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Author Archive for Iona Goulder

Beating Around the Bush

When three interns at Mother London were set the task of ‘rebranding feminism’ their directors may have imagined many things, but probably not ninety-three women’s nether regions on display in their East London HQ.

Project Bush is a photomontage of the brave ladies who stripped off for celebrity photographer Alisa Connan in order to make a statement about choice. How women tend their gardens is by no means the most important issue faced by women today, but it is synonymous with modern ideals and expectations. As such, the multitude of bushes on display were a symbol of what feminism speaks of today – an array of different choices, each valid in their own right, but, more importantly, chosen freely.

Project Bush cannot rebrand feminism or even define it, but it can present us with what we know already in a (conspicuously) new way.

The photomontage will be on display at Mother London’s HQ from 14-18 November.

Simone Weil

Among the many professions Simone Weil (1909-1943) undertook during her short life were factory worker, teacher and soldier. Principally a philosopher, Weil sought to draw people’s attention to the oppressed, the poor, the starving and the outcast people of society, writing, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”.

Simone Weil

From a young age Weil acted with unguarded selflessness showing her to be a sensitive and highly astute thinker. At the age of six she refused to eat any more than the quantity of food allowed for the soldiers fighting during the First World War and refused to eat any sugar.

At the age of ten Weil had declared herself a Bolshevik and became involved in politics out of sympathy for the working class. Engaging with the ideas proposed by Leon Trotsky and the Russian Bolshevik party, she even arranged for Trotsky to stay in her parents’ house in 1933, while he was visiting Paris in secret.

Simone Weil, a soldier during the Spanish Civil War (1936)

Embracing all religions, Weil was fascinated by mysticism and befriended many religious clerics. With a deep spirituality she was empowered with an objectivity and clarity of mind that inspired many of the great writers, politicians and philosophers of her day. Meditating in Simone Weil’s room before going to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Albert Camus described her as ‘the only great spirit of our times’ and Susan Sontag described her as one of the most uncompromising and troubling witnesses to the modern travail of the spirit.

Simone Weil embraced a struggle against the conventions gender and her social convention. One of the most rigorously moral and compassionate thinkers of her day, she is as an emblem of female courage and success, and “a giant of reflection”.

New Heroines

Living in an age of Twitter, Tumblr, blogs and an ever growing array of websites for young creatives it seems an apt time to reignite some debate around the archive. Seventeen years ago, in 1995, Jacques Derrida published his book Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression in which he set about deconstructing this dusty subject. Exposing the notorious hegemony that traditionally encased the archive Derrida sought to uncover some of the functions of preservation. Does the archive serve to overcome the inevitable and looming fear of our own mortality – the Freudian ‘death-drive’? At the dawn of the Internet age, Derrida asked what affect, or threat, does technology impose on the archive?

In the years since Derrida’s book the online frenzy has certainly dwarfed any modest expectations of technology. The rapid takeover of social networking and the online diary (from Tumblr and Insagram, to Facebook and blog-posting) has opened a space for an entirely new writer and has offered a new kind of archive, a platform on which female writers are beginning to take centre stage.

Jacques Derrida, author of Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (1995)

Female authors, journalists, thinkers, fashionistas and artists are using the Internet to publish discussions, writing, diaries and archiving what they do. This unsanctioned space has also been utilized to pose debates on interesting topics by important female figures. For instance, author Masha Tupitsyn used Twitter as a platform to discus her essays on love (soon to become a book), or Chris Kraus’ blog, Reality Sandwich, which frequently probes the heart of women’s topics as well as the inestimable number of budding fashionistas, artists and writers using social media to showcase their work.

Heroines by Kate Zambreno (2012)

Are these women transforming the stigma associated with female authors’ memoirs that have long been dismissed as “girls diaries”? Travel back to the pre-Internet age of Modernism and the memoirs of female authors, usually overlooked or reduced to the genre of “automatic” writing, have always stood at odds with the heroized memoirs and letters of Modernist male writers. A topic that writer Kate Zambreno has sought to investigate and expel in her recent book called Heroines.

Amongst the cast of female Modernist writers whom Zambreno has written of are Virginia Wolfe, Zelda Fitzgerald, Vivienne Eliot and Jane Bowles. A notably common characteristic of all these women being their apparent ‘madness’, the stigma that seems to be freely attached to many women writers of the time.

Vivienne Eliot (wife of T. S. Eliot)

Has technology created a new space in which women can write, record, review or publish their work and ideas freely? This new ‘archive’ has certainly acquired with it a new and more vocal female and, unchallenged, female creativity is flourishing in a global space that is only set to grow.

It Takes Two

Jean-Marie Straub was an extrovert and a visionary. The public face of the prolific filmic duo she and her husband Danièle Huillet formed, she is one of the cinematic legends of the twentieth century. Their career, which started when the couple were students in Paris in 1954, spanned four decades and includes over two-dozen films. Dividing their collaborative work equally, Straub’s focused her attention behind the camera lens. Her enigmatic camera-work, focussing on long takes their films ‘un-write’ the visible through the arrested movement of the camera. Most notably perhaps in their first full-length feature, Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, which appeared in 1968 as the couple’s second feature length film.

Jean-Marie Straub and her husband Danièle Huillet

Not Reconciled, 1965, their first feature length film, illustrates the proponents of minimalist cinematography that Straub experimented with in her cinema.

Straub and Huillet’s films have not, however, gained the deserved recognition for their contribution to cinema and cinema politics, critics have noted. In spite of their being the “darlings” of the Cahiers du Cinéma, numerous collaborations with legends such as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Robert Bresson to name only a few, and occupying a substantial portion of Deleuze’s infamous book Cinema I their films have not made their way into the hearts of the revivalist film watchers of today. 

Not Reconciled (Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, 1965)

Not for the faint-hearted

Many critics hastily concede of Straub’s minimalist style that it’s “inaudible” and “unintelligible” and even those admirers of her work dub the films as “dry and intellectual”. Their films are, however, part of a body of cinema, a body that pertinently probes a social and historical backdrop in France’s ideological past. Straub and Huillet’s films are notoriously imbued with Marxist ideology, this is something that manifests in the textually on screen, objects, figures and music all bear equal weight, and indeed make watching these films a sensory marathon.

Class Relations (Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, 1984)

“The films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are best understood in the context of contemporary developments in radical, materialist cinema. They offer what many people see as a genuine alternative to both dominant narrative cinema and conventional art movies. Their work is formally austere and demands attentive, intellectual participation from audiences.”  (Quote from The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson.)

The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, 1968)

As with running a marathon, I can only imagine, great satisfaction follows from watching these films. Straub-Huillet’s films are challenging but they incite an obscure reward beyond the sensuous towards the ‘sensible’ in the image, something like the Idea. Objects on screen are extended beyond their formal, prescribed and allocated positions and allow new forms to come forth on screen. As the infamous philosopher of cinema writes..

…the Straubs, are probably the greatest political filmmakers in the West, in the modern cinema. But, bizarrely, this is not due to the presence of the people; on the contrary, it is because they know how to show how the people are, what is missing, what is not there.

— Deleuze

Straub and Huillet’s film The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach:

Rosa Luxemburg

Berlin’s Talking Streets

The staircase leading up from the U-bahnhof station opens out onto a square shrouded in remnants of a pre-war Golden Age in Germany.  Away from the nearby streaming traffic, scantily strewn pockets such as Rosa Luxemburg-Platz offer spacial respite from the scale implemented in much of the rest of East Berlin. Walking amidst this strange copulation of time and space something of the historical poignancy comes into force. Aptly named, this square and the buildings that flank it are witness to the protests of political activists, and their murders, two earth-shattering world wars and forty years of division behind a wall.

Two great feats of twentieth century architecture stand on either side of the square. On one side is Hans Poelzig’s Kino Babylon, built in 1929, is one of the oldest cinemas in Germany. Its curved façade, mimicked in the door frames, steps and circle stalls of the interior, is a symbol of the Golden Age, the era of kino (movie theatre), ballrooms, cabaret and jazz.

On the other is Oskar Kaufmann’s Volksbühne (‘Peoples’ Theatre’) built between 1913 and 1914. Its empowering modernist grandeur reflects the political strife that was brewing in the years of its erection. History is frozen into the blocks that have built this square; activists rallying against German Nationalism’s vision of a new Germany, murder in the name of Communism, not to mention its three name changes over the course of half a century.

Berlin’s streets are a palimpsest of the last hundred years, its squares and street-names hold onto history as it propels forward in the present age. It’s current name, unchanged since 1969, after the political activist, feminist and writer, Rosa Luxemburg, is a signal of exactly that.

Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist martyr, was a twentieth century visionary whose skill for rhetoric made her a leader of liberal democracy. A prominent leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany she fought the fateful Nationalism of what was to later become the Nazi party and as a result lost her life. Shortly before her death, whilst rallying protesters she poignantly cried, “It’s either transition into socialism or regression into barbarism!”

Rosa Luxemburg-Platz, in the heart of Mitte, is a symbol of what has risen from the ashes of a city once torn apart. Now stands a gallery, a Peoples’ theatre, an art house cinema, record shops and numerous bars, here we can see a city embracing the future without forgetting its past.

Timeless Tweed

There are few things about the descent into Autumn that I enjoy. Rainier, colder days coupled with a distinct lack of sunlight make for a tired feeling and tired looking few months.  The Autumnal onslaught did, however, lead me to a rediscovery of a timeless and historical fabric, tweed.

This native of the far-flung Scottish isles became a familiar favourite with the grouse-shooting folk of the early eighteenth century and soon became the staple attire for harsh weather. Steeped in history, tweed is an intricate blend of hundreds of different types of wool and the process has remained relatively unchanged for nearly two hundred years. Then, when Coco Chanel borrowed tweed, formally the fabric for the British gentleman, she transformed it into elegantly cut shapes and beautiful forms. Now tweed saw its rebirth in fashion, first in the 1920s, and then with inexorable fervor from the 1950s on.

Icons such as Jackie Onassis were the first to flaunt tweed and soon after the traditional tailors, Harris of Scotland and Daks, formally Simpsons of Piccadilly, injected some contemporary shapes into their patterns. Since Coco Chanel more and more female designers have taken to the fabric such as Sheila McKain-Waid and Stella McCartney and season upon season it seems to find its way into the shops…and not just as jackets or coats. Urbanears have recently made some Harris Tweed headphones and Nike have released their own tweed high-tops…

Certainly most topical is tweed’s feature role in Chanel’s Little Black Jacket campaign; this new, drooled-over and much hyped tweed jacket is also the central point of an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. Where you can see an eclectic mix of models, fashionistas, actors and writers sporting the piece…

Undoubtedly there is an imbued timelessness in this intricately woven wool that ceases to wear-off, excuse the pun. Practical, hardy and warm it has served as a shelter from the elements for elegant women for over a century.

Making New Waves

Music in a decade of flourishing female activity…

New thinking paved the way for women in a new decade. Music, art and literature flourished in the wake of the shifting grounds of the 1970s and women were finally at the front of it. This was the decade that Radio 1 saw its first female Dj, Germaine Greer and Kate Millet published their seminal works on feminism, London’s Stock Exchange opened it’s doors to women for the first time and Britain saw it’s first female Prime Minister. Defined by the female faces that shaped it new music sprung out of this decade in an explosion of experimentation and creativity.

Here are just a few of our favourite women from the eclectic styles this decade bore, with attitudes to match their wild locks these women were catalysts who have continued to inspire women in music ever since.
Track #1 These Days | Nico | Chelsea Girl
The Velvet Underground, somewhat reluctantly, gained their iconic female counterpart at the whim of Andy Warhol. Her distinctive voice, fusing folk and 60s pop sits somewhat at odds with the string and wind instrumentals behind, but such has become the distinctive style of Nico on both The Velvet Underground & Nico album and her solo album, Chelsea Girl. She is an icon of many facets, befriended by Brian Jones, Jimmy Page and Bob Dylan her extensive career included film, music and modeling projects before her life was cut short in 1988.

Nico performed “The Falconer” for then boyfriend Phillipe Garrel in his film La Lit de la Vierge. See how the melodic and poetic poise turns this epic panning shot across the Arizonian desert into a three-minute hallucinistic mirage: ‘The Falconer’ by Nico from La Lit de la Vierge
Track #2 Psycho Killer | Talking Heads | Talking Heads: 77
Her fusion of French-Californian origins may be to thank for the minimalist riffs of Tina Weymouth’s bass-lines. Tina Weymouth carries ‘Psycho Killer’ staccato paced into its infamous success for Talking Heads, who earned recognition as one of the defining avant-garde bands of the new wave genre.
Track #3 Heart of Glass | Blondie | Parallel Lines
Debbie Harry is no less a music-legend than her male contemporaries, Lou Reed, Jarvis Cocker or Morrissey. Blondie’s synthesis of disco and punk in Parallel Lines cascaded into musical success, fronted by Debbie Harry, with two-tone bleach hair and her fiery punk attitude, she quickly became an icon of punk-rock style.
Track #4 Wuthering Heights | Kate Bush | The Kick Inside
In all her Pre-Raphaelite beauty, Kate Bush stormed the charts age nineteen with ‘Wuthering Heights’. As the first female singer-songwriter to gain a number one hit, her idiosyncratic style and distinctive voice have made her one of the greatest female successes of all time. Another timeless icon rising to fame in the decade of women’s success Kate Bush inspired a generation of female singer-songwriters from Björk to Florence Welch.
Track #5 Hong Kong Garden | Siouxsie and the Banshees | The Scream
Words almost fail me when faced with the enigmatic Siouxsie Sioux; utterly aloof, effortlessly cool she is attitude and style with the face of an angel… maybe we are just a bit in awe, but this 70s pop-queen carved a path through music, fashion and style that paved the way for others to follow. Lead singer of Siouxsie and the Banshees their hits included “Happy House” and “Hong Kong Garden”, but with her own prolific solo career, Siouxsie Sioux recorded songs with artists John Cale and Morrissey and her songs have been covered by everyone from Jeff Buckley to LCD Soundsystem.
Track #6 Love Is A Battlefield | Pat Benatar | Crimes of Passion
Rising to fame at the end of the 1970s Pat Benatar’s unprecedented musical success was as infamous as her spandex-clad legs. An archetypal figure of the women’s era in music her power-chord ballads became pillars of mainstream music success and made Pat Benatar - philanthropist, activist and mother – a pop-icon and international legend.
Track #7 So Good To Be Back Home Again | The Tourists | The Tourists
Better known as the fiery red head singing ‘Sweet Dreams’ Annie Lennox‘s music career began with the new wave band The Tourists. Abandoning her prestigious music college to pursue a career in pop music she embarked on a relatively fruitless career with The Tourists before joining forces with David Stewart to go on and become Eurythmics.
For more songs by these and other wonderful women of this musical era check out our Spotify playlist: Wunderbuzz | A New Wave of Women