Last night, filmmaker and feminist artist Lynn Hershman’s ¡Women Art Revolution opened at the IFC Center in New York City. Named after the collective of feminist artists who sought to disrupt the male-centric art world that actively excluded them, the film is a patchwork of candid interviews, comic recreations, and found footage that chronicles the early beginnings and rise to prominence of the feminist art movement during the past 40 years.
Although by no means a complete survey, the film offers a unique and intimate glimpse of the movement from someone who was actually there and who decided to turn her camera on what was happening. Rather than unfold like a traditional documentary, it instead reveals the personal journey of an artist as she witnesses firsthand the growth of one of the most important artistic movements in the post-war era.
The film begins with the movement’s birth out of the political turmoil and civil rights movements of the 1960s and encapsulates some of the most important moments in its history. Judy Chicago’s controversial installation The Dinner Party (now on permanent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum), the Guerilla Girls’ poster campaigns, and the WACK! show at MOCA. As much as she included in the film, Hershman acknowledged how much was left out and made it a point to include that fact at the end (even at one point showing the editing timeline of the completed film). Thousands of minutes of interviews and footage were left out, but rather than be discouraged by this fact, the filmmaker saw it instead as an opportunity to continue expanding the documentation of a movement that itself continues to carry on.
To complement the release of her film, Hershman, who is also a prolific new media artist, developed RAW/WAR an online database and interactive installation that allows anyone to help with the documentation of feminist art through found footage, or by uploading their own art. As the site states, it is built on user contributions “with the goal of creating a history defined by community.” Thus, the film in a sense becomes a jumping-off point for engaging the public in its mission through its interactive counterpart. In doing so, the audience has the opportunity to become active documentarians by not only searching the database, but adding to it. As opposed to watching other documentaries that passively unfold history, RAW/WAR is about making history instead.
As was noted in a Q&A session during the opening, new media and social media give rise to global communications among women who want to fight for their rights to express themselves all over the world. The film and the installation don’t just encourage a dialogue but solicit participation among all people equally, in a movement that is just as relevant today as it was when it began in the 60s. In fact, due to new forms of media, there is an opportunity for the movement to be more vocal and influential than ever before.
As well as featuring much of the film’s footage in the RAW/WAR database, all of the interviews featured in the film are available to watch online for free through a partnership with Stanford University’s Art and Special Collection Library. In this regard, Hershman truly understood the importance of making this content as available as possible.
From now until June 7th, screenings of the film will be accompanied by select special guests including the filmmaker and its producers. The installation RAW/WAR, which debuted at the Sundance New Frontier showcase in January, is also currently on show as part of Distrial at the Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City through the end of the month.
The film will continue to tour the US throughout the summer. Check out its scheduled stops here.