith is invented but she is still real. According to Woolf’s essay, Judith ends up in an unknown grave close to Elephant and Castle, – an area which today is known for its major road intersection.

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Since 1970 an equal number of woman and men have graduated from Norwegian art colleges. (Billedkunst, Nr. 6, 26/10/2010). The statistic figures above suggest that new generations of Judiths are continuously created, that future art histories will continue to contain gaps and that the mechanisms described by Woolf in 1927 are still at work. For example, what does the museum director mean by ‘quality’? Is quality indicated by what is the most sold, collected or highest priced contemporary artist? If so, what is quality really? As the definition of quality has changed continuously throughout art history, throughout political and social systems, then what does quality look like from a viewpoint in space? If the cultural production made by women does not match the quality standards of human cultural production, are women then humans? On the other hand, if she is human, is the museums’ failure to collect, preserve and include women’s cultural production a breach of human rights? Can we report the museums to the European Court of Human Rights? Or, how would a national and publicly funded museum stand a people’s tribunal questioning its lack of care for the cultural contribution made by half of the country’s population?

To resemble the known legacy of a human cultural producer as defined by museums, to match the notion of quality that is paired with this legacy and the research that further confirms it, Chicago’s ‘man drag’ becomes an outfit that she could wear to be recognizable, – not only to the outside world, but also to herself. 

The drawing ‘Possibilities of Another Places’ (2006) shows a torso covered with pencil lines. Cubist-like broken shapes sit on top of the torso, unrecognizable as a human head.

With a wishful science fiction future view from space one can see a movement of museum directors taking off their man drag and become space-explorers. Their research catches up with reality to include the other half the world in their presentation and preservation of human cultural production. Emergency blankets don’t make an already cold body warm, so the process takes old notions of art, quality and value through yet another remake. Shakespeare’s countless sisters are discovered and brought into the light and made part of a human legacy, which does not only make the sisters human, but also changes humanity, changes the aliens’ observations and their understanding of what it means to be human, what human endeavor and culture is and what quality might entail. When the sisters come out of the dark the shapes on their heads fall into place and become recognizable as they unfold into a human cultural legacy in a chain reaction of recollection. Sexism harms all species and blocks half of the view from space. The Xth-wave feminism rides on the back of previous feminisms as they unleash their space altering powers.

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All images are of works by Eline McGeorge