Curator Inquisition: Sleepover Club

Words - Melbourne Arts Club Images - Courtesy of Sleepover Club

Sleepover Club's latest exhibition 'What Has Feminism Ever Done For Me?' opens Friday 6 May at Neon Parlour, Thornbury. We cornered co-founder and curator Elise Arumets and grilled her on the exhibition, feminism, art, art & feminism and other things that may or may not relate to art and or feminism.

Image by Jasper Jordan-Lang

Tell us a little bit about Sleepover Club? 

Sleepover Club is a feminist initiative that Miriam Arbus and I began last year. It has its roots in the art world but also has a place in the larger discourse on feminism.It began as an online platform for female artists, now it exists as a facilitator for artists and writers that identify with any gender.  At the moment we curate exhibitions under the title and release quarterly themed editions online. I think it’s important to work in both physical and virtual space, and intertwine the two. Our contributors explore the complexities of identity, gender roles/binary/constructs, the male gaze and feminism in art and the nuances of contemporary feminisms, both personal and political.

How did you get involved in Sleepover Club? What lead you to start this initiative?

Miriam and I had been talking about a one off exhibition, that would manifest as a sleepover and encourage an intimate sharing of ideas and experiences between the artists involved in the show. Instead, we created Sleepover Club, which in a way has become an incredibly extensive sleepover. We still hold those same intentions of creating a space in which people feel comfortable sharing their feminisms, engaging in collaboration and working together. Personally, I started the initiative with a very different understanding of feminism, and I wanted to learn. Sleepover Club has shown me that feminism is continuously evolving, it’s a movement that requires constant reflexive thinking from the individual in order to remain progressive. I don’t think that you can be stagnant as a feminist.

'What Has Feminism Ever Done For Me?' is your latest event in partnership with Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, opening this Friday night, what can the punters expect from this event?

Well we ordered a lot of beer, so you can expect a lot of beer. Aside from that, we selected artists (Amanda Wolf, Celeste Juliet Aldahn, Daniel Ward, Drew Pettifer, Fresh and Fruity, Kelly Doley, Shaye Duong and Sung Nam Han) whose work we felt was either critical of popular feminism, or expressed personal or political issues that aren’t widely discussed. I won’t give too much away but we’re hoping that the show opens up some really critical conversation from the crowd. We want to hear what people think of the work, what problems they have with feminism, what feminism means to them. We also have Daniel Ward (bodies), Callan and Veggie Island playing some music for us, so we’re hoping to create an exciting atmosphere and a sense of community among the crowd.

Amanda Wolf - where I end and you begin 2015

Sleepover club works within the arts realm but aims to show the bigger picture, what is the bigger picture for feminism? Can Sleepover club reach the wider community with its message

I think feminism is so complex, to me, feminism represents every single person that has ever felt like they don’t belong. I use my feminism as a means of social change, and I view all social and political issues through a feminist lens. Sure, feminism began as a means for the emancipation of women, but it now intersects with so many other issues. I think at this point, the bigger picture for feminism is to focus on inclusivity and intersectional methods of thinking. I think we are beginning to reach the wider feminist community, but I think we have a long way to go before the wider community chooses to engage with what we do.

A misconception of feminism is that it’s just for women, what has the response been by the wider community?

That’s a super common misconception! Feminism is for anyone who is willing to make their space in society a feminist one. I’ve seen people get stuck on this idea of men vs women, which is really problematic because there are other expressions of gender that exist outside of the binary. Miriam and I have had conversations with people who don’t feel like feminism is for them, because they’re not a woman, we’ve also had conversations with people who think feminism is only for women. That’s a really acute example of the need for more understanding of the intersections that exist within feminism, and the need to accept that everyone's feminism is different and that we cannot speak for others, we can only listen. Feminism still makes people squirm, I still hear the term ‘meninism’ and we still see examples of the distortion of feminism in the media, many people are still misrepresented. It’s important to train yourself not to think of feminism as a rigid or linear ideology, it is incredibly malleable and accommodating if you allow individuals to control their own representations.

Drew Pettifer, Untitled (Some want quietly) (still), 2014-16

Can there be feminism without art?

That’s such a big question. Because of course the need for feminism would still exist, but  art is such an important tool for political, social and personal expression, it exists in some form in every single culture and allows us to recognise similarities and differences between ourselves and others. If we didn’t have visual art to express our feminism, words would suffice, but eventually those words would manifest into visual representations.

How did you first get involved in art - were you one of those little kids who always loved being creative, or is it something that came later?

I was always creative. I lived in the country until I was sixteen, in a town that had no public transport and no traffic lights. I don’t think we ever locked our front door. I got small town blues from a young age and used to make scrapbooks, little clay people, sew, take photos.  

It was kind of like my life began with a sixteen year arts residency in a secluded bush location.

What's your process for selecting works, artists or collaborators for 'What has feminism ever done for me?'

Miriam and I did some research to find artists that we felt critiqued feminism, or elicited questions or thought around contemporary feminism. Some of the pieces are new, others have been shown before. We actually came across the artist Sung Nam Han by chance when we were in Japan earlier this year, we met her and saw her video work ‘Eveadam’ in a gallery in Jingū-mae. We like to try and show a range of emerging and established artists, I think this is something we want to continue to do, it’s great to be able to share new artists with people and give younger people a platform to show their work.

Sung Nam HAN - Eveadam 2016

How does living and working in Melbourne influence you?

Living in Melbourne makes me feel incredibly engaged all the time, we have a great crop of galleries, a really inclusive queer scene and a powerful protest/human rights culture which a lot of young people are heavily involved in. I think these are what influence me most of all. It’s also really easy to be involved with what other people in the arts are doing, there is constant growth. I do wish there was a stronger emphasis on connectivity and sharing though.

Who or what do you turn to for inspiration on days when creativity just isn’t flowing?

I find that sometimes it’s just best to leave your work and come back to it the next day. Otherwise snacks (I recommend hummus), good music, looking at artworks or reading up on progressive exhibitions, artists or ways of thinking can be helpful. Opening up a conversation about your project with another person is refreshing too.

What is your favourite artwork of someone else’s, and why?

Shit, it’s always evolving so I’m just going to list off a few:

All of Ana Mendieta’s work is great.

Jemima Wyman references imagery from protest movements, such as masks and bandanas, combining them with traditional craft techniques to create really excellent work.

I saw an amazing video work in Japan by Mika Rottenberg titled NoNoseKnows, using the pearl industry as a catalyst, it explores consumption and greed. It’s really grotesque and makes you feel quite uncomfortable.


What's on the horizon for the Sleepover Club?

After the exhibition with HRAFF, we’re planning a fundraiser for later in the year, to mark one year of Sleepover Club’s existence! We’ve also got a project in partnership with St Kilda Gatehouse, which is in very early stages. We plan to expand over the next twelve months and grow a more permanent team which will allow us to provide more opportunities for the artists we work with.

Feminism can be a loaded topic, some artists may feel like they don't know enough about the topic to contribute, what advice do you have for these artists?

Feminism is such a textural topic, sometimes very hard to navigate. Not all the artists we support through Sleepover Club consider themselves to be feminist, but they all make work that is conducive to contemporary feminist issues. Be loud, be angry, but be aware of the impact your art might have on others, do your research, don’t be dogmatic, don’t be afraid, understand your place in feminism, don’t try to represent things outside of your experience, learn to step down when someone else's voice needs to be heard louder than your own, don’t speak for others, unlearn behaviours enforced by the patriarchy, be fierce, but be kind, unleash the power of your own vulnerability. If nothing else works at least you’re (probably) funny.

What question do you wish we’d asked you, and what would your answer have been?

Something to do with cooking, because I have a lot of cooking puns I can flex, but that’s for another day.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 4.02.24 pm


The Sleepover Club in partnership with The Human Rights Arts And Film Festival present "What Has Feminism Ever Done For Me" at Neon Parlour, 791 - 793 High Street Thornbury.

Opening night: Friday 6 May 6pm - late Exhibition: 6 May - 19 May, 2016.