Interview: Genevieve Michaels on the Power of a (Female) GAZE

 By Pandora Young

By Pandora Young

GAZE is an exhibition that focuses on figurative work and portraiture by female artists. From collage to digital art it aims to confront the male-dominated culture of visual art. The female form has been a long-standing source of inspiration; however, the show’s curator Genevieve Michaels notes that women are “rarely the creators of [their] own depiction.”  

Michaels’ writing has appeared in a number of publications including SAD Mag and the Huffington Post. She works as a gallery assistant at Ayden Gallery and is a student at the University of British Columbia studying Creative Writing and Art History.

GAZE opens January 15th at 7 pm at Ayden Gallery. The free launch party features music by BIKES. To find out what to expect from the show, SAD Mag’s Jasmine Ruff sat down with Michaels to talk art, “girlyness,” and the power of a (female) gaze.  

 By Chelsea O'Byrne

By Chelsea O'Byrne

SAD Mag: Some of the work included in GAZE observes a female figure. How do you find these works differ from work by men observing women as subjects?

Genevieve Michaels: Well, what drew me to some of the artists I initially selected for the show was how they depict bodies; generally a less idealized, more naturalistic sort of form with "imperfections," although I hate that word. I think mostly I wanted to go for something unstylized. I think there's a lot of stylized bodies not only in visual culture as a whole—such as [in] advertising—but even in art that's popular right now. There's a lot of cartoony, pop-influenced work out there, and while it has its place, I definitely was hoping for a breath of fresh air with this idea. 

SM: Before putting this show together, what was your interpretation of femininity without external evaluation? 

GM: That's a huge question and it's one that I've been interested in for a long time. I think that there's femininity, the cliché, which is existing as a woman in the (male) eye of culture, and that's very focused on the body. Maybe it includes the stereotypical "girlyness" of pink and ruffles and stuff (although I like that stuff, actually). And then there's the actual experience of existing in the world in a female or female-identified body. I think the whole concept of "femininity" is so hyped and loaded culturally that the actual core of it, what it really means under all the symbols, can kind of get lost. To give a totally different example, it's why I loved the music of Liz Phair so much in high school. It's super girly, but how girls actually are. Not this weird constructed idea of how we are. It's like Liz Phair versus, say, Britney Spears, as much as I have a soft spot for her.

 By Rachael Stableford

By Rachael Stableford

SM: What influenced you to put together this show? Have you seen shows like this before? 

GM: The show was just this slowly growing idea I've had in my head for a long time. I do want to give a shout-out to a beautiful show Pandora Young, one of the artists, actually curated at Ayden over a year ago. It was called "A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Visual Exploration of Pleasure". It was also all-female, but mostly illustration, and I just thought it was really beautiful and sensual. Her work, and also Rachael Stableford's, which I've been noticing around Vancouver for years and found really memorable, were the two main artists I started out really wanting to include. 

SM: What do you think it means to be in a female body looking at other female bodies and considering the experiences of other women being in their bodies? 

GM: I think this kind of ties back to the second question. I think it's really important and a big part of feminism and the female experience. I've always been fascinated by female-only spaces—I have consistently sought them out in my personal and work life. I think the language of how women relate to each other is something so interesting and valuable. I also think it's getting more and more focus now—look at the work of Petra Collins, for example. For this show, I just wanted a whole gallery space to be about that, for once. About that kind of secret conversation.

 

GAZE opens on January 15, 2016 with a free launch party at the Ayden Gallery. The exhibition features work by Rachael Stableford, Pandora Young, Jane Q Cheng, Tina Yan, Angela Owre, Chelsea O’Byrne, Min Joo Kim, Christel Chan, Linn Cecilie Wold, Sabrina Elliott, and Jordan Westre.