Reflections on the Electric Mirror: New Feminist Video

Shifting women’s roles from muses to creators, feminist art of the 1970’s sought to redefine the position that women had conventionaly occupied in art history, through artistic practices that were more inclusive of sociopolitical and ideological concepts relevant to women. Reflections on the Electric Mirror: New Feminist Video at the Brooklyn Museum, organized by interim curator Lauren Ross of the Sackler Center for Feminist Art, draws viewers through entertaining and at times humorous sequences performed by nine contemporary women artists.

In Kate Gilmore’s Blood from a Stone, the artist takes on the arduous physical task of carrying and placing ten one foot plaster squares on shelves on the wall. The remnants of this performance are shown as an installation. The cubes weigh 75 pounds each and the viewer can see the difficulty of this task as the artist sighs and strugles to place each cube on individual shelves. An apparently impossible, it seems all the more odd being that she is curiously dressed in a skirt and cardigan, an attire most appropriate for a housewife.

Meanwhile, Jean DeNike presents viewers with a less than happy fact. In Happy Endings, the artist reminds us that there are really no happy endings, contrary to what hollywood film studios would like to us believe in all the romantic comedies marketed towards women. The video consists of takes of DeNike showing written signs that read ‘No Happy Endings’ besides a lake. This bleak message, along with her aloof demeanor, constrasted with the idealized pastoral setting where the video takes place.

A video that strikes a chord with feminist discourse in its blatant criticism of it is Wynne Greenwood and K8 Hardy’s parody New Report featuring WKRH, a fictional news station that is allegedly ‘pregnant with information.’ As newscasters Henry Stein-Acker-Hill and Henry Irigaray, the duo presents a series of reportages that make fun of second wave feminists. The news stories range from women burning their bras to reporting from a tub in an anonymous bathroom.

Seen together, and if we consider the defining terms of feminist art, some of the videos are not quite as strong and perhaps present more subtle feminist nuances. Cathy Begien’s Black Out is an example. In front of a stationary camera, the artist is blindfolded by her friends and narrates a night out on the town, while her friends hand her alcohol and cigarettes and reenact parts of the night. By the end of the video, the emotional state of the artist is confusing, as the viewer cannot tell wether she is laughing or crying. As good as this video is, it seems hard for viewers to classify it as feminist, since it does not overtly present any hard-edged political or ideological discourse.

Overall, the exhibition presented a good selection of representations of women by women, but some questions remain regarding the future of feminist art. Is there a shift towards a more plural concept? Must art be politically or ideologically confrontational for it to be considered feminist? These questions are left open-ended for viewers to construe.

Originally published on ARTPULSE Magazine