THE VOICE OF A WOMAN Wed, 20 May 2015 00:00:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 MARY KELLY | ARTIST Tue, 19 May 2015 23:27:14 +0000


Mary Kelly will be in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist at Tate Modern, 22 May 2015. Also see Kelly’s work at A Voice Remains, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery to 30 May 2015 - London.

“It’s good to have a vision. Even if it’s flawed, or turns out to be not what you expected.” Mary Kelly would know. As one of the world’s foremost feminist artists, she has pursued hers relentlessly for 45 years. It gives her a long view of the feminist movement that is refreshingly upbeat. “Something very wonderful has happened. If you look at how men engage with their children, it’s totally different. My husband Ray was the only man with a child in a backpack at the big demonstrations in the 70s. He used to get wolf-whistled picking our son up from school.”

When she started out, just getting heard required a shock to the system. In the mid-70s, her installation at the ICA, Post-Partum Document, analysed her newborn son’s development, their emotional bond, his early attempts at writing – and framed and hung his stained nappies on the gallery walls. “On display at the ICA … dirty nappies!” ran the Standard’s outraged headline.

Shock of the soiled ... Mary Kelly's Post-partum Document scandalised the tabloids in the 70s

But Kelly was less interested in provoking the tabloids than adding a new voice to conceptual art. Something was missing, she felt, from the work made by these mostly male Americans up to that point. Her companion piece Antepartum, a looped film of her pregnant abdomen with her child kicking beneath the skin, hammered this point home. Today, it’s shown alongside minimalists such as Richard Serra or Donald Judd, only hers is a minimalism with a human relationship at its core.

It may have been Kelly’s education that led her to challenge the establishment. She began conventionally, studying painting outside Florence. But her first job was in Beirut at the American-Lebanese University, where she met francophone intellectuals and pored over the ideas of Sartre and Lacan. When war arrived in Lebanon, she moved to Paris, just in the time for the protests of ’68. From there to London, for postgrad work at St Martin’s art school. The atmosphere in London added the final piece of her radical makeup: she joined a commune, met her husband Ray, also an artist, and entered the women’s movement – an experience she describes as utterly transformative.

Today she and Ray share an immaculate white house in the hills of Bel Air. They greet us at the door, and she surprises the photographer by taking his hand to show him around. I follow Ray into the living room, which looks like a fine exhibition of Bauhaus furniture. They bought the place when Mary became a professor at UCLA.

Kelly does not conform to any cliche of a radical feminist. She has a zen-like calm. She speaks quietly, with sentences punctuated only by a persistent, but rather elegant, cough. Her hair is arranged in a beautiful crown, like something a Dutch master would paint. Now in her 70s, she remains cutting-edge, and speaks fluently of social media, screengrabs and drone warfare. Perhaps her only tell is the critical theory that peppers her speech. The Post-Partum work was “overdetermined”, she says, by her pregnancy during an earlier work, Nightcleaners – a study of the women cleaning London office buildings. The groups involved in that project give a real flavour of the time. She was part of a women’s-lib cadre called the History Group, and was assigned to work with the Berwick Street film collective to support unionisation. Nightcleaners was intended as a propaganda film, but became a seminal work of documentary art.

Conceptual art with an emotional bond at its core ... Post-Partum Document (1978) showed Kelly’s son’s earliest attempts at writing. Photograph: Image courtesy Collection Arts Council England.

“The women took those jobs because they had to look after the children during the day. That began what we called the sexual-social division of labour that underpinned inequality.” But Kelly felt that the male-dominated labour movement was failing to see the real issue. “It wasn’t as simple as having someone else take care of the children. You had to understand what the pleasure was in the relationship with the child.”

She seized on the idea of non-essentialist feminism, that a woman’s place shouldn’t be physically determined, but created by her experiences. The Post-Partum Document is an analysis not just of all a mother is, but the process by which she becomes those things. Suddenly those dirty nappies seem less shock tactic and more reality check.

Kelly’s work has always retained its personal, emotional payload. For some years, her primary medium has been lint – you know, from a tumble dryer. Like the dirty nappies, the material can seem like an invitation to scoff, but it’s designed to emphasise the workaday. Dryer lint is, of course, more familiar to most people than bronze, canvas or oils. The sad humour is there, too: she uses the fluff to make ephemeral war memorials, which often display the words of victims of violence. Kelly is painstaking in her attempts to articulate these voices. In a recent work, Dicere, she prints the testimony of two Afghan children whose grandmother was killed in a drone attack. “They had these phrases that you couldn’t translate easily from the Urdu,” she says. “Like, ‘She was the string that holds pearls together.’ The language does something very important to me.’’

Her larger lintworks require 10,000 cycles of the dryer. I imagine a team of assistants manning banks of machines, but Kelly corrects me. “I wish there were,” she says, “but it’s just a peculiarity of this one” and she points to the laundry room just beyond her studio.

I ask her if it’s all been worthwhile. Despite the protest movement, decades of political art and legislation, perhaps the victims of injustice have merely changed. If she were to make Nightcleaners now, wouldn’t the people be immigrants, lower paid, and no closer to unionisation? “Well, nothing is ever finally solved,” she says. “One would be crazy to think so.

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AGNES VARDA – SALUTE Sun, 17 May 2015 15:20:35 +0000

A VOICE OF A WOMAN SALUTE to filmmaker Agnès Varda who will be honored for the body of her work at the closing ceremony of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. She’s the first woman selected for this distinction. Only three other directors — Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood and Bernardo Bertolucci — have been recognized in this way for the global impact of their body of work.

From her first film, La Pointe Courte in 1954, Varda’s style reflected elements of what would become the French New Wave although because she preceded that movement her work is more Left Bank in style. Her next feature, Cleo From 5 To 7, was a documentary style look at a singer awaiting results of a biopsy, which foreshadowed Varda’s fascination with human mortality. Her films also tended to focus on women and her subsequent Vagabond examined the investigation of the death of a female drifter.

She married film director Jacques Demy in 1962 and after his death in 1990, she made Jacquot de Nantes, about his life and death.

In 2000, she used a digital camera to make The Gleaners and I. Her 2008 autobiographical work Les plages d’Agnès picked up France’s the César for best documentary.

A well-rounded and multifaceted artist, she started out as a photographer. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art held an exhibition entitled "Agnes Varda in Californialand" in 2013. The show was a sort of reflection of the time Varda spent in Los Angeles in the ’60s and included sculpture, photographs and short films.


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“WOMEN FROM BLUES” Sun, 17 May 2015 14:12:17 +0000 "WOMEN FROM BLUES" - Documentary Feature Film

Written & Directed by:  Maureen A. Bryan

Currently in Production

Release Date: Fall 2015

“The Legends of Women From Blues” journeys from Blues through Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, Funk and Soul exploring the lives, ‘voice’ and influence of women through song. This documentary seeks to tell the stories of extraordinary women, pioneering women who laid the foundation for and helped to shape the sound of popular music - ambassadors who raised their voices to share their experiences, blues, protest, desires, loves, hopes and dreams through song, against a back- drop of ‘history’, in particular women’s ‘history’ from the early 1900’s to the present.

Exploring the lives of female singers provides a window into the inner lives, voice and experiences of all women. Their stories, whether sung or lived are universal, illuminating the ever-changing historical context of women. We see that unlike the women of their day these artists broke away from society’s rules about how women should act, look, sound and feel, and in so doing these artistic pioneers staked out a new territory for women’s consciousness, particulary for the generations that would follow. Their stories are incredible, in many cases from poverty, marginalized by gender and race, to prominence in mainstream national and international culture. Their challenging journeys to become cultural icons, both in life and death, is the stuff that dreams are made of, but more importantly required extraordinary talent, fierce courage, strength and determination, which led to triumph and in most cases tragedy.


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AVA DUVERNAY: FILM Thu, 05 Mar 2015 07:59:44 +0000 The American movie mainstream needs a revolution — and if some women have their way, it just might get one. It’s time. Not because Ava DuVernay wasn’t tapped as a best director in the recent Academy Award nominations, even though her acclaimed movie “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture. There has been a lot of speculation about the snub, but the reasons are less crucial than the message that the largely white, male directors in the Academy sent: This woman doesn’t deserve credit for her own movie. Women in film are routinely denied jobs, credits, prizes and equal pay, so the rebuke was familiar. That’s because while individual men struggle in the industry, women struggle as a group.

The outrage over the Oscar nominations has been welcome even if the problem isn’t the Academy Awards but a blinkered, fossilized industry that offers so few opportunities to women and minorities. Ms. DuVernay is one of the few female directors to make the leap into the major studio world. While it’s disappointing that she wasn’t nominated, she made a great movie and is going to keep directing without the permission of the mainstream old guard. The good news is that she won’t be alone. Increasing numbers of people — if mostly women — are pushing back hard at the industry’s biases. And they’re pushing back publicly, a gutsy stance in an industry that runs on secrets, lies and fear.

The director Ava DuVernay. Credit Kevork Djansezian/Reuters

Some of these activists, like Geena Davis, are focusing on female representation in the media; others, like Maria Giese, a member of the Directors Guild of America, are going after their own organization. Gamechanger Films is practicing checkbook activism by funding female directors. The Sundance Institute and the advocacy group Women in Film have commissioned an important study for which researchers like Stacy L. Smith are crunching the numbers. Consider some recent findings: Only 4.4 percent of the top 100 box-office domestic releases between 2002 and 2012 were directed by women. In 2012, only 28.4 percent of all on-screen speaking characters in the top 100 were women. If you thought women in movies don’t have much of a voice, you’re right.

American commercial cinema has long been dominated by men, but I don’t think there has ever been another time when women have been as underrepresented on screen as they are now. The biggest problem isn’t genuinely independent cinema, where lower budgets mean more opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera. The problem is the six major studios that dominate the box office, the entertainment chatter and the popular imagination. Their refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women.

The barriers that female directors confront are numerous, substantial, structural and ideological, which is why activists are attacking biases on a number of fronts. Ms. Giese, for one, has turned her personal frustration over a stalled directing career into a veritable crusade. Her primary target has been her own organization, the Directors Guild, the labor group that represents more than 15,000 directors and directorial support staff working in movies, television, commercials, the news, sports and new media. In the 1930s, Dorothy Arzner became the Guild’s first female member. Women now make up 22.5 percent of its membership — but only 13.7 percent are directors.

Ava DuVernay narrates a sequence from “Selma,” featuring David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo.

Among Ms. Giese’s criticisms is how the Guild classifies women and male minorities under the general rubric of diversity, including in its latest contract, which stipulates that employers “shall work diligently and make good faith efforts to increase the number of working racial and ethnic minority and women directors.” She writes on the blog Women Directors in Hollywood that companies that are Guild signatories can “fulfill their diversity obligations by hiring male ethnic minority members, and hiring no women at all.” In a recent study, the Guild established that minority men directed 17 percent of the prime time episodic television produced from 2013-14, while white women directed 12 percent and minority women directed 2 percent. The numbers for both women and minority men are undeniably awful, and the industrious Tyler Perry might be pushing the numbers up for minority men.

I raised the issue of combining women and minority men with Paris Barclay, the president of the Directors Guild, noting that 23 percent of a recent season of the FX series “Sons of Anarchy” had been directed by a minority man — namely Mr. Barclay — while 8 percent (one episode) had a female director.

“Well, it’s interesting,” he said, speaking by phone. “I mean, on ‘Sons’ the No. 1 director was me, that’s true. I’m a black, gay man, so I’m virtually a woman,” he said with a laugh. “We’re in a fight for hiring equity, and the work that it takes to break down these studio and network directing stereotypes requires advocating for all of our members,” Mr. Barclay continued. “We really believe in this particular fight that solidarity is the way to go.

The actress Geena Davis and Amy Miles, chief executive of Regal Entertainment Group. Credit Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

Solidarity is a seductive word, but it can also obscure the differences between sexism and racism. With rare exceptions, women of all colors were shut out of directing during the old Hollywood studio era, for instance. But some white women did work in executive suites and on sets, while many more worked as actresses, even as black and Asian women were relegated to invisibility or maid uniforms. Female filmgoers helped popularize movies and build a star system that, in turn, produced indelible images of women — along with stereotyped roles, the casting couch and the occasional suicide. There are still female stars, and most, alas, are still white, but actresses now often compensate for a lack of roles by playing the star on the red carpet and in the entertainment media.

Behind the parade of dazzling smiles and designer gowns is an industry that is failing women. The most visible proof is the limited roles for women, especially in top box-office releases. In 2004, Ms. Davis founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, an organization she runs with Madeline Di Nonno. They have raised awareness through educational campaigns, symposiums and deep-dive research. Among their findings is a statistic that many women know intuitively: Female directors and writers create more female characters than men do. That isn’t the case with producers, which may be why there seem to be more high-profile female producers than directors.

An important partner in Ms. Davis’s activism has been Dr. Smith, a researcher at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, at the University of Southern California. Squirreled away in a media lab on the campus, Dr. Smith’s team collects data that put the American movie industry’s sexism into stark, empirical relief. The lab is modest, dominated by a narrow hallway crammed with computers and a room in which, the day I visited last fall, a handful of students were coding titles like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” a painstaking process — each movie is checked by at least three people — that allows them to identify the gender breakdown in a movie, among other factors.

From left, Cathy Schulman, the president of the advocacy group Women in Film, and Keri Putnam, the executive director of the Sundance Institute. Credit Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

A few years ago, Cathy Schulman, the president of Women in Film, and Keri Putnam, the executive director of the Sundance Institute, joined forces with Dr. Smith for a three-part study on female directors. “Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers,” conducted by Dr. Smith, Katherine Pieper and Marc Choueiti at Annenberg’s Media Diversity and Social Change Institute looks at gender differences at Sundance’s film festival and its filmmaking labs from 2002 to 2013. Sundance has been, for good reason, widely viewed as more welcoming to women: During the study’s period of research, women directed about a quarter of the movies in the high-profile dramatic competition, far more than they did in the top 100 box-office releases.

There is a multitude of reasons female directors struggle, from the legacy of the historically male-dominated Hollywood to, as Kim Gordon once suggested, a fear of a female planet. Women fare fine in some areas, including in film schools. In 1998, Martha M. Lauzen, who tallies women working behind the scenes in her annual report, “The Celluloid Ceiling,” found that women composed from one-third to over one-half of the students at the schools she surveyed. More recently, I checked in with six film schools, including Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles, and found that women were consistently well represented. The problems happen later.

Ms. Schulman said that there’s “an absolute decrescendo of opportunity for women as the economics crescendo.” The third part of the Women in Film/Sundance study, which will be previewed at Sundance on Monday, takes a closer look at early careers and why it’s hard for female filmmakers to make second and third movies that are either independently or institutionally funded. “Women are treated more equally in the independent sector,” said Kimberly Peirce, who went through Sundance’s directors and screenwriters labs with “Boys Don't Cry” her 1999 feature debut, and whose second feature, “Stop-Loss,” was released nine years later. “You don’t have histories of employment, you don’t have tendencies. You’ve just got a story — let’s tell it. You’re less encumbered by presuppositions.”

Left, Chlöe Sevigny and Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry," directed by Kimberly Pierce. Credit Bill Matlock/Fox Searchlight

The equity fund Gamechanger Films is bypassing those assumptions by tapping investors to bankroll female directors. This for-profit was founded in 2013 by four independent producers — Julie Parker Benello, Dan Cogan, Geralyn Dreyfous and Wendy Ettinger — who were moved to action around the same time as the Women in Film and Sundance research was gearing up.

“Our contribution,” Mr. Cogan said, “was to say that the way you address this problem is money. It’s about access to capital for women directors. That’s it. It’s not about mentorship. It’s about putting the money on the table and giving it to women.” To that end, Gamechanger focuses on commercial projects across a variety of genres. One of its recent titles is a forthcoming thriller, “The Invitation” from Karyn Kusama, who broke out with the indie favorite “Girlfight,” stumbled in the commercial mainstream (“Aeon Flux”) and has now re-entered the indie fold.

Money will only go so far. Minds need to change and, more radically, filmmaking values and habits. Even as women have directed more movies, the profession remains heavily coded as masculine, from its white-collar male auteurs to its blue-collar laborers. It has a production culture developed over time by men, and if more women are to join its ranks, that culture will need to evolve, including dealing with the crushing hours that are especially difficult if you’re the primary caretaker of your kids. Female directors eagerly work those hours.

But the question — especially given concerns over hours and safety — is why anyone, fathers and mothers included, should have to. Clint Eastwood, first among he-men auteurs, is famous for quick, efficient shoots. Anyone who thinks women can’t hack it should know the name Jamie Babbit, who was directing a movie right after delivering a baby. (Her next feature, “Fresno,” was funded by Gamechanger.)She had tried to hide her pregnancy from her financier, worrying that it might get in the way of the movie. She hoped it looked like she just had a beer belly. The week she was to deliver, the financier told her that their movie was suddenly a go. “O.K., give me three days after I deliver,” Ms. Babbit said, “and I’ll come.” She hired a nanny and directed the movie, pumping milk through the shoot.

Ms. Babbit had a chance and grabbed it, just as any man would, the difference being that she did so with a baby in tow. This isn’t 1960, even if the movie industry continues to treat women — film directors and filmgoers alike — as if it were. In 1960, most women worked in the home and most Americans were white. Now almost 60 percent of women participate in the labor force, and 40 percent are the sole or primary wage-earners. Whites are 64 percent of the population. According to the Pew Research Center, by 2060, around the time that “Marvel’s The Avengers: 48 Years Young!” opens on your wearable device, whites will be 43 percent.

By then, Ms. DuVernay will have a few dusty Oscars, and girls being born around now will be running the world and, if any are left, a few movie studios. Just watch.

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BJORK – MOMA (2015) Wed, 04 Mar 2015 05:19:40 +0000 With pulsating sounds, stunning videos and elaborate costumes, a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) dedicated to the work of Bjork transports visitors into the creative world of the Icelandic musician, composer and singer.

"Bjork" which opens on Sunday March 8th and runs through June 7th, follows the artist through 20 years of her career, from her first mature solo album "Debut" in 1993 to her latest work and a new music installation commissioned for the retrospective.


"It's been an incredibly generous and fruitful journey for me," Bjork, 49, said at a preview of the show on Tuesday.

Through her long, cutting-edge career, Bjork has experimented with sounds, images, technology and themes ranging from nature to feminism in eight albums, numerous videos and collaborations with designers, producers and photographers, which are included in the retrospective.

"This is a huge, pioneering endeavor," said Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA's chief curator at large. "We have one of the most innovative and most influential contemporary artists in the area of music embarking on this endeavor with us."

Three years in the making, the show is designed to be an immersive, transformative experience and includes an augmented audio guide.

It includes unusual instruments used on Bjork's 2011 hybrid album, Biophilia, which are displayed and programmed to play music and sounds in the museum's lobby as well as a chronological presentation of her music videos and an experimental sound experience called Songlines.

Songlines, with its personalized audio guide of Bjork's music and a fictitiously biographical narrative, details her work and creative process through her albums and the characters she created for them. It includes costumes, photos, diaries, music and lyrics, and some of the characters she created for them.

The feathered swan dress Bjork wore to the Academy Awards in 2001 is displayed, along with robots for the music video "All is Full of Love," and the bell-shaped dress created by the late designer Alexander McQueen in 2004 for the video "Who Is It?" from her "Medulla" album.

But Biesenbach said the heart of the retrospective is a 10-minute video called "Black Lake," that was filmed over three days last summer in the caves and lava fields of Iceland. Bjork has always pushed to the edge of her self expression.

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CARRIE MAE WEEMS: ARTIST Sun, 01 Mar 2015 20:17:53 +0000 During the past twenty-five years, I have worked toward developing a complex body of art that has at various times employed photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and, most recently, video. My work has led me to investigate family relationships, gender roles, the histories of racism, sexism, class, and various political systems. Despite the variety of my explorations, throughout it all it has been my contention that my responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.

Storytelling is fundamental to my work, a way to best express the human condition that has been a focus of my art from my earliest documentary photographic series, Family Pictures and Stories (1978-1984). This characteristic continued through increasingly complex and layered works such as Ain't Jokin' (1987-1988), Colored People (1989-1990), and the Kitchen Table Series (1990). In these series, I endeavored to intertwine themes as I have found them in life—racial, sexual, and cultural identity and history—and presented them with overtones of humor and sadness, loss and redemption. Throughout the 1990s, I broadened both the geographical scope and the forms of my expression. I explored the African diaspora beginning in America with the Sea Island series (1991-1992). I visited Africa and out of this journey came several series from 1993: Africa, Slave Coast and Landed in Africa. A commission to investigate a body of historical photo-images of blacks from the Getty Museum in 1995 led to an extension of this interest in the diaspora in the series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, a feverishly toned polemic that integrated photograph and text.

In 1997, I began a trilogy of large-scale fabric installations that resulted in Ritual & Revolution (1998), The Jefferson Suite (1999), and The Hampton Project (2000). Each series was a further stage in my drive to make my expression both truer to my own experience of the world and meaningful to a wider audience. Digital technology has enabled me to enlarge my photographs to a scale that allows the viewer to enter physically into the work of art. Each series was a multi-media installation, encompassing digitally produced images on muslin cloth and canvas and an artist-recorded audio piece Ritual & Revolution, commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, explores a world history of humanitarian crises and poses questions related to the agency of artmaking in political terms. The Jefferson Suite, commissioned by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, investigated unresolved issues of racial and gender identity by examining the ramifications of genetic research and the politics of DNA technologies. The Hampton Project, commissioned by the Williams College Museum of Art, treats issues of race, education, and assimilation through a critical, multi-leveled investigation of the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and its methods of instruction for African American and Native American pupils at the turn of the twentieth century. This last series resulted in a monograph co-published by Williams College and Aperture Press.

My most recent investigation, The Louisiana Project, was part of the bicentennial celebrations surrounding the commemoration of the Louisiana Purchase, commissioned by Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Gallery. This project teases out the hidden histories of Louisiana which led to the Mardi Gras, a theatricalized condensation of a web of relationships between black and white, rich and poor, elites and the masses. The installation included photographs, text, video stills, and video. The addition of the moving image in my work represents a shift that allows me to finally negotiate the space between museum culture and popular culture.