I swear this book will end me. Six months in and some days I read the first sentences of a paragraph and realise it’s the same paragraph I’ve been on the whole week. And it’s a Sunday. I’m having trouble reading books at the moment anyway. Fiction is out, because I’m in fiction-writing mode and the novels I’ve started are either dissatisfying for where I’m at, or feel like they’d influence my own writing. Non-fiction, well, yes, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, we are still shouting, “Fucking yes!” when we do manage to read a new paragraph (usually on the toilet because that seems to be where a balance is currently found), but I have no cash for the pile of non-fiction waiting for me to pick up. Lemme tell you how long-term poverty as a function of even a moderately ok life as a trans woman / trans feminine person / transsexual is a very real life. (I weirdly want to start using that ‘transsexual’ word again to fuck with cis queers and their ‘gender is cultural’ bullshit. Petty is as petty does.)
So, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, or First Class Spivak, because someone said she only flies first class, and even if that’s not true, I admire that image of her, and she is so so very first class. I keep reading and wanting to underline and quote, and as I haven’t blogged this month, here we go, one quote at least. from The Double Bind Starts to Kick In, p.108:
This much is at least clear: to imagine or figure the other as another self, you need to engage the moving edge of culture as it leaves its traces in the idiom. To reduce it to language—to semiotic systems that are organised as language—was a structuralist dream. But at least, whatever the subject-position of the structuralist-investigator there was a rigour in the enterprise. Its tempo was different from the impatience of a universalist feminism re-coding global capital. From existing evidence, it is clear that individual-rights or universalist feminists infiltrate the gendering of the global South to recast it hastily into the individual rights model. They simply take for granted that colonised cultures are inevitably patriarchal. I will not enter into historical speculation. I will take shelter in a figure—the figure or topos, that in postcoloniality the past as the unburied dead calls us. This past has not been appropriately mourned, nor been given the rites of the dead, as the other system brought in by colonialism imposed itself. There was no continuous shedding of a past into unmarked modernity.
Last Thursday at the press conference for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s new exhibition in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Fighting for Visibility – Women Artists in the Nationalgalerie before 1919. Best thing: free entry and waved through with my fancy ‘Presse’ sticker on my left boob, also leisurely photographing of Art. Not so good thing: real journalists have a ‘Press’ card — like everything in Germany, authenticity through official validation — I have a blog. Much hilarity ensured trying to get to the press table. Not great at all: an exhibition on women artists, and the panel was two men who talked for almost half an hour before letting the sole woman, who was the curator, have a word. She reclaimed her time, was heaps more relevant, and let’s pretend I didn’t notice the menz not paying attention to her.
It’s been a while since I went to a museum. I got burnt out on editing too many images, and from July last year was working 60+ hours a week (which, had I not been getting paid 70% of what men do, could have worked 42 hours for the same euros — actually I was getting paid even less, keeping the narrative simple here), and been in slow time recovery since June, so … art. It’s a thing I remember.
I have a lot of issues with this exhibition. I want to be all cheerleading from the sidelines, buuut … problems. Problems I think are structural in the museum and SMB and Germany, which, had I seen this same exhibition in London or Melbourne or New York, would have been twenty or thirty years ago in its current context and appearance, or a contemporary version that had built on three decades of representation that Germany’s national museums have yet to have. As it was, it felt hella anachronistic and patronisingly “something for the ladies also #MeToo”.
None of that is a criticism of curator Yvette Deseyve, however. What is a criticism though (which may or may not have been covered in the catalogue, but bitch here is poor and isn’t throwing around 30€ right now) is structural intersections of gender, femininity, heteronormativity, class, whiteness, racism, colonialism, imperialism, which were well in play by the time even the youngest artists were born, and shaped all of them across the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a missed opportunity, and one I continually question whether white, heteronormative feminism is ever going to recognise. This really struck me with the replacement of one of my favourite works in the museum, Osman Hamdi Bey’s Der Wunderbrunnen (Ab-ı Hayat Çeşmesi) with Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Kniende Mutter mit Kind an der Brust. Choosing a painting of a naked white woman nursing a baby as the figurehead of the exhibition in the entrance hall, without critically engaging (again, outside of whatever is in the catalogue) with Germany’s history of motherhood, family, race, and religion reads as a tacit condoning or passive acceptance of this cultural history, as well as one of those, ‘this wouldn’t have happened if there was real, working diversity in the room’ type situations. And seeing how many young women were working around the exhibition … yeah, awkward.
Go and see it? If it’s included in the ticket price for the whole Alte Nationalgalerie, then yeah but don’t expect to be blown away. But if you gotta pay extra to see women artists who should be hanging in the permanent collection since — at the latest — the early ’90s, when the previous two decades’ demands for representation had filtered into these big, old, slow institutions and there was no valid excuse for them not being there besides entrenched misogyny? Fuck that noise. Let’s have 100 years of only women artists in the SMB museums and 100 years of men getting paid 30% of what women get. Also let’s have a conversation about what ‘woman’ denotes in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and now.
When I was in Krakow a few winters ago, I went to Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie and was slapped for pointing a camera at the paintings in the Olga Boznańska exhibition. I was thinking of that when I walked through this one, and the previous large one I saw in the same place, which took up the whole floor instead of what felt like a few side rooms and one main room, Alte Nationalgalerie: Impressionismus – Expressionismus. Kunstwende. The Olga Boznańska exhibition took up about the same space as Impressionismus – Expressionismus. For one woman.
Anyway, art. Art I liked (and some I didn’t but here we are), art I could photograph, art it transpired I’d photographed adequately enough to be able to edit into something passable.
On the street by the slab of Berlin Wall at the northern gates to Invalidensiedlung Frohnau is one of those orange pillars marking where someone was murdered trying to escape across the Berlin Wall from East Germany. This one is for Marienetta Jirkowsky, who was murdered in 1980 at the age of eighteen, shot in the stomach.
In ten years of Berlin, I think I’ve never intentionally taken a picture of the Berlin Wall. Other things Wall, yes, but the Wall itself still feels oppressively commodified on top of oversimplified significance. Up in Invalidensiedlung Frohnau, about to turn south for the last 40-something kilometre stretch to Neukölln, having a food stop and telling myself it’s not so far, this solitary chunk way out where no tourists would spend an hour just to get get there, it seemed appropriate on the day to take this one photo.
The farthest northern point of the Berlin Wall, the site of Invalidensiedlung Frohnau. Whether coming from the west via the Stolpe fields or east via the cobblestone tracks of Waldgelände Frohnau (and the delightfully named Jägersteig), arriving amidst the brown brick houses and tree-lined streets, like a quiet town is a calming moment and one of those uniquely Berlin creep-outs. The north gate has these parallel troughs rutted into the concrete, which confused me the first time I rode through, then realised they look like the gouges of metal tank tracks.
I rode the Berliner Mauerweg yesterday, October 3rd, also Tag der Deutschen Einheit. A non-day and the 30th anniversary. The wall opened November 9th, which should be the national holiday, except it’s also Kristallnacht, when the Nazis burned Synagogues and carried out pogroms in Germany against Jews. Germany often finds itself in a double bind like this, and often fails to resolve it.
My ride, the second full circuit of the Mauerweg was something of a personal celebration, a gift to myself, 16 weeks since surgery, as well as seeing physically (and all the rest) where I’m at after that. A need to know where I am in myself. And I live in this city, with this history, write about the place, so it seemed a good day to spend thinking about and moving through all this, all the people. The weather eased a little after the last days of constant rain, but still, 170km of wet, rainy, cold, windy of the mostly headwind type, muddy, dirty, actually quite grim and challenging, and very much at my physical and emotional limits. Mentally I seemed to be blasé, other than concerned with how close physically I was to the edge for the latter half. This, and writing apparently are my art-ing right now.
Here’s Bike, in her / their element, propped up on the bridge at Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden, another of my favourite parts of the Mauerweg, 3 kilometres of — once again — sand track through forest where the old Autobahn ran stopping dead on the south end of the bridge in a tank trap, to continue via Albrechts Teerofen along the canal like being far out in the countryside. Last time I was here was with Gala back in March, making a short film.
One of my favourite stretches along the Berliner Mauerweg. A detour through the obelisks at the south end of Drusenheimer Weg, along sandy single track and out into the fields. This would be the Inner Wall, the wall on the East German side. It’s truly beautiful and I could ride this all day. It continues for about 3 kilometres, plunges into forest, then spits out via a drainage trench into one of the most brutal cobble sections on the Mauerweg and some of the hardest in Berlin, the Petkusser Str. and Mozartstraße sections, 1200 metres of, “This is kind of a nice massage, wait, no, my hands and arse have gone numb, I have concussion.”