Artforum Critics’ Pick of Alien She

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Chelsea Haines
Jan. 14, 2014

Allyson Mitchell, Women’s Studies Professors Have Class Privilege / I’m With Problematic, 2012, altered T-shirts with iron-on transfer and vinyl letters, 33 x 41″ each.

“Because we must take over the means of production in order to create our own meanings,” wrote Kathleen Hanna in a 1991 manifesto published in the second issue of the Bikini Kill zine. Her words are posted in the front gallery of “Alien She,” the first exhibition to explore the legacy of the Riot Grrrl punk feminist movement. Organized by Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss, two Riot Grrrls turned curators, the exhibition dynamically aggregates art and craft, video documentary, print ephemera, and music, concentrating on Riot Grrrl’s sphere of influence in North America from the early 1990s to the present.

Demand for autonomous networks of production and distribution was the impetus for Miranda July’s Big Miss Moviola (later renamed Joanie 4 Jackie), 1995–2003, an all-girl video chain letter meant to empower female filmmakers in a male-dominated field. Stephanie Syjuco explores unauthorized systems of knowledge distribution in FREE TEXTS, 2012, a wall of posters with tear-off tabs sharing links to free pirated downloads of seminal critical tomes. Meanwhile, Faythe Levine premieres Time Outside of Time, 2013, a photography series documenting communities living off the grid across the United States. Other projects deal with the conflicted ethics of Riot Grrrls gone professional; Allyson Mitchell’s T-shirt diptych Women’s Studies Professors Have Class Privilege / I’m With Problematic, 2012, explores Mitchell’s ambivalence as a punk and a professor at York University in Toronto. Perhaps the most striking work in the exhibition is Tammy Rae Carland’s photograph Vaguely Dedicated, 2008, a grid comprising dedication pages from feminist books. The range of inscriptions—from “For my mother” to “Dedicated to my tattooist”—registers the diversity of female influences and subjectivities.

Despite the curators’ personal history with the movement (a portion of the ephemera comes from the curators’ private collections), the exhibition never sinks into nostalgia—rather, its tone channels the unapologetically personal attitude of Riot Grrrl. Two Web-based elements further strengthen the overall curatorial approach: The Riot Grrrl Census and Riot Grrrl Chapters Map are open-source archives that chart the movement’s temporal and geographic evolution and expansion. It’s a new DIY feminism for the digital age.


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