The following text is an excerpt from Her Noise co-curator Lina Džuverovic’s presentation given for the opening of the Her Noise: Feminisms and the Sonic symposium, Tate Modern 2012. Hear the full audio here.
I would say that the original impulse for creating Her Noise was a mixture of activism, wishing to question dominant histories and hierarchies, a wish to redress a balance and sheer fandom. At the time, we were quite coy about the fandom part, but now I think it is an excellent starting point for an exhibition. We admired women who were making music and we somehow wanted to connect to them, to be part of their world and make them part of ours.
Having since worked with many projects that engage with forgotten or omitted histories, I now see that what we were doing at the time was the crucial work of creating horizontal histories, connecting practices that had not been contextualized in relationship to one another before. Like all ‘black holes’ in history – the gap remains there until somebody decides to fill it and write their own version, and this was our rather clumsy and instinctive attempt to do so. It is interesting that Anne and I didn’t spend much time discussing the artistic content, or curatorial strategies, although now looking back, I clearly see how we made some pretty bold curatorial choices and also that we actually had rather different aesthetics between the two of us. It would have been interesting to somehow acknowledge this and work with it.
Her Noise was always more about the ‘how’ and somehow our main concern was in the mapping and the connecting and enabling, not so much analysis or indeed focusing on the exhibition itself. It was a mapping project, not a curatorially led project, but this was not acknowledged in any way because we didn’t know it at the time. We had some core ‘research questions’ such as ‘why are there so few well known female composers? Why are so few women working in electronic music/ getting their hands dirty with technology?’ so to speak but rather than turning to theory, feminist history, music history or art history for answers, we interviewed dozens of women we admired to get their answers.
I want to talk about the response, or rather the series of rejections we encountered when we first tried to pitch this project to venues. Over the years, we approached SIXTY FOUR venues across the UK and many, many others internationally. It is important to realize that at this time the terms feminism and sound were both fairly unpopular and the combination of the two was LETHAL. This was some years before WACK, Art and the Feminist Revolution in the summer of 2007, Gender Check curated by Bojana Pejic (2010) and ELLEs at the Pompidou – the rehang of the collection to only show female artists in 2009. There was a bright moment with Ute Meta Bauer’s Berlin Biennial in 2004 which had a focus on sonic practice and feminist works, but in 2001 when we started knocking on doors, no doors were opening.
Using the term ‘feminist exhibition’ would have immediately disqualified us (or at least we strongly felt that) so we adopted different strategies to try to get this project to show somewhere. Also, saying that it was about sound, was not such a good idea either. Sometimes we would send the proposal but not say it was only women, other times we adapted it to the venue (for example, for Fact in Liverpool, we tweaked the proposal pretending it was about women and technology). At other times, we left it open enough allowing the venue curators to make suggestions of artists – worried that it was too closed, so we sometimes got suggestions to include Bjork or Madonna.
Eventually, years into the project, South London Gallery accepted to show it: Donna Lynas, Curator and Margot Heller, Director, somehow saw the potential and gave us a green light – also contributing substantially to the exhibition. Conversely, I do want to stress that funding this exhibition proved to be easy and we saw a lot of support – obtaining every grant we applied for. Also, I must stress that audiences were phenomenal, for all the events and the exhibition. I am not sure how to read this discrepancy between funding, audiences and venue reception. In terms of critical response, much has been written about Her Noise since, but at the time it did not attract much media attention: Adrian Searle did cover it, but the title of his review was: Quiet Please.
If one was to contextualise Her Noise within the global art landscape , I would link it to the strategies of something like IRWIN and East Art Map (2001) – creating and inserting your own history upon the realisation that nobody else will do it for you. Also, so much of the project was about the people involved and I like thinking about it in the context of Viktor Misiano’s notion of the Institutionalisation of Friendship, written in 1992. The idea of commissioning new works and presenting them in a gallery seemed secondary to the interviews and developments of a complex web of relationships, not always straightforward, but definitely core to the project. In retrospect, I wish that we had been bolder with just how much the project was rooted in Riot Grrrl politics and tactics. I think we should have been a lot bolder and more explicit by drawing on the strategies of the communities we were bringing in.
Often people ask how I feel about Her Noise now, 10 years on. Putting the feminist agenda forward is more important to me than ever, more so since becoming a mum. I think that Her Noise was an amazing initiative that did truly galvanise a community that is still active and connected, having been taken on and continued by a younger generation of women. It did succeed in creating that legacy we’d hoped for. I think it’s important that the project challenged and destabilised dominant histories and inserted an alternative into the picture.
I think that our rather timid and ambiguous approach of adopting and mimicking the visual arts language and structures worked well in that it allowed us to infiltrate and embed ourselves within the visual arts arena but with an activist and feminist agenda. For me the exhibition itself (as opposed to all the other elements) was problematic and if I were curating it again I would do many things differently, as I hinted at already.
But I think there is a lot more work to be done. I think that true feminist efforts MUST look further afield beyond the dominant Western centres (something Her Noise was not able to do), and be more daring, direct and unapologetic than we were with Her Noise.
Lina Džuverovic, 2012