On January 30, 1972, Womanhouse opened to the public. Guided by artists Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, twenty-five students from the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute for the Arts embarked on a collaborative project that took over a seventeen-room mansion in suburban Los Angeles. Each room was individually developed, such as a kitchen painted entirely in bubble gum pink (including furnishings), stark white bathrooms replete with feminine hygiene products or painted floor-to-ceiling red and accompanied by 100 red lipsticks. This approach formed a fully-immersive art environment that supported the female experience, and challenged gender-specific designations, together with materials deemed inappropriate for valid art production.
While Womanhouse set a historical precedent nearly half a century ago, much of what they focused their activities on continues to be viewed as trivial subject matter for serious consideration in art today. Taking cues from this recurring disregard for domestic activities, six interdisciplinary and performance-based artists (Fran Benton, Farheen Haq, Trace Nelson, Brenda Petays, Judith Price and Grace Salez) conceived of Disrupted Domesticity as a space to focus their collective energies and highlight components of contemporary life tied to domesticity — namely motherhood, ageing, and negotiating individual and family spaces. This collaborative endeavour aims to inhabit a vacant Victoria house during June and July. Each woman will take over a room in the house to manipulate or occupy as she will, drawing from a broad scope of individual and collaborative existences and artistic practices. The potential dialogue, alongside the cross-pollination of ideas and activities between participants as well as visitors, is also a critical element tied to this experience of everyone working in one empty house: sharing, intervening, and inhabiting space.
In my conversation with participants Judith Price and Grace Salez, they explained their interest in what occurs in our domestic lives as fundamental to our day-to-day activities; the intimate and often concealed “underbelly” of domestic life that supports our public actions and gives birth to all the other stuff that fills our time. By taking seriously all aspects of domesticity, this project challenges these very structures and widespread preconceptions.
A number of the artists involved in Disrupted Domesticity are regular participants in Open Actions, an ongoing series of performance art actions that occur monthly across Victoria’s public spaces and have a history of performing in homes slated for demolition. Like much of their performance works, Disrupted Domesticity unsettles the politics of presentation and aims to interrupt normative activities by occupying and reinterpreting the domestic setting. With limited opportunities for sanctioned exhibition space throughout the city, or spaces that meet artists’ specific goals, these collaborators have taken ownership over securing the property and defining the terms of their project. The only obstacle now, is finding the house…
Words by Toby Lawrence