SHE DEVIL in BELFAST, Golden Thread Gallery, 17/12/2015 – 6/2/2016
I have not heard of the Italian architect who created the SHE DEVIL project. On her website (www.studiostefaniamiscetti.com) she offers impressive list of artists who responded to her invitation. It reads:
Studio Stefania Miscetti has been engaged for several years in revitalizing the contemporary national scene by inviting artists to exhibit and realize site specific works in public and private spaces, not only in Rome. Thanks to these projects, many international artists linked to the experiences of the ’60s and ’70s avant-garde movements have exhibited their works in Rome.
Artists such as Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, Alfredo Jaar, Ben Vautier, ORLAN, Wolf Vostell, Maria Lai, Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, Hermann Nitsch, Bizhan Bassiri, Valie EXPORT, Michal Rovner, Michele Oka Doner, Gianni Piacentino, Doris Bloom, William Kentridge, Victoria Vesna, Spencer Tunick and others have been involved in several initiatives by creating original projects of intervention.
The above is separate from SHE DEVIL conceived in Rome in 2006 and now having its reprise in Belfast’s Golden Thread Gallery (17th December 2015 – 6th February 2016)
GTG director, Peter Richards, wrote the following:
It is basically a programme of video screenings of women’s work that each year involves a number of curatorial voices. Each curator selects a video and then, together with the others, builds a unique filmic discourse on gender identity for each edition.
SHE DEVIL in Belfast will contribute to the wider international discourse with a special edition curated by a group of Irish and Northern Irish curators, selected by Peter Richards.
It is comprised of two distinct programmes: the first featuring invited curators’ selections; and the second featuring works selected from the previous seven instalments.
The first programme originates from a dialogue exploring female representations in Ireland. The programme includes selections by invited curators: Jackie Barker; Sara Greavu; Angela Halliday; Sarah McAvera; Marguerite O’Molloy and Susan Jane Picken with works by artists: Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz; Vivienne Dick; Frances Hegarty; Isabel Nolan; Sinéad O’Donnell and Daphne Wright.
Click here to read the invited curators introductions to the works SHE_DEVIL_in_Belfast_Curators_Introduction
The second programme, selected by Peter Richards from the previous seven instalments of SHE DEVIL, presents a range of international voices from which to further explore a discourse concerning gender identity. The programme features selections by previous curators: Antonia Alampi; Orsola Mileti; Manuela Pacella; Cristiana Perrella; Lydia Pribisova and Elena Giulia Rossi with works by artists: Kelly Dobson; Kate Gilmore; Malak Helmy; Klara Lidén; Jumana Manna and Sille Storihle; Tamara Moyzes; Luana Perilli; Ma Qiusha; Larissa Sansour; Jeanne Susplugas; Rona Yefman and Tanja Schlander.
The accompanying programme notes include the information about the projects previous editions in Bucharest, Rome, and Terni, and a mission statement, I quote:
The presentation of this programme of works offers multiple entry points into a far reaching critical discourse, concerned with the representations of women’s worlds as depicted by women.
The above differs from the formulation offered by Miscetti in 2006 in two significant salient point:
She Devil is a confrontation field on feminine or better around the female side of perceiving and reacting to facts, to event, to feelings, to history
(accessed on issuu.com/manuellapacella/doc/brochure_editions_1-2-3)
In rehearsing early 1960s feminism, Miscetti assumes “female perception and response” to be gender specific. This is not supported by the current neurology – e.g. amygdala works in all brains with not gender based, but individual determined differences. The Belfast edition avoids that feminist cognitive bias by discriminating against male artists: it aims at representation of women worlds by women artists thus narrowing its scope.
2.Miscetti perceives She Devil project as a “confrontation field”. Belfast edition aims to offer multiple entry points into a far reaching critical discourse. That offers an escape from responsibility to define reasons for “woman’s world” by absence of commitment to define “entry points” and the expected horizon of the discourse. An oceanic aim like this is not easily grasped, even if it echoes the openness of a work of art.
The programme is shown in two one hour projections, installed in two dark rooms. Some permanent light would have been helpful to find the bench to sit on, and read or take notes.
One programme is made up of videos from previous editions of She Devil, showing work made between 2003 -2012, selection by Peter Richards:
Kelly Dobson’s Blendie plays with the woman twinning with a blender – both by controlling it and being controlled by it, both on the kitchen worktop. Tiny laughter freezes at the banal artificiality of it.
Rona Yefman and Tanja Schlander fell under the belief that a political motive will save the comical hubris.
Yefman’s video shows her collaborator, the artist Tanja Schlander, dressed up as a contemporary version of the character invented in the 1940s by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. With her bare hands, Schlander repeatedly attempts to dislodge the concrete wall that separates the West Bank from Israel. In doing so, she conjures the “power of life” by mining the traits of the fictional Pippi, that is, her non conventional femininity, physical strength, and indignation at injustice. (quoted from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/wallach/exhibitions/Common-Love/images-Yefman.html ) The video is on Pippi Longstocking – The Strongest Girl in the World at Abu Dis,2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vuyw73lu_uQ
Tamara Moyzes approaches racism – Miss Roma (2007) banned from various events and premises presumable obtains access by becoming a successful blond. The video presents funny pseudo- solution and not-so-funny and unacceptable exclusion of men.
Higher Horse (2008) is accessible on https://vimeo.com/99040803 . Kate Gilmore harvests an incessant physical energy and the growing terror of guessed- at end. Its “resolution” is suggested and removed. I like the rhythm of this work – not a false note in it. Or perhaps, one or two: polystyrene instead of a stone, and the hammer so near her toes yet does not harm her. This video indeed offers multiple entries and rich connectivity by visual means in service of a want to describe men as agents of destruction. That cognitive bias is subverted by the men being careful not to harm the woman on a pedestal. In that – it became a critique of biased feminism, of that confrontational field….
“Records from the Excited State” (2010-present), a chaptered work, is an ongoing study of “the rhythms of the site of leisure” along Egypt’s coastline, by Malak Helmy – occupying not so much the She Devil ideology as her own intoxication with the story of the world as she founds it. Her perceptions are not specifically gender rooted – the four men in chairs appear mindless not because a woman holds the lens…
For Your Eyes (https://vimeo.com/36025514) by Jeanne Susplugas is a hermetically wedded to the song sang by Ramuntscho Matta It refrain Nobody cares, nobody cares appears flexibly in relation to food, homelessness, to existence really: it finishes with: whatever I see, whatever I feel, nobody cares, nobody cares – and that includes the art.
Susplugas has a power to mimic manga without losing the link to us in the western Europe. The smooth cuts between artificial sweetness and satire of gruesome acts celebrate her virtuoso flow of the story while disconnecting each from the next. That brings in mystery, which I leave hidden.
Video is particularly willing to take on story telling – however, it is refreshing when artists abandon the easy path and explore a power of visual fragment.
The longest story in this selection of videos is The Goodness Regime (2013) by Jumana Manna and Sille Storihle, 21 minutes. It is a well done “panorama” of Norway’s attitude to intifada and the conflict between Palestine and Israel – or at least some parts of both. It feels “documentary” with intrusive but welcome lightness of jokes breaking up the flow. As art – it is not exceptionally good in opening connectivity over and above the received simplifications.
Where Nation Estate (2012) resonates with the cinema verite, there it aims at some dignity , unluckily, Larissa Sansour drowns it too often in sudden switches of a place or a person. Enjoyable severity of tone adds both authenticity and poetics – but cannot relieve the tedium of slowness(9 minutes)
The second room presents six videos made between 1994 and 2014, each selected by a different curator working either in Northern Ireland or Dublin.
Vivienne Dick employed numerous persons bearing her surname to produce 28 minutes of A Skinny Little Man Attacked Daddy (1994)
“A look at my family and the place where I grew up. So much of what is ‘me’ comes from attitudes, expectations, fears, habits and beliefs that I inherited from my parents (and they in turn from theirs). This video is about separation from the family. My work is to try to know myself – the only way to change inherited patterns.” Vivienne Dick, 1994
Susan Picken who selected this work wrote:
It is a film of contrasts: between the gentle Donegal countryside and the rough textures of the city; between the nostalgia of the past and the reality of the present; between the joy of being with one’s own flesh and blood and the sadness of inevitable mortality; between individual and family.
Indeed it is not just about women, or a woman’s gender identity. It is made by a female artist without servitude to feminist ideology.
This observation may sometimes clash with the artist’s view of herself or her stated intention. Nevertheless, it is the art that prevails, not the subjective will to power. Nakedly it challenges the performers in Scream of the Sea (2011, 3 mins 9 secs)) even when a powerful voice of the singer Darya Kader overwhelms one’s perception by the magic of the other culture with deep roots in the past time. The two performing women, Sinead O’Donnell and Poshya Kakil, introduce the fragility in a shape of a pane of glass carried between the two of them. “We requested a stop to violence against women in Iraq in red lipstick on glass in Arabic, English and Kurdish language” explains O’Donnell afterwards. The group of soldiers watching on the side works both like a threat and a stunned audience. It stays open-ended.
That openendedness is shared, no, celebrated, by another video: Daphne Wright’s I know what it is like (2012) in which believable changes places with autistic. The curator Marguerite O’Molloy reminisces: The artist says that her works often combine “a cool standoff and very intimate address”, which is the case in this work I know what it’s like. An elderly woman adopts a near motionless pose and, unblinking, delivers a series of intimate statements directly to camera. Daphne Wright has an ongoing interest in Phonics, and what the voice can carry by only guttural sounds, and describes the movement of the mouth as a very sculptural act where sounds are shaped. Speaking about the tongue, the artist Carol Rama says “it’s always the same, it never ages”. In this film, the sounds that usher forth from an ageing body evoke a strange hinterland between past and present, forgetting and remembering.
Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz produce a 10 minutes long film Opaque in 2014. Selected by Sara Greavu for stated reason:
Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz have worked together since 2007, engaging in what they call ‘queer archaeology’: they seek to recode, reclaim and reanimate documents of the past – excavating them, overlaying and embodying them…queering them. They return to the same collaborators again and again – often writers, choreographers, artists, and musicians in their own right – creating the sense of an ongoing conversation through their body of work. The radical potential of queer goes beyond the critique of normative, binary constructions of gender and sexual identity. It provides a dynamic response to complex, shifting and interlocking processes and systems of categorization and hierarchy, offering the possibility of a transgressive, revolutionary, anti-assimilationist politics of desire
It is a relief to know that they may re-visit this material if they indeed continue that ongoing conversation, questioning, perhaps, the role of multitude in a predictable narrative.
“The artists quote Antke Engel: There is not simply “the enemy”, and it is not always “over there.” Rather, the enemy might be a lover, a friend; it might dwell in the heart, and resist being pinned down to the position of perpetrator – or victim; and named war, or capitalism, or patriarchy. One might like to fight it over there, while enjoying its profits right here.” ( Sara Greavu on ww.goldenthreadgallery.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/SHE_DEVIL_in_Belfast_Curators_Introduction.pdf)
Frances Hegarty favours reducing the quantity by some simply devised rule and obtains a rock solid base line from which to attack the ubiquitous demand for life stories, CVs, documents of identity. Her Auto Portrait #2 (1999, 4 mins) has been selected by a curator supreme from DAS, Angela Halliday. I share Halliday’s delight at Hegarty’s sheer technical mastery. I quote:
Hegarty’s use of the strobe lighting within the video renders the video image somewhat indistinct in that we are prevented from fully reading the visual image, from perceiving the object; the female figure. Hence, we cannot master the image and objectify the female body. From a feminist point-of-view, a haptic image calls for mutuality between image and viewer and certainly appeals to any attempt to avoid objectification of the female body. The work’s cyclic nature contravenes the conventional linear narrative structure of mainstream cinema, whilst the artist’s position as protagonist, subject and creator revises the position of woman as object of, but not subject of many cinematic narratives. The cyclic narrative structure and the female subjectivity imperative in this work are both reasons for my selecting it, as I am interested in the use of a cyclic structure being a potential strategy for producing alternative video narratives in which the female subject can be constructed.
(accessed on http://www.goldenthreadgallery.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/SHE_DEVIL_in_Belfast_Curators_Introduction.pdf)
Hegarty succeeds in sending the pretence of biography into the universe of fragments and throws away the key. Her life story is not accessible. Only its limping derivatives, even if they successfully work as visual compositions with sound.
Isobel Nolan is my star of this selection – it is her early work – Slogoneering 1-4, (2001, 4 minutes)
Sarah McAvera selected and described it thus:
The video shows a young woman writing statements about herself onto her t-shirt, before removing the outer one to start again on the tshirt underneath. “I wish I had one great passion” she proclaims in a line that, like the work as a whole, could be taken as a heart-felt search for self or a tongue-in-cheek parody of the slogan t-shirt wearing. “When I think of the future I feel sick” speaks too closely to the general human malaise of fear to feel like humour, while “Fuck rich Capitalists” is either some sound advice to choose one’s Capitalist wisely (only the rich ones) or a term of abuse. As the work moves on, T-shirts are not just removed, but the “slogans” are scribbled out and new ones written, filling t-shirts with one attempt after another at self-proclamation until we get to “It’s trivial”, and finally “I’m sick of perky slogans”.
There is not one element redundant or crying to be replaced. Nolan’s sincerity is still refreshing as is her courage to do just what is necessary and do it with the energy of youth. The freshness of the work survived several viewings, over the years, intact. That does not happen too often with contemporary art either.
The clarity present throughout Nolan’s performance startles me in the context of Hanif Kureishi hero in The Last Word stating: …”nothing confuses like clarity…the best stories are open ones, those you don’t quite understand.”
To sum up:
The female artists have not limited themselves to the stated aims of both the She Devil and its Belfast edition. I applaud them for the virtuosity with which they preferred to be true to some inner need. And they did not rival any God of the universe in his wish to make worlds. Rather – they preferred to be bringers-in of reality, from their own experience in being artists mastering the lens based media. I cherish all the successful instances where the artists champion free thought and its power to wreck fatuous utopias. Excluding male artists view of the subject is a loss.