Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism

As the title implies, there’s still a way to go for gender equality to be universally embraced and put into practice. The Australian Centre For Contemporary Art’s (ACCA) latest exhibition ‘Unfinished Business’ underscores critical but underrepresented practices from Australian artists with newly commissioned, recent work and historic projects on display from sculpture to painting, performance, photography, film as well as documentation of community engagement and cultural activism. As ‘Unfinished Business’ negotiates paths forward it also reflects on inter-generational legacies, inheritances and shifts – concurrently asking and shaping why feminism matters today. We spoke to Artistic Director Max Delaney and ACCA Senior Curator Annika Kristensen who have developed the show in collaboration with leading Australian artists and curators including Paola Balla, Julie Ewington, Vikki McInnes and Elvis Richardson. A handful of films were selected from over four decades and ACCA’s Curator, Public Programs, Anabelle Lacroix, has worked to develop a performance program and series of public events alongside the exhibition. To cap off the air of transparency and unity, a ‘round table’ has been created by artist Emily Floyd with designer Mary Featherston, which will be open to the public and host conversations, workshops, reading groups or performances in response to the exhibition.

Giselle Stanborough, Giselle Dates (installation view), 2016–17, interactive performance and site-specific multimedia installation, dimensions variable. Photograph: Zan Wimberley. Courtesy the artist and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

You have put a lot of thought into selecting the artists; please describe the process between yourselves and the consulting team?
‘Unfinished Business’ has been put together by a curatorium echoing the polyvocal and collaborative methodologies of the feminist movement. These many voices were important – so as to encompass different generational, cultural and political concerns. Each curator brought to the table a diverse group of artists for consideration, resulting in an ensemble that could only have come from the meeting of many minds. It is important to stress that the exhibition is not intended as a survey. Rather, as the title might suggest, it is itself ‘unfinished business’ – and we hope that it prompts further discussion, debate, publications and perhaps other exhibitions in its wake.

Sarah Goffman, I am with you, 2017 (detail), cardboard, permanent marker, approx. 700 x 700cm. Photograph: Andrew Curtis. Courtesy the artist and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

There are more than 50 practices on show from students and recent graduates to established, senior practitioners who fit into a broader contemporary art context. Why do you think they are leaders in this realm?
Many contributors have had a sustained engagement with feminism throughout their careers – as artists, writers, curators and theorists – and have been influential to their peers. In the process of putting together the exhibition, we asked several artists to point to Australian artists or artworks that had been important to them. A community of artists was revealed, spanning generations, cultural contexts and concerns. These artists have strong voices, important messages, and commanding practices that continue to influence and inspire, making way for more emerging practitioners who are ready and willing to take up the mantle.

Cidgem Aydemir, Extremist activity (Stroll), 2011, still, single channel video, stereo sound 13:42 mins. Courtesy the artist and Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

Can you identify a major change in feminist ideology that is paralleled in a material or conceptual shift in the work on show? For example, the advent of intersectionality?
The exhibition title suggests both inter-generational dialogues – a passing of the baton from one generation to the next – as well as an acknowledgment that feminism, as a movement, is fluid, plural, and constantly in need of redefinition. As a result of the critiques of representation that feminist practice and discourse has engendered, feminism itself has been subject to considerable critique and debate, opening up to wider considerations of class, race, ethnicity, and non-binary gender positions. In focusing on recent and contemporary practice – in dialogue with a handful of historical touchstones – ‘Unfinished Business’ reflects on these expanded concerns: including the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour, trans, queer and non-binary people. These subjects take a myriad of material forms but are often united in a shared interest in language, reclamation and self-determination.

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
15 December to 25 March, 2018