Last night, at the local premiere of Women Art Revolution, the general feeling in the Walker Theater was not one of blissful nostalgia but rather one of an uncontrollable desire to move forward. Lynn Hershman Leeson noted in the post-screening question-and-answer period that the assembled footage was but a small fraction of what she had shot over a long period of time. Given the interest in form that we approached the other movies of And Yet She Moves with, it is interesting that the last movie was a fairly straight-forward documentary in terms of form, but the content and degree of artistic merit fit well in the constellation of the other films.
Hershman Leeson, in her decisions with the camera and in the editing room, starts to dismantle the patriarchal structure that so often associated with historical documentary. She subverts the generic conventions of documentary by claiming no expertise beyond her own experience. Instead of a handsome and vaguely familiar maleactor’s voice guiding use through some topic we may or may not have any knowledge of, we get a story that has never been told through a community of voices with first-hand experience. It does not rely on a Hollywood star or well-known producers for credibility and in this, it feels more real.
While not purporting to be complete history of feminist art, it allows the viewer a sense of familiarity and intimacy with the remembered history from someone who was at the beginning of the revolution. The value of hearing marginalized stories by marginalized voices allows us to connect the struggle with a face. A metaphor for this subtle subversion occurred in the film when the Guerilla Girls discussed the impact of naming names and publishing statistics about the lack of representation in museums.
It is important in this film to not rely simply on our beliefs. Especially for the viewers in the audience who may have never considered their own ignorance of women artists. HershmanLeeson appropriately deals with the potential for internal bias by making a rhetorical argument through the form. In this way, it is part documentary and part film essay. Her arguments in Women Art Revolution are told through the history of feminist art and artists and the stories that they relate to the camera. This medium is fitting for this argument as it allows the interface of both visual art and the voices of the artists telling the story.
Hershman Leeson noted in the post-screening discussion, however, that this film and the feminist artists’ stories art not enough. The title for the series And Still She Moves is very fitting given her outlook for feminist art. And the overt comparison between Galileo and the feminists is one I think she would agree with. She described the need for constant forward motion and brings this theory to practice with her RawWAR concept; allowing artists to share their work without the prescriptions and constraints of a gallery. In many ways, this is the ultimate enactment of the argument she makes in Women Art Revolution because she is able to find the ending she was searching for in the close of the film. An ending that isn’t really an ending at all, just another medium to make the argument.
The question of how to historicize and archive early feminist film was a recurring theme throughout the And Yet She Moves film series. The project of archiving feminist art is, for Lynn Hershman Leeson, of the highest priority. For her, the lack of representation of the womens’ art movement within the history of contemporary art constitutes an erasure of these womens’ stories and struggles. In !Women, Art, Revolution, Hershman Leeson presented snippets of an overwhelmingly rich selection of women’s art. The film and her accompanying online archiving project attempts to provide a venue for this history.
While I felt inspired and energized by Hershman Leeson’s film, I also thought about some of the other films that were screened during the And Yet She Moves series that took a very different view on the role of the archive. In particular, I was thinking about Chick Strand’s four short films and the debate around preserving early experimental films. Because Strand never allowed her work to be shown at anything other than 16mm and 16mm is becoming an increasingly rarified screening format, this was a precious opportunity to see the films. Additionally, the film Surname Viet, Given Name Nam problematized the idea that the material artifact is a sufficient or accurate marker of history. The film’s investigation of the documentary film format draws the viewer’s attention to the assumptions that film is an inherently trustworthy repository, instead drawing our attention to the role that the documentary format has played in creating dominant narratives in history while erasing others.