Lynn’s film Women Art Revolution played at Sundance last night. I was able to interview her when the film premiered last fall at the Toronto Film Festival.
Women and Hollywood: This is the most feminist film I have seen is a very long time. Was that your intention?
Lynn Hershman Lesson: I was trying to tell the story. When people started talking to me in the late 60s the feminist art movement wasn’t even named. We were just trying to find a voice. My hope is that this tells a story nobody knows and I hope it inspires people to have courage to be fearless in their convictions to put into the world the things they need to say.
W and H: How was women’s art evolved over the last 40 years?
LHL: Feminist art moved into the art world through men. While they may not know it, but if you take works by Matthew Barney or Matthew Kelly they really use a lot of the theories and ideas of the feminist movement in their work. The work has evolved to the point where it is just beginning to get recognized especially with the WAC show just a few years ago. Now the Museum of Modern art has 30% women curators — and they are young — and that will make terrific difference in the kind of shows that are going to happen.
WaH: How did the women artists get along with some of the “mainstream” feminist thinkers of the time?
LHL: There were a lot of factions and a lot of exclusions. So things happened in pockets and there was no linear cohesion. People would get certain moments of support within the community but it didn’t really have a broad reach because there was no communication system like there is today.
WaH: Some of the artists felt disappointed that their personal work didn’t have as broad an impact as they had hoped. Was that your impression?
LHL: It’s interesting because certain artists who do have a broad impact and are well known around the world don’t realize it. They still operate under the illusion that they are not effective and are invisible.
WaH: Why do you think that is?
LHL: I think because they are so used to it. It’s almost like they are brainwashed into believing that nobody knows who they are. One very famous artist was surprised that students knew who she was. I think its going to take another generation to have the confidence of knowing what you are doing is having an impact.
WaH: What would success mean for you in terms of how this film gets out into the world?
LHL: I really want people to see it. I’d love to have it on TV, have it theatrically distributed, have the DVD available and to have it broadly seen educationally and in museums. I think this is a critical part of American history that has consciously — or not — been left out of history. It’s a vital tool for inspiring other people on how to deal with exclusion and to use their creative voice in a way that has an impact.
WaH: There’s a line in the movie that says the personal became political and the very personal became art. Can you elaborate on that?
LHL: One of the sayings of the feminist movement is that the personal is political. How people act in the world with their family is political. The deeper you go into your truth and your own personal history and address those issues the more people you are going to reach. It takes courage to do that.
WaH: Talk a little about where the title Women Art Revolution came from.
LHL: That was actually the first group that formed in the late 60s. People would mention it but nobody knew anything about it. In fact I just got an email last week from one of women who founded it. I wish I would have known about her two years ago . So it seemed appropriate to start with that. Also the ideas of the wars not just the ones fought for to have a voice, but the wars like the invasion of Cambodia, Vietnam and the wars that one fights in Congress to overturn a bill. There have been a succession of wars and landmines in order to accomplish this goal.
WaH: It took you 40 years to make this film. Explain why you needed so long to put this together.
LHL: I felt like there was never an ending for the struggle. After the WAC show things started to change and you began to have enlightened women philanthropists putting their money into museums and insisting on women exhibitions and also buying women’s art. You saw that last year at MOMA and the Pompidou and the Tate. I also feel that the technology is now at a point where I can for example put all the footage online. We have another site called RAW/WAR that we will launch at Sundance which will allow future stories to be added to the archive. All these things coalesced at this time.
WaH: Do you feel that the feminist art movement is as influential now?
LHL: I think it is. I think that younger women need to know what a struggle it was to have the access they have even though it is still not equal access. I think there is a continual re-invigoration of ones values in the culture.
WaH: What do you want people to think about when they leave the theatre?
LHL: I want them to understand that it wasn’t easy that this wasn’t a given. That people were able to overturn many obstacles in order to create something that the next generation can move forward from. And that there is value to what one does whether or not it is acknowledged in ones own lifetime. One has the option of living with courage and fearlessly surviving with dignity and doing the thing that only they can do.
WaH: What advice do you have for other women filmmakers?
LHL: Stay with your own truth and keep your sense of humor and not give up.