performing my self
trials and tribulations
It’s Libra season now, which means it is officially my favorite time of year (fall). I am sitting at the gate of flight SN2583. Around me are business people nodding at and elbowing each other, as well as a 40 year old marathon runner seeking attention from his mother, and the other familiarly ad-hoc host of souls.
My hair is in a high pony tail. Since my last letter, I have dyed it “Montmartre Rouge,” although the color is fading fast. My new journal is designed for a child, in that it has a fuzzy fluffy pink cover and there is a shimmering crown-wearing swan embroidered on the cover. My sweatshirt is a common heather grey and the words “the future is anal” are printed across the chest in simple black font. I pause from my scribbling to wonder how this constellation of elements affects how my flight mates perceive me.
Performing my self has always come naturally. I am a character I construct and reconstruct; I go through études and variations. My appearance changes dramatically every few years, like how now I have long red hair and in 2021 I had a pale pink mullet. There was a horse-girl-brown phase in the interim. But it’s more than appearance – it’s a performance that reacts to how I read the way I am perceived. The craft is calculating how much that perception should be matched or subverted, and why. Spaces of orderly chaos, like airports, have this fake neutrality about them that generates a need in me create disruption – lying on the ground, humming, laughing loudly on the phone. Sometimes my own attempts at disruption makes me feel ill at ease. I love my sweatshirt, but I questioned my decision-making when I walked down the aisle of the airplane.
Arvida Byström posted a photo of what looks like a huge white scar of a bow on her lower back. I saw it on my Instagram feed. Byström is a Swedish artist who came to moderate fame around 2015, when 4th wave feminism felt important. This digitally-infused branch of feminism concernes itself with selfies, notably of the “sad-girl” variety and the armpit hair variety. Among other things, 4th wave feminism analyses the dynamics of feminized objectification online and in the image. Around 2012-16 The effects of the “male gaze” were being talked about in a new way, understanding that most images of women, not to mention perceptions, beliefs, and narratives of feminized bodies were most often constructed, controlled, and imposed by the patriarchy. The internet and camera phones effectively put the means of production of the image and narrative into the hands of everyone. I was deeply into 4th wave feminism, and made work through its prism, notably a piece called UAV SOP BTW DTF about drone warfare and cam girls.
The political problems with 4th wave feminism were that, most often, the “feminist” images and selfies were taken by people who were young and normatively beautiful (thin, cis, and white). Eyebrows were raised, like with this brilliant article by Carrie Mae Weems, which changed my mind forever. “Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl” was around, which was interesting but I also found it totally derogatory, which is probably what the authors were trying to make me feel. The anonymous collective who wrote it spoke through quotes from French women’s magazines, as well as Proust. It’s about how the archetype of the young-girl is always only a cipher for capitalist drudgery as well as its ultimate product. But maybe I didn’t understand that book? In any case, by 2016 there were more important things to think about.
Somehow Byström’s work survived and still feels somewhat relevant, which I am not sad about. There is something satisfying to me about an artist whose studio features a huge mirror, backdrops, and circle lights. I picture miniskirts and makeup strewn about her floor. That the artist is 100% unapologetic about how the way she looks is central to her work gives me immense pleasure. Today, Byström is working with sex robots and swords of all sizes – I haven’t rly looked into it. I did see she is performing at the Creamcake 3hd festival, which looked good but I can’t go. If you attend, can you let me know how it was?
This ‘selfie feminism’ moment was a real thing that happened. It’s part of art history and it is a part of my personal history. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a neutral body, and there is no such thing as a special body. A white girl positionality isn’t a subversive one unless it is actively working to disseminate power and resources on a wider scale, and very often it perpetuates the centering of a privileged subjectivity that is already at the center of so many things. When it comes to art, I like it layered in a juicy lasagna of paradoxes and nuances, in chorus with other subjectivities.
The more I learn about the intricacies of the privileges of my subject-hood (even if it is so often an object-hood), the less guilt I feel, which allows me to perceive violence that might otherwise be occluded to me (including violence enacted upon me). Through more deeply understanding the non-neutrality of my subjectivity, and how there is nothing special about me, the more of the world I am able to perceive – a gift in its own right.
Melanie Jame Wolf’s new solo exhibition, entitled The Creep and replete with sculptures and a stunning film, will open at E-Werk Luckenwalde on October 21st, 14:00-18:00, with a performance at 15:00. Curated by Adriana Tranca, it runs from October 21st to February 10th. It has been a pleasure and honor (as always) to work with MJ.
Writer, director, producer, editor, performer: Melanie Jame Wolf
Assistant Director: Louise Trueheart
Director of Photography: Ashton Green
Gaffer: Elisa Daniel
Styling & Art Direction Assistance: Evan Loxton
Score: Mars Dietz
Colour: Sam Smith
Production Assistance: Agne Auzelyte
Suit Costuming: Nicolas Navarro Rueda
I hope to see you at the opening so we can toast and celebrate this artist and her work!
Thank you to all those who have recently upgraded to paid! I wanted to drop a note about it to say that I am still figuring out how best to do this. If you have questions or if something bugs, please let me know.
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