The future is female.
These were the words that greeted those entering a demure communal art space in the West Village this week. They formed one of 13 tenets written on a chalkboard, scrawled in no particular order. The phrases -- ranging from environmentalist concerns to provocations urging people to deconstruct male spiritual supremacy -- formed a manifesto, of sorts, for what five women artists are calling Future Feminism.
Johanna Constantine, Bianca Casady and Kembra Pfahler. (Not pictured: Antony Hegarty and Sierra Casady.)
They are Antony Hegarty (the ethereally powerful voice behind Antony and the Johnsons), DJ and performance master Johanna Constantine, CocoRosie members Sierra and Bianca Casady, and "The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black" artist Kembra Pfahler. On the particular afternoon that we visited the space, all but Sierra sat squished on or beside a couch nestled close to the board, passionately discussing a movement they seemed to be birthing before our very eyes.
The movement is aptly called Future Feminism. The name is simple and to the point: the five women are attempting to introduce a frontier feminist point of view, a "call to arms to reorganize ourselves as a species and affirm archetypally feminine values." The tenets themselves represent the results of three years of lectures, discussions and introspection on the present state of feminist values, all of which is being translated into an upcoming exhibition at The Hole gallery in New York City.
The exhibition, opening on September 11, will consist of 13 events celebrating the 13 tenets, led by an impressive roster of the contemporary art world's most powerful figures. Marina Abramović, Carolee Schneemann, Kiki Smith, Laurie Anderson, Terence Koh, Lydia Lunch, Narcissister and Viva Ruiz are just a handful of the artists taking part in "Future Feminism" over the course of 13 days. It's a significant art show, that will unveil the manifesto, preceded by a significant music showcase.
The Future Feminists are taking the stage at Webster Hall this Sunday, throwing a benefit in support of their exhibition, performance series and future events. CocoRosie is headlining, Antony and Kembra are making guest appearances, and Johanna is spinning "aural disco doom on the turn tables."
In the run-up to the Future Feminism takeover, we had the chance to chat with the collective about their new feminist perspective, the relationship between art and activism and the future of women in power. While the 13 tenets will be officially unveiled on at The Hole, the women were eager to dive into what Future Feminism means to them:
Future Feminists -- the name. Antony, you have an interlude on “Cut the World” titled “Future Feminism.” Did this group sprout in any way from that?
Antony: That was kind of a different project. It was sort of me using the words to talk about my own thoughts.
How did Future Feminism come to be?
Bianca: We just sort of naturally, in our own work, we found ourselves talking about feminism, with different emphases and different affinities, veering heavily into environmentalism. There’s an eclipse happening and that’s why we came together.
There are 13 tenets in your manifesto and 13 lectures or events planned for the art show. What is the significance of the number 13?
Antony: It was a number that kind of intuitively emerged. For the time being, it’s 13. It could develop more over the months to come, or the years to come. One of our principles is mutability.
Right. Bianca, you’ve said in the past that you try not to fall into any “pragmatic thinking” and that you’re always shifting the way you view feminism. So what do you think have been the advantages of working with artists -- as opposed to say, institutionalized scholars -- to create a new feminist perspective?
Bianca: We naturally employ a different level of freedom and risk-taking. We’re used to saying things which are not popular, and that includes not being politically correct. It doesn’t mean that we’re not accountable -- we’re really standing behind our work, and putting a lot of time into our thoughts. We’ve included and incited many different dialogues, and when we’re apart, it’s just inevitable… we’re very passionate about bringing these dialogues to every person that we’re interacting with basically. So there’s a lot of self-critique. We’re inviting and we’re discussing and we’re changing.
We spent the last few years creating 13 ideas and they have constantly change and we’ve brought back new insights and questioned each other and questioned ourselves and learned to employ a new level of humility in working with a group. Back to your question about working with artists, I keep thinking about taking risks and not being popular. Whether or not we have some level of popularity or some success, I think we experience that it comes with adversity, it comes with challenge. It’s really part of the skin of the artist. It’s not really just to please, even if beauty, I could say, runs through all of our work. But even our own sense of beauty has caused a lot of adverse reactions. And that’s kind of the job of the artist, in many different ways. A redefinition of beauty.
Antony: The Laurie Anderson song, “Only an expert can deal with the problem,” it sort of pinpoints a reason why a lot of people feel inadequate or unentitled to participate, because they don’t feel like they have exclusive insight into one particular strain of thought or subject. But in our case, we represent five frontier artists -- women artists -- from New York City, who sat together and found consensus in our worldview and tried to articulate the way that we could most vigorously participate. And for me, I was really inspired by the White Rose movement in Germany during WWII. Just a tiny group of people in the face of overwhelming adversity tried to form a small resistance. We, each of us in our own work, represent one form or another of resistance. Swimming against the tide of popular culture. This project represents a consensus.
Non-authorship was a very important principle to us.
How did you come to consensus and build these 13 tenets?
Johanna: We experimented with different meetings and we fell into this process of talking. It’s like we immediately starting taking notes on what each other were saying and researching what feminism means. Why is there this adverse reaction to this overwhelmingly positive thing? We were seeing a lot of negativity, so we each took turns talking and taking notes. And we’d read each other’s notes. And take notes on the notes. And go around the circle again. And it just refined and refined and distilled everything to the purest form of our ideas. Our goal was to take these ideas to their purest, most far-reaching conclusions.
Like, what is feminism? What do we want from feminism. Maybe it just isn’t important, it’s critical. Maybe it’s not just something we should espouse, maybe it’s the one thing that could save the world. I mean, just distilling and distilling it to its finest form. We looked at it and thought, [feminism] is a solution, it’s not just a concept. If we could put this into practice in the outside world, not just as a consciousness-raising thing. It could be a global solution.
So do you see this smaller group of women expanding? Johanna, you’ve spoken before about the Future Feminists as a movement, and a possible solution to all global problems. And Antony, you’ve stated in “Cut the World” that hope, to you, looks like “feminine systems of governance,” whether they be in religion institutions, corporations, civic life. So do you see yourselves wanting to practically expand your reach and move into action?
Johanna: We described [Future Feminism] once or twice as a beacon of hope. We are welcoming to all. Like, male participation in Future Feminist circles, trans individuals, and others. It’s for everyone. That was a very important differentiation.
Bianca: As far as if we want the movement to expand, we’re actually proposing systems and models and philosophies. So rather than, we’re five and we hope to become bigger and bigger, this is our point of view. We’ve created a group of ideals, which could be practically applied to everyone.
Kembra: They’re more like provocations as well. Like, what we’re doing right now. To arouse discussion. They’re meditations, they’re not laws. That’s not our intention. This was born out of an extremely emotional reaction to what was happening around us. I think that this movement is already happening -- people that are Future Feminists, that simply have a desire to redefine this very old, dead paradigm.
My parents were ‘60s hippies who believed that change and revolution were possible. And there came a moment, culturally, I think, when that dream was dead. And it feels like that dream has been dead for a long time. But these discussions that we’ve had -- we’ve been envisioning a utopia that has not yet been realized -- and that’s given me hope. And I know we’re not alone. To me, the tenets are provocations and invocations that I hope will manifest.
Antony: Yeah, in terms of us thinking that this will become part of a future, global movement called Future Feminism, hell no. I don’t think that’s in any of our minds. What we’re participating in is art. This is our gesture as artists. This represents the viewpoint of five women artists working on the very fringe. As a result of our experience and our seat in society, we have a particular point of view that we offer in service to the community.
Kembra: It was nothing that we planned. To sit down and use this vernacular. We got together to sort of change our relationship to time. To say, ok, let’s spend this real quality time together. Let’s get away from the computers, let’s sit in a circle and really meditate on the principles and values. It’s interesting if you sit down with your friends or your family and you know, ask, What is your value system? What is important to you?
Our motives are benevolent, they’re not about causing harm to men. This is about offering them such a fantastic way to live. We’re relieving you of your role as a protector or a predator. A whole door could open for men if they think about feminism as this other way. You don’t just have to be a cliche dude anymore. You can grow up to be the type of human being that you want to be. Feminism -- if it’s explained and we talk about it enough -- can be very positive for everybody. We all want to have the humility to recognize that nature actually is the queen.
So, at the same time that you’re distilling feminism down to a focused idea -- as a global solution -- you’re also expanding the way feminism has been defined in the past, and what it can encompass. For example, there are likely many people who believe that feminism is only about a very distinct interpretation of women’s issues, but from the first tenet you have written on this board, you’re already bringing in the environment.
Kembra: One of the second-wave feminists that we spoke to was really excited about this word. The future. In direct relationship to feminism. Artists like Kathleen Hanna, Hannah Wilke, Carolee Schneemann (who is a part of the performance), Lydia Lunch -- people have been speaking about feminism in all different kinds of ways. It’s in pop culture, everywhere. But the core of what we’re doing and the language that we’re using is that we’re incorporating the actual behaviors and the value system and inserting that into the culture.
Antony: It’s this idea of feminine systems and what is feminine governance? Rather than previous incarnations of feminism that have strived for women to have equal status in society, in what we’ve perceived -- or been taught to perceive -- as a gender-neutral system. These systems have all been generated by men -- the systems of governance, the religious systems -- these are ancient constructs. The Future Feminist point of view has increasingly leaned not towards striving for equal status within a male construct or a male society, but rather to invite a redesign of society based on the principles of a feminine archetype in order to create the hope of a sustainable future for us all.
There are male values rooted in a prehistoric drive to survive in hostile conditions, and they are now driving us to extinction, you know what I mean? Driving our world into loss of biodiversity, climate change, and we’re still in the dark ages in so many parts of the world. Biblical strife, with beheadings and all the crazy shit that’s going on in the world. Radical subjugation of giant swaths of the population. And all of this is sort of the climax of a male spiritual system. We represent a wall of frontier, New York women artists who suggest that there are other possible trajectories. That we could step back and redesign the way that we participate. And listen to each and take the time to re-imagine how we participate here and create a future for ourselves.
History has been male and the future is female. Leaning on women as a body and the female archetype, and not just women but men -- we’re asking men to dig deep and deconstruct their seat of privilege. Because this is an emergency. We’re in threat of losing our homes, the future of our future generations, and the biological paradise that we’re apart of. It’s in the interest of all people that we lean on the feminine archetype in our movement forward. And that is at the root of our movement, as a group of hardcore, frontier feminists.
Johanna: Some of it may appear to be radical. But through discussions, it’s really quite rational. If you look at this extreme imbalance in all of these male systems. What would be the solution to slowing down this trajectory? Things are getting very critical, so what could be the effective change? We thought: just flip the system. It has to happen all at once. We feel a radical change is necessary, that it’s a necessity, that it’s gone too far, and we wanted to state that very clearly.
Kembra: I feel so hopeful about Future Feminism. And it’s crept into every crevice of my personal life. Everything is future feminism. It’s changed my whole perspective on things. So these philosophies and meditations and principles are really something I’m experimenting with putting into practice. It’s been pretty incredible.
You mentioned Kathleen Hannah. How do you see Future Feminism in relation to Riot Grrrl?
Kembra: I love Riot Grrrl. They were so courageous. The essence of punk rock, going out on stage and being brave enough to be imperfect. And Kathleen is really educated about feminism. She is one of my teachers. Kathleen has a very clear message, as does Lydia Lunch, as does Carolee, as does Antony. That’s what I crave. A clear message.
How do you reconcile the inclusive nature of what are you all are talking about, with the provocations. You’ve spoken a lot on Twitter about the negative effects religion has on women across the globe. How do you balance inclusions with the fact that you are challenging people.
Bianca: Well, I think the fact that we all depend on the environment -- I find that helpful in finding common ground. Every single second of our human existence depends on breathing air. And everybody knows that, but it’s something we take for granted. If we were putting the environment first, I feel like things would fall in line. Respecting nature and not taking it for granted, there’s a kind of harmonious and compassionate morality that comes from that kind of behavior. Rather than saying exactly how every system should be run, we’re saying that we need to put the Earth first, and with that comes a critique of religions which do the opposite.
We want to be present and be accountable to the future, not just think about your own pocket or your own neighborhood. It’s inherent, all these solutions. It’s humanizing and connecting to feel like we’re apart of the Earth. Instead of these radically different creation ideas, which I guess have created wars.
Kembra: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter spoke about religion very eloquently when they left the Pentecostal church. They called it what it was. It was harm being done to women, very clearly. There’s harm being done and it needs to be recognized. It takes audacity and courage to call it what it is. There’s no skirting around the issue when it comes to harm.
Antony: We do say in our third tenet, “Enforce a global standard for the rights and ethical treatment of women.” At a certain level, yes, we are inviting inclusiveness and we require the participation of men to succeed. To succeed as a planet, as a civilization. But at the same time, we say we need to not only establish a global standard but enforce it. The bottom line is that there have been efforts in the past to establish a global standard. And obviously we don’t have a prescription for how to do that. This is a template, these are provocations, and a proposal. There is tension between inclusiveness and necessity. But our motivation, what pushes us forward, is not only a utopian vision, but a desire to survive, and one step above that is to flourish, as a species in relation to nature.
How do you maintain hope on a personal level, in the face of people who have a very immutable viewpoint? Who would say that we’ve passed a point of no return, in terms of the environment especially?
Antony: I don’t have a delusion… our goal is to participate. We are five artists who are creating a vision that other people can engage with, and people can take anything they want from what we are saying and use it to nourish their own process.
Johanna: We want to create hope. All of those most beautiful animals and creatures are still here. Paradise is still here right now. We can still save it. This is our attempt to succinctly save this paradise that we’re living in here.
Kembra: For me, it’s like, open to action now. We need to move into action by way of experimentation. And we’re just offering this up. My ears would have been so pricked up if we were to hear about other suggestions about how to actually start this conversation. But we weren’t hearing it. And that’s why we got together, you know?
Antony: We were all being held hostage by systems. By corporate systems that governed the way we organized our time. We extricated ourselves from that system and reorganized ourselves for long enough to come to these 13 tenets.
Kembra: It makes me feel hopeful when we come across people who get excited about the tenets or the art show. When we were on the Williamsburg Bridge, taking pictures with strangers [those pictures are featured throughout this piece], we thought they were going to punch us in the face. But they didn’t. The couples and the old men and young women, they were beaming with this huge smile on their faces. And we said, we’re doing this art exhibition on Future Feminism and the future is female and it was like a big lightbulb went off over their head. It was shocking. We weren’t expecting it.
So I don’t want to diminish the potential of us as a city or as a group of human beings that inhabit the Earth. I want to have faith and hope. I think we need to kick it into action. How do you do that? Where do you do that? We have to start somewhere. Which is maybe here.
Have your discussions begun to inform your own personal activism?
[In unison: “Yes. Yes” “Very much.” “Oh man!”]
Johanna: Every friend I have. Every guy I run into when I’m DJing. We just start talking about feminism. “Hi, Johanna Constantine, Future Feminist.” And they’re like, what’s that? And I ask them if they believe that women should be treated in a humane and equal manner. And they’re like, of course! And I say, congratulations! You’re a feminist! And they’re happy. It’s been really interesting. All of the positive reactions and all of the confusion around the concept of feminism. It’s been fascinating. I think we’ve hit so much success just discussing it with ourselves and our families and our communities.
The exhibition at The Hole will open on September 11 and run until September 27. The list of participating artists includes: Antony, Bianca and Sierra Casady, Johanna Constantine, Lydia Lunch, Laurie Anderson, Narcissister, Dynasty Handbag, No Bra, Ann Snitow, Kiki Smith, Anne Waldman, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Anne Carson, Kembra Pfahler and The Girls of Karen Black, Alice O'Malley, Lorraine O’Grady, Marina Abramović, Carolee Schneemann, Jessica Mitrani, Melanie Bonajo, Terence Koh, Viva Ruiz, Julianna Huxtable, and Alexyss K. Tylor. See the entire schedule in the slideshow below.