Ciara Phillips compelled us to ‘Give a Damn!’ the other night when Gallery 4’s doors swung open for Ripples on the Pond – the latest exhibition of work from the Glasgow Museums Collection. It was wonderful to see the support from all those who attended the opening and to share in a mutual celebration of works on paper, photography and moving image by women artists. I am just finishing up an internship at GoMA as part of my Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curating and Criticism Master’s programme at the University of Edinburgh, and having heard about Ripples on the Pond from its conceptual beginnings, it was great to see it brought into reality.
The selection of work stemmed from recent acquisitions from 21 Revolutions, a project conducted to mark the first two decades of Scotland’s only women’s library. Indeed, Ripples on the Pond takes its name from Helen de Main’s January 1987, from 21 Spare Ribs (2012), one of a number of works created when Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) commissioned 21 female Glasgow-based artists to create work inspired by the library’s archive. I got the opportunity to meet a few of the lovely staff at the library and have a browse through a small part of their vast and diverse collection, which includes everything from second-wave feminist journals and zines to personal papers of activists, lesbian pulp fiction, knitting patterns and assorted ephemera from the Women’s Suffrage Collection. Much of their collection is donated, and GWL grew from an unfunded, grassroots initiative created to preserve the documentation of the activities of Women in Profile – set up in 1987 to ensure the representation of women’s culture in Glasgow during the European City of Culture in 1990. For more info on Glasgow Women’s Library, visit their website: womenslibrary.org.uk/.
Ripples on the Pond’s reading room and changing film programme allows for an ongoing discussion, of which visitors are invited to join. Through bringing together divergent artistic practices and positioning and arranging them within this space, a relationship is staged between the works, the starting point for this conversation. As themes of social justice, feminism, play, landscape, place and visibility are explored; they will be rethought, re-imagined and reinvigorated throughout the life of the exhibition. I had the pleasure of conducting some research into the working practices, history and influences of contributing artists Kate Davis, Ciara Phillips and Jo Spence, to discover the significance of their practice within the wider context of women artists active today. Two works from Jo Spence’s Final Project are on display, ‘What 1991 looked like… (most of the time)’ (1991) and ‘Return to Nature (Version Two)’ (1991-2). Greatly informed by feminist politics, Spence explored the empowering capacity of photography through courageous self-documentation, to reposition the voice of the photographic subject and examine personal representation. Many of her photographic works centred on visibility, that of illustrating issues neglected by mainstream representation. Through putting herself in the image, Spence created a public exposure of the intimate suffering of her battles with first breast cancer and subsequently, leukaemia. As a confrontation of stereotypical portraits of sick patients, she reached out to others in similar positions of dis-empowerment. The two works included in Ripples on the Pond were taken shortly before she died of leukaemia in 1992. Kate Davis (whose piece Not Just the Perfect Moments  includes a drawing of the cover of Spence’s autobiographical text, Putting Myself in the Picture) explores, similarly to Spence, representational practices and the construction of the female body.
I am excited to watch the evolution of this exhibition, how its curation as a conversation will create connections, comparisons and new insights to the work and how the invitation and collaboration with Modern Edinburgh Film School and LUX Scotland will further this response and critique. I also would like to take the opportunity to thank Katie Bruce for providing me with a fascinating insight into the development of this exhibition and to congratulate her, and the entire GoMA team on the opening of this great exhibition. Ripples on the Pond is open now in Gallery 4 – opening hours vary , do leave us some feedback and join the conversation.
Alix Rothnie, Modern & Contemporary Art: History, Curating & Criticism MSc at the University of Edinburgh