Major Tender is an exploration of the relationship between curating, artistic collaboration and individual art-making, driven by the desire to find out how these practices and the conventional boundaries between them can change. This desire for change is in turn driven by a feminist passion to uncover the often unspoken power dynamics at the heart of these practices, and by a feminist ethical commitment to nurturing new configurations of power and relation, even if it means holding difficult ground.
As such, Major Tender belongs to a broad tradition in feminist practices that seeks to
question how common sense and conventional wisdoms are generated and in whose name, but also to create new knowledges through those rewired relationships. In the search for different ways of knowing, such practices honour its bodily dimensions, as Sarah Ahmed expressed it:
Knowledge cannot be separated from the bodily world of feeling and sensation; knowledge is bound up with what makes us sweat, shudder, tremble, all those feelings that are actually felt on the…skin surface where we touch and are touched by the world.
Integral to such practices is an embrace of the complexity that comes with attempting multiplicity, dispersed decision-making and an anti-hierarchical approach. These are ideals that rally and inspire, but they are difficult to enact. When the voices are many, they are sometimes irreconcilable; when we cannot default to recognizable structures of responsibility, sometimes no one is accountable; when the uncertainty of the new prevails, sometimes immobilizing confusion sets in. To stay in this space is very demanding, especially when the structures around you remain governed by opposite values. It takes time — usually much more and more intense time than conventional structures allow for — and it takes the cultivation of intimacy and trust — that is, genuine relationship.
Relationship has been a buzzword in contemporary art practice for some time now. But Major Tender ties this centrality of relationship to feminist ethics. Way before Nicolas Bourriaud came up with the curatorial rationale of ‘relational aethetics’, American philosopher Carol Gilligan coined the term ‘the ethics of care’. The ethics of care posits that humans are inherently relational and that to be human means to be connected and interdependent. As Gilligan explains,
An ethic of care is grounded in voice and relationships, in the importance of everyone having a voice, being listened to carefully (in their own right and on their own terms) and heard with respect. An ethics of care directs our attention to the need for responsiveness in relationships (paying attention, listening, responding) and to the costs of losing connection with oneself or with others.
I see Major Tender as attempting to embody those ethics of care: long term — if at times long distance — conversations, openness to different voices, holding a space of tension in a mutually respectful way that allows for changes and shifts in one’s own position. It is particularly interesting to attempt to practice an ethics of care in the realms of art-making and curating that despite the emergence of social practice in recent years still largely default to author-centric models — sometimes because of ‘efficiency’ and resources, sometimes because creative control is integral, sometimes because alternatives are not readily imagined. Major Tender not only imagines an alternative, but experiments with putting it into practice.
The artists that Noone invited to work with her all have hybrid practices of their own that explore new ways of negotiating social phenomena. That hybridity extends beyond using different artistic media, to crossing firmly into the camps of curator, educators, and project facilitators. This breadth of approach, and the openness that underpins it, was key to Noone’s choices.
Gemma Weston has primarily practiced as a curator and writer, but has recently returned to drawing and printmaking, her first passion and the focus of her initial training. This transition is never an easy one, not only because of the different skill and mind sets involved, but also because curatorial roles conventionally entail discriminating between artists and exerting some form of institutional authority. When a critic or curator crosses over to artist they are well aware that they are leaving themselves vulnerable to that same discrimination and judgment. Perhaps working with another artist/curator can soften the blow: certainly the work in Major Tender attests to a playful exchange, suffused with humour. A series of collages by Weston, formally framed and installed but depicting witty takes on art history, are extended into the gallery space by Noone’s painterly interventions that trace the outline of iconic representation of women in art. One collage serves as a double portrait of the artists: smiley faces superimposed on Picasso’s and de Kooning’s ‘women’ reference the relative size of the artists but also their late-night joking about the legacy of the ‘artist genius’.
Kate Power is a multidisciplinary artist who works with video, performance, textiles, sculpture and installation, and investigates how people relate to one another. For Power, openness is not only a process but a thematic focus. The joint work here is again framed by a double portrait with art historical references, although the connotations are more weighty and sincere. Noone and Power have re-imagined Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas (1939) that depicts the artist holding hands with herself in a poignant rendering of the cultural, sexual and political cleavages that rent her life apart. The painting now has Power and Noone holding hands, the heart of the original replaced by a video embedded in the canvas, with another video representing the stomach of the second figure. The videos open up the reworked painting to other temporal dimensions, to the world of intimacy and negotiation beyond, serving to contemporarise and personalize the original but also riffing off its power as feminist icon.
Salote Tawale experiments with self-performance through video, photo, objects, installation, delegated performance, and workshops with community. She seeks out new ways to do portraiture by engaging the perspectives of multiple others, in different contexts, hoping to break with the conventions of how the artist of difference takes charge of representing themselves. It is a delicate balance between maintaining and ceding control, whereby the negotiation forms a key part of the work. Tawale brings attunement to this process to her joint work with Noone which was crafted over a period of three days during which the artists occupied the gallery and let their individual creative voices ping around the space. The paradox of freedom to explore within the boundaries of another’s practice has resulted in an installation that is raucous and subtle in equal measure: a compelling oscillation between large and small scale, improvised and planned work, remote and intimate conversation, and personal and public concerns.
Jodie Whalen works across performance, video, installation and sculpture. In past work, she has played with the line between artwork and everyday interaction, attempting to integrate her role as an artist with the other activities in her life, including her work as a museum educator. This is fertile territory to explore collaboration: like that of the other artists Noone selected for Major Tender, Whalen’s practice is open, radiating out from institutional boundaries and conventions. Their collaborative work comprises of a face off between two video screens that exchange affirmations written by each artist. Affirmations are at the core of self-help philosophy, intended to divert us from negative self-talk by reminding us of our self-esteem and reasons to believe in the world. At one level infuriatingly simplistic and naïve, at another such aphorisms attest to the continual battle to self-regulate in order to survive the lack of tenderness that surrounds us. This focus on self-care is a poignant way to explore the negotiation between individual artistic practice and community that occurs in the work of both artists.
Major Tender brings these artists and practices together in such a way that embodies the ethics of care, whereby the relations between makers and objects create a unique form of energy and animate the space with tenderness. As an experiment, it opens many pathways to explore how to transform the prevailing values that continue to govern the roles of artist, curator and community-maker.
Jacqueline Millner teaches Critical Studies at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, and writes on contemporary art, including its feminist dimensions.
 Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, (2004), New York and London: Routledge, 2013,171
 Interview with Carol Gilligan, http://ethicsofcare.org/carol-gilligan/