KLASSEKAMPEN / CLASS STRUGGLE
Archival Inkjet print on Somerset Velvet Enhanced 330 gr.
in a edition of 10 printet 2018
Image: 65 x 100 cm
Paper: 71 x 106 cm
Kirsten Justesen is represented by Avlskarl Gallery
It is a historical picture. Like a historical painting. At the same time, it is, of course, glaringly, also a propaganda poster. I am reminded of the days when the annual Women’s Festivals in Fælledparken (‘The Common’, a park in Copenhagen) were opened under the battle-cry “No women’s struggle without class struggle, no class struggle without women’s struggle.” It was a battle-cry which helped demarcate the Women’s Movement of the 1970s from the old Women’s Movement, the woman suffrage movement, Dansk Kvindesamfund (the Danish Women’s Society) – what we called in those days ‘the bourgeois women’s movement’. The Redstocking Movement did not simply want equal rights under the current conditions; they wanted a far more extensive, revolutionary change of those conditions. In this sense the Redstockings were part of the left wing.
However, as the picture shows, there was constant tension between women’s struggle and class struggle: the class struggle is present in public space, but the woman is embedded in the private chores of the kitchen space, surrounded by children and the paraphernalia of cleaning and cooking. In her slatternly-intimate attire, indicative of both the private nature of the housework and of the preparations for prettifying the female body, bare legs in the housewifey slippers and curled-up hair, this woman is far from the barricades of the class struggle.
So what is the picture really agitating for? With her back turned on kitchen implements and children, a cigarette in her hand and her concentration on her reading, the woman signals detachment from the cluttered domestic world and involvement with the social world outside: liberation from the role of housewife. Visually,however, her figure is paralleled by the two children flanking her and by the nude sculpture in the background, whose pose and nakedness she almost echoes, just as she and the children echo the shape of the vacuum-cleaner with their upper bodies, while the swing of her hips and the angle between her legs correspond visually to the arch of the vacuum-cleaner hose and the triangle between the two parts of the vacuum-cleaner pipe.
If the cover of her reading matter had not said THE CLASS STRUGGLE in unrealistically large types,(a didactic implant in the photograph), this woman could be a classic homebound mother at her morning coffee and paper. As it is, she is obviously a staged or retouched figure. A picture, then, of discrepancy, or irony if you like. But the direction of the irony is not clarified, ambiguous. Just like the way that the picture is visually characterised both by the minimalist strictness of form of the art of the seventies with its intersecting vertical and horizontal lines, as well as by the chaotic clutter of details of the everyday snapshot, defusing the solemnity (and self-importance) of art photography.
All these features link Justesen’s 1976 picture with classical paintings from the artist’s studio: they, too, are often programmatic in character, depicting the artist allegorically and/or realistically in the context of the workplace. And in both cases there is within this frame a quantity of objects that keep the eye busy; and often there is also an enigmatic quality – here, in particular as regards the spatial perspective: where are the two children really? Is there a space between the kitchen table and the wall?
Tania Ørum, 1999