Auto Italia South East, 434 - 452 Old Kent Road, London, SE1 5AG
Title : Greenham820
Beginning with Tina Keane’s film ‘In Our Hands, Greenham’, artists Nina Wakeford and Huw Lemmey stake out their territory from the first and set the precedent for the head-on addressing of forms of protest and resistance through their selection from the Cinenova archive. The Greenham protest which began in 1981 took place in opposition to the housing of cruise missiles on RAF Greenham Common. Hundreds of women came together for a ‘10 day march to make a single and dramatic statement of opposition’ and as one woman states ‘when nobody was listening to what was being said it became apparent that we would have to do something to make people, and especially the government, realize we were serious’. Greenham subsequently became famous for the women’s camp and the 70,000 strong human chain which ran for 14 miles. In her film, Tina Keane uses the strong symbolism of hands silhouetted against black to frame extracts of footage from the camps and overlays it with narration and song.
The collection of films raise the question of why we’re so uncomfortable with the direct addressing of political and social inequality with regards to women, particularly apparent in ‘Did I say hairdressing’ I meant Astro Physics’ by Leeds Animation Workshop, a group in Leeds that made films that deal with social issues from housing to work and (quite astonishingly from our current perspective) were EU and council funded. Narrated by Alan Bennett, the film charts the progress of Joseph and Joanne, the twin children of Zod the wizard scientist. When they are born Joseph is put in front of battle toys and tech gadgets whilst Joanne is forbidden from the lair of Zod’s workshop and banished to the kitchen. In our retrospective minds this is already too much, a cringing occurs somewhere in the pit of our stomachs and the temptation to laugh is imminent. It is this affectiveness that the curators are interested in as they present ‘some of the moments in feminist history that provoke a nostalgia or embarrassment because of the form of the political demands’. As Nina explains: ‘We were thinking about revisiting the works uncynically but at the same time not wanting to mask the embarrassment or tedium in a contemporary viewing…the emotional states with which we project ourselves backwards and what they might then point to. Other movements are being looked at with such reverence and there are certain aspects of feminism which seem unrecouperable’what is that resistance’‘.
The wonderfully trippy narrative of Joanne and Joseph sees the former overcome all obstacles (including calculation monsters in the Technological Jungle) in the pursuit of being taking seriously as a female scientist and as such guides us through the agendas of 1980’s feminism. Toward the end Joanne has a stand off with a male colleague who claims ‘there are no great women scientists, to which she replies, ‘there are but you’ve been ignoring them’.
A Question of Choice takes a more documentary style look at the social situations of women in 1980s Britain and their (lack of) options with regards to work, home life and housing. Work is also addressed in the second documentary style film Running out of Patience, which offers another opportunity to reexamine political actions of the past as we are taken through the journey of striking female nurses in Australia, their feeling of being given no choice but to act, and the unsympathetic attitude of the media. Screened in a country where our own public sector have just staged a huge strike over work and pensions, receiving relatively muted support and being victimised by government and right wing smear campaigns, this seems the perfect time to see that striking has a history. As Huw discusses, ‘this historical contextualization is a good way of reminding [ourselves] that [we] don’t have to reinvent the wheel’to see that conscious political action can really grab into a social body and change things’.
In a week where HMRC boss Dave Hartnett has stepped down partly as a direct result of campaigning groups like UK Uncut who have drawn attention to role he played in Goldman Sachs controversy, the opportunity to examine the language and forms of resistance that have gone before is pertinent. As Nina points out it has taken over a year for the struggles at Greenham to resurface as a reference point for the current protest movements and only now is Keane’s work being screened at Occupy and other organisations. Auto Italia’s collaboration with Cinenova is a welcome moment of critical reflection on past struggles and the rare opportunity to frame these documents of artistic production across a self-authored platform that does not ask the media to filter and represent it for us.