The installation is undoubtedly an extraordinary achievement. Chicago worked with hundreds of assistants – mainly volunteers – to complete the work which employs craft skills traditionally seen as female and domestic to produce elements such as embroidered table runners and ceramic tableware. Many of the plates feature imagery based on the vulva.
Though I admire the ambition of The Dinner Party and Chicago’s achievement in successfully realising the work and though I do think that visually it’s a pretty amazing installation, it doesn’t really move me at all. It feels a bit too earnest and too much of its time and – and this is where I really take issue with it – its celebration is ultimately not of women but of the vagina. That we are more than that seems to me to be fundamental to feminism.
Though also focused on the vagina, for me the work of Chicago’s that still seems relevant is Red Flag. The advertising of what are somewhat coyly referred to as ‘feminine hygiene products’ has never really addressed the products’ purpose in any meaningful way. According to the adverts, tampons or sanitary towels will allow us to roller skate in white trousers when the more pertinent message is that they will keep blood off our knickers. Red Flag is a simple image, albeit one that people often take time to work out, and it carries a simple message that bodily functions are normal, natural and nothing to get worked up about. Essentially the image says yeah, what of it?