feminism

The Dinner Party Documentation

Middagsbjudningen is a reoccuring performance taking its inspiration from Judy Chicago’s installation art work The Dinner Party from 1974. Chicago set the table for 39 mythical and historical women, like this:

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Instead of inviting imaginary guests, the Swedish version invites people who are alive and kicking.

I was asked to do an artistic documentation of the performance Middagsbjudningen at MDT, Stockholm 30/11 2011. This is what I came up with.

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Ahpra Behn, spy and playwright who fought for women’s rights / Valerie Solanas, who would have enjoyed being in a room with only women / Hilma af Klint, one of the first abstract artists in Sweden / Alice Nordin, who fought for being a female artist around the turn of the century / Cipe Pineles, the first woman who had the title Art Director in the USA / Tove Jansson, because I always wanted to meet her / Sonja Åkesson, who wrote in a way that made illness less of a taboo / Fredrika Bremer, who was important for the women’s liberation movement and had many different roles in it / Anna Lindh who at a very young age stepped into a male-dominated political world / Margaret Garner, who did a terrible resistance through killing her own child when she was caught by the slave owner from whom she had escaped / Ayn Rand, because we could have a hot political debate / Grandmother, who was a strong woman and would have liked to have been here / Margareta Åsberg, who founded Moderna Dansteatern and fought in a male-dominated world / Medea, who knew a lot about rage / Queen Kristina, who was a strong personage in her time / Frances Farmer, a fighting film star / Miriam, the sister of Moses, who was punished for asking God why he never spoke to her / Salt ‘n Pepa, because a lot of my female role-models come from the male-dominated hip hop world / Patti Smith, who creates feminist utopias with her words / Leymah Gbowee, who just received the Nobel Price for her fight for peace in Liberia / Lynn Hershman Leeson, who made the film !Women Art Revolution that I want to show at the Museum of Modern Art because it’s so good / Robyn, because her music makes me strong and happy / Yoko Ono, because her art challenges everyday life / Moa Martinsson, to whom I constantly return / Séraphine de Senils, whose art made me start painting on my photographies / Narges Mohammadie who fight for human rights in Iran despite hard repression and a bad health / Susanne Osten, who – despite the fact that we often forget it here in Sweden – is an important person for children’s theatre internationally / A babushka who went through a lot / Rosa Bonheur, the artist who got a special permission to wear pants / Eva Dahlgren, who sang about being young and proud when no one else did and when I needed it / Madonna, who has been with me ever since I was a girl / My younger sister Josephine Blad, because she works against master supression techniques and for good political dialogue in the hallways of power / Isis in Top Model because she, unlike me, has been fighting actively for her right to be defined as a woman / Leslie Feinberg, because ze has the capacity to politicize our experiences of having our genders undone in a world of forced separatism / a newborn baby who is still like an empty page, who weighs 3500 g and who will grow up to be a woman / Romaine Patterson, who hid the aids-hating Westboro Baptist Church inside angel wings so that they were no longer visible / Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo, two tennis players who in different ways handled being lesbians in a world that often showed its disapproval / Elise ”Ottar” Ottesen-Jensen, who traveled around the whole country to talk about sexuality even though it was illegal / Edith Piaf, because she showed that one doesn’t have go be a good role-model to do something important / Virginia Woolf, because she has to be here when we talk about having a room of one’s own / Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich, who made research on what a subject of knowledge is allowed to be / Simone Signoret, who was a political film star with rebellious female characters / Karin Mamma Andersson, because she is an important source of inspiration and I would like to speak to her about art
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Really someone should have brought Elin from Högkvarteret too / Just think of what she has done to create feminist spaces / There are so many who should have been here / Who made the food? / Disa Berge, she’s been going for three days non-stop / I understand why you chose her / How do you mean? / Well, I mean that she really knows how to do it / Wow this soup / Such a rich taste and still so spicy / You’re hungry now / Really hungry / So I’ve been hanging out with the horse girls / Interesting that you’re an architect! So is my mother. It’s an exciting world. / Yes, what are you thinking of? / Well, that it’s a world where a lot happens, but I’m also thinking of the fight against the old men there / Yes, it’s very male-dominated, and with the construction industry also, there are almost only men / Yes, in the end my mother solved it by no longer working with construction people, only with natural persons / I’m also doing quite specific things within the field / I understand why it can happen like this / But I think there are also other strong structures, around whiteness for example. Like, if you’re working in an architecture office you fucking have to talk swedish / I think I was the worst stablegirl ever / How are you doing with the documentation, do you follow? / It becomes what it becomes / It’s a shame that Athena couldn’t join, is she in Palestine already? / No, not yet, but there’s a lot of stuff to do now right before / I talked to Hanna, she said she got a poet that can’t even leave her area, so they’ll have to talk on Skype even when Hanna gets there. But I guess the connection is better once you’re there? / Well, I don’t know, I think they will travel around a lot. Right now they are worried that they won’t get in to Palestine or that they won’t be let out / But they will always be let out, right? / Well, you never know / It was fun lifting their big hooves / If I want to get an idea of Feinberg’s work, what should I then read? / I chose Feinberg primarily for the role ze played in reformulating the common notion of what a trans person is, but the novel Stone Butch Blues is probably what ze is most known for / It’s a strong text / It might not be the most highly renowned literature, but it sucks you in / How I cried when I read it / What is it about? / It’s a depiction of the femme-butch-community in the US working class during the time when it was common for the police to assault bars and beat people up and so on / It’s about a person from a working class family who absolutely doesn’t understand… / Well it’s a bit edifying, like, the main character realizes hir lacks and errors / Ze wrote a lot of other stuff too, about historical trans persons for example, this I haven’t read / What I wanted was to gallop bareback through the wastelands / So who is then this Josephine Blad? / Well, she’s my sister / How does she work? I got curious when you said that thing about that she’s working in a good way / She started her social engagement in anti-bullying-organizations in school and then it has somehow continued from there / How? / That she has integrity and always speaks up when there are strange things going on in conversations, this is strong I think / Mara Lee gives a speech about the creative space / Is Judy Chicago still alive? / Yes, she is! / Do you thing she would like to come to this dinner? / I don’t know, I haven’t met her… / But how is her dinner working, is it sculptures, or how are these women portrayed? / Well, they’re not there, the table is set for them with tablemats and a lot of femininely coded symbols such as flowers and vulvas / And every tablemat has its own design in some way, maybe a font of its own? / Did you see the piece? / No / I read of it when it got this permanent place, but nothing else / To be on top of a wild horse was my image of the Woman, at the age of eight / It’s so beautiful, I’ve got two of Natalie Barney’s tablemats as fridge magnets / Wow, that’s something one should have, Natalie Barney’s tablemats as fridge magnets / Or as tablemats / Do you have a strong relation to her? / Yes, she was a big part of my phd project, it’s not like I think of her all the time, but then occasionally she shows up / I didn’t like to go horseback riding in nature, I wanted to go around and around in the manege or whatever it’s called and be in full control / So what are you doing for a living? / I’m a freelancer in the field of performative arts / It can be pretty rough, right, not knowing if there will be any money the months to come / It hasn’t exactly been a problem getting jobs, it’s more a question of daring not to choose the boring things / But this thing with always being forced to choose, that also means that one sacrifices a lot in order to do what one wants to do, or rather, that you see exactly what you sacrifice all the time / Do you think that you were inspired by your mother in making that choice? / Yes, I do, I remember that we ate a lot of brown beans and pesto when I was a child and I asked “Are we poor, mother?” / What’s happening now? / It’s pretty much the same, which I chose actively. I got a permanent employment and a good monthly salary when I was 23, in computer business / Who has a good monthly salary by the age of 23? / After a while I felt, no, this is not what I want / Katarina Bonnevier gives a speech about the physical space / This ”Never trust the decor”, what does she mean by that? /What do you think? / I’m thinking of theatre maybe, that it’s what’s behind that is the most interesting / Yes, I think I do too, or that the world is a theatre and that the environments that we move through outside the theatre aren’t exactly creating a story that everyone can agree on as true either / Or maybe the decor might even be built against you and will stab you in the back / Yes, I don’t think one should underestimate the accuracy of such an interpretation. On her curtains, Barney had embroidered a quotation from Baudelaire: ”May our curtains protect us from the outside world”, that is ”Que nos rideaux fermés nous séparent du monde”, with a French verbe that actually means to separate, divide. So there was definitely a streak of strategical paranoia in her thinking / I always choose the unruly horse that never did what I wanted / But that the walls have ears, isn’t that the very foundation of theatre? / Why? / Secrets shared through a forth wall that is the reason for everything to happen, something like this / But not all theatre have a forth wall / I think the decor always triggers conversation, even if it can’t be trusted / like here, in this room, without it maybe we wouldn’t talk / or the pink wallpaper in Barney’s house, given by an eccentric person. They have a history that must be told / When you say pink wallpaper I think of yellow wallpaper / It was too time-consuming – “I can’t because I’m going to the horse” – I wanted to read a book instead / How are you doing this, are you recording it? / No, I’m writing it down. When I understood that was what the organizers had expected, rather than a transcribed recorded conversation, I thought that it will work that way too / Why did you want to record in the first place? / From the beginning I was asked to do it with Athena, and then there would have been an interference with my interpretation, we would have been two in the retelling. Without that I wanted another interference, so that it’s not only me retelling what I remember, but that all the hook-ups, repetitions and doubts that make a conversation are there too / But oh my god what a work it is to transcribe something word by word, we did it in a project recently – even though it’s fantastic it really is a hell / I’m thinking all the time that I’m gonna start horseback riding again, but it’s too expensive / It’s tricky with documentation, we have chosen to work with artistic documentation rather than a static “objective” recording device / At the same time it might be more honest. Now everything becomes filtered through my subjectivity even though these notes might help me a bit to remember other things than usually / Everything is anyways an interpretation, and an artistic interpretation can be much more interesting to take part of / For a long time we discussed how one can preserve literary saloons and such, if it’s even possible to do it well / So much has disappeared in time / It’s easy to think that all history is authoritarian and patriarchal, but we need counter histories, and to rewrite history demands accessible archives / Talking about what has disappeared, I’m thinking that documentation is a way to be loyal to Judy’s thought on the dinner / That women have to take space in history? / Yes

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I think I’ve gained twenty percent of my original body weight / Do you still feel that your body belongs to you? / No, really not. If I would have entered a room naked, normally I would have felt ashamed, but now it doesn’t matter, because it kind of isn’t me / Does it make you angry? / No. But I can’t run and jump and the dance flexibility of the body is gone. I always had it and I miss it a bit / It will come back / Maybe / It’s actually quite absurd, that someone can make space inside your body, inhabit it / Once a horse girl, always a horse girl / I think it’s peculiar with all these cultural workers that come from the North of Sweden, it’s like the province of population decline, but then if you look at the percentage of people from there living in Stockholm, there’s a lot / Weren’t you in my friend’s class at the writing school? / I don’t remember, I’m useless when it comes to names / It was the second year / Yes, during the second year we were more spread out / If you went to the Royal Institute of Art, you know several of my friends too / Wasn’t she the one who wrote that dissertation? / No, that was someone else / I’ve been horseback riding for seven years and I don’t agree / My father recognizes people by their voice, because it took so long before he got glasses / It’s interesting that stuff, there are also people who can’t remember anyone at all, they can never recognize a name or a face / That probably also has a lot to do with what we get to hear that we’re good at / Yes most definitely it is possible to reassure people that they are capable of doing what they never thought they could until they can / Like that classical example “guys are better at math”, but when you tell people that they are equally good then they become equally good / You do what you’re told / I remember when the dog died and me and my sister couldn’t stop crying – I think that was healthy, to get a feel for what death is / Were you a regular at Högkvarteret? / Yes, I must admit / How do you feel now that it no longer exists? / I’ve started to miss it more now, it was sort of the place where I always went when I didn’t know what to do. But in the beginning when it was over I thought there was a kind of freedom in that, people meeting in other places, infiltrating them so to say / What was free about that? / That people don’t assume so much about your desire, that it’s less predictable what can happen, there’s a freedom in that / But then again there is also a freedom in not having to explain anything, being allowed to feel evident / I never felt evident there / Vanja Hermele gives a speech about power and hierarchy / Why didn’t you feel evident? / I don’t know, it was never my place / It was like all other places, in all subcultures there are key persons and strong hierarchies / Yes, every utopia has it’s outside / I even felt like that when I was working there, that it was never fully my place, my room / Can’t you be a bit more clear about how these norms manifested themselves? / No, I don’t know, it was important that it existed, but it was never completely safe to go there, maybe it was only about me, I didn’t feel so secure / But is there anything really that is only about oneself / Therese Kristiansson gives a speech about the public space and the utopian space / I grew up with punk music in Umeå and found my way back to that just a few years back, like suddenly I felt safe and at home in that punk attitude that I had forgotten. It feels like it’s with me everywhere now, I mean, even when Högkvarteret still existed. I always felt safe there, despite the fact that I’m not a part of a queer community or anything, even though I might pass as belonging to the target group somehow / But maybe your non-identification with the queerness also worked a bit like a safety card when you entered? / The animal protection laws in Nazi Germany were very advanced, actually / I remember when I was at Högkvarteret one evening when the audience was very mixed, both regulars and people from the Finnish community who came there to listen to Finnish blues. There was something beautiful with that, those middle aged men who stood there stomping and keeping fucking calm although everything was happening around them. At that very moment, I think they let go of their barriers / As a young vegetarian in Umeå, they would give you that a lot: so it’s you and Hitler now, or what? / But seriously, I would really like to have a conversation about what was at the core of the insecurity in that room, is there any way of being more specific than stating that some had friends and others not? I don’t know exactly what I’m going for, but I kind of had a guess that it could be about femininity for example / Do you think so? Do you feel that you or others have been excluded there because of femininity? / Not exactly, though there are probably still some norms like that in that world, that femme becomes an acceptable exception. But how could I say anything about exclusion there, really? I always felt I was among friends when I came there, like I was in my own living room

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I’m thinking of this thing with homes and families, to suddenly find myself in a situation where I wonder how I could be so fucking stupid I didn’t realize this would happen, just thinking I could build my own world in there? I would really like to live in a collective house but my husband doesn’t want to, and I want to live with my husband. But it wears me down, all the demands we put on each other all the time. Finally there are only demands left, and I feel I would need to live in a world where no one else before me made the rules for how a family should look / But wasn’t that a question of creating contrasts, like the people we detest are going to have worse conditions than the animals? / I live with two friends and I love them, but sometimes in the middle of winter I feel that I’m only twisting and turning in my bed wishing I was alone. It’s so demanding being with people who come and disturb you all the time, I can’t ever calculate how things and people will move in my home / Once, I was working with a circus troupe in a refugee camp, it was about giving people tools to establish a sense of privacy in the crowd / I’m thinking of a lady who used to bring her little dog to political rallies, especially anti-racist and confrontative rallies / I’m living alone and that’s ok, but I’m thinking a lot of how Sara Ahmed writes about the room as a continuation of the body, the house as a second skin. And I let my own body be alone inside that skin and I mold my subject in its form. I can miss the unpredictable / she reckoned that this little dog always had the effect that even the toughest nazi let go of his façade / You’re always talking like that about your subject, you always want to be disturbed and pushed off balance. You always want to become someone else and that everything should be unknown. Aren’t you simply in need of a decisive woman that knows how to run the show? / I’m thinking of ravens and rats and that people wanted to carry them on their shoulders during the 90’s. They said they were so intelligent / I can’t deny that thought has passed my mind! But my experience of actually living close to authoritarian persons indicates that such a situation just makes me defiant and after a while I disappear. I also don’t think one should understand the need for disturbances as solely a private psychological or sexual need, but rather as an attempt to articulate what the material consequences of for example an ideological criticism against the isolated author subject or the “male” genius would be. I am attempting to believe in shared intelligence and thus in shared spaces / In baroque banquets they ate singing birds and vegetables that no longer exist, stuff like that makes me bitter / I was only joking / Now I’m gonna speak about what’s Swedish even though I’m not completely Swedish, but I think there’s also something about personal space that is negotiated on a cultural level. Sometimes I’ve been to places where people move around me all the time, and they don’t seem to be disturbed by that at all. They seem capable of thinking with others around, even getting energy from it / I don’t like animals in general or taking care of them, but there’s this cat that managed to charm me / Are you going home now? / No, I’m continuing from here, I’ve been going hard for several days, I can’t stop now. The idea is to party like feminist utopia was already here / So you’ve been living in a feminist utopia lately? / I was singing and talking and drinking all afternoon yesterday with a friend. Some guys we know came over and we gave them our wine and locked ourselves into our room / It’s the same for me but with a rabbit. I don’t like all rabbits, they’re pretty lame, it’s just this rabbit that I like so damn much because it’s very social / How do you feel now about the separatism? / It’s ok, I just get a feeling sometimes that people take for granted that I’m with them in every sense even though I might not be / Were you bored? / Not at all, it’s just this kind of context in general, that people assume that we’re having so much in common just because we are “women” when in fact I know that we don’t think the same about transgender questions, sex work, migration politics or paid housework / I have a friend who was given a goldfish, which originally he thought was great because then he had to go to school everyday to feed it / Yeah, I had a conversation in there with someone who thought it was really important to know if someone was a man or a woman, that was a bit like eeeh / that becomes weird for me, I’m not even woman-identified, haven’t been the last seven years although I of course have a lot of cis-privlegies / But everyone is really benevolent and they listen really well / Maybe I’m not, maybe I don’t want a united front? / But then it gave him anxiety and he started thinking a lot about how wrong it is to own an animal / For me anyway there is a relief in having a space free of desire in relation to men. I am a lesbian woman and have been understood as such the last ten years. Men are boring in my company or I am boring in theirs. I think it’s as unreasonable that I should question that or do any effort to desire men as it is unreasonable that some people get upset when someone wants to do a sex change / But is anyone demanding that you question that? I mean except mainstream society / Well not exactly / Then he was thinking of giving it back to the pet shop, to let it meet other fishes / I feel that my relationships to cis hetero men is always looked upon with suspicion, no matter the format of these relationships. To relate to such persons in any other way them very remotely simply doesn’t seem to be a part of the prescribed gender roles of our movement / Are you thinking of our home or what? / Among other things / But you know, that’s a lot of talk and not so much action, men are at our breakfast table all the time / I still think this lingo that takes for granted that we share a hatred for men on the exact same conditions is boringly flattening / But at that point the fish was too old or maybe it had some disease, so the pet shop didn’t want it / I don’t hate men, I just don’t want to meet them at the breakfast table all the time, it kills the appetite / Fine, people have a need for strategical separatism, so do I, but it’s a question of how this need is articulated by people in my everyday life and how I then edit the story about my life in specific ways when I talk to some of my friends / do you mean that you’re leaving out parts of the story? / Yes, or I put it out in a way that’s aimed to get around social repression, for example by suggesting a contempt that I actually don’t share / And now he only keeps it in a non-transparent plastic bowl in his studio, yeah there’s a lot of anxiety around that goldfish / People consider social connections as some kind of accessories, especially when it comes to sexual partners. Why is sleeping with people always so dramatized, as if there was an essential difference between that and having a coffee with someone? / I’d say I’m more picky with who I take a coffee with really / Yeah, me too. I’m thinking a lot about what it means that I, as a bisexual woman, when choosing to prioritize separatist spaces also start to marginalize men out of my desire. It’s like I’m thinking that you have to be so fucking advanced in order for me to even consider you. Who I’m sleeping with really doesn’t matter that much, but when it comes to the emotional part there’s so much I have to explain to men that I no longer feel that it’s worth it / I suspect that my dad prevented me from understanding death during several years through buying new goldfish every time the old one died, because he lived in Rotebro and I was only there during the weekends. Some day, I’m going to confront him / Of course there’s an insurmountable glitch between men and women, but isn’t that the case with all sociocultural and economical groups? Sooner or later, you get to the point where your experiences differ and where you can’t reach each other. That resistance is a part of becoming a subject in my opinion, and that process will always hurt / But for me there is an entirely different compliancy in my body when I’m approaching women. I thought for a while I would start to have calm relationships, mild and unstormy relationships – that went to hell, but anyway. If it was about men I would never have gone this far

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