Ever is All Over, 1997, consists of two overlapping video projections (2 min 38 sec). I saw this at the Beyond Cinema exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof Gallery in Berlin in 2007. There are two aspects of the video on the left there is a landscape with rolling green fields populated with an exotic flower popularly known as the Redhot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria). This idyllic landscape, with its connotations of paradise, is projected at an angle to create some anamorphic distension that contributes to its dreaminess as does a lyrical, musical soundtrack provided in collaboration with Anders Guggisberg.
On the right screen we see a woman walking along a street lined with parked car and holding a long red hot poker flower. The dreaminess of the scene is conveyed via slow-motion, a blue colour-cast and by the fact that the woman appears to be ecstatically happy and is wearing a billowing, form-hugging gown.
One might ask oneself why would anybody be walking along a street in what looks like a fairytale nightgown carrying a rather phallic looking flower? We find out when at one point in her slow-motion walk she takes a dramatic swing at a parked car with her red hot poker smashing a window. She continues her promenade still smiling blissfully and at periodic intervals repeats her action of smashing car windows with her phallic flower. At one point a female police officer appears behind the woman and as she passes gives the flower-wielding woman a salute-like greeting. The meaning of the video seems quite clear: Rist is a female artist and this dreamlike sequence appears to be a feminist statement, an interpretation clinched by the appearance of the female police officer.
Somehow we, the viewers, automatically associate the parked cars with a male-dominated society. It is certainly the case that an obsession with cars is a predominantly male phenomenon. And cars are machines, in contrast to flowers which map onto nature to provide a rather stereotypical ideological association of women with nature and men with machines. Another feature of the video is its depiction of beautiful violence. Rist has been highly successful in her representation of a feminised mode of violence, made possible by framing the narrative as a dreamscape.
Rist’s video is particularly interesting because the art world remains dominated by men. And the reason why this is the case is because the arrival of women on the arts scene is still embarrassingly recent. It was not until the early 1980s that two women, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger became leading figures in a major movement (postmodern appropriation). When I say not until the early 1980, I mean that this was the first time women had achieved such a position of leadership in the history of Western art.
What I like about this video is that it reminds us that the struggle of women in art, and society in general, is still very young and has a long way to go. There is absolutely no reason to think that we are in a “postfeminist” phase in which it is taken for granted that women are equal. To believe that would be extremely naive.
The relationship between men and women is complex. We love each other of course, but then there is the perplexing problem of power. Males appear to be particularly obsessed with power and behind masculine power there always lies violence. In contrast, what is most remarkable about the revolutionary impact of the women’s movement of the 1960s and 70s is that it managed to achieve spectacular social transformation without violence. This is one the more positive demonstrations of political power in the 20th century; one that can be set against the background of male-dominated instances such as the invention of megadeath in the First World War, industrial genocide in Auschwitz, and the incineration of a civilian population in Hiroshima.
If men love women then why do they suppress them? And why are women all too often complicit in this suppression? The second question is beyond my capacity to answer but the answer to the first question must lie in the fact that we are subspecies. We are different and as such we are competitors. Love is an ego dissolving experience in which the membrane surrounding our identity evaporates. Unfortunately, love is also a time-limited experience contrasted with the dominance of more pragmatic concerns in our lives. Essentially, we cannot sustain our most perfect spiritual condition which is one of empathic fusion, and so we remain in our less exalted condition which is fundamentally selfish and tribal. That is why males ultimately have a stronger bond with each other than with women.
So there is a war of the sexes, but we all know which of the two is more adapted to warfare. Women need to continue their struggle, never for one moment thinking that they have won. The achievements of the 1960s and 70s feminism is remarkable but there is still much more to be done. What I would particularly like to see is an expansion of the female alternative to the masculine discourse of violence which made the “modern” and “progressive” twentieth century the most violent century in history.