In November the Ashburton Art Gallery opened all its gallery spaces for Configure, a group exhibition from six Ōtepoti-Dunedin artists, Sarah Baird, Michele Beevors, Maggie Covell, Kiri Mitchell, Tamara Nicholson and Kylie Norton.
Configure is the second exhibition and response by three of the artists, Baird, Beevors and Mitchell to Womanhouse, Judy Chicago’s and Miriam Schapiro’s revolutionary feminist installation in Los Angeles, California in 1972. Transforming a domestic space into an exhibition/installation with work by the participating artists and engaging all aspects of making work and installing it, Womanhouse sought to shift perspectives on ideas about the relationships between women and home.
In 2017 Baird, Beevors and Mitchell held their first response to Chicago’s and Schapiro’s agenda, Reconfigure, which opened in a suburban Dunedin house, seeking to review and reinvigorate Womanhouse and its ambitions, to ‘examine the relationships between feminist figurative works and to address the idea that there were common themes that bridged differences in class, race and gender.’
Their Ashburton Art Gallery exhibition is also like its predecessors, reviewing the status and circumstances of women today. The participating artists state: ‘Configure observes social representations and expectations of women via the art of female artists. Particular interest and societal inquiry focuses on body image, identity, and how popular culture has – and continues to – shape our perception of femininity.’
All the works stand alone in the exhibition but they also have a strong relationship with one another. As an experience, Configure begins as an entertaining provocation and shifts towards uneasy questions insisting upon necessary answers, or, as Mitchell puts it: ‘We wanted to make an exhibition that wasn’t polite.’
Beevors and Mitchell add that Configure also has its origins in a smaller version at The Forresters Gallery, Oamaru and that their plans for that exhibition included a visit to Director of the Ashburton Art Gallery Shirin Khosraviani. ‘We had sent the gallery a catalogue and when we met, she proposed: “Why don’t you have the whole gallery space,” and that made us think about including other artists.’ Beevors maintains it allowed them to generate works from students from the Dunedin School of Art that they had worked with. Tamara Nicholson was among those who responded, and Configure features When Did it Come to This, (two looping videos, Jelly and Gravy), and she also wrote extensively on suburbia for the catalogue. Exhibiting is one way of generating interest in the work and for me it is also a bit about teaching and a bit about the generosity of the work and new voices.’
Khosraviani knew Beevors from the Dunedin School of Art and she also remembers a conversation with her a couple of years ago. ‘She came to the Gallery and we were having a conversation about 2017’s Re-Configure and at the core of the current exhibition are those three artists - Michele Beevors, Sarah Baird and Kiri Mitchell.’
‘When they came to look at the spaces in the Ashburton Art Gallery they were talking to me about which space they would like, and I was interested in giving them all the spaces, where each gallery could be taken over by the artists. It was a surprise to them that they could have the whole gallery. They indicated that they would include other artists as well, some of them emerging artists and that Configure would be about sculpture with a feminist lens.’
‘They never imagined they would have the whole gallery. In terms of the spaces for these artists in particular, it is a reflection of what female artists are not accorded. They can’t have “big shows.” There are barriers to having large exhibitions in large public galleries and to even approaching galleries to have those conversations.’
Sarah Baird, Michele Beevors, Maggie Covell, Kiri Mitchell, Tamara Nicholson and Kylie Norton, Configure
Ashburton Art Gallery, 327 West Street
8 November – 21 January 2022
- Sarah Baird, The Custon Mannequin Project, mixed media, 2014, photograph: Shirin Khosraviani
- Configure, (Installation image), photograph: Shirin Khosraviani