Ed. note: This is the first in a four part series hosted in collaboration with The Ladies Almanack, a feature-length experimental narrative film written & directed by Daviel Shy, based on the novel of the same title by Djuna Barnes. The first post of the series is by Assistant Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at SAIC, Daniel Quiles.
“Sorry about this! I’m always late for everything!”
“No problem! I’m an athlete, remember?”
We were jogging briskly through the dank, cramped tunnels of the Châtelet Metro station. The opening I had thought was at Les Récollets was in fact at Bétonsalon, the gallery space for Université Paris-Diderot, not five minutes but at least a half-hour away. It had been a long postdoc year, bereft of the tranquility I’d anticipated in the picturesque but tense capital. On my first visit to École Normal Supérieure, a reception for the rentrée into the new school year, I mysteriously slipped, ass over teakettle, thudding to the ground before my stunned new colleagues; structural analogue for a season out of water. But that was September and now it was April, the indefatigable Daviel Shy was here, and we were not going to miss our event. That night, we would meet Josefin Granqvist, an enigmatic Swede who joined us for dumplings back in Belleville, hit it off with Daviel, and was ultimately cast as Djuna Barnes. The network had its own life that spring, reaching and sprawling of its own accord.
Throughout Daviel’s visit, I had the distinct impression that her experience of Paris was different from mine. It was as if, from her first steps, she had set out to eviscerate Woody Allen’s appalling Midnight in Paris, all phony wistfulness and postcard vistas, precisely so she could redeem the formula: dive into, and revivify, the capital’s history as a magnet for international culture. And, appropriately enough, feminism was to ground this counter-excavation—not as nostalgic lost bohemia but as functional, pulsating time machine. Daviel was looking for a conduit back and forth between then and now, here and there—a historical record alterable by the present that is nonetheless a model for future collectivity.
While in Paris, I introduced Daviel to a group of artists—not the right word, of course, as many of them adamantly refuse this label—some of whom I had been following for some time. I got a sense of their projects one by one, at the screen’s great remove. Many I had met only a single time, if at all; there instead were posts and comment threads and temporary projects, micro-platforms atop established platforms like Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube—and more recently a home of their own in NewHive (among many others now and yet to come). There has since been a series of categories coined for these projects and identities, few of which are adequate. I prefer the more general “neo-feminism” to the loathsome “Tumblr Girl,” the wordy “Digital Art World’s (Secret) Feminism,” and the pessimistic “Body Anxiety,” title of a recent online exhibition of “artists who examine gendered embodiment, performance and self-representation on the internet” (wordy again, but better). “Neo-feminism” or the more mediacentric “digi-feminism” also seem more efficient than a “Fourth Wave” feminist art, which poses the question of how many “waves” a movement can have before it resembles a movie franchise. What initially caught my attention in this work was a clear resurgence of so-called First Wave feminist art’s emphasis on the female body as an essentialized catalyst for work that could only be authored by women, and with a concomitant engagement and critique of the body’s mediation: in the 1970s, by photography, film, and video, and now, by a panoply of digital media and networked interfaces. Yet neo-feminism might be best described as a non-movement, horizontal and paradoxically organic, given the dependence on the Internet. The shared sensibility is marked by a vexed engagement with pop culture and its industry, (in some cases) dedicated sex-positivity (pre- and post-Miley twerking, for example, in all its glorious complexity) and the creation of superhero-like avatars gone IRL: Labanna Babalon, Fannie Sosa, and Poussy Draama. While there are many, many others I could name, these three happened to be in Paris when Daviel was. They became integrated into a sustained collaboration that resulted not only in progress on The Ladies Almanack but the virally celebrated / infamous Baby! Love Your Body! (lensed by Stephanie Acosta).
This might sound like the diametric opposite of Daviel’s insistently low-fi ethic, years removed from Super 8 cameras, dusty books and vintage costumes. I cannot think of a better testament to Daviel’s relentless intelligence and canny adaptability than the fact that the moment she met Fannie, she began to incorporate her embodied digitality directly into the film, and indeed, to identify and accentuate the analog in what the neo-feminists have been doing. As much as possible, the IRL, person-to-person, and geographically grounded aspects of these practices would be teased out, offline. Conversations, personal relationships, informal exchanges were to be included, rather than left out—personal lives and details normally excluded from the end products of intellectual and creative work would be transposed to the center. Also in attendance was Natacha Stolz, who several years earlier had her own, nightmarish, experience of virality when documentation of a BFA performance was bullied by misogynists on YouTube. Daviel cast Natacha as Colette.
This was all in the near offing. I wouldn’t be part of any of it; no place in the revolution for an antiquated subject-position (at least not yet). No bother—there is always the screen, a circuit through which “vid” jouissance and early cinema alike inevitably pass.