In 2014, artist Anicka Yi facilitated and recorded a the panel discussion "Where Are the
Female Networks in the Art World?". This heated and poignant discussion incited me to engage my peers in a parallel conversation, and to photograph those involved; to shed light on the brilliance and genius around me and to help me answer my own questions about WORK and female networks in various Toronto arts communities. In December 2014 the Toronto Arts Council funded what is now (tentatively titled) WomenWork: A Feminist Archive (WW:FA).

The goal of WW:FA is threefold: to depict women as historical agents who shape and enrich arts & culture; to fracture myths and illusions about the monolithic category of “female artist”, and to create a subjective, dynamic index of artists-as-role-models for future generations of women. Though WW:FA is not yet complete (and should encourage us to consider how and when an archive is every really complete)  project aims to destabilize traditional means and rules of archiving, a process that historically devalues and obscures women while maintaining the oppressive rigidity of gender. It posits the archive as a non-objective document rooted in and destined for both present and future, prone to error and affect, and as Boris Groys noted, "a process of documenting {which} opens up a disparity between the document itself and the documented... a divergence that can neither be bridged or erased." (1) The artist as archivist is no longer a singular authority or institutional entity

Ultimately I hope to create a more democratic way to mine affective economies within local arts communities, or networks as some would say.  The research informing WW:FA reflects my preoccupations with productivity, the perpetual and systemic erasure of non-male presenting artists' lives/ accomplishments, how we care for ourselves, and the subjective differentiation of work from labour. I am especially interested in the ways we re-­assign value to our lives and exist beyond our productivity.

WW:FA was intended to respond to the statistical under-representation of women within local and global art institutions, but more recently, having considered the project  in an intersectional way, there are so many issues this project has not yet considered or explored. Obfuscation of labour is contingent on race, gender, ability, and other simultaneously occuring facets of artists' identities. Although this project was initially for cisgendered & transgendered artists, and genuindely all those who identified as women, my call for participation may not have made that clear. There has been much to learn and unlearn as I continue to revisit this project and connections I was fortunate enough to make through it.

At very least, through these  portraits and free-form interviews, participants were invited to actively re-shape a more intimate and relevant definition of their art practices as multi-faceted forms of labor. 

Ultimately WW:FA will be a mutable and ever-expanding compilation of images and experiences.

Jessica Vallentin
Using Format