Documentation from my exhibition at Bloc Projects as part of Platform 2019 exhibitions through Site.
Here are some photographs from the exhibition I recently put together, based around my book, Viewing Pleasure and Being A Showgirl, How Do I Look? Thanks to the artists who took part: Sophie Lisa Beresford, Julie Cook, Nwando Ebizie as Lady Vendredi, Alice Finch, Laura Gonzalez, Lucy Halstead, Sharon Kivland, Britten Leigh, Chloe Nightingale, and Isabella Streffen.
I’m putting together a group show for the Market Gallery, Huddersfield. It is based on the conclusion of my recently published book. Come join me for the opening 11th October.
I had so much fun showing my work at Abingdon Studios in Blackpool. Here’s the documentation. I am so grateful to show my new video work Felicity Means Happiness for the first time in Blackpool.
Double Bill afternoon with Beam the play and workshop
Monday 8th October, 2pm-4.30pm
Refreshments provided, £10, this is a dementia friendly event
Theatre Delicatessen, 202 Eyre Street, Sheffield S1 4QZ
The book that emerges from my PhD thesis was recently published by Routledge.
About the book:
Drawing on interviews with a breadth of different showgirls, from shows in Paris, Las Vegas, Berlin, and Los Angeles, as well as her own artworks and those by other contemporary and historical artists, this book examines the experiences of showgirls and those who watch them, to challenge the narrowness of representations and discussions around what has been termed ‘sexualisation’ and ‘the gaze’. An account of the experience of being ‘looked at’, the book raises questions of how the showgirl is represented, the nature of the pleasure that she elicits and the suspicion that surrounds it, and what this means for feminism and the act of looking.
An embodied articulation of a new politics of looking, Viewing Pleasure and Being a Showgirl engages with the idea (reinforced by feminist critique) that images of women are linked to selling and that women’s bodies have been commodified in capitalist culture, raising the question of whether this enables particular bodies – those of glamorous women on display – to become scapegoats for our deeper anxieties about consumerism.
Rowan Bailey put together the first show at the Market Gallery as part of the Temporary Contemporary collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and Kirklees Council and the Huddersfield covered market. Space, Place Action brought together the research staff at the university. I used the opportunity to test out my new series of theatre interior photographs, Ascending A Staircase.
Sean Williams’s exhibition For A Burning Love has transferred to The Old Lock Up, Cromford.
Contemporary British Painting featured the show in it’s newsletter:
For a Burning Love
In January ‘For a Burning Love’ moves to the Old Lock Up Gallery in Cromford, a space that, fittingly some might say, used to be a jail. ‘For a Burning Love‘ celebrates and demonstrates the breadth of contemporary painting and includes works by Mandy Payne and Sean Williams. It encompasses highly-detailed realism and gestural abstraction, paintings that are almost sculptures and photographs interrupted by the introduction of paint. In this way ‘For a Burning Love’ questions what a painting might be and so, in turn, questions our fixed ideas about most things. ‘For a Burning Love’ may also offer a clue into why artists choose to use paint over other media to express their ideas and explore possibilities.
The Old Lock Up Gallery
19 The Hill, Swifts Hollow, Cromford, Derbyshire, DE4 3QHJ
Preview: Saturday January 20th, 1 – 4pm
Exhibition dates: 20 January – 25 February
Opening times: Thursday – Saturday 11am – 6pm, Sunday 11am -4.30pm
A chapter I have written on the representation of strippers in the media and contemporary art has been published. It is in the Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality by Clarissa Smith, Feona Attwood and Brian McNair.
In it, I write about pop videos, films, popular feminist critical perspectives, academic writing, and activism. I also write about artworks including the Girlie Show by Edward Hopper, Lucky 13 by Philip-Lorca Di Corca, The Politics of Rehearsal by Francis Alys, Abstraction Licking by Christina Lucas, Cosey Fanni Tutti’s collages, Strip by Jemima Stehli, performance pieces Strike a Pose by Kate Spence, and Sister by Rosana and Amy Cade.
I took part in an innovative panel discussion, a symposium created by Victoria Lucas, in January, at HOME in Manchester. You can watch the event here.
At present I’m at Shows of Sheffield at Castle House most days, as part of Festival of the Mind. I’m presenting my cigarette cards and theatre flats and having some great conversations with the public!
Last night the exhibition London Life opened at Art Bermondsey/LA Noble Gallery. Two of my cigarette card recreations are in the show, and I was third prize winner for the work. (Thanks to Katherine Angel and Kate Enters for the photos!).
My work will be in Act II and Act III of S1 Member’s Show, Three Act Structure at S1 Artspace, Sheffield. Act II is open 6th August–23rd August and Act III which is a re-mix of Acts I and II featuring all of the works is open 27th August–13th September. The opening of the whole show was on 11th July, and now there is a programme of events that will take place during the subsequent Acts.
In particular there will be a publication and print portfolio launch on Friday 15th August and a screening and performance event on Saturday 6th September. For the latter I am working on a new performance.
I’ll post more about the up-coming events–it’s a very exciting project to be involved in!
I instigated a video show collaboratively curated with Megan Cotts, Alexis Hudgins, Ali Prosch & Brica Wilcox shown at SIA Gallery in May. The show featured ten video works by Alison J Carr, Alexis Hudgins, Ivan Iannoli, Julie Orser & Jon Irving, Ali Prosch, Elleni Sclaventis, Matt Siegle, amy von harrington, Brica Wilcox, that respond to the provocation of Hollywood Forever: the dream, the film industry, the cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard. Each takes a different approach to Hollywood—from considering the myth, the geography, the surplus of images it gives us, the imperative to perform, the seduction and the make-believe.
More information about the project Hollywood Forever Bios.
image credit Julie Orser & Jon Irving, from The Viewer
I’ve put together a selection of videos to be screened at S1 Artspace, Thu 20 Feb, 6 – 8pm:
Alison J Carr | Lindsay Foster | Alexis Hudgins | Stephanie Owens | Isabella Streffen | Katy Woods
S1 Artspace is pleased to present You Me You Me You Me, a screening of six short video works which will be followed by a discussion between artists Alison J Carr and Lindsay Foster.
In this screening, S1 Studio Holder, Alison J Carr, selected Lindsay Foster’s The Last Frontier as a starting point alongside which she presents four additional works: Notes on You and Me by Alexis Hudgins, The Pulse of Madame K by Isabella Streffen, Nadia by Katy Woods, and her own A Response to Unmastered by Katherine Angel; inviting Foster to select a final piece to sit alongside her own: Making A Past Present by Stephanie Owens.
The videos take different approaches to reflect on personal experiences and collective memories, on images and language and how we find ourselves formed through our encounters with culture. Across the selection are witty, playful observations as well as sincere enquiries. What is it to be a person?
An artwork inspired by comerce, consumerism, the glamour of cars and embodied by girls in catsuits performing a Busby Berkeley-esque kaledoscopic routine. Roman Vasseur’s Franchise
I feel I shall have to transition from photography and video and into live art and performance practices to really continue this list. Before I do, I shall just list women photographers who in some way address the Showgirlian.
Elinor Carucci is a photographer by day, but a belly dancer by night. She’s documented her dancing life in the book and series ‘Diary of a Dancer‘. A well observed project in which we see the types of venues, audiences, costumes, dance moves, preparations and the come down following performing. Its documentary and a diary. Just through pictures a complex narrative is told. With lots of sequins.
Katharina Bosse‘s book New Burlesque is a fabulous collection of portraits of New Burlesque dancers. The dancers look fabulous in clothes the look like they could be performance costume, or in some cases, sassy day wear. The pose and flirt with the camera knowingly, in domestic spaces, corners of cafes and deserts – nowhere you’d expect to find them. They are there, at the beginning of this new movement, carving out a space for themselves. Its a joyous book.
To reduce Sophie Calle‘s down to just the work she did stripping is a sin. However, this is what I shall do here and now. Please go look up Calle’s wider practice if she’s new to you.
Sophie Calle’s practice is brave, transgressive, self-reflexive, uses herself. But its wider than that, its also about how we perform ourselves, how we connect to other people, how our emotions shape us. How we look, and how we are looked at. Again, total fan!
In feature film, Viva artist/filmmaker Anna Biller constructed a recreation of a Seventies sexploitation movie. The film is an uncomfortable mix of camp pastiche and truthful real-emotions storyline, which sees Barbie/Viva going on a journey of sexual emancipation. The final scene, celebratory and sad, sees Barbie and her friend in a down-market recreation of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s number Two Little Girls from Little Rock from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. For Biller, the aim is to negotiate how female desire might be represented and provoked. Most interesting to Biller are the responses she receives from female viewers in support of the film; women can read the resistance in the film, but she finds male viewers only see pastiche.
 I talked to Anna Biller about the film in September 2010, LA.
Jemima Stehli adopted the position of the stripper in her photographic series Strip, in which she questioned the designation of power in the art world within a voyeuristic framework. She stands with her back to the camera in front of a seated male who is identified only by his job title, ‘Critic’, ‘Writer’, ‘Curator’ or ‘Dealer’. A long cable-release is visible in his hand. In each photograph Stehli is in a different state of undress caught in the act of stripping. The precise moment the photograph was taken during this private strip is controlled by the seated male, his power doubled through the status of his job in the art world. And yet, he is the pawn within Stehli’s game. She has created the scenario; it is her concept, her intellect, her skill, and her body that she chooses to display. She is active. The seated male is unable to not look; he must play the stooge. The photograph registers his level of satisfaction or discomfort: is that us, the viewer, looking at ourselves?
Leigh Ledare represents a transition into the frame, and a new way of approaching the showgirl. Now, my examples will be about embodying or trying out the showgirl, and thus, the following examples are about what she symbolises, how she can be used, rather than, who is she?
It’s worth pointing out, that these practices would not exist without a number of female photographers, whose work engages less with a Showgirlian impulse, but women-in-representation. So, look up, if you don’t already know:
Time for something more contemporary! Here are four male image-makers (they work in photo & video) who are using the figure of the stripper as a site of exploration. They show a fascination with the stripper but also work to expand our understanding of who she is and what she does.
Philip Lorca DiCorcia creates portraits that reinvigorate the form. He does more than portraits, actually, and his photographs always command my attention. He created a series of photographs of pole-dancers in action. I sense Lorca DiCorcia’s admiration and attempt to fathom the pole-dancer’s milieu in the photographs.
Mainly using video Francis Alys explores social constructions. He’s used a stripper combined with audio from a singer’s practicing exercises, to explore where a (public) performance begins and ends. Here, he employs the stripper’s performing, moving body, with it’s techniques and expertise, and yet this is not directly the subject of the work, rather, the stripper is used to construct something new in the artwork.
Let me start with a defence of my research. I don’t remember when or where I was, or whom I was speaking with, but shortly after Lana Del Rey released her single ‘Born to Die’, a female friend told me about the video. She was saying I had to watch it because she was ambivalent about the visual messages of the video: ‘It ends with her limp body being carried by her boyfriend’, and she wanted to know how I interpreted the video and her lyrics. Later that day I watched the video and I loved it. I’ve blogged already a little of my responses to it. I want to just underline what I can do with my research, and why I think it has value. I am invested in reading images of women, recognising where she has dominion over her body, her mind, her agency. I want to affirm and champion these instances. Sometimes, I question the value of simplicity of the intent of my research. And then, the furore created by Samantha Brick’s article in the Daily Mail and Ashley Judd’s puffy face make me realise this is important research. We need to be able to recognise a woman’s self-possession and dominion over herself more than ever. I am here to do that.
I clocked off from my research for two weeks, during which time, Samantha Brick-gate happens. I don’t want to add to the sheer volume of words generated by the incident, instead, I wanted to blog the final encounter with the showgirl in my second chapter. My research, to reiterate, investigates both my own feelings of loving showgirls and the experiences of showgirls themselves. It is my hope, wish, intention, that through opening up my feelings of sisterhood and respect for glamorous women, that I may potentially add to a rich, healthy discussion and how women relate to one another in positive, sisterly ways. I am completely fed-up with the trite worn-out trope of women’s competition amongst each other. It is not what I feel or experience.
In a tiny bar, Cellar Door, underneath the Aldwytch, London, I put cocktails I could not afford on my credit card. As it was a bar, a middle-aged man chatted to me, asking what I do. I told him. He began to tell me what he thought about burlesque, informing me how little affect it could have. I began speculate a politics of burlesque, perhaps, femininity and the potential for collectivising around specific issues, citing the Slut Walks as an example. He responded by telling that as he could not see what all the fuss was about with the Slut Walks. As he saw it, it was a good idea to avoiding dress like a slut and going to bad areas, in reference to the initial comments by the police representative, who addressing a group of students in Toronto, which hard sparked the initial protests. Hearing his prejudiced, short-sighted views, in which his sense of entitlement had blinded him of other peoples’ experiences, caused an internal incandescent rage. I did not want to have tell him how totally ignorant, misogynistic he was and his sense of entitlement to tell me about my research and experience as a woman in that specific context, so instead I died a little inside. I was gradually able to disassociate from him as the performers did their turns. Hannah Friedrick, sang jazz interpretations of pop songs including Material Girl, Wild Thing and songs from Jungle Book, to hilarious effect. I was singing along and I was able to relax and make a few notes in my notebook. I drank another cocktail and started to chat to Beatrix Von Bourbon, the burlesque dancer, before she performed. We had tweeted each earlier in the day. Then, as Beatrix started her second and final strip of the evening, I stopped writing and I closed my notebook, so that I could be present in the moment.
The strip was a perfect moment and the performer owned the room. She performed for the audience, as an act of generosity. She was experienced and educated enough to be aware of what she was doing. It did not feel sleazy or uncomfortable despite the number’s conclusion in which the performer’s nudity was in close proximity to the audience. She was prepared to be our object of desire for a moment, because she chose to be. And as I watched, still, not far from the middle-aged man, I thought, yeah fuck you, you have no idea what this means, what pleasure the performer is generating. You have no idea what this means!
Amongst the pleasure-experiences I have described, this was a very simple encounter: a tiny bar and a dancer with a fabulous heavily tattooed body in a great outfit. During the short act, my attention was focussed and nothing else existed. The formula was minimal, but completely accessible to me. I just felt happiness. I felt happy a woman could produce the moment. I felt sisterhood for the performer.
The pounding, relentless forward propulsion towards the end of the world in ‘Melancholia’ experienced through the emotional breakdown of Justine serves to illustrate just how little agency the individual has. Against impending disaster: economic, environmental, political we experience only our own our emotional response. That’s all we can feel. As the film shows, we have no manoeuvre room to change the direction of the hidden planet Melancholia. We can change nothing. Just feel the catastrophe.
The first time I watched the film, I enmeshed my own feelings I was experiencing of dislocation, estrangement and research-confusion into Justine’s pull downwards into depression. Maybe she was the only one who understood what the end of the world meant. Maybe she was the only one who intuited it. The unrelenting unravelling and unhinging of Justine drives the film. Her inverted charisma cyclones, collecting up the cinema-spectators with tear-stained faces. It can wrap you into the storm, if you let it. As I walked away from the cinema in November I could feel my own cyclone collecting all my failures, all my doubts, fears, flaws. Like a magnet, the affect of film searched my psyche and found all the negativity. I had no agency. I could feel the self-doubt rush to the surface. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe, I was hyperventilating.
The second time I saw the film, the cyclone didn’t pick me up. I watched the film dispassionately. I saw only the metaphor of the film. And the hand-held camera work and lens flare. Holding myself outside the film, I could see the mannered personas with their limitations. If I say they were one dimensional, that is not to suggest a weakness in script or acting, rather, the characters were roles, functions, once that function was completed, the character was over. The script, a product of a misanthrope’s mind, no-one comes off well, but oh! they look good. I love the running through wool, the naked moonbathing, sex under dress. All these sensuous pleasures: they return the depressed subject back into her body. She can feel.
I don’t cry the second time I see the film. I watch, distanced. I choose not to descend into the film.
It’s like I told you honey, don’t make me sad, don’t make me cry.
Lana del Rey saved me from ‘Melancholia’ that second time. Her song ‘Born to Die’ takes control of the descent. She describes mental tumbling downward, in this song, through a destructive compulsion toward the archetypal bad boy – is it even him she loves, or just how he looks?
Come and take a walk on the wild side. Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain, like your girls insane.
The song is an ode to the pleasure of the descent. Lana chooses to pursue the pleasure of failing, for the wrong boy, the wrong life choice, the wrong drug. But this is the song of the sober person. Remembering the feelings of disembodiment, disenchantment, wanting to feel, feel something. Even if those feelings are the most negative and masochistic. An ode to the masochistic pull of falling down, into hyperventilated tears. The fond rememberings of someone back on terra firma. Choosing not descend again.
Choose your last words, this is the last time cause you and I we were born to die.
Moving back and forth between the so cool it hurts car-bonnet sex in jeans-shorts and Converse and sitting, queen of her dominion with a her tigers, in white femme-fatale dress, blue rose-crown and red lips, there is no sexier way to tell the story of the love-affair that nearly killed you. The affair, here, a love affair, but also we could insert any death-drive behaviour that we will upon ourselves, bringing us back into our own body. I guess my drug of choice is my quiet victim-moments in which I force myself to envisage and feel the catastrophic failure of my research and career. But I have a choice, I can choose that choice. Own that choice, own my feelings. The individual, with her agency.
Here’s the performance paper I delivered at ‘Who Do We Think We Are: Representing the Human’, in March 2011 at the Royal Holloway The Showgirl Speaks! Paper
Over the summer I became an expert showgirl-spectacle viewer. I write about my experiences at length in Chapter 2.
During one show in Paris, my mind wandered and I began to develop a future consulting job for myself in which I get invited to view shows at rehearsal stage in order to advise how pleasure might be best generated in the show. I pictured my business card, ‘Dr Alison J Carr – showgirl consultant’. I mean, I think I could really help shows out, despite their wonderfulness, they really can make some bad dubious directional decisions. I could help them avoid that and enable them to create appeal for the broadest possible audience. And I could get to see the shows for free.
In the dark theatre I could not make notes. I make notes in the pub afterwards:
I also visited Paradis Latin, and here are my notes from that show. At the end of the evening I rode a ‘velib’ – a bike you can rent in the street, to my friend’s flat to say goodbye to her before she travelled back to Berlin. Just some context for you!
Audience: tourists, families – large Indian family. Middle aged couples, girls aged 10, boys aged 13? Australian student group. Young smart couple, 20? Middle aged large group, breaks up into men and women. Two German women in 60s. Everyone dressed up smart. American father and son. Preppy Americans in front of me. Opening number, 10 women, 4 men. Is this chorography dated? Disco-ball entrance, blonde-singer, g-string. 5 girls techno-beat number, red top with cut out heart on sternum, more commercial dance. 4 boys enter, girls leave. 3 girls back – smiles! Topless dancer, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Sparkle sleeves, original. I like the dancers, personality. Head-dresses, just hair up, understated. Blonde-singer comes on with very Moulin Rouge headdress. Topless, singing. She doesn’t have ‘it’ fully. Two men juggling with hats. Black waistcosts, white shirts and trousers. Australian audience member pulled up on stage – juggler speaks English – tourist language. Cancan – three boys in red and black, two girls in pink. Ten-girl line, multicoloured costumes. Lots of yelping, like wildcats. Boy cartwheels and tumbles, takes centre-stage, why? Kicking music, same as Constance Grant Dance Centre uses (my dancing school). Three boys come on. Boy doing jumping splits – why? All girls in twos, 2 girls dancing together. Mr Bean type clown enters. Physical comedy. New number, 4 girls in trousers and 2 boys – all in the same costume, 5 girls in floppy drop-waisted dresses, 2 couples come on. Feels fresh, dramatic tango-like. Girls are boys in the choreography. Nice use of back. Cuban-heeled Oxfords on girls as boys, boys in a flatter heel but that’s the only difference in costume. Music is a bit Eurovision. 4 boys from Grease, 2 girls on ribbons, topless in S & M harnesses. They leave. Black strap costumes – nice. Blonde singer is ‘Arta’ the star girl/compère is a better dancer than singer. No singing. Topless male, more manly. White costume dancer with ballet-flats and thong. Enigma type music for ballet. Arta back in long backless frock. Good set of lungs on her. I don’t like her bottle blonde bob. Jazz Hot Baby – blue leotards and bows, pillbox hats. Great costume, not used enough. Jazz Hot – great song, would love a bit more tapping out. Arte talks in every langue – she’s like a flight announcement. Frothy, needs balls. Arta gets 4 audience men to dance on stage. Really?? A bride as a prize?? Bit weird. Bit buy-a-Russian-bride. Man comes on stage with showgirl holding a baby. Weird. Like Fire number, film Showgirls hand-move. Arte, she’s good, but I want a larger personality to carry the show, she’s slightly lacking in charisma. How do shows queer themselves? Finale black and pink. Love Me, 6 girls, topless, platform shoes for shorter dancers. Oui Je T’aime finale number.
Sometimes I plan blogs, and I plan them so much with ideas in my head and notes in my notebook that basically they never happen. Over thinking. And other times, I just think of something and want to get it out there so it manifests somehow. That’s what I’m doing now. As an artist, I am meant to be thinking about making art. In a studio. But I find myself thinking all kinds of things I’d like to do, usually nowhere near a studio. It’s nice to spend time alone – like this summer – in Berlin, Paris and London, away from normal life, to let those ideas of all kinds rush to me, through me and wash over me. Like waves. Some of the water will stick though, and I’ll take the idea forward and it will manifest in art. For now, though, maybe its fun to treat the ideas as the end product, the thing. So, one idea I had whilst watching Basic Instinct with Camille Paglia’s commentary was that I’d like to do commentaries on films too. It would be like writing but better. I like writing because you have to give your ideas form on a page, but I like thoughts in themselves, and writing is just a carrier for your thoughts. Talking is my favourite thought carrier. But that’s tricky. I mean, how do I get my talked thoughts ‘out there’, so they exist as a professional output? Why, is that important, you might ask. Well, the more thoughts I get out there ‘in the world’, and the more that people receive those thoughts (maybe like them? I can but hope) then the more freedom and potential for getting a wage I have. I am not after millions, just something to live on. I’m saying this because I have one more year of stipend at Sheffield Hallam University, so I can feel pennilessness rush towards me to steal my style. But freedom and a wage. That’s what its about isn’t it? It is for me. No outward signifiers necessary. The wage I blow on DVDs, audiobooks, books, second-hand dresses, make-up and haircuts (if I could have a bit more money I could have more frequent haircuts then I’d really have style).
None of this is the point. This is all off the point. These are idea waves.
What I was trying to say was, I would like to do an audio commentary for the films that I’ll look at in my PhD research like Showgirls; Gilda; Dance, Girl, Dance; On Tour; Dancing Lady and Stage Door. The question is, and its the same question for everything I do at present, is it ‘art’ or ‘writing’. A hybrid? How would it be disseminated? Could it be a DVD or something online, or an mp3 you have to play whilst you watch?
I have ideas in the moment, in the experience. The thereness. The in the moment. Like when I was watching spectacles this summer: Yma at FriedrichstadtPalast in Berlin and Moulin Rouge, Nouvelle Eve, Paradis Latin in Paris. I thought some really big thoughts. About what I was watching, about how to penetrate the spectacle, about visual pleasure, about how spectacle can be queered, or not, how it might evolve. My (dream) future life as a Professor of Showgirls, Desire and Art in which I am paid as a consultant to develop new shows that are both progressive and traditional. A life in which I do not have to pay to see shows, at least. And theatres give me access to photograph their auditoriums (unlike FriedrichstadtPalast, by the way. They said I could get access if I was to get the photographs published – going on a gallery wall is not enough, apparently. So if you could enable me to get a magazine commission for the interior of the FriedrichstadtPalast, then, let’s talk).
If I could create an audio commentary for seeing spectacle, now that would be cool. Like an audio guide for galleries and museums. Only for spectacle. Maybe it would be for all shows, including burlesque. Huh, I really should do that shouldn’t I.
The paper I delivered at Transmission: Hospitality has now been published on their website at http://extra.shu.ac.uk/transmission/papers/CARR%20Alison.pdf
This is my desert island wish list, excluding friends or any actual collaborations past, present or future.
1. Adam Cooper, dancer
2. If not the above then Anton du Beke
3. Ben Drew aka Plan B
4. Or Paloma Faith? I’d have to meet them both to make the final decision.
5. Forced Entertainment
6. Rose English (I’d just be her apprentice)
This list broadly takes in my perception that I think I could actually work with these people. I haven’t included visual artists because if I love their work, then I’d just be assisting them, or being a fan around them. I genuinely interested in the idea of making artwork from people outside my own art bubble.
Actually, I really like working with other people, and I’d love to work closely with dancers, perhaps a showgirl? also, I’d love do something in a theatre setting, so perhaps a writer too?
Right, well, let’s see what Santa brings from that lot…
I tested out some new, large work on the walls of the old S1 Artspace before we moved. My supervisors and I discussed the work and I stepped in and showed the work to my students in my crit group when the student showing texted me concussed in hospital. The work is an ongoing pairing of theatre interior and text bios. The bios are sourced from 1930s cigarette cards or online web presences. The work represents the public viewing spaces of the showgirl and theorists connected to my research.
Argh! A couple of years ago, I felt called upon to really investigate problems my practice threw up (and I mean that phrase). So I started to write; to articulate my thoughts in written form. Now, as I undertake this PhD, I read and write regularly. And the more I know and learn, the more I am embarrassed about anything I have ever written! Can I believe my own front?! I’ve found some lovely articulations of the problems and thoughts I wish to work through, so I shall quote them here. With great thanks to their author, Craig Owens, whose words here could be re-interpreted into a manifesto. Perhaps I can get into dialogue with them later. Or, I need to confront the problem and take up the challenge of the last sentence.
Today I wore white cotton gloves and handled photographs in the research room at the National Media Museum in Bradford. I am looking at two kinds of glamour, a very perfect one, with dreamy colours, courtesy of Walter Bird, and a slightly more real one, from the Daily Herald archive. The reportage of dancing lines, rehearsal stretches, promotional poses on beaches/airports/streets outside venues. Something real slips into the photos unnoticed, working against the artifice, tearing a whole in the glamour. For example a plaster on a bare foot on a girl in a line standing on some driftwood on a beach and a hole in some fishnets, close to the camera. In a 1956 photo of Tiller girls resting during a ‘Royal Command Show’ rehearsal, rest their legs (neatly) on the chairs in front. Underneath one pair of fishnets are white ankle socks.
Walter Bird’s photographs however, construct a perfect glamour, the glamour of day-dreams. Working before the WW2 he used an expensive colour process, Vivex, which I believe is one contributing factor to their loveliness.
There does seem to be a glamour peak in the 1930s. By the 1950s, something, ‘common’ appears to have been invented, is it the film, cameras, lighting, hairstyles, costumes or make up? Obviously technological changes in one or all of the above contribute to an erosion of the glamour aesthetic. Which leads me to wonder, what and who makes glamour?
How to present the ‘Take Out’ project is not a question of how to present the photographs, but how to present my intentions. The ‘hanging’ of the piece has become more crucial and more integral to the work. How the practicalities are negotiated reflects on the work.
I must not aim for perfect or bombastic just because its a “show” (ditch the tap dancers then) but must think of how the idea is best translated into 3D space.
Sometimes I get so confused. I don’t know where to start and start in the place I know: the middle. I know for certain that I was trying to piece an idea from out of the tangle, I had to get hold of the thread and follow it, pull it apart from the others. I knew it involved photographing; portraits.
Here are the first few paragraphs from the introduction of ‘Sisterhood is Powerful’ by Robin Morgan (1970) Vintage Books
Introduction: A Woman’s Revolution
This book is an action. It was conceived, written, edited, copy-edited, proofread, designed, and illustrated by women… During the year that it took to collectively create this anthology, we women involved had to face specific and very concrete examples of our oppression, with regard to the book itself, that simply would not have occurred in putting together any other kind of collection. Because of the growing consciousness of women’s liberation, and, in some cases, because of articles that women wrote for the book, there were not a few “reprisals”: five personal relationships were severed, two couples were divorced and one separated, one woman was forced to withdraw her article, by the man she lived with: another’s husband kept rewriting the piece until it was unrecognizable as her own; many of the articles were late, and the deadline kept being pushed further ahead, because the authors had so many other pressures on them–from housework to child care to jobs. More than one woman had trouble finishing her piece because it was so personally painful to commit her gut feelings to paper. We were also delayed by occurrences that would not have been of even peripheral importance to an anthology written by men: three pregnancies, one miscarriage, and one birth–plus one abortion and one hysterectomy. Speaking from my own experience, which is what we learn to be unashamed of doing in women’s liberation, during the past year I twice survived the almost-dissolution of my marriage, was fired from my job (for trying to organise a union and for being in women’s liberation), gave birth to a child, worked on a women’s newspaper, marched and picketed, breast-fed the baby, was arrested on a militant women’s liberation action, spent some time in jail, stopped wearing makeup and shaving my legs, started learning Karate, and changed my politics completely. That is, I became, somewhere along the way, a “feminist” committed to a Women’s Revolution”.
I don’t know, I can’t explain, I don’t have answers. I found a new ballet class, with a good pointe class after it, and I did it again. I wore my Gaynor Mindens and they were too tight. So I bought a new pair. Half a size larger, and with a wider box. I am 31 and I bought another pair of pointe shoes. Part of me thinks it is practice; dancing ballet and pointe. And another part of me despairs. Oh but then they first part of me thinks – ha! I can dance en pointe in unexpected places, like giving a conference paper?
When I think back to life between 17-23 years, I think about how I managed to maintain being size 12, and also, certainly up to the age of 21, how much flesh I used to bare. I also remember talk of images of young models, how inappropriate they were. You see, I could not imagine an identity beyond being a young woman as so the constant images of young women I was surrounded by did not register; I saw my own identity amongst them. And I also misread them, I thought they were saying, this IS you, this IS how you should be and look. I saw the pictures in Vogue, Marie Claire or even dare I confess it, More, and saw them as blueprints to re-create. It did not occur to me that these were outfits designed to opperate in the context of a photoshoot, not streetwear.
And now I as I see girls in stripper heels braving the cold with very little on, I smile to myself. One day, they will realise the benefits of long-sleeved thermal vests from M & S.
I wondered this as I looked into a shop window, in Santa Paula, a small town in California that was my home for 10 months, with an 80% Mexican population. The window display was filled with Catholic figurines, like the Pope, Saint John Paul II with Mother Theresa. There were also a variety of Jesus on the cross figures, heavily decorated. I noticed that the Jesus figures were androgynous in both their facial features and the shape of their bodies. Utterly attractive, they seemed to embody both a masculine and a feminine perfection. It was as though the sexual availability of the naked flesh, and his tragic skin lacerations made the Jesus figure a fantasy space for everyone. It was then that I wondered if offering oneself up for objectification could ever be considered as a generous act.
Laura Mulvey’s essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ became some kind of remedial text applied with frequency to my impasse at CalArts. This well written and convincing text served to make me feel guilty about what I wanted to do in practice. It also became a gateway to Kaplan, Doanne, de Lauritis and Modeleski. I needed to make work and I had to read a lot of material in a short space of time. The voices merged into one and I became alienated and overwhelmed by their high minded approach. However, I was attracted to their certainties, the tone of voice so authoritative and sure. The tone and their attachment of the spectacle and pleasure in film which they actively disavow becomes something ripe for parody. The question is whether or not this is something I want to explore in my work.
Dancing has been my hobby for some 25 years. Over the last ten years I have considered my role in dance as a participant outside the normal trajectory. I am not professional-dancer material and so a career within it could not open up for me. Having performed on the Sheffield City Hall stage in the biannual dancing school shows, and then to collect my BA (Hons) degree, I perceived my interests converging in a rather interesting location.
With a chance encounter with some photographs, my art practice shifted to investigate some of the interesting problems I observed through my dancing. With my experience of wearing the most day-glo kitsch outfits as part of a line of dancers my perspective on spectacle is one of first hand experience as well as that of the well-informed spectator. I imagine myself performing as I watch dancers because I have performed.
When I went to CalArts to study, my regular dance classes ceased. For the first time in many years I did not have a regular dance practice. The pressures of the environment meant I lived in my brain, and I began to really investigate my stake in thoughts on the body, from an outsider position.
I am very happy to report I have now found some very challenging classes and I am confronting the reoccurring preoccupations in my art practice along side a regular dance practice.
As a Germaine Greer feminist since my early teens, I understood problems of the patriarchal construction of societal norms. Post-feminism via the Spice Girls interrupted my teens and I claimed my body by wearing the shortest of mini skirts and the smallest of triangle tops only marginally more modest than the smallest string bikini and danced all night in clubs, catching the first bus home in the morning. It came as a total shock that my nights of fun could be misinterpreted as a display for men, when someone put their hand up my skirt. Some kind of bubble burst. I had been sold some dodgy rhetoric.
Winkle pickers, black shirt white waistcoat. Silver ballet flats, hookeresque platforms, red patent t-bar, 2 flapper head bands, 3 feather hair clips, fishnets, patterned tights, lots of black, feather boa, 1 scruffy couple, top hat, red stilettos, puff ball skirt, patterned dress with leggings with pixie / cowboy boots, stiletto platform oxfords, jarvis cocker with longer straggly hair, plaid shirt, jeans and doccers, purple chiffon wrap dress with boach, mini top hat, blonde dreadlocks (girl) with duffel coat, black trousers, Eastpak and trainers. Fishnet stockings with visible suspenders, sparkly puff sleeves, man with dreadlocks, red and black corset with puff ball skirt, gatenet tights with patent black shoes, black dress with silver sparkles, red lippy with hair band, pin strip suit with waistcoat, shiny suit, grey suit, black shirt, purple tie and bald head, red tennis shoes, slacks and stripped shirt. Green strapless dress matching shoes and black jacket, 15 denier black tights. Sloochy top, mini skirt, leggings, big biker boots, addidas trainers, brown leather jacket and jeans, tartan skirt and black corset. High necked slinky dress with red and white corset, pink beanie hat, black layered frilled skirt, gothic flouncy coat, curler-ed hair. Flat shoes, vest top, satchel, curly mop over one side with stripe shirt, black waistcoat, converse with suit, glitter beanie, white thin cardie over dress, red corset with black lace, pencil skirt exposing hip bones.
One afternoon in 2005, I came across a tin full of cigarette cards at a flea market. I leafed through to look more closely at the miniature pin-ups. I noticed the backs of the cards with the clipped-1940s-BBC-announcer biographies of the girls on the cards. I selected all the dancers from the tin (there were models, swimmers and tennis players I rejected, no one I had heard of before) and bought all of them. As I walked home, I decided to recreate all the photographs using myself as the model. My desire to explore another identity merged into a kind of wish, ‘What if I were this person in the photograph?’ The photograph represented such a desirable location that I wanted to be there. The details of the location, although totally unknowable to me, were here presented, as though the top layer of that location were lifted off and frozen. How could I thaw it out and get there?