Critics’ Picks

View of “Brace,” 2019.

View of “Brace,” 2019.

London

Winnie Herbstein

Jupiter Woods
61, Rollins Street
May 3–June 2, 2019

Though “women’s work” is often used to describe the domestic sphere within a house in which the family unit is produced and maintained—both cosmetically and hygienically—Winnie Herbstein’s latest exhibition, “Brace,” chronicles an instance where women’s work was to build the house itself. Minutes, 2019, a new film by Herbstein complements The House That Jill Built, 1998, a documentary produced by Video Information Project (Magda Ang, Karen Dickson, and Helen Archer) about Glasgow’s distaff self-build collective Take Root. Also included is a supportive steel structure made by Herbstein and members of Slaghammers, a contemporary female welding group who also feature in Minutes.

“Brace” draws a line between current issues around access to shelter and Scotland’s housing crisis of the 1990s, when the council failed to provide stable dwellings or regulate the private market. In response to the precarity of their living situations, members of Take Root organized to petition the council and train women to build their own homes. The dialogue of Minutes borrows from notes in Take Root’s meetings: The members of Slaghammers enact and discuss political frustrations both infought and aimed at the city council and local media, whose reporting threatened their access to funding.

The House That Jill Built is screened on a small television. The VHS, digitized by Herbstein, is discolored and degraded. In the unclear and oversaturated imagery, a relatively recent past appears archaic, but also utopic—a parallel reality where homeless or marginalized women in Britain had the means to build themselves places to live. Both imaginative and committedly materialist, Herbstein’s research into gendered labor and social reproduction honors the legacy of the past while attempting to construct a sustainable and desirable future.