This month marks the one year anniversary of the Trump administration. It also marks the one year anniversary of Women’s March on Washington. And the 20th VDay and 45th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. We’ve spent this whole week (and we hope whole year) talking to GOOD people as a result, and we close out this week with a conversation with Georgia Saxelby, an Australian born, NY based, Halcyon Art Lab artist launching TO FUTURE WOMEN, a timely, interactive project inviting participants throughout America and beyond to write a letter to women in 20 years.
TO FUTURE WOMEN opens this Sunday at the Phillips Collection, and will travel to different cultural institutions and public spaces in Washington, D.C. over the next six months. To Future Women is supported by D.C.-based institutions, galleries and organizations, such as Halcyon Arts Lab, IA&A at Hillyer and Stable.
BYT: What prompted this project for you personally? What were some of your personal triggers?
I was enormously impacted by the Women’s March last year. I was living in New York and took a bus down – it was my first time visiting Washington DC. I felt like we owned the space that day, like for one day, it was women who drove the social norms, women who lead the dialogue, and women’s experiences that were the center of the conversation. Perhaps it was the first time I felt truly reflected in public space. I looked around and saw feelings I’ve felt internally or talked about in my close community displayed on the protest signs all around me – unapologetically, unabashedly, publicly. There were so many that were heartfelt, funny, vehemently critical or gently incisive. The text – the language on those protest signs – was something that stayed with me and that I thought about a lot while I was developing the concept of To Future Women. I wanted to give people the opportunity of expressing themselves through the written word again, only this time, shifting our focus towards not just where we are, but where we want to go. I wanted to formalize and poeticize what we’re already doing through movements like the Women’s March and #MeToo – contributing individual symbolic gestures so that they accumulate into a collective movement that can’t be ignored.
BYT: This is obviously a very timely work. What do you feel is the role and responsibility of art and the artists in 2018?
I think the powerful thing about art is the opportunity to imagine worlds that don’t yet exist in order to understand where we want to move towards.
I believe a huge role of art is the exploration of our cultural relationships towards things. Developing policies and technologies for creating change is vital, and so too is understanding and shifting our cultural relationship towards those things. We tend not to destroy or denigrate what we appreciate. And that appreciation is a cultural, and probably emotional, philosophical, and even spiritual, issue.
My work is about exploring and re-imagining our cultural relationship towards women. How are women represented in our cultural mythologies? What are women-driven methods of passing down cultural knowledge and skills? What does feminine forms of strength and power look and feel like? I use art as an experimentation platform – to investigate these questions and then twist and re-present the answers, to see what a new way of thinking might look or feel like, so that I might draw that feeling back into the rest of life.
Another interesting part of this question is, what is the role of the platform of art? Sometimes you can get away with doing things using that platform that you couldn’t otherwise. It can therefore be a really interesting space to experiment with expressing alternative value-sets or ways of creating alternative histories. With the To Future Women project, I wanted to re-activate cultural institutions the way they were activated and used during the Women’s March – for their bathrooms, or as safe spaces, or archivers of ephemera in the aftermath. But I also wanted to engage with their cultural capital – their longevity, their (problematic) role as collectors of our cultures “most important” objects – to inculcate them in guarding our dreams for our future relationship to women as a culture.
BYT: How has that role of the artist, in your opinion, changed and how has it changed in the past few years?
I think artists have been expressing dissent and imagining worlds that don’t yet exist for a long, if not all of, time. They have been using art both as a mirror to reflect the world and, as Bertolt Brecht said, a hammer with which to bend and shape it. I have certainly noticed an increasingly urgent feminist drive within my own practice over the past few years as I come to terms with my own role in this world as a young woman.
BYT: How did the collaboration with Phillips come about?
I simply invited them to let me activate their space to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Women’s March – and they said yes! They have been incredibly responsive and have believed in the concept from the beginning, and are excited in their role as archivers. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them on this project. There’s also been a lot of local galleries and individuals propelling this project from the beginning, particularly IA&A at Hillyer, who have supported me and the idea since I first arrived in DC last October, as well as Stable and of course Halcyon Arts Lab.
BYT: What is your best case scenario / hope engagement wise?
My hope is that an array of people of different backgrounds, ages and geographies who have resonated with or felt affected by the shifts that have been happening through movements like the Women’s March and #MeToo will feel compelled to add their voice to the archive. My hope is that we can create a rich and dynamic collection of thoughts and experiences as an alternative history that we can pass on to the next generation of women, who might feel touched that we care enough about them to give foresight to how we envision their realities. It is through the initial act of imagining a different future that we can acknowledge our role in creating it.
BYT: What does she hope women in 2037 will be surprised that we had to deal with?
I hope women in 2037 will find it hard to understand why a project like this might be relevant in 2018, after everything that has already been fought for in regards to women’s rights and gender equality. I hope they’re shocked that sexual harassment was so ubiquitous that it was systemic, and enforced – until recently – by a social taboo crippling people from openly discussing it. I hope they’re surprised that men mostly held the positions of power, that the pay gap was 30% – our society telling us it thinks we aren’t worth the same amount as our male counterparts. I hope they’re surprised that it can be hard as a woman to walk home alone at night – through public space – without feeling scared. “Scared of what?” I hope they ask with confusion.
BYT: How do you personally define the word/concept of “women” and/or “feminism” today, and how do you think or hope that/those definition(s) might change/evolve in twenty years or beyond?
I hope participants define the concept of “women” for themselves and shift and alter the project’s invitation to match their own needs and desires. This is our archive and it needs to be diverse and intersectional. In 20 years time I hope concepts around gender will have entirely shifted to be less binary, more fluid and inclusive. If so, our letters will provide a snapshot of our time in relation to how we’re still currently thinking about gender.
By 2037, I hope feminism will be a null and void concept, that all humans will pursue actions and words that reflect and promote a thriving cultural relationship to women and an equality between different gendered identities. I hope that this will be made obvious by an entirely new set of social taboos and rewards, new kinds of public and private spaces (gendered bathroom divisions will surely have been re-imagined as they are already beginning to be), a new kind of workforce structure that shifts gender divisions of labor and allows new choices to be made by a wider assortment of individuals and family-types.
BYT: Similarly, the “future is female” slogan/movement has been viewed as problematic by people pushing more inclusive concepts like “the future is non-binary” or “the future is gender fluid”, so how do those concerns fit in with this body of work, if at all?
This artwork allows for participants to express their differing views, knowing that I am committed to archiving their varied and dynamic responses. The letters are addressed towards women – female-identifying and female-bodied people, and anyone who relates to women – to create space for the focus of conversation to be on women’s experiences, in the same way that the Women’s March and the #MeToo movements created that space. Letters detailing a gender fluid future world are of course welcome, and I would be so proud to archive these responses.
BYT: What role (if any) do you think technological advancements currently do (or will) play in promoting gender equality?
I think social media has played an interesting and intrinsic role enabling movements like the Women’s March and the #MeToo virtual campaign to spread and activate audiences across geographies. I was reading recently that social media is definitive of forth wave feminism. It has certainly allowed women to forge networked approaches, to collectivize in feeling and action, to contribute individual gestures that accumulate into a collaborative movement. On a personal level, social media has allowed me to experiment with and practice self-expression, and to see myself as part of a larger whole in my attitudes towards gender issues.
BYT: This is about participation – aside from general public are there any women you admire today you hope would participate?
Of course! Imagine if badass women like Gloria Steinem, Barbara Kruger, Oprah, Lena Dunham, Tarana Burke, Eve Ensler, Emma Watson or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just to name a few, wrote a letter! I wish Simone de Beauvoir or Louise Bourgeois were around to write letters, I would love to read what they might have to say.
BYT: What are you putting into the capsule?
I will probably write my letter at the project’s end. This isn’t about me – my job is just to create the container, and allow others to fill it with their meaning.