As a young woman, I have encountered numerous instances of street harassment. It is almost a weekly occurrence that I will be catcalled, experience someone shouting out their car window at me, or be physically intimidated while walking or on public transit. As a woman, this frightens me. As a feminist, this makes me angry.
Not Interested: A Reaction consists of three units: one piece of video art, a series of photographic diptychs, and an installation sound work. The three parts contrast with each other in tone and effect: the completed video, Untitled (2013) is composed of layers of audio and images of interviews with people sharing their stories, creating an invasive, confrontational loop; the large, photographic phrases in monochrome with their accompanying images gradually accumulate to unsettle the viewer; lastly, the sound component is a wolf whistle recorded on a small, motion-activated speaker, which introduces an element of humour to the work.
Whistle is a recording of a wolf whistle – a sound that is prominent in pop culture, cartoons, and in instances of harassment as well. Re-situating this sound to an interior space without another person’s involvement morphs the whistle from the potentially threatening to a comical experience.
The photographic series, which includes Blondie!, Come On, Just a Smile!, Nice Ass. and Hey Little Girls, references traditional street photography, with each diptych circling specific events of street harassment, featuring a cityscape and a text piece. The urban images were shot to give context to the work, while the pithy texts reiterate the harassers’ voices in a clear, bold font. The words contain design subtleties such as changes in font size, right-alignment, and selective blurring to emphasize the disorienting nature of these encounters.
Medium format black and white film refers to the 1960s and 70s while achieving a greater level of detail than digital or 35 mm format film. The text pieces were made by ink jet printing a digital stencil on transparent plastic, exposing photographic paper through the stencil in the darkroom, processing it, and then rephotographing the prints and compositing the positives together. This process creates an interesting discourse between the old and new. The final output will be black and white inkjet prints; each will be 40” x 58” in order to overwhelm and fill the viewer’s field of vision, allude to the advertisements in bus shelters, and fix the objects and events in the contemporary field of art.
This work draws from artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, Tatyan Falalizadeh, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Shapiro. Weems’ Kitchen Table Series and Walker’s Narratives of a Negress both use text along with images to flesh out their narratives, while Chicago and Shapiro’s Womanhouse was instrumental in creating a precedent for works that explore individual and collective experience. Falalizadeh is a muralist and illustrator who engaged her harassers directly in the project Stop Telling Women to Smile.
While Not Interested: A Reaction responds to feminist work from the past, it also engages in current feminist discussion: from the decision to include intersectionality in the research and creation of the works, to the final production of each piece. The viewer may consent to participate in the lens-based portions of the work by pausing or choosing to listen through headphones. In contrast, the wolf whistle subjects the visitor to an invasive experience that is re-contextualized to a safe space.
The relational aspects of the work strive to provoke the viewer to empathize with these events. Not Interested: A Reaction attempts to bridge the gap between now and then, to make plain the specific nature and veracity of these harassing encounters, and to recount individual narratives and responses.