Quinn Latimer is a poet, critic, and editor of one of the world’s largest art events documenta14 publications last year. Center for Contemporary Arts Estonia invited her to write a lecture on feminist writing and editing in Tallinn.
In your lecture you were talking about feminist editing and I think it’s important to note that it’s not only a useful conception for feminist webpages and magazines, but also more widespread mediums, such as daily or weekly newspapers. How can an editor, working in mass-media, use feminist ideas in their work?
By commissioning stories that have feminist value and promoting feminist writers whose voices might otherwise be overlooked. Editing is foremost about deciding which stories are told and who tells them, who is given a public voice and a public to hear and receive it. Second, it is about helping to give shape to that voice, those stories, making them as strong and eloquent and nuanced and remarkable as possible so that they might find a wide and long audience and enter into the annals of history. To be a feminist editor, as I understand it, is to understand that the story of the world, of history, of language itself, is one of power and exclusion and silencing. It is a story told by and about an enormously narrow slice of humanity: white, wealthy, imperialist men, for the most part. As a feminist editor, then, it is not simply my job to give women a voice, to help them find an audience, it is about finding those who have been traditionally silenced—women, people of color, the indigenous, the poor, those from the developing world, those concerned with land rights and resource exploitation, all of those who have been subject to the violence that such power imbalances and relationships employ—and giving them a place to practice and find their voice, to find them an audience, to tell a different story of the world and thus to construct the world differently.
If language constructs the world then we must reconstruct language. In regards to feminism, we can see that occurring right now, with the #metoo movement, which it is not stated enough is being literally led by the media, by so many feminist editors and journalists and sources, who are suddenly telling these stories, commissioning them, allowing their writers or finding new ones to tell horrific, commonplace narratives that have been ignored for years. We can see it from Black Lives Matter as well, which does much of its incredible work in the media as well in the streets in protest. Finally, to be a feminist editor is not simply about publishing women—there are plenty of women who are not feminists. We all know that. Who elects these rightwing patriarchs in country after country, year after year? Who defends them? Women. 60% of white women in the United States voted for Trump, a celebrated abuser of women, and an idiot. So being a feminist is not delimited by one’s anatomy or gender. It is about one’s politics—and not simply the rhetoric of their politics, their speechifying, it is about the actions day after day: how they treat those in their life, how they listen to them, how they help them, how they help the world, or not.
You have written about women artists and the widespread thought about feminist curating/writing is to write/curate female/queer artists. Do you see feminist writing as something linked to artist’s gender or could also a writing about male artist be feminist?
Of course a male artist can be a feminist. Feminism is a methodology of struggle, of resistance. Most of the men in my life—my father, my husband, my closest male friends—are feminists. I could not be close to any man that was not. That said, I am interested in the art and the writing and the stories of women, mostly. Because that work and those stories are still seen as “other,” are marginalized, are maybe 10% of what we see in the galleries and museums and bookstores and the academy, I take it upon myself to concentrate as a writer and critic and editor on women’s work, which is various and diverse and enormously interesting and necessary. That’s my choice but it’s not the only one. It is both a selfish interest—I am simply interested in women and their artistic production—and an interest in making a correction to the fucking canon: women continue to be pushed to the side, nearly always, nearly everywhere. Finally, I think feminist writing on male art is absolutely necessary, for all the reasons that I suppose you can guess.
Recently, feminism has gained a lot of attention through #metoo campaign where people are sharing their personal stories. You have also used personal matters as part of your writings. Do you think it’s important to share personal stories in public discussions and why so?
This is a question that comes up and again and again, and I really don’t know the answer to it, honestly. I am not interested in essentialism—that is, linking women inevitably to the domestic, to the personal, to the confessional, etc. That’s been a trap for women artists and writers and activists forever. At the same time, I recognize that what is seen as “autobiography” for women, is often understood as “art” for men. We make work our of our lives. All of us. How close or how far our work comes to our personal history is a question of art practice, artistic choices, not one of gender. That said, women have traditionally and are continually pushed out of professional spheres and back into the home in all sorts of insidious and blatant ways (political policies, political rhetoric, professional exclusion and isolation, etc.)—that we make work that reflects this situation is likely not surprising. I am also always looking for models of women’s life—work life and like life—lived. I am always so happy when I find them in art itself.0