Bytes and Biting Satire: Feminist Video at Franklin Street Works
All Byte: Feminist Intersections in Video Art at Franklin Street Works
41 Franklin Street (between Broad and North streets)
April 9 to July 10, 2016
Stamford, CT, 203 595 5211
Intersectionality, an interpretive social and critical hermeneutic, insists that not one, but many identities (including gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality/citizenship) interact and overlap to shape one’s experiences. “All Byte: Feminist Intersections in Video Art,” at Franklin Street Works, takes this feminist framework seriously, demonstrating how patriarchy and feminism shape art making and history while addressing colonialism, queerness, and masculinity. Solicited through an open call invitation, the videos in the exhibition, by nine artists and artist collectives, were curated in collaboration with the University of Connecticut Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program and the Film and Television Program at Sacred Heart University. This unique and smart collaboration is especially fitting for considering collective and interdisciplinary analysis.
Texas-based collective Kegels for Hegel, whose music videos are featured throughout the show, practice their feminism through intellectual cheek, deflating the straight, white, male canon of philosophy with satirical works such as Bite Me (Love Song to Friedrich Nietzsche) (2013), and Thing (Love Song to Karl Marx and Friends) (2016). Lyrics about Marx include “Your material conception of history/ taught me about commodities/ explained that my alienation/ was a form of object subjugation.” Their punk DIY mode and production builds on some of the legacy of third-wave feminists and Riot Grrrls (1990s–present), such as Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, who unapologetically reflect feminist concerns and analyses in their music.
Similarly, Macho Intellectual (2015), a music video by the Mexican collective INVASORIX, features groups of men and women in drag recreating photographs of (mostly male-dominated) art collectives throughout recent history, including the Bauhaus and the Guerrilla Girls. The song lampoons chauvinists and achieves a historical and structural critique of intellectual circles. Both INVASORIX and Kegels for Hegel simultaneously mock and build from the intellectual and artistic movements they reference, including Dada and Marxism.
Michelle Marie Charles’s Explicit and Deleted (2012) uses the genre of hip-hop music videos to satirize black, heterosexual masculinity in drag. Although silly and exaggerated, the video contains pointed analysis around double standards, sexualization, and commodified bodies. The video creates a jolting moment of unexpected language when it asks, outright, but only half-seriously, “What kind of so-called first-world country would even allow their economy to be structured in such a way where [women performing for men in music videos] might be the best viable financial option for half of the population?” While different in tone, style, and narrative, Virginia Lee Montgomery’s The Alien Has to Learn (2015) also explores masculinity, depicting the gendered performance of corporate professionalism at a Las Vegas technology conference — and ending with an ejaculating fire fountain.
Nicole Maloof’s Funny Street Names (2015) recounts the artist’s childhood through a disjointed narrative bouncing off, among other images, Dunkin Donuts, dinosaurs, and racial slurs. She unpacks her identity through references both biblical and historic, with commercials and home videos — all mediated through description using a computerized voice. The video presents onscreen text and narration in both Korean and English, toggling between the two as much as through the disparate mementos. Funny Street Names utilizes the language of computers — including YouTube clips, panning shots of Google Earth, and typing on Microsoft Word –– to write and visually compose a unique, structured narrative. Its (pop) cultural imagery and text reflect on colonialism and successfully translate the public to the personal.
Like Funny Street Names, Sunita Prasad’s Recitations Not From Memory (2014) also centers reading. It depicts men reading aloud, in the first person, the intimate stories of women: experiencing street harassment, gendered housework, workplace discrimination, and marriage dowries. The men read (often awkwardly) from a teleprompter in everyday settings, mimicking the class position of the women who submitted the stories. Prasad tactfully highlights gendered experiences and interrogates the relationship between the way they are spoken , the way they are read, and their materiality. In both Maloof and Prasad’s videos, acts of reading point to feminist concerns of voice, agency, and identity. Maloof and Prasad disconnect the voice of their narratives, respectively deferring to an impersonal computerized voice and the awkward voice of a speaker whose gender differs from that of the author. These displacements underscore the identities involved and create intimacy with the viewer.
A digital video show still draws attention to spatial, material curation. Curator Terri C. Smith’s skillful configuration of space works to create a number of dynamic viewing experiences — from the communal to the individual. Montgomery’s The Alien Has to Learn requires standing, open air viewing, juxtaposing the sit-down-with-headphones consumption of Maloof’s Funny Street Names. Downstairs, Prasad’s Recitations Not From Memory is shown in the gallery’s black box theater. Display technology is also varied in the show, from wall projections to flat screen monitors and to the especially charming retro CRT television playing Kegels for Hegel’s songs.
The show includes an impressive range of tone and approach, refusing one aesthetic or narrative, and instead providing many entry points to the feminist ideas and issues addressed by the videos. Leveraging contemporary video-making strategies, the videos explore and demand a reflection of the personal and political, of bodies and institutions, of history and possibility. The 15 artworks in “All Byte” were all made within the last five years and all by emerging artists. This timeframe, as well as many of the videos’ close relationship to technology –– seen in Charles and Kegels for Hegel’s editing and in Maloof’s stunning technological intertextual layering –– localizes the show within so-called fourth wave feminism. This emerging construct incorporates the intersectionality, queerness, and punk of third wave feminism and brings new possibilities for feminist thought and practice. “All Byte” thoughtfully shows a range of what feminism can look like in video art, and illustrates some of the ways emerging artists and innovative art spaces like Franklin Street Works will continue to play an important role in highlighting evolving feminist politic and aesthetic.