Over this past summer, the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art (ICA at MECA) in Portland, Maine exhibited a survey of Kate Gilmore’s artwork, bringing together videos from 2004 until the present. In conjunction with her solo show at the ICA, Museum Director, Daniel Fuller commissioned a new performance staged in Portland’s Monument Square. The monument was surrounded on all sides by a four-foot high cubic structure of hot pink stairs; women clothed in simple dresses and black flats continuously walked the perimeter over the course of the two-day performance.
Gilmore did not supply the public with any specific details or parameters for interpreting the meaning of this performance. Instead, she challenged viewers to offer their own feelings and thoughts. Throughout the performance, the public square was alive with chatter. Theories were bounced around, as people observed from nearby benches or passed through on their way to the neighboring shopping district.
Those familiar with Gilmore’s work — which commonly explores ideas of struggle and female identity – took specific notice of the bronze statue that the performers were stoically circling. Modeled after Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom and war, it is dedicated to the ultimate sacrifice: giving the lives of your children for the greater good. Staged at this specific memorial, Gilmore’s performance spoke to me about the mental and physical rigors of womanhood and drew my attention to the overwhelming absence of female figures from memorials in public places elsewhere.
Over the course of the weekend, the women involved endured hours of direct sun, 100 degree weather, blisters, pain, swelling, and near exhaustion. Viewing such a physical demonstration of strength and will by “ordinary” women –mothers, sisters, friends, and wives– made me feel a deeper appreciation of women from all walks of life who silently persevere in the face of every obstacle that life throws their way.