Pictures on Pink Paper: rediscovering an avant-garde feminist classic from the 80s

Just as the academic Teresa de Lauretis writes about Chantal Akerman’s classic Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Brussels (1975), Pictures on Pink Paper is a film which “addresses its viewer as a woman. , regardless of the gender of the spectators. […] the film defines all the points of identification (with the character, the image and the camera) as feminine, feminine or feminist.

It is the first work of the 1980s by British avant-garde filmmaker Lis Rhodes. He continues a line of research begun with his previous film, Light Reading (1978), and his influential 1979 essay ‘Whose History?’ Namely, he challenges patriarchal power structures by deconstructing language.

Light Reading was the originator of a succession of avant-garde feminist essayist films that flourished in the 1980s, including those by Susan Stein, Nina Danino, Sandra Lahire and Alia Syed, to name but a few. some. But Rhodes’ contribution to the development of an experimental feminist film culture in Britain is not limited to her films and writings. She was a key figure in the early development of the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative, where she was the film programmer, and a founding member of Circles, a feminist distributor of films, videos and performances. female artists. Rhodes first taught at RCA then to the Slade for several decades, directly influencing several generations of artists of the UK.

Images on pink paper (1982)

Rhodes approaches the problem of representation with an emphasis on the voice. Language is understood as a cause rather than a symptom of gender inequalities. Pictures on Pink Paper was produced the year before Rhodes and Felicity Sparrow hosted the Her Image Fades as Her Voice Rises touring program, which was accompanied by a co-written essay of the same name.

The program, which included Light Reading and another key feminist essay of the time, Often During the Day by Joanna Davis (1979), could be understood almost as a manifesto, its title an apt description of all of Rhodes’ work after Light. Reading. By dismantling the premise that women, like Victorian children, “must be seen but not heard,” the female presence is articulated in her films, with the predominance of voice overturning the traditional hierarchy between sound and image.

Rhodes’ voice rose steadily in the 1980s in works such as Hang on a Minute (1983-85) and A Cold Draft (1988). In Pictures on Pink Paper, it is not only Rhodes’ voice that we hear, but several female voices of different generations, accents and intonations. As is often the case in Rhodes’ work, the pronoun “she” is used to refer to a number of different female characters, all of whom remain invisible – although their female presence is real and tactile.

There are no faces but we can see hands: playing the piano, washing the dishes. The multiplicity of voices implies a dialogue. It also suggests a collective rather than a singular experience – or rather an experience that is both singular and collective. Many women are credited as contributors to the film, including filmmakers Mary Pat Leece, Susan Stein, and Joanna Davis. Rhodes’s own voice seems to offer a meta-commentary on the narrative: “It’s all about who makes which ideals real,” he is heard saying.

Images on pink paper (1982)

Rhodes is always concerned with the slippages of meaning: “the meaning is not in things / but in between”. In Pictures of Pink Paper, she contrasts images – both suggested by words and sounds, and by the visual imagery of the film – of the natural world and the domestic sphere: the sounds of the dishes and the sounds of the sea s ‘washing up on the shore.

Much of the vocabulary suggests aquatics, both in nature (we hear words such as “fog”, “wet”, “sea”, “tide”, “river”, “puddles of ice”, ” water “,” flow “,” waves “) and within the household (” soaking “,” draining “,” washing “,” well rinsed “). The feminine experience appears wedged between these two worlds of images and words: the rural and the domestic. It is a dichotomy that Rhodes dismantles by introducing the world of words and language: “she went through the page / rewriting all the words”.

Ultimately, Rhodes must deconstruct the idea of ​​the ‘natural’ itself:

“Does nature produce
nature in us
or is it their nature
it’s natural – not us
is it natural in nature
to subjugate us
or is it naturally
nature for them – I mean men
think of a nature
especially for us
a feminine nature
designed by them
but of course – unnatural enough for us “

Images on pink paper (1982)

There are repetitions of words and repetitions of images – within the film but also between this film and other works by Rhodes, past and to come. References to “blood on the leaf” seem to point to Light Reading, while piano music and cartoons will reappear later in the book. TV Hang on a Minute series, co-produced with Joanna Davis between 1983 and 1985.

Rhodes’ use of language is always playful, but it is also very serious. Language can be both metaphorical and figurative, but violence and fear are not metaphorical; they are very real. The threat of internment and shock therapy is directly referenced. Rhodes might have thought of writers like Sylvia Plath, who was treated with electroshock several times before her suicide. ECT has been granted overwhelmingly to women and is now understood as a form of violence against women.

With subsequent works, Rhodes moved from a focus on gender politics to a wider range of pressing political topics. His films have held power to account by drawing attention to the progressive eradication of justice, equality and individual freedoms as a consequence of neoliberal capitalism.

Born from an era that equated radical politics with formal experimentation, Rhodes’ essay films, such as Pictures on Pink Paper, exemplify a distinct tradition of pioneering feminist film practice in Britain.

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