“The knots in the bondage workshop were very aesthetically beautiful”
Ginger Brooks Takahashi und Ulrike Müller im Aktualisierungsraum Hamburg.
Ein Interview. Von Max Hinderer
Der Aktualisierungsraum lädt mit Ginger Brooks Takahashi und Ulrike Müller zur achten „Aktualisierung“ ein. Der nicht-kommerzielle Projektraum von Nina Köller und Kerstin Stakemeier in der Talstraße 17 verfolgt seit Anfang des Jahres eine strenge, wenn auch ambitionierte Programmatik: Kunstwerke, Erfindungen oder Ereignisse, deren Potenziale unabgeschlossen als Fragmente der Geschichtsschreibung verweilen, sollen von den eingeladenen KünstlerInnen und/oder Kollektiven aus der Vergangenheit hervorgeholt werden, um sie unter Berücksichtigung territorialer und historischer Verschiebungen zurück in die Gegenwart und ihre Verhältnisse einzuspeisen. Die damit eröffneten produktiven Differenzen, die sich durch die einzelnen Projekte ergeben, zielen als Gesamtes darauf ab, „unausgeschöpfte Möglichkeiten wiederzubeleben und verhinderte Befreiungen mit neuer Gewalt auszustatten.“
Um Gewalt geht es vordergründig auch bei Brooks Takahashi und Müller, die für ihre Ausstellung im "Lesbian Herstory Archive" in Brooklyn zunächst unabhängig voneinander recherchiert haben. Für WHIP (14.10. - 03.11.2007) setzen sich die Künstlerinnen, die beide Teil des New Yorker feministischen queergender Kollektivs LTTR sind, mit dem politischen Dispositiv lesbischer S/M – communities in den 1980-90er Jahre und innerhalb der feministischen Bewegung in den USA auseinander. Dabei steht die Vorstellung der Befreiung der Frau, als Institution einer männlich dominierten Gesellschaft, wie sie bereits durch den historischen Feminismus reklamiert wurde, im ideologischen Kontrast zur Forderung einer radikalen Befreiung der sexuellen Begehren, die durch lesbisch-feministische S/M-Gruppen wie „Samois“ oder „Outcast“ postuliert wurde. Auf der einen Seite radikale lesbische Sexualität, die Macht und Aggression einkalkuliert, auf der anderen Seite das Verlangen nach einem utopischen Ort von Frieden und Harmonie.
Das verbindende Element zwischen den Zeichnungen, Textil- und Papierarbeiten der einzelnen Künstlerinnen bildet das gemeinsame Video WHIP (2007), in dem Brooks Takahashi und Müller Peitschen gleichsam als sexuelle Technik und Lernprozess performativ in Szene setzen. Von der Talstraße aus direkt einsehbar, stellt das Video über die historischen und diskursiven Verweise der Ausstellung hinaus ein unmittelbares Moment der Ortsspezifik her. Anlässlich der Ausstellung fand unter professioneller Anleitung von Ursula Loge auch ein Bondage Workshop, außerhalb der Galerieräumlichkeiten, in St. Pauli statt.
Max Hinderer: Just to begin: perhaps you could briefly explain how LTTR functions as a collective and if you follow a certain program to realize, perform or visualize a certain attitude in your exhibition partaking?
Ginger Brooks Takahashi: I think we are pretty free form, but committed to each other and many others. LTTR is more of a platform project. We create situations where people can come together and share their work. Whether it’s on the page of a journal or on a temporary stage for three weeks.
Ulrike Müller: I think we should clarify that LTTR is a journal first, and then other events spin off from that.
MH: What is the difference between your project in HH and LTTR in NY?
UM: Well, part of the project in Hamburg was structured by the program of the space that invited us. I mean all the LTTR editors have their individual art practices. They feed into LTTR, but they are distinct from it. We share desires, and pleasures, and ideas, about art and politics, yes. Ginger and I doing an exhibition together is nevertheless a different enterprise. It might help to think about it in terms of music, and bands. LTTR is a journal we do edit together with K8 Hardy and Emily Roysdon, and many others are involved. We produce an annual queer feminist art journal together with our queer community and friends. Ginger and I now teamed up for the first time for our collaborative exhibition project in Hamburg.
GBT: First, we were considering our current solo work, and the connections between our practices – talking about where pleasure and violence meet.
UM: Yes, we share an interest in the connections between sex and violence, and many discussions and insights around anti-war politics. We’ve been exploring how a counter-culture needs to be a sexual culture also.
I've actually wanted to see Ginger's embroideries and my drawings in the same space together for a while. They do something together.
And there's an overlap for sure – for the project in Hamburg we have a specific interest in the feminist past, in radical sexualities, and in archive-building. Ginger has worked a lot around these issues. We both went to the Lesbian Herstory Archives over the summer, looking at materials there. It's a great place. And it is an amazing community-organized and community-run project. They are very smart, and very radical.
GBT: I like to dig into the archive. That's where we began our project – actively. We came to an important point researching at the Herstory Archives, realizing we were stuck in this swamp of history/herstory and getting very excited by everything, but not knowing where we wanted to take all this energy we had uncovered. And it became very clear to me at some point that it was perfect for us that the Aktualisierungsraum was next to the Reeperbahn. And I wanted to be in the space not only as artists, but as sexual bodies. Because our work directly addresses this.
MH: Considering the feminist aspect: the classical role of women in society? And the overlaping with other structures of violence?
UM: That's not how I would describe it in the first place. The role of women, I mean. I am more interested in the potential of political queers. My gender identity is more complex than that for sure!
GBT: I think of my body outside of the woman body most of the time. It’s a queer body.
UM: Questions around building a feminist genderqueer ethic are very interesting to me. Ways of doing things – sharing pleasure, but also accepting and dealing with aggressive and violent impulses. It's a question of forms. Of HOW we do things.
UM: All of the above. Interactions, bodies.
MH: Coming back to violence, and more specific, Talstrasse, where there’s the transsexual street prostitution hot spot? There’s also a lot of violence here.
UM: I think that's a different issue, and it is important to make the distinction.
GBT: Yeah, I see our work is in a different space: Poetry.
UM: I actually think that there is equal violence among heterosexuals and queers. One difference is that a lot of straight violence happens at home – domestic violence.
MH: How would you say does your body presence build part of the level of "fiction" in art, or part of the "truth" outside the room? Or do you see any need to make a distinction between these two ways of function as subject, artists, individual or couple? Or body?
UM: As far as the works in the show are concerned, I'm assuming you're talking about WHIP, the video we collaborated on. In the works on paper that both of us are also showing the body is evoked, but not represented in a traditional way. We were aware of issues around bodily presence, and I think in our video this becomes apparent in the way the camera image is framed. We shot the video from the back. And our heads are cut off most of the time. So we're there, but the image is more about what we're doing than what we look like – you don't see any facial expressions for example. It has been interesting for me in my work to figure out how one can be on a stage and say "I" without talking about (only) oneself. Strategies to avoid that kind of distance, or to complicate the viewer's position.
GBT: Your question makes me think of a section in Monique Wittig's intro to `The Lesbian Body´ – the book that my embroidery texts are taken from. She writes about the amazons existing on three levels simultaneously: fictional, symbolic, and actual. And I see this correlation between her projection and queer lives – living out our fantasies in our realities. It´s about existing in fantasy and reality at the same time, and making little distinction between them. In Wittig's book, the main character and her lover change between species – dog/human/shark/horse and have no anatomical boundaries. One person's fist travels through the ass into the digestive system of another. And vignette after vignette, these characters keep re-introducing each other in new scenarios with other desires.
UM: In sexual encounters the me-you dichotomy can dissolve. We all know that from experience, no? The notion of inside and outside reveals itself as untenable construct. The more we think about the subject, or us as subjects in the world, the more these distinctions dissolve. The interesting thing about "queerness" is that it's not an identity, but rather a refusal, an insistence that our subjectivities are more complicated. So, can the gallery become a queer space, temporarily? Where all kinds of people can explore their feelings around, for example, whipping. I think Ginger and I offered something, we made an offer. I don't think it's about bringing "outside" issues into the gallery. Like what Ginger said about being a sexual body. We all have this potential.
There is a lot of anxiety around violence, or what gets perceived as violent acts. You know that in the video Ginger and I are practicing with the single tail whip for the first time, so in a way we're working on exploring our sadistic sides. As lesbians and feminists we have to confront our own involvement – look at the blurry line between sexism and sexy, as our friend the photographer AL Steiner likes to put it – to be working from and involved critical position that takes our desires seriously.
GBT: From a different plane – the location of our actualisation project was the rift between feminist politics and S/M and radical sex politics. As we started our research we found a deep history of the lesbian S/M community fighting with feminists for space to practice their desires and so much documentation of this. Letters between organizations, printed in publications, asking for permission to be on lesbian/women/feminist utopian land during a music festival and being denied that permission. People were troubled about personal histories of sexual violence being triggered by consensual violent sexual acts. And then the interesting conflict that grew out of the womens' utopia later on was about whether male to female transsexuals could participate in the women's festival as women.
I'm interested in figuring out how people include themselves in communities or group identities. As temporary as participating in a queer space like our show or workshop in Hamburg. Or like MtF transsexuals wanting to identify as women and be with other women at a women-only space.
UM: We specifically chose the debate around radical sexuality and S/M within feminism, looking at two lesbian S/M organizations, Samois and Outcast.
GBT: 1980s and 90s US lesbian groups, Samois, San Francisco and Outcast, New York.
UM: But we found more great material at Bildwechsel! Not planned but very welcome!
MH: How did you feel about having such a big resonance from the lesbian/queer scene in Hamburg at your show?
GBT: There was a big queer wave, who came to the opening at the beginning. People, who we met at Bildwechsel and their scene – people who received our emails. Big queer scene in Hamburg, I was excited.
UM: That was very important! There seems to be a great crossover between art, politics, and queer scenes in Hamburg. I've been telling people about this. But we also reached out. Actively.
MH: With the bondage workshop?
GBT: We reached out through friends before coming to organize the workshop and other elements of the show. Even screenprinting Ulrike's posters with the Outcast graphic at Rote Flora was an important yet invisible element of putting together our project in Hamburg. And researching at Bildwechsel, meeting people, watching videos. Witnessing the work being done there
UM: Yes, Bildwechsel is a very active archive, with a lot of turnaround! No dust.
MH: One interesting thing about your exhibition project is how different levels interact here. Do you think you somehow addressed two different spaces? On the one hand, the artistic space and on the other, the bondage workshop outside the space?
What do you think about this overlapping and the possibility to interact between these layers?
GBT: It´s interesting ‘cause for a while I was really into this idea "how does a community that doesn't reproduce, reproduce itself?" – thinking of queer community and how we use networks, gay bars, underground publications, zines, to find and document each other. And then also the possibility for a group of people to gather and learn something together. That's something important to us. A strategy well-practiced in the feminist movement. Skill-sharing.
UM: One connection is experience – aesthetic experience, and sensual experience. The knots in the bondage workshop were very aesthetically beautiful and the show I'd hope, also opened up possibilities for a physical, sensual approach to the work. Not just eyes or brain. We had specific reasons to not have the workshop in the gallery. It was about being safe and comfortable…
GBT: ... private. And as I started to say before, there is this idea of considering how communities reproduce themselves and i think of this workshop as enacting that potential. The workshop is a space or a moment for a group to pass along this shared knowledge. And just to come together and see each other. Be together in our desires.
UM: Yes, and also where you can get to know an attitude, and physically handle a body, whether you know the person or not. Those are important things.
MH: Coming back to “how does a community that doesn’t reproduce, reproduce itself?”. Taking in account both, the art and the queer scenes, and considering the multiplicity of things instead of pointing out linear reifications from one to another, every community can share a lot or less with another one, let’s say, in terms of dynamics. But at the same time very material things. Such as there are bodies. And the experience of/and sensuality. In this sense I would understand a community you are talking about – without wanting to give it a name – reproducing itself by expanding, by multiplying. So the for example the art-thing can become part of another dynamic which could be the one of queer activism or sharing structures.
UM: I think it sounds beautiful. The only thing I would want to add right now is what Ginger said before – this community is not a given, it needs to be enacted. So it multiplies over time, through repetition. Through people caring and wanting to do something together, or being curious and trying it out with each other.
MH: Would you say that your exhibition project interacts more with the archive situation at Bildwechsel, and the queer/lesbian-scene, than the direct surrounding of the gallery space? What would you finally comment on Talstrasse in relation to the exhibition? And about you as artists employing a professional bondage-mistress?
UM: We were not trying to do a site-specific project about transsexual prostitution. That would seem presumptuous. I mean, this was the first time ever I was in Hamburg, and I arrived 1 1/2 days before the opening. I still think that the location helped "actualize" our show – making connections to the world outside the gallery – in addition to what Ginger said about sexual bodies. But beyond that - are you missing some kind of institutional critique or awareness? Is that what the question is about?
GBT: I would agree with Ulrike about the Talstrasse angle, but I do think our project somehow synthesizes the anonymous Reeperbahn sexuality and the queer archival spirit. Our visual references nod to both.
UM: I would also like to add that the Ursula Loge, who we worked with for the
bondage workshop is a visual artist too, and familiar with the art world. So
these “worlds” are not so separate at all. And one more about art and sex worlds: Did you see the quote we used for the invitation from a lesbian S/M text from the 1970s – “A whip is a great way to get someone to be here now. They can’t look away from it, and they can’t think about anything else.” – about the whip bringing everyone into the here and now - I love the nod to minimal art. Trying to have it both ways!
MH: Talking about references, how was the exhibition situation intended?
GBT: The decision to learn to use a single tail whip, making a video of this process and placing it in a storefront, in an area where people are presented with this kind of sexuality in another way.
UM: What's the question?
MH: To me, it appeared, from a formalistic perspective, that you’re making sort of a pastiche of modern exhibition standards.
UM: Oh, that hurts.
GBT: No way!
UM: It looks like we're not serious?
MH: Just the contrast between everything hung so straight and at the same time putting the focus on performativity in producing art? Exhibiting in first line a constellation of social formations you’re involved, (re-)producing this whole lot of queer discourse? In a way I found your hangings were somehow campy.
GBT: We are totally sincere. We are playing with everything, of course and having a great time.
UM: But we installed everything very carefully. I am absolutely sincere in my queer relation to modernism. Yes, I think there's potential in aesthetic experience, and I also know that the feminist and postcolonial critique were essential. So in a way I'm interested to return and explore modernism with what I've learned!
GBT: I went to hear Roni Horn speak on her work last week and she was asked why she likes to show identical images side by side. And she said, "it could be because I’m gay. Or maybe because I'm a formalist".
Link zur Ausstellung:
 Pat Califia, A Secret Side of Lesbian Sexuality, in: The Advocate, December 27, 1979