"Nitty Nora Head Explorer", Jenny Jones and Eva Wojdat
The Conductors Hallway
London, May 15 - 8 June, 1997
Artist Jenny Jones describes the trajectory through the exhibition, "Nitty Nora Head Explorer" (The Conductors Hallway, London, May 15 - 8 June, 1997) as in part a historical one, from the so-called "woolly-headed feminists of '68" and their re-valorisation of traditional 'feminine' crafts, to contemporary (and future?) feminists' increasingly technologically-structured presents. The tongue-in-cheek presentation of these stereotypes in the gallery lends humour to the exhibition, but also gives pause for thought: here the 'woolly-versus-wired' joke reveals a gap much broader than a generational one, and a class difference more insurmountable than the economic, extending far beyond feminist art histories and academic circles.
In the long, single room of The Conductors Hallway, a wall separates knitted art works (a "cyber-gro" Babygro knitted by Jenny's mum, Audrey Jones; "computer cosy", a computer swaddled in a custom-fit cosy; "careful: can't watch telly" and "careless: can talk in pub", knitted ribbons hanging from the ceiling) from Jones's high-tech data-projection and sound installation, "freckle pop". Between these technologically-distinct areas, Eva Wojdat's electronic art is accessed through two Macs whose backs are literally against the dividing wall. This symbolic disjuncture questions how the now historic feminist politic of unpicking the cultural fabrics of economic and educational privilege can be interwoven with Jones and Wojdat's high-tech, culturally-elite and highly specialised art practices.
Jenny Jones's "Freckle pop" projects a computer-generated 'piece of yarn' onto the gallery wall acutely so that the image unwinds and distorts across the space. The 'yarn' has been 'wrapped' in the artist's fair, freckled skin, resembling more an exotic worm, or DNA, than knitting material. Two sets of headphones offer soundtracks to the disjointed, freckled, spinning yarn: in one the artist performs all vocal and instrumental tracks of Moby's ironically-titled song, "I'm Feeling So Real"; on the other the artist unravels a yarn about her continuously-frustrated attempts to 'get wired' - spoken in a human-simulated computer voice.
The knitting metaphor dominates in the gallery, suggesting that even the computer cables are high-tech yarns. To this extent the installation of Wojdat's work in the gallery drops a stitch. Drawings and diaries of her first trip abroad, aged 10, accompanying her father to his native Poland, have an internal logic in their archiving and presentation that is sympathetic to the metaphor of weaving/plotting/mapping possible pathways among and between communities - like those in which the gallery is situated and the exhibition located - under pressure from the very economic and social forces that accompany the technology used here. But the hermetically-sealed terminals, isolated on white plinths, guard this history as intensely personal and remote from the paradoxes of Jones's craft/technology juxtapositions. The first encounter with this work probably reinforces the inaccessibility for many to the technology by combining it with modernist exhibiting practices. This is not the case, however, once the 'don't touch' rule of the white cube gallery has been breached. Although limited, the interactive experience of viewing Wojdat's web site and the exhibition's electronic catalogue does mean that the visitor to the gallery literally has a hand in the creation of the viewing experience of the work.
Jenny Jones's work confronts the techno-phobe much more directly, playing dress-up with the hardware to make it less '(k)nit-headed'. But as the artist acknowledges, this pairing runs the risk of remaining as binary as knitting needles. Nevertheless, between the holes of the knitted fabric where the computer peeks through, neither entirely transformed nor entirely the same as it was before donning its costume, I thought I may have caught sight of another sort of space. "Return", "Shift", "Space" - pushing the same old buttons could just take me someplace new.
The new spaces of the net and cyberspace are pregnant with utopias, potential spaces of boundless ability, unlimited storage and eternal happiness. Perhaps this is why Wojdat favoured electronic media for the documenting of memory in her scripto-visual journal: unlike paper, photographs, film and video, electronic colours never fade, edges never fray, surfaces never scratch. Electronic archives promise eternal fixity. To knit such electronic 'homes' together with the frayed, faded warmth of the Babygro and computer cosy is to point to the expectations and investments we make in the concepts of 'past' and 'future', and how grossly these can pass over the present and those lives in it that struggle far below the threshold of computer literacy, computer ownership, and hence of electronic representation. What of the communities outside the gallery that is a computer lab, the computer that is a gallery? How are they tangled in the new and potentially totalitarian class system that is emerging from the technological revolution: a division between those who are wired and those who ... have knots?