Menses

Announcing our second issue, “Menses.” This issue is entirely written by men.
A feminist zine written by men? WHAT? Turns out, men need feminism, too! This issue will launch in October, just in time for the ABQ Zine Fest.

Guess what? We are still taking submissions.
If you are a man/identify as male, send us your writing/essays/poems/works of art/comics about why men (and women) need feminism.

To submit by September 15th: liferaftzine@gmail.com

menses_promo.jpg

 

Distancing Through Definitions: Decoding iStock’s Images of Rape

Part of my time is spent working as contract employee for an online university. Though I am not certain what my official title is, I believe that I could be considered a “copywriter.” One of my assignments was to search iStock, the subscription based stock image site, for appropriate visual aids to supplement the online classrooms. Many of the classes were generic business or tech courses, so it was simple to find something that would work. I often scrolled through the images in search of “the least offensive” one, which was not terribly difficult.

iStock_000089275349_Small
Aerial view of the modern buildings and skyscrapers of New York City*

There were images of businessmen and businesswomen standing in front of futuristic reflective surfaces, surrounded by a dynamic group of employees hanging on to their last word. And stockbrokers grinning and shaking hands, as a big graph indicated profits; an arrow on the wall steadily hurdling upward towards the heavens.

Concept for drug addiction and despair
Photo of desperate young drug addict wearing hood and sitting alone in dark

I waded through photos of sad teenagers in black hoodies being consoled by overtly sympathetic counselors, their peers supportively sitting on the edges of couches. Soft warm glows abound—halos of hope for their future achievements.

There were the images of students from diverse ages and backgrounds throwing their graduation caps in the air. The sun, always shining. The rooms, clean and white. Everyone is happy—or people are sad. The models are, in fact, so exaggerated in their sadness, we no longer feel it ourselves when looking at the photo.

 
I discovered that some topics were not so translatable.

One of the classes dealt with Criminal Justice. The course discussed some very difficult subjects, like domestic violence and cases of rape. That is how I eventually found myself scrolling through iStock images of rape.

iStock is a grand experiment in the genericness of images. With iStock, everyone is on the same page. We are purview to just what one might expect of a status quo. iStock represents the most tepid and socially acceptable version of a subject by way of an image. These, primarily photographs, have a reputation for being cheesy, exaggerated, staged, and fake.

Do these qualities somehow create a distancing that levels the field for all onlookers? Once something becomes a signifier, does it actually lose a bit of its value—or does the significance become more sustained over time?

Rape - dictionary definition
Rape – dictionary definition

In the iStock world, when something is difficult to represent through images, they like to show it as a definition. They are particularly fond of close-ups with a shallow depth-of field, so as to say: “You guys get the picture. It’s a dictionary page. The word exists. What else do you need?” By using the supreme rationality of a dictionary page as source material, we as viewers, are subject to a distancing effect between the word and it’s implementation. The image holds us at arms length, so that there is almost no relationship to the word, except the   validation that it exists.

Once something is defined, it becomes an object. It becomes an isolate and a tool, one result of which, is having a the trait of usefulness. The object can potentially be employed by a user for their own gain or purposes. In the case of images of rape, which deal with an individuals suffering and experience, there is a major disconnect in translation.

I was surprised by the nonchalance of the image creators when dealing with subject matter this horrific. The violation of rape is such an insular and personal matter, that in order to imagine a type of universalist or generic approach to the subject is incredibly insensitive.

Mouth Sewn Shut
Young woman with her mouth sewn shut.

In one of the images, we see a close up of a woman’s face, subtle bruising left from abuse. Over her lips are a series of computer generated stitches, closing her mouth shut. The decision to photoshop string over her mouth, instead of having it simply remain shut on it’s own, adds a disturbing layer of violence to an already violent subject. And the fact that this act was imagined and executed in the realm of the unreal (of course they wouldn’t use real string to tie her mouth shut) begs the question: who are these images for?

Kidnapped
Another image shows an attractive woman tied up with rope. We do not passively experience this image. It is framed to deliberately engage with us—to give us a participatory role. The model appears to be pleading with us. We are put in the position of voyeur and controller. The image is presented as a possible kidnapping or rape scene, but also resembles an pseudo sadomasochistic sex scene from pornography. The lines are beginning to blur between the two representations, and you can guess which gender is poised to lose power. I’m not saying that this type of sexual activity is inherently detrimental to women. Rather, I’m concerned with its representation. I’m concerned by the normalization of rape scenes by our image-obsessed culture. The fact that these images are presented as icons of rape, only serves to desensitize the masses of their seriousness.
To further complicate things. When you look at the search labels attached to this image, you’ll find the following words: Women, Only Women, Tied Up, One Woman Only, Hostage, Grief, Kidnapping, Long Hair, Blond Hair, Fear, Prisoner, Females, People, Anxiety, Depression – Sadness, Sadness, Emotional Stress, Desire

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 11.02.50 AM

Whose desire are we talking about?

Abused
Sexual abuse concept. Brutal man rapeing** young woman.

Maybe this woman is just a bad actress, but I could swear this image makes it look like she is enjoying herself. Or is even skeptical of this man’s strength. I do not believe that she is in any real danger. And maybe that is the point. Maybe the point is to avoid showing us something too real. That is why there are a lot of images of dolls covered in mud and thrown into the gutter.

I'm going to kill you

It is the aesthetic treatment within the media of iStock, itself, which presents rape as an almost mundane occurrence. Given a different context, these images might hold more water. I am including the images in this article, not to perpetuate their message, but as a reference to be looked at seriously, and analyzed critically. We cannot stop these sorts of images from existing, but we can make an effort to understand their role, and their affect on us as consumers.

*All captions for photos are taken directly from iStock

**raping was misspelled

Written by Charlotte Thurman,  August 2016

T-Shirts!

We  hand designed and screen printed t-shirts in effort to spread more awareness about female artists and support the next issue of Life Raft. The shirts are white, v-necks with designs available in three colors: red (a nice salmon red), bright purple, and black.

The red and purple are available in Small and Medium.
The black is available in Small, Medium, and Large.

Each shirt is $10 plus shipping.

Click HERE to purchase one on Etsy!

 

Five awesome documentary films that explore female creatives and their processes By: Juan Camilo Sáez

Juan Camilo Sáez is fashion obsessed and living in Brooklyn, New York. Over the years he acquired a fairly extensive knowledge of film history. His favorites are classic Hollywood films with strong, complex, glamorous, female leads. He is devoted to Beyoncé.

 

agnesunfilm

The Beaches of Agnès (2008, dir: Agnès Varda)

Easily the most aesthetically interesting and significant film on this list. The first lady of French New Wave cinema, Agnès Varda reminisces on her life, both personal and artistic, with whimsical and endlessly creative cinematic flourishes. Photos, re-creations, clips, and animation are interwoven like a quilt. We see her working out shots, and through the reimaging of her life, Varda reminds us how our experiences shape the way we choose to create. You will leave this film inspired.

 Beyoncé: Year of 4 (2011, dir: Ed Burke)

Believe the hype. Beyoncé is the ultimate pop/soul diva of our time. It isn’t just that she is so beautiful and so gifted, but also so tireless. The hardest working woman in show business and the most creatively daring in pop music. This doc (which clocks in at under half an hour and can be streamed on YouTube) shows the making of her grand, vocally soaring album 4, as well as the creation of the uber-empowering, high fashion, post-apocalyptic epic that is her “Run the World (Girls)” video. Favorite moment: When she admits to feeling nervous over her projects, that “What am I doing here?” feeling everyone will inevitably have in their creative process. But how cute is it to hear the most famous woman in the world admit to it?

Iris (2014, dir: Albert Maysles)

Iris Apfel is a New York style icon known for her signature over-sized, round frames and maximalist approach to fashion. She mixes prints, textures, colors, new, old, cheap and luxury with aplomb. Her life has been a dedication to the pursuit of material beauty in all its infinite variety. Legendary documentarian Maysles (of Grey Gardens fame) catches the elderly, but ever energetic and witty Apfel in all her madcap glamour and enthusiasm. Hours are spent styling outfits and sorting through oh so many glorious pieces and accessories. The film reminds us that feeling inspired by art and beauty, even if it’s just a t-shirt, feeds the soul. Best line: “It’s more important to be happy than well-dressed.”

 Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012, dir: Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre)

The grand dame of performance art mounts a retrospective at MoMA and stages her most ambitious, famous and debated piece to date. For hours on end she sits, perfectly still, while museum patrons take turns sitting across from her. Some of their reactions will truly surprise you. If nothing else it is an amazing exercise in concentration and control on Abramovic’s part. It reminds us that even when we plan our ideas out, our projects may take on a life of their own and take us to unexpected places.

Public Speaking (2010, dir: Martin Scorsese)

Noted writer and famed raconteur Fran Lebowitz might very well be the greatest wit since Dorothy Parker. In this doc you can hear her pointed observations on everything from pop culture, reading time, and New York, a city she has truly known and seen change. Writer’s block has tormented her for much of her career, but has given her many interesting insights into the writing process, though her views on the arts in general are equally engaging. This may be a Martin Scorsese production, but he was smart enough to keep it simple, let Fran be the star, and speak as only she can. Too many great lines to pick a favorite.

Interview with Abby Donovan

Abby Donovan is an avid world traveler, splitting her time between Newark, Delaware and Eugene, Oregon. She is a Professor at the University of Delaware and works independently and in collaboration with The 181.

 

LR: You sometimes work in collaboration with your group the 181 Collective. Can you talk about being the only woman in the group and your process within a group dynamic?

A: The 181 operates very much within the realm of what right now I would term an aesthetic of curiosity and trust.  When we converge for a composition none of us has much idea what any of the others is going to do, exactly.  In search of resonance.  I think I read somewhere that arrows have to be separate from the coordinate system in order for them to be what we think of as arrows.

ping………………….
PONG
If someone says “there’s a see-saw movie the pacific wants to view” someone else might say  “what does 500 gallons of clay slip sound like” while someone else is busy following a rolling glass sphere across the flow floor/trying to open a hole in space-time………so we put on candy-striped life preservers and set sail.  It is an important time in the garden right now (it is always an important time in the garden.  However I will note that Tom as our resident scientist is often tasked with identifying when Newtonian laws might prove unfortunately relevant (=cause bodily harm).
Donovan2
LR: Have you noticed any trends or changes since you’ve been working as an artist, related to women in art?
A: Until we have pay equality in this country with its fountainhead spout of capitalist rhetoric, any change will not be and has not been enough.  It’s ridiculous really.  That being said, let’s celebrate Beyoncé.  Lemonade.
LR: Do you feel your work is gendered in any way or has been in the past?
A: It is because I am.  Because it makes a difference that I as a self/society-identified woman choose to focus on this or that, choose to do that or this.  It is in fact crucial to note these things.  I do not recognize any supposed institutional right to validate art; yet I highly value the rich revolutionary resources of the intellectual tradition. For this reason I enthusiastically participate in artistic and academic institutions, while abjuring the authority of those communities to dictate the terms of my individual artistic practice. For me the expansion of human culture depends upon this sometimes-contradictory vitality of exchange, subversion, and participation.
LR: Do you have a methodology to making your work? What is your process like?
A: Methodologies bore me, I mean, why limit what you might see?
Donovan1

“I am alive and I am trying my hardest to pay attention and not miss anything.”  

To me art is experimental philosophy.  A necessary implicating in, or indictment of, the material world as we form whatever it is we form de umbris idearum—of or about or pertaining to the shadow/cloud of ideas. What exactly is a letter?  What exactly is a color?  Books are very important, music and sounds are very important, my sense of sight and what I think I see is very important, and trying somehow to record/transmit all of these things is absolutely essential.  What is happening right now?  I’ve just returned from shooting video of William Edwards’s The Butterflies of North America at the Boston Athenaeum as a follow-up to the video I shot in Russia of Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly collection, I am starting to re-read The Pelopponesian War, I am making porcelain lattices to incorporate in a  future version of my cosmic/corporeal orrery,  and over the summer I will be constructing glass constellation echo reflections mapping ancient Mound Builder forms for an upcoming exhibition at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University.
Donovan3
LR: As a professor in the arts, how do you approach topics of gender in your classes?
A: One example: when I give a presentation or talk that involves showing historical artwork, I always take time at the beginning to discuss all of the work we are NOT seeing.  I make a point of saying that we as a society, a culture, (actually let’s lose even those limited limitations: we as humanity!)  don’t even know who some of our best artists have or could have been because of issues of gender, race, socio-economics. I take very seriously the idea that I should be a role model.  I also take very seriously the idea of honesty.  If I am asking students to be honest with their work–because I believe that is the only way art can go anywhere interesting–then I must be honest too.
 
For more information about The 181 and images of Abby’s work: abbydonovan.com 

Interview with Stevie Lee Tanner

Stevie Lee Tanner is a current MFA candidate at the University of Delaware. She grew up in Oberlin, Ohio and received her BFA from Myers School of art at the University of Akron, Ohio. Stevie is a lover of wildlife, the outdoors, and baby animals of all kinds. She currently resides in Delaware with her Husband and fellow artist, along with their two cats and four hermit crabs.

43885 State Route 18 Wellington Ohio

Stevie Lee Tanner, 43885 State Route 18 Wellington Ohio, 2016, Collagraph

 

LR: Will you briefly describe your process? You can pick a specific piece or your overall process.

S: To start, I use mostly traditional processes, like painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, a little bit of sculpture. Within printmaking, I’ve been using collagraphs, a printmaking process that is an intaglio process, but it’s done using cardboard or matte board instead of copper plates.

LR: Where do these images come from and how do you choose what images to include in your prints?

S: I source the images from street view in Google Earth and they’re all images of places I know. When I’m on Google Earth, I’ll pick an area that’s within the county that I’m from, which is Lorain County, then I’ll start navigating around the streets and I’ll select certain areas that are interesting, sometimes I’ll select an area with significance.

LR: So, it sounds like you have a method to making your prints, within that process, are there any surprises you come across?

S: Printmaking is nothing but surprises. I can have a general idea of what the image is going to look like, but I really don’t know until it’s printed and then it can be printed a million different ways. Part of it is knowing the technique well and part of it is being okay with things turning out differently; being okay with experimentation and being a perfectionist and not a perfectionist at the same time.

LR: So, you accept that there’s chance involved or that you’re not going to know what is going to happen?

S: Definitely. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen, you can end up with incredible looking things that you couldn’t have painted. That’s the part that drew me to printmaking. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen, you can invent new processes and turn those happy accidents into a learned technique.

LR: Do you feel like your work is gendered in any way?

S: I’ve been told so. That’s a hard question. I wish my work wasn’t. I was just looking at my landscapes and wondering if a viewer would see my work differently if they didn’t know they were made by a woman. The landscapes that I’m making right now are a little less gendered than my work has been in the past. I’ve used a lot of subject matter that has been associated with femininity, like flowers, wildlife, birds, nests, and domestic imagery. When I was working with that subject matter, it was very common for people to reference femininity. I guess it depends. Maybe for women my work it isn’t gendered, but for men it could be easier to point out what looks more “girly.”

LR: What do you think makes your landscapes less gendered than other series you’ve made?

S: In this specific series, I tried really hard to have them equally detached and equally personal. I tried to make some of them detached as well as very precious. I’m interested in things being aesthetically pleasing, almost to the point of being decorative. Especially with complimentary colors. So, you do see that come in some of the prints, but there are others where there’s not as much color variation and it’s a very straight forward image from Google Earth. If it retains that “generic-ness,” I think that it makes my work less gendered. Not that I agree with this, but it seems that the more personal the imagery, the more female it is.

43709 Oberlin Elyria Road Oberlin Ohio

Stevie Lee Tanner, 43709 Oberlin Elyria Road Oberlin Ohio, 2016, Collagraph

“A lot of the female printmakers I look at may never be taken seriously in certain galleries in New York because of their subject matter. But, at that same gallery, they could have floral paintings done by a male. I feel like – what else are we supposed to do? As women, we’re put in a hard place with that.”

LR: I’m interested in what you said about embracing versus repelling the idea of gender in art. “Femaleness” being something to be celebrated and talked about. But, then in some ways, that puts artists in a niche and can take them out of what is considered “serious art.”

S: I really love Kiki Smith, but in my opinion, I feel like she puts a hard edge or roughness on her work. I wonder if she would fit in with the boys or the “big shots” if she didn’t put that edge on her work. It’s almost like, in order to be canonized in a certain way, you have to have an edge. A lot of the female printmakers I look at may never be taken seriously in certain galleries in New York because of their subject matter. But, at that same gallery, they could have floral paintings done by a male. I feel like – what else are we supposed to do? I don’t want to reduce myself to being all about flowers and nature, because I’m more than that, but I’m not going to deny that I enjoy the aesthetics of that imagery. I’m not going to hide from that because I’m a girl and that’s stereotypical. I feel like, as women, we’re put in a hard place with that.

1012 Mechanic Street Grafton Ohio

Stevie Lee Tanner, 1012 Mechanic Street Grafton Ohio, 2016, Collagraph

To view more of Stevie’s work, check out: https://stevieleetanner.carbonmade.com/

Interview with Abby Daleki

Abby Daleki grew up in Wisconsin and received her BFA and MA from Minnesota State University in Mankato, MN. Currently, she is an MFA candidate at the University of Delaware. When Abby isn’t petting her two adorable cats, she can be found playing drums, belly dancing, or writing poetry. We interviewed Abby about her work and process. Here is part of the interview that will be featured in the upcoming issue of Life Raft:

 

LR: Can you start by explaining your process; you can be as brief or as detailed as you want.

A: I can talk about my new process. I just started this within the last two weeks. I take polyurethane and I mix it with acrylic paint and I make pours on plastic to kind of emulate the shapes that I make in my abstract paintings, which I would consider them blobs because they’re kind of organic shapes. So, I make these pours with different colors and let it dry. It’s almost like Fruit Rolls Ups when you peel it off. After it cures, it’s kind of crusty, so you can hang it on a nail and it drapes. I’ve been making foam shapes as well. So, I’m moving into more “painting as an object,” taking all these elements from my paintings and making them 3D.

IMG_1081

 

LR: And you started doing this about two weeks ago, would you say that you had a pretty consistent process before that you broke away from?

A: I had a dictionary of shapes, I guess you could say, and layers that I worked with. I would put down a watery layer of paint; a background or wash and then I would put some blobs on top of it and then another layer of expressive brush strokes. I was layering this specific element on top of this specific element in many layers over and over again.

LR: What makes a successful piece for you? At what point is your experimentation finished?

A: For paintings, it’s a balance of having enough stuff in the space or having too much stuff in the space. If it’s under or over crowded.

abby_3

“As a human, I’m very okay with my being and my art reflects that.”

 

LR: So, it’s intuitive?

A: Definitely. Sometimes, it’s not right or correct in terms of viewers, so sometimes it’s… I don’t know, I don’t think I have any finished work right now.

LR: Do people who don’t know you ever look at your work and wonder if a man or a woman makes it?

A: I don’t think so. No one has ever really said that. Someone once said to me that art made by a woman is automatically about feminism and I didn’t know what to think of that. Or, it was automatically “feminist artwork” because a woman made it, which I don’t know if I agree with.

abby_1

Check out Abby’s work on Facebook at Dareki Art

*The entire interview will be in our next issue, stay tuned for May 17th.

Process: A Manifesto for Feminist Aesthetics

Tapir_Berlin_gallery

Kunstraum Tapir Gallery, Berlin, during University of Delaware’s MFA international art show

The University of Delaware’s MFA trip to Berlin, Germany was eye opening and inspiring on a number of levels. So many of the women we met were working towards an almost unnamable vision. They were careful not to allow language and terminology to constrain that vision. A curatorial project blurring the lines between the role of Artist and Curator wasn’t simply a “project space.” It was broader than that. A large open room in a former Malt Factory, empty aside from a few multi-purpose structures doubling as tables and display boards, spoke to the often fluctuating nature of the role of objects and experiences in our daily lives, as well as their under-utilized systems of representation. The space’s sparseness reminded me that there is always room for something else.

After a week of studio visits, museum tours, and conversations with a majority of women Artists and Curators, I came back to the States with some major questions. Is it an economic necessity that these spaces are fostering collaborative efforts in the arts? Would it be more economical to commit to some form of categorization? Is it possible that the arts have evolved past a reliance on branding and definition? Or can we look at the art endeavors of an organization with the same view we see individual artists? That is—the importance of art making speaks for itself—so the necessity for an art organization to promote a strategy for economic gain is beside the point.

That was the framework in which I felt a dramatic shift between the views of community-based projects in American and those in the small sliver I saw in Germany. For an arts organization to survive in America, the mission must be easily defined and accessible—an “artistic prescription” or a “social antidote,” simply located and pulled off the shelf. The lack of specificity in some of the organizations we visited, notably DISTRICT, was refreshing and, at times, beguilingly amorphous in nature. I see this as a strength and a vision of hope that can also translate to modes of thinking for an individual artist. There is an opportunity to learn from such models of thinking—to become more cognizant of our own self-containment.  How much self- or otherwise-definition of our own practice is actually necessary? Are we making decisions for ourselves or for the expectations of others? Is the caricature of women as patient, nurturing, and communal by nature, a biological imprint? Perhaps these traits are defense mechanisms due to social and cultural necessities. Or maybe it’s more than an after-effect or an instinct. Perhaps it is a strategy: a search for more openness and for more inclusion.

I’m going to make some generalizations here, because I’m tired of being careful. And I’m going to write from personal experience with the hope and assumption that I am not alone. Yes, much of this applies to male artists as well. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule. But I would argue that our culture fixates, mystifies and idolatrizes the exceptions rather than including them within the fibers of a collective experience. And I am not interested in doing that. I am interested in the ways in which our individual actions can collectively benefit us as a society.

I’ve begun to recognize some threads within the artistic process of many working female Artists—some observations that provide the ever essential hope for the future of Art and feminism. I can best describe this phenomenon as that of an intuitive collaboration with material and process, which lends to future, unanticipated discoveries through the structuring of chance situations. There is an inherent absence of the ego in such a process. There is no imposition of the will on future actions or inanimate objects. The process exhibits a deep trust in the self that manifests as the ability to allow and to recognize the beauty of unnamed possibilities.

I am of the belief that artistic experimentation leads to discovery, and in turn, creates more space. We need more space within the western dialogue of aesthetics; more space for what constitutes artistic merit; and more space for the simple act of creating. The trend for women to be generally more process oriented is an indication of—and a necessity for—change. Women in the arts are creating more space for themselves, and this attitude must continue in all aspects of life. I encourage female artists everywhere to create un-self-consciously. To make work despite the presumption of future accolades or potential criticism. The way to a broader understanding of ourselves is through process: the process of creating, as well as the time required to mentally process and reflect upon our actions.

Women must give themselves the permission to create art with unrestricted spontaneity. Spontaneity doesn’t have to mean doing something “crazy” or “wild” or “in opposition to your personality.” It is the act of recognizing an entrance into an unknown. To create, knowing that confidence will result from granting yourself permission, and needn’t always be present in the initial steps of a working method. It is being aware and appreciative of the steps taken, and not a singular end goal. It is viewing an act of “failure” as an opportunity for knowledge and growth. Some information can only be received through indirect passages. Fail. Over and over. In biological terms, this is how we change. A series of failures or risks will lead us to eventual advancements.

The beauty of Art is that it is both real and it is metaphor. You are really living through the work you are creating. Once the work has been created it stands as a symbol or metaphor for a lived action. In this way, it translates as a language to those around you. This creates incredible potential and opportunity for both “failures” and “successes.” Art gives us a living record of attempted changes right in front of us.

As a woman, there is often pressure to be ready for everything. Society tells us to be 100% every second of the day. To be 100% knowledgeable and articulate. To be 100% healthy and attractive. To be 100% fun and interesting. To be 100% all of the time doesn’t allow much room for anything else. Women are expected to be prepared for the unimaginable and the unthinkable, not to welcome it with open arms. I suggest that we take our energy and expertise, and use it to create the unimaginable and the unthinkable. This is how we will make room for the world we want to live in. This is how we will see the eventual falling away of what came before.

This essay was written by Charlotte Thurman, February 2016.

Welcome

Tara: “I really want to write ‘Guten Tag, Bitches!’ Is that too much?”

Charlotte: “Who gave you the internet?”

WELCOME TO LIFE RAFT.

We are currently working on our first issue: Process.
This issue will feature interviews with working female artists, an essay written by Charlotte, and a few delicious surprises. A reception/release party will be held on University of Delaware’s campus at the end of May.

Follow us on instagram @liferaftzine to stay updated on our content!