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Issue 219

The Feminist Health Care Research Group Fights Art-World Exploitation

Julia Bonn and Inga Zimprich publish information on self-care that underwhelms by design in order to include as many people as possible


BY Chloe Stead AND Julia Bonn and Inga Zimprich in Opinion , Roundtables | 19 APR 21

The Feminist Health Care Research Group (FHCRG) was founded in Berlin in 2015 as a way of questioning what co-founders Julia Bonn and Inga Zimprich call the ‘exploitative and extractive nature of the art world.’ (Unless otherwise stated, all quotes by the artists taken from a Skype call with the author in February.) Through zines, exhibitions and workshops, the group offers artists and art workers a space in which to reveal their vulnerabilities in a field often defined by the ‘searingly alienating search for a competitive advantage’, as Martha Rosler memorably termed it in her e-flux article ‘Why Are People Being So Nice?’ (2016). Whereas Rosler saw the solution as a future in which cultural workers said ‘no more Mr. Nice Guy’, FHCRG looks towards the past, taking inspiration from the West German health movement of the 1970s and ’80s, whose members poured their time, money and energy into finding new models of radical mutual care.

This little-known movement was the topic of FHCRG’s archival exhibition ‘Practices of Radical Healthcare’, which was first shown at District Berlin and M.1 Hohenlockstedt in 2018, then in a revised, reduced version at Bergen Assembly in 2019, and again last year as part of the 11th Berlin Biennale. It featured publications, documents and visual materials gathered during the course of FHCRG’s research into initiatives such as the Feministisches FrauenGesundheitsZentrum Berlin (Feminist Women’s Health Centre Berlin), FrauenTherapieZentrum (Centre for Women’s Therapy) in Munich and Hamburg Gesundheit Laden (Hamburg Health Centre). Organized by enthusiastic medical doctors and activists, these venues offered workshops, consultations and/or treatments that allowed individuals to make empowered decisions about their physical and psychological well-being.

FHCRG, Practices Of Radical Health Care, Workshop Radikale Therapie, district Berlin 2018. Courtesy: FHCRG; photograph: Inga Zimprich
FHCRG, Practices Of Radical Health Care, Workshop Radikale Therapie, district Berlin 2018. Courtesy: FHCRG; photograph: Inga Zimprich

Fashioned using paper, scissors, sticky tape and a few coats of paint, a typical FHCRG installation testifies to its grassroots origins. At the Berlin Biennale, for example, archival material was presented on a collection of pastel-coloured display boards and in publications that visitors could read. The idea, Bonn and Zimprich tell me, is to make their exhibitions ‘as welcoming as possible’ so that viewers aren’t intimidated by ‘all the things they should know in order to start engaging with the topic’. If the result is, at times, somewhat visually underwhelming, that is by design. The duo has spoken a number of times about the tendency for social movements to be appropriated by artists and, as Zimprich observed in Practices of Radical Health Care (2019), used ‘as individual gestures, as a non-conformist solo position, as a signature’. By contrast, FHCRG’s collaged approach directly reflects their collaborative way of conducting research.

Additionally, the information they gather is offered in free workshops and cheerful, risograph-printed zines sold on their website. Alongside Practices of Radical Health Care, which brought together their research from the eponymous exhibition, the group has also made a three-volume zine dedicated to coping in times of crisis (Being in Crisis Together, 2020/16), another on how disabled artists and those who have to dedicate time to caring for others are edged out of a production-oriented art world (Sick Time, Crip Time, Caring Time, 2018), and a guide to accessing German health care for artists (Join the Künstlersozialkasse, 2018), amongst a number of other titles.

Exhibition View Caring Structures, Kunstverein Hildesheim, 2021, Photograper: Samuel Henne
FHCRG, Caring Structures, exhibition view, Kunstverein Hildesheim, 2021. Courtesy: FHCRG; photograph: Samuel Henne

For their inclusion in ‘84 STEPS’, which opened last month at Rotterdam’s Kunstinstituut Melly, FHCRG continued their research into the history of F*oRT: a form of feminist, self-organized therapy that developed from Radical Therapy practices in the US in the early 1970s and came to Europe via the Netherlands through figures such as the psychotherapist Gail Pheterson before spreading to Germany, where it is still practised. As with all the initiatives they research, Bonn and Zimprich identified the parts of this practice that could be useful and meaningful for cultural workers today, while also acknowledging that, as with many initiatives that came out of second-wave feminism, F*oRT was predominantly focused on cis-gender white women to the exclusion of trans, non-binary and BAME people. Despite this obvious failing, FHCRG still see the potential in this method of mutual care. By introducing F*oRT techniques to exhibition visitors in Rotterdam, the group continues its career-long mission of encouraging emotional literacy within the art field. ‘For too long, needs have been ignored,’ Zimprich tells me. ‘People don’t dare say just how exhausted they are.’ 

This article first appeared in frieze issue 219 with the headline ‘Feminist Health Care Research Group’.

Main image: FHCRG, Practices Of Radical Health Care, Workshop Radikale Therapie, district Berlin 2018. Courtesy: FHCRG; photograph: Inga Zimprich

Chloe Stead is assistant editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin, Germany. 

Julia Bonn and Inga Zimprich formed the Feminist Health Care Research Group in 2015. Bonn is an artist and bodyworker. Zimprich is an artist and currently training to be a deaf-blind assistant. They live in Berlin, Germany.