The utter absence of Romanian feminism in the Academy as well as in everyday life has been one of the most surprising takeaways from living in Bucharest for the past year as a Fulbrighter. It seems Patriarchy has won the day through deployment of pressures both brutally institutional and unwaveringly individual. On the street Romanian women associate being called a “Feminist” with admitting weakness and the need for help. With the immovable metaphysical authority of the Orthodox Church backing it, Romanian Patriarchy quietly and efficiently continues its careful management of acceptable language.
What’s the problem? The problem is one of language. The phrase “Trauma Studies” has surreptitiously replaced the word “Feminism” in the Romanian Academy. Gained in this exchange is a vague feeling of victimhood with a need for unending and rigorous archival work, memory studies, and polite acceptance of the cultural conditions at hand. Lost—with the loss of the word “Feminism”—are the activist heritages and more importantly the performative capacities of the word to project group unity in the face of individual oppression. Women and men together—and apart—must learn to negotiate the complexities of how identity thinking and action both erases the individual and is made necessary by historical social injustice.
American Feminism demands that society treat women as the equals of men under the law. The difficulty with positing such a legalistic position remains that law bleeds in and out of other parts of the social architecture. The best trick Patriarchy ever pulled off was to make women believe they are equal to men since this makes women into gender-bound objects through the performative power of the word “equal”. To categorize women and men according to gender erases the individuality of both equally. Despite the paradox of losing one’s individuality to group identity in order to become freer, the social justice need for the work done by identity politics remains.
European Feminism demands that women look beyond gender expectations to become more themselves, more individual, and less beholden to the male gaze. Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” articulates this point bombastically enough: “Leave off looking to men to find out what you are not—seek within yourselves to find out what you are.” But of course any such interiority (whether at the end of a penis or vagina or anything in between) pulses stuck in the traffic jam between individual and society. These construction sites of gender make our society function … but at what cost and who pays for it? Can an individual take her own freedom or must a group give her that freedom?
The following call for papers nicely summarizes my experience in the Romanian capital:
“Over the last couple of years, new forces have gathered
to undermine women’s and feminist organizing in Europe
and Eurasia. The Orthodox Church has launched an
“anti-gender” campaign in Russia and Ukraine–with similar
campaigns in Serbia and by the Roman Catholic Church in
Croatia and Poland–misunderstanding gender and linking
feminism to anti-natalist and anti-nationalist projects.
Repression and violence, such as the harsh sentences for
Pussy Riot and violence at Gay Pride events, raise the
stakes. Implicit in austerity policies–cutting services that
more often help women while keeping low the taxes that
men predominantly pay–is a neomasculinism that once
again pushes gender equality off to until “later.””
Our I First Our Looking: Interview with Performance Workshop participants at Atelier 35, Bucharest, Romania
The following interview is a performer-centered echo of a bunch of cool art students and Irina Botea (the organizer of the Dec 2012-Jan 2013 workshop) with whom I had wine in the back of the famed Bucharest gallery, Atelier 35. Spaces called Atelier 35, which are geared toward younger artists, dot across Romania and are used as outlets for formal experimentation. The outstanding fact about these spaces is that these, often centrally located galleries in urban centers, were used for the same purposes even during Ceausescu’s paranoid reign.
Because I enjoyed my conversation with the performers so much, I asked them the following question. Their email responses follow my question. What does your work protest? I ask this question because it seems the most basic and therefore most relevant question given the subject under consideration: the replacement of the beautiful patina of old windows all over Romania with hermetic modern and homogenous Termopane.
Allow me to rephrase the same question and add some context and nuance. In light of Adorno’s claim that art documents history (however much through the conscious or unconscious relational aesthetics of the artist-viewer encounter), what does your project-performance-discussion about old windows being replaced by Termopane document? If you don’t think this work (in its intention or in its effect) documents anything, what idea does the work decorate? If you don’t think the work documents or decorates anything, what does it do and how does it do it?
I asked the performers not to discuss the question or their responses before emailing me. Here is what 5 of 13 performers had to say:
“Our work is about how we relate to the artificial window, it’s about how our lives are influenced by it, about how we isolate each other from each other, how our lives become more and more artificial and “virtual”, at the same time, with the rise of new technologies. Before the change, the old window allowed a conversation or, better said, maintained a relation between the two spaces—the one that’s inside of the building (our private space)—and the urban space. Termopane cease this communication, take control, and create a cold wall between the outside world and us by promising to protect us from whatever is on the other side. But the unseen part of this protection is that it can easily turn to alienation.” – Kiki Mihuta
“I think that our work questions the termopane the window and everything that comes with (the termopane is not good or bad). This was a subject that we received during a workshop. We tried to understand what was going on. And I was amazed when you ask us about “protest” the first time over wine in the back of the gallery. I can see the need for the word “protest” once I think about the fact that currently we are in the middle of an accelerated form of capitalism that has put us in the situation where we are losing something every day. You win as much as you lose, but you don’t have the time to understand the loss. You see all over the word these small groups that can’t face the new and they get lost in it (I don’t want to be taken as a traditionalist). I am talking here about the glaziers (“Geamgii” in Romanian), the old glasscutters calling out their trade between blocs carrying the glass panes on their backs. After recognizing this larger context I simply ask myself ” Against whom would such a project be protesting?”” Ileana Faur
“First of all we do not protest against double-glazed windows. We started out by looking into what seemed like a trend, a fad even but we considered it with a friendly look and after weeks of intense discussions we gained some insights into the effects of double-glazing one’s house – some of them being on the one hand, isolation and its “by-products” (e.g., not being able to react to what happens outside anymore since Termopane create an almost soundproof house) and a deeper appreciation of the sounds in one’s own house on the other hand. Secondly, I strongly believe that we react, we reflect on something that cannot be overlooked since it has an impact on both our city and its inhabitants. And yes, our work does document this to the extent to which we acknowledge the existence of something that impacts us. This is reflected in our performance. – Delia Gheorghiu
“Our work focused on the impact of this replacement (of old windows with multiple-layer double-glazed windows) on the people who purchase them. In Romania, this transition is advertised and widely acclaimed as being more than just necessary – but the default upgrade, perfect for every house. While questioning this widespread idealistic belief that Termopane are the right (almost the only valid) choice, we pursued in deconstructing its “promises”. And since you referenced Adorno’s claim that art documents history, one of the key aspects this work documented is how the perfect isolation, the safety promised by the Termopane comes with an unexpected turn: isolation means protection, security, intimacy but it also raises questions regarding responsibility and anxiety. These new guidelines of the private space influence people’s social and psychological behaviors, by means of a rather unnoticeable slow process of adaptation.” Ioana Gheorghiu
“Looking back at the way the project developed and evolved from the beginning up to the present time, I can relate to it only as a work in progress. I do not think that the aim of our work was to protests against something in particular. As far as I’m concerned, I consider it to be an attempt at understanding the current situation and its implications: types of isolation, comfort zones, relation between public and intimate space, social interactions etc. However, taking into consideration the historical aspect, it is clear that the replacement of old windows with termopane began after the fall of the communist regime, which might lead to new ways of interpreting the current situation. As political factors have direct implications in the social sphere, the phenomenon can also raise questions regarding the consequences of political changes taking place in time and the way in which they affect the social behavior of inhabitants.” Raluca Croitoru
January 18, 2013 · Print This Article
I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here. I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.
Some changes should be apparent already — others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers — those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that end I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.
Here is something of a loose schedule:
Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien — writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.
Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and João Florêncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).
On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau, Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.
Thursdays herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’s Top 5 Weekend Picks and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes Göransson whose writing you can also find here.
Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.
WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.
My last note is this — there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.
Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The philosopher and the poet differ in that the poet knows (rather she feels-knows) the closure that is the defining characteristic of a system is fictional (in more or less interesting ways) … a philosopher may intuit this self-blinding circuit of dialectical thinking as well, but it is the bane of her rigor. Of course there are poet-philosophers and this is not meant as an exclusionary provocation.
A system without a philosopher is like a spinster without her butterflies.
Thomas, well, whether thought makes a thing real or not depends on whether one feels-thinks that our very perception or thinking itself is a medium. If it is, it would seem that such porousness of being would precede language as a mediation of our experience.
Them’s the breaks: are we little perception centers whirring or are we little nodes of sociality cross-pollinating with words?
Scott, I don’t think there’s anything less poetic about gravitas per se than there is about coco puffs or butterflies. Pop culture syntax and content has its effects on us because of advertising (which is surrealism in service of capital).
Yes, Jane, but what if “progress” leads us to logical positions regarding nuclear bombs such as: Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)?
All philosophy is over (in the sense that all systematic thinking seeks knowledge of its own end in order to close the book on knowing), otherwise it is open to what I would call “collateral meaning” and this would make it proximal or poetic and not rigorous or scientific thinking.
Blake was wiser than most. But wisdom (perceived as a generic artifact) has its motifs and cul-du-sacs. Poetry insists on a constant revaluation of values. Poetry is in that holiest of lines of work: the seeking out and killing of idols.
It’s not that I disagree with your articulation or examples. I like both.
It’s that method (weather the dream-method of poetry or the fallibility-method of science) seems to be one’s only way to combat the totalizing instinct. Whether the totalizing instinct is negative as in fascist or racist or classist essentialism or positive as in “the Taoist way” or “the unified theory in physics” is irrelevant to the effect of totalization: erasure of difference.
And the liquidation of physical or conceptual difference is a problem for those who are different or those who think differently. Whole-istic thinking is tempting, as you point out. But, I would add, whole-istic thinking (history is a metaphysical category, after all) can be lethal as much as it can also seem to be necessary.
Jane, my goal is not to sound naive (all forward motion must be toward a better future and so on) or like a know-it-all (since I know nothing but I do enjoy thinking with people (that’s why I teach by asking questions)). It’s bad to be naive because it keeps us from asking the critical questions: what if I am that asshole who thinks everything is moving in the right direction when the effects of my positive outlook are sponsoring the killing of people? But that question and many like it are not enough if they lead to guilt-suppression mechanisms like recreational shopping (or donating or giving alms).
Yes, it is a violent world after all. But once we buy into the idea that we can know it “all”, the mystical function totalizes our potential experiences as this or that knowable purview. We know very little: this then, I claim, is the method both the man of letters and the man of numbers would do well not only to abide by but to use.
It’s a tough proposition because when a question is a demand, isn’t this when it becomes an inquisition? And that wasn’t a very pretty way to learn. I’m saying I don’t have the answers. I’m saying human enthusiasm makes me nervous. Asshole poets (citizens too) should take a basic ethics class, would be my response to your first question.