a shrine to women’s work

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1 – 13 August 2016, 12 – 6pm daily
studio 307, AWOL studios / Hope Mill

a shrine to women’s work brings together works from eleven artists who have reflected upon matrilineal influences in their own working / playing lives. Such influences include the work / play of mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers and also the ‘grandmothers’ of each artist’s artform(s) – or artistic lineages. Each contributor has made something that incorporates selected aspects of this embodied and relational history.
 
 
For this research and development phase of Accumulations / The Grandmothers Project I had extended conversations with each participant about the lineage of their own working lives with particular attention to the working lives of their familial and vocational mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Participants were then invited to make a contribution to a shrine to women’s work. The idea was that this contribution somehow took its inspiration from this lineage of women’s work while also somehow being engaged one’s own current work or creative interests. Eventually the shrine was assembled from these objects at my studio space in Hope Mill, Ancoats, itself a site where women, men and children endured grueling labour in the textile industry in the 19th Century.
 
 
The impetus for this project came from my desire to recognise hidden histories of women’s work / play and from the site in Manchester in which I currently work. It has also arisen from my own feelings of being haunted by the generational differences and resonances between myself and my grandmothers and from my own detailed interest in early modern dance history (my artistic grandmothers).
 

Contributing artists:
Dani Abulhawa
Hannah Buckley
Bridget Fiske
Natalie Garrett
Christian Kipp
Anna Macdonald
Emma Meehan
Laura Mcgee
Jennifer Reid
Zoe Robertson
Sara Spies
 
 
Installed by Michael Vaughan
 
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a shrine to women’s work has been initiated and facilitated by Amy Voris as part of the Accumulations project.
Many thanks to curator Sara Spies and to photographer Christian Kipp for their input.

Further background to the project

My part in Accumulations / The Female Lineage Project has revolved around the subject of women’s work. There have been several simultaneous strands to my research:

1 Contemplating the everyday working / playing lives of my own and others’ great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mother

2 Contextualizing my own creative work / play in light of the work of the ‘grandmothers of my art form’

3 Researching into the history of women’s work in general and in Manchester in particular

The subject of ‘women’s work’ arose out of an acute awareness of how my working life contrasts but is also in deep conversation with the work of my deceased grandmothers: Violet ‘Sini Wuokku’ [Kahila] Prah, Kathleen Charlotte ‘Kay’ [Clodfelter] Voris, Great Aunty Maxine ‘Max’ [Clodfelter] Callender and adopted grandma Elizabeth May [Morley] Poulton. As well as working as mothers and housekeepers, both of my familial grandmothers worked as secretaries. They administered the working lives of men while also taking care of children and housework. Although I think they enjoyed some aspects of this work, they both harbored dreams of having an alternative life as a single, ‘career woman’ and looked on the privileges of my life (with access to education and vocational choice) with encouragement and with envy. They both were excellent typists and wrote letters and then emails to me late into their lives.

I am awe struck by the privileges of my life in comparison with my grandmothers’ lives – most particularly in relation to the work I am able to choose to do. As I move toward middle age – having made the choice not to have children – I feel my grandmothers’ presence intensify in my life. I have imaginary conversations with them, sometimes asking for advice, sometimes listening to their tough and awkward questions and sometimes just sharing a moment of appreciation for something beautiful or difficult. In my body I am holding a tension between past and present. I believe that this tension is a major resource for the dances that I make.

Initial research into the subject of women’s work took place at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford via a course in Radical Women’s History led by expert historian, Michael Herbert. Class discussion highlighted the importance of personal story telling in bringing women’s social history to light. Hearing these personal stories at WCML crystallized my interest in researching into the hidden histories of women’s work through conversation and exchange. At Accumulations Gathering (1) at the Whitworth (on 5th March 2016), I had conversations on the themes of women’s work with over twenty members of the general public. These conversational exchanges were varied, moving and fruitful. The experience also raised some light concerns about ‘holding’ a conversational space that could veer into personal territory. Given these concerns, I decided to approach eleven people (whom I already knew) to have extended conversations about personal histories of women’s work and to contribute to a shrine to women’s work. Questions that were used to stimulate discussion:

What paid and unpaid work / play did your great grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers do?

Who would you identify as your vocational / artistic mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers – the ‘grandmothers of your artform / vocation’?

How do these lineages manifest in your own work / play?

How would you describe your own continuation / development / diversion / subversion of this lineage?

If you were to make a tribute / dedication to this lineage of work, what would it be?

The idea was that this contribution to the shrine (somehow) took its inspiration from this lineage of women’s work while also (somehow) being engaged one’s own current work or creative interests. I had imagined each person’s contribution would be quite different in its content and mode of presentation. I eventually decided to situate and to assemble the shrine at my own studio space in Hope Mill due to the site’s resonances with the project as a whole and due to convenience of access which the space could provide. Attending the shrine required an element of ‘pilgrimage’ because of its location at the edge of the city. Upon arrival, visitors were welcomed with tea and cake. The shrine space was open daily for two weeks and received nearly forty visitors. In the interests of broader dissemination an online archive version of the shrine has been constructed here.

I hope to further develop a shrine to women’s work through encounters with the general public and through residencies in relevant sites. I would also like to curate a series of performances stemming from themes that have arisen during the curation process and am currently in the process of developing a dance practice called perch which draws from extended contemplation on my own matrilineal influences.

perch
perch is an on-going movement practice / work which deals with the detailed accumulation and layering of movement images. The practice has emerged from extended contemplation on my own artistic lineage as a dance maker and investigates the incremental sculpting of movement material. I consider this practice to be in dialogue with the working practices of my creative elders (Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, Anna Halprin, Lisa Nelson, Eva Karczag, Rosemary Butcher, Deborah Hay) and of my familial grandmothers (Kay Clodfelter Voris and Violet Kahila Prah) who were both secretaries. This movement / compositional practice is concerned with developing intricate movement imagery which is precisely situated. Key to the practice is the investigation of movement and compositional detail. So I turn to my artistic elders for strategies to invest deeply in the poetic potential of the moving body and to my familial grandmothers for a caring and indexical sensibility. perch takes place across dusk in a studio space in Hope Mill in Ancoats. The work is being developed between January 2016 and January 2017. In Spring 2017 perch will be performed every evening for a month.
 
 
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