Interview with Narcisa Hirsch by Lynne Sachs – August, 2008, Buenos Aires
In August of 2008, I was living in Buenos Aires with my family. I was able to meet and spend quite a bit of time with artist filmmaker Narcisa Hirsch.
In this conversation, we talk about so many things including: her belief that painting on an easel had died, “Happenings”, her collaborative Marabunta (1967) feminist performance, her discovery of 16mm, watching Michael Snow’s “Wavelength”, creating “Taller” a response to Snow’s ideas, a 16mm visualization of Steve Reich’s “Come Out”, her friend and collaborator Marie Louise Alleman, “Fuses” by Carolee Schneemann which was her first film purchase, making films in the troubled 1970s in Argentina, owning films by Su Friedrich and Stan Brakhage, rejecting making feature films with a script, filming daily life, her being world famous for 50 people, remembering Laura and Albert Honig (Argentine experimental filmmakers), support from the Goethe Institute, making “radical” work that did not threaten the government, “I didn’t go to jail because they didn’t want me,” giving away 500 little dolls on the street and saying “you have a baby” in NYC, London and Buenos Aires. All of these Happenings were filmed and each was very different, she was doing this during the same time that Cesar Chavez was encouraging people to boycott lettuce. She defines what a “happening” is including public participation and very much not a conventional gallery show, art was no longer “re-presentation” but now is a situation, not isolated from the public but including the public. They talk about Ramundo Glazer who was one of the Argentine disappeared.
Then we watch her film response to Steve Reich’s “Come Out”, film diary footage from summer 1973, close ups of leaves and water, her feet, a fly, her shadow in the sand as she carries her film camera, cherries on skin, a fly, a mouth luxuriating at the taste of fruit, a baby on the grass., a breast and a belly in the sunlight, a fly.
with Paula Felix Didier, Ruben Guzman, and Maya and Noa Street-Sachs
Contributors Andrea Estepa, Silvia Federici, Tera Hunter, Jasmine Holloway, Amanda Katz, Mahoma Lopez, Rosanna Rodriguez, Margarita Lopez, Luo Xiaoyuan, Emily Rubin, Veraalba Santa, Stephen Vitiello
FORTHCOMING Spring 2024
Hand Book: A Manual on Performance, Process, and the Labor of Laundry is a collection of writings and images from a performance and film set within a neighborhood laundromat, a microcosm of service work within our urban reality. With a focus on the people who are paid to wash and fold, Hand Book explores the convergence of dirt, stains, money, identity, and desire. Informed by both theory and history, filmmaker–poet Lynne Sachs and playwright Lizzie Olesker construct a model for making a site-specific work incorporating both live performance and film. From conversations with workers in laundromats around New York City, they develop a play that magnifies forms of manual labor that often go unrecognized. The core of Hand Book is Sachs and Olesker’s hybrid script which grew out of documentary material they collected in New York City over several years. Within this theatrical construct, the actors themselves navigate the dynamic between their laundry worker characters and who they are in their own lives.
In Hand Book, images also engage with text to create an evocative graphic experience. Turning a page becomes an interactive, quasi-cinematic encounter. We think about the intimacy of touching other people’s clothes, almost like a second skin, the textural care for things kept close to the body.
Hand Book includes essays, interviews, memoirs, and poetry that look at the relationship between art and social engagement. Observation, historical research, and fiction intersect, creating a patchwork of what is with a speculative, imagined what was. Historian and author Tera Hunter speaks to the importance of the Washing Society, a group of 3,000 Black women laundry workers who organized in Atlanta in 1881. Feminist historian Silvia Federici engages in a conversation with the authors about the meaning of reproductive labor and its relationship to laundry. Two leaders of a grassroots organization share their experience of immigration and activism. A dancer creates a gestural map of her choreography. An actor deconstructs the charged significance of her Civil War era costume.
Hand Book: A Manual presents an illuminating dialogue between documentary, feminism, film, immigration, labor history, and theater. Throughout, a playwright and filmmaker contemplate how art-making can alter our understanding of the social structure of city life.
The film The Washing Society is available via QR code.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Lizzie Olesker has been making theater and performance in New York City for several decades, reflecting on the politics and poetry of everyday experience. Her plays and solo performances exploring domestic work, personal memory, and quotidian gestures have been developed and presented in NYC at the Public, Cherry Lane Theatre, Clubbed Thumb, Dixon Place, New Georges and the Ohio Theater. As an actor, she’s worked with the Talking Band, appearing at La Mama and on international tour. Published in The Brooklyn Rail and by Ice Floe Press, Olesker received support from New York Foundation for the Arts, the Brooklyn Arts Council and the Dramatists Guild. Olesker teaches at the New School and New York University where she’s active with her adjunct faculty union.
Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker and poet. Her early works on celluloid took a feminist approach to images and writing— a commitment which has grounded her ever since. With each project, Sachs investigates the connection between the body, the camera, and the materiality of film itself. Embracing archives, found images, letters, and journals, her work takes us on a critical journey through reality and memory. In films such as The House of Science, Which Way Is East, Your Day Is My Night, and Film About a Father Who, Sachs uses hybrid form and collaboration, incorporating documentary, performance, and collage. Many of her films explore the relationship between personal observations and collective historical experience. She often addresses the challenge of translation—from one language to another or from spoken work to image. These tensions are investigated in five essay films that took her to sites affected by war, where she looked at the space between a community’s memory and her own perceptions. Retrospectives of Sachs’s films have been presented at festivals in Argentina, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, UK, and at NYC’s Museum of the Moving Image. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published her collection Year by Year Poems. Sachs received a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts and lives in Brooklyn.
Andrea Estepa is Research Fellow at Smith College and historian of women and social movements. Silvia Federici is an activist, scholar, and writer of Caliban and the Witch and Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle.Tera Hunter is Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University and author of To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War and Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century.Jasmine Holloway is an actor and singer who has performed with Harlem Repertory Theater and Soho Rep. Amanda Katz is a filmmaker and editor. Mahoma Lopez and Rosanna Rodriguez are co-directors of the Laundry Workers Center, advocating for low-wage immigrant workers. Margarita Lopez is a laundry worker and mother living on the Lower East Side. Luo Xiaoyuan is a translator. Emily Rubin is founder of Loads of Prose and author of the novel Stalina. Veraalba Santa is a Puerto Rican actor and dancer with stage and film experience. Stephen Vitiello is a composer and sound artist and Professor of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth.
Many Generations Mourn the Loss of the Great Pearl Bowser
Pearl created an engaged and intellectually rigorous community
In 1989, Pearl Bowser was the programmer of the Flaherty Film Seminar. She invited me to be an artist at the seminar and to screen my film Sermons and Sacred Pictures: The Life and Work of Reverend L.O. Taylor. Reverend Taylor was a filmmaker who shot from the inside out, a Black minister documenting his own Memphis community with his own Bolex 16mm camera and his own audio recording device. Of course, I was grateful to be part of the seminar with its focus on African Diaspora filmmakers. Over that week, Pearl subtly but emphatically created an engaged, intellectually rigorous community around the films and filmmakers that she had chosen to present. She invited author and filmmaker Toni Cade Bambara to instigate conversations after the films, to take us as a group into a truly metaphysical dialogue on cinema. Pearl also asked film scholar and theorist Teshome Gabriel to facilitate some of the conversations. Twenty-seven years old at the time, I was grateful for his encouragement and guidance.
I remained in touch with Pearl over the years. Our last deep interaction happened in 2015 when film curator Josh Siegel programmed Sermons as part of his series Tributaries: Zora Neale Hurston and Other Chroniclers of the South at the Museum of Modern Art. Pearl and I made a date to go to a matinée together. What a joy it was for me to spend this time with her, in the light, of course, but just as much in the dark of the theater. For those of us with a passion for the moving image, these shared hours without words allow us to feel another kind of connection to each other and to the beyond.
We are a group of Jewish American writers, artists and academics. We oppose what the Israeli government is doing with US assistance
President Joe Biden:
We are a group of Jewish American writers, artists and academics. Being Jewish means different things to all of us, but we all have at least one Jewish parent, which means we could move to Israel and qualify for Israeli citizenship.
We condemn attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians. We believe it is possible and in fact necessary to condemn Hamas’ actions and acknowledge the historical and ongoing oppression of the Palestinians. We believe it is possible and necessary to condemn Hamas’ attack and take a stand against the collective punishment of Gazans that is unfolding and accelerating as we write.
Cutting off resources to more than 2 million people, demanding families flee their homes in the north, indiscriminately bombing a trapped population – these are war crimes and indefensible actions. And yet the United States government is offering “moral” and material support for the dehumanization and murder of innocent Gazans. We write to publicly declare our opposition to what the Israeli government is doing with American assistance. We call on the US government to seek an immediate ceasefire and to use our resources towards providing aid ensuring the safe return of hostages and building a diplomatic path towards peace.
As Jews, as Americans, we will be made to feel a sense of safety in our communities, and in the world, not by unequivocal US support for Israel, but by our government’s insistence on the universal human rights that so many of us take for granted.
Assignment: Respond to this photo without any details.
This is Not How I Imagine It But How It Is Lynne Sachs, July 15, 2023 This is not how I imagine it but how it is. I’m somewhere, probably in a place where I’ve spent all night with my head on a pillow, not mine, with closed eyes in a room where I’m not sure how far the walls are from the soft mattress, and there is a body next to me, but it’s so dark I don’t actually know if the body is on my left and if the wall is on my right. I’m scared, very scared that if I move, I might bang against the wall or the body, and I’ll forget to caress the body or I’ll knock my head thump against the wall, and so I become a hardened plank. My eyes see nothing. I remember the time I learned about the pupils in your eyes. But mine don’t open up in the darkness, or reduce to almost nothing in the sunlight. The little dark holes in my eyeballs don’t ever adapt, the way yours do. They’re set to an open that resembles the way that I drew my first self-portrait, just dark balls in a dirty pool of brown. It’s just a miracle that they see anything at all anymore on a normal day, a normal day. Is it part of growing old? To have this feeling of being in a bed with a wall and forgetting who is there with you. Even when you look, you only see a blue glow casting shadows on darkness from the LED lights of the cable, the clock, the modem, the things that remind you of what you could be, or do when, in reality, you’re happiest, when you are just overwhelmed. Then you scoot down the mattress, worried that you’ll scratch your face on the toenail that belongs to that person who is there with you. The clock reminds you it is 4 AM and you assume you have Covid. What else could it be? A cold, watery chill moves through your limbs and down your belly into your groin. At last you’re on the floor, with no idea how to find the door, your fingers creep along, leading you away from the now red light of the digital clock you found in the closet and thought might be helpful in your life, this time around. There you are on hands on knees, as they say, moving in a direction that might or might not be OUT and your nose tells you to go this way rather than that. Oh my, it’s a piece of furniture. You know it because your forehead smashes against it as soon as you push yourself a little further than you thought you would ever go. UP. It feels like the chair you bought at IKEA, or maybe the one you found in your mother’s attic, the one she didn’t want because it reminds her of your father or maybe it’s the high chair where you first slurped pumpkin through your lips past your gums into your throat, or maybe it’s the chair pulled from a game of musical chairs where you were almost out , but weren’t. You emerged with one chair in your grip. It’s that chair, the one in which you were declared a winner. There in the almost darkness you feel its sturdiness, plus something else you can’t quite detect. Of course, your pupils are still too small but your nose smells a flower. It’s a rose and you know better than to touch it. A rose has thorns. You remember that, at least. Better not touch. Just sit down and maybe you’ll feel different, or maybe better, maybe the same, but at least you’re off the floor now. You pull yourself up higher, feel all your weight, breathe as deeply as you can, like they taught you in that exercise class a few years ago. Then you rest in the chair. Feel the petals coming up through the seat, tickling your anus. Now at long last, you can rest, and then you feel a sensation, electricity, running through your fingers and into your organs and you wonder for just how long you can remain alive.
Distortions: Moscow Conceptualists Working Today September 9 – October 28, 2023
Hunter College Art Galleries: 205 Hudson Gallery 205 Hudson Street New York, NY Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 12-6pm
Curated by Hunter College Professors Daniel Bozhkov and Joachim Pissarro with Dr. Olga Zaikina and Graduate Curatorial Fellow Victoria Borisova
Exhibition Moscow Conceptualism began as an alternative underground art world in the late Soviet Union. Its unofficial status shaped its artistic methods and theoretical framework. The exhibition includes original objects, archival materials, and working models of original artworks, alongside new projects created by Moscow Conceptualists in collaboration with art and art history students and faculty at Hunter College. Thus, Distortions is an experiment in intergenerational and cross-cultural collaboration. It aims to transform the gallery into a two-month long forum exploring how existing artworks can be activated to create new living situations, and how documents can be used beyond the preservation of the past.
Participating artists and art groups: Yuri Albert (born 1959 in Moscow, lives and works in Cologne) Collective Actions (active 1976-present) Gnezdo (active 1974-79) Sabine Hänsgen (born 1955 in Dusseldorf, lives and works in Bochum, Germany) Andrei Monastyrski (born 1949 in Pechenga, Russia, lives and works in Moscow), Victor Skersis (born 1956 in Moscow, lives and works in Bethlehem, PA) Nadezhda Stolpovskaya (born 1959 in Moscow, lives and works in Cologne, Germany) SZ Group (active 1980-84, 1989, 1990) Vadim Zakharov (born 1959 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, lives and works in Berlin, Germany).
Distortions: Moscow Conceptualists Working Today was developed through a two-semester graduate curatorial seminar at Hunter College led by professors Daniel Bozhkov and Joachim Pissarro with Dr. Olga Zaikina. It included studio art students: Lauren Cline, Tucker Claxton, LeLe Dai, Paula De Martino, Alicia Ehni, Stevie Knauss, Milly Skelington, Johnny Sagan; and art history students: Caitlin Anklam, Victoria Borisova, Jay Bravo, Andrea Dauhajre, Curtis Eckley, Daniel Kuzinez, Jake Robinson. Visiting scholar: Virginia Marano, PhD Candidate, University of Zürich, Switzerland.
From 1967 to 2017, Japanese film artist Takahiko limura lived with his wife Akiko in New York City. At the same time, he also lived in Tokyo. Both places he called home. When he was in town, he was an avid member of the local media art community. He premiered new work and energetically attended screenings in venues that celebrated the avant-garde. Taka, as everyone called him, devoured all the art that he experienced in New York, eventually writing a robust New York Art Diary which covered the first two decades of his time in his life. At every turn, he approached the making of an image or the recording of a sound from a distinctly Japanese perspective, always aware of the difficulty of translating words and ideas from his language and culture co ours. His material preoccupations originated with the apparatus-both the camera and the projector– acknowledging everything from aesthetics to psychology to semiotics.
In 2010, I visited Taka’s studio in Tokyo with my husband, filmmaker Mark Street, witnessing his expansive workspace, filled with film, video, and other media detritus. We drank beer, ate local snacks, and talked about the NYC underground film community. A few years later, I attended one of his expanded cinema events at the Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn. Usually when we anticipate a film screening, we assume that we will sit in a chair in a row of other chairs, all facing in the same direction toward an illuminated screen. A Taka limura program would be a spectacle of an entirely different kind.
Taka never accepted any of the rules for making or watching a movie. To experience one of his cinematic events always took you beyond seeing and hearing. Committed to exploring the ontology of cinema, he wanted you to think about audience, the frame, language, the body, light and shadow, the difference between the Western and the Asian psyche, and time.
When I walked into the small storage-like room, it felt as if I were in a miniature version of Taka’s Tokyo studio. There was such a quality of intimacy in this quasi-domestic space. The audience of about seven sat in folding chairs surrounding a card cable where Taka was busy, moving tiny white cubes across the surface, using a cell phone to project their presence onto a screen. He had a sense of nervous performance anxiety; the stakes, even in this modest environment, were high. When lights went out, we seeded into our chairs to watch him move and caress hi collection of three-dimensional objects. Just as he had done for so many decades before, Takahiko limura became performer, artist and audience, witnessing with us the transformation of the tangible, the ephemeral and, at least for me, the unforgettable.
“I am revealing myself to you and becoming one of the audience.” – Takahiko limura
Lynne Sachs, Cinematograph Journal of Film and Media Art, 1988
“There is a shadow cast across Nina Fonoroff’s Department of the Interior. It is the shadow of the Founding Fathers, those luminous figures to whom we give credit for creating our laws, our language and our rational mode of thinking. Much to their possible chagrin, however, this office of the Executive Branch (which is given the responsibility of maintaining public land) is no longer completely intact. Instead, the irrationality of the Mother and the child has begun to take control.
Whether a relic of the state or the family, Fonoroff’s white wood panel suburban house leaves us with no more than a skeleton of a way of life.Through the apparatus of the camera lens, this sign of stability, propriety and happiness is read but never understood, visited but never entered. Time after time, I-as-a-spectator-am-brought-to-the-front-door-of-this-house. Yet I am excluded (as a woman?)from the very place I was told was mine to shape and to manage.I am left outside with my memories and my dreams.
The hysteric, whose body is transformed into a theater for forgotten scenes, relives the past, bearing witness to a lost childhood that survives in suffering. (from The Newly Born Woman by Helen Cixous and Catherine Clement)
The various codes contained within the film tell us how to read practically every element involved in its construction as a text. The exchange between the music (Gian Carlo Minotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors) and the domestic banging around, for example, establishes a tension between those sounds created by culture and those that are natural expressions of human unrest. Eventually, the opera is destroyed – cut to pieces by ringing bells, furniture thrown to the floor, knocking.
There is a compelling, almost consuming quality to the overall tone of Department of the Interior. Perhaps it is the enigma of these particulars. Fonoroff deposits a curious array of clues into the floating, evolving box we call a film. Then we (as spectators or researchers) are left with the intriguing task of compiling these facts and creating a narrative, our own “theater of forgotten scenes’.’
Lynne Sachs is a filmmaker living in San Francisco. She is currently working on an experimental documentary based on the life of a minister from Memphis, Tennessee who made his own films in the 1930s and ’40s.”