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June 24, 2016

Striking a Conversation: A Chat with Jeanine Leclaire of We Do What We Must

About the Author
Kim Minutella

See the exhibition here

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in Jeanine Leclaire’s exhibition, We do What We Must: A Conversation on Womanhood, twenty-four female artists from all walks of life were brought together to prove that a picture can be worth so much more. With paintings, photography, and illustrations depicting the hardships many women still face today, We Do What We Must uses an array of images as a medium to strike discourse on what it means to be a woman and how gender has, in many ways, been used to define a woman’s role in society.
From body image to biological myths, the exhibition brings forth the nature of femininity in conveying the experiences of the participating artists, showing a truth about women that has been buried in objectification and stereotyping. That truth: underneath all the layers of (unrealistic) expectations, exists a human-being simply trying to survive the world we live in. This show portrays strength in context of vulnerability.
InLiquid was excited to have a chat with Jeanine Leclaire, curator of the exhibition, who sparked the show to life.
Site Editor Kim Minutella Reports:
Kim: We Do What We Must: A Conversation on Womanhood was an exhibition that was divided into different categories, such as Self Criticism, Caretaker, Sisterhood, and Body. What inspired you to design the show to address these specific themes of Womanhood?
Jeanine: The inspiration to arrange the show in different categories first came from my constant desire to make sense of things by taxonomy. When I am trying to understand a thing I’ll break the thing down into smaller parts and group them with entities. I had this huge problem – I had all these wonderful works of art from very different (but consistent) people, and a very complex subject matter. The only way I could wrap my head around it was to start grouping the works.  The separate categories came both from what we talked about in our private group on Facebook and what the art ‘said’ to me during hanging. I looked around at the artwork, turned my brain off and started moving them around. Then I turned my brain back on and thought about what I did. I repeated that several more times.
In our conversations, categories were very important, and there were enough for it to ‘work.’ Obviously, each of those categories represent a very small portion of womanhood, and each of those categories is extremely complex in its own right…in the end, the categories were secondary to the show – it was more of a tool I used to make since of the complex subject matter. It helped tremendously that we talked about these issues before I hung the show – each of them had come up in one way or another. I thought, since the tool was useful to me, I’d leave it up for the people viewing the show.
Kim: What was your reaction upon seeing the exhibition put together for the first time? The exhibit is about societal expectations and struggles that affect women in every day life. In addressing such serious issues, how did it feel to see your idea take flight?
Jeanine: Relief, excitement, fear. The need to get the word out about the show increased dramatically – not that I didn’t want it out there before but once it was whole I felt a desire for as many people to see it as possible.  Mostly for the women in the show, and to share that emotional vulnerability with the large world. We came together and talked and met new people and made our art and traded ideas.  And I wanted everyone to be apart of that conversation or experience.
It wasn’t until after a week after the openings, once I had started sitting in the gallery [and] I could talk to some of the people who came, did I really get to relax and experience the outcome.  Sometimes it was joy, and other times sadness or despair. There is always fear about what others will think, or the worst: no one thinking anything, and no one bothering to see it.  I was very proud of all the artists’ hard work: the making of the art, the photography, and the logistics of getting it all to the gallery, and the hard conversations.  I was proud of the things I had accomplished and could still see the things that, in the future, I will do differently.
Kim: Do you think you would like to continue this show in the future? As in, host a series of exhibits with this theme and include even more artists?
Jeanine. I’d love to.  If you had asked me while I was hanging the show, I would have said ‘Nope, it’s too much [expletive] work. I want to work on my own stuff, but I’d do it in a heartbeat. Even when hanging and telling myself I wouldn’t do this again, I was taking note of what I learned and what I’d do differently.
Kim: What do you think are some of the most effective ways artists can facilitate their creative energy into broadcasting messages that address some of the most serious social issues that many of us face today?
Jeanine: First, they need to take rumor, hearsay, propaganda, and any programming from school and in their immediate peer group and throw it out the window.  The artists need to ask themselves if what they are hearing is coming from someone with experience, or if that person is just hearing the same nonsense that grows from ignorance, or worse, insecurity. This goes for both: specifically what you asked about, and for the issues they are talking/making art about.
Also, the art snobs need to take a hike.  I’d encourage artists to think about how people in other industries/business/classes get their messages out.  Who with experience can you learn from and also what ideas can you come up with on your own?  Things like viral memes, tweets, advertising on Facebook and ads in those free games played on your phone, would be great to use.  I really wish I had utilized some of these things better for this show.
Old school wheat pasting, and guerrilla art-making is also good. The problem is that we as visual artists communicate at a slow speed. The world is all on high-speed Internet.  How many hours, to come up with an idea, make the work of art, find a location for it and hope that someone in the media picks up on what you are doing?  I was approached in the summer of 2015 for this show. This show was put together at lightning speed.
I really wish I had had more time. Most shows like this take a couple of years, and those aren’t even shows that involve a several-months-long conversation on the subject matter of the show. All that nonsense to say: I don’t know.  Thought it would be important to have this conversation in one of the established OId City galleries, but I’m not sure that really mattered – It helped with provenance, but I don’t think it helped the conversation along so much. Most people seeing the show already had similar beliefs or ideas. I’d watch people come in about ten steps, turn around and walk out. Those are the people I wanted to see the show. I’d like the show to have been in the small town I grew up in. Even having the show in such an established place didn’t do much for the conversation because I failed at getting the word out. I am extremely grateful that InLiquid has taken interest since John Thornton made his movie. I will always be grateful to him for it, but I failed in getting any interest from any major critics or news outlets. We were lucky to get the listing in the Inquirer.
Does it matter that 24 artists sit around and talk about a very important issue if the conversation dies when the artists pick up their art at the end of June?  Are we visual artists now falling trees in the woods for no one to hear?  I do know the important part is to be aware of what you are saying. Make sure it comes from the heart with a touch of vulnerability. Make sure it is truth and not just a meme that makes you feel good to repost but is full of lies. Check your facts, your sources and be able to admit it when you are wrong. Try to move your conversation forward without ostracizing others and speak from a place of compassion. Golden rule shit. It’s easy to whip people up into hate; it’s much harder to build compassion.
We do What We Must is an exhibition at Rodger LaPelle Galleries. The show will be on display at the gallery until Saturday, June 25.
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