Tagged under "art" (5)
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
The Erotic Object at MOMA
Visitors to MOMA, wandering aimlessly throughout the galleries, might be surprised when they arrive at a corner room with the walls painted a faint shade of pink. The occasion? A small exhibit comprised of Surrealist sculptures from the permanent collection. Its title? The Erotic Object. Think Duchamp, Dalí, Giacometti. Pleased as I was to see these classic avant-garde works on display, I found myself thinking about the possible boundaries and definitions of the “erotic” throughout my time in the gallery and wishing MOMA would have put a bit more pressure on the term as well. For their part, MOMA seemed to be defining the erotic based on two criteria: the sculptures either implicitly or explicitly referenced fragments of genitalia and traditionally eroticized body parts, or the works themselves had a tactile quality and beckoned the viewer’s touch. Both criteria, however, seemed to be limiting. For example, Hans Bellmer’s The Machine-Gunneress in a State of Grace is work of nothing but fragmented, piecemeal body parts: breasts on wooden rods, a protruding brain with an exaggerated clitoral cleft, a pair of pink perky lips. These are body parts without a body, attached to rods, clamped to a desk: they are isolated, mechanical, cold. The sculpture’s tactile qualities are not those of a gentle caress, or even a sadomasochistic slap; rather it seems to summon the laborious push and pulls of a mechanic. Certainly not within my erotic imaginary, but who I am to say that such works cannot fill the landscape of someone else’s desire. The point is that these Surrealist works offer up a very specific idea of the erotic: dark and violent, they are sections and splinters of a fetishized female body. It would have been nice to see MOMA further acknowledge that this was the “erotic” in “The Erotic Object.” And to acknowledge that the tactility of these works, when present, often had very little to do with sensuality or eroticism—save perhaps Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup. My favorite works in the show were two odd sculptures that happened to shed some critique onto the others. The first was Joseph Cornell’s Taglioni’s Jewel Casket, a small jewelry box lined with brown velvet and filled with glass cubes. The work is an homage to the Italian dancer Marie Taglioni and tells in a delicate cursive script the story of how she was stopped during a carriage ride through Russia and was commanded by a highwayman to dance on the side of the road. What makes the work so appealing is just how much is given over to the viewer’s imagination: the delicacy of glass and plush velvet, the story of a snow-covered ballerina, nothing in the work is fully literalized or made explicit. Its very eroticism is based within how each viewer encounters the sculpture, imagines the box’s narrative scene. The other work was Louise Bourgeois’s Sleeping Figure from 1950—technically not even a Surrealist artist or artwork. A dark, phallic wood carving, in the slightest suggestion of the human form, Sleeping Figure is a figure that is uncomfortable: awkwardly pinned between two planks, the phallic form seems not so much asleep as propped up for display. The work served as a counter to the latent misogyny of the Surrealist circle. Once asked about the erotic undertones of her work, Bourgeois, who has made a career of sculpted phallic protrusions and shapely bulbous breasts said, “I wouldn’t say my work is erotic, even though this side of it seems obvious to many people.” Perhaps that very same obviousness is at play in the MOMA show, but it seems to me that an assumed erotic has all the more need for examination. The Erotic Object: Surrealist Sculpture from the Collection will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art until January 4, 2010.
Tagged on August 31, 2009
Get Your Feminist On
Ever wish you had a rad group of women to help you with all those projects you dream up? This weekend, feminist creative collective For The Birds is offering up a festival of ideas and discussions on just that. The 4th annual The Big She Bang will be happening all day this Saturday, August 15th in the West Village. Their theme, A How To Guide for DIY (that's Do It Yourself, for anyone who needs translation) Feminism, promises a full day of workshops, panels, discussions, visual art and performances by local ladies here to empower others who want to create, share, join forces, and make change. "The theme came out of our own identification as a DIY feminist collective and recognizing that there are other groups in the area that have formed with similar inspirations and goals," says Lauren, speaking on behalf of the recently formed collective.  "We wanted the opportunity to share the resources and tools that we found helpful and give an opportunity for other groups to do the same.  Our collective members all have different backgrounds within organizing and feminism, so creating a space to share our experiences and learn from other people is really important." The festival will include a wealth of information on different feminist initiatives and projects. The panel Feminist Urban Mobility features discussion between three incredible organizations: Right Rides, a Brooklyn based non-profit that gives women and transfolk free rides home on Saturday nights; Safe Walk, which offers free walking accompaniment to anyone on Friday nights in certain Brooklyn hoods; and Holla Back NYC, a site that encourages people to snap and send in photos of street harassers. For The Birds hopes that conversations about these great causes will inspire others to start their own. "We're really hoping that the event will give women and women-identified community members access to new resources, and will create a safe space to network and feel empowered about what they'd like to see happen in their communities," says Lauren. The festival will be happening all day, but if discussions and panels aren't your cup of tea, you should swing by The Big She Bang Saturday night for an awesome line up of several female bands and musicians, including Little Lungs, Inertia, and Zombie Dogs. The Big She Bang will be happening this Saturday, August 15th from 10AM to Midnight at Judson Memorial Church at 55 Washington Square South. Admission is sliding scale $6-$10, but no one will be turned away. For a schedule of the festival and more information see http://www.myspace.com/thebig_shebang. You can learn more about For the Birds at their website http://www.forthebirdscollective.org.
Tagged on August 14, 2009
Change & rEvolution for 2009: The Riot Grrrl Ink Show @ Sugarland
If only every company could be like Riot Grrrl Ink...queer-centered, grassroots, and totally dedicated to producing/supporting art that is radical, political, marginalized, and non-conventional. RGI –the largest LGBTQ label in the world- is a true supporter of the artists/organizations they work with for the evolution of wo/mankind through (an artistic) revolution. So who better to celebrate the inauguration of our new President Barack Obama than with folks who themselves work for change in all mediums and spectrums of our lives?! Obama promised us change and RGI is helping to deliver it- Wednesday, January 21- at Sugarland in Brooklyn, NY. Riot Grrrl Ink is hosting a show sure to beat all the inauguration balls going on this week. The show at Sugarland will be femmeceed by Bevin Branlandingham and will feature videos by Ali Cotterill and U People. Three of the awesome artists RGI produces/supports will be playing: Athens Boys Choir, Hanifah Walidah, and Inner Princess. Athens Boys Choir, a transgender spoken word artist from Georgia spits about everything from dildos to dreidels. Hanifah Walidah is a triple threat- hip hop artist, poet, and actress- who speak out on culture, politics, and minority issues.  Inner Princess hails from Brooklyn with their gender/genre bending brand of punk rawk. All three are super radical, très genius, and uber-queer; they will no doubt rap, rhyme, and rock their politics into the ears and hearts of the audience Wednesday night.     The RGI Show is definitely a kick-ass way to kick-off 2009, a landmark time in our nation’s history. Everyone is welcome to attend, and donations are highly encouraged and appreciated! Give your dollar a voice-join Riot Grrrl Ink in celebrating Obama, rEvolution, art, and the change we need and is sure to come!   Riot Grrrl Ink Show January 21, 2009 8-11 pm @ Sugarland 221 N 9th St Brooklyn, NY 11211
Tagged on January 19, 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