Saturday 23 February 2013

Acts of Defiance... ..

Image from Theatre of Protest, Mama Quilla at The Roundhouse

Acts of Defiance launched by MAMA QUILLA in 2013 is a series of short public interactions or interventions, theatre poems, or film essays, recording dignified and peaceful opposition to injustice and oppression.

Mama Quilla will commission, curate, and publish on the web, a filmed portfolio of work. It is hoped the work will span commissioned short pieces, from individuals or community venues, activist organisations protesting, to candid guerrilla filming from citizens witnessing small acts of justices (and big acts if witnessed). Short, site-specific pieces, commissioned, rehearsed and performed in/on community spaces, will be filmed.

It is anticipated contributions will range from experienced artists to emerging artists, to passionate individuals or groups, (who have never created film / live performance before)

Currently commissioned under The First Timers Initiative are Simion Simms, Ann Akin and Bridie Moore.

Open contributions are more than welcome, but not all submissions may be guaranteed inclusion in the online portfolio.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Bridie Moore: Silver Action

From :

Bridie Moore: Silver Action
The Tanks, Tate Modern, 3/2/13

As I travelled on the tube from Kings Cross to St Paul’s to see Suzanne Lacy’s piece Silver Action at newly opened The Tanks at Tate Modern I was naturally thinking about the representation and visibility of older women in our culture.  I decided to do a quick scan of the poster images on my journey.  Unsurprisingly these were overwhelmingly of youth: sexy, energetic or sardonically youthful figures looked out appealingly from adverts for Singin’ in the Rain, The Bodyguard and the film I’ll Give it a Year, even adverts for hair loss clinics were peopled by luxuriantly coiffed thirty-somethings. Middle aged Boris Johnson and Jeremy Clarkson were the only images of people aged past youth and there were no middle aged or older women represented anywhere.

It was an unusual sight therefore on entering The Tanks to see about a hundred women over the age of 60 (although sadly only a few were women of colour) who had come together to discuss their own past involvement in political activism and their potential contribution to future action.  The large circular space had three main points of focus.  In one area were 24 tables at most of which sat 4 women in discussion.  On the yellow tablecloths were cards which asked two questions, one about what propelled the women to activism and the other asked what was different with age, what were the challenges of being older and what potential contributions could they make.  There was a hum of conversation on this side of the space.  Five computer screens were projected on the curving wall opposite, with constantly scrolling, changing text, generated by assistants at laptops who were taking down, verbatim, stories being told to them by women coming and going, one by one.  The third point of focus was a long white, highly lit table, at which ten women were discussing topics that seemed related to the cards on the yellow tables opposite. 

This act of coming together could be seen as both ‘silver action’ in itself and a celebration and honouring of action that these now (not exclusively) silver haired women had undertaken as younger people.  I was engaged by the stories projected on the walls, about women’s propulsion into action: women from varied backgrounds told stories of bigotry in their communities – a white girl being arrested at a Guildford dance hall for the fracas caused when she danced with a young black man; discrimination in education – women, on completing their degrees, refused an actual degree qualification; and stories of those who just saw a need to involve the excluded in their communities and so took action. 

These stories were accessed easily by reading the projected text, however the live conversation was very difficult to hear and we were forbidden to interact with the seated women.  This meant the audience were excluded from much of the conversation either as listeners or as participants.  At the long white table we were able, with some effort, to hear the discussion which covered areas such as the prohibition on exploring elder sexuality and also the point in the 1990s where ‘post-feminism’ arrived in the universities and pressures from supervisors closed down any radical research or writing.  However on the yellow tables discussion was mostly inaudible.  At the beginning of the piece one visiting woman pulled up a seat at one of the yellow tables, enthusiastic not only to hear but also to participate, she was told this wasn’t permitted due to ‘consent issues’.  Frustratingly, neither were we allowed to enter the table area to hear the conversations taking place in the centre of this space.  I sensed that the meaning of this piece was not being played out here but elsewhere or in another time, either in the future film that was being constructed as a (marketing) document of the event or in cyberspace: younger assistants at each table were tweeting, presumably with comments emerging from the table discussions.  This, oddly, made them look like surly youngsters, texting whilst their elders engaged in conversation they weren’t interested in.  One would have had to be on twitter in that moment and to view the film in the future to feel completely involved.  This almost makes redundant the act of travelling to and from Leeds to engage with the Silver Action piece as it happened on the day. 

The question of action is central to the problems with this piece.  This coming together of such politically engaged women can be considered an action in itself, honouring the activism of those who were so instrumental in challenging the way our culture functioned to constrain individual potential.  This was an act of reminiscence, one that is problematic in isolation, in that it honours the older person only as a repository of memory.  These women did have passionate conversations with each other and who knows what future action these might inspire, however in restricting the audience’s engagement and especially any potential conversation with the women, the piece restricted potential action on the day.  This situation is indicative of our early 21st century health & safety and consent-obsessed culture, which here seemed responsible for closing down any possibility o

f the kind of risk-taking that facilitated the way these women forced change in our society in the first place. Are we looking back nostalgically to the time when we could take such action? It is typical of the sort of regulated event that is exemplified now in licensed protest marches and our highly regulated education system, one that disallows the experimental and the risky.  The mostly female audience were disgruntled but did not take any sort of action; we should have staged a sit in or forced our way to the tables, but we are now socialised into an acquiescent mode of behaviour and the codes that restrict us are far subtler than perhaps they once were.  This is especially true in one of our foremost cultural institutions Tate Modern.  In the end Silver Action reinforced the stereotype of the compliant, ineffective and invisible older woman. It was a risk free and curiously hidden piece – the more public Turbine Hall although empty was not used for a piece which claimed to honour the visibility of older women – and more than honouring action this piece closed it down.

Suzanne Lacy can be heard talking about her previous work The Crystal Quilt in a BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour interview at
This work (quilt, film and audio documentation) is also on display at Tate Modern in the Transformations Gallery.