Janet Bruesselbach responds to Chavisa Woods and Art Less on The Girleye Show. Thank you for wrapping your superior minds so attentively around this tawdry project. So I think what’s coming together is an awareness of the tension between feminisms. Namely, a contention of how best to address Laura Mulvey’s legacy and the “male gaze”: do we subvert the supposed dominant paradigm by rearranging the organs, or nullify the her mere Freudianism by proliferating the other configurations that had always appeared?
This namely comes to light when A notes that there’s nothing in many of the photographs that indicates authorial gender: “Slowly, we come to understand that it is the essence of the radical (and a slap in the face to both Laura Mulvey and the men whom she rightly criticized) for these photographers merely to portray their subjects with the variegation natural to two (or more) humans playing in the light, linked and loving through a camera lens, and nobody shunned or stopped or subjugated by the process at all.” This is the nullifying side, analogous to moderate feminism, arguing variations of style as genderless. Whereas a radical could say that in order to reveal that such disembodied art inherently oppresses, we must actively pursue unfamiliar forms, we might also claim the paradigm by majority, or reverse the unfamiliar into the canny.
Though not the only strategy, I was drawn sometimes in images to what I knew, not historically specifically, but of the conventional uses of stock photography, the myths it proliferates, and the role of women in generating and managing these images. Part of what I try to get at with “formal queerness” concerns an interest in professional interactions between women. This isn’t necessarily “linked and loving” or without power dynamics and communication errors. It is perhaps related to my interest in understanding what “generic” is to me personally and how it differs from how similar people see it.
So yes, this gets to A’s best point: the collection is regrettably mono-ethnic. It’s unfortunate considering Tribes’s mission of diversity. I’d all too easily turn this into a parody of Stuff White People Like in honest self-defense. I guess I didn’t find any photographers of color, and Marie’s stranger on the subway became a token to highlight the unfair consistency.
To address the other criticism A made, of the subjects’ gender, which she already de-polarized fairly well: the focus of the show narrowed in the making. At first, I was considering photographers of a range of genders, although always addressing feminist issues. Without actually prodding at gender boundaries, we might take femaleness or femininity or whatever the as-opposed-to-what theme is here for granted by limiting it to cisgender. Cassie may have re-titled several photos to negate gender-identified names, hopefully not out of a depersonalizing pressure from me, but to let the androgenous continuum decouple from the models’ names. Even trans men are girls too. My only regret is an accidental exclusion of transwomen.
Perhaps I’m keeping too specific here, and perhaps we’re all happier spared my nitpicking on content and symbol. The show’s faggot-coined shadow title indicates a parodic encouragement of the medium’s (being bodies and cameras and everything that surrounds them) more confrontationally radical interpretations. Yet the actual title is a take on the show-within-the-show (The Girlie Show, sold by the inclusion of a funny black man) on 30 Rock, whose protagonist has lately been the feminist feminists love to hate. Treating a diversification as a simple inversion still invites a complication of the sexual politics involved: Does the subject possess the artist if their autonomy penetrates the lens, as Chavisa suggests? When each image is the evidence of a different reinterpretation of a seemingly limited set of givens, we can see either something only these women could do, or something anyone (or thing!) could do. Is anyone insulted if I’m more excited, and intend more of a compliment, by the second?