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Clara, Josephine, Fractur*a, Futur*a

12 November 2021 • Uliana Bychenkova

Not only the future is female but the past is also female

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History is not a fact but only a story, a narrative that is not neutrally embodied. Thus, not only new can be female but old can also become a new—and female—narrative. I combined my interest in the origins of book design with the framework suggested by the residency’s theme—reactualisation of female movement history in Leipzig—and I imagined a bibliographic alternative, which is a gesture that symbolically compensates for under-representation and an exercise in book cover historical styling. 


The 1970s ideas about feminine morphology in creative work start from the language (écriture féminine), while artistic research touches upon the area of visuality. Design and applied arts matter to me as a feminist artist in how they are connected to everyday life: they shape it and act as agents of my own routine. In the history of design, we not only deal with a non-neutral tone of narratives but we also deal with real artefacts: can we argue with them? Artefacts document the conditions in which they were created, or constraints in those conditions—and such a deficiency is able to heat up political issues and fuel the passionate construction of feminist artistic research.


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The City of Women in Women’s House, in Women’s Room, in Leipzig

From the starting point of travelling to Leipzig, I was curious about feminist graphic designers as the modern context which I only could fantasize about. Also, I was rather anxious about the celebrated book tradition which I fetishized more than imagined in reality. At the intersection of book and gender history, I found two insanely interesting spaces here that are located in the past: Women’s Pavilion (Haus der Frau, literally translated as Women’s House) and Women’s Room (Frauenzimmer).

In commodo lectus imperdiet, convallis est ut, efficitur nisi. Nulla scelerisque sollicitudin aliquam. Vestibulum rutrum lacus et convallis molestie. Nam dictum erat purus. Duis consequat elementum congue. Cras metus tellus, rutrum eget lorem a, posuere tristique nunc. Donec tincidunt ante at ligula aliquet blandit. Ut volutpat mi et ex tristique, a porttitor ante fringilla. Quisque feugiat turpis nec lorem mollis dictum. Integer vulputate libero quis neque pharetra, pretium viverra ex euismod.

Cover of the book fair catalogue. Das Haus der frau. Die Frau im Buchgewerbe und in der Graphik. 1914. Source

Image caption: Integer vulputate libero quis neque pharetra, pretium viverra ex euismod.

Before World War One, Leipzig’s book industry employed around 10% of citizens and the number of publishers was getting close to 1,000. In May 1914, the first international book fair was held in Leipzig, gathering participants from over 30 countries. For this event, Berlin-based independent architect Emilie Winkelmann built the Women’s House as part of the project called Women in Book Trade and Graphic Art. This project, created under the patronage of the princess and artist Mathilde of Saxony, showed the accomplishments of women in new female book professions: photographers, illustrators, type designers, layout designers, and writers. To me, it seems like a tremendous precedent even from today’s perspective. The Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig was the first German institution to allow women to study (starting from 1905). Only 9 years had passed from that moment to the book fair. In a detailed catalogue, we can see 19 female type artists, 13 of whom were from Germany and 5 were based in Leipzig. It’s not easy to find their work now but the book fair documentation speaks for itself. 

In commodo lectus imperdiet, convallis est ut, efficitur nisi. Nulla scelerisque sollicitudin aliquam. Vestibulum rutrum lacus et convallis molestie. Nam dictum erat purus. Duis consequat elementum congue. Cras metus tellus, rutrum eget lorem a, posuere tristique nunc. Donec tincidunt ante at ligula aliquet blandit. Ut volutpat mi et ex tristique, a porttitor ante fringilla. Quisque feugiat turpis nec lorem mollis dictum. Integer vulputate libero quis neque pharetra, pretium viverra ex euismod.

Plan of the book fair pavilion Haus der Frau. Source

 

Thinking of how utopian that looks from today’s perspective, I remembered another literary and visual monument, the Book of the City of Ladies (Le Livre de la Cité des Dames), written in 1405 by Christine de Pizan, known as the first professional female writer in history. In the book, there’s a metaphorical city for women that is being built under the supervision of three allegorical female figures: Reason, Rectitude, and Justice.

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Photo of the Women’s House in the book fair catalogue. Source
/ Christine de Pizan, Le Livre de la Cité des Dames. Illustration to the book. 15th-century manuscript. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France. Source

When looking at this building, American projects of the 1970s come to mind—Womanhouse and Women’s Building that paved the way for institutionalising feminist artistic practices. These projects also dealt with applied arts, feminist graphic design, and alternative education.


This publication is produced within the residency exchange framework of the Dreams for Sisterhood project initiated by Method Fund. The project is implemented in partnership with Open Place (Kyiv), the city of Leipzig, Bureau for Cultural Translations (Leipzig), Institute of Political Narratives (Leipzig), Leipzig International Art Programme, and Kyiv Biennial. The project is supported by the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, the Memory, Responsibility, and Future Foundation (Berlin) — within the Culture for Change programme, Goethe-Institut Ukraine, the state administration of Saxony and Leipzig. It’s dated to the 60th anniversary of sister city arrangements between Kyiv and Leipzig.
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