Where Does Artist End and Art Begin?

by Tracy Bealer

While watching the 2010 documentary The Woodmans, I was reminded of the Yeats poem “Among School Children,” where he posits the seemingly unanswerable question, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” And the movie left me with some questions, of various answerability, of my own. The film centers on the surviving family of avant-garde photographer Francesca Woodman, who committed suicide in 1981 at the age of twenty-two.

Woodman’s body of work includes thousands of black and white images, many of herself, which focus on the female body in various stages of undress. The prints are exposed so as to make the figures seem ethereal, blurred, or otherwise impermanent. Woodman’s lack of early success as an artist, along with her documented struggles with depression, are a few of the narratives her family and friends offer for her suicide in the series of interviews that comprise the documentary. The film is, thankfully, less an attempt to “explain” Woodman’s death and more an investigation of how art and love can heal an unfathomable loss. (Both of Woodman’s parents, along with her brother, are also visual artists.).

Woodman’s mother Betty, a well-known ceramics sculptor, mentions her frustration with devotees of her daughter’s work who insist upon a biographical interpretation of the photographs, insisting that Francesca was most healthy when she was creating, and ceased taking pictures in the months leading up to her death. However, it is difficult to look at the images of Woodman produced of her naked body, distorted and vulnerable, and not imagine she was revealing something of her troubled mind. Read more

Posted on by Tracy Bealer in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Surviving a Plague, Building a Movement

How to Survive a Plague Posterby Chanel Dubofsky
I have this memory of me, age 8, refusing for some reason to go to the bathroom before we left the house to go to the mall, and my mother saying, “Fine. You’ll have to go in the mall and you’ll get AIDS from the toilet and die in six months.”
I’m pretty sure I went to the bathroom only at our house from then on, and not in strange, unsupervised toilets, but I don’t actually remember. It seemed like a lot of people were scared then,  an insane, unsubstantiated variety of fear. Maybe you got AIDS from kissing, maybe you got it from open sores, maybe from sharing glasses? Maybe it would kill you in six months, maybe in a year. I don’t remember knowing that gay men were getting it, I don’t think I knew what a gay man was. I just knew from the news that was filtered through my mother that people were dying.
Last week, I saw How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about the formation and work of ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), the international direct action advocacy group that formed in New York City in 1987 in response to AIDS, which was rampaging through the gay community without any response from the government.
I went to see the film largely because the hosts of my favorite independent political podcast raved about it, and because I imagined myself drawing all sorts of exciting parallels between ACT UP and Occupy Wall Street. ACT UP and Occupy have worked together and informed one another on issues of direct action and movement building.
Posted on by Chanel Dubofsky in LGBT, Politics Leave a comment

The Invisible War: Breaking the Silence Around Military Sexual Trauma

by Jessica Critcher

I recently watched a screening of The Invisible War, a heart-wrenching documentary about the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the US military. I should probably state up front that I have deep and long-standing ties to the armed forces—I even got a military discount on my ticket to this film. In addition to grand parents and great-grand parents serving, my father served twenty years in the Marine Corps. So did my father-in-law. I have two brothers-in-law who served in the Army. My husband has been in the Coast Guard for almost five years and will probably make it a career. My younger brother is about to join the Navy. My younger sister is about to join the Air Force. To say this film and this issue strike close to home would be an understatement.

I expected to cry during this film. I expected to leave the theater with my eyes red and swollen because the subject matter is so painful. But I couldn’t cry. Instead, I endured a 90 minute panic attack. Tears are cathartic. Crying is an emotional release. There was no release while watching this film, because the emotions it inspires cannot be purged and forgotten. Days later I am still haunted by the survivors’ stories. This was not a pleasant film to watch. It’s an unpleasant topic that most would probably rather ignore. That’s the premise in a nutshell: this is horrific, and even though we don’t like to think about it, ignoring it won’t make it go away.

As a feminist with a particular interest in militarism, the disappointing statistics about Military Sexual Trauma (MST) were not new to me. And yet, no matter how much I study or talk about this issue, the information is always heart-breaking. In 2012, in the institutions that claim to be defending our freedom, rape is considered to be an occupational hazard. Here is a tiny portion of the information provided, as quoted by Al Jazeera:

Approximately 33 per cent of servicewomen and men don’t report their assault because the person to report to is a friend of the rapist; 25 per cent don’t report because the person to report to is the rapist. Incidents of rape triple in units where assault is tolerated, say analysts.

Part of what makes this so troubling is the fact that, historically, the military has provided many opportunities for women’s advancement. In World War II, the military invited women to join and to earn the same pay as men. To this day, military ranks and pay-grades are standardized and publicly available. In a country where the gender wage gap for civilians hasn’t budged since the 70’s, the military honors equal pay for equal work, with adjustments for cost of living.

The military was also desegregated in 1948, before “Separate but Equal” was deemed unconstitutional. They recently allowed gay and lesbian service members to serve openly, something many employers are still not ready to do. And, the military also offers socialized medicine, something critics of government-funded health care like to ignore. Yes, the American taxpayers covered my many doctor visits as a child, and they pay for my birth control today. Through this lens, the military could actually be considered progressive.

The reason I bring up these facts is not to sugarcoat the many problems inherent in the military or to defend its treatment toward the survivors of MST. These facts are to serve as reminders that the military is not unchangeable. Read more

Posted on by Jessica Critcher in Feminism, Politics 1 Comment