This feature is accompanied with images by Francesco Cuttitta, who is currently undertaking a photography placement exploring contemporary art and performance in Manchester.
Alexandra Arts’ ‘Pankhurst in the Park’ is an innovative festival of events that started in October, inspired by Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst who grew up in the area and based mainly in the recently restored Grade II Alexandra Park Pavilion near the park’s restored Serpentine Lake. The programme has included a visit by Pankhurst’s great granddaughter, activist Dr Helen Pankhurst, a presentation by the London-based feminist activist magazine HYSTERIA, artist Sarah Hardacre’s guided walk through the Park’s preserved woodland and a talk by textile artist Lynn Setterington – all accompanied by mouthwatering arrays of artisan cakes courtesy of the pop-up ‘Tea Hive’ café.
Artists-in-residence for the festival were Go! Push Pops, a radical queer performance art collective from New York directed by American Katie Cercone and Chilean Elisa Garcia de la Huerta who work to “embody feminism utilising gesture, exclamation and popular idiom” in their performances. Lauren Velvick spoke to Go! Push Pops about their collective aims and approach to this residency.
Lauren Velvick: One of the ideas I find really interesting about your collective is the concept of ’embodied feminism’, that doesn’t necessarily take the form of traditional kinds of protest – can you elaborate on this idea and how you came to it?
Katie Cercone &Elisa Garcia de la Huerta: We came to the concept of ‘embodied feminism’ as a bit of a departure from what we saw as an early movement of feminist art that was very mired in psychoanalytic theory ‘The Male Gaze’ and a shrewd politics that was necessary at the time, but very much wrapped up in art world speak, white middle class female anger, lofty intellectualism and marketplace politics that we tend to eschew in our work. For us, embodied feminism is about showing and telling female power – women as strong leaders, powerful lovers; patronesses of community, creativity, nature, magic and the sacred. Embodied feminism is no longer being alienated from our innate power. Embodied feminism is understanding and honoring the female principle – call it the Goddess, Shakti, Cosmic Creativity, Mother Earth – in a way that hasn’t been culturally recognized since before the dawn of patriarchal rule. This is powerful work, a universal truth that is forever unfolding.
Lauren Velvick: There’s often a combination of influences and issues apparent in your costumes and performances, including spiritual and cultural concepts as well as contemporary health issues, this seems to help both transgress and transcend proscribed identities – would you agree with this interpretation?
KC & EGH: Yes! We are border crossers, determined to transgress the false boundaries of race, gender, class, nation…to smash the matrix of oppression to which we all our culturally bound. Often we draw from popular culture as a way of highlighting the hieroglyphics of goddess worship that permeate today’s visual culture. If at times our work is confused or misread – either by ourselves or audience members – we feel it is because the divine feminine has been beaten out of us, denied for so many thousands of years. Too often all things socially recognized as “sacred” are falsely entangled with male abuse of power. A great deal of our work is using the transformative power of play to trace our way back to the ancient, primal power of women. We are using our bodies to interface with the archetypal realm of Goddesses. We are one feminist collective among many in this Aquarian Age of partnership, trust and love determined to reclaim female divinity in a way that speaks in the hear and now.
LV: What interested you about working with the communities surrounding Alexandra Park and how have you found the experience in comparison with your previous work?
KC & EGH: We are very thrilled to have experienced such a warm welcome from the communities surrounding Alexandra Park and Manchester at large. Our work leading a yoga and Sacred Arts workshop with the mums and six year girls at St. Mary’s Primary school was an experience we now hold near and dear to our hearts. About a week ago, we performed a punk rock feminist experimental soundscape with Louise Woodcock and Neil Von Francis of 2 Koi Karp during the Faux Q event hosted by the feminist collective Alt Femme. Equally thrilling, Faux Q allowed us to connect in a deep way to a whole league of powerful women here in Womanchester fighting at the frontlines of the gender war. Having learned a bit about the legacy of the suffragettes, particularly the wacky, violent and colorful tactics that enabled them to mobilize thousands of people within the grounds of the park for women’s rights, we feel very much in line with their vision and excited about the historically fertile territory upon which we’ll host our final performance ritual. We’ve gathered about ten women of Manchester in a temporary community or ‘coven’. As a group we will perform a live ritual this Friday as our final work of art in the park. We’re not sure what exactly will happen…like most of our works, we are keeping it a bit loose. We’re trusting our instincts and using percussion, divine incantation, song and circle work to hold and charge the energy of the Goddess. As an eclectic army of creative change-agents, warriors, mystics and new age divas, we’ll usher in a new gender-egalitarian, spiritual paradigm here on earth.
For the performative culmination of their residency, Go! Push Pops were given an ambient glade-cum-nightclub setting designed down to the smallest detail – costumed staff, tables at one end, a film screen, a bar, a DJ area. Filling the entrance and performance area was Julie Fitzpatrick and Manchester University School of Architecture students’ dense installation of streamers and pompoms. Through these, in the upper reaches flew flocks of exquisitely made white origami birds, while in the lower the audience and performers parted and peered their way through as they progressed about the venue.
Expressly Fluxist, neo-Dada and Feminist, Go! Push Pop’s collaboration with local Manchester performers, mixing delicious irony with seriousness, zaniness and weirdness, had at times the atmosphere of a late 19th Century English country house séance. Colourfully and crazily costumed, what felt at first like a tentative rehearsal gradually achieved inner possession and audience engagement with an impressive conviction. As though guided by invisible forces the performers swayed in seated huddles, walked in circles, touched hands and mingled with the standing audience distributing gifts of jewelry and chocolates, all the while performing incantatory sounds – shouts, screams, laughter, rattle shaking. To be absurdist, and even plain silly, if directed correctly may subvert fixed views. Evoke the Earth Mother, as this troupe successfully did, and she will hopefully reclaim not just her daughters’ bodies and psyches but those of humanity, presently on the edge of destruction from the folly of patriarchal appropriation of the planet. It’s a good direction to take. Let’s see Go! Push Pops (or protégées) stopping the traffic in Manchester more often, and elsewhere.
Hosted by local comedienne Kerry Leigh other happenings were the first Manchester screening of experimental film director Nataly Lebouleux’s eerie doll stop-animation film, Illuminate, an eclectic playful set by The Mighty Quinn (note: not one of the male DJs of the same name) and, in the moonlit darkness of the park outside the pavilion, for the benefit of smokers, the club bouncer and occasional passersby, two solitary dancers with lighted hoola hoops.
Text by Michael Butterworth
Published 09.12.2014 by Lauren Velvick