i love bikini kill. i remember sitting in my car after school my senior year, waiting for my popular, social sister to finish talking to her friends so we could drive home. i would turn up the volume on my bikini kill mix tape as high as it would go and and feel my anger and frustration slip away with kathleen hanna’s words. the riot grrl movement was central to my high school identity and to the identity of the awesome women (and men) around me at the time. ok, so i have a million memories of bk, le tigre, riot grrl and radical feminism (and my bad ass little sister, who probably DID NOT self-identify as popular) but i want to talk about the punk singer.
so, i loved bk but i’ve always said that i want to do the visual art version of le tigre. i didn’t really know what that meant, but after watching the punk singer it was illuminated for me.
kathleen talks about the formation of le tigre and how she and joann wanted to create a band that talked about all the things that were good. she says that in bk they were singing to a outside asshole dude and that in le tigre they were singing to other women. and i interpret that as, bk was responding to the dominant narrative, which needed to be done and i think they did it in the most bad ass way possible. but le tigre was operating outside of the dominant narrative, creating a new one.
she mentions that they were creating a non-competitive atmosphere and a culture of praise which is absolutely outside the dominant narrative.
of course there is this element of raw beauty to everything she has worked on which i think aesthetically jives with what i love. after the movie, there was a panel discussion and i noticed i got totally annoyed by the speakers intellectualizing punk and riot grrl. it literally got me hot under the collar!
i think that so many of us have that left over valley girl accent with question marks on the end of everything or hairy armpits or a little bit of repressed anger and that by moving forward and being who we are and contributing something good to the world, with our imperfections, well, i think that’s all we can do really.
this essay serves, as many catalog essays do, to superficially introduce the artists represented in the exhibition. thompson states that political art is not dead but has been flying under the radar throughout most of the 90’s. he, like helguera, talks about the way of making political art that is not restricted by representation. he also talks about the use of “tactics” by the artists or “interventionists”. the whole essay reads with aplomb and a little bit of aggression, kind of like a carl hiaason novel. though the projects are assertive and exciting, like william pope’s black factory and lucy orta’s art fashion they kind of rub me the wrong way. they have a common spirit, of course, that’s why they are being exhibited together, but there’s something about that that kind of cloys. maybe they are very 90’s feeling??
i can’t help but feel like they are, collectively if not respectively, TOO dramatic. they lack elegance and beauty and wonder. the biographical film about steve kurtz, founder of the critical art ensemble exemplifies this for me. after the unrelated, tragic death of his wife, steve kurtz was arrested and the art work of the CAE was seized. the film felt exploitive and flippant to me.
i guess it’s an aesthetic thing.
a couple of weeks ago i had the great pleasure to see pablo helguera speak at my school. he is a social engagement artist, director of adult and academic programs at MOMA and the author of many books including ‘education for socially engaged art’. as i prepared for the lunch seminar he would be leading by reading his book, i was immediately intrigued. he mentions in his introduction that he wants this book to act as an introductory reference and i appreciated the fact that he offers up his definitions and criteria for art that is termed socially engaged or social practice. he dismisses the term social practice because it doesn’t claim art explicitly and proposes instead socially engaged art because it makes it clear that the work is first and foremost art and not say, anthropology or social work.
i found that super interesting coming as i do from a family of social workers and from my planned parenthood background. i love social work and i love ‘doing service’ to borrow (perhaps inaccurately) from bell hooks. and i love doing art work and am interested in where these seemingly disparate trajectories can come together.
for his lunch seminar helguera focused on a critique of social engagement art. in fact we literally critiqued three projects that he presented to us (just to name one, he proposed a “poverty project” in which the artist would spend no money what so ever but would live in a gallery and/or a fancy all expenses paid residency in france. hilarious). the majors criticisms of the projects were that they were self-centered, indulgent, not really helping or bring attention to the cause they purported to, etc. totally valid and i was glad to hear him critique this kind of arty behavior but then i was even more surprised to see his own artist’s talk. it was kind of a snore and i honestly didn’t see where his work really intersected with anything social. his work was in my opinion self-centered and self indulgent. in one project he didn’t have childcare so he took his daughter with him and performed a reading of a play, while holding his daughter and comforting her when she fussed. in the second he has created this elaborate system of envelopes that will be mailed long after his death. i wasn’t really sure how they enriched society at all or how they might “affect the public sphere in a deep and meaningful way” to quote his book.
not that they had too or that it was his intention but after reading the book and sitting in on the lunch seminar that is what i was expecting.