For my project this week at FHSU I worked with a group on a performance piece that we entitled "The Gorilla Girls Fill the Space" as it was a "filled space" assignment. This group was comprised of five female graduate students over the age of forty and our camera man, who is a young African American gentle man who is working on his bachelors degree in graphic design at FHSU. For our performance we each covered ourselves in liquid clay and then made a body print on a roll of paper a la Yves Klein, wearing gorilla masks (OK, they were more monkey, but they were cheap!), channeling the spirit of the Guerrilla Girls. The performance was recorded and then the prints and the video were displayed in the school gallery along with the installations of the remainder of our class.
While there are certainly things that could be improved on to better clarify our statement about being older women entering the art world and how we perceive ourselves and how the art world perceives us, I don't think the performance was too bad for a first attempt. It was suggested that we try and tie in some statistics about the way women are treated in the arts, like the Guerrilla Girls do in theirs. This could be done by handing out flyers to the audience, quoting statistics before the performance*, and/or incorporating scripted dialog during the performance. I feel that having the women paint themselves, using their favorite medium, spoke about our work to create works of art that speak of our own experiences rather than being passively painted by a man and then having him direct us in making a body print like Yves Klein did. Just like the Guerrilla Girls, we are taking steps to control our own lives and careers in a male dominated world.
One of the most interesting aspects of this project for me was the way it turned into a psychological experiment with the audience. One of the women in the class, who has her hair cut short and wears more masculine clothing but identifies as a woman, was very excited about the project, in part because she really identified with the idea of being an "other." ** It was interesting to see her excitement, tainted with chagrin for the performers initial discomfort, for the project and it really warmed my heart. On the other side of the coin was another graduate student who wondered why we had to taint the joy and excitement of playing in the mud with a political agenda of promoting women's rights in the arts. As he is the only male graduate student who is also very young, I understand how he has difficulty understanding our viewpoint as older women, but it was a little disappointing to me that he was unable to step out of his point of view and at least try and understand ours. (There was also someone who told us "not to cheapen ourselves" in a written comment, which was down right insulting.) Of course, as an artist, one gets used to people "not getting" your work or making offensive comments about it. That's part of the thick skin that one needs to develop in order to survive as an artist.
You can click here to view the video taken during the performance if you'd like, but please keep the swimsuit comments to yourself ;)
P.S. Names have been omitted from this piece to protect the identities of the actors.
* rather than pulling a short speech out of my head like I did.
**or "sub-group" as the conservatives seem to be calling those who aren't white and male these days.