Sarah Rafson

Advisor: Mary McLeod

MS.CCCP 2013

Exhibitions, Community and Activism: History of Feminism in Architecture through Display

 The history of architecture and architecture exhibitions are intimately intertwined. Exhibitions play many different and important roles in defining tendencies emerging in architectural practice, as well as verbalizing and visualizing the goals of disparate practitioners. They can be manifestos, pedagogical tools to acclimate an audience for developments in architectural thought, and perhaps most significantly, opportunities for activism and consciousness-raising. Thus, considering the vital role of exhibitions in architectural discourse, attention must be paid to how feminism in architecture has been transmitted through its own history of exhibitions. This project will chart the development of one exhibition in particular, "More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts," organized by the collective Chicks In Architecture Refuse to Yield to Atavistic Thinking in Design and Society, or CARYATIDS, which was staged at Chicago's Randolph Street Gallery in 1993 in counter to the AIA convention opening the same day.

An exhibition can be read on many levels; the individual story of its organizers who were moved to convey a particular message, the institutional history of the exhibition space, the organizational story of a group of architects affecting policy in the profession, and the ideological, political and economic circumstances of the early nineties that forms the backdrop. Through oral history and archival research, I will be analyzing this exhibition as a cultural artifact which reflects the ideological development and experience particular to its makers, yet reflective of greater tendencies in its historical moment. The critical questions I will be asking of this exhibition revolve around the heritage of this exhibition and others similar to it. How does its format, content and voice compare to the feminist exhibitions before and afterwards? What is at stake in staging a feminist exhibition? What are the benefits and challenges of working outside an institutional framework? How did the exhibitions limited temporality and exposure affect its audience? This project will examine the heritage of “More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts” and its organization, contextualizing it within a lineage of activist exhibitions around feminism in architecture, critically analyzing it to assess the message and its medium.