Helena Reckitt with Gabrielle Moser

Against Structurelessness: the resonance of 1970s and 1980s feminisms on current collective work

26 April 2024, 6pm


By loading the video, you agree to Vimeos's privacy policy.
Learn more

Load video

Helena Reckitt presents a talk co-authored with her long-time collaborator, Gabrielle Moser, a feminist curator, art critic, and photography scholar who teaches at York University, Toronto, and is co-founder of EMILIA-AMALIA Working Group, Toronto.

“Unstructured groups may be very effective in getting women to talk about their lives; they aren’t very good for getting things done.” When Jo Freeman spoke on the “tyranny of structurelessness” in radical women’s groups, in 1970, she identified a long-standing problem for collectives: how to make group work “work” so that it continues past its initial urgencies and ad hoc structure? Feminist collectives profoundly influenced artists, art historians and critics on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1970s and 80s, yet historical accounts of their activities rarely attend to the how of group work, producing gaps in intergenerational knowledge transmission. How can we address the difficult and ugly feelings inherent to feminist collective work when these affects so often slip the archive’s net? How do contemporary feminist groups reanimate what Elizabeth Freeman (2011) terms the undetonated potential of feminism’s past?

Reflecting on their experiences with feminist groups, the Toronto-based EMILIA-AMALIA feminist working group (E-A), established 2016, and the London-based Feminist Duration Reading Group (FDRG), founded in 2015, Reckitt examines the organizational structures, curatorial practices, and writing strategies she and Moser have developed to address intergenerational gaps, sustain long term collaboration and “get things done.” Exploring the feminisms from the 1970s and 1980s that inform their projects, she discusses how they have devised events that aim to acknowledge the shortcomings and prejudices of earlier feminisms, while nonetheless recognising them as flawed, unfinished projects that laid foundations for feminist, trans and queer futures to come.

Gabrielle Moser is is an art historian, writer, and independent curator. She is the author of Projecting Citizenship: Photography and Belonging in the British Empire (Penn State University Press, 2019) and she is at work on her second book, Citizen Subjects: Photography and Sovereignty in Post-War Canada (under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press). With Helena Reckitt and Giulia Damiani she curated the 2022-2023 oral history and public events programme “Feminist Transmissions,” examining the resonance of 1970s feminist practices on the present, with a particular attention to the uses of art, psychoanalysis and writing in Italian feminism. She is a founding member of EMILIA-AMALIA, a feminist working group based in Toronto since 2016, and Assistant Professor of Aesthetics and Art Education in the Faculty of Education at York University in Toronto, Canada.

Helena Reckitt has worked as a curator, lecturer, and editor, with a longstanding interest in feminist and queer art, theory and activism. Formerly Senior Curator of Programs at The Power Plant in Toronto (2006–2010), she is currently Reader in Curating in the Art Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. Reckitt has curated exhibitions in the UK, US and Canada, including ‘What Business Are You In?’ (The Contemporary, 2004), ‘Not Quite How I Remember It’ (The Power Plant, 2008) and ‘Getting Rid of Ourselves’ (OCAD University, 2014). She is editor of the books ‘Art and Feminism’ (2001), ‘Sanja Iveković: Unknown Heroine’ (2013), with Joshua Oppenheimer, ‘Acting on AIDS’ (1998), and consulting editor of ‘The Art of Feminism’ (Tate Publishing & Chronicle Books, 2018, expanded edition 2022). In 2021 with Dorothee Richter she co-edited an issue of OnCurating on ‘Instituting Feminism.’ She established the Feminist Duration Reading Group (FDRG), a collaboratively-curated research and events programme amplifying under-represented feminisms, in 2015.  The FDRG is currently collaborating with Cell Project Space on CEED (Central and East European Diasporas) Feminisms, and is running an eighteen-month programme of reading, writing, and deep listening workshops and events as Residents at Goldsmiths CCA.