Five Videos: Jemima Wyman's The Shared Face of the Collective

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Jemima Wyman looks at camouflage as a tactic of grassrooots collectives:

The thronging, faceless mass convenes….Let’s go visiting. Let’s occupy. Let’s be the unexpected guest.

For the Liverpool Biennale, I invited the community to create a soft analog network that was woven out of second-hand camouflage and hunting t-shirts. For the next several weeks the community has, and will be claiming territory within the FACT building through weaving a large-scale communal skin out of individual combat clothing on hula-hoop looms. This skin is visibly hand-made and warms the cold concrete walls. The weavings are made in the space together as a group, the title Collective Coverings, Communal Skin. We occupy the space, through constructing a shared skin, and transform conflict into comfort.

Hannah Arendt’s philosophical ideas on reflexive judgment stipulate the importance of visiting and imagining positions beyond the self in order to consider the moral dimension of actions and decisions, so as to exist with an enlarged mentality. The quickest way to go visiting is to slip into someone else’s skin or share in a communal covering. I’ve been using fabric and masking in my practice as both an empathetic device and  a resistance strategy for some time. By crafting metaphoric skins that individuals can wear, or a community can share in, we bring awareness to the politics of embodiment (being) and spectacle (seeing).

This work developed from a feminist position and a desire to equalize the gaze, to make it reciprocal. To overcome the standard objectification of the female body, I started to cloak, exaggerate and extrude through fabric skins. The bodies that I represented and researched were ones that desired to be looked at and listened to in a reciprocal exchange whereby they weren’t oppressed by their circumstance.

With the selected five videos, I thought we might participate in some philosophical anthropology and visit groups that don the mask while using online media for the specific purpose of empowerment. Traditionally within western art the position of authority was behind the camera, representing the other through colonizing eyes. The decentralization of image production and on-line presentation has allowed for an empowered self-determining subject to have two-way communication with mass participation.

Let’s start with the Zapatistas: They use technology strategically to promote international discussion around their cause and to bypass the Mexican government. There is a poetics to their movement, women are included, and it is primarily non-violent. The balaclava (or ski mask) is the shared face of the collective, it is the all-in-one and the one-in-all.

“Behind us are the we that are you. Behind our balaclavas is the face of all the excluded women. Of all the forgotten indigenous people. Of all the persecuted homosexuals. Of all the despised youth. Of all the beaten migrants. Of all those imprisoned for their word and their thought. Of all the humiliated workers. Of all those who have died from being forgotten. Of all the simple and ordinary men and women who do not count, who are not seen, who are not named, who have no tomorrow.” (Member of the EZLN/ Zapatistas, Major Ana Maria quoted in “Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory” By Richard Gilman-Opalsky)

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