TPP ‘LIT UP’, GDBD Panel Discussion, Dec. 15, 2014

TPP Panel Discussion:
Feat. Artists: Kim Miller, Eileen Mueller, Oli Rodriguez

at The Pitch Project
706 S. 5th Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204
December 15, 2014

Below are excerpts from Bathed in a pink glow: LIT UP by GURL DONT BE DUMB; a panel discussion featuring artists Kim Miller, Eileen Mueller and Oli Rodriguez.

Eileen Mueller: I think, particularly in this show, we (GDBD) tried to re-represent certain art tropes; the ready made with our beer bong or the traditional ¾ portrait while doing a beer bong on a piece of black and white 4 X 5 film. It’s so opposed to what you should put on the back of a view camera. Or, that video where we played with the gestures prescribed to video making. ‘We will wear a neutral matching outfits, maintain neutral faces while performing this durational feat or whatever it might be.’ I think the filigree that happens on each of those, and the reason we find the work, at minimum digestible and enjoyable, is because the filigree is the friendship, and our inborn sense of humor that we can never escape. Allows us to take these blank modernist and postmodernist gestures and just be two girls about it.

Aryn Kresol: Thinking about the traditions of photography and video media, is the work then a reaction to the history of photography, as much as it is of contemporary culture?

EM: Yeah. Jamie (Steele) and I both come from a place, where in one way or another either by choice or by vocation we came to a traditional study of photography. Mostly because we are just nerds, and we really love the material, the time spent in the dark room, a view camera, and things you can do with ortho film.  As far as she moves away and as much as I’ll tiptoe a little away from traditionalism, I don’t think we’ll ever forget our love for a really sexy flash that we just purchased or the sacred sharing of film holders. It’s sort of always in the back or our minds. Also with Jamie’s work, 1970’s feminist art and early video performance is always in the back of her mind. For me I’m clearly focused on different representations of queer bodies and female bodies. So I think, no matter what subject matter we take on, it’s always going to be there. We are just too nerdy and a little too old school still to really let go of it. Thank God!

But PINK is an important part of GURL DON’T BE DUMB. The color brings something new and empowering to the table.

Kim Miller: What do you want to know about pink?

EM: What’s up with that pink?

Oli Rodriguez: I think one of the first videos I saw of Jamie Steele involves these teeth that she wears. I know this doesn’t necessarily speak to the pink, but it kind of does in a very grotesque way.

EM: Well, there’s a word right? Grotesque.

OR: So I think about pink a lot, but I think about it in the ultra drag, hyper-feminine way. But then I also think about the grotesque. I think there is this moment of thinking of the spectrum in between. And specifically, in the collaboration of GDBD, of how gross pink can be, but also how sparkly, precise, faggy and lovely it can be as well. I appreciate not rooting it in a binary, but having a moment where it can exist in this continuum. I feel like it’s happening, and it’s all bathed within that light.

EM: Yeah, you’re going to get pink all over you.

KM: For me, this pink reads as queer, kind of a shot half of queer. But just the visceral of being in the show, everyone is like, “oh my God, I look so good.” That light was so flattering to your skin and to your teeth and it was an amazing experience. When you said camp, I think of campiness, not just a thing… but campiness. And so the pink to me is queer in this campy way. So maybe that’s a question, for me it’s not pink as in feminist, is it pink as in queer…pink as campy?

EM: I think it’s queer too, why?

OR: Why not?

KM: Because you know how silence equals death? The pink triangle, it literally has this historical reference.

OR: Even before that, we’ve been integrated into this pink triangle of the Holocaust, think about naming it as the other. Pink has been encompassed through identity politics and art in the 1980’s activist art and how much pink symbolizes something else. It’s a trajectory, that is even encountering your work, I feel like there’s only references of feminism. Thinking about core politics and drawing upon the performative, the gestures, the photography and the video. It’s all encompassing. You can’t leave pink.

AK: I think it goes back to the ideas of gender stereotyping. Even just talking about how as I get older I’m more comfortable with the idea of pink. From a very young age you are taught that blue is for boy’s, and pink is for girl’s. And how you can get away from that? I think, that ties into the ideas of what is queer esthetics, or what is stereotypical and how you can push the boundaries by making it even more inadvertently obvious. It’s the overuse of the color.

EM: It’s reclaiming that feminism for your own butch performance. We are claiming that traditional material femininity or providing the performed contrast to what is expected of pink.

KM: Thinking about queer, do you have a positivist definition of queer, and not as a singular identity? When we say “Queer in Photography”, what do you mean by that? Often the definition of queer is in opposition to a norm. So do you have a positive definition of queer or think the same as I do and wonder?

OR: Again I can’t speak to a single definition, I think that is essentially what queer is combating.

KM: So that’s one approach to queerness, there is no one definition, but it’s constantly in opposition to.

OR: I don’t think it’s just in opposition to, but I think it’s changing and transforming daily and hourly. I think it’s in flux, that’s what’s often difficult to name. I can say things that I think about, or things I’ve considered, but I don’t think the will be an all-encompassing definition of queer. I think there’s a resistance to it actually being defined.

EM: If I go back to where I encountered that term academically ten years ago, I encountered that queerness resists definition. It’s about resisting a predetermined language.

OR: But I feel like the roots in terms of activism and contemporary art can be in opposition too. It doesn’t have to always be a backlash to something. Though the beginnings of the term were definitely within that realm. Considering, identity, politics, the AIDS pandemic and the 1980’s regarding activist work, that definition is not surprising. But I do think of it as continuously in flux and changing, it doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘in reaction to’ anymore. We are in a very different climate than the origins of the word. But also, how do you define something that is constantly in flux? I say what I think about queerness, and you’re like ‘no way that’s not what I think about queerness.’ Then you give your own definition and I’m like oh right on. I feel that ‘in opposition to’ earlier, considering its origin. It exists in that way as well, when we get into how do we define it, what do you think? And I’m thinking ‘ahhh I’m going to explode,’ like an explosion. Queer is an explosion!

EM: I don’t have a clear positivist definition for you, but I think as a thought experiment to get there, we should ponder the act of queering a material. Trying to remove it from an individual identity. What does it mean to queer photography?

OR: I believe queer is a verb regardless, it was often a reaction historically to how a medium began. It is often this moment where it’s like how did he use the female form, how was it this sort of objectification happening, how can we respond to that as a queering? That’s what I would think about with photography. Or about queering endurance video art from the 1960’s and how straight white male it was. However, it’s this dominant presence within endurance hour, and literally in this duration of time, how it occupied the porter pack. I mean how are you going to queer that? I often thought of Jamie Steele’s early work, really queering endurance video art.

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