There it comes, seemingly out of nothing, this surprising sentence, in between of humdrum observations and sharp reflections on the psyche of men: "The power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically," written by Virgina Woolf in her 1928 novel A Room of One's Own. What a vivid imagery! And: What a privilege to have!
Without doubt, Virginia Woolf's witty essay is invaluable to cast an eye on the material conditioning of literature and art in general and its highly gendered grounds. Compellingly, Woolf breaks certain taboos in writing about the money we need to live, the physical spaces in which we and our work flourishes, and the (female) body that requires attention and care. It is, perhaps, for this reason A Room on One's Own advanced to one of the most celebrated feminist treatises over the last century. But Woolf also makes another famous claim: "A women must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction," whereby Woolf reduces the circle of those who bring along the material requirements for the production of art to a small female elite. Along with this, she eclipses the majority of women – all those lacking the privilege of having a purse breeding notes automatically – from the exclusive realm of refined expression. At this point, her brilliant comment ceases to translate to world-making rebellion and world-changing imagination.
The online publication Many More Rooms of One's Not Own unmistakably took root in an engagement with Virginia Woolf's text A Room of One's Own. It did so in two separate classrooms; one at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and one at the Zürich University of the Arts. It is born in the vein of our discussions in the classroom: As much a tribute to Virginia Woolf as a trenchant critique of some of her assumptions imbued to white bourgeois feminism. Rather than tarrying with conditions without which seemingly no art can be produced – a room of one's own and 500 schillings a year – our inquiry centered another question: What happens if material resources are missing or severely restricted? Here, Audre Lorde's knowledge came into play. Rather than sticking to a fixed notion of what art is, Lorde envisages and employs artistic expression as a survival strategy. For her, the poem and not the novel seems to be the adequate form of expression – because it allows for being written between exhausting working shifts. As such, Audre Lorde offers a perspective that seeks to dismantle and challenge the implicit standards that circulate in art schools and of course in the world of art more generally. It is our assumption that they manifest in the first place as a set of conventions that makes it difficult to address certain issues: The hidden curriculum.
It was only shortly after the two seminars have finished, when we got confronted anew with the necessary exclusion of any genealogy. In A Room of One's Own, Woolf sketches a genealogy of women having written fiction before her times. While she extensively wrote about female authors that could (not) live from their literature most of which are commonly known until the present day, there are always others that are left out. We learned about a protagonist of 18th century literature, namely the formerly enslaved female poet Phillis Wheatley in a recent lecture by philosopher Ruth Sonderegger. Lacking other resources, Wheatley attempted to make a living as a poet in Bosten having gained significant attention both in the American colonies and in England. It is as early as in the second half of the 18th century as Phillis Wheatley made explicit claims for art being paid, tearing it from the bourgeois ideology of contemplation and uselessness.
But back to the collective production of knowledge out of which this online publication emerged. What was particular to the two classrooms held in spring 2019 was that they offered a precarious space in which knowledge was not just transmitted, but seemed to be in the collective making. How to speak about and reflect on issues the protocols of power attempt to render invisible? Collectively we created an atmosphere in which the discussions touched upon the most existential streams of life. And also we who instructed the seminars lost track of certain things we previously believed in. Beyond doubt, more than ever we believe in the importance of addressing conditions of productions. But what claims shall be raised? Can our claims be reduced to ask for (more) money and (more) free-time? Rather than staying with claims for artists' fees, our collective journey prompted this question: What would art be beyond the capitalistic logic of labor? Yet doing art out of love, it seems to us, does not feed in this beyond of labor; it is, on the contrary, the unacknowledged other side of capitalistic labor. So the question of the beyond of labor points in the direction of a more radical questioning of the grounds of our lives.
While we continue to stay with the trouble of this question, what can be said for sure: We want to break through separation and individualization. There is a need for shared spaces: Spaces of care. Spaces of coming together. Spaces in which things evolve and happen. Yes, we want many more rooms of one's not-own!
Tyna Fritschy & Laura Nitsch