Kate Cooper, Stuart Comer and Barbara Hammer, 31 July 2012

Auto Italia interview Barbara Hammer and Stuart Comer, 2012 [Part 2].

Here we present the second part of the interview conducted with Barbara Hammer and Stuart Comer [read Part 1 here] after Tate Modern’s Hammer Season – The Fearless Frame. The concluding section of the discussion focuses on the presentation of the female form through CGI technology; imagery that proved a controversial inclusion in Auto Italia’s contribution to Programme 15 of the season.

This interview was conducted by Kate Cooper and Richard John Jones with questions compiled from submissions by Theo Cook, Leslie Kulesh, Calo Giametta and Jess Wiesner.

All images are taken from ‘It’s Like Staring Someone Out Who’s Not Even Looking at You’ by Kate Cooper, Leslie Kulesh and Jess Wiesner.

Auto Italia: I wanted to touch on the image of the CGI women in It’s Like Staring Someone Out Who’s Not Even Looking at You which was performed as part of the Scopophiliac Audience screening that we worked with you on. I thought it opened up a discussion around positive and negative representations. I wanted to see what you thought about that as someone who is largely classified as producing positive representations of women.

Barbara Hammer: I’m glad you brought that up because I didn’t bring that up that night. The CGI woman was an image of a female which was so mechanical and constructed. It was so much like the kinds of representations that feminists used to fight against in an earlier period of time that I wanted to think again about their use. Leslie Kulesh mentioned that she finds these images and suggested that they were used by men to ‘get off’ so I presumed are made by men. However, I think the re-appropriation of these – if that’s what she was attempting to do, or you all were are as a group – left us, or some of us, with this feeling of distance, very far away from that image; no emotional connection whatsoever. Leslie mentioned that she fell in love with these women while she was editing and something I would have said in a more critical discourse is that’s the one thing I was really warned about early on: don’t fall in love with your images. If you do then you can’t edit critically. You can’t critically work with the material if you’re in love with it. I don’t know, you could argue it the other way too, but that was my initial response when she said that.

AI: I thought it was really interesting because we talked a lot about those images: lots of women make these images for money – they’re not just made by men – and that was something we were interested in as well. These half-formed images of women: who they are made for and who are they made by is something that’s not totally explicit. Some of the best paid professionals in those computer generated worlds are women: maybe our perception of who makes these images is a bit wrong?

But I wonder if you look at the CGI women, they don’t represent women per se – and they don’t represent a desirable image for women either, so I think that perhaps in that sense the images are no longer representational. They don’t represent a real kind of woman and they don’t represent what a woman would like to be, or what anybody would like to be necessarily. Perhaps the cyber element of them makes them non-representational images. I think maybe that’s also something that Leslie was engaging with.

B: Well in a way you think that any pornographic image is not really a representation. It’s a representation of what we have been constructed to read as pornographic, but it never is the real thing, right?  By that I mean, the uninhibited or less self-conscious sex activity. But this CGI goes to the extreme of that and disembodies or dismembers the flaunting or graphic animation of flirtatious performance.  But I think it could be a bit like Adrienne Rich when she’s writing about the continuum of lesbian sexuality – there’s also perhaps a continuum of pornographic representation.

AI: And you feel that those images have a discourse or they come form somewhere? Is that what you mean?

B: Well my initial idea is wanting to know more and then as you told me more, I wanted to meet the people that made them – and that is kind of really cool. I mean if we’re going to defend them or try to understand them then we need to go deeper than just representing them. The piece did not move me but it felt distasteful. It didn’t make me feel good about being a woman, it didn’t make me feel good about being myself – it made me angry at computers a bit…

Stuart Comer: I found it interesting that Barbara’s immediate aversion to the images could be considered partly a generational response, which was shared by a few other women in the audience who had been involved with feminist practice early on. Clearly there was an attempt to encourage a critical negotiation by framing the images with the live reading of the text from the position of the audience – you couldn’t separate the two. Now whether the criticism was effective remains a matter of debate. Those type of images derive from a patriarchal problem that’s so deep we have a lot more work to do before we can overcome the systems that allow them to circulate in the world. But obviously you’ve got to start somewhere and I think that was a really interesting way to approach it. I thought that the fact that there was a chorus of voices coming from the audience addressing images intended for private and passive consumption did at least attempt to undermine their authority.

AI: I was also interested in other screenings though – I felt like with the newer works that were screened there was a tendency to produce or reflect upon this kind of negative imagery. This idea of negative and positive representation was really interesting because it actually opened up a stylistic approach which is also perhaps generational – for example, the idea that Barbara’s works are unequivocal examples of a positive representation.

S: I don’t completely agree. Some of the newer work made by other filmmakers included in the season is certainly not as affirmative as a film like Dyketactics. We don’t live in that world anymore, and Barbara openly acknowledges that – she wouldn’t make that film now.

AI: Maybe affirmative is a better phrase to use – then also that’s the thing when you were talking about the audience relating to the work, addressing the images – I think that’s both affirmative and negative as well. How did you feel about that?

S: A film like Optic Nerve is not an affirmative film — it’s about the death of Barbara’s grandmother and attempts to come to grips with pain and difficult issues in Barbara’s life. What we think of as the affirmative work is really the early films, after which she quickly moved in a different direction. Her work is never cynical, there’s no irony in her work usually – although there is a knowing kind of lesbian camp in some of the films. Britain in general is more cynical than the States; I don’t think Dyketactics could ever have been made in London.

AI: To return to the controversial CGI images. Maybe it’s useful to relate this to the idea of ‘territories’. Maybe these CGI images are a familiar territory – a kind of “negative” representation of women and therefore not something which is good? If you have grown up amongst that campaign against these images then I suppose they feel very familiar, in a bad way. But I wonder whether to use them as source material makes them a kind of unknown territory which is something very difficult to deal with. How might you relate to entering into unknown territories to make new work?

B: That’s a really nice analogy that you’ve brought up because, yes, that is an unknown territory for me as it’s the first time I have heard about these women and why they were made and so I want to know more. But other unknown territories: yeah they’re everywhere in life and so many times we follow our habits. I’m not any different. We take the same way when we walk to work because we can think about other things and we can get there quickly. But if we diverge, and I guess that’s Robert Frost taking the unknown path, then we start seeing new and when we see something new, well, that’s like for a baby entering the world: we see things for the first time if we put ourselves in new situations. And probably each of us has a different tolerance for how much “newness” we can assimilate and that brings in the dimension of time, too.

My LGBTQ Solidartiy trip to Palestine this January, 2012, was putting myself in a situation I know little about. I didn’t know the landscape nor the cultural/political geography except to know that there was unfair division and oppression of one group by another in this small area of land. To see things for yourself starts more inquiry which is great. It’s stimulating and it makes you want to make work of the new discoveries. So if the CGI is working that way for Auto Italia then that’s great. It’s like with my work with Palestine; all I can say is I’ve done research, I can’t say I’ve made a piece. But it is my project to understand more and share what I’ve learned.