Last night Art Attack checked out the highly buzzed documentary by multifaceted artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, !Women Art Revolution. The documentary was featured as a part of this year's Cinema Arts Festival. Prior to the screening of the film, the Museum of Fine Arts held as its monthly "Artful Thursday" a conversation between the film's director, Leeson, and UH art professor Jenni Sorkin and CAFH Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz.
The round-ish table discussion was less an introduction to the film than it was a retrospective of Leeson's work as a performance and media artist and her influence over the feminist art movement that began in the 1960s. Not being familiar with Leeson's work, I was hoping to get better insight as to her impact on the historical landscape of feminist art of the time. What I found, instead, was what felt like an "A, B" conversation that I was invited to "C" my way out of. No one in the room found Leeson as hilarious as Leeson did, a joke that felt excluding.
Leeson's work has focused on identity, self and a fragmentation of the two. In theory, this should be very fascinating; however, I found it to be less self-reflexive and more self-important. The crux of her work, The Electronic Diary - Confessions of a Chameleon, are hours of self-confession video. Maybe I am too accustomed to this type of "video testimonial," which has been exploited in every reality television show, but the five-minute intro didn't compel me to want to see more.
In tandem with the movie, Leeson presented a video installation piece called RAW/WAR, a "live, user-generated, community-curated video archive" in which flashlight controllers allowed patrons to click on different videos. Again, in theory this could have been really exciting; in reality, it was a clunky version of YouTube.
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But the documentary, !Women Art Revolution, was the real star of the evening, and stood up to the hype. The documentary followed the very undocumented history of the feminist art movement, featuring candid interviews with heavy hitters of the crusade such as Judy Chicago, Rachel Rosenthal and the Guerrilla Girls. The film took you back to the 1960s, when something in the art world began to buzz and women artists across the country took a stand against male-centric galleries and museums.
What it spawned was a period of female solidarity and strength, coupled with far-out performance pieces of naked bodies and chopping blocks (not together). Leeson narrates the documentary, chronicling her involvement alongside her sisters, but not in excess. She added just the right amount of herself into the mix.
As the documentary concludes, Leeson explains how she cut this film from more than 12,428 hours of footage. That's 12,428 hours of unknown history of the women who shaped art for future generations. I wanted to know more.
What was so successful about the work was its brutal honesty. Women don't always get along, in ways that our sex will never fully understand. It was relieving and disappointing that the catty stereotype we so often find in ourselves as women could not even be avoided in the feminist art movement! Someone in the film asks if the feminist movement really "did anything?" Judging from the passion and drive of the women who revolutionized the field, the film answers that question for itself. And the answer is, yes, it did.