Questioning the meaning of biography and the construction of cultural memory, all artists represented in this feature ask about the power structures and strategies behind telling (a/his/her)story and the questions of who is worthy to be remembered, and how. Their artistic practices offer alternative approaches to historiography, archiving, remembering, and representation. Until recently, women have been marginalized in the hegemonic written histories. Since the 1970s this fact is continuously in the focus of criticism by feminist academics, activists, and artists, who de-construct historiography as a male, white, and heteronormatively structured process of construction which continuously re-produces exclusions of women, queers, and people of color. However, a critical approach does not simply deal with revealing these exclusions, but rather questions the ostensible objectivity of the official historiography and its dominant forms of representation in general. This means, a main concern is not simply to include marginalized biographies into existing hegemonic structures and modes of representation, but instead to investigate alternative approaches, forms and formats of telling, writing, presenting (his/her)stories. Understanding history as being by no means linear and coherent, but rather processual, relational and fluid, the importance of allowing disruptions and gaps becomes obvious. Collective and participatory forms of researching, archiving, writing and presenting, which keep being open for additions, changes and diversifications, offer pluralistic perspectives. Highlighting the subjectivity of perspectives, which shape every process of history, writing can show its potential. What is the potential of artistic practice within this frame?
Portraits by Katja von Helldorff is a series of dry point etchings, in which she portrays people of her personal, queer-feminist, artist, and activist surroundings. Von Helldorff previously used the historical technique of drypoint for a former artwork, Timeline, as an ironic take on modes of representation, reproducing well-known portraits of German politicians to unveil a linear connection throughout the decades of nationalism in German politics (1945-1989). Discontent with the idea of adding further images of personalities she wanted to criticize to the cultural memory, she decided to appropriate and positively redefine the technique for the representation of a subjective, heartfelt selection of important personalities from her personal political-activist and artist surroundings. Thus expressing her admiration, she simultaneously provides the cultural memory with alternative images. Turning a format of commonly androcentric representation into a positive empowerment of underground celebrities, Portraits is a study in milieu.
Encyclopic: Admired Women by Annette Knol is a playful critique on the lack of women being represented in our society, comparative to men. Through a call-out to her friends and extended networks Knol asked for the names of women that are important to them. Based on the women they respected and admired, she developed Encyclopic: Admired Women as a subjective take on what an encyclopedia dedicated to women could look like. Simultaneously, by its explicit subjective take on the research, this work questions the way in which knowledge is gathered, produced and represented, as well as the perceived objectivity of an encyclopedia. By allowing anyone to give their input and openly mixing personal relations with distant idols and famous heroines, the interest of the project also focuses on the relation between the contributor and the contribution, between the researcher and the researched. Who decides on the basis of which criteria that have by whom been defined, who is worthy of entering the archives and historiography? Encyclopic: Admired Women, which started as a work reflecting on the meaning of the International Women's Day in the year 2012, is an ongoing project.
Elianna Renner's Cheerleading is a video installation of parallel projections of four American cheerleading teams cheering the names of female artists and women's rights activists who lived between the 19th and mid-20th centuries. The four projections are coordinated in such a way that each team flash these names at each other competitively, not battling out for a single victress, but rather acclaiming the names as representative for the achieved victories of all these women who fought for their visions. The strong performative character of the work allows for the audience to take over an important role, imputing subjective meaning, based on the single experiences of the listeners, to the heard names. While the performative character stresses the celebration and remembering of names, the accompanying booklet supplies us with actual biographical information about the women. Renner's work is about memory and the invisibility of women's biographies in the official historiography. Cheerleading ties in with Renner's prevalent approach of finding other forms and formats to not simply recount history, but to reveal that history in general is continuously constructed, while the access is always of a subjective nature. In her own words: "My goal isn't to rewrite history, but rather to gather many stories and to link them with each other."
Lerato Shadi's Seipone is a four-day performance of writing, erasing, re-writing, and re-erasing autobiographical memories on the wall of the performance space, never being completely successful with erasing the written words. For six hours a day the artist exposes herself to the physically and emotionally challenging process of re-working her own (his/her)story. However, while Shadi takes herself — her memories as well as her own physicality — as a point of departure, the work does not aim at teaching the audience about the artist's biography. Rather, the viewer, who is absent during the performance, will be confronted with its remains — traces of unreadable words and the snippets of used erasers. What remains further is the reflection one has about the process the artist went through. The viewer is asked to bridge the submitted gaps for her/himself. Writing biography becomes visible as a fragmented subjective process of dealing with absence and presence. The title Seipone, as for most of Shadi's work, is in Setswana, which deals with including an audience that is usually excluded from the white cube culture. While Setswana speaking people often do not have access to these contexts, by utilizing a Setswana title, there is at least one small element that becomes accessible. At the same time, this action deliberately excludes people that take inclusion for granted.
Anne Kohl and Katharina Koch co-direct the feminist art space alpha nova-kulturwerkstatt & galerie futura in Berlin.
Anne Kohl's fields of activity range from academic-theoretical, curatorial to artistic work with an emphasis on feminism, participative art, performance art, and contemporary music. She holds an MA in Musicology, Gender Studies, and Media and Communication Studies and is currently finishing her Musicology doctorate on Vocal Performance Art.
Katharina Koch's fields of activity range from curatorial to academic-theoretical work. Moreover she is a filmmaker who has realized several documentaries. Her main topics are feminism, art in public space, participative art, and film. She holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Gender Studies. Currently Katharina is finishing her PhD in Cultural Anthropology on Public Art Practices in Romania.