In an art world and a wider culture that so often portrays women as models and muses as opposed to the creators of their own art and void comes Lauren Ross’s wonderfully curated video ensemble – ‘Reflections on the Electric mirror- new feminist video,’ at the Elizabeth Sackler Center at the Brooklyn Museum. By the time one walks away one doesn’t know whether to laugh, cry or rejoice…
Catching up with Ms.Ross this past Thursday proved to be an intriguing exploration of how women are portrayed today by a media saturated culture which has made them the recipients of so many stereotypical roles and the way conversely women have reacted to this in the new ways they have sought to express themselves.
In an ambivalent culture which on one hand idolizes women and tells them they can be who they want to be to an overdone portrayal of women who are continuously limited by their surroundings, strengths, circumstances, required social roles comes the desire by a certain breed of female artists to explore the vagueness and nuances of such assertions. In essence what one is exposed to is the appropriation of the myth of what it is to be a woman in our current times and how far that myth has been mis appropriated…
Using their own image these film makers who Ms. Ross argues were chosen because of their less than polemical stance on issues and more often ambiguous and often revelatory and sometimes hilarious explorations of pertinent issues led to Ms. Ross coming up with a selection of some of the following artists-
Cathy Belgen- ‘Black Out,’-2004 a diatribe on a night out gone wrong for the female protagonist who is exposed to various degrees of sexism but her own complicity by agreeing to get trashed and turning up to a girlie bar where things get out of hand. With the artist sitting in a chair we watch incredulously as a blindfolded Belgen gets to relive the particulars of the night, as martini’s, beers, cigarettes, streamers are passed from hand to mouth to hand. At times we don’t know whether she is laughing or crying but one is inclined to believe that is the desired outcome.
In Kate Gilmore’s fascinating piece- ‘Blood from a Stone’-2009 we watch as Ms. Gilmore does a one take in which entail elements of anything can happen and suggestions of imminent danger and a redefining of what one is actually capable of. In the 8 minute reel which was filmed exactly where one comes to see the video is the artist dressed completely inappropriately (and one guesses here is the point) in her effort to assert 10 square drums weighing up to 75 pounds on a raised pedestal with mounds of paint ready to explode. At any moment we are wondering when the artist is going to trip in her heels which we only hear clicking as she goes from one drum to another.
What intrigued me was the realization of how differently had we seen a man perform a similar feat as opposed to the way it’s to be interpreted when a female sets herself up with an element of chance to perform the same tasks, and to hopefully set aside some preconceived notions of what a female is or is supposed to be capable of.
In the seven minute Whacker by Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn –2005 we are exposed to a seemingly mundane scene of a woman dressed overtly girly girly shredding a vast uphill field of weeds with a whacker. This all takes place in a suburb somewhere in LA, and one watches intrigued as nothing actually goes on narrative wise but how symbiotically so much does go on. Putting on a dress and pumps may have suddenly taken a new meaning…
In Shannon Plumb’s body of work- ‘Commercials,’- 2002 we are left to watch a hilarious parody of a woman hawking supposedly female products- lotion, shampoo, speed reading in a 1920’s Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplan vaudeville like approach were not one word is ever said but so much is communicated. By using a clichéd image of herself we are left to wonder how ridiculous advertisers are and their complicity in the narrowing definitions of a woman’s role in society.
In a very intriguing piece which left this author wondering out aloud we watch the visage of Sweden’s Klara Liden– ‘Bodies of Society,’ 2006 lacerating a bicycle with a steel device in a dank white room. At first she surrounds the motionless bike, then taunts it by poking at it, then stepping away from it. One is aware that she suddenly has the power of this inert object, which metaphorically is very suggestive of a larger complicit society. Eventually a form of role reversal is enacted when the bike is finally destroyed, but the video is vague enough to suggest a myriad of possibilities- the simple one Liden being upset that her bike was stolen from her, amongst arguably other things…
Of course there were other artists being showed, but what was equally intriguing to me was when I confronted Ms. Ross by what this author perceives to be the complicit behavior of a certain society of women who have propagated myths and to some degree devalued the advance of feminist causes by too often playing the beauty card and the princess who deserves to be taken care of by the highest bidder.
“Yes, it certainly acts to stymie the agenda of women, but bear in mind not all women want to be saved. There are a lot of women out there who are simply looking to be free to interpret life and their particular limitations in the light of our current dialectics.”
Whatever your point of view or fascination Ms. Ross’s exhibition will elicit wonder, intrigue and force you to think outside the box. This after all can’t be a bad thing, when an artist male or female forces you to this level.