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14 May 2013

The Table has put its third dinner to bed. On April 24 2013 we held a Table Dinner in the extraordinary Shoreditch Townhall whose female monument Progress is pictured on Claire’s blog. She is a brilliant example of the tradition of ‘personifying liberty, justice, wisdom, charity, and other ideals and desiderata in the female form’ about which Marina Warner wrote in Monuments and Maidens, where she explores the tension between women’s historic and symbolic roles. It could hardly have been a more appropriate moment to note the tension – in the aftermath of the life of that equally extraordinary monument, Margaret Thatcher, and the announcement of the re-launch of the iconic feminist magazine Spare Rib. The Table has no party line on either of these things, but we do note that we sat on April 26th in front of stained glass windows reading ‘more light more power.’ Indeed.

The news that Spare Rib is being re-launched by feminist journalist Charlotte Raven has met with what the media tends to dub a mixed response, but we think we should all join up. As Raven says, we need to be (re) radicalised. Where the media, feminists included, part company with her is on the issue of the times we now live in. Spare Rib was never a feminist magazine, it was, as founder editor Marsha Rowe has said, about Women’s Liberation. Tougher, sharper, much more fun to be part of. But you have to be over fifty to remember the magazine and the heady days of the women’s liberation movement. I did my third year dissertation on Spare Rib, studying the sociology of language at Leeds University, then one of the great radical-political cities of the new left, the old left and the way, way beyond left (in art, theatre and music), and in my dissertation I wrote on the new kinds of language that Spare Rib used to talk about women’s experience. I lost my copy of that badly typed essay years ago, but I vividly remember visiting the old Spare Rib offices in Clerkenwell to go through the back copies and not realizing, young thing that I was, that any of this life that we were living, would end, or even change. It was too lively, too rich, too powerful. In the same building were Arts Admin and Publications Distribution Co-Op. I loved Spare Rib, and even once had my picture on the cover, a tiny bit of me anyway, at a Women Liberation conference.

To say that it all ended with Thatcher, as people began saying in the weeks after her death, seemed to me much too easy. I loved the impassioned vitriol that feminist journalist Bea Campbell had been penting up (yes, I know, but it should be a verb) for years and which rolled with such lucidity into the ear of radio listeners.

But much the kind of language that was used about Thatcher after her death was the kind of thing that Spare Rib – and indeed Mary Daly – had always warned us would be used against us, and was, and is. We were always on the verge of being witches. It was never an appropriate model. Spare Rib had ethics as well as politics, and I wonder what they would have made of the isolation and personification of that staunch monument to capitalist liberty, the recently dead Baroness.

Charlotte Vincent recorded our first Coming to The Table curated conversation this week with a long time innovative radical, the choreographer and activist Liz Lerman. Our intention is to begin to put together a library of voices that will provide an online resource – a resource that will become part of a larger conversation about collaboration, individuality, exchange and artistic practice. Liz Lerman seems particularly appropriate to be our first recorded conversation for The Table, her currency has always been exchange. She has spent four decades sharpening and softening the tools of creative collaboration at Dance Exchange in Maryland USA. She has refuted a hierarchical distinction between creative research, dialogue, social engagement, collaborative making and making her own choreographic work – instead hiking the horizontal between all these places, spaces and practices. It is a nuanced space she creates, working towards more light and more power for all. Hear the conversation between Charlotte Vincent and Liz Lerman here soon.

Claire Macdonald 14 May 2013

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