Once you label something, you fix it in time and space. You fix it in the mind of whoever encounters that label to whatever their mind associates with that label. It is no longer something of mystery and endless possibility. Now it has has become something that, quite possibly, it is not. For that reason, or so I like to think, the current exhibition at Waterside Contemporary does not call itself a feminist exhibition. It does not even offer a press release. Just a list of artist’s names. No pat answers here. If the viewer wishes to enjoy the sense of an understanding, then the viewer will have to work for it themselves.
‘Politiques de l’amitie’ is a book by Jacques Derrida. It examines the idea of friendship. So I’m told by the website of artists Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčova. Apparently the book posits that friendship has a politics and that its politics are gendered in such a way as to preclude the female. Friendship, then, is a phallocentric concept. Given that language has a politics and that its politics are gendered in such a way as to preclude the female, it makes sense that whatever is touched by language will be similarly affected. How then to establish a politics of female friendship? How to establish a female politics at all? A politics that does not reduce itself to an oppositional stance that would be no stance at all.
Continuing along the trajectory of feminist performance art, Anetta Mona Chisa & Lucia Tkáčova engage gesture: the cutting up of Derrida’s text into tiny slices, the throwing of those slices into the air. This is what the artists refer to as ‘to-be-performed sculpture’. These slices litter the gallery floor. Like confetti at a wedding. It sticks to your shoes. You take it home with you, or out to see friends. In this way Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčova’s work is disseminated, conceptually and actually.
A thing has the most power over us when it is invisible. Invisibility means it has not been consciously chosen. To bring it from the realm of the invisible to the realm of the visible is to divest it of its power. Mathilde Ter Heijne highlights the gender normative and phallocentric nature of contemporary western society - something invisible to many - by pointing out that it has not always been so. Ergo, it is not an inherent truth. ‘Experimental Archaeology: Ontology of the In Between’ is an installation composed, in part, of an enormous phallic form with breasts and a face. The ancient object, reproduced, enlarged, stands outside contemporary gender classification. It is displayed on its own bespoke flight case, giving it the sense of something that has transcended temporal as well as gender boundaries. It has a sense of other-worldy wholeness.
Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz present a twelve minute film, ‘Charming for the Revolution’. It features one performer, Werner Hirsch, taking on three roles. The first, a heavily ‘performed’ cliché of 1950/60s masculinity. Overly wide stance, black leather biker jacket, comb in the breast pocket, short hair slicked to one side, repeatedly, exaggeratedly, managed in to place. The character reads, haltingly, from cards. A dated feminist rhetoric: “We housewives. They make us work for free. But in return we don’t get anything for free. The only thing we get is anxiety and the fear of losing a lousy job ... The only thing to do is to ask for a divorce and a huge settlement ... We are married to a straight, white guy called the economy ... An army of housewives cannot lose.”
The second character references Edwardian dandyism. Again the gender signals are mixed up. A white trouser suit with a marabou boa, a walking cane and a woman’s feathered hat. The character walks a turtle on a leash, a fashionable thing for a Dandy in 1839. It was a sort of activism, to demonstrate the hectic pace of life and the impossibility of looking, of engaging at all, if we aren’t prepared to slow down. What would the Dandy make of the pace of life now: Apple Watch, Google Glass. It seems like times don’t change so much as we think they do.
In the third personification the character has been transformed into a bird. Something to do with Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘becoming-animal’. That is to say, becoming inaccessible to definition, movement towards non-identity.
The cultural and historic references in this film are dense. In half a dozen watchings, still most of them I didn’t catch. But no matter. It is a film about the marginalised, the repressed, those outside of ‘normal’ categorisation, in terms of gender and sexuality. It is a queer, feminist investigation. It is funny and engaging.
There are other works, by Olivia Plender, Chiara Fumai, Judith Barry and Oreet Ashery. In the spirit of the exhibition, I will leave you to discover them for yourself. Suffice it to say, they were all created in what Kathy Acker refers to as, ‘the languages of wonder, not of judgement’. Remember that, and view them in that light also.