by: Sophia Kier-Byfield , April 24, 2018
by: Sophia Kier-Byfield , April 24, 2018
…but one has gained – at last! – the power which adds supreme flavor to existence – the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light. – Virginia Woolf
Throughout the month of August 2017 in the Danish city of Aarhus, a series of debates, presentations, performances and workshops activated the “Thirteen Tenets of Future Feminism” by the artists Anohni, Kembra Pfahler and Johanna Constantine. The exhibition, held at the O Space gallery, was originally shown at The Hole in New York in 2014, and the origin of the now highly popular and purchasable slogan “The Future is Female” can, some suggest, be traced back to the final tenet in the series.
The static tenets were situated as invitations to discussion rather than instructions to strictly follow. One of the foci of the program was Kembra Pfahler’s “Performance Art 101” classes. In these sessions I expected to be challenged physically and creatively, but the experience was rather an emotional opening up with strangers and the artists, illuminating that in order to truly live and act inclusively, our notions of self constantly need to be made vulnerable. These weeks of conversations and ideas awoke feelings of invigoration and reflection, as well as some of frustration and limitation. The following is a subjective reliving, inhabiting and navigating of the affects provoked by the experiences in an attempt to locate lessons productive for feminist living.
I prepare, try on versions of myself that I might like to wear. What type of people will be there? I fashion an appropriate self out of loose shapes in soft black cotton and thoughts of important performing women
And I type her name into the search bar K e m b r a P f a h l e r and press enter and there her body multiplies dramatically made-up often naked painted blue or pink and in one picture she’s sitting majestically elegantly at the base of a giant red dick, or flipped upside down, thighs gripped.
But when we meet I am struck by softness, shyness, a hesitancy that melts pre- conceptions. Her voice is gentle, slow, walking in little black brogues with a slick patent toe, a black cloak we all dutifully follow.
Space is never silent, never still. It whispers, murmurs; feels, caresses. Space creates meanings with the objects it holds, in the bodies that pass through it. Concrete space can be chill, leaden. But here the walls are marked with sprayed lines, tactile traces of human hands that spiral, bulge and diverge. The summer seeps inside; arms and torsos contort as sweaters are pulled off, letting the coolness that lingers lightly rest on bare skin. Other parts of the building are open; light shines on surfaces. Further in are thirteen pearly pieces of marble, Stoic circular stones thought over, worked into, smoothed and shaped and grooved. We sit amongst them on the floor, our voices moving in open, elliptical shapes, making more and more space for each other.
We trace the circle’s circumference in an attempt to know one another as other than unfamiliar. “Everyday is performance,” I say, trying to engage every eye, to prove with my presence. Performance art is interesting because…I am here because…There are nods of agreement as we explain ourselves, but then one of these new voices across the diameter is bolder
“I’ve never really been good at these self-declarations. I don’t really see the point pitching myself. I’m just here because I saw the event on Facebook and it looked interesting and anyway, who am I to say who I am, as if it’s something fixed?”
In the aftershock of the punctum spoken ruptures settle. Pretense is grasped like a solid object, a mask I gradually work to remove. There is the shock and thrill of seeing fame in the flesh but also in witnessing my own posturing, my own daily performance.
Kembra tells us that when she was at art school in New York Joseph Kosuth [this gets a few gasps] asked her what she was and she said available. Availabism is doing things with what you have, not letting yourself be defeated by not having. You don’t need funds to make good work; to do good work you first need to be available.
She had her voice, her body. So do I, my body, which can be put in strategic places, do meaningful things, register sensations; my voice, which can speak up and out and loud; my ears, for deep listening; my hands to write. We also have each other available for generous, imperfect exchanges.
“Can you make your own –ism, a method to live and create by?”
(dissolving life’s pedants)
Unknowism (embracing a rich emptiness, releasing from logic, goals and resolutions; becoming wiser by accepting you know nothing)
“What books do you carry around with you? What have you been reading lately?”
Eileen Myles (her poem “Peanut Butter” is pinned to my wardrobe door)
F. Scott Fitzgerald
When it’s the boy in the blue bomber jacket’s turn he stops, is silent, realizes all of his special authors are men. He is too ashamed to share.
The Seven Valleys
The Catcher in the Rye
We’re talking about Japanese wabi sabi, appreciating mistakes and imperfections as potential strengths. Irregularity, intimacy, modesty, imperfection. Flaws and mistakes, part of a process, of becoming. A process possessed and defended, experienced and explored. It is brave to simply admit not knowing, or perhaps occupying an in between, acknowledging ambiguity and embracing complexities.
Vaginal Crème Davis
“Does anyone have anything else to add?”
A prickly heat, a rising heartbeat, a surge of blood warm on my brain –
Recently Siri Hustvedt taught me about Husserl’s leib, the ‘lived body, the animated first-person psychobiological experiencing being’
– on reflection it seems my leib still felt in that moment an intensity inescapable, a need to be and say something worthy, to be the person that knows things and is congratulated for them
and whilst Kandinsky and Malevich were purposefully making abstract art work for a new world Hilma af Klint was not interested in comparing her work to that of others in the scene but was busy with the universe’s cycles, exposing its technicolour secrets
she knew that human consciousness was not ready for her work
hid it away
so it would remain unfound for decades after her death
“What would have happened if her work had garnered attention
in her lifetime? How would it have been received?”
spirals, rings, non-linear paths,
cursive letters let us see sound, an echoing reverberating
voice from another place.
A few years ago her paintings were at Louisiana in Copenhagen.
Some say they made the journey to behold their enormity.
And as we talk of taking a trip to the literary festival there, a thorny anecdote stings; a security guard intrusively questioned the origins of a membership card; he didn’t think this strong young woman sitting across from me looked like someone who either could want it or afford it
“What artists are inspiring you at the moment?”
Next to me in bleached denim and a red hairnet Kembra sings her gratefulness, a timid tune spilling into the circle’s basin, washing over us gently, resting in the dips of elbows between fingers in the shallows formed by collarbones, on the points of my lip. Some sing confidently, others admit embarrassment; a deeper self emerges in sung notes’ tenderness. I watch in awe a woman softly erupting, a spilling over in full perfection, dedicating her gratefulness, telling of being in love; and we travel from voice to voice and I fear I don’t have spontaneous ability and desire and fear tangle together pulling back into comfortable sentences; but rising inside is the crest of a wave, water rising from my gut and spilling onto my cheeks. We are facing each other as we are, uncertain, playful, willing.
Is this art, this honesty, this live living which is moving towards openness? Standing up again we make shapes in front of the screen, a dozen or so drifters are now a team.
Everyday Sexism Project Denmark
18th October 2017
Hej Skatter! Skal vi ses senere, så jeg kan få hånden op mellem dine bløde lår? Råbt til mig igår, da jeg kom cyklende på vej, efter at have købt bleer til mit barn.
(Hey sweetie! Shall we meet up later so I can get my hand up between your soft thighs? Shouted at me yesterday, as I cycled home having just bought diapers for my child.)
An art world bubble hovers above the ground, on the edge of the city.
The gallery protects us, offers us carpeted floors and uniform folding chairs. We are at ease around those we know to be like-minded. Here we are neither made uncomfortable nor making uncomfortable among different bodies and ideas.
Lights switch on, doors open, energy dissipates. People exchange thoughts, slip down the stairs, disperse. I long to make steps into elsewhere, to circulate, precarious and unstable, to create a normality of radically mundane disruptions.
In those circles I see the potential for entanglement, an emerging out from within each other. Now those faces dissolve.
We return to rooms of rows and raised hands. The stones are removed. The space regenerates to tell other stories.
We need events for feminism; but feminism is not an event.
Future Feminism. Photos by Ivan Pral. Exhibition and events in O space Aarhus, presented as a part of the European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017 programme.
Everyday Sexism Project Denmark, https://everydaysexism.com/country/dk (last accessed 10 April 2018).
Hustvedt, Siri (2009), The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves, New York: Henry Holt.
Woolf, Virginia (2004), Mrs Dalloway, London: Vintage.
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