INTERVIEW: CUNTemporary talks to ArtworldNow

By Martin Macdonald

Sukran Moral, Bordello, 1997
Courtesy of the artist and Galeri Zilberman

What is CUNTemporary?
In brief, it could be described as a roving manifesto. CUNTemporary is a not-for profit organisation set up to promote the work of groups or individuals that engage with queer and/or feminist frameworks. We are interested in organising events in spaces where dialogue, experimentation and novelty can arise. Multiple forms of control, privatisation and regulations within the dominant neoliberal capitalist culture have infiltrated our daily lives and have colonised our imagination. Our resistance is fuelled by the unbounded and imaginative products and processes of individuals and collectives that work on the margins of what is permitted. We are curious to discover what can be destabilised and invented from those margins when they flirt with the centre; without being co-opted into the structures of stale cultural intelligibility. Our main struggle stems from the desire to enable a multitude of new imaginaries, fantasies and narratives by being critical of existing ideological constructs that discredit certain ideas as 'impossible'.

How does CUNTemporary explore contemporary feminism vis-à-vis queer theory?
In seeking to create possibilities for queer/feminist practices it was necessary to look to the actual politics of queer and feminist theory. We positioned our strategies alongside Halberstam’s definition of queer as that which follows “... nonnormative logics and organizations of community, sexual identity, embodiment, and activity in space and time.” This definition resonates well with the feminisms that we found useful and in dialogue with the communities and individuals we were working with. Feminisms that are occupied with possibilities, intersections and the blurring of boundaries without burning bridges in their activism. Feminisms interested in dismantling power through the critique of ideological positions of identity. As the philosopher Rosi Braidotti insists "If power relations are not linear, nor is resistance."

Tell me about GUERRILLA PORNFARE: Art and the politics of porn
We were invited to the 2 day symposium Performing Porn: After the Computer became Boring to present a paper on the intersections of performance art and pornography in the context of changing experiences of everyday technologies. Ana Grahovac (CUNTemporary associate) delivered this paper by opening up with the question: since digital porn is now accessible everywhere at anytime in the western world why has it not become boring? We put together a selection of artists that explore how pleasure could serve the political and to critically reflect on prevailing regimes of bodies and pleasures within the dominant heteronormative culture.

Feminism in the developed west has often been seen to exclude poor and/or non-white women. Has the rise of social media changed anything with regards to feminism, race and class?
Social media is free, open and accessible to all. Even though non-white, non-cis women from poor backgrounds might have access to social media, this doesn’t change much as to whether they are being represented or heard in white, cis, middle-class discourses. We cannot expect these intersections to magically rise up in an elitist and hostile environment. It is every organisation’s duty to open up dialogical spaces. After running our organisation for a couple of months we started to become much more aware of the statistics and sought to actively locate the ways in which we unintentionally can end up being complicit in perpetuating systems of exclusion, whiteness and anglo/eurocentrism. It is embarrassing to confront the appalling low percentage of non-white artists at the Royal College of Art, Tate Modern and in the majority of commercial galleries when the 2011 census for London indicated that approximately 40% of citizens are non-white. We are not in a position to pinpoint towards solutions for this exclusionary system at large. For our part, we are shortly announcing an open call for curators that have a knowledge of or who work with non-white artists and/or theories which are not Anglo/Eurocentric.

Tell me about HARD CAMP and the provocative crossroads of fetish and camp
HARD CAMP was a one-night pop-up exhibition, performance and club night that took place at Resistance Gallery in London in August 2013. The concept sprang from the idea of what two highly contrasting aesthetics ‘fetish’ and ‘camp’ (which tend to separate the queer community’s social and cultural practices) could bring together as opposed to separate. The night sold out to the most diverse audience that were presented with a wild roster of artists and creatives hijacking the space with sculptures, installations, projections, non-stop performances and DJ sets until 3am. But the successful aspect of the whole show wasn’t just the turn out: from the start it was important for CUNTemporary to explore the possibilities of cultural production without mimicking commercial or institutional models and the accompanying strain of having to adapt events to a particular set of art-market criteria.

Victor Ivanov, performance for Hard Camp, August 2013
© Thomas Hensher Photography

Even the most seemingly liberal institutions and galleries are defined by their own sets of limitations, boundaries and ideas of how art should be presented, produced and consumed. This lack of experimentation and faith in communities of practice has been partially responsible for the exclusion of art practices and discourses that produce invaluable critical, political and affective contributions to culture and society. This is not to say that the ‘white box’ space is not a significant way of viewing and engaging with art. Instead, we are saying that this is not the only way and there is so much more to be explored in this field. If art can be transgressive, provocative and political then the practice of curating should follow suit.

Which artists CUNTemporary has worked with are the most innovative?
We find that it is a little reductive to collapse an artist and their work into art-market lingo, as this is language that we make effort to avoid. All of the artists we work with bring something unique to the mix. A common denominator beyond the queer/feminist label is the desire for experimentation, which mainly requires a fearless disposition. 

We find that the work of ANETTA MONA CHIŞA & LUCIA TKÁČOVÁ for the Romanian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2011 offered something that we are primarily interested in: how to be a political artist within the politics of art? We have so far shown their work Porn Video in the context of a gallery as part of the screening Body Consumed: identification and appropriation in contemporary artists’ videos. We have also frequently referenced their manifesto of what 'An Exhibition Should Be' during our presentations and in our publicity.

Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tkacova, Artists' statement at the Romanian Pavilion, Venice, June 2011
Courtesy of the artists

In a similar vein, LINDA STUPART, a South African artist living in London, has been one of the most ‘innovative’ – if you insist – artists we have worked with. Fierce, political, transparent and unabashedly feminist. For our exhibition Happiness Now? we supported Stupart when she wanted to bend the rules of our contractual agreement with the venue Guest Projects. The contract stated that we cannot drill any holes in the walls but that we may use the existing holes. Stupart decided that she would fill up every hole in the gallery and write 554 stories to represent each hole. This idea culminated into a book which we had on display during the 2 week exhibition. The significance of Stupart’s transgression lies in the understanding that sometimes it takes a much more subtle act to produce, transform and exert change in a given situation. Because of her inventive strategy, it has been necessary to change the institutions’ contracts and, as a result, the methods of display for future exhibitions.

       Linda Stupart, She said you can't make any new holes in the gallery wallsbut you can use the holes that are already there, 2013
Mixed media (Polyfilla and A5 books)
Courtesy of the artist

From a far more extreme perspective, DIANA TORRES is a Spanish queer performance artist who developed the transgressive art and political concept of  ‘Pornoterrorism’ since 2006.  ‘Pornoterrorism’ is a form of direct action performance art in which Torres combines post-porn queer art practice with radical political commentary, delivered through her own poetry. In her performances, Torres’s body and her poetry speak of a radical critique of the oppressive regimes of heteronormativity, whiteness and capitalist exploitation. In her manifesto, Torres asserts that we live in an increasingly anaesthetising world of media saturation, which is diminishing the subjects’ critical capacity to feel and act, while at the same time encouraging passive consumption of products, ideas, and promises for a better life. Against this 'systematic numbness', Torres’s mission is to re-activate our bodies in a political and erotic sense, through the medium of her live performance acts.

Diana Torres, Testo Yunkie Party, 2009
Live performance
Courtesy of the artist

INGRID BERTHON-MOINE’S caustic, critical yet sincere sense of humour resonates well with our relationship to art and life. The first time we screened her work it was in front of an audience of 300 people at the RIO Cinema. Her video Alors tu m’aimes? (2009) depicts a series of ritualistic modern day practices of beautification. The technical finesse and conceptual simplicity of her work was so direct, pretenseless and powerful that it brought on waves of laughter in the theatre. Similarly, for the Performing Porn symposium, we screened iTouch (2011). This is a very short video that directly confronts the viewer with the inability of technology and of pornographic imagery to compensate for the (hyper-visible) desire that these images are supposed to produce. The video depicts an image of a vagina on an iPad and a hand fervently trying to stimulate the clitoral area. Clever, compelling and downright hilarious.

Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Alors tu m'aimes?, 2009
Courtesy of the artist

Needless to say, we have a deep love and appreciation for REGINA JOSÉ GALINDO and SUKRAN MORAL for producing work in the very problematic territories of Guatemala and Turkey. Both these artists have brought taboos, political issues and the struggle for gender equality to the forefront of their practice in very captivating ways.

Regina José Galindo, Limpieza social, 2006
Courtesy of the artist

Who are your top 5 women artists and why?
This is a very difficult question. As an organisation with many differing opinions it would be impossible to give a representative answer. Contemporary women artists or women artists that have passed away? Women artists who are feminist, women who make feminist art or women artists who don't identify as feminist? Cis-women, trans-women, genderqueer women, what kind of women? Top, as in generationally influential, or top as in at the forefront of current artistic practices? What our organisation presses on is the recognition of queer and feminist practices. These practices are not gender-specific even though they may employ a critique of gender. For the purpose of this interview we offer a list of five artists (regardless of gender and identity) whose work we believe is queer and/or feminist and has significantly shaped or transformed art in the last decade.

PIPILOTTI RIST for challenging the boundaries of video art and its relationship to practices of viewing. Rist has truly contested institutions and their methods of display. The content of her work continues to provide art with a sensuality, immersion and playfulness that stands out from the strict and stiff landscape of exhibitions. It is unusual to encounter everyday objects and situations that fill you with a sense of wonder – Rist’s lens has the capacity to capture that wonder in all its glorious manifestations.

RON ATHEY for pushing the body in performance art to its most extraordinary limits. His fearlessly excessive performances have highlighted the significance of ritual, autobiography and sexual practice in art. And as Dominic Johnson has noted “His work is crucial for rethinking not only the limits of artistic practice, but also the limits of criticism.”

REGINA JOSÉ GALINDO for shifting performance into a post-identitarian art activism. Her performance art pieces are so directly engaged with the brutal realities of the political and social dimensions of Guatemala that her body becomes the site where these injustices are played out. Courageous, lyrical and intimately riveting.

FELIX GONZALEZ-TORRES for maintaining both a political and aesthetic attitude throughout his art practice. The ability to produce highly formal work with such vulnerable yet controversial content is an unprecedented and admirable accomplishment that has definitely affected and influenced the following generation of artists.

MONA HATOUM for defending her work throughout all the rich transformations it has taken ranging from performance, sculpture, video and installation without disavowing her feminist position. Her sculptural work formally draws from minimalism and surrealism but is loaded with political and social reflections and associations. What we also find impressive and crucial for art is that her work allows the viewer to establish a relationship to the object without being pedantic or obscure in the multiple narratives that it produces. An openness both to form and content that allows the viewer to engage with her work in a physical, visceral, psychological and emotionally laden manner.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
CUNTemporary has been invited to ArtVerona to investigate what a queer/feminist engagement can offer in the context of an Art Fair in a country with a small and invisible amount of queer and feminist artists. For this occasion, CUNTemporary has launched an on-going open call that will bring to light queer art practices linked to the Italian territory — either artists that have lived, worked or exhibited in Italy or who wish to present a new project that contextualises itself in the Italian social, political and/or cultural scene. With this material we will create the first ever platform for Art, Theory and Activism in Italy at the intersection of queer and feminist practices. This project is called ArchivioQueerItalia and since the open call we have been receiving daily applications from artists and theorists on a global scale. For us this is an indication that there is an urgent and lively engagement with our subject. We are super excited about the incredible calibre of work that has been submitted and we look forward to shaking up the fair with it!

CUNTemporary co-founders: Giulia Casalini graduated magna cum laude in Languages, Arts, History and Civilisations in Venice and holds an MA (Hons) in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths focusing on feminist and queer engagements in community art projects. She is currently curating the upcoming exhibition 'Transformer' for Richard Saltoun Gallery (London). Diana Georgiou holds an MA in History of Art & Design and is currently conducting research in the Visual Cultures PhD department at Goldsmiths. Diana has a multidisciplinary background ranging from television production, event management & coordination to art history & theory. Her recent work has a focus on visual arts, psychoanalysis & feminism.