9 November 2019 - 18 January 2020
Opening Friday, 8 November 2019, 6:00 pm
The works Mrs McGilvrey and the Hands of Law, 1979 and Craftwork/Prostitution, 1980, are interconnected. The first being an extract from the documentary section of ‘Homeworkers’ (the painting is in the collection of the Tate Britain) created for my exhibition ‘Woman’s Work’ at The Battersea Art Centre London. The latter Craftwork is the full installation created for the show ‘Issue’, curated by Lucy Lippard at the ICA in 1980. And is accompanied by a sound recording made by two members of the group ‘Wages for Housework’ founded by Selma James.
Both these pieces look at the work done by women at a time when industrial work declined in the UK at the end of the 70’s. In the case of Mrs McGilvrey one of her jobs was to collate Tax Forms (Government work) literally working for pennies. There were boxes and boxes of these forms filling her small house.
I had become friends with Helen Eadie, who was recruiting women in to the General & Municipal Workers Union, and we visited women together including Mrs McGilvrey. Helen spotted that the work she was doing was Government work and that the Homeworkers should have been paid the Right Rate. She alerted her father in law who was a Member of Parliament, it eventually resulted in a change in the Law for Homeworkers. And they got the right rates of pay
The other Installation Craftwork/Prostitution, 1980 is more broad reaching in that it looks at craftwork done mainly in working class homes as part of the support structure for the family. And literally uses items of craft in the artwork, and their decline.
Also included are a series of printed water colored cards which describe a previous period when, middle class women in the 19Century were becoming impoverished because they no longer had husbands (because of various wars) and were going in to prostitution to survive, and so the Arts and Crafts movement emerged when an Art School was created for Women, to train them in crafts (now the Courtauld Institute) in Somerset House London. The idea being they could carry most of the work out at home and not be seen as visibly poor. In the same section was included information of women again in the 70’s resorting to prostitution as a way of surviving. Two members of Wages for Housework made a recording regarding the situation, and it is included at the end of the piece. We also decided to have a meeting to discuss prostitution, and much to our surprise the room was packed out, many of them prostitutes.
A memorable moment was when a rather naïve middle class woman said she liked sex and wondered if she should try prostitution. One of the sex workers said, “ if, you like sex for gods sake don’t go into Prostitution”.
Margaret Harrison, Boustead Hill, artist statement, 2019