Monday, April 19, 2010

Girleye Background by Art Less


Walking into the Girleye show at Tribes unprepared, an ordinary viewer might find herself thinking something like, hmmm, Girleye: Women looking at women. But women look at women all the time. We’re sighted creatures. Duh! And what the heck does ‘girleye’ mean anyway? It’s not a word, people.

Would you care for a little background? Good, because you’re going to get a lot.

The Girleye Show was first ever-so-slyly named after a wrongfully cut scene in John Waters’ 1977 film Pink Flamingoes. Mocking Laura Mulvey a scant two years after the publication of her “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Waters wrote (and later, blaming “all the marijuana I was smoking,” discarded):

A lot of people like cunt, you know. Men, women. But your eyes are like a cunt to me, honey. You can look and look and look...and still I wake up wishing you were there... watching me twenty-four hours a day. Them cunt eyes.

Hilarious, right? Especially if, like John Waters as he wrote the infamous monologue, you have smoked too much marijuana. But whatever does it mean? And how does it relate to the Girleye title? (Another answer, the answer to how the monologue relates to the film from which it was excised will not be given by this blog post primarily because, as the scene has been made available to the public, it does not relate to the rest of Pink Flamingoes at all. How very John Waters, and lovingly so . . . )

First things first. There’s more to the humor here than meets the . . . eye. One suspects that, regardless of the author’s herbal proclivities, he finds the scene funny primarily because he himself is an unreconstructed homosexual. Waters will never find cunt desirable, and he will certainly never wake up wishing two vulvas were staring him down twenty-four hours a day. Moreover, almost all human beings (we can safely extrapolate, but if anyone does scientific research to the contrary, I for one would love to know) would be just the slightest smidge disturbed to see vulvas in the place of eyes on any face—male, female, human, nonhuman; it really doesn’t matter. (Maybe this is why the eye of Sauron squicks us out so?) A cunt for an eye, taken literally, implies a uterus for a brain, and that shit just ain’t genetically viable, so it’s going to squick us out. You can go even further with the visualization and reflect that two tiny cunts correctly positioned under the forehead and above the nose will look not unlike an extremely diseased, shut-swollen, pus-leaking, inflamed and lash-plucked pair of eyes currently visible only on the most destitute Third World beggars, and best avoided in any case if you want to keep your lunch. So it’s funny that anybody, even a John Waters character, would want to see eyes that looked like cunts. And this humor should certainly be kept in mind, and one’s tongue concordantly kept in cheek, as the viewer regards the Girleye selections.

Is there another, more pointed level to the humor? You betcha—it’s one I hinted at earlier, when I mentioned that Waters was mocking Laura Mulvey’s screed “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Mulvey’s whole deal with “Visual Pleasure” was the idea that, in narrative cinema at least, men were necessarily phallic possessive camera-wielding filmmakers and women were necessarily pretty passive vulval looked-at objects, because women didn’t have penises. If women had penises, they’d be potent, but women are born without them, so instead they symbolize castration anxieties. Freud said it, so it’s true. Or thus spake Laura Mulvey.

To review: male looker, female hooker. It totally sucked. But, Mulvey predicted confidently, women didn’t have to worry for too long because narrative cinema was like totally dying out! A narrative film, by the way, is a movie with a story. We can see how well that prediction turned out.

Meanwhile, a whole generation of feminist artists (and writers, and filmmakers, and whatnot) had rightly gotten sick of waiting for their male peers to recognize that women could do technique gud, too. So they chucked it out the window. Technique, that is. The more apologetic of this crowd had a habit of explaining that poorer—no, make that rawer, edgier—technique would a) better show their rage, and b) demarcate them from the tools of the male predecessors and sometime oppressors. In doing so, these artists yielded just about all of their theoretical ground to and via the tool of their male predecessor Marshall McLuhan.

Before we get too snarky here, let’s get something straight. Some of these artists were absolutely brilliant. Personally I have a big fat girl-crush on primitivist sex/art-goddess filmmaker Carolee Schneeman. Back in the sixties, Schneeman liked to film herself getting head from her boyfriend, both elegantly predicting and refuting Mulvey through these sumptuous pieces. (And absolutely no one paid attention, which is why we need shows like Girleye now.)

But most of these radical feminist anti-technique artists were crap. And you can see why. A great idea with a crap presentation is still a great idea, albeit with a crap presentation. At least it’s going to sound good when you tell it to people, even if it sounds better than, sigh, it looks. But a crap idea with crap presentation is doubly crap, or even craptastic. (Footnote: Sometimes I fantasize that a learned speaker will recite a passage such as the above to honor me at my funeral, with a little note of explanation such as, “The crap passage exemplifies the sort of brilliant, and brilliantly subtle, wordplay at which Spitzer excelled”.)

Modern female artists have largely split into two camps—those who continue the tradition of feminist mostly-crap, and those who make beautiful art that is cough, cough, silent on the subject of femininity. Intentionally or not, a silence that reflects a tradition of misogyny all too often propagates that tradition—a tradition which Mulvey, however poor her underlying logic, was perfectly correct to rally against.

But hey. It’s 2010 already.

Remember John Waters’ monologue. The passive cunt becomes an eye: greedy, seeking, it enthralls, sexy in its active power. Let’s reverse our own looking at the text. The figurative made flesh is quite grotesque; the flesh made figurative is . . . fine art . . .

Eye the doubly fine art of Girleye, and enjoy.

No comments: