Journal of Radical Shimming #18

Here is Kate, Katie and Sarah’s interview with Sam Gould and Sarah Peters which was featured in Journal of Radical Shimming #18


We will start with a description of this entity that is coming into existence: The Women’s Center for Creative Work is a proposed collective feminist co-work space in Los Angeles. It is a physical space that will house studios and a collective work table, tool library, book library, archive, small store, and exhibition space. It is also a pedagogical space where contemporary notions of feminism, femininity and womanhood will be explored, and new ways of framing human experiences will be explored, together…

Sam Gould: Wait… lets get settled here. I have a question: Katie, last I saw you was in the Twin Cities. We were having a big dinner at Fritz’s [Haeg] family’s house. You mentioned this project, WCCW, and that is started a smart dust up with male counterparts wanting to come to meetings and actively be involved, feeling somewhat excluded from the scenario. You said that your collaborators and you were wondering about this and considering opening it up to men. This reminded me alot about my own feelings of (at the time) exclusion during the Riot Grrl movement and how, as time passed, I was able to come around and see that my presence in those meetings would have been at best a distraction at worst highly charged and detrimental. From my own history my personal advice to you was NO DUDES. So, firstly, what’s the outcome of that situation? And secondly, can you guys speak to ideas of history and notions of gender allegiance, if not outright collaboration when it comes frameworks along these lines?

Sarah Peters: I’m interested in the title for this project: Women’s Center for Creative Work. We could examine each of these words; who are women, what is creativity, what is work.  Why not use the word feminism?

Katie Bachler: Hi! Sometimes we need spaces of exclusion to find specificities of language, a frame of WOMEN allows an already-sameness to those present, a comfort, an allowance of certain truths to come out, because of the basic connection of gender. We remain women only for the dinners we will keep having, but do want to open up the center to other genders, people who align with feminism who want to explore this way of being a person in the world. We desire intentionality; to come to a dinner is to be a part of this organization, to attend a workshop is to be engaged with the creation of the language and horizontal space we are creating. It is always happening. We are making it, together. Historically, First Wavers came together as women, along-side the male power-structure, to make demands and have a voice… Elizabeth Cady, Susan B.. Also, the feminine today seems to be objectified, related to objects that represent woman, the feminine. What is the feminine outside of what represents it? Feminine as defined not from the outside, in the myth of a binary, but inside, without signifiers placed on the female body by society. Moving away from a feminist, feminist action or reaction, to a generative space, always being created.

Sam Gould: This is really interesting to me in that much of what you’re saying mirrors Harry Hay’s notion of SUBJECT-subject consciousness, wherein he discussed the notion that homosexual men, due to their “sameness” were / are inherently able to relate to one another as subject, rather than, what he saw, as the objectification of straight relationships. And furthermore that, in this way, homosexual men (he’s specific about gender here as he didn’t want to speak for women) possess what he called a “gay window,” a discrete perspective of the world to be able to view not just people, but the landscape, and whole ecology in general, as subjects.

Katie Bachler: Yes, and this gets to an intention of the WCCW, as a re-framing of relationships to each other and the world around us, feminism then opens up as a way to relate to each other on a more intimate level, but first women need their subjectivity back.

Sam Gould: Exactly. This return, if you will, I think is exactly what Hay was getting at and why, not long after writing this essay helped organize the first gathering of the Radical Fairies in Arizona. Though, as a counter-point, I wonder about this notion of “return.” It suggests to me an ideal which once was, kind of edenic. What’s your take on that?

Katie Bachler: Maybe there was a time when everything was more the same. I teach kids about the Maya who talked with animals and healed with plants and made clay pots that told the stories of this. There is possibility for connection everywhere, always, to a human, a tree, a strange sign for donuts in a city, where everything is rendered the same because it is seen for what it truly is, radical subjectivity, everything as itself.  It is about a way of choosing to relate, to de-alienate. Alienation is the biggest problem of where we are now, and i think this “return” to wanting to make our own clothes, buy home-made aprons and shoes and farm is a reaction, we just have to be careful that it doesn’t all become commodified.  The return is a myth though, impossible and problematic, we can’t, but the future does not yet exist, so we can make it. We are always in a state of wanting to return, in a myth sort of way, as its easy to idealize and compartmentalize, but what we need to be is in a process of reaching towards and creating using tools of the past.

Sarah Peters: I like the idea of moving away from reaction to generation. I have to say that I’m not super keen on the word feminism, or woman/women/womyn, and I’m frankly tired of this bullshit corporate conversation about “creativity” so I’m all for a new language to try and reinvigorate the ideas of equality brought forward by feminism but might get buried in the rhetoric wars of the f word and backlash against women taking power.

Sarah Williams: We have been hearing that some, about the word feminism being one that people are a. uncomfortable with or b. looking for something new that is relatively in the spirit of it, but that is divested from some of the negative associations with the word. I’d be interested in hearing more about why you’re over it Sarah, because I don’t get the sense it’s going to be for the same reasons other people have expressed — along the lines of it being a word with a lot of negative connotations, conjuring man-hating, bra-burning, difficult women. But I kind of feel like the word was worked to mean that to take some of it’s power away, that if it is something that can be negated as fringe by dominant culture, that it has less power, it’s less complex. And of course, in calling yourself a feminist, it would be short sighted not to own and respond to the lineages of feminism when using the word today, but at it’s most basic level it’s a belief in and active support of equality amongst all people, and that’s something we should all believe in. On taking back things, let’s take back that word! However, to instantly flip on my own keep-the-word-feminism argument, I think we could use a new word that is more inclusive of queer points on the gender spectrum, which of course feminism does promote theoretically, but linguistically still has that ingrained gender binary going.

Kate Johnston: the word feminism fascinates me. British Elle ran a big story last november about “rebranding feminism,” in which they approached three large advertising firms, had them partner with feminist organizations to come up with campaigns. Most of them were just glossy posters with slogans. This is really all that could have come out of a project with such glossy origins, but still, the fact that this conversation is happening on such a mainstream level is very exciting to me. I talk all the time about rebranding feminism. I am aware of the capitalist connotations of this language, I use this language on purpose. I am not interested in trying to exist outside of capital, nor am I interested in trying to exist outside of feminism by attempting to create new language for it. This is a thing which already exists, and has a history, a trajectory. We are aligning with that trajectory, standing in solidarity with the bra burning and the man hating because they are part of this word’s  history. This does not mean we today will agree with those aggressive and reactionary stances or take them ourselves, but they are there, we must acknowledge them while working within our own, tonally different feminist  traditions.

Katie Bachler: Sarah, what are spaces and places where you feel like this is taking place? The new language. Is the word feminism used a lot in your circles in MPLS?, Sam too can answer this.

Sam Gould: It’s a funny thing to answer for me, as I’d have to say no, but conditionally. No, on the one hand in that with the majority of people I hang out with day-to-day, they’re in the mid-30s and up. I think for many of them much of the work and self-reflection of feminism is something that they attempted to embody for such a long while that, at this point, the signifiers are mute. The actions, the lived experience is key and the words don’t get thrown around as much. This is not to say these are perfect, radiant beings who do no wrong. I just mean to say that they’ve moved past language. And on the other hand, when the F-word, if you will, does come up, it is often with much younger friends of mine, folks in their very early 20s coming into states of consciousness for maybe the first time and really working through it in, what I imagine are, very intense and visceral ways.

Katie Bachler: The Feminism Phase. Discovering a voice for feelings. I was a gender studies major in undergrad and talked about andrea dworkin and helene cixous all the time, and then stopped in my 20s, and am now interested in exploring feminism in a different way, new, a return I guess, but with more lived experience about what we need, action vs. reaction.

Sarah Williams: It totally agree, Sam and Katie. There is definitely this time, I think, usually in college or soon after I guess where you’re trying to define yourself based on something besides your family, besides where you grew up, outside of this childhood/adolescent narrative and I think you really cling to these words or more defined and intense ways that I think are more comfortable at the time, so you don’t feel so much like you’re floating around this big world, you’re making meaning, allying yourself with new groups of people and world views. Or at least I had this time, and saw a lot of friends have it too, but I do think a lot of people move on to a softer, more lived version of these ideals — but we’re super interested in that. I almost want Katie to talk about it, because she’s so passionate about it, but we’re really into “feminist practices of daily life.” How do we practice this everyday, how do we get better at it? How do we do it with other people? How do we shape our realities through these practices? In both intimate and public ways?

Katie Bachler: Its about the return to a subjectivity, a simultaneous recognition of a feminine history of an action like making a pie, and seeing this action both as gendered and amazing-as-such; honor that history!, but also as deeply a choice of an action in every-day-life in a place. Not to isolate by calling out “feminine” but an ability to engage with the history of said action, while being totally present in the fabric of life that this, and other actions fit into. And a feminism of everyday life might include an ability to allow for a wandering discussion about a topic like “what should we do with the LA River?”  or “how are you today?” That there are multiple truths to any query or subject. An allowance for uncertainty or the personal to enter a space of uncertainty

Sarah Peters:  I’m also curious to talk about “work” and what the work happening at the center is. [that is a bad sentence. see above the part about being tired]  Katie, when you and I were sitting on the rug in Fritz Haeg’s recent show at the Walker Art Center (a project about domesticities), hell we might have even been knitting, we started to having this conversation about feminism as practice vs. feminism as subject of artwork.  It was clarifying for me because I realized that I’m not often interested in artwork that takes women’s work or Feminism as a subject, because that feels so dated.  The women who pioneered that work —in LA, in the 70s—carved out an important place, but I’m not inspired by that work as work.  I’m interested in generative spaces and then seeing what comes out of them.  What kind of work is being made at WCCW?

Katie Bachler: I think we were darning socks? A womans way.. We are making space for things to emerge, working at making things is one way of being together and making a future. We are making togetherness, conversations, tenderness, laughs, possibles..

Sarah Williams: Kate coined the phrase Women’s Center for Creative Work, and I’ll let her speak to it more, but I think it’s so broad, because we’re interested in broadness of work in a creative context…it’s design and writing, and maybe it’s real estate, or massage…We want to look at all sorts of work through a lense of creativity and feminism.

Kate Johnston: Earlier I spoke about not wanting to exist outside of capitol. I mean this quite literally with the idea of work. The project title “the womens center for creative work” hooks itself onto the second wave ideas of housework in the place of prominence etc, but moves forward to embrace the very real situation of female small businesses run from the home; etsy stores. pr consultancies, interior designers and the like. This project very practically seeks to find a sanctuary for these independent female business owners, creating a co-workspace for them to get their work done in a supportive atmosphere, outside of the home, which is a place in which traditional labor roles are tricky to slide out of. I am not interested in starting in the home, but in the office. Independant creative practices are very important as a model of contemporary feminism. They are small nodes in a disparate network. The WCCW seeks to create a powerful hub for this network in los angeles, a collective of individuals standing in solidarity while not necessarily having the exact same goals.

Sarah Peters: and saving our $20 smartwools from the trash bin! I guess this question about work is also just practical: are there art studios? A wood shop? A library? Do people work independently? Together? Are people sitting together typing emails for their freelance jobs? On any given day, what happens at WCCW?

Katie Bachler: That is the plan, we are raising money now to make a space with tools for work, a library of feminist texts, workshop space, child-care. there are art studios. its for doing things together, and separately.

Sarah Williams: And I think we have an idea for a framework, with studios and communal workspace, that will hopefully nurture a bunch of different kinds of creative activities, but I kind of hope our expectations get blown out of the water too, that women come and use it to work and connect in ways we’re not even thinking about yet. As we work towards it more, tell more woman about it, we keep hearing how people want something like this, need something like this and it is starting very much to feel like an “if you build it they will come” type of thing. That we will create a framework based on our vision, what we want, what others tell us they want, but I think it’s going to be completely it’s own organism, imbued with the life of so many other women who will sculpt it in ways we can’t even imagine (hopefully!). All of this is really exciting to me.

Katie Bachler: What spaces in your experiences have existed where you felt like it was a truly collective space, with a language and action framework that were generative, and also continued to be specific to the original intention of the collective? I am thinking about inclusivity, and wanting to do everything, and allow for difference, especially in relation to the problematics of white feminism, and the academization of the feminist cause. Do you have experience in language of inclusivity? We do not want to be a white artist feminist club that only exists in a known world. There needs to be some friction and discomfort, and we are grappling with this and the potential for critique. (Which is generative, yes, but we want to be fluid, always already open…)