The FAG tapes :Sessions 1 – 6
25 June 2012
The FAG tapes 1: Introduction
Walking into the opening night of Will Munro: History, Glamour, Magic I was overwhelmed by ecstatic displays from the attendees. There’s a playfulness in Will’s art that comes through his impulse to rework, transform, and bring together. A display case of flyers for Vazaleen (Will’s famed queer dance parties) conjured an outpouring of collective memory for those who remember them, and for those of us who were too young or simply couldn’t be there, invoked a simultaneous sense of discovery and of loss. Either way, Will’s work had conjured nostalgia in us all.
Listen to Philip Monk briefly introduce the exhibition, Will Munro: History, Glamour, Magic. 38 sec. 2012/02/25
Winding through the exhibition I found myself in the Lezbro room, a bright womb like semi-enclosure that was knit, crocheted and conceived of by Allyson Mitchell, co-founder of the Feminist Art Gallery. It was there, propped against cushions and afghans that I met Emma Hedditch, member of the Cinenova Working Group, a UK based women’s film and video distributor. She had been invited to Toronto to install two works and launch All Hands on the Archive, a collaborative experiment in broadening institutional practices and engaging the Toronto community in open dialogue around specific works from the Cinenova Collection. Four institutions: AGYU, Powerplant, Cinenova and FAG engaged in an experiment, unclear of the outcome but committed to a process. We didn’t know exactly what would follow, but we all sensed something important was in place—that scholars/activists/artists had been mobilized, that films & videos were requested, and that important conversations were imminent.
Listen to Emma Hedditch explain the beginnings of the Cinenova Collective. 7 minutes, 4 seconds. 2012/01/12
Listen to Emelie and Deirdre speak to institutional practices. 1 minute, 36 seconds. 2012/02/04
Listen to Allyson introduce, Cinenova: All Hands on the Archive, through Will’s film collection. 1 minute, 9 seconds. 2012/01/25
Every Saturday in February, we met on the floor of the Feminist Art Gallery: a versatile social space created by Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell. In a converted garage behind their house we snacked on cheezies on the matching orange shag rug surrounded by plush pillows and wooly textured doodads with the relative coziness of the Lezbro room. FAG transformed into a micro-cinema and social space for the screening series, An Audience of Enablers Cannot Fail, the curated selection of films from the Cinenova collection by local activists, artists, and scholars cum enablers.
Listen to Allyson and Deirdre explain the invocation and origins of the term “enabler.” 24 seconds. 2012/02/04
Over the course of the screening series Alexis Mitchell and myself recorded audio for each session. From behind headphones the room sounded far away, the conversations already transforming into something for posterity. What follows is a tour of sorts, a meandering account of events through audio recordings, letters, and other bits of ephemera that held us in place while we looked back.
Moving through the series of events at FAG cannot be chronological, they are fragmentary, incongruent, a crumpled heap that can be rearranged and examined in endless configurations. The categories below are points of entry, Born in Flames looks at radical beginnings and bold statements linking FAG and Cinenova through feminist strategies of resistance. The selection processes of the enablers for All Hands on the Archive are as important as the outcomes of the sessions they facilitated. An audience of enablers cannot fail because they dismantle presenter/audience paradigms and set up dynamic interchange. These weren’t presentations, they were enabled conversations that were allowed to breath and move into entirely new directions, exposing peripheries, margins, and contradictions that could be entered and negotiated. Conversations of radical returns vs. nostalgia were a necessary bridge participants crossed. This radical return is about synthesizing the past with our present. It’s about asking new questions that acknowledge past strategies and struggles in order to find resonance with our contemporary moment while nostalgia is a sentiment that is examined and questioned. Many objects and records emerged from the enabler sessions, which produced tools that I hope will extend beyond the context they were used in. This Agit-ephemera isn’t merely a record of what happened at FAG, but a well of ideas and possibilities to drawn on for future art + activism. Ephemera, despite its close etymological relationship to “the ephemeral,” here means artifacts that have the potential to transform through multiple iterations as they are exchanged and re-circulated, finding new life through their enablement.
The FAG tapes 2: Born in Flames
Film as Film: Formal Experiment in Film
Hayward Gallery, 1979
“It is as though a line could be drawn between past and present and pieces of a person’s life and work pegged on it; no exceptions, no change — theory looks nice — the similarity of item to item reassuring — shirt to shirt — shoulder to shoulder — an inflexible chain, each part in place. The pattern is defined. Cut the line and chronology falls in a crumpled heap. I prefer a crumbled heap, history at my feet, not stretched above my head.”
Lis Rhodes, “Whose History,” in The British Avant-Garde Film: 1926–95: An Anthology of Writings, ed. Michael O’Pray (Luton: University of Luton, 1996), 194.
1 January 2012
In response to TIFF’s (Men)ssential(ist) List of the top 100 films ever made featuring only one film directed by a woman (Agnès Varda’s Cleo de 5 a 7), a screening of Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames took place and became the inauguration of FAG as a micro-cinema. Borden’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi feminist allegory proposes a radical alternate reality and generated the beginnings of what would become an accumulative conversation centered around a work from the Cinenova Collection but speaking to our contemporary political moment.
Extracted from transcripts of the post screening exchange:
“I was thinking a lot about the Occupy Movement…. What I thought was happening in the movie was they started talking about how they were all so fractured and if only they could get together they could have more power and that was being interrupted by the idea that maybe we shouldn’t be all one that we should be fractured so that we’re more powerful and then they seemed to all come together at the end, that’s what I got from it. But I thought it was really interesting in this moment that we’re having now where there is this full acceptance of the idea, no let’s not join together let’s just keep the questions going and what was so fascinating about Occupy was that the media didn’t know how to talk about it they had to ask questions and so they had to get this whole variety of answers. They couldn’t find a leader, which is incredible.”
“It’s so exciting too to see feminism or feminist activism represented because we never ever get to see it. But then also to see it represented in this really complex way where it’s not about a unified front and it shows all the complications around different ideas about the effectiveness of action, what kind of action, how to think it through and stop thinking through and do it. I love it because of that part, seeing this complex feminism that seems to capture it in this way that of course it ends up being kind of hard to get because it’s trying to do so many things at once.”
Listen to Natalie Kourie Towe reflect on the screenings and emergent themes and the questions to which they gave rise. 59 seconds. 2012/02/18
The FAG tapes 3: All Hands on the
Enablers were invited to browse the Cinenova catalogue and select 4 or 5 films from hundreds of titles based on what little information was available. Selection stories range from enablers who chose a revered film, to enablers who took a chance based on a compelling synopsis and a snappy title. As a result we were graced with a dynamic and somehow strangely cohesive program of buried gems and rarely screened films from a canon of feminist film.
4 February 2012
Listen to Midi Onodera on Guerrilla’s in our Midst (Dir. Amy Harrison, 1992). 1 minute.
Listen to Lisa Steele on The Man who Envied Women (Dir. Yvonne Rainer, 1985). 1 minute.
11 February 2012
Listen to Natalie Kourie Towe on Leila and the Wolves (Dir. Heiny Srour, 1984). 6 minutes.
Listen to Hazel Meyer and Logan Macdonald on Some Ground to Stand On (Dir. Joyce Warshow, 1998). 2 minutes.
18 February 2012
Listen to Syrus Marcus Ware on A Place of Rage (Dir. Pratibha Parmar, 1991). 2 minutes.
25 February 2012
Listen to Michèle Pearson Clarke on Framing Lesbian Fashion (Dir. Karen Everett, 1992). 1 minute 25 seconds.
Listen to Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed on Veronica 4 Rose (Dir. Melanie Chait, 1983). 5 minutes.
The FAG tapes 4: An Audience of Enablers Cannot Fail
Enablers engendered space to activate the audience through a mix of autobiography, anecdote, political history, and participatory exchange. But the audience were also the enablers. Sessions consistently dismantled teacher/student or presenter/audience paradigms and set up dynamic interchange. Akin to the structure of Chait’s Veronica 4 Rose, where the filmmaker invited the documentary subjects to view footage and respond, FAG became an engaging space for reflection and exchange both written and spoken. These weren’t presentations–they were enabled conversations that were allowed to breath and move into entirely new directions, exposing peripheries, margins, and contradictions that could be entered and negotiated.
I’m not sure that participatory filmmaking makes for particularly interesting viewing. While I find the process by which the film was made to be interesting I didn’t feel compelled to watch it.
I think I love the cinema so much because of its capacity to act as a catalyst. To generate a dynamic relationship between creators/participants and audiences, a feedback loop between fantasy + reality, the way things are, and the way we desire things to be. What would the world look like if all media addressed and acknowledged specific audiences actively invested in the work-rather than an imagined general audience of detached spectators?
So I woke up this morning with an idea of how I expected my day to go based on the dream I had last night. Standing in between a narrow hallway surrounded by estranged family members; half of them dressed in tuxedos as cameras, flashes & moments of silent resolution struck me as I crossed paths w/ myself, as my younger self. So I woke up and put on my best tuxedo (sans cumberbund) & I walked through the windy, frigid streets of Toronto to go meet a FAG about a film.
“Laughter in the face of serious categories is indispensable for feminism.”
—Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), p 28.
FAG sessions were seriously funny—that is, even during the most sobering and sensitive conversations someone burst the bubble and made us pee a little. That said we walked away with more than just a wet spot, but another FAGtactic. Enablers routinely used comedy while introducing films and in discussions.
Listen to Laugh track
Michèle Pearson Clarke’s presentation on lesbian fashion was a great moment, presenting a queer and present danger to our collective bladders.
Click below for some of her top lesbian fashion blogs.
Listen to Michèle Pearson Clarke on Lesbian Chic. 1 minute 18 seconds. 2012/02/25
Listen to Michèle Pearson Clarke on Lesbian Fashion: No longer an Oxy Moron. 12 minutes. 2012/02/25
The FAG tapes 4: An Audience of Enablers Cannot Fail
Moving through the Cinenova archive cast a gaze back into the history of queer/feminist art + activism, a remobilization of ideas, tactics, philosophies, personalities and of course, fashion. Enablers sought to recover ideas from the past as a means of productively moving forward, beyond a romanticizing nostalgic impulse that can only produce loss and longing. Conversations of radical returns vs. nostalgia were a necessary bridge participants crossed. An intergenerational dialogue between seasoned activists and young-uns brought forth these concerns. Is nostalgia inspirational? Can it make us wish we were born decades before? Does this longing eclipse the urgency of recreating that which we long for, here and now?
Listen to Nostalgia —what’s wrong with it? 47 seconds. 2012/02/11
Dear Audience Member,
Is it necessary to look back to look forward? Maybe not, but what a good view, eh? The cinenova series is one of the most interesting set of history lessons I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. And despite the naysayers, facebook and twitter have not killed conversation. Cheers to that.
“There is another history. A history that I have been taught; that I am told I am part of; a reconstruction of events, that I had no part in, causes that I didn’t cause and effects that testify to my sense of exclusion. This is the history that defines the present, the pattern that confirms and restricts our position and activities. History is not an isolated academic concern but the determining factor in making ‘sense’ ‘non-sense’ — of now. Yesterday defines today, today tomorrow. The values placed upon truth change, viewed from different orientations, different moments flicker with recognition, others fade into oblivion.”
— Lis Rhodes, “Whose History,” in The British Avant-Garde Film: 1926–95: An Anthology of Writings, ed. Michael O’Pray (Luton: University of Luton, 1996), 193.
I loved that people were describing a longing for community, yet we were sitting in community. Sitting, watching, laughing, drinking & eating. This is community. Perhaps people are concerned with longevity. That this was just a time and a place
…I found that since many of the works were made at least 20 years ago, the conversation shifted towards thinking about how things have changed and the level of nostalgia present in engaging this question. This is a form of inquiry that both interests me and frustrates me so I feel stuck on this as a point of focus and I want to question the relevance of this query
The search for belonging, the longing to be a part of a collective & the persistent deja vu of feeling like you missed the perfect moment of collectivity; I am gripped with the nostalgia for another more perfect time, more political fashion, more lesbian haircut. But still, I strive to love you, now.
Dear FAG Participant,
For 4 weeks now I’ve come to the Feminist Art Gallery for 4 hrs of inspiration, hopefulness & nostalgia. Feminist & queer movements from the past make us ache for collective resistance. We want to belong to a movement, feed off the energy of struggle and make connections with one another. The time is soon coming upon us for new collective movements, new revolutions, and new film & video art about this work. Be prepared, either as a participant, observer, activist, artist or other producer / witness.
See ya at demos, or the FAG, or a coffee shop soon.
Many of the screenings centered on social movements. After watching Amy Harrison’s documentary Guerrilla Girls, Midi Onodera encouraged an examination of representations of women and artists of color in the art world in the year 2012. Reflecting on the style of filmmaking in Some Ground to Stand On enablers debated “contemporary sites of video and film production and activism” in Toronto.
Listen to Radical Politicized Voices Post Guerrilla Girls. 27 minutes 10 seconds. 2012/02/04
Listen to Screening Activisms. 5 minutes 54 seconds. 2012/02/11
The FAG tapes 6: Agit–Ephemera
Cinenova’s All Hands on the Archive related the importance of feminist histories that have both posterity and permeability. The various artifacts/photos/letters/recordings/ thoughts/ exchanges/ facebook posts which came into the world through FAG similarly exist to move through the circuits of future-histories of feminist art + activism.
Agit-ephemera does not become a record of what happened at FAG, but rather new tools and tactics for future art + activism, in other contexts. Ephemera, despite its close etymological relationship to “the ephemeral,” here means that it is transformed through its multiple iterations as these artifacts are exchanged and re-circulated, finding new life through their enablement.
Hazel Meyer & Logan Macdonald made fist pumping “Lez Do Democracy” Signs. Helen Reid + Hannah Jickling, and Syrus Marcus Ware rallied the audience to write letters. Writings moved through FAG circles and beyond extending through ephemera our experiences of a moment in collectivity and offering up possibilities and thoughts of localized systems of feminist distribution.
Listen to On the “Lez Do Democracy” signs. 30 seconds. 2012/02/11
Thank you for watching films with us at the F.A.G on Saturday, Feb 25, 2012. We were excited to share Melanie Chait’s “Veronica 4 Rose” with you (&as we mentioned before), there seemed to be some pointing back and forth between this film and Miranda July’s video chain letter, “Joanie 4 Jackie” (began in 1995). Our own Emma Hedditch launched a similar project in called, “And I Will Do” that distributed the voices and work of young women video/film makers to/ amongst each other.
Because so much of “Veronica 4 Rose” was about the distribution, reception & visibility of young women’s lives it was clear to us that Joanie 4 Jackie was inspired by this earlier film. This was a sort of unsubstantiated connection, so we guess that the influences of these works on each other is a rumor we are spreading. If you are interested watch this…
Miranda July Joanie for Jackie part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLsZ6EOxzPE
We are excited about all of these works/ projects because they point back to what we were doing at the F.A.G – cultivating an audience / conversation / community for each other that we may be missing elsewhere. It also helps wrap things right-on-back to a text we encountered in early January (with some of you) by Lis Rhodes called “Whose History.”
Though our letter writing activity was not really a chain letter, we wanted to oblige you to participate in some awkwardness & make you say something with a pen, (with the promise of getting something back)
Your letters talked about the screenings but also more generally about the larger project of, “an audience of enablers cannot fail” there were too many letters to send you each a copy, but if you would really love all of them, write us and we will make it happen. For today we are sending you 4 (sorry if you got your own)
Listen to Hannah & Helen discuss their impulse to create a letter writing workshop. 43 seconds. 2012/02/25
The beauty of these films is the windows they offer into our collective past. And the time / space collapsing ability to form a unified community. Our viewings here, them speaking there.
They also point at the limitation of medium. The fragmentation of experience as it’s mediated by technology, perspective, memory only passes through pieces of a time and place. The beauty for me is the act of viewing them in this space. Here / now they become something completely new. And the footage / feedback can be shot into the future to all, to the archive.
Syrus hung bios of local activists and provided stickers encouraging the enablers to write a letter as an act of solidarity.
Listen to Syrus Marcus Ware read a letter from James Baldwin to Angela Davis. 2 minutes 39 seconds. 2012/02/18
Listen to Syrus Marcus Ware read from other letters. 2 minutes 28 seconds. 2012/02/18