From Where I Stand (FWIS) is a collaboration between Laura Kowalewski, Oona Lochner, and Isabel Mehl. They met in 2016 as PhD-candidates at the DFG Research Training Group „Cultures of Critique“ at Leuphana University. Immediately, they started a dialogue on feminist art/writing and the question of how to keep politically engaged practices political when writing about them.
The workshop series “Feminist Art/Writing: Genealogies, Subjectivities, and Critique” is the first collaborative project of FROM WHERE I STAND and is held in the context of the Research Training Group “Cultures of Critique” at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. For our first workshop, #1 Collaboration, we invited UK-based scholars Victoria Horne (VH) and Amy Tobin (AT) as well as Jessica Gysel and Katja Mater from the magazine collective Girls Like Us (GLU). The following ABC takes up some of the core terms and themes that came up in our discussion.
A – Archive
We always had an archival section in the magazine and we always try to play with it and to look for more and see what’s out there. In an interview with the caretaker of the Lesbian History Archives in New York [we talked] a lot about the transmission of the material and how to activate it. How do you make an archive come alive? How do you have people working with your archive? (GLU)
Our writing about feminist or women’s art/writing follows the idea to make and keep it visible. To fight for their place in the histories of art, but even more so, to make accessible their ideas and aesthetics to a community of like-minded art thinkers and art workers who will weave them into their own projects, ideas, and histories. (FWIS)
B – Body
The single, singular body as the very basis for a “we”. The female body has been judged in history, so we need to take back control of our bodies. We support and display bodies in their attempts to break free from descriptions and shows a variety of and reflection on sexualized, racialized or optimized bodies as well as the aging body. (GLU)
as Actor and Screen
as Medium and Reality
as signifié and signifiant
as Subject and Object
as Body and Mind
as interwoven with the World in Flesh
is the trigger of power relations and their opponent.
is a battlefield – for the struggle between mechanisms of power and techniques of resistance. (FWIS)
C – Community!
Collectivism is political and organized. There are rules.
Collaboration is more informal and transitory. It operates tactically. (VH)
The current visual culture of consumerism creates exclusion, uniformity and privilege. We want to radically shift this paradigm by building a visual language of inclusion, marginal voices and collective decision-making. (GLU)
We are a collaboration.
We want to build and be part of a community.
We want it to be rooted in sisterhood across all genders, classes, and ethnicities.
We have a long way to go and want to start here.
(P.S.: Working collectively also means dealing with money. Who gets paid for what and how?)
D – DIY
For each issue we create a flag, often showing two circles in different sizes and a triangle – depicting the (naturally asymmetric) female body – supplemented by the GLU logo. This hands-on practice can be seen as homage to #Heresies magazine. #Heresies was a feminist journal on art and politics, published from 1977 to 1993 by a collective in New York and was often handmade because of a lack of resources. We support the idea of learning self-help and self-healing to break free from dependences. Watch out for our workshops on topics like DJ-ing for women or batik and tie-dyeing. (GLU)
We see the need for change in the global society and act upon it with our humble means. Aside from organizing our workshop series on feminist art/writing, we experiment with Wikipedia edit-a-thons at our university and with other ways to support a broader and de-professionalized/deskilled knowledge (production) on women and their achievements. (FWIS)
E – Ethnic Diversity
We highlight ethnic diversity by working with people and collectives like #Strange Fruit – a Dutch queer collective working on their double marginalization within both their ethnic and gay communities – or #Veteranas & Rucas – an online archive for a Latino and Chicano community of SoCal from the ‘90s and earlier – or a group of black gender nonconforming dancers performing inspired by Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” and curated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa. (GLU)
As white women we are still struggling for a position and for strategies toward ethnic diversity. We feel unauthorized to speak for people of other ethnicities, but need to speak with them. We want to collaborate to learn and to exchange, without expecting to be a part of something we are not (en)able(d) to. (FWIS)
F – Forms
For instance Joan Braderman in the first [#Heresies] issues’ collective editorial describes being prodded by her “sister-editors” to write “something personal”. “They chided me my rhetorical style” she writes “and my obsessive? Academic? Commitment to making ‘complete’ arguments. ‘Who are you in all that,’ they asked.” She responds by listing the difficulties of “doing all the things that need to be done” from writing a dissertation to doing the laundry. (AT, paraphrased)
I feel that it is my commitment: to create forms that are maybe not in the world yet, but that give people opportunities to expand the way they can function or the way that they are: to find new forms where people can identify and be different. — fashion teacher Pascale Gatzen. (GLU)
We search for diverse forms to channel knowledge. The disruptions that may appear as purely formal can subvert a whole system of knowledge production. Knowledge can wear various coats. It can come across like a star-spangled sweater worn by Hélène Cixous or as an old cashmere pullover in camel or navy or black (Chris Kraus on the Semiotext(e) house style). Style can be Renata Adler-like: aphoristic and analytical, or cool and academic with Susan Sontag. And from time to time the forms need to re-mingle in the whirlpool of speaking to be re-used and defamiliarised over and over again. So that forms make us listen and not turn away. (FWIS)
G – Gentle Gender
From the 1970s on, the mother collective of #Heresies magazine prompted an exploration of the complexities of feminist political identification. It gave voice to women of different sexualities and constructed solidarity despite and through their differences. (AT)
When writing feminist art history, we must not only write the history of its women practitioners but also examine the representation of gender historically. In doing so, we are able to amplify our presently comprehension of sex and sexuality. (VH)
Gentle gender is a stance towards the inclusion of transgender/transbody people as well as a consciousness and acceptance of the many different expressions of gender identity that exist today. (GLU)
H – Humor
Humor as way to react to errors: When one GLU issue arrived with the folding hiding the portrait of an author partly, the next issue had a vagina in the middle spread, so you had to fold it open to see it. The interrelation between the haptic and the visual established a different, spontaneous form of interaction. (GLU)
I – Institutions
In and of itself, as we know, collaboration is not an unconditional instrument of institutional critique. … Feminists have framed their collaborative work as oppositional to art’s individualist ideology. The question for us, today, is whether collaboration still retains any transformative power upon a much altered institutional terrain. Collaborative practices may create pockets of resistance but can they change the terms of this system? (VH)
As collaborative group that began at university, we are facing the capitalization of creative and academic practices that turns collectivism into teamwork, solidarity into synergies and conflicting interests into win-win-situations. Yet, we want to stay optimistic and joyful about the potentials of collaboration: Using the institutional structures that serve us while struggling not to be sucked up into the neoliberal logic. Turning the pressure of precarity into parasitism. (FWIS)
L – Long-term
The writing of feminist history is a form of feminist maintenance – a maintenance of knowledge – which is significant, for, as Lisa Baraitser notes, “the word ‘maintenance’ contains within itself a dual temporal structure”. On the one hand, it refers to routine “durational practices that keep ‘things’ going”; on the other, “to maintain is also to keep buoyant”. So there might even be a form of collaboration across time, with artists and authors one has not met. (VH)
From the beginning, we discussed the durational options of From Where I Stand. We want to create a room of open exchange and of understanding. For that to come into existence we realized the need to think and feel about From Where I Stand as a long-term project. (FWIS)
M – Manifesto (Monica Bonvicini suggested at a panel the other day to from now on call it “Sheifesto”)
„Girls Like Us is more or less female. Girls Like Us talks to each other and asks questions about possible futures, ways of living and sharing. Girls Like Us is an investigation in the form of a magazine. Girls Like Us is a feast for the eyes. Girls Like Us loves reading.“ (GLU)
N – Network
We first organized a workshop on “Writing Feminist Art Histories” that later developed into a supportive and critical network of feminist researchers. It follows the history of feminist knowledge production (like in consciousness-raising groups, reading groups and other collectives from the 1970s onwards) and aims to discuss the difficulties and merits in encountering the mutable strategies of feminist historiography and to collectivise this epistemological challenge. (VH/AT, paraphrased)
We often asks artists that have a relationship, link or connection to their team and the upcoming issue to create something. We often work together with and present various female/feminist collaborations and networks like #Røst, #The Knife or #Hacking with Care. These collaborations often surmount long distances and function digitally and virtually. (GLU)
P – Polyphony
I have no doubt that “histories” can appear more inclusive and can suggest a plurality of experience that’s attractive to collaborative participants. However, the aim for my personal research is to comprehend feminist history in its totality – and this can be thought of as affirmatively countering the forces of fragmentation and dispersal that characterise neoliberal structures. (VH)
For us it is super important that different generations of women meet each other, learn from each other, transmit information and knowledge … we’ve been doing a lot of research also towards interfeminist collectives. (GLU)
We want to allow our assumptions to be questioned, our ways of thinking to be challenged. We want to learn to endure disaccords, hoping that a variety of voices will form into community whose knowledge production, while being expressly contingent, still dares to make bold claims. (FWIS)
R – Role of the Researcher
It is the role of the researcher to find voices that were left unheard, that are hidden behind the marketed and widely circulated canon, market mechanisms, and its exclusions and blind spots. It is the obligation of the researcher to dig deeper and to bring visibility to the yet unrepresented. (AT, paraphrased)
When planning our panel, we realized, and also addressed this during the workshop, that we were seven white women coming together to discuss forms of collaboration. As we are frequently irritated by white men who, without feeling irritated at all, still discuss “universal issues” between their “universal minds”, we do not want to stay at this point. Rather, we hope to establish within the framework of FROM WHERE I STAND a diverse community that will be a place of dialogue and collaboration. (FWIS)
S – Support
“Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves … the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.” — Sara Ahmed. Shared historical outlook – producing common ground / Not eliding differences but claiming commonalities. (VH)
Vigorously experimenting with the idea of how we as a community may support each other. (GLU)
Sitting the front rows when my friend gives a presentation. Sharing with my sister my knowledge, my resources and time as well as my honest criticism, my doubts and insecurities. Creating support structures between friends who could be colleagues who could be friends. (FWIS)
T – Trial and Error
Dropouts, failed groups and expelled members punctuate the history of sisterhood. How did these failures actually shape feminism, allowing it to expand, but also to maintain a twofold structure as an international network of support, comprised of small, intimate groups? (AT)
One person we interviewed was really disgusted by the layout we used for her name. She couldn’t read it. So sometimes, making a magazine, you don’t always make friends. You try, you really try with the best intentions. And before we print something we always send it to the people we interviewed. But sometimes we just miss. (GLU)
Let me fall, and let me cry over my pain before helping me back up and pointing to the bright side of my failure. (FWIS)
W – Work Modes
Collaborative work puts the individual under pressure; it requires some kind of dissolution of the ego. (AT)
People often ask, how do you work collectively? For us it’s a lot of online tools, working simultaneously. We try for every issue to meet physically at least once, but it’s really a lot over the phone and then we make these maps… each issue kind of kicks off by mapping. (GLU)
We are still struggling to find a rhythm. How many meetings does it take to make this work while juggling our various responsibilities? What can we do over the phone? And when we meet, can we really work over lunch? We’ve come a far way in figuring out modes of collective writing, of offering and accepting criticism. And it has only been a few months. Way to go. (FWIS)
Z – Zitations
Name your sources. Forerunners. Accomplices. The people you feel inspired by. Give credit to the people who enable you to do what you want. Be aware of whom you quote and what voices you help being heard. In her latest book, Sara Ahmed decided not to quote any white men. Although this decision is disputable, it stresses the still existent inequality in discourse. Would any white man explicitly give reference to the fact of not quoting any women?
Thinking is solitary, Ingeborg Bachmann said. And for this particular statement we might disagree with her. Thinking happens in dialogue. Thinking means telling one story, out of many possible ones. As Arundhati Roy put it in her famous „Come September Speech“, in 2002: “John Berger, that most wonderful writer, once wrote: ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.’ There can never be a single story. There are only ways of seeing. So when I tell a story, I tell it not as an ideologue who wants to pit one absolutist ideology against another, but as a story-teller who wants to share her way of seeing.” (FWIS)
The collectives and collaborations that inspired our conversation were many, some of them are mentioned in this article:
#Heresies #Strange Fruit #The Knife #Veteranas & Rucas #Røst #Hacking with Care