Lisa-Marie Dickinson Talks Feminism, The Body, and Equality with F=

By March 28, 2016


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Festival of The Body is a celebration of International Women’s Day throughout March at Room 700, Leeds Central Library. The month long programme of public events includes an exhibition, conference, performances and talks. We interviewed F=, the research group behind the multi-disciplinary festival…

TSOTA: Please introduce yourself!

F= is an interdisciplinary research group based at Leeds Beckett University exploring the significance of feminism in creative practices.

We focus on celebrating International Women’s Day each year with an emphasis on celebrate.

We are…

Dr. Liz Stirling, artist, researcher and Senior Lecturer on Graphic Art and Design at Leeds Beckett University.

Laura Robinson, artist based in Leeds.

Jo Hassall, artist, researcher and Senior Lecturer on Graphic Art and Design at Leeds Beckett University.

Dr. Casey Orr- a photographer, researcher and Senior Lecturer on Graphic Art and Design at Leeds Beckett University.

TSOTA: How did F= come to exist? What’s the back story for those who aren’t familiar?

“I’m not a feminist but…”

For years we pondered what to do with this statement that kept cropping up in the writing of our women students in the School of Art at Leeds Beckett University.

We wondered how to talk about feminism within the art school context and how to get our students, male and female, to question the plethora of images and messages they’re bombarded with in this Capitalist and patriarchal society. We ask them to examine everything and think about visual communication and its ubiquitous power in our lives in the hopes that they become socially responsible graphic designers and artists. We also wondered what we, as artists and educators, could bring to the feminist party.

F= came from these questions.

Our answer comprises of many things…

1. Facilitating conversations around feminism which enabled students to access/entry points that we’re about prior knowledge or being academically qualified to touch upon political subject matter.

2. As artist’s we wanted to bring our own experiences together in collaboration – finding our own voices in feminism through making and playfulness to help us explore the theme as well as challenge the hierarchy of the academic delivery.

3. It’s important to us to offer up a permissive space for learning that is based on having fun and laughing and finding out together. Serious fun becomes an important pedagogic method. Laughing takes back the power. Everyone wants a relief from the power structures as well as a chance to poke fun and query those same dominant power structure through absurdist intervention.

4. The art and the making act become significant sites for discussion; using art as a prop for interaction and potential change – transformation or learning.

Puppets, banners, sculpture, performance – These become props – art prop as a central motif for intervention or protest becomes a symbolic destabiliser of power, the symbolic object as ridiculer of power.

5. Stepping outside of the institutions empowers us and others- embodied/physical shift away from fixed structural constraints of institutional space (mothering/domestic/educational)

TSOTA: How do you curate who takes part in the exhibitions and events? Can people get involved in the next events?

Our exhibition is open to everyone – We don’t curate but we do work with people to use visual language, to create objects and to articulate their ideas and experiences through art practices. Value decisions about who is worthy to be involved is not our thing. It’s a non-hierarchical space- a mix of students/general public/practitioners/community groups – it’s a shared thing – it fits the ethos of what we’re interested in promoting; a space without fear to find a way to be.

TSOTA: The concept behind this and the title ‘Festival of the body’ sends out such a positive message , what’s the key messages you’d like people to take from the talks and exhibitions organised ?

Festival of the Body – Everybody/anybody

Simone de Beauvoir recognises that “to be present in the world implies strictly that there exists a body which is at once a material thing in the world and a point of view towards the world”.

This statement acknowledges the ways in which our bodies, through gender, ability and age determine the different ways we understand the world.

The body’s representation in cultural myths and metaphors powerfully determines and influences our experiences.

We are both natural and cultural, both biological and product of environment and thought.

Our sense of self is a complex intertwining of bodily experience and belief.

And yet bones and blood, heart and brain, our bodies are the boat we steer through this life. We feel, think and perceive through bodily experience.

Festival of the Body invites you to think about and celebrate The Body, your body, and all its multiple and wonderous forms and potential.

TSOTA: Feminism has always been a significant theme within creative practice and has developed and manifested itself through many different mediums- how do you think feminism will continue to assert its importance as new artists, writers, performers etc emerge into the public eye – why do you think Feminism is still so important in 2016? How do you think feminism in creative practice can be used to discuss current issues in 2016?

A feminist critique of the media-saturated culture that young people navigate, this proliferation of images, is a necessary and political tool to challenge the bombardment. Feminist spaces offer alternative to patriarchal/corporate ways of being and doing, that isn’t structured around traditional business/institutional models/tropes. There are so many ways to challenge patriarchy and Capitalism, so many feminist voices – writers, activists, organisers. Art will always have a voice in Feminism because art is a powerful and engaging language. Social change comes through culture…through music, fashion and art. We’re artists…it’s how we engage and challenge and communicate.

TSOTA: Whilst there is still work to be done in terms of equality across the globe and in day to day life, 2015 was a groundbreaking year for building the awareness of issues surrounding gender, race and sexuality, but what would you like to see happening socially in 2016 in terms of Equality?

We’d like to see people working in their small ways, in their communities, to change global attitudes from the inside out. In a world so saturated by non-stop media it’s sometimes easy to think there’s nothing but depressing, negative news, whereas in day-to-day relationships there’s a growing sense that people want change. Real global change doesn’t just come from boardroom manoeuvring by politicians and corporations but also from cultural and social change. Knowing this and understanding this empowers people. So we want to see communities building confidence and effecting change from the bottom up, from the inside out. And art is such a great and effective (and enjoyable and fulfilling) way to question perceptions and sense our own strength.

TSOTA: Finally, what’s in the pipeline for F= in the near future? We’d love to keep up with your fabulous work!

More performance. More playing. More.laughing.

Find out more here.