A Rebirth of Femininity

Posted on Fri 11 Nov by AlexK / Lesbian, gender, Family, Artists Moving Image


by Serden Salih

This years Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest brings you a programme of experimental shorts discussing gender, sexuality and familial anxiety. The first part of the programme goes on a harrowing and revelatory trip around femininity and family politics.  

In Deborah Kelly’s Lying Women (2016), a montage of reclining nude females cut out of magazines are brought together into a collective mass. The 15th century Renaissance saw an artistic innovation in the way the female was presented in Western European art. The Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) by Giorgione is believed to be the first painting to depict the female as the principal figure and only subject of the painting. Often facing the viewer, the nude female is poised in an elegant position across a couch and the body is brought to the forefront of the viewer’s gaze. Lying Women presents an escape from heteropatriarchy and the confines of the medium itself. Cut-outs swarm in waves and join in a celebratory orgy of their newly found freedom.  

The remediation of the female body has shifted over time; it can be said that femininity has largely been, a male construct. The female continues to be constructed and deconstructed within a particular cultural framework. Social theorist, Simone de Beauvoir described this construct as “eternal feminine”, a psychological archetype that idealizes an immutable concept of “woman” and is one component of gender essentialism. She states that,

“The “feminine world” is sometimes contrasted with the masculine universe, but it must be reiterated that women have never formed an autonomous and closed society; they are integrated into the group governed by males, where they occupy a subordinate position; they are united by a mechanical solidarity” (Beauvoir, pg. 724).  

We see something similar in Stan Vanderbeek’s 1959 short film ‘A La Mode’ (not part of the programme). The film is a satirical montage of collaged women (taken from glamour magazine cut outs) commenting on the ways in which female beauty was idolized in pop culture during this period and a foretelling of contemporary mass media. The female is locked in position as male cut-out figures move across her body in playful action. Penetrated on all fronts, her movements become restricted, the choice of escape is not possible.  

These six experimental shorts question the position of femininity in a sociocultural context; the female directors are re-representing female identity through the use of collage and digital mechanisms in a way that is challenging the notion of fixed femininity. Kelly states that the females in her short are an “escape from centuries of servitude to a worldview in which decorative passivity is their whole purpose”. Each film illustrates a kind of escapist approach from “the other”, displaying a physical rebirthing of femininity.  

In the Iranian film, Painkiller (2016) directed by Mashid Mahboubifar, we see a female paint her face with the blood from a used tampon. She then applies a coat of red varnish onto her nails, pushing away at an angle, the nails remain unstained. In this moment, “the feminine” collapses and we are faced with a manifestation of female angst. During this process, the poem Reborn by Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad is being recited, 

“There is an alleyway where the boys that adored me with their tousled hair and slender necks, and skinny legs, still think of a young girl’s innocent smile. That smile which the wind one night, bore away.”  

This verse speaks of a moment in which the female is made equal to her counterpart through the admiration of her innocence and the transgressive shift away from woman as the “object of desire”. However, reality sinks in and her smile, the last ounce of feminine is taken away one night. Farrokhzad also writes, “Life is perhaps that enclosed moment when my gaze destroys itself in the pupil of your eyes”. She describes the female gaze here as merely a reversal of what the male gaze is seeing and as a result, her gaze is subject to being destroyed in comparison. John Berger describes this as,  

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object -- and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (Berger, pg.47).   

Farrokhzad’s Another Birth series of poems speaks of a rebirth of the Iranian woman, herself being reborn as a new poet and female voice against the harsh criticisms of the position of women in Iranian society. In Painkiller we get a social commentary on the shame and pain put on women living in Iran. The rawness of the performance and application of the colour red is exhibited in full assertion of her own selfhood.  

When I’m a Woman (2016) directed by Andreea Sticlea, uses archival footage (early cinema) and animation to explore the psychological and social aspects of being transgender in today’s society. The first shot opens with a black and white clip of a female applying makeup in a mirror. There is a quick cut to a shot of glamour magazines on how to apply makeup and we then switch back to the female. In the next shot, an animated mask of a clown is layered over the female’s face, obscuring her “femininity” through a masquerade. The voice of a transgender individual speaks during this process: “When I’m a woman, I get changed and I get ready, and I make myself look like a woman, and then I look in the mirror and I see now what I want…there is a sense of dysphoria”. The voiceover in conjunction with the image illustrates a visual representation of how a transgendered person is positioned against societal expectations. The individual looks in the mirror for affirmation of “the other” yet is being questioned through the transgender gaze, the cisgender gaze and the male gaze, all permitting fixed codes of what it means to be “female”. Mary Ann Doane explains that,  

“With the specifically feminine masquerade, the “victim” takes on with a vengeance all of the myriad surfaces of femininity, which the gaze wants to corral into “woman.” She reiterates femininity with a twist, opening the formerly sutured gap between its conventional codes and the bodies those codes are designed to fix as “female” (Doane, pg.38).  

Women can wear superficial attributes of femininity as a mask, as a disguise to be taken-on or rejected. The feminine masquerade can also be seen in Petra Brnardic’s Fever (2015), a digital collage of psychedelic images of nude females and glamour stars transforming in a symmetrical collision of overtness. The female psyche is put on display as overlays of reds break away from the delicacy of the nude female. Her body is being masked by images of death, as skulls morph their features and serpents protrude from their genitalia. It is “the collision of eros and thanatos” as Brnardic states. Various female archetypes are present throughout, the sex symbol, the glamour star, the performer and so on.  

Past traditions of femininity are being destroyed by that of macabre imagery and the females begin to blur into one, fading in an out as if existing for a moment in time and then vanishing the next. Brnardic states that “It is a visual stream of consciousness which depicts dreams, visions and fantasies of a female person”. Fever is similar to that of Kelly’s work, we get a montage of women joining in a ritualistic mass, breaking away from their former femininity and entering a new world.  

What these shorts display is a brave approach at re-defining contemporary social structures of femininity and dismantling the attributes of gender essentialism. Giving voice to females that have been subjected to the confines of the gaze and trapped in an endless remediation of female angst. We are taken on a historical and digital journey through time to witness a new rebirthing of femininity.  

You can catch the full programme for free, including the shorts Spermwhore by Anna Linder and Technicolour Angst by Ketchup Freeland at Hackney Showroom on November 19th at 3:00pm. 



Beauvoir, de Simone, The Second Sex (Vintage Classics, 1997). 
Berger, John, Ways of Seeing (Penguin Classics, 2008).
Doane, Ann, Mary, Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 1991).
Vanderbeek, Stan, A La Mode, (Video, 6 mins, USA, 1959). 

General Idea's Video Works: The potentiality of life unscribed by heteronormative conventions

Posted on Thu 26 Nov by AlexK / Artists Moving Image, General Idea, AA Bronson, Video art, Documentary

Fringe! guest curator Panos Fourtoulakis writes about General Idea and the collective's impact on his work as a curator.

The work of General Idea has had a profound influence on my understanding and interest on what constitutes queer identity and culture. If we define queer as an opportunity to question structures, then General Idea’s practice defines the term. Both through living and working together as a throuple as well as through their large and complex body of work. The group always aided for and became living examples of the idea of "potentiality of life unscribed by heteronormative conventions".

In a collaboration that spanned 25 years, General Idea created a self contained mythological world that fundamentally challenged power structures and aimed at reconfiguring what art is and how it could be delivered. Creating their own universe where culture became the backdrop through which to explore their artistic concerns. The collective played with the ideas of fame and glamour and employed them in order to examine the relationship between culture and nature. While at the same time questioning set ideas of value and morality in general- using whatever media necessary in order to make their message as visible and accessible as possible. Disillusioned of the idealistic promises of the 60s, General Idea replaced cultural terrorism with viral methods. As AA Bronson recalls 
“Utilizing the distribution and communication forms of mass media and specifically the cultural world, we could infect the mainstream with our mutations, and stretch the social fabric”.

The videos on show- selected by AA Bronson, were modelled on prime-time television shows and documentary formats of the time. While watching them, one gets introduced to the main aspects of their practice which was in many ways unconventional in relation to their contemporaries. From Pilot, produced in 1977, where we get introduced to their conceptual body of work up until that point. Such as the Miss General Idea Pageants, FILE magazine as well as their plans for the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion. To Test Tube (1979) and the development of their mass media and consumerism oriented thematics. Followed by Cornucopia (1982) a pseudo- historical documentary examining the ruins of the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion. And finally to Shut The Fuck Up (1984) in which they intertwine clips from Joker in the Batman series winning a painting contest with Yves Klein’s Anthropometries archival video and their own performances. STFU explores the ambivalent relationship between the artist and the media. All films are defined by a tongue in cheek, ironic camp sensibility.

What I think is very interesting about the works of General Idea and particularly about these four videos is that as time goes by more layers of interpretation are added to them. To be more specific they give us as much information about the time that they were produced as much about the time in which they are being interpreted.  Both thematically as well as in relation to the medium of video, the formats used, and the ways in which these have been developed since then. Furthermore, these archives should not only viewed as sources of information- but also and most importantly sources to theorize about queer experience and possibility.

For all these reasons, I feel very excited that AA Bronson- the last surviving member of the group, will join us for a Q&A after the screening.

General Idea: Video Works, 1977-1984 screens at Barbican Centre on Sunday 29 November at 2pm.

Artists' Moving Image at Fringe!

Posted on Mon 23 Nov by AlexK / Artists Moving Image, Performance, Video art, gender, General Idea, Club des Femmes, AA Bronson, Liz Rosenfeld

This year we bring you a collection of incredible work by artists working with video and film spanning almost four decades. Queer artists who have and still are pushing boundaries, exploring sexuality, gender, queer histories and much more.

A Strangely Glorious Opportunity
Rose Lipman Building, Friday 27 Nov, 8.30pm
A brilliant selection of recent work challenging the idea of gender as fixed by exploring its fluidity. The programme includes work by Ursula Mayer, Wu Tsang, Carlos Motta, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz and Oreet Ashery.

I'm With You presents Liz Rosenfeld: The Surface Tension Trilogy (World Premiere)
Barbican Cinema, Saturday 28 Nov, 3pm (performances), 4pm (screening)
Liz Rosenfeld's trilogy tracks the interwoven stories of famous women and artists in Weimar era Berlin. In conversation with the screening, IWY has curated intimate performance encounters. Followed by a Q&A with Liz Rosenfeld.

Lux & Club des Femmes present This Is Now: Film & Video After Punk - Through a Glass, Darkly
Rio Cinema, Sunday 29 Nov, 1pm
This collection of incredible videos by post-punks most provocative female filmmakers combine the DIY spirit of punk with ideas around female subjectivity and that of the gendered viewer. Followed by a panel with filmmakers Jill Westwood and Cordelia Swann.

General Idea: Video Works, 1977-1984
Barbican Cinema, Sunday 29 Nov, 2pm
 rare archive screening of videos by seminal Canadian artists' collective General Idea. These irreverently playful and provocative works prod sexuality, consumerism and art. Followed by a Q&A with group founder AA Bronson.


A Strangely Glorious Opportunity

Posted on Tue 17 Nov by AlexK / gender, Trans, Video art, Artists Moving Image, transgender

Fringe! guest curator Panos Fourtoulakis writes about the curatorial process of choosing artist's and works for one of his projects this year.

by Panos Fourtoulakis

A Strangely Glorious Opportunity. The title of the project came out of a conversation with AA Bronson on Scruff regarding queer identity and sums up perfectly my thinking towards it. The idea of queer as something that goes beyond sexual politics and enables one to question the system at large and enquire power structures that otherwise probably would have been taken for granted. How one’s gender and sexuality can become an opportunity in order to challenge terms of normativity that are considered neutral within society, but they’re actually not.

What has always drawn me to the idea of transgender, is the sense of becoming. The ascendancy of one’s choosing what they can be instead of being fixed to something they do not identify with. And in doing so, the political aspect of their action as one of subverting neo- liberal heteronormative limitations. Going beyond binary oppositions and willing to defy dominant systems of oppression by living the life they want. 

The aim of this project is to be as multisided as possible, offering an array of different narratives and perspectives- exploring gender as something not fixed and always fluid- while at the same time create a coherent story. A Strangely Glorious Opportunity showcases work by Oreet Ashery, Pauline Boudry/ Renate Lorenz, Ursula Mayer, Carlos Motta and Wu Tsang.

From apocalyptical dreamlike experiences, to real accounts of challenges faced around the world, to transgressive performances and accounts of fictional lives, to exploring notions of mimicy and appropriation. One of the main themes that run through these films is how the boundaries between performance, appropriation and the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ become ever more blurred. Something that makes one question what is considered authentic/real in the first place and how we define such notions. Another theme that runs through some of the videos is how the struggles faced by certain minorities are shared by others and how all these issues are interlinked. How until they are all free none of them will be.

I feel really grateful to showcase work by artists who I genuinely admire and who’s practice has expanded and in some cases formed my understanding towards the aforementioned issues. 

A Strangely Curious Opportunity screens Friday 27 November at Rose Lipman Building
General Idea: Video Works, 1977-1984, also curated by Panos and followed by a Q&A with AA Bronson, screens on Sunday 29 November at Barbican Cinema

Festival Team Top Fives - Round One

Posted on Wed 11 Nov by AlexK / Documentary, Film, Trans, Artists Moving Image, Video art, Performance, JT Leroy, literature, QTIPOC, Brazil, BDSM

As every year we bring you the festival team's personal Top 5 films and events. It's never an easy choice to pick five favourites with so many great films and events in the programme but we Make those very difficult decisions for you. Obvs. We're starting off proceedings with the faves of Festival Director Alex, Programmer Josefeen and Fundraising Manager Martin.

Alex - Festival Director

Alex & Ali
Not chosen because of my namesake in the title but because this is an absolute tearjerker on so many levels

General Idea: Video Works, 1977-1984
I first came across General Idea at an exhibition in Berlin over ten years ago. Very excited to be showing the work by this influential collective at this year's fest.

The Last Night in the Life of Alexander Geist
We like to support home-grown talent and I can't wait to present this new work-in-progress by the brilliant La JohnJoseph.

Shorts: Brazil
One of my standout shorts for this year is part of this programme, the hilarious, over the top Floozy Suzy from returning filmmaker Otavio Chamorro (some may remember his last film at Fringe!, the equally brilliant The Bitchhiker)

Naz & Maalik
This lingering first feature by Jay Dockendorf perfectly captures the irrestible chemistry between its lead actors spending a summer afternoon hustling the streets of Brooklyn while cicumnavigating their secret romantic entanglement.

Josefeen - Programmer

Because I love myself some incredibly hot lesbian erotica (=porn)

Liz Rosenfeld's Surface Tension Trilogy
Liz has been part of the Fringe! family since the very first year when she curated a programme of queer porn for us and we're super happy to have her back this year with the world premiere of her trilogy queering the stories of famous women during Weimar Berlin.

Kumu Hina
An absolute feel-good film providing a much needed perspective on the way non-Western cultures deal with gender.

Pushing for PrEP
A timely discussion and screening on one of the top health issues concerning gay men today.

The Cult of JT Leroy
I fucking love this film. There's not much more to say.

Martin - Fundraising Manager

Kumu Hina
An important and sensitive exploration of being trans* in different cultures.

The Lady's Not For Walking Like An Egyptian
All the joys and horrors of the 80s in one show.

Prison System 4614
Chained flogging and a nice cup of tea. Ahhhhh/Ouch!

Panel Discussion: Sexile
Explore queer identity in a world of displacement and hostility

Queer: post-sexual - the box re-examined
Revel in the profusion of our diversity as celebrated in this group session.