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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Installing Austen

A hot London designer plans to honor Jane Austen, along with other female writers, in a multimedia installation housed at an Australian museum and sponsored by a cosmetics company.

The artist, Bethan Laura Wood, has created everything from glass sculptures to jewelry to vases, and according to an online report, her newly commissioned installation will combine “furniture, textiles, scenography, and more” as a way of “honoring writing from the first feminist icons of the 18th century, such as Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley–as well as contemporary female voices that have influenced her work.”

Among the items included in the new installation, expected to go on display by year’s end, will be “newly commissioned pieces inspired by Regency furniture traditionally found in libraries, such as bookcases, reading tables and fainting couches,” the report promises. It's all going to comment on "the gendered history of education and the transmission of knowledge," according to the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia.

I’m not sure that Mary Shelley belongs on a list of eighteenth-century icons, seeing as she was a toddler when the century ended, and before we describe all these writers as feminist, we might need to define our terms, but—whatever. Wood’s work looks beautiful and interesting (check out the glass art!), and it’s hard to argue with the goal of the commission: Increasing the number of works by female artists that are included in the museum's collection.

The fact that this commission is sponsored by the Australian cosmetics company MECCA, whose beauty products bear a, shall we say, complicated relationship to feminist goals, is just one of those ironies of twenty-first-century capitalism. If only Jane Austen were available for comment.


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