Feminist Tactics of Citation, Annotation, and Translation: a dialogue with Helena Reckitt in On Curating

by | May 19, 2016 | 0 comments

It’s not often that I describe an event as “transformative,” but Now You Can Go, the 13-day program of events, discussions and screenings exploring intergenerational feminisms, was just that for me. Happening across several institutions in London, UK, and organized by a collective of feminist curators, the workshops, panel discussions, screenings, and performances I attended brought to light a whole trajectory of feminist thinking that was unfamiliar to me: in particular, the legacy of Italian feminisms from the 1960s and 70s, and the work of Carla Lonzi and the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective. Rooted in psychoanalytic theory and taking difference and disparity as primary structures for the relationships between women, the Milan group’s thinking and their practice of affidamento, or entrustment, strike me as radical ways of rethinking the horizontality of “sisterhood” that Anglo-American, “second wave” feminism put at the centre of its theory and practice.

These ideas have had a direct impact on my work as a writer and curator—including serving as one of the impetuses behind the creation of the EMILIA-AMALIA working group in Toronto—but have also been foundational in allowing me to reframe and narrate some of the most generative and challenging relationships in my professional and personal life. When Helena Reckitt, one of the organizers of Now You Can Go, and my long-time curatorial mentor and friend, asked if I’d be interested in reflecting on my experiences during the program, I leapt at the chance. Blending anecdotes and academic research, professional histories and personal musings, our conversation in the most recent issue of On.Curating considers the challenges that intergenerational feminisms might pose to curatorial practice, how to expand and critique the canon of contemporary art, and the ways practices of citation, annotation and translation might help build an alternative lineage of feminist knowledges in the present.

GM: Queer theory and feminism have always been lenses through which I approach my work as a critic, art historian, and curator. But it’s only recently that I’ve begun to turn to feminism as the object of my research. I have long been interested in how people learn to be feminist, or learn to be queer, since these are identities that usually have to be transmitted outside of biological families, across generations. I’m curious about how we can imagine these practices of transmission outside the language of kinship and lineage, which both seem too close to ideas of the family tree or other patriarchal models. The Milan group calls these historical models our “symbolic mothers”, which is one way to imagine patterns of influence across generations and geographies. The idea of feminist “waves” is another with which we are familiar. I wonder if there are other genealogies we might trace?

HR: We ourselves are one example of transgenerational feminism, having met when I was a curator at The Power Plant in Toronto, and you were an intern, though we now work together as colleagues.

GM: This is exactly the kind of extra-familial relationship I’m invested in. I have learned so much from you, not only about being a curator, but also about being a queer feminist.