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her riot presents: the other side, at m16 artspace

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Her Riot, The Other Side, Video still, 2013-2015.

Opening tonight at Canberra’s M16 Artspace is The Other Side, an immersive installation exhibition by Sarah McEwan under the pseudonym Her Riot. Described by McEwan as an ‘anti-band’, Her Riot challenges the commercial consumption of music and encourages viewers to see mainstream culture through a distinctly feminist lens. Lip caught up with Sarah McEwan to find out more.

Who is Her Riot, and what is her feminist philosophy?

Her Riot developed out of my need to address and voice the rage I often feel about the everyday misogyny that is experienced by women and my own lived experience of it. Her Riot specifically relates to having spent over 10 years drumming in bands where I experienced first hand the comments, looks, and ridiculous reaction men (and sometimes women) had to a young woman participating in a mostly male dominated space. I hated it and it made me angry that I was seen in a particular way because I had blonde hair and boobs. I thought that there has to be a way to challenge this and to create music on my own terms, and to feel a sense of strength and integrity, so Her Riot was born. So I like to call Her Riot my ‘anti-band’.

Her Riot’s feminist philosophy is women can do what they want! Stop staring and think twice before making silly comments that undermine what someone is trying to do creatively, just because of their gender.

Tell us about The Other Side, what is the underlying message?

Ultimately The Other Side and Her Riot in general is trying to reposition the usual channels in which people consume music and create an alternative experience for music lovers within a gallery setting.

In The Other Side, and in your Her Riot work more generally, you challenge “one dimensional mainstream consumer signifiers of how people should look and perform”, can you tell us a little more about this?

The Other Side video is in direct opposition to current music video clips where the female body is often still portrayed as a commodified object, worthy for consumption based on ideals of beauty and willingness, as Baudrillard terms, to become a one dimensional image. How far will you bend to succeed?

I have written 12 rules for filming video clips that I think subvert these notions of ‘acceptable performance‘ which include:

1. No make up
2. No fake singing along to the song
3. No ‘sexy’ objectified girls/boys dancing
4. No choreography. Any movement must be done in the moment
5. No bikinis
6. No hot pants
7. No short shorts
8. No expensive cars, jewelry or clothes to signify wealth and attainment of some unreality
9. No baseball caps
10. No sunglasses at night
11. No hair gel. Hairspray is allowed
12. No sets. It is how it is.

How does The Other Side seek to ‘reclaim’ the female body back into the Australian landscape?

Having moved from Sydney to regional NSW and living in an old school house out of town, I am surrounded by the landscape. Having studied painting at Sydney College of the Arts I see the landscape through this lens. It makes me think of contemporary landscape imagery but also historical imagery, like the images you see from Australian painting history of strong, white men carving up the landscape. Or as Jan Roberts (a 70’s feminist activist) put it to me last week, ‘the myth of the Australian hero.’ In contrast women are depicted in historical paintings as either helpless or performing domestic duties.

In the video clip I wanted to portray a young girl standing strong within a vast landscape and not afraid. I wanted to claim back the female body in to the landscape as neither commanding and hero like or frail and passive, but just as herself.

It seems that, as well as an investigation into feminist practices, Her Riot is also a form of activism, is this correct?

I have always been interested in the personal as political. I find feminism so fascinating and how it plays out in a daily context for women, through their conversations and interactions with other people. As I prefer to express myself through visual language, I find making artwork can convey the complexities of what I am thinking about. I hope that my work can activate some kind seed for deeper thought in the audience who are viewing it.

I’m excited about Sunday 1 March where I will be in the gallery and I have made a short survey to give the audience, to see who exactly is inside their mind. The survey has been inspired by an artist called CoUNTess. She collects stats on how women participate and are represented in the artworld. Her work makes me think about extending this notion further by asking myself what is really inside my head, who has formed my internal voice and are my main influences a male perspective or female perspective? And you know, when I checked myself out, I was shocked at how much of my experience of the world was actually through a male voice.

You use multiple mediums and creative platforms in The Other Side, including video, textile, found objects and a zine, how do these different elements come together in the exhibition?

The Other Side has many layers to it. I feel there is a distinct push and pull between political views and ethereal whimsy. It isn’t one or the other but an interplay between them both.

This work has been developed over distinct stages from as far back as 2007 when I first wrote the song, to filming and even going on an arts lab to spend time editing video and making the zine. This is the first time I’m bring all these elements together as a fully realised work.

It has been a slow journey for me to understand how I can combine all of these elements together. It’s a culmination of different skills I have gathered over the years and finally see a way of putting them all together to create a complex work.

What drew you to installation, and what do you think makes it such an effective medium for an artist to work with?

Having studied painting, installation seemed like a huge liberation from the confines of the frame when I first found it. I think it’s an effective medium because it’s like your thoughts can explode and there’s no parameters to stop you.

How does Her Riot relate to Sarah McEwan and her other projects?

Her Riot is my anti-band. Yet the visual imagery is completely intertwined to my practice as Sarah McEwan, with repeated visual themes that I’m exploring. The only difference is, as Sarah McEwan I don’t write songs.

What’s next for Her Riot?

I’m really lucky in that I have an amazing studio at home. At the moment I’m practicing three songs to record in the coming months. I play piano and drums on all the tracks, so I spend time playing piano to drum tracks I’ve recorded and vice versa. I’ve also filmed footage for the next clip, so I’m excited about putting it all together for another installation. The one thing about Her Riot is that it takes me a long time to put everything together!

The Other Side is showing at M16 Artspace in Griffith, Canberra from 12 February – 1 March, 2015.


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