15 rooms, 15 visions of Womanhood

 

Welcome to Womanhouse

The rooms were full of menstrual blood and Kotex, rubber breasts and stumbling brides, fragmented bodies in linen closets and simulacra of babies being born. It was 1972, and this was Womanhouse: a rickety Victorian house turned into a home for radical feminist installations by the students of Judy Chicago’s Feminist Art program at CalArts.

The rooms were full of menstrual blood and Kotex, rubber breasts and stumbling brides, fragmented bodies in linen closets and simulacra of babies being born. It was 1972, and this was Womanhouse: a rickety Victorian house turned into a home for radical feminist installations by the students of Judy Chicago’s Feminist Art program at CalArts.

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In this Popcast, hear clips from Chicago’s interview with writer Anaïs Nin on KPFK in Los Angeles. Nin – who Chicago describes as her “friend and aesthetic mother” – talks with her about the newly created “Womanhouse.”

For its inaugural week, Womanhouse was open only to women, and only then opened to the general public. Chicago reflects on how different the two audiences were, and invites Nin to reflect on her own experience in attendance. Just as interesting as the women are the reactions of the men. Men like L.A. Times reviewer William Wilson, who…let’s just say, kind of miss the point of Womanhouse.

judy-chicagoThe exhibit spawns a conversation between Nin and Chicago that’s complicated, and sometimes hostile. The two feminist heavyweights disagree on issues like feminist separatism, and how to address sexism in academia. But these important thinkers also resist any temptation to neatly resolve their views.

The space, as with this electric moment in second-wave Feminism, was ultimately fleeting; the building was bulldozed at the end of its month-long run. Producer Adrian Shirk takes us back to a time when feminist discourse, as well as the very experience of womanhood, was wide open to interpretation.


This episode was hosted and produced by Adrian Shirk. Shirk is a contributor to The Atlantic whose work is broadcast regularly on Wyoming Public Radio. She also teaches English and Women’s Studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

The archival audio used in this episode comes courtesy of the Pacifica Radio Archives. Visit them at pacificaradioarchives.org or call 1-800-735 0230. You can also check out their own archival radio show, “From The Vault,” at fromthevaultradio.org. Find this podcast, along with thousands of archival recordings, at popuparchive.com/explore.

Music from the Free Music Archive: “Maura and Dana,” “You’re Gonna Find Out,” and “Never Smile” by Big Quiet (CC BY NC ND); “My Sweetie Went Away” Bessie Smith (Public Domain); “Bowery at Midnight” and “A Room” by Happiness in Aeroplanes (CC BY NC SA); “Waltz to a Wood Thrush” by Kathleen Martin (CC BY NC SA); “Deserted City” by Kai Engel (CC BY NC).

Also featuring audio excerpts from from the 1974 film “Womanhouse” and “Judy Chicago & the California Girls.” Special thanks to Greg Afinogenov.