TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT Summer 2019

passages

BARBARA HAMMER

Barbara Hammer, Dyketactics, 1974, 16 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 4 minutes.

Sisteresister

. . . the audacity of fabricating a pre- or ahistoric foundation for one’s contemporary thoughts and actions; the righteousness of claiming truths at the level of the body; the thrill of accessing magical realms hitherto cloaked by rationality and the oppressive world of appearances; and the presumptuousness of going off to live entirely as one chooses, beyond the range and influence of heteropatriarchal media, culture, and ideology. 

—Greg Youmans

BARBARA HAMMER’S DEATH was a finale, an ode to a courageous, inspiring, influential, and illustrious life of wonder, achievement, and embrace. This occasion was unique, one that Barbara worked to understand deeply. She discussed the possibility of dying in a public space, because the space of seeing is what breathed life into her.

A matrimonial runaway and self-styled maverick with a penchant for autodidacticism, Barbara was never one to consider the rules at play. What were the rules, anyway? She was hell-bent on claiming a space of privilege and voice in the struggle against homogenized and naturalized systems of patrimonial power. Moving from west to east, Barbara launched a lifelong pursuit of friendship, sex, creativity, and love that allowed for emergences within biographical, photographic, sculptural, and filmic structures, embodying emotions, feminisms, and liberations. Walking, breathing, talking, touching subject/object lesbian. Actant images. The off-screen.1

Barbara Hammer, Sanctus, 1990, 16 mm transferred to HD video, color, sound, 18 minutes 16 seconds.

Barbara lived her commitment to intergenerational eroto-herstoriographies and dyketactics that were bound to be overlooked. She permitted the inquisitive and curious to become transformational by seeking, viewing, asking, channeling, and preserving. Her five decades of artmaking, which includes a trove of eighty-plus groundbreaking film and video works, prefigure and figure centrally in the consciousness of female artist, lesbian filmmaker, queer thinker. The understanding and recognition of Barbara’s creative life were slow builds, a long climax, an explosive force against the gatekeepers of identitarian conformities. She, an apostate of hetero-patriarchy, a dyke refusing the obligatory self-censorship demanded by the ubiquitous and delusional forces who pray every day for our fear, erasure, and complacency. Hammer, of the libidinal, agential, and imaginative alterity, defining the sinew between the sensuous, sexual, and erotic. Barbara’s work “radically expands avant-garde grammars of perception and touch . . . the texture, grain, and feel of queer nakedness that draws us into and beyond the film’s frame. She opens film to the body itself.”2 A wholly sense of the body.3 This was, for a lifetime of work, no small feat.

Never one to accept the denial of her superdyke agency, this extraordinary and spirited artist committed her unmistakable and indelible high-energy self to conceiving, receiving, recruiting, distributing. Barbara, along with her partner of thirty-one years, the activist Florrie Burke, took good care of her life and work, as well as multiple generations and communities of artists, lovers, students, family, workers, activists, and friends. She provided an invaluable aegis, which is, and always will be, the life force and legacy she leaves with us—a continuum of the sumptuously volatile, that which lies beyond expectation.

Barbara Hammer, Women I Love, 1976, 16 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 22 minutes 39 seconds.

We hear her.

We see her.

We see who she sees.

We think with her.

We feel her.

“Who wants to repeat herself?” Barbara stated plainly. “Once you start working in a certain mode, it would be easy to follow those patterns all your creative life. To move beyond what’s already known, to make a mark, tear a painting, blur a strip of film with toner or bleach, or bury it for a hot summer month in a patch of wet earth, only to excavate it when the emulsion is as fragile as your heartbeat, is to make radical, life-affirming art.”4

Wanting from learning, knowing from sharing, hoping in making, Barbara paved the way for bands of outsiders who strive toward the knowable under all difficult circumstances. Her offerings galvanize queer kinfolk to believe in our pleasure, vision, desire, labor, ecstasy, thought, objection, illness, healing, joy, play, aging, confusion, pain, criticality, and feeling. Making movies, as she put it best, out of sex and life: “the gaps, holes, innuendos, mistakes, digressions, multiple identities where probing might provide something unknown, unseen, unimagined, and so open up a project for the artist. . . . The mind is active and the movement of the frames of still images, the film, is like thinking. It is thinking. Film is thinking.”5

Tethered to futurity, Barbara’s remarkable strength and humanity, undying perseverance, and expansive narrative insight are her gifts to those left on Earth.

In this time of loss, grief, and deep questioning of human conditions, we stand on a precipice of uncertainty regarding what is possibility and what is mortality. Tethered to futurity, Barbara’s remarkable strength and humanity, undying perseverance, and expansive narrative insight are her gifts to those left on Earth. She set the canons aside to make room for a multiplicity of new considerations in both life and death, a wondrous and warm enfolding to hold on to as we forge on. An enchanting smile impressed on our minds and hearts. She ends with, “There is no way to make plans, prepare, control. Everything is contingent. There is no solidity to count on except what you claim.”6

www.queer-art.org/hammer-grant#apply

A.L. Steiner is an artist, collaborator and educator. 

NOTES

1. Barbara Hammer, HAMMER! Making Movies Out of Sex and Life (New York: Feminist Press, 2010), p. 178. 

2. Rizvana Bradley, “Ways of the Flesh: Barbara Hammer’s Vertical Worlds,” in Barbara Hammer: Evidentiary Bodies, ed. Staci Bu Shea and Carmel Curtis, exh. cat. (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2017), 57.

3. Barbara Hammer, “DocFilm Forum: Barbara Hammer & Cheryl Dunye” (interview, San Francisco State University School of Cinema, April 28, 2017), www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1344&v=ILzUvPnsDUI

4. Barbara Hammer, “The Art of Dying (Palliative Art Making in an Age of Anxiety)” (lecture, Yale University School of Art, New Haven, September 11, 2019).

5. Barbara Hammer and John David Rhodes, “Film Is Thinking: A Conversation Across Distance,” World Picture Journal, Autumn 2012, www.worldpicturejournal.com/WP_7/Hammer.html

6. Hammer, “The Art of Dying.”