Countermeasures Against Awkward Discourses: From the Perspective of Third Wave Feminism
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
October 16, 2021 – March 13, 2022
In this exhibition, our guest curator, the artist NAGASHIMA Yurie, looks at works (including her own) produced by ten artists whose careers began in the 1990s and offers fresh interpretations of these works from a feminist viewpoint.
Nagashima has been producing photographic work and writing since her own art-scene debut in 1993, all the while harboring doubts about the “onnanoko shashin” (girl photography) label sweepingly applied to her and other female photographers of the same generation. Uneasy with the joking images of feminists propagated by the media in the 1980s, the young Nagashima declined to identify as a feminist herself, yet became a consistent challenger of male-centered values.
Nagashima sees this kind of attitude, which had the effect of rendering feminist practice among the younger generation virtually invisible, as one version of Japanese third-wave feminism, and asserts that elements of it can also be found in the output of artists who declined to be part of any “movement” or pursuit of “solidarity.” This exhibition showcases works selected following dialogue between Nagashima and the nine other artists, based on this observation. We hope the diverse offerings in “Countermeasures Against Awkward Discourses,” will give viewers a taste of the great breadth of art practice that can emerge in response to the situations that confront us.
“In my youth, I never thought of myself as a feminist. The feminists I knew from TV were all academics (smart), or activists (strong), and women much older than me. To my mind, there was no way someone of my sort – a dropout from an ostensibly academic high school who had avoided competition by going to art school, and not only lacked the relationship-building confidence required for any kind of fellowship or social movement but was barely comfortable with the very idea of being female and simply struggling through life – could qualify as a feminist. Nor did I actively desire to become one. Yet when I finally started making works, invariably those works would reference some sociological issue, and especially, the kind of problems addressed by feminism. Still, I failed to declare myself a feminist, or refer to my works as feminist art. In the 1990s there were many artists (across many different genres from the visual arts to music and literature) like me, struggling with life and gambling on self-expression for their survival. Among them were those who proudly called themselves feminists, those who didn’t see themselves that way, and those who declared themselves to be definitely not that way. In short, one could say third-wave feminism demonstrated that feminist praxis is not solely the province of “feminists.” I contacted nine artists that I, the lackluster feminist, arbitrarily viewed as “on the same side” and brought them together with the aim of reinterpreting their respective art practices from a feminist viewpoint. How does a feminist exhibition come about, what kind of people are feminists, what is the relational nature of solidarity, of bonds between associates? I hope you too will enjoy the tentative response to these questions with no right answers clumsily hammered out in our everyday chats, social media exchanges, late-night phone calls and trifling debates.”
Welcoming artist Nagashima Yurie as guest curator, “Countermeasures Against Awkward Discourses” explores the possibilities for new, third-wave feminist interpretations of works (including those of Nagashima) produced by ten contemporary artists with careers beginning from the 1990s onward. Since debuting as a photographer in 1993 while still at university, Nagashima has presented a large number of works on themes that include gender, and her own community. In 2020, she also published the topical “Bokura“ no “onnanoko shashin” kara watashi-tachi no gārīfoto e,” (From “our” (male) onnanoko shashin to our (female) girly photos”) (Daifuku Shorin, 2020), which examined a female-centered current in Japanese photography that flourished in the 1990s, from her own standpoint as one of those photographers. In this exhibition, Nagashima adopts the same feminist viewpoint in an attempt to bring new interpretive possibilities to the works of ten contemporary artists, including herself.
Spreading from the West to Japan in the 1990s via elements of youth culture such as music and fashion, third-wave feminism offered women new ways to express themselves, and actively encouraged them to raise their voices. On the other hand, Nagashima points out, as shown by the mid-’90s categorizing of work by young female photographers as literally “girl photography,” the reality was that the male-dominated discourse of influential polemicists erased this, trivializing women’s expression by turning it into something designed for their own pleasure. So what, in the form of works, did women artists of this era who though loathe to openly identify as “feminists,” felt uncomfortable with the position of women in society, do to counter this state of affairs? And do the works of male artists, who have never had cause to ask themselves whether or not they are feminists, have any connection with feminism to begin with? If they do, how could one describe the kind of relationships they have constructed? Nagashima reads into these works artists’ intentions never before vocalized with any force.
“Countermeasures Against Awkward Discourses” consists of works by ten contemporary artists whose careers began in the 1990s or later, using a range of media for expression from photography to sculpture, video, installation and more. As guest curator, Nagashima invited artists who have produced work that could be interpreted as having an affinity with feminism, regardless of whether the artist personally identifies as a feminist, or whether their work is overtly feminist in nature. The group of works selected following in-depth conversations between Nagashima and each artist have as their background not only gender, but an array of complex, diverse elements intimately connected to concepts of feminism, such as family, identity, ethnicity, social norms, traditional values, and customs. The exhibition looks at each of these works from a feminist viewpoint, and considers the kinds of universe that come to light within them.