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Future Feminism: Antony and the Johnsons’ stunning new concert film, ‘TURNING’


 
On November 10th and 11th, the new CD + DVD of Antony and the Johnsons live in concert TURNING film (co-directed by Antony Hegarty and video artist/filmmaker Charles Atlas) will be released respectively by Rough Trade in the UK and Europe and the Secretly Canadian label in North America.

TURNING is stunning, a magnificent and moving arthouse documentary/concert film of a fall 2006 tour of Europe. That live show featured Atlas’ live video portraiture of thirteen women in close-up as they were spinning on a human-sized turntable, like a nicely updated version of Andy Warhol’s “13 Most Beautiful Girls” screentests. These projected portraits are the backdrop of nuanced performances—alternately tender and forceful, joyous and bittersweet—by Antony and the Johnsons (Antony, Maxim Moston, Rob Moose, Julia Kent, Parker Kindred, Jeff Langston, and Thomas Bartlett), captured in London, Paris, Madrid, Rome and Braga.

You can watch the trailer for TURNING here.
 

 
I asked Antony and Charles some questions about TURNING via email.

The feminine energy that’s celebrated in TURNING isn’t entirely biological. I was wondering if you could clarify what your (preferred) definition of “femininity” is?

Antony: We all have bodies that naturally produce estrogen and testosterone, so I am a bit confused by your assertion about biology. My definition of femininity, which is always evolving, has partly to do with motherhood and the impulses of motherhood, to treasure, to protect, to nurture, to give selflessly. I have observed femininity often manifest as a greater sensitivity to one’s relationships with one’s surroundings, a heightened sense of oneself within space. I often think of the word femininity as congruous with creativity. Another feminine archetype is the capacity for intuitive and emotional intelligence.  On the other hand, there are the Kali-esque faces of femininity. But for me, even when femininity is destructive, as in the case for instance of a natural disaster, there is something essential about it; Nature is not frivolous in her violent manifestations. And inevitably, pastoral life flourishes in the the shadows of volcanic eruptions and tidal waves.
 

 
You’ve screened the film at festivals over the past two years. It’s not merely a concert film, there’s something deeper and much more profound going on; however the reviews I’ve read, some get it, and some plainly just didn’t. There’s that scene where the French press called the TURNING performance a “transsexual manifesto” which obviously illustrates this somewhat, but the New York Times focused on this as well in their brief review. Did you find that some audiences and critics were confused by what the “message” of TURNING is?

Antony: One of the reasons we made TURNING is because we were not sure we “got” TURNING ourselves! The form was mesmerizing and we just kind of fell into it. It came to mean a lot of different things to different people. For me, what is interesting and relevant about TURNING today is its intuitive embrace of the intersection between trans-feminism and “Future Feminism”, a genre of feminism that I have been working with several of the women involved in TURNING to articulate over the last few years.  At the heart of TURNING is the impulse to form a circle of community and create space for each other, to witness and empower one another.

Charles Atlas: Another reason we took charge of the filming and production of the TURNING film ourselves (rather than accepting offers from TV companies to make the film) was precisely to allow all of the meanings of TURNING to emerge. At the public screenings I attended and the follow-up Q & A’s, I felt the audience came away with the feeling of the universality of the message of self-actualization.
 

 
Aside from the beautiful production values, which I thought was stunning on every level—I mean THE BAND!—the backstage preparations, traveling and “sisterhood” aspects of the project were so fascinating. The thing that was so riveting to me—and I know some of the women who were onstage with you—was watching the faces of each of them as they listened to the lyrics, as if the songs were about them and about their own lives, struggles and triumphs. There seemed to be a “psychodrama” aspect to the performance for the “beauties.” The Puerto Rican girl, Nomi, at the beginning seemed like she’d experienced a sort of beatific transcendence about herself and her place in the world. Connie Fleming also seemed very deeply in thought in front of a few thousand people. Can you discuss this?

Antony: The process for the participants was intimately meditative and at the same time extroverted and performative. To be watched in a state of stillness, from every angle, challenged each of the subjects in different ways. There was a tremendous sense of support for each other amongst the models. Each person seemed to develop her own inner narrative that guided her on the pedestal. And for each of us, different things emerged from the process. In the concert itself, the models appeared anonymously; there were no life stories (besides mine, embedded in the song lyrics), only images of women from many ages, backgrounds and experiences. Behind the scenes, many feelings and ideas started to stir.

Charles Atlas: For me, the individuality of the women and their variety of experiences—in concert with Antony’s music, was deeply inspiring. At each performance I entered into the world of Antony’s music and was moved to create video mix portraits in the moment that attempted to rise to the level of beauty of that potent combination.
 

 
Below, Antony and the Johnsons perform a stunning version of “Twilight” while Johanna Constantine turns:

“The performance artist Johanna Constantine appeared as one of the 13 subjects in TURNING. Johanna and I met in our first year of university in California and she has been a huge influence on my life and work.  We moved to NYC together in 1992 and co-founded a late night performance collective called Blacklips. We have always considered ourselves two sides of a whole: she seems to present a threatening, alien, armored face, while as a singer I exhibit a vulnerable interior. As the years have worn on, we have subliminally exchanged these roles, even from minute to minute. Johanna Constantine is also a founding member of an exhibition project we are now working on called Future Feminism. We first coined the term “future feminism” to describe the work of a handful of female artists from NYC that work on a frontier by themselves, using their bodies as material, exploring themes of violence, femininity, alienation, innocence, eco-collapse and survivalism.”  Antony Hegarty

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Future Feminism: A social, cultural and political vision for a feminine utopia


The power of pussy: The inimitable Kembra Pfahler, spreading the gospel with a friend

So much of the popular, social media-driven feminist discourse is desperately treading water these days. The advances we’ve made over the years that have drastically improved the lives of women (unions, better wages, health care advances , reproductive rights) are under attack, and it only makes sense that we’d cling to what little we have left. It’s in this frantic crisis that we can sometimes forget the more utopian ambitions of the feminist second wave—the impulse not to preserve what little we have, but to recreate society entirely, in a way that exceeds the meager ambitions we’ve come to accept. Future Feminism seeks to nurture and develop that impulse.

The brainchild of Kembra Pfhaler (best known for The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black and her performance art), Johanna Constantine (of The Blacklips Performance Cult), Sierra and Bianca Casady (CocoRosie) and Antony Hegarty (Antony and The Johnsons), the collective is the result of three years’ of consensus-based artistic and intellectual collaboration, much of it forged during rigorous retreats in isolated locations.
 

Kembra Pfhaler, Johanna Constantine, Sierra Casady, Bianca Casady and Antony Hegarty, presumably on retreat
 
I had to opportunity to speak with Bianca Casady about the projects’ multi-faceted development.

“We didn’t have any plans, so we definitely didn’t have any models [for organizing],” Casady confesses, “it was five artists—the most obvious thing to do was an art project together, a co-authored piece.” The “group-authored sculptural work” is to be debuted at The Hole gallery in NYC, Thursday September 11, but it’s merely a fraction of the multimedia project that Future Feminism has bloomed into. The Hole also promises performances and lectures from such heroic foremothers as Lydia Lunch, Laurie Anderson, Marina Abramović and no-wave goddess No Bra. The sculpture itself remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, as are the “13 Tenets of Future Feminism” they will reveal on the opening night.

The five artists central to the collective will perform a concert at Webster Hall this Sunday to fund the exhibition, as it’s completely artist-funded thus far. Casady notes that the relative independence and autonomy of the Future Feminist collective has allowed them the freedom and time necessary to truly work as a unified body, though the timing for the reveal could not be more provident.

Some of us are very unplugged from the media. Mostly we really come together as artists. We’re certainly noticing a lot of uprising and actions going on formally, and a lot of momentum and energy right now. The timing feels like less of a coincidence. It feels like things are at a boiling point.

 

Image from the Future Feminism Benefit Concert poster
 
No one can predict which projects will inspire or move the masses, but it’s exciting to see feminism embrace the ambition of utopian thinking again—and it’s especially powerful to see women working together and creating new, strange culture—something that could (if we’re lucky) threaten the status quo.

“We’re not really looking for equal rights—that’s really different in our attitude,” says Casady. “We’re not looking to climb up the male pyramid scheme and try to assimilate into it to find some kind of balance. We’re proposing a complete shift, with the goal of balance, but it’s not like we want to meet in the middle. We have to reach for a better sense of ‘middle.’”

That’s a sentiment that’s existed before in feminism—the idea that having “what men have” is not enough, that we all deserve more. It’s fallen to the wayside in years, but I foresee a revival, as movements like Future Feminism strive for a radically different society, invoking the very qualities so often derided as “feminine.” In the words of the collective, “The future is female.”

The (absolutely packed) roster for the run at The Hole gallery is below.

Thurs Sept 11: Opening 6-9PM

Fri Sept 12: Bianca and Sierra Casady, Sarah Schulman

Sat Sept 13: Johanna Constantine, Lydia Lunch

Sun Sept 14: Clark Render as Margaret Thatcher, Laurie Anderson

Wed Sept 17: Narcissister, Dynasty Handbag, No Bra

Thurs Sept 18: Ann Snitow speaks with the Future Feminists

Fri Sept 19: Kiki Smith presents Anne Waldman, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge and Anne Carson

Sat Sept 20: Kembra Pfahler and The Girls of Karen Black

Sun Sept 21: Lorraine O’Grady

Wed Sept 24: Marina Abramović

Thurs Sept 25: Carolee Schneemann, Jessica Mitrani, Melanie Bonajo
 
Fri Sept 26: Terence Koh as Miss OO

Sat Sept 27: Viva Ruiz, Julianna Huxtable, Alexyss K.  Tylor

Sun Sept 14: The Factress aka Lucy Sexton, Clark Render as Margaret Thatcher, Laurie Anderson

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Future Feminism: Antony Hegarty curates this year’s Meltdown Festival
05.02.2012
12:27 pm

Topics:
Art
Feminism
Music
Queer

Tags:
Kembra Pfahler
Antony Hegarty


 
Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons is joining past Meltdown Festival curators like David Bowie, Morrissey. Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker and Patti Smith, as he announces the line-up for this year’s prestigious event to be held in London, August 1-12.

Antony discussed the predominantly female performer selection, his ideas about “future feminism” and how these artists are pushing towards something completely new for society, with Pitchfork:

Hegarty: Kembra Pfahler is like my leader, basically. She’s such a seminal or feminal influence on so much of us in New York City. Just because she’s so fierce, ferocious and her creativity is so pure, and her vision of the world is so unrelenting. And she’s so unrelenting in her willingness to deliver a sense of truth. That has political ramifications.

Laurie Anderson is the same way: she’s named and framed her sense of apocalyptic culture for 25 years. Ferociously named it. Joey Arias is so hardcore. He’s a very hardcore queen. Marc Almond is also a super hardcore pioneer. There’s David Tibet from Current 93 and Cyclobe. They are on the frontier of English, queer, hallucinogenic paganism. And they sort of sit on the spiritual frontier in terms of trying to articulate or embody in their work a vision that they have of the world that’s very different from a typical patriarchal, sky god, Christian crap that even a lot of indie musicians in America are turning out. Christian chud. They’re pretending they’re alternative artists, but they are just confirming this patriarchal chud that we desperately need to rid ourselves of.

CocoRosie has been very controversial, especially in America, just because they take so many risks, and most guys in the boys club don’t take even them. In Europe they’re very embraced. Amongst artists, they are celebrated around the world, but there’s obviously been a lot of people that can’t take the frontier that they’re pushing. To me, they are amongst the most important young artists in American today. I think it’s intergenerational. There’s a lot going on in the festival.

Pitchfork: Every artist, in their own way, seems to have an uncompromising vision.

Hegarty: It’s not even just within art that they’re uncompromising. I think for me, it’s the next step that’s interesting. Since the early 2000s, a lot of straight boys created bands that are about, like, nurturing this pastoral inner life—these colorful psychedelic lives and nurturing their sensitivity as straight boys. And that’s great and everything, but we need to start participating in the bigger picture because this whole ecology of our world is going to start collapsing in the next 50 years, and if there’s going to be a validity to anything, in 50 years’ time just like the way they were, people are going to be asking what the kids of today are thinking, what the artists of today were thinking. Were they just checking out? Were they just, like, hugging a couple of cuddly bears or feel-good pillows? What is the point of music at this point? Is it just a beer swill at Coachella? Is it a few sensitive guys getting up there having a circle jerk while all the girls and all the other people have to sit around and try and find their experience within their opaque song styling? We could be participating, and that’s what I aspire to do, and so I wanted to create a vivid festival that had some teeth to it.

Hear, hear!

Antony’s Meltdown line-up:

Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins in her first live performances (she’s doing two shows) since 1998
Laurie Anderson
William Basinki: “Disintegration Loops”
Marina Abramovic doing a rare lecture.
CocoRosie
Hal Willner’s"Freedom Riders”
Charles Atlas’ Antony and the Johnsons tour doc Turning.
Planningtorock + Light Asylum
Buffy Sainte-Marie
The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black + Tenderloin
Kembra Pfahler + Claywoman
Diamanda Galás
Joey Arias channeling Billie Holiday in his “Strange Fruit” review
Marc Almond performing his classic Torment and Toreros album in it’s entirety
Selda
Myrninerest + Cyclobe + Derek Jarman Films

As someone who has seen most of the acts on this year’s Meltdown bill, I have to say that this is one of the very best curated music festivals I’ve ever heard of. There’s a real vision here and I think it’ll be an amazing experience for attendees.

Meltdown Festival tickets will go on sale next Tuesday, May 8th at noon for Southbank Centre members only, and then on Thursday 10th at noon for the general public.

Below, a stunning performance of “Cripple and the Starfish” at Amsterdam’s Theater Carré Amsterdam, June 21, 2009:
 

 
Thank you, Lenora Claire!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Little Annie Anxiety Bandez & Paul Wallfisch: Billy Martin Requiem

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Little Annie AKA Annie Anxiety Bandez, has collaborated with a who’s who of avant garde musicians: Coil, Marc Almond Adrian Sherwood, Kid Congo Powers, Crass, Rubella Ballet and Nurse With Wound.

Her 2006 album, Songs from the Coalmine Canary was co-produced by Antony Hegarty. “Strangelove,” a song from the album co-written with Hegarty, was used as the soundtrack for a Levi’s campaign in 2007, going on to win a Cannes Bronze Lion award for “Best Use of Music.”

Tomorrow night, Little Annie and the fab Baby Dee are the opening acts for Marc Almond at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool and for several more UK gigs after that. What a great triple bill.

When I was 18-years-old, I saw her performing at a Crass gig at the Islington Bingo Hall. She stuck her hand down my friend’s pants!

Genderful, her latest album, with Paul Wallfischl is just out on Southern Records. The following statement was put on YouTube along with the video for “Billy Martin Requiem”:

December 1 marks the 22nd annual World AIDS Day, and while there is still no “cure” for or viable vaccine against HIV, the positive strides made battling the virus over the last few years are undeniable. New drugs are making what was a death sentence now a manageable - if serious and chronic - condition. Generic versions of these medications, along with ambitious public health policies are helping make real inroads against the disease in the developing world. There is space for much optimism this year. But what’s lost sometimes with the good news is a space to contemplate what has been lost to us - irrevocably. The talent unrealized, the creativity and vitality extinguished, the knowledge and experience that won’t be passed on to new generations - this was and continues to be the fall out from the AIDS epidemic.

At first I wondered why in the world Little Annie was singing about Billy Martin of all people, but DO keep watching, it’ll make sense. This is a really catchy song, too.

 
Thank you Tim Harris!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment