On “The Edward Curtis Project: A Modern Picture Story”
As part of the exhibition “Ecocentrix: Indigenous Arts, Sustainable Acts” at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharfe.
The clean, crisp space hosting the body of work by Rita Leistner seems almost out of place having walked up the brick warehouse-like steps of the Bargehouse stairwell. Upon entry to the room, we are confronted with a collection of small frames hanging on all four walls, each one holding a pair of photographs. Taken as a collaboration with playwright Marie Clements, the work is a photo-documentary collection addressing the representation of the Native Americans throughout history, with (titled) reference to nineteenth century photographer Edward Curtis. Curtisʼ colonial-era photographs aimed to document what he called a “vanishing race”—it is this notion that Leistner and Clements aim to challenge.
As the gaze drifts from frame to frame, we are introduced to Native American individuals across all ages—from teenagers in fashionable sports clothes to the elderly in rain coats— scattered across the wall as we are lead through Curtisʼ original trail. The duality of images shows the individual in their usual, contemporary clothes, and then again in traditional Native American dress. Their gaze is always directly at the camera—the viewer forced to look them in the eye.
Underneath the images are short, almost unnoticeable descriptions of their daily lives and genealogy. One man depicted in both his American army uniform and traditional Native American dress, has a brief caption underneath which states that his family were forced to walk the Trail of Tears as part of the Indian Removal Act of 1830—an uncut but still subtle hint at the horror that the Native American race has been subjected to, still lingering in social history. But this man is clearly happy, as he smiles knowingly to the camera, his large, uniformed body exuding his power as a twenty-first century man—a man who defiantly owns his own history.
As we continue looking through the stories of these pictures, crouching down and straining necks upwards to read all the fragments of everyday lives, we encounter a hoard of emotions; the tears of the lonely, the tender embraces between friends, and the unmoving stares of those who seem to be in on something that we are not. Perhaps this something is the legacy that we have somehow been so unaware of? For as these bright, colourful images show, these First Nation people are still very much embedded within our landscape. It is interesting to see the traditional dress claimed back in such an empowered manner, when it has evidently become so disseminated within popular culture. How did we forget the people it belonged to?
There is something beautiful about this work and yet haunting—I find myself thinking back to it as we continue through the exhibition of artifacts, films, discussion and interaction. The piece makes itself a profound statement on the misinterpreted, exploited and plainly ignored history of the Native American, through its quiet confidence. The tremor comes from what it doesnʼt say, making it the perfect contribution to a show that is, out of necessity, trying to say so much.
If Heaven Exists What Does it Look Like?
To me, Heaven, if it was to exist, would look like a long stretch of road surrounded by vast skies with the desert glistening in the golden sun. We are in a car and driving really, really fast. Hair blowing. Think the video for “My Favourite Game” by The Cardigans, or the closing scene from Cruel Intentions. Reese Witherspoon riding off into the distance; her girlish, blonde, blue-eyed face defiant as she grips the wheel of her man’s big black car.
In the car we (I say “we” because in Heaven I am never lonely) listen to our favourite albums. These are actually my favourite albums but, because it is Heaven, we all love them. “What’s The Story Morning Glory?” by Oasis, “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd, Kirsty Mccoll’s Greatest Hits “Galore” album, “Automatic for the People” by REM, The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut album. The list continues.
The rippling swathes of guitar pulse through our hearts like a first breath, over and over again. The wind pulls back the skin of our faces as we race into adrenalin. As we drive we are leaning to stare down the sides of green-blue mountains, gazing at the tops of clouds. We turn each corner to the swerve of each vocal.
We film each other through grainy screens on our phones so that we’l never forget this moment, but no piece of footage could ever capture our experience of this day. This is freedom.
Is Liberace’s Bio-pic a New Horizon in Cinema or am I Just Laughing at Gays?
"Behind the Candelabra" is an interesting one. It has managed to open up one big crate of cans filled to the brim with worms concerning gay screen politics; having been shunned by Hollywood producers and being sent straight to the HBO television channel in America, only to be followed by hails of praise for the "bravery" of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon for playing a gay couple.
I am, in no way, disputing that it was brave of the duo to play those roles. It is brave, it is. But with the actors actually congratulating themselves on their bravery, one wonders where the compassion for the communities they represent by playing these roles actually lies…
This question could also be asked about the portrayals within the film itself; the screen is dazzling with colour and jewels- as Liberace’s life famously was so. The overt campiness and ridiculousness of this scenery and of the behaviour within it creates an array of LOL moments (for example when Douglas as Liberace cuddles and coos over his pet pooch named Baby Boy)- but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was funny, or at least made funnier by the fact that the audience knows that’s it Action Hero Michael Douglas acting gay. Are we just laughing at two classically heterosexual men parodying, what Society sees as, Gay culture? In other words, does this film just kind of point and laugh at Gays?
Maybe I’m overreacting, but then let’s ask another question…Where are the gay actors? Not even just the leading ones; where are the supporting gay actors!? A film about a secret figure of Gay Social and Cultural History…and there are no gay actors!
But then again, if gay actor had been used as the leads in this film, would it have seen as much mainstream success outside of the Gay Community?
Probably not, no. Here’s to Equality.
THIS ONE’S FOR THE GIRLS (INDEPENDENT WOMEN)
When life is pulling you down, what is it that makes you feel stronger? As you grew up, how did you learn to be independent? Do you ever feel empowered? When you come face to face with The Man, at what point do you ask him who really runs the world?
Is this a musing on contemporary women’s issues, or the makings of a hit single?
There is barely a day that goes by where I don’t end up getting into some kind of debate about a female pop singer’s policy on women’s issues; whether its Destiny’s Child telling us to surround ourselves with positive things, or Ciara claiming that its time to switch (gender) roles. So many female pop/hip-hop performers use lyrics entwined with female rhetoric, hailing the power of women. These become the anthems we howl out with our girlfriends on a Friday night, or blare out in the car to instantly lift a bad mood. What is interesting is how many female performers claim to be singing these songs for “all you women out there”, and yet none of them ever mention the word “Feminism”- but should they?
Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement has been under attack since the day it began, its main perpetrators being the media. A wall of Fear has been built around this movement; to be Feminist is to be angry, frumpy, un-feminine, un-shaven, single, or a dyke. I have learnt this through experience- not through what I have witnessed, but through the questions that people have asked me in my research. I still find myself mumbling when I talk abut my work, because its scary to be identified with something so evocative. When there are stigmas like this attached to a movement, if its not something you truly know about, its easier to avoid associating with it than attempting to deal with it, even if, unwittingly, you share the same ideals. Identifying as a “Feminist” is like a coming-out process, suddenly you seem to be placed in this new identity, because people don’t know how to deal with you. This is not something I was comfortable with, because whilst I am completely for Feminism than not for it, I am still grappling with ideas of what it even means to be Feminist. Just like the masses of pop singers out there, I’m still not entirely sure what Feminism is.
Feminist History is something that is primarily left completely out of school education, bar maybe the Suffragettes. But how are girls, teenagers, women- and men- in the 21st Century able to identify with black and white photographs taken nearly a hundred years before-hand? The fact that women only gained freedom within the last century is something we completely take for granted, and things are so much better for the female population now, of course they are (at least in this country anyway). However, that does not mean that young women and girls today should be shielded from their own gender’s history, especially when it was so recent and it has the potential to unleash so much power.
But is it the ideals of Feminism that have been seemingly banished to the past, or is it the word itself? The term Feminism (noun- a movement or theory that supports the rights of women, as prescribed by the Oxford English Dictionary) is one that has gradually filtered out of prolific use since its peaking era between 1968 and the 1980s. Movements and discussions have continued since then, but it was in the nineties that these discourses were shunned from prime viewing and were surpassed by the new female revolution; Girl Power. I was born in 1991; Feminism was not something that held an immediate effect on my childhood. In fact up until I was about seventeen I thought nothing more of Feminism than the episode of the Simpsons in which Marge burns her bra. What I, and many others around me have seen as empowering, are these terms that come out through popular culture; Survivor! Independent Women! Ladies! Girls! The lyrics of Pop and Hip-Hop songs are sometimes the only thing that will get you pumped up to face a difficult situation. It could be argued that such a vast amount of pressure is placed upon female singers today to be these strong independent women role models, because young girls have little or no other way of learning about what it is to be empowered as a woman. As we have grown up the only way we know how to talk about the issues of women is within the framework of the terms listed above. To be Feminist is something different; it is seen as somehow stepping into new territory.
The reason we look back on history so avidly is to attempt to decipher where we are in time and how we got here, thus partly defining who it is that we are and how we continue on to be our ideal selves. Whilst we may not be banging at the doors of democracy, or facing the same struggles anymore, surely we should be attempting to internalize all of these positive elements that exist within our own history, instead of trying to grasp the scattered clues disseminated across popular culture?
These female stars are such unstable figures for inspiration when it comes to the power of women; you can debate all you like about the fem-linguistic qualities of Beyonce’s anthems, but when it comes to it, did she actually set out to change the world for women? No, she set out to be a singing/dancing Hip-hop sensation and make a lot of money. When it comes to women understanding what an empowering women is, surely we should be recognizing and internalizing our own history of strength- events in time that were created by women for women. Take away the stigma, take away the stereotype, and recognize where we come from. If we do this, who knows how strong our future could be.
Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, circa 1970
Photograph by Dan Wynn.
In her aptly titled solo performance Gold, Alexandra Bachzetsis continues to explore the proverbial gold standard of the libidinal economy that buttresses contemporary visual culture - the erotocized, empowered female body. Propelled, among others, by a riveting dance track courtesy of Missy Elliott, Kelis and Khia - a potent symbol of sex-laden female power in her own right - Gold deftly plays around the ambiguous choreographic vernacular of hiphop and R&B: a black-and-tan tits-and-ass show complete with the obligatory sprinkling of gold dust, Bachzetsis’ solo piece offers a powerful and fully embodied reflection on dance culture, visual pleasure and the commodification of fantasy.”
Taken from http://www.alexandrabachzetsis.com/work/gold.html