ENRAGED, INERTIA RAN OFF is a feminist exhibition in which ten artists intervene in public space: abandoned signposts at the corner of James Street North and Wilson Street in Hamilton. Five double-banner stands were erected there in the 1980s, then abandoned in the ’90s and finally reclaimed by the arts in 2015. The contemporary art intervention by the Red Tree Artists’ Collective at this “Entrance to the Arts District” signals a dual transformation, of the site and of the craft performed by women in a post-industrial society. Artists Hitoko Okada, Ingrid Mayrhofer, Lynn Hutchinson Lee, Amelia Jiménez, Vessna Perunovich, Erika DeFreitas, Insoon Ha, Elaine Whittaker, Wing Yee Tong and Sandra Brewster hybridize their practice by combining politically engaged crafting methods to politicize public space.
ENRAGED, INERTIA RAN OFF endeavours to valourize women’s artwork by working within a feminist theoretical framework, a framework that enables other voices to be heard, new practices to be seen and diverse impressions to be released. The artists created banners in the spirit of Felix Guattari’s notion that the process of making is ‘becoming.’ In that sense, the works exhibited on this site belong to the future as much as to the present and the past of female craft tradition. As in the present, this exhibition celebrates the rise of personal fabrication and some tenets of do-it-yourself culture such as the employment of new and older technologies – and the street.
The artists are deeply invested in the making of the banners, through which they express personal and political concerns in an exciting array of narrative works. As Vessna Perunovich says in her project description, these artists stitch together the division between traditional craft and fine arts by subverting the traditional use of mass-production materials, techniques and display. These flags have been created during an era in which automated machinery has replaced activities that women used to undertake in the privacy of the domestic sphere, such as stitching, embroidering, sewing, crocheting and knitting. Thus the process of making is crucial, referencing feminist approaches from the 1960s and ’70s that reveal the historically gendered nature of craft: a low-art tied to domesticity, yet also a contested territory of self-expression in the face of oppression. The banners have been constructed through repetitive body movements that have wrought a material transformation, thus increasing the depth and expansiveness of the discourse.
Memory, shaped by personal language and images, plays an important role in these projects. The priorities and expectations of memory are in turn influenced by collective memory. Individual creative expression is thus representative of the collective creativity, and provides evidence of the artist’s cultural background. We see these collective expressions in the work of Ingrid Mayrhofer, Sandra Brewster and Lynn Hutchinson Lee, each engaged with learned patterns, symbols and materials from their cultures of origin: Austria, Guyana and English Romani (Romanichal) respectively.
The banners will be displayed onsite for a year, enduring the Canadian extremes of weather. The artists have researched their material properties extensively to ensure longevity. They selected heavy-duty commercial and natural elements, using both the front and back of their flags to engage with a variety of yarns. Elaine Whittaker has sewn synthetic respiratory masks onto her flag. Insoon Ha stitched real goose feathers, which are naturally water repellent, onto her banner. Erika DeFreitas applied a flower pattern made from translucent premium engineer grade reflective film, with the intention that passing viewers will not see the image unless it is reflecting light.
Flags have traditionally flown in the public sphere, fluttering in the streets as symbols of cultural and national identity, as emblems for institutions or as decoration during public festivities. In contemporary societies they are used commercially to promote products and services. And activist groups have a long history of intervening in the public space with highly elaborate or impromptu hand-made banners, using craft to advocate constructive and non-violent tools in opposition to the dominant corporate models of production. In Canada one of the most famous groups was the Revolutionary Knitting Circle of Calgary, which appeared in the early 1990s. Hitoko Okada and Wing Yee Tong both follow in this activist tradition, undermining the commercial and institutionalized aspects of the banners, and using feminine craft tactics as non-belligerent strategies to question multinational models and real estate developments.
Amelia Jimenez’s flag displays a photographic image of hands: those of the artist, her father and her nephew, taken shortly before her father’s death. To Jimenez this work commented on the various stages of life in family relationships. It symbolically represents transience, a conveyor through the journey of life, ever moving onward. Life has moved forward and Amelia is no longer with us, but thanks to her art we are able to extend her presence among us. In the context of this exhibition, the hands depicted in Amelia’s banner denote the artistic and craft expression passed along from one person to another, from one woman to another, not confined to a small group of people. Art must be placed where everybody can enjoy it, as part of our everyday life.
Rita Camacho Lomeli