Cherchez La Femme

16 May - 13 Jul 2014

Organized by Alaina Claire Feldman.

There exists a rich history of radical, pioneering feminist video collectives in France that is largely unknown to Anglophone audiences and is still to be recognized in the Western canon of visual studies and activist history. In France, in the early 1970s, several activist collectives such as Vidéa (1974, Anne-Marie Faure, Isabelle Fraisse, Syn Guerin and Catherine Lahourcade) and Insoumuses (1975, Carole Roussopoulos, Delphine Seyrig and Iona Wieder) composed almost entirely of women took up the new portable video camera as an immediate and accessible tool to promote feminism, class and gender consciousness, direct democracy, and political action - all central ideals during the May ‘68 student movements in France and within second-wave feminism. They collectively produced videos (explicitly not artworks) that exploited the medium for their own sociopolitical agendas and self-representation at a time when society did not expect women to embrace technology.

When the Sony Portapak became the first portable video camera on the market in France in 1967, it was considerably cheaper than film, had an immediate turn-around production time, and had no history or social formalities yet, which enabled the tool to be taken up by these collectives simultaneous to the emerging feminist movement. Still rarely addressed even in France, the history of these videos and their political content suggest an alternative narrative departing from well-known Anglo-American male dominated collectives such as Ant Farm and TVTV or individuals such as Nam June Paik, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, Martha Rosler and others.

In The Second Sex (1947) Simone de Beauvoir calls for solidarity and self-organization among women. Evidently echoing this call, these collectives began sharing sources, equipment, technical skills, common goals and interests to create new representations of female behavior and resist segregation and discrimination. The videos in this presentation are just a small selection of the hundreds in the collection of the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir in Paris and even more which have been lost over the years. Translated to English in 2012 for an American premiere at the Kitchen by Alaina Claire Feldman and Stephanie Jeanjean, they are meant to introduce marginalized forms of feminist organization in France and to look for the women who resisted normativity by creating their own identities.

With thanks to Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, Nicole Fernandez Ferrer, Hélène Fleckinger, Ros Murray and Louise O'Hare.

Image: Les Insoumuses. Maso et Miso vont en bateau, 1976. Video still (From left to right: Delphine Seyrig, Carole Roussopoulos, Ioana Wieder, and Nadja Ringart) Courtesy of Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, Paris.