For a few months now I’ve been part of a ragtag crew of artists assembled by Lorna Mills and Rea McNamara for a monthly series of events, GIFs, tumblr posts, called SHEROES. It started with Lorna inviting me to create some Yoko Ono-inspired animations, which I happily obliged, especially since I was teaching myself character modelling and animation for other projects, and this seemed like a good opportunity to goof around. I have been profoundly influenced by Yoko’s work, so it was also a great opportunity to show some love. Since then we’ve done Marianne Faithfull, Etta James, I skipped Erykah Badu for some other obligations, and now we’re doing Dolly Parton. In each instance, I’ve found the monthly process of meditating on and responding to a female celebrity image to be a refreshingly fun and surprisingly poignant activity.
It is easy to not take SHEROES seriously. Lorna and Rea are deceptively casual about it, there is no judgement that I’ve encountered, and there is a general air of good humor and comedy among most of the participants. There is no dividing line between good taste and bad jokes. The full spectrum of the ghouls and ghosts of feminine fame are acknowledged and equally displayed. They bill the project as little more than a party in Toronto, with some cool projections, installations, and live performances. So why does it feel like it’s something more than that?
I needed a project in my life where I felt okay about doing silly things, trying out some far-out ideas, and using humor and representation in ways I had a hard time incorporating into my other work. SHEROES has become a monthly meditation on fame and public image that I’ve fully welcomed into my life, and I look forward each month to receiving the email from Lorna that tells me who I will be working on next. Not only that, I actually think SHEROES is important in a way that I didn’t quite expect.
Part of this realization came while thinking about Dolly this month and working on my animations. I really admire her, but rarely have an opportunity to articulate for myself and others why. There is something infectious in the disarming good-naturedness of Dolly’s public demeanor. She has digested every criticism you could throw at her and turned it into a joke that’s ultimately on you. “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!” In employing an absurd, comical asexual hyperfemininity, she looks you in the eye and dares you to dismiss her many talents on the basis of her artificial appearance. Under her self-aware self-effacing humor is the awareness that ladies, this is the monster you have to become to make it in this fucked up and superficial world. She has turned this image-awareness and talent into a hugely successful crossover career, and in the process paved the way for other women to not have to become Dolly Parton to make it. Her absurdity is her weapon, and you don’t even realize it when it strikes.
Without SHEROES in my life how would I, a nerdy white man who has spent much of his artistic career making abstract experimental videos, animations, and electronic performance work, find time to think about Dolly Parton’s image and rise to fame and the gender politics surrounding it? In allowing for some good fun to enter into my studio practice, I’ve opened myself up to thoughts and processes that I would previously have dismissed as extraneous to my work. Strangely, what I’ve gotten out of it is a more holistic view of what my work is about, and I’ve been able to rethink what my work could be if I don’t hold myself in a particular formal or thematic container. I have to commend the Sheroes crew for assembling this diverse cocktail of artists (both men and women) to freestyle on the images of fame and femininity that comprise the League of Legendary Ladies. I hope that someone more articulate and influential than me is able to look over these notes and trace a thread that highlights the unexpected importance of the casual endeavor that has me delving into my own attitudes on what it means to be famous and female. Maybe it’s not important to art history, to critics, to the new generation of Net Artists, or to the world, but I’m having fun, and it’s affecting me.