The Future Feminists: Antony, Johanna Constantine, Kembra Pfahler, Bianca Casady, and Sierra Casady (not pictured)
“The Subjugation of Women and the Earth is one and the same”.
[Tenet Number 1 of 13]
We met up with Kembra Pfahler, Antony, Bianca Casady, and Johanna Constantine to talk about the future of feminism, the art of talking, and their involvement at The Hole later this month. The supergroup will be performing with the likes of Marina Abramović, Terrance Koh, Lydia Lunch, and Juliana Huxtable as a part of a 13 day festival of feminism.
So, first and foremost, how did this sort of super group of sorts come to form? How did you all meet or come together?
Johanna Constantine: Well we had known each other for years just through like our performing in the East Village and meeting through the art scene, and then I think it was actually Antony who was the one that really wanted us specifically to get together. We’ve known each other for ages, and had kind of done this and that together. Antony said, “Let’s have a group meeting. Let’s do a circle and just discuss Feminism because we’re all kind of questioning it, like what’s happened to it, what is a good example of it.” And Antony was like, “Well, you are.” It was like, “Oh, okay, let’s try it.” And then it just sprung into the idea for an art project, and what that project became was just through talking, talking, talking, and it just formed itself. And this is kind of the unveiling of this huge talking process.
Kembra Pfahler: I am very happy to be able to work on an art project with artists that are also friends. Essentially Johanna, Bianca, Sarah, and Antony are really the most provocative artists I think working today, and they have a beauty aesthetic and a consciousness. I am a full time 53-year old artist and this is my idea of having a dream life, I don’t get to go on vacation to the Bahamas, it’s a luxury and privilege to able to have this kind of time to with artists that I really admire. And so the way we got together was just the time was nice, the un-ignorable current and eco-political system made it very clear that we needed to at least start discussing the spirit of the times, broader than just what was happening in art and in music.
So it was an experiment. It was an experiment that I just feel very lucky that we were able to take the time off to luxuriate in these retreats. We did several retreats that were several days long and we worked from 8 to 14 hours a day just talking, and that was something that I’d never done before. I’d never worked in a group situation like this where we were trying to co-author a piece and just work with a different kind of dynamic. So it’s really been in an incredible time. And also to meet the artists that are in the performance series as well, they are some of the most interesting artists working today. Lydia Lunch, and Melanie, a couple of new artists that I haven’t met. Melanie Bianco whose work I just learned about from Bianca. We’ve been interacting with all these performers who are on a list as well for the performance.
So you have coined this term “Future Feminists.” I was wondering if you could expand a little bit on what makes a “Future Feminist,” or what “Future Feminism” entails. I know you have these tenets, but maybe a sort of broader term as to what Future Feminism holds as imposed to Feminism.
BC: It’s something that we’re still discovering; each person in this group might even have a different explanation or feeling around the words. We definitely wanted to embrace feminism and a holistic kind of feminism that didn’t exclude any other branch of feminism. So it doesn’t have distinctions that could exclude any type of feminist, that’s one thing. We have certain ethics, like mutability, consensus, circling, these are all things that we have come upon in our process of developing the work. So it’s been a kind of building process as we go. “Future” also refers a lot to focusing on the state of the ecology and projecting forwards and trying to create a set of tools and a hopeful outlook towards the future and proposing that a large scale shift towards feminizing the planet is a solution to continuing to exist on the planet and tried to reach towards harmony with nature.
KP: Also, to me, the first time tenet,“The Subjugation of Women and the Earth is one and the same”. It’s provocative so the tenets themselves are provocations, and they’re incantations as well. And finally, sort of part of a manifesto. And manifesto, to me, wishing that the tenets, they’re like dreams that they want to have come true as well. So like wishing that the manifesto could be actually manifested. To me, they’re dreams of a utopia as well.
Antony, can you give us a little insight from from your perspective?
Antony: We took time out from capitalism to write these tenets. The world that we are all apart of is going so fast that we actually don’t talk to each other for long enough to actually find a level of activism. It’s difficult for us even as artists to step out of the modes of behavior that society, and especially technology, has imposed on us to sit in a circle and to spend hours, days, allowing, hoping, or in search of a collective consciousness, and that was the first time any of us had ever done that. Even as artists, we found that we’d never sat and talked to each other, not just for an hour over dinner or for two hours over an evening, but for days, searching for consensus about our perception of the world from the point of view of frontier artists in New York City. What we represent is a wall of frontier female artists from New York City, and this is our point of view. And it was a desire to find non-authorship. The White Rose Movement was an inspiration to me personally.
With your experience as a touring musicians, you folks probably have a more expanded world-view than most. How has that led you to these tenets and to this space where you’re at right now with the project overall? Has traveling as musicians been an influential part to this?
JC: It has been to me. In every town, in every country that I visit, I always wander around and ask the locals kind of what’s going on and kind of try and find the weirdest outsider women I can and hang out with them. And having done that, everybody’s having the same issues, and the men as well. They’re like, “Oh things are like this and we consider it a national embarrassment, it’s really bad that they’re like that.” But then they haven’t changed, and we see that happening everywhere. Even in places where the women’s consciousness is really high, like the United States. It’s like there’s been certain brave leaps forward in feminism and certain things that have not changed at all. Like major, major things, like top-level type things. And we’re really looking hard at flipping that system as a solution for the change that we need and the time that we need it. We’re all feeling this crunch. Things are really bad right now and they’re getting worse and still nothing is changing. So that was also an element of Future Feminism, trying to look for new systems and solutions as artists to really apply our minds to that, to this really almost unheard of notion of really trying to save the world like really applying your mind to that as if you could really do it. We really want that feeling of hope to be revived through feminism.
KP: There was this point where people realized that the revolution was not going to be possible, that huge turning point after the Summer of Love and the hippie movement, which was where I came from. My parents thought that their sacrifice would change the world and I really don’t feel like there’s been another gesture, a revolutionary gesture, since the late ‘60s when they gave up. Now it feels like not only is it possible, it’s necessary. And just for us to be able to remain on the planet, on the earth.
Antony: As the transgender person, the most obviously transgender person in the group, I was feeling for a long time by myself that I could no longer separate my experience as a trans-person from the experience of women, that I could no longer separate the experience of women, the experience of the feminine in this society from the experience of the ecology. And that became the sort of battle-cry for me, in my kind of exploration and understanding of contemporary feminism and the future of feminism. There are these two kind of imaginary, these two paradoxical ideas in society that generally remain in society. One is that the chasm between men and women is so different that they are unknowable to each other. And the second is a more contemporary idea, that there is no difference between men and women, which has often been the battle-cry of the feminism of the last century out of necessity, because if any difference was identified between men and women it was inevitably used to penalize and further restrict the activity and participation of women.
But as a trans person with such an experience, I think generally speaking for many feminists, this new encroaching idea about this more heightened awareness of the experience of a transgender is to understand the mutability of gender and to understand some of the biological aspects and chemical aspects that come into play to determine, not just a person’s physical sex, but also their nature and their behavior and the aspects of their person that come into focus as a result of certain chemical systems that are pouring through them—estrogen, testosterone, for instance. So one of the tenets really addresses that, and that’s kind of one of the frontiers of our 13 tenets, which is “Identify Biological Differences Between the Sexes and draw individuals into greater accountability on the basis of their predispositions.”
So it’s about understanding that the models, the prehistoric models that we’ve evolved, that we evolved out of necessity in order to survive as a species may no longer be serving our best interest. Not just as a species but as a part of biodiversity, that some of those things that we’ve developed as tools to survive in one setting are now the source of our very destruction as a species. Is it possible for us to reorganize ourselves as a species and reorganize our understanding and application of feminine and masculine systems that we’ve evolved over millennia? And that’s sort of one of the great challenges that FF represents, to say, okay, let’s not pretend that there’s no difference between men and women anymore, or even more the difference between masculinity and femininity, or masculine or feminine archetypes, or male and female systems. Let’s start to explore what male and female systems really are and how they’ve served us in the past and how we can apply them to save ourselves and to save the paradise of biodiversity that we’re a part of.
Can you describe another one of the tenets?
BC: We talked a lot about religion and describing religions, and the sort of metaphor that that has on patriarchy in general. We have a tenet that says, “Deconstruct the Mythology of Male Spiritual Supremacy.” It’s kind of self-explanatory I guess, but it comes up a lot. It comes up a lot for all of us I think and a lot of people have been deprived of spirituality in a way because we’ve been given these models of this Father-God. I’ve found that a lot of people have had to reject it in order to repair their own identity. I found that it’s destructive, the erasure of the female in spirituality. So we’ve talked a lot about more earth-based spirituality basically, claiming that we are a part of the earth and with that comes accountability and a desire to take care of the earth.
So we are criticizing a lot the symptoms that come with thinking that you’re going somewhere else and that you came from somewhere else. It feeds into this kind of corporate mentality of immediate gain and disregard for how it’s going to effect the future. And we’ve also spoken a lot about indigenous values and looked to different cultures who have a more integrated earth-relationship in their spirituality, which tends to just be more harmonious and balanced with nature, it tends to think more about the future, multi-generations. So we’re trying to bring to people’s attention that integrating the earth into our spirituality could be a solution to how we treat the planet.
KP: I just feel very hopeful and invigorating by this work that I’ve got to do with these people and it’s completely changed my life, really sitting down and finding very clear language—clear, direct language around our idea of what feminism is. There’s a lot of broad terminology around it, everyone is using it as a banner, as more like an emblem, but we had had a desire to go deeper and be willing, just like we have in our own work, to take risks to try and discover new formulas and dare to dream. And that’s really exciting to me because I have felt like in the last couple of decades there has – punk was fantastic for integrating the sexes. I got to be a part of the first wave of punk, which was really androgynous and it was very feminist because there was really not a hierarchy between men and women. That was a really small little group of people that got to experience that. And there still wasn’t that much hope towards a better future with that and that movement. But doing this Future Feminist work has been really invigorating and has given me a lot of hope just that we’ve even, like Antony said, snatched time away, took it back, we ripped down the clock. We had to really make a conscious decision to do that, and it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been easy.
Antony: It’s incredible how hard it is to extricate yourself from the thoroughfare of contemporary society and sit down and have a deep conversation with your peers about what you really feel, what you really intuit is going on. And we took a lot of guidance from the Laurie Anderson song “Only an Expert Can Deal with a Problem,” and how oppressive that concept has really been and how effective it’s been at dividing us from our own sense of empowerment or our ability to act. We’re really individual and none of us are really connected to an institution of thinking, we’re all sort of self-realized, I think all of us on some level have a feral quality in the way that we’ve developed.
Any other final notes?
KP: We’re going to have a wonderful performance program which is involving some of the most fantastic women that we’ve ever known—Lydia Lunch, Lorena Grady, Marina Abramovic—and a thirteen day continual festival. So it’s multi-generational, it’s Joanna’s friends, Bianca’s friends, Antony’s friends, my friends, people that we really respect and we’re inviting people to come in and hear their perspective. It’s so nice to get to sweat it out all together, isn’t it? It’s just gonna be a beautiful mess. It’s gonna be a chance to really see people that mean what they say and say that they mean, for once.
Antony: We are what we are. We’re representing a perspective of a group, of artists. And these are our dreams and thoughts, participating to the best of our ability as a group of frontier artists.
13 Tenets of Future Feminism
Thurs Sept 11 : Opening 6-9PM
Fri Sept 12 : Bianca and Sierra Casady, Sarah Schulman
Sat Sept 13 : Johanna Constantine, Lydia Lunch
Sun Sept 14 : The Factress aka Lucy Sexton, Clark Render as Margaret Thatcher, Laurie Anderson
Wed Sept 17 : Narcissister, Dynasty Handbag, No Bra
Thurs Sept 18 : Ann Snitow speaks with the Future Feminists
Fri Sept 19 : Kiki Smith presents Anne Waldman, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge and Anne Carson
Sat Sept 20 : Kembra Pfahler and The Girls of Karen Black
Sun Sept 21 : Lorraine O’Grady
Wed Sept 24 : Marina Abramović
Thurs Sept 25 : Carolee Schneemann, Jessica Mitrani, Melanie Bonajo
Fri Sept 26 : Terence Koh as Ms OO
Sat Sept 27 : Viva Ruiz, Julianna Huxtable, Alexyss K. Tylor