Above: Install of Femme Maison at houseguest. All images courtesy of houseguest.
Femme Maison, on view at houseguest until April 3, 2020, presents a story of distractions. Combining the works of Louisville-based Karen Weeks and Dayton-based Mychaelyn Michalec, Femme Maison employs feminine-coded mediums to express an imperfect domestic scene where technology has replaced interaction and tasks go unfinished. Both Weeks and Michalec bring their own life experience into their work, allowing the pieces to tell an autobiographical story of the modern family: one in which women are told they can “have it all” when in fact, they cannot.
In Undone (2020), Weeks theatrically builds a set that tells the story of projects yet to be realized, in progress, or in a state of limbo. Knitted items in various states of flux are laid on wooden desks, some with knitting needles still attached. Bags of scrap fabric and yarn lie under the desks and inside the drawers are various items like invitations and kid’s crafts that provide clues as to what may have distracted the maker. On the surface level, these projects present domestic distraction in a very real way. With closer inspection, they become placeholders for the real question: what got in the way? Do these projects represent failure within the domestic setting or do they document the abundance of possibilities available to the contemporary mother?
On the walls surrounding Undone are Michalec’s tufted rug “drawings.” Derived from photos discreetly taken by Michalec of her family, the drawings present Michalec’s household in various states of distraction. The role of the contemporary mother is allegorically represented in these drawings as her practice requires a tufting gun, recalling an industrial production trade that exists outside of the home. Pieces like We told him not to. (2019) and Difficult to witness and impossible to look away. (2019) represent the present reality of motherhood in which the domestic and the industrial blend and exist in tension with one another. The superficial reading of tufting embodies certain expectations of the domestic that clash with the industrial reality of craft.
Notably, femme maison can be translated from French to mean “woman’s house” or “housewife.” That’s not to say that the tone of Femme Maison is cynical, like the Louise Bourgeois series of the same name. If anything, Femme Maison celebrates the evolution of the contemporary family unit. The stories of unfinished knitted projects give us a glimpse into Week’s life outside of the home while Michalec’s family, in their distractedness, reveal the valuable social connections that technology and the internet supports. This multiplicity in stories presents a new femme maison in which the home becomes not a limiting factor (as it was in Bourgeois’ experience) but a space of possibilities. Michalec and Weeks’ work acknowledges that the social landscape has changed and accepts that failure is inherent in the contemporary domestic experience.
In her seminal article in The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne Marie-Slaughter is critical of the expectations that make women feel that they are to blame if they cannot build a career as fast as men, have a family, and an active home life. She challenges Sheryl Sandberg’s claim that there is an “ambition gap” - that some women just don’t want a career badly enough, instead pointing to systemic structures like conflicting work and school schedules. Michalec and Weeks accept this reality and, in true millennial fashion, acknowledge and move on. Femme Maison presents a cognizance of the anxieties facing women who wish to embrace family and work. Michalec and Weeks bring these anxieties that feel oh so familiar to young women to the surface and encourage a dialogue that forces us to ask: Why can’t women have it all?
Femme Maison is on view at houseguest until April 3, 2020.
houseguest is located at 2721 Taylor Boulevard, Louisville, KY 40208 and open Saturdays 10a-1p or by appointment.
- Slaughter, Anne-Marie. “Why Women Still Can't Have It All.” In The Atlantic.
- Wye, Deborah. Louise Bourgeois. Femme Maison. 1946-1947.
Contributor to Ruckus
Above: Mychaelyn Michalec, I may try to guess just what it is that I do not know (2019), tufted yarn on stretched monks cloth.
Below: Mychaelyn Michalec, I cannot bear how quickly and slowly time moves (2019), tufted yarn on stretched monks cloth.
Karen Weeks, Undone (2020), detail.
Karen Weeks, Undone (2020), detail.
Install at houseguest.
Above: Mychaelyn Michalec, We told him not to (2019), tufted yarn on stretched monks cloth.
Below: Karen Weeks, Blanket (2020), yarn.