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Flash Review 2, 10-19:
"Auto: Body": Activating Art
By Kimberlea A. Kressal
Copyright 2000 Kimberlea A. Kressal
Recently a critic for
The Dance Insider wrote that "simply telling stories" isn't "art."
Such a bold claim completely ignores storytelling's intimate relationship
to the origins of dramatics. More importantly (to my own agenda)
he ignored the significance of storytelling to the preservation
of herstory, the bulk of which, for lack of other means, was passed
from woman to woman through oral traditions.
He was in fact reviewing
one of my shows.
Angered by his review
I wrote back. The result of which was his published apology and
proposal that I review "Auto: Body" at The Kitchen Tuesday.
Clearly, I accepted.
I did so because I believe that women deserve honest and educated
reviews of their work. I also believe that honest and educated reviews
of work by women cannot be achieved through a patriarchal lens.
We cannot create critical and artistic analysis of women's work
unless the analysis is situated relationally (preferably, oppositionally)
to the rigid definitions of art given to us by men.
The task for women, then,
is to redefine our art. We must acknowledge that our art is inherently
political and reevaluate its purpose as such. "Auto: Body" is truly
a tribute to this necessity for new aesthetics and ways of thinking.
"Auto: Body," a documentary
film by Virginia Cotts, Suzanne Lacy and Michelle Baughan, premiered
October 17. The film exists as part of a three-year, cross-country
project involving over a hundred collaborators, and hundreds of
thousands of viewer/participants. It is the account of fifteen women
inmates from the Bedford Hills Maximum Security Correctional Facility
who collaborated on the transformation of three wrecked cars into
sculptures embodying their stories as battered women.
Notes from the program
echo throughout the film: "The near-demolished cars look like battered
and bruised bodies. Decayed interiors evoke rape scenes. Front fenders
with bashed-in headlights remind of being chased by a car without
lights." The camerawork reiterates the metaphor; in one instance,
a woman's personal narrative of rape is underscored by a scene of
a car being gutted by a phallic demolition machine.
The form of the documentary
falls secondary to its content. The documentary itself is homage
to the sculptures, the sculptures homage to the women who created
them. The documentary makes no attempts towards being "art"; the
women are unprettified, unscripted, uncensored, and the few attempts
at ironic juxtaposition of scenes are neither central nor necessary
to the film's trajectory. No effort is made to sculpt the women's
stories towards a higher aim... and yet, art prevails.
The poetry all resides
in the process itself. Although gutting the cars and reinventing
their purpose has become a rite of passage and process of healing
for the artists, it has also become the metaphor for that healing.
One woman stands at the back of a car and says, "That's the hope,
right there. The spare tire."
Following the film Tuesday
was a panel discussion with the producers, the artists, formerly
incarcerated participants, and advocates for survivors of violence.
The ensuing interactive discussion raised a multitude of issues,
from the role mass media plays in violence against women, to the
flipside of the wrecked car/battered woman metaphor that can be
seen in chauvinistic auto magazines that feature near-naked females
slathered on car hoods.
One of the most fascinating
debates was sparked by the issue of ownership. Panelists grew animated
as they discussed the power struggle inherent in a relationship
between prisoners and visiting artists; i.e., who owns this art?
Who profits from it, and at whose expense? It was unfortunate that
there was no remnant of this very vital discussion present in the
finished documentary. The erasure of this dialogue of power and
appropriation made for a somewhat uncomplicated retrospective project
that, though beautiful, is fraught with deeper societal implications.
Despite this, the documentary
is overflowing with poetic, intelligent, and continuously disturbing
stories from the women it features. The majority of the audience
was moved to tears-- grateful for our privilege in being allowed
to share these women's stories and triumphs; apologetic for our
complicity in a culture of violence against women.
"Auto:Body" gives us
more than "simply telling stories." It captures not only the depth,
breadth and ubiquity of the stories, but also encapsulates the process.
In essence, the film redefines "art," the way it MUST in order to
embody its feminist form. It validates the idea that art by the
marginalized and multiply-marginalized can and should serve two
purposes: to heal and empower the artists through the process, and
to educate and activate audiences through the product.
Kimberlea A. Kressal
is the Founder and Artistic Director of the estro tribe, a women's
performance collective dedicated to elevating the voices of women
in art and in life. She is currently directing "Bitch Witch
Vamp Tramp Virgin Whore Goddess," a feminist reinterpretation of
famous female characters. The production will run December 1-16.
To contact Ms. Kressal or the estro tribe you can call 212-613-6032
or e-mail email@example.com.
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