RVW | Feelings and How to Destroy Them
“If you’re not angry you’re either willfully ignorant or economically privileged.”
Feelings and How to Destroy Them
By Eileen Isagon Skyers, MA CTCR ’14
A German headline once read, “ANGRY FEMINIST WANTS TO MAKE 1 MILLION EUROS” in response to a brief interview about the work of A.L. Steiner. Feelings and How to Destroy Them, a solo exhibition and survey of this work, is now on view at the Feldman Gallery + Project Space through October 26. But Steiner’s aim is not merely a crass attempt at shock value or enterprise; it is instead an insistent challenge upon boundaries of body, self, and identity. The terms which negotiate the most basic questions about being human run fluidly throughout her oeuvre of photography, performance, and video-based installation.
The dichotomy of the body as the most private, yet public thing we possess has become as central to her process as the very language that informs it. In an artist talk held at PNCA on September 6, Steiner noted that language, the context of speaking and communicating, has always been a core element of her work. This is especially apparent in a collaborative piece titled You will never, ever be a woman. You Will live the rest of your days entirely as a man and you will only grow more masculine with each passing year. There is no way out. (2008). This video examines a conversation inspired by the text from a hormone replacement therapy quiz. Steiner points to the screening process for augmentation related to gender identity as one that is strictly delineated by a patriarchal society. The characters express violent terms of revulsion while engaging in what are, ultimately, endearing acts. The fetishized plurality of their role-play obfuscates the voyeuristic lens of the viewer, thereby reclaiming a sense of agency for their otherwise vulnerable positions. This is mirrored by the literal multitude of 1 Million Photos, €1 Each (2004), an installation-based, site-specific archive of photographs that cost one euro each, on the stipulation that you by a million of them (including some yet to be taken). The photos are at once intimate and indulgent: they explore the body as a political entity, meanwhile recollecting a history of fabrication, exploitation, and collection.
Another powerful motif at work is emotion—be it desire, envy, or anger. Desire (to be, or be like, or to have sexually) is represented by James Dean’s iconography as an androgyne in Swift Path to Glory (2007), wherein actors and non-actors recite his role in Rebel Without a Cause. Steiner decidedly flirts with tropes of desire in the hedonistic, feature-film installation, Community Action Center (2010). Located in the dimly lit room just beyond a black pleather curtain, this composition exists as a unique ode to sexuality and a reconstruction of what constitutes the designation of ‘pornography’.
Anger is inherent in the show’s opening video, WARNING: YOUR FEELINGS ARE YOUR FAULT/THE PATRIARCHY IS A PYRAMID SCHEME (2008). The work features a clique of women donning protective accoutrements and white coveralls as they wreak havoc in a long, white hallway. They violently gouge through the walls with pick axes and sledgehammers while competing titles traverse the screen, suggesting a sense of fury or call to action. Anger is treated more flexibly here—it is more than a series of purely uncomplicated insults, intended to deprive people of strong opinions that are pertinent to their lives. The survey exhibition began as a dialogue about a hypothetical anger workshop. As she noted in a conversation with curators Kristan Kennedy and Mack McFarland, “if you’re not angry you’re either willfully ignorant or economically privileged.” Perhaps Steiner really is speaking from a place of anger, but she is doing so within a community that, she feels, has a right to be angry.
Feelings and How to Destroy Them, by A.L. Steiner and curated by Mack McFarland, is on view at the Philip Feldman Gallery + Project Space at PNCA in Portland, OR, through October 26, 2013.