Tagged under "eileen myles" (2)
Sadie Benning: Play Pause at The Whitney
Some readers may remember Sadie Benning as a former member of Le Tigre—she was one of the band’s original co-founders—but I know her as a video artist first and foremost. At the age of fifteen, Benning began making videos with a toy Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera. The short films take place inside the artist’s bedroom and feature a collage of texts and images, shots of Benning and her rambling, musing voice giving shape to the longings, aspirations, and confusions experienced during adolescence. Films like Jollies (1990), If Every Girl Had a Diary (1990), and Girl Power (1992) speak of early desires and feelings of loneliness, their narrator’s nascent lesbian identity and her experience of growing up in society filled with gendered stereotypes. The works have a diaristic tone; audiences feel privy to the interior life of a teenage girl, which is both child-like and wildly imaginative and yet so utterly intense, angry, and sincere as to outmatch the routine cynicism of adult life. These early videos by Benning are quite stunning and so it was with great anticipation that I approached one of her latest endeavors, Play Pause, a video installation that just ended at the Whitney. The new work does not disappoint. Play Pause is compromised of hundreds of Benning’s drawings—gouache on paper, sometimes colored—projected onto two adjoining screens. The “narrative” is loose and open-ended: presenting a day in city life, the video tracks a multitude of characters as they travel urban streets and captures some of the storefronts, advertisements, and displays that are part of the landscape. The drawings are matched with a superb soundtrack by Benning—not simply ambient city noise but music that rises, swells, pushes the street scene along. It eventually becomes clear that the film takes place in a post-9/11 setting. One drawing illustrates a screen announcing the day’s color-level terror warning, orange plus yellow. City dwellers at times seem lost, detached. And the work ends with a scene inside an airport: the heavy surveillance of security, the endless scrutiny given to travelers and their luggage. Yet still within such a climate people go on with their day. They go to work; shop; they ride the subway, walk the streets, wait for the bus. They head to the local diner and they go to the bar at night; they go to the club. They dance, eye each other across the room, flirt and kiss. Benning’s film implicitly suggests that somehow within the everyday, within both pleasure and play, there can be found a nascent resistance to fear. If Benning’s early works were characterized by the interiority of the bedroom and the confessions of its teenage resident, Play Pause opens out onto an entire world. It traverses a map of urban loneliness in search of those remaining forms of public intimacy. And nods to queer culture are still resolutely made: many of the city’s inhabitants are androgynous; a woman watches talk show lesbian makeovers on TV; those shots of city bars are gay bars; and viewers see many characters having or about to be having sex. “There’s a lot of sex—gay sex—in Play Pause,” the poet Eileen Myles writes about the film, “I keep wanting to call it Play Paws. Because it’s fun.” And, yes, it is fun. Play Pause was on display at the Whitney from April 22 to September 20, 2009—a long run, to be sure, but I still wish to see it playing.
Tagged on September 22, 2009
Sister Spit Schoolz LA in Gay
As a self identified queer girl with my privileged women's studies education behind me, I am constantly surprised by the efforts of gay Angelino's to mimic straight culture. Gay geography is LA is somewhat limited to West Hollywood, land of lesbians who look like straight celebrities, who aren't expressing their sexuality anywhere else but at the bar.  Queer ideas of gender identity, sexual expression and social interactions expressed through aesthetics, personal intention and values have become harder to find here. Which is why I was beside myself to spend an evening in June listening to the writers of Sister Spit read their work at the Hammer Museum in West LA. The legendary touring company Sister Spit is a rotating crew of female novelists, performance artists, poets and the like who have been bringing queer art and lit to the stage since the 90's. To quote member Eileen Myles, "Sister Spit is a movement of brilliant losers." Queer culture in la la Los Angeles consists of...um, well nothing... In La La, you're more likely to see Tila dancing on the bar on Friday in West Hollywood than you are to find any diverse representations of gender and sex in lgbt spaces. But Tila Tequila is straight you say? Exactly. We only do things in La La that can be packaged for cable. We have 'fierce' gay boys that make excellent stylists and lesbians that look like competitors on the latest season of the bachelor. Here, we are giant stereotypes of ourselves. Boys are still the effeminate comic relief they've been playing on screen for a century. Women are just now relaxing into our own palatable and empowered (?) on screen role as the lipstick lesbian. We look and act just as hetero-dominant culture asks us to. That's what we do in LA, we export culture. We tell the world, through film and television, through media, how to dress, act, think, and be consumers of the dominant culture. Living here is like being in a constant reality show. We are always competing to be as beautiful, as thin, as tanned, as rich, as straight as the images we sell through movies and television. Here, the only way you can identify a lesbian is by who she sleeps with.  The other signifiers of queerness that arise when rules of sex and gender are tested are barely visible. Listening to the members of Sister Spit read, I thought about the discursive evolution of the term 'queer'. I thought about Michelle Tea's mesmerizing description of the relationship between her hap hazard femme narrator and her FTM boyfriend with strong but delicate hands. I don't see these relationships here in LA. There is no room for play with gender here. Once upon a time we tried. But when The L Word solidified lesbianism as a marketing demographic, dykes got tired and moved to Brooklyn and I had to grow my shaved head out to find a job. What I miss specifically about queer culture is the act of appropriating gender binaries for the sake of their blurring. I miss the fact that maleness can be, and is, known within femaleness. Sister Spit reminded me that in some spaces, queer women are seeking the empowerment that we all seek as a society, that which occurs only when we reach past systems of duality, male-female, hetero-homo, white-of color, wealthy-poor.
Tagged on July 9, 2008
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