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“Re.act.feminism #2 – a performing archive” is on level -2 at the Fundació Tàpies. Going down into the basement, good for that archival feel. The very same wooden crates with which the archive travels from one location to another (the show has been travelling since 2011, since opening at the Centro Cultural Montehermoso Kulturunea Vitoria-Gasteiz) serve to display the documents that make up the archive, re-recorded DVDs and photographs that document a huge number of all sorts of performances. White chairs, white walls, with a very subtle light in each “box” to consult the video and audio. There is also a projection on the wall and a sofa. It’s clear that what matters here is the material; there is no apparent discourse, even though the selection itself is one. Indexed lists on each table, of wait for it 160 artists (there are seven more in the archive that aren’t available in Barcelona due to questions of copyright.). All of them are female. Are they all there? One thing is clear, there’s not one male. Women talking about women. A lot of material from the 60s to the 80s, and also later.
I ask the museum assistant for the material that I want to consult, at least today (you can go up to six times with the same ticket). She tirelessly explained, over and over again, the content of the archive to anybody who came up to her, an excellent job. I carried on with mine, though I still wonder if discussion of women by women adds significance to the re-vindications. Is only a female feminist valid? I also think about the reflections that Maite Garbayo published at A*DESK a few weeks ago, about the museumification of movements. Have we archived feminism or are we still fighting for our rights?
I have to admit that the feminist struggle –here and now- provokes a certain internal conflict within me. I know that it is politically incorrect to say so, but I still ask myself: what is the point of talking about feminism when the question is really a much broader one? Let’s be honest: is it not reductionist to talk just about women when we could talk of transexuals, gays, lesbians, intersexuals, etc.?
I return to the list of available archives. There are documents that I’ve wanted to see for a while now, names that I already knew and many that I didn’t. I choose the odd classic and then take whatever comes by chance. Suddenly I’m overwhelmed by the quantity of images, minutes and reflections that are held in these wooden crates. As if that wasn´t enough, as a travelling archive, Re.act feminism is self-generating yet more content with each discussion, performance or presentation that takes place in the different locations through which it passes. Undoubtedly what is really valuable (that is by no means minor) about Re.act Feminism is that it puts within the public’s reach material that is otherwise not easy to access. What is presented for consultation is unbeatable: on the web 95 tags interlink the 167 artists, making it possible to access the material through distinct routes.
That said, I think that conceptually the title, feminism, is an error. For even if everything in this archive is made by women not all the material intentionally refers to women as the focal point. Needless to say on the other hand, not all that is female is feminist, and it is obvious that not everything made by women is female (see the brilliant “Lachen” by Antonia Baher, for example, in which, beyond the voice, the interpreter is male).
It is though interesting to observe the progression of the contents of the performances, that might have a common denominator (this is subjective) of measuring limits, of testing preconceptions. It’s acceptable to ask if performance wasn’t, in its day, the only possible route for real expression that was the objective of these artists. Converting the object into subject, this feminism- at the time, yes- found in the 60s and 70s channels that were more in accord with the intentions of the message. The choice of performance has what is more an indispensable reading: it enables like no other channel the mixture of the personal/private with the public, a “direct exposure” that provokes, explores and manifests in the same act.
Chronologically, the “I’m going to show you what I can stand” runs through works that initiate with the use of the body itself as an act of empowerment and the demystification of modesty to more recent self-exercised mutilations. Watching Regina José Galindo write BITCH on her leg with a knife I suddenly feel, and I’m not sure why, a deep sense of gender solidarity.
I think about the persistent objectification of women; as a prostitute; as a tactic; I think about rape; the all too frequent humiliations of women to punish a population in times of war; the arranged marriages between little girls and men; female circumcision; the traffic of white women. Women still need to fight and vindicate, particularly if I go beyond myself, beyond the here and now. I’m knocked out watching Boryana Rossa’s performance of sewing up her vagina, or how Valie Export treats herself as an object in “Tapp und Tastkino”, or how María Ruido denounces with a progressive muteness the stereotypes and unequal access to communication of women in “La Voz Humana”. But there are as many perspectives as artists gathered in this archive. It is impossible to refer here to all the available material. There are pieces that are documentary while others are ironic or surrealist. There are hysterical ones, subtle ones, direct ones and erotic ones. Some accuse and others victimise.
It may be that some lack a strong theoretical thread to accompany the archive; where have the concepts on the walls gone? But apart from that, RE.act should be taken and celebrated for what it is, a marvellous archive about performance in the feminine (with or without stereotypes), that includes artists from all across Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the United States and different countries in Latin America, that has known how to nourish itself with yet more contributions from artists and the world of academia throughout its itinerary. The volume and the variety included in Re.act Feminism is a real opportunity to access and consult performance material, one that just shouldn’t be missed.