Who Is She?

“Alien She” exhibits the Riot Grrrl movement though art and identity creation.

Forward by Kathleen Dolan

The lyrics of the song “Alien She” by Bikini Kill go like this:

She is me
I am her
She is me
I am her siamese twin connected at the cunt
Heart brain heart brain heart brain lung gut

I want to kill her
But I’m afraid it might kill me

Feminist
Dyke, whore
I’m so pretty alien

She wants me to go to the mall
She wants me
To put the pretty, pretty red lipstick on

She wants me to be like her
She wants me to be like her

I want to kill her
But I’m afraid it might kill me

Feminist
Dyke, whore
Pretty, pretty
Alien

And all I really wanted to know
Who was me and who is she
I guess I’ll never know

The name of the Riot Grrrl exhibit at the PNCA campus and Museum of Contemporary Craft is titled after this song. And what is on display at Alien She — the photographs, the mixed tapes, the videos, zines and visual art installations — form one collective howl to the message of the song. Touring the exhibit, the work around me wailed and cheered like a mob of women getting closer and closer to one another — touching, screaming, moving together as if in front of a stage. But without a stage just yet where an idol or someone to look up to stood, they looked at one another, and within, and weren’t silent about what they saw.

The collection, curated by Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss, is affecting; it’s rallying, like how I imagine the Riot Grrrl movement must have been, unearthing rage and voices in a repressed population. The feminist punk bands of the 1990’s which constitute the Riot Grrrl movement pivot around Bratmobile and Bikini Kill. They sang about objectification, oppression, homophobia, and the resulting estrangement women felt for one another.

Encased memorabilia.

Encased memorabilia.

The exhibit opened in September, so if you haven’t seen it, it runs for one more week, in the two spaces within walking distance along the Park Blocks. It features the work of seven artists who were influenced by the movement and over fifty zines and memorabilia from the era, evincing Riot Grrrl’s fervent spread from its Pacific Northwest origins. The impact is glaring in some of the installations, as seen in the language of artist and craftswoman L.J. Roberts’ banner, the Gay Bashers, hanging in the lobby at MoCC next to her other, Mom Knows Now, a blood-red V-shaped banner with Mom Knows Now stitched across in black.

In other work, such as the videos of Miranda July at the MoCC or Tammy Rae Carland’s photo series at PNCA, Lesbian Beds, the influence is more symbolic. The female artist asserting her femininity, her body, her right to create through a range of mediums, not necessarily as an answer or revolt to clear-cut coercion, but to create something in and of itself, disburdening the work of a need for definition. Lesbian Beds is made up of beautiful images of unmade beds and I can only explain its power by the images’ purity and transparency. The creases of the sheets, the more rumpled they are, make the photo appear like something you could fall into and the arrangement of one bed after another in varying levels of light made the freedom I sensed a palpable thing.

Untitled (Lesbian Bed # 13) by Tammy Rae Carland

Untitled (Lesbian Bed # 13) by Tammy Rae Carland

In a 2015 article in The Guardian, a list of the ten best Riot Grrrl songs opens with author Kate Hutchinson quipping somewhat, The term ‘riot grrrl’ tends to come up as soon as someone with a vagina starts a band.” Alien She embraces this. The exhibit lauds art by women in general, whatever the medium. It doesn’t have limits or criteria — if you’re a woman striving to find your identity outside of one designated to you in a world order determined by the perspective of men, and if you’ve ever felt alienated, and if you’re creating from this, you belong here. Riot Grrrl has influenced you.

The exhibit parallels the course of Alien She’s lyrics. It’s loud, and the language is hostile, aggressive, and angry. But by the end, after listening to song bits, reading flyers and zines, learning about the timeline of Bitch Magazine, and soaking in a melting pot of womanism, I was left wanting to know the women walking through the exhibit alone like me — or just desperate to give and receive acknowledgement. I’m not sure, but before I left, I shared a short bench with a woman in front of a video screen showing a young Miranda July — being funny, desperate, and eager in her singular way — and a nod from the woman momentarily fulfilled and confirmed that need.

The Riot Grrrl Manifesto hanging in PNCA declares:

We are dying inside and we never even touch each other; we are supposed to hate each other.

Because we need to talk to each other. Communication/inclusion is key. We will never know if we don’t break the code of silence.

I think we’ve been talking to each other and have come a long way. Thanks in large part to the women who rioted, who still riot, who created something and screamed when their inside voices were not being heard.

Alien She runs until January 9, 2016. If you can’t make it, enjoy these photos.

Photo Set by Estevan Munoz and Kathleen Dolan



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