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Emilie Appercé on the New Woman’s Survival Catalog
4 July, 2021
I ordered my edition of the New Woman’s Survival Catalog after watching a lecture by Mindy Seu, a designer and researcher whose work I discovered while scouring the colophon of a friend’s homepage as I was trying to build my own. The NWSC inspired her iconic cyberfeminism index—an online ever growing index which gathers techno-critical works starting from 1990 (when the term ‘cyberfeminsim’ first came into usage)—commissioned by Rhizome and now premiering at the New Museum’s ‘First Look’ exhibition.
The catalog is an impressive compilation of feminist how-to articles, wild accounts and hyper-specific tips—with themes covering ‘consciousness-raising,’ ‘women and art,’ ‘work and money,’ ‘self-defense’ or ‘homesteading.’ Some of the titles include: “Living alternatives: communal, collective, alone, with or without men and children,” “How to do your own divorce,” “Buying land,” and “Running a small farm”. Its expressive graphic style is reminiscent of self-made fanzines. The black-and-white photographs are high-contrast photocopies. Next to them are business cards and journal extracts cut and pasted next to a fleeting poem.
The authors, Susan Rennie and Kirsten Grimstad (having just graduated from Columbia University) were working on a women’s studies bibliography when they were reminded true revolutions begin beyond the walls of the institution. They embarked on a two-month road trip across the United States to discover the new woman. Five months later, they produced the New Woman’s Survival Catalog, (a feminist response to the counter-culture magazine, the Whole Earth Catalog)— a fast-paced, energetic account about the evolving consciousness of pioneering women in the early 1970’s. The revolutionary vivacity leaps off the pages. It’s not just a feminist manifesto. It’s a feminist everything. The printed-version of a feminist Google, if you will —an alternative tool for women to fulfil their changing expectations and run their own enterprises (the latter having existed all along) outside the margins of the patriarchy.
In a pre-internet era, this catalog is a sort of meeting-place, where women—from all educational and social backgrounds—could represent their definitions of the new woman in whichever form they deemed relevant (be it through farming, economic independence or DIY). I think that Susan and Kirsten, in travelling and discussing their project, may have had similar feelings as we do working on Women Writing Architecture—of wanting to celebrate women, of going on a campaign to raise consciousness about the nature and sources of their creativity. At a time when libraries were closed due to a worldwide pandemic, but online sharing resources were (and still are) blooming everywhere, this catalog (as well as Mindy’s website) acted as solid precursors for our initial discussions about this platform, Women Writing Architecture.