In light of Monday’s women-led strike in Poland, in which thousands of people in over sixty cities gathered to protest the government’s proposal to completely ban abortion, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, You Will Never Never Never Know Me at Fundacja Arton seems exceptionally prescient. The exhibition brings together seven works of film or video made by women between the years of 1973 and 1982, presenting a small but influential selection of startlingly direct explorations of femininity and culture.
Of all the works in the show, American audiences will be most familiar with Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), in which the artist dons an apron and demonstrates the uses of an abecedarium of kitchen implements: bowl, chopper, dish, eggbeater. This is a straight-faced inventory; Rosler simply announces the name of each tool and then pantomimes its use. But unlike a cheerful Julia Child–style exposition, the violence in Rosler’s gestures exposes the resentment behind the toil of household drudgery. When she announces ice pick, she stabs it dramatically into a chopping block like a modern-day Clytemnestra.
In a similarly domestic vein, Letítia Parente’s Task 1 (1982) shows a woman in light-colored clothes lying face-down on an ironing board; a woman in a black dress proceeds to iron her body. As the second woman moves the hot tool over the first’s back and legs, she uses her free hand to smooth the folds of cloth, communicating care for the woman underneath the fabric while firmly auditing her appearance. The double-edged message will not be mysterious to any contemporary user of the internet, where “fitspo” memes, slut-shaming tweets, and gender-policing Facebook posts show that women continue to be harsh judges of each other’s appearance and status, often under the guise of “just wanting to help.”