Artist Moving Image Festival 2021: GIVE BIRTH TO ME TOMORROW

LUX Scotland, online

21 January - 31 December 2021

Review by Amy Jones

Established in 2012, LUX Scotland and Tramway’s Artist Moving Image Festival has a reputation for engendering exciting and challenging new discourses surrounding artists’ film and moving image. Previous iterations have been curated by artists such as Ima-Abasi Okon, Emmie McLuskey, Mark Briggs and Naomi Pearce, and the 2021 festival is no different, led by artists Adam Benmakhlouf and Tako Taal, who share a commitment to countering the structures of colonialism and white supremacy through their work. Typically taking place over a weekend, this iteration of the festival will unfold, instead, over the course of a year, with a welcome and considered slowness. The festival began at the end of January with a programme of short films titled, ‘GIVE BIRTH TO ME TOMORROW’, showcasing the work of Sharon Hayes, Sherisse Mohammed and Camille Turner, Isabel Barfod, De’Anne Crooks and Kyuri Jeon.

One of the central concerns of the programme is the performance of voice and, as Taal writes, “what it is to announce or articulate individual or collective presence.” This is tackled directly in Sharon Hayes’ ‘Fingernails on a Blackboard: Bella’ (2014) — a film which complicates what it means to have a voice in an arena where the rules of participation have been set by another. Hayes uses a 1980s analogue video titler to show transcripts of U.S Representative (1971-1977) and co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Bella Abzug, working with a voice coach. We watch in silence (the absence of Abzug’s voice is made even more palpable by the total absence of sound in the film) as Abzug tries to adopt a more neutral and, supposedly, palatable tone of voice for the American public. The contrasting vocal exercises she undertakes, such as the repetition of the word “Kitty” followed by the rehearsal of a speech condemning Nixon for his continuation of the Vietnam war, underscore the contradictions and gender politics inherent in communication and public speech.

Sherisse Mohammed and Camille Turner’s film ‘Miss Canadiana’ (2005) also considers these contradictions, with a film that explores self-determination and identity on an individual and state level. Combining performance documentation with para-fictional interviews, the film transforms Turner into Miss Canadiana: beauty pageant winner and national treasure. Dressed as a symbol of national heritage, Turner’s blackness refutes Canada’s mythology of whiteness, highlighting both the violence and arbitrariness of national identity. Drawing on the historic (and ongoing) use of film as nationalist propaganda, the brilliance of ‘Miss Canadiana’ lies in its disinterest in being an accurate record. It willingly betrays its facade as a documentary film, refusing to accurately capture real events and only provide a partial portrait of Turner’s live performances — as performance documentation often does. By embracing its status as an inaccurate or partial record, the film further unpicks the threads of artifice which work to construct national identity on screen.

A personal highlight of the programme was Kyuri Jeon’s film ‘Born, Unborn, and Born Again’ (2021). The film centres on Jeon’s struggle to embody her zodiac sign, the white horse (seen as an inauspicious sign for women in South Korea), which occurs only every 60 years. Exploring tradition, violence against women and women’s rights, the film pleats together a deeply personal account of the conditions surrounding Jeon’s birth with South Korea’s complex relationship with abortion, culminating in the legalisation of abortion in 2019. Combining archival and iPhone footage, the film creates a space for complex histories and realities — like the historic use of illegal abortion for gender selection (reflecting a preference for boys) and the importance of safe and legal abortion as a means of liberating the bodies of women — to sit alongside each other. Instead of working to resolve these paradoxes, Jeon encourages us to sit carefully and attentively with the contradictions of past, present and future. Narrating in Korean and English, Jeon introduces this multifaceted space, using the English future perfect tense, with the line from which the programme takes its title: “I will be born, when you give birth to me tomorrow.”

The programme will continue to unfold over what promises to be a year of transitions; stasis into movement, lockdowns into vaccine programmes. The films in ‘GIVE BIRTH TO ME TOMORROW’ feel like a reminder to address the opportunities this moment of change provides, with care and intention. By reflecting on how we can acknowledge complexity and contradiction to better make space for individual and collective demands, the programme serves as a timely prompt to attend to our futures in the same way that Taal and Benmakhlouf ask us to engage with the films: “Closely and enunciate what they look like, what they do, bring, lack, break, bend, reinforce….”

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