by Saffron Forsberg
“I am neither a victim nor an executioner. I am a living work of art,” jeny, the subject of Laura Huertas Millán’s 2018 jeny303, tells us as, before the camera, they get ready for their day. They rub perfume on their pulse points and speak openly about sex work, a heroin addiction, a boyfriend. It’s all on hazy 16mm film. Jeny303 is the third short film presented as part of the Bodies are Fluid film screening, curated by students Nat Becker-Stevens, Oscar Ertman, Ella Powell, and Pete Staub, with assistance from visiting assistant professor of Cinema Studies, Dr. Jennifer Blaylock, and presented in Hallock Auditorium last Monday, April 17th. The screening was the product of a winter term project entitled “Decolonizing Cinema History'', its content inspired by the AMAM’s extensive “Femme n’ isms: Bodies are Fluid” exhibit, which opened in January.
Jeny303 is just one such video portrait featured in the screening project – which showcased a wide array of experimental art films centering the body at its most visceral, honest, excessive, and beautiful. From Barbara Hammer’s seminal 1974 Menses, to Cheryl Donegan’s 1993 Head, to A.K. Burns and Katherine Hubbard’s 2014 Untitled (shaving performance 2010), to White Afro, a 2019 film by Akosua Adoma Owusu, the curation project was just as much a stand-alone ode to radical, queer embodiment in contemporary art history as it was an apt supplement to the AMAM’s exhibit. Before the screening, student Nat Becker-Stevens stood before the audience and told us this screening would investigate those “fluid bodies” at their most literal and tangible, as well as in their fluid conceptual premises.
This is surely communicated by the sixth film screened, Vicky Smith’s 2014 Noisy Licking, Dribbling & Spitting, which, just as it says on the tin, and as clarified in the accompanying program, was “made with the mouth alone.” Like the AMAM’s rich investigation of queer, trans, and fem embodiments – that which lent special attention to those subjects who present oft-neglected states of embodiment: fatness, transness, gender nonconformity/ambiguity, physical disability, and old age – the screening never shied from even the most tactile notions of bodily fluidity.
Indeed, upon entering the Allen’s largely-visual exhibit, one is immediately greeted with Heesoo Kwon’s 2019 Leymysoom Mogyotang, an audio-visual work wherein Kwon places museum-goers directly within the subject position of the piece. Head sandwiched between provided headphones, the viewer is guided through the virtual interior of a Korean bathhouse. It is here that one watches the beautiful, almost-unnerving fluidity of the body through Kwon’s perspective. Kwon’s bathhouse is a realm where, submerged in hot water, figures shrink and expand. In another scene, figures assist one another in the shedding of gooey, latex-like flesh, thus revealing bodies that are jade-like in color and almost amphibious. They smile sagely. They are as fluid in identity, in being, as they are in their own physical bodies. Like jeny, like the many other subjects who center both exhibit and screening, they exist as neither victims nor executioners, but rather as living works of art.