Acting Out and Causing Trouble

At the Blanton, 'Difficult Daughters' Challenges Female Stereotypes

Deborah Hay and Bill Lundberg in Regina Vater's <i>Love Spaces</i>
Deborah Hay and Bill Lundberg in Regina Vater's Love Spaces

Blanton Museum of Art assistant curator Kelly Baum says the title for "Difficult Daughters," a collection of films by emerging and established female artists opening this week, is a nod to Simone de Beauvoir's 1958 autobiography, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, an exploration of the expectations and prohibitions women faced in de Beauvoir's generation. The Blanton's "Daughters," however, are anything but dutiful: In this show, the final installation in the museum's "Projections" series of contemporary film and video works, the women deliver pieces that are deliberately provocative.

"Every one of these works challenges stereotypes and asserts female empowerment," says Baum. "The films show women acting out and causing trouble. But they also demonstrate how women of different generations approach feminism." The women chosen by Baum include two up-and-coming artists in their 20s and 30s, Melissa Longenecker of Los Angeles and Hester Scheurwater of the Netherlands, as well as a pair of veteran artists, Regina Vater (Austin) and Rosemarie Trockel (Germany). The artists' methods of questioning female roles seem divided along generational lines: According to Baum, while the younger artists' videos show a "more overtly transgressive" attack on traditional stereotypes, the older artists are more quietly revolutionary. "Yet each piece," adds Baum, "has its own unique sensibility."

The younger artists' pieces tend toward the irreverent and the disturbing. Longenecker's film, The Great Wide Fluorescence (2002), documents a performance in which she repeatedly vandalized an L.A. Kmart store. She jumped into bins of pillows, opened jars and ate from them with her fingers, knocked over displays, drank from soda bottles -- all the while managing to evade the notice of store employees. Scheurwater's Poster Girl, perhaps the most "difficult" of all the "Difficult Daughters" films, features a woman facing disturbing visions while another woman alternately joins and leaves her in this nightmarish environment. Dressed in panties and bras and dripping blood, the subjects seem simultaneously empowered and victimized, wounded and wounding.

Trockel and Vater's pieces contribute a softer tone to the series. In Trockel's A la Motte, a moth first devours a piece of cloth, then seems to recreate the material as the film runs backward. The film attempts to reframe skills like sewing and knitting, once seen as merely "women's work." Vater's sadly nostalgic Love Spaces features a split screen, one side depicting dancer Deborah Hay in an odalisque pose, the other showing artist Bill Lundberg reading a newspaper. Caressing the edge of the frame, Hay attempts to bridge the gap between them; Lundberg ignores her.

"Difficult Daughters" shows concurrently with the Blanton' exhibition "Transgressive Women," a collection of works by female artists in (mostly) two-dimensional media. If ever there was a time to explore the art of maverick women, it's this fall at the Blanton. end story

"Difficult Daughters" and "Transgressive Women" run through Jan. 4, 2004, at the Jack S. Blanton Museum, 23rd and San Jacinto, on the campus of UT-Austin. For more information, call 471-7324 or visit

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