rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance
Trashing Performance

19 April 2011

Femme Musings: The Girls Eat Cake

On March 17, 2011 Lois Weaver, Amy Lamé and Bird la Bird got together at Amy’s house to eat cake and talk trash. 

Amy - of course - was the perfect hostess and provided the tea and exquisite homemade cake.  

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Bird –as usual- didn’t hold back.

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Lois was behind the camera and Carmelita Tropicana sadly was not able to be with us because she was performing in Glasgow.  She was there in spirit and sent this:

Carmelita:  I am so sorry that I won't be joining you and the gals in London, your neck of the woods. It would have been high tea… indeed. Oh those cucumber sandwiches...Oh well I'll have to settle for heather beer and Scotch eggs in Glasgow sans fem chicas.  

Less than half way through the cake

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We were well into conversation about our project.  We talked details- when, where, what, how and the context…

Lois: Performance Matters is what the overall project is called.  And last year the theme was Performing Idea. Did you go to any of it? 

Bird: [Laughing and holding hand in front of camera] I don’t wanna … it was, erm … a lot of theory-waffle. It was like a French and Saunders sketch, actually, you couldn’t have made it up! I don’t give a fuck about any of that [laughs] … and all this stuff about the death of Performance Art because Marina Abramović exhibited at MoMA, or performed at MoMA, it’s like; shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that Performance Art is, like, becoming recognised and everything?

Amy: So is the idea meant to be this year it’s much more kind of hands on practical… actually exploring the performance itself rather than talking about it?

Lois: No.

Amy: No?  [Lois and Amy laugh]  There’s still so much more to say! [Laughs]

Lois: No… And this is supposed to be trashing performance.  And there’s going to be a lot of performance but there’s also going to be theoretical stuff that goes on in the symposium… around theorising trash.  You know, performing popular or low culture as opposed to…


Then we got down to business talking about what we wanted to do, what we wanted to make and how we wanted to make it.  But we also talked about the ideas of performing femininity in the context of performing trash and Trashing Performance. In the spirit of the dialogue project we are sharing some snippets of our conversation but like true fem chicas we don’t want to give it all away at once …otherwise where is the mystery?


On femaleness, femininity, femme-ness and representation

Lois: I think it’s really good for us to use this opportunity to think about what that is. And how we want it represented in the world. ‘Cause I think that’s an important aspect, for me. And you and I have talked about this [directed at Amy]. That, you know, we don’t feel represented. We don’t feel counted. And so, how do we want to be counted? And how do we want to look at our lineage? And what is our legacy? And all those kinds of things that cultures have. And I think this is a culture. It’s a culture that I live in. It has a kind of language and custom and economy…


Biology and womanhood

Lois: I have made a very clear decision that I want to work with four women. I want us to be four biological women. And I want to look at what our relationship to femininity is.

Bird: Right. 

Lois: And that is exclusionary in a sense but that’s something that I want to do. I mean that’s a curatorial choice that I’ve made. 

Bird: Right, yeah.

Lois: Within that curatorial choice, we each four of us can take that exploration anyway we want. I mean that was the other thing I wanted to say; I want us to create this thing that we do together, but then I also think that all four can have our own -independence in terms of how we approach the subject, so that it will allow for that debate. And I think that debate is important and for me the biological in this case is a starting point. The biological woman is a starting point.

Amy: ‘Oh yes! A white canvas with a red splash on it. We’ll hang it up. And that’s Art!’ You know I’m doing that every fucking month!

Lois: [Laughs]

Amy: But this is something that day in day out, year in year out, for time immemorial…

Bird: Yeah.

Amy: perpetuity from the beginning until the end of Time… this is something that is happening to women. And people are not talking about it. I get mine every month. It’s always a surprise. I never know when it’s coming. I couldn’t really, fucking care less, to be honest… I don’t want children. I’m never gonna have children. So I feel like it’s this thing that is just hanging around. Pestering me. And bothering me. You know. And intruding in my life, when I don’t really want it. And I don’t really need it. So… I’m not being some biological essentialist.  I believe that… I am not defined by my biology. 

Bird: Mmm.

Amy: But unfortunately this thing has been kind of [laughing] thrust upon me, and I am in some ways, whether I like it or not, I feel like…: ‘Why don’t you know when your period is coming?! Why don’t you put a little ‘x’ in your diary?’ It’s like; I don’t wanna know! I don’t wanna know! When it turns up, it turns up. And when it goes away, it’s not soon enough [laughs]. So I think it’s not about being all ‘Earth Mother’ and kind of celebrating the fact that I’m menstruating.  It’s actually saying, ‘There are a lot of women out there actually who are doing this, who don’t want it.’ And there are women out there that maybe weren’t born women who would love more than anything to be able to experience that, or to have a child… You know, through a kind of traditional method – or whatever.  So… it’s exploring all of that as well. So I think that we can use it as a fun thing, but also as a catalyst to actually explore… menstruation [Laughs].  It makes me sound like such a kinda [laughing] ‘70s, you know… 

Lois: I’m all for exploring our attitudes toward the ‘70s feminist thing.  But this is a question I wanted to ask us –  How is it- How does our style of performance relate to the idea of trash, you know the garbage, the dreck, the drivel or the abject? There’s something about the way that we all… celebrate ultra-femininity. But then what is the, what is the… inside? The underbelly of it?  Maybe we can think about how and what really does make us distinct from male femininity.

Bird: It’s true but then we have to think about trans women as well though…

Amy: Yeah of course! I think, you know, I’m totally with you on that. But I- I’m talking about this kind of base kind of… bodily function kind of thing. And I think trans women have their own issues that I’m sure that we can explore in a different way.  And it’s also the ultimate…you know- It is! It is a sign of femininity!  Whether you’re feminine or not, it’s a sign of womanhood.

Bird: It’s a sign of womanhood but that’s a different thing from femininity, though, isn’t it? Because, like, womanhood… er god I don’t know. - To me, I see… like, the womanhood thing about- about being – about biological functions. . Whereas femininity, masculinity, and those... and those expressions of gender are... not necessarily related to the biological function.

Amy: Yeah, no, I completely agree with you. I completely agree…

Bird: I see femininity and femaleness as being two separate things… Femininity, masculinity, and those expressions of gender are not necessarily related to the biological function. 

Femaleness, femininity and femme-ness, and trash

Lois: I wanted us to talk about this; what is our relationship to femaleness, femininity, and femme-ness?  And also; Trash. And relationship to trash. How we sort of sit in the Trash aesthetic, and what that means [chuckle] to us. I would really like for us to sort of talk about that a little bit- or just refine it a minute, each of us. Or each of you. 



Bird: The whole idea of trashing is highly gendered, and I think it means something…  If we think about it in terms of cis-women, or if we think about it in terms of; not that kind of drag-queeny, camp femininity, it’s got a very different set of meanings to it, really. You know. And one angle on it is - tying it in with the menstruation thing - the whole dichotomy of femaleness and femininity were simultaneously trashed and highly prized! You know what I mean?

Amy: Yeah, yeah.

Bird: And I think it’s important to explore those things, really.


Difficulty of defining 

Bird: The only thing I can say on this, which is slightly separate, is that; when I first went to art school, and I had an absolutely amazing art history tutor. He sat us all round and he – the first thing he ever said to us was, ‘What is art?’ And we were all saying, oh you know, ‘It’s a painting’ or ‘It’s- it’s whatever an artist makes’. And then he said, ‘Well… If you don’t know what art is, what the hell are you doing here studying it?’ And whenever anyone asks me what ‘Femme’ is, I always kind of think of that, ‘cause it’s like, ‘Why am I calling myself this thing that is actually almost impossible to pin down or define?’ But then I think that’s like the beauty of it as well really. That it is mutable and… [laughs] the three things are independent, but also usually interdependent, as well.

Lois: Well no, I mean, I think you’re right. I think that when you think about the beauty of femme-ness - and then back that up to femininity –  there isn’t that ‘right answer’.


Stereotypes and assumptions

Amy: I have a lot of issues. And I have a lot of anger. And I think what all those three things mean to me equals one thing. And that is: Performative. And I think that is what I’m really interested in exploring is the performance of ‘femininity’. The performance of ‘femme-ness’. It all seems like a big performance! And yes it’s something that’s in us, yeah… And I can say that, yes it’s kind of stamped in my DNA and everything. But there is a sense of performing it, as well. And I’m recognising that! Yeah? And I enjoy it. And it’s fun. And I can play with it. Then sometimes it reeeally fucking drags me down, as well. And that is what I’ve been thinking around the past kind of 6, 8 months, really. In all aspects of my work. Not just doing Duckie and performing, and this that and the other, and being on stage. But relationships, at the radio station, you know. The shit we gotta do to get on in life, and games we play and all the rest of it. So, it’s like, how do you prove what you are? …‘Cause you have to say that you are. And then you have to hope that the other person actually accepts that. 

Bird: Yeah. I mean I think all of those stereotypes are really damaging. You know. And you know, for me, like, even as someone who loves butch women, my path in life has been very different ‘cause I’ve been single most of my life… there is no fucking butch hanging on my fucking arm. [Laughing] Or anyone else, for that matter…because everything’s like, Butch Femme Butch Femme, it’s not like Femme on your own and Femme just being. Just living. 

Amy: Yeah yeah yeah yeah.

Bird: …I think out there in the (lesbian/queer) community there’s a lot of unspoken assumptions people make… It can end up that the very people- the group of people that enable us- can also become a limit as well really, can’t it?


Personal identifications with ‘femme’

Amy: As far as I’m aware, I’ve never been identified by anyone, as ‘Femme’. I’ve never actually called myself that. Because I felt like I was kind of in between this... I feel like I exist somewhere in some little compartment that isn’t really said. Yeah. And, I’ve gone back and I’ve been reading a book that was so important to me when it first came out. Which is Kate Bornstein’s ‘Gender Outlaw’.  And that is where I’m at, at the moment. And the idea of being ‘Femme’ to me, naturally means that… you’ve got to, you know, have a butch on your arm… That angers me, and that’s why I stay away from that notion of, ‘I am a Femme. She is Butch. The two have to be together or… you don’t exist without each other.’

Lois: I agree with you, actually. I mean I call myself a Femme, and I started calling myself a femme in relationship to being in performance with a Butch. But over the last, probably, 8 or 9 years, I’ve been working on how to perform Femme, on my own.  And the resistant Femme… And I think that’s what we are. We sort of, without being Femme in the Butch/Femme-lesbian sense of the word, we are femme in that we perform a resistance and an acceptance (well I think we do- Maybe that’s why I identify us in this little group) that in our performance of gender, we perform a resistance to the norm, whatever that is. And… And we have a commitment to… visibility, of what is feminine.  And I would suggest that’s what pulls us.

Bird: Yeah I like that.

Lois: …into the same rank.

Amy: Yeah.

Lois: You know it’s not really about identifying the lesbian femme. But, what is the femme in resistance to what expectations are about what it means to be a woman in culture-

Amy: Yeah.

Lois: And what is femme in the sort of warrior stance of, ‘God damn it! You’re not gonna ignore us. You’re not gonna forget about us. We’re gonna be seen.’

Amy: Yeah.

Lois: So that’s one of the ways I think about it.

Amy: Yeah, yeah. Mm.


Dialogue and product

Lois: I think the point of the project is, I said, dialogue as well as product. So, for the four of us to be in the same place, we could even set up a real dialogue and do a real recording of it…


Next Outing

All four of us will spend Memorial Day weekend in NYC eating more cake and talking more trash. We plan to have an ‘away day’ at the Jersey Shore and will hold in a public dialogue at Dixon Place on Sunday May 29.

More cake crumbs to follow.

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