I woke up this morning to a message from Ana. She was writing an article about gURLs, the group show I was in a few weeks ago, and looking for advice. From its title, gURLs, curated by Zoe Salditch, makes no attempts to mask its intents. gURLs was a night of performances from and for girls on the internet. Performers included Ann Hirsch, Bunny Rogers, Jenny Zhang, Rachel Rabbit White, Angela Washko, and Kate Durbin. The event had minimal press blurbs across selected art blogs, a self-selected group in itself, and was made even more elitist with the caveat ‘invitation only’ written on the bottom of the official press release for the show so that no men would sneak in (although they tried).
gURLs is an evening of performance and readings exclusively for those who identify along the feminine spectrum. The event will feature multimedia performances by emerging and significant artists and poets who’s practices are preoccupied with female identity, girlness and technology.
A generation of women have come of age on the internet – While women before us had to seek to find information or support, we’ve been able to access one another through our internet connections.
The gURLs mission is to create a safe space to explore and strengthen connections between women online and off. Let’s celebrate these bonds through performance and poetry.
The audience will be exclusively women/those who identify along the female spectrum and by invitation only.
With these factors in mind it seems obvious that the show did not function to broaden the audience of any of the performers outside of the small circle of women that are clued in to the ever smaller circle of women that are creating Feminist Art within the context of the internet. Women who are making work that is unabashedly feminine for other women.
I was instantly reminded, as I am often reminded, of a tweet from Ann Hirsch, one of the performers at gURLs. To me, Ann’s work is for women. Hirsch tweeted, and I instantly favorited then reweeted and then screen-shotted and then blogged, “no1 wants to be in the ‘feminist art ghetto’ except for me bcus i don’t think it’s a ghetto. i think it’s a pretty nice place to be.’
Hirsch creates video and performance art pieces that work intimately with subverting and examining the relationship between the watched and the watcher – the watched typically being Ann and the watcher typically being a male observer. Though the observer is male in her interactional pieces – such as in her YouTube project Scandalicious, her short story Temple, which chronicles a fictionalized account of her brief stint as a cam-girl, or in her new performance piece Playground, starting October 4th at the New Museum, that outlines a brief affair she had with 27 year old when she was 12 over AOL Instant Messenger – the intended audience is ultimately female-identified. Her works position a female protagonist who navigates situations that are specifically female. She creates work that is not only subjugated to the ‘Feminist Art Ghetto’ but work whose sole destination is the ‘Feminist Art Ghetto’ because it thrives there. Where Hirsch’s art, and the art of the performers at gURLs live, is a cozy little place where it is assumed that the audience would Get It and intimately relate.
In her message to me this morning Ana said,
this gURLs piece is flowing out slowly. its weird though feeling like i have to legitimize “art by women for women” before i can even begin to talk about the event. like i open the piece by saying, “its okay to be a Female Artist with a capital F”
At that moment I also realized that yeah, it is weird to try to legitimize and contextualize my hyper-feminist – often hyper-sexual, voyeuristic, and perverse – work to an outsider audience. An audience that doesn’t immediately understand why I’m so obsessed with the idea of the Perverse Female in my writing or, as I’ve tried to explain it, the female Henry Miller. When Jenny Zhang performed that night she approached the center of the room in a baby blue ballet outfit and handed out her favorite books written by female authors to the audience. When she sat down, cross-legged, the sparkly tulle of her dress spread out to cover her thighs as she opened up a pink and lilac Barbie vanity. She adorned her face with butterfly stickers and invited the audience to join her. Then she started to recite her poem: a story about shaving her pubic hair for the first time when a man emailed her asking if he could watch and take pictures of the act and in return he would pay her. She recited this poem while glittering her body and adorning her play-set vanity with small stickers.
I think that post-internet feminist art has made a point to be overtly feminine and kitch and to use those tropes subversively. The feminine mixed with the gross. The feminine mixed with the unsettling, making it less passive and more subversive. To an outsider audience, a voice that is aggressively feminine may seem foreign or alienating because it positions the male as the other, whereas the male, traditionally, has been held up as the universal. Here I am reminded of another quote, from Virginia Woolf, who was holding it down for women a century ago, “I detest the masculine point of view. I am bored by his heroism, virtue, and honour. I think the best these men can do is not talk about themselves anymore.”
Sometimes I secretly take pride in making Female Art (with a capital F) that I don’t intend for men or that I don’t think men would intimately understand. It’s hard for me to remember that not everyone is in the
‘Feminist Art Ghetto’The Magical Land of Feminist Art though I encourage people to come in and check out all of its splendors.
While talking about Samantha Irby recently, someone asked why I like her, saying that they don’t understand why men like some of her more female-centric work. (I’m paraphrasing, it was a bit more eloquent than this.)
I’d never thought of Sam’s work as being for a specific niche, which I think is a testament to how funny and talented she is. Even in that context, a lot of Sam’s material is exaggerated, over the top, often disgusting, and really really funny. I mean, who doesn’t like disgusting? Disgustingly hilarious things seem pretty universal to me. Even her more serious work, the facts of which don’t live in the universe of my upbringing whatsoever, are enjoyable to me, because I’m human and she’s human and hands touchin hands reachin’ out touchin’ me touchin’ you etc. etc.
Anyway, thinking about it more, I realized there are some men who don’t like Irby. Though they are few. I have no idea what their reasons are, but to some extent, I think they might feel left out, since she’s writing about vaginas and race instead of telling jokes about balls.
There’s good audience and there’s bad audience and it seems doubtful you can draw concrete lines between the two. I can say this though, bad audience is needy in the worst kind of way. They disrespect your words by assuming they deserve inclusion, and if they don’t feel like they’re getting that inclusion, they’ll turn on you and your story.
To me it’s like, mother fucker, it’s not my fault you can’t get out of your own head and lack basic empathy for others.
With that said, I’m happy to enjoy art that doesn’t include me.
And with that said, I’m happy to not be included at all if that’s what the art needs.
I’m just happy art.
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