Womens Work (1975) – Women and Fluxus

Anna-Lena Friebe – Museum Ostwall im Dortmunder U


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Womens Work is a magazine published by Annea Lockwood and Alison Knowles in 1975, which contains musical scores by several female artists. These scores are all listed on its cover in order of appearance, thus creating a publication dedicated to the artwork of women working in the performative arts during the 1960s and 1970s. These women were linked to the Fluxus movement in which the artists often represent the interdisciplinary performance act as a written text and publish it collectively.

Fluxus Publications

The publication can be seen as a typical product of Fluxus, as is comparable to George Maciunas’s regularly collecting and publishing scores by artists, for example with his book Fluxus 1 (1964) or La Monte Young’s An Anthology (1963). These self-made publications are an instrument of personal empowerment for the artists to initiate their own structures for sharing ideas with like-minded actors. Nam June Paik is cited by Dorothee Richter, making it clear that the Fluxus group stands for the dissolution of boundaries and categories. One of their aims was to thwart the canonisation of museums and therefore the norms of the art world:

“The problem of the art world in the 60s and 70s is that although the artists own the production’s medium, such as paint brush, even sometimes a printing press, they are excluded from the highly centralised distribution system of the art world.“ [1]

In both of the above-mentioned examples it is evident that there are only two scores by women artists that are integrated, while Lockwood and Knowles created a platform explicitly for women to publish their artworks. Fluxus 1  included the artists Alison Knowles and Mieko Shiomi, while Yoko Ono and Simone Forti contributed to An Anthology. Three of the artists also appear in Womens Work. Newsletters, journals and magazines included groups with shared interests.[2] In this case personal networks or inclusions and respectively exclusions can be derived by looking at the contributors and the recipients.

As mentioned explicitly in the magazine’s foreword, the idea is that the scores would be activated by the readers. Thus the magazine connects to an even larger group of people interacting with the artists’ ideas and thereby opposes the dominant male artists of the performative arts by actively prompting the realisation of its scores. According to this, a feminist group is constituted, shining a light on artworks created by women.

Women’s Liberation Movement and Linda Nochlin

The visibility of women artists in the art world is the pressing issue that Linda Nochlin criticises in her famous essay from 1971 “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” She observes that women artists are most disadvantaged in the reception of art by journals, academics or institutions:

“In art journals of record, like ARTnews, out of a total of 81 major articles just two were devoted to women painters. […] In the following year, ten out of 84 articles were devoted to women, but that includes nine articles in the special Women Issue in January.”[3]

Being published during the time of the Women’s Liberation Movement, the second wave of feminism in the United States, Nochlin’s text advances the movement’s campaigns that arose around reproductive rights, abortion rights, violence against women, equal pay, political representation, as well as feminist art and culture.[4] In Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique (1963), she “criticised the separate ‘sphere’ of motherhood and homemaking that women were relegated to. In contrast men were allowed to flourish in the ‘male sphere’ of work, politics and power.”[5] This shows the urgency of women in that period and their push to be recognised and be treated equally in all fields of society.

In the cultural context this means a shift in the perception of art. This shift already happens in the Fluxus movement, with its focus on everyday objects and actions as art:

“There has been a change in what counts—from phallic ‘greatness’ to being innovative, making interesting, provocative work, marking on impact, and making one’s voice heard. There is less and less emphasis on the masterpiece, more on the piece.”[6]

This paradoxical situation raises the question of how Alison Knowles—who is considered to be part of the core group of Fluxus— sees the urgency to create a medium concentrating on women’s scores to draw attention to their work. This is an aspect Annea Lockwood also emphasises in an interview, which was published in the context of the magazine’s republication in 2019: “The assertion that the works in Womens Work were created by women, that this is the proper work of women, was very necessary at that time, we felt and is part of its impact and attraction now, I suspect.”[7] Highlighting how important this is to the artists,  my intention is to examine which kind of feminist motifs are included in the magazine and therefore analyse the situation of women in Fluxus in general because the partitures in Womens Work are a considered response to the cultural debates and the actions taking place within the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Women Artists in Fluxus

Fluxus is considered one of the first artistic movements in which a comparatively large number of female protagonists participated.[8] Depicting the general perception of the women that can be associated with the Fluxus movement, one will find the following possible categorisations, describing the contact points:

  • Performers (e.g., Letty Eisenhauer, Charlotte Moorman)
  • Wives and partners of… (e.g., Alison Knowles, Sarah Seagull, Bici Forbes, Ann Noel, Marian Zazeela, Beth Anderson, Simone Forti)
  • Japanese Artists (e.g., Yoko Ono, Mieko Shiomi, Takako Saito, Shigeko Kubota)
  • Outsiders (e.g., Carolee Schneemann, Mary Bauermeister, Esther Ferrer)

Yoko Ono introduced many of the Japanese artists to George Maciunas. She supported the establishment of the movement with her Chamber Street Events and with her broad network within the Japanese art world. The decades after the Second World War were a very hard period for artists to make a living from contemporary and experimental art in Japan. This was due to a lack of museums and private collectors. Thus many artists joined groups or emigrated in order to get their artwork exhibited to a public audience.[9]

So women participated actively in the Fluxus movement. Although it was possible for women to participate, nevertheless the list of categories shows that they are not that visible in the reception of it, compared to the participating male artists. Richter states:“From the network of relationships around George Maciunas that led to the constitution of the Fluxus group, it is clear that it was a male-oriented network.”[10] Male artists seem to be dominant and more recognised and women are only perceived in relation to men. This is an aspect that Alison Knowles mentions during this period of time when she joined the group at the Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik in Wiesbaden in 1962: “It is of course the story with many women artists, they are the wives or lovers of male artists and I was in that place as Dick’s wife.”[11]

The fact that women were long denied access to institutions and to the study of the nude made it very difficult for them to acquire the necessary means of expression to produce art. In her essay, Nochlin mentions some commonalities shared by the few known women artists: They were daughters of male artists or had a close relationship to one of them.[12] This can be related to the situation of the performative artists of the 1960s, finding themselves in a liberation movement and still having to shake off “things as they are and as they have been, in the arts as in a hundred other areas[:] stultifying, oppressive and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class and, above all, male.”[13]

This leads to the conclusion that institutional structures and patriarchal systems are the obstacles excluding women artists, while in contrast, the Fluxus movement has established inclusive structures. While the movement of course also attracted many male artists, actors and collectors, women joined in and participated. Therefore, it is the reception and reporting focusing on men that makes a platform for women, like Womens Work, imperative.

Womens Work (1975)

The title of the magazine, Womens Work stands out—it is linked to the stereotypical idea of women being the caretakers in the private sphere and therefore associated with specific stereotypical labour connected to home and family. Reclaiming the term, “Women’s Work becomes a notion of empowerment, showing that their work is equally important and offers value for society. Furthermore, it is a concept for making invisible tasks visible to the public eye. Secondly the name of the magazine also draws attention to the need to call the contributors of the magazine “women artists or composers” while the male attribute is dominates the word “artist” itself; without further extensions the male does not have to be mentioned explicitly. Annea Lockwood comments on that in an interview:

“The gendering/identification of artists as female, (not, I note, as male since that was and often still is the assumed ‘norm’) has been controversial for as far back as I can remember. Pauline Oliveros was far from the first woman composer to protest it. As a young composer I too wanted simply to be identified as a composer, but  […] I came to recognise that ignoring my gender, sort of neutering myself denied the culturally implicit and obvious gendering of ‘composer’ as male, which has had major effects on access for composing women until recently.”[14]

As a possible explanation for including already existing scores by women artists instead of creating specific feminist artwork, the issue demonstrates that the equally good artwork by women already exists as a self-evident fact. Among others in Womens Work there are two scores of the Spatial Poems (1965–1975) by Mieko Shiomi, Proposition IV (1965) by Alison Knowles, Piano Transplants (1968–1972) by Annea Lockwood or the photography scores Maps of Space (1972) by Mary Lucier, which all show a part of the artists’ œuvres being created before being published in Womens Work in 1975.

Therefore, it supports the feminist approach to gaining visibility for the structural problem of male dominance by offering a prominent platform for women to showcase their work. Other ways of dealing with the invisibility of marginalised groups, can for example be found in Postcard Theatre (1974) by Pauline Oliveros and Alison Knowles, where the artists transfer male composers in different contexts by using private photos of the artists’ family lives by literally stating on them:

  • Bach was a mother.
  • Chopin had dishpan hands.
  • Mozart was a black Irish washerwoman.
  • Brahms was a two-penny harlot.

Here the artists directly address their male opponents and degrade them by applying the sentences that are usually used to describe some women and further marginalised groups. The statements of being a mother or doing the dishes are also connected to the private sphere of care work —further highlighted by using private photography for the background imagery—while the others are used to degrade a woman’s worth within society. It is a more direct way of feminist work that also highlights the fact of famous men dominating the cultural scene and being considered to be geniuses. He is the prominent subject of the text, while the female is shown as being inferior in the background or as having negative attributes.

The strategy included in Womens Work is the one Linda Nochlin ascribes as an essential task to cultural institutions: Offering a way to show the artworks of the women artists and promoting their creations. As the scores will be performed, this aspect can be considered to be an additional promotion for them. Overall, the aim of the movement was to further the recognition of women in art.

Thus, the research project of the Museum Ostwall at the Dortmunder U is highly important: By looking at global artistic positions and highlighting the work of women artists as they already were part of the Fluxus movement and related art forms, the perspective changes to a bigger picture that shows the interconnected ideas, concepts and also problems people were facing and discussing that were disseminated all over the world. Often this is not included in the museum’s collections which must be considered as snapshots of the personal connections and preferences of private collectors, who were the social capital the Fluxus movement needed at that period of time to promote and share their experimental art.


[1] Richter, Dorothee: Fluxus. Kunst gleich Leben? Mythen um Autorschaft, Produktion, Geschlecht und Gemeinschaft. Zürich, 2012: p. 211.

[2] cf. Richter, Dorothee: Fluxus. Kunst gleich Leben? Mythen um Autorschaft, Produktion, Geschlecht und Gemeinschaft. Zürich, 2012: p. 213

[3] Nochlin, Linda:  Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, 1971“ & „Nochlin, Linda: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Thirty Years Later, 2001“. London, 2021: p. 82

[4] Murphy, Gillian: Women’s Liberation Movement. In: The London School of Economics and Political Science, 2023: https://www.lse.ac.uk/library/collection-highlights/womens-liberation-movement

[5] National Womens History Museum: Feminism. The Second Wave. 2020: https://www.womenshistory.org/exhibits/feminism-second-wave

[6] Nochlin, Linda:  Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, 1971“ & „Nochlin, Linda: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Thirty Years Later, 2001“. London, 2021: p. 84

[7] French, Jez Riley: Womens Work, 2019: https://jezrileyfrench.co.uk/womens-work.php

[8] cf. O’Dell, Kathy: Fluxus Feminus. In: TDR, Vol. 41, No. 1. 1997, S. 43-60: S. 43.

[9] cf. Godzik, Maren: Avantgarde Männersache? Künstlerinnen im Japan der 50er und 60er Jahre des 20. Jahrhunderts. Bonn, 2006: p. 81

[10] translated from German: Richter, Dorothee: Fluxus. Kunst gleich Leben? Mythen um Autorschaft, Produktion, Geschlecht und Gemeinschaft. Zürich, 2012: p. 98

[11] Richter, Dorothee: Fluxus. Kunst gleich Leben? Mythen um Autorschaft, Produktion, Geschlecht und Gemeinschaft. Zürich, 2012: p.99.

[12] cf. Nochlin, Linda:  Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, 1971“ & „Nochlin, Linda: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Thirty Years Later, 2001“. London, 2021: S. 65.

[13] Nochlin, Linda:  Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, 1971“ & „Nochlin, Linda: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Thirty Years Later, 2001“. London, 2021: p. 30.

[14] French, Jez Riley: Womens Work, 2019: https://jezrileyfrench.co.uk/womens-work.php