The coven_2

The Coven: practical magick

Putting the grit back in girliness, cyber art collective The Coven are ripping up outdated ideas of femininity with their provocative shows and zines

Taken from the summer 2015 issue of Dazed:

Creative art collective The Coven are toughing up pink and making girlhood strong. Fuelled by an activist spirit, this crew of female identified and non-binary artists rip up outdated ideas of femininity, putting the grit back into girliness. Drawing on personal experience and playing with identity, they shoot boys in dresses, glue hair on to porn images and make books all about the colour pink. Together these visionary females are on a mission to empower girls worldwide.

Artists Luna e los Santos and Laurence Philomène put The Coven together to provide creative space and an opportunity for collaboration. The group’s online love affair has spilt offline into provocative art shows from New York to London and glittery handmade zines. With their provocative feminist creativity these fearless girls bewitch the art scene and internet kids alike.

HOBBES GINSBERG

“Very low-key sad girl” Hobbes Ginsberg makes hyper tender, honest selfies that smash gender constructs. For the LA-based artist, Tumblr is a community that understands the fluid spectrum of identity. “I think the greater public has a lot of catching up to do,” she says. “Not only with queer gender identities but any gender that isn’t cis-male. We still have a way to go before it’s ingrained in the public psyche that queerness is just how things are sometimes.” Hobbes explores her own identity with her dreamy pastel selfies, pushing the boundaries of gender definitions and laying bare a vulnerability we all connect to.

How would you sum up what you do?

Hobbes Ginsberg: I make vaguely surreal, brightly colored photos and video that focus on themes of depression and the ever-changing self.

Why do you take selfies?

Hobbes Ginsberg: I started because I used to only take photos of strangers, that was my thing and then I felt like I really needed a break and started to turn inward. So I focused on myself and I was able to experiment and create something entirely different from what I was doing before. Now the self-portraiture helps me navigate my own narrative. I can experiment and create, not only photographically, but with myself as well.

Has Tumblr been an important outlet for you?

Hobbes Ginsberg: If it weren’t for Tumblr we probably wouldn’t be talking right now. The internet community has been incredibly supportive with me and my peers in a lot of ways that I don’t think are really happening elsewhere. There’s a big push for diversity and inclusivity on Tumblr that, for artists like myself, is necessary to get exposure a lot of the time.

What do you think about current attitudes towards gender identity?

Hobbes Ginsberg: I think in a lot of younger circles (like Tumblr) there’s a really big focus on understanding the spectrum of queer identity. It’s because of this that I was able to really come out and decide what it meant for me to be a queer woman, and those kinds of spaces are amazing. I think the greater public has a lot more catching up to do, not only with queer gender identities, but with any gender that isn’t cis-male. I sometimes feel like we are just on the cusp of understanding and accepting the reality about gender inequalities. It feels like we’re very much in the tokenism stage, we still have a way to go before attitudes on gender identity don’t really have to be talked about because its ingrained in the public psyche that queerness is just how things are sometimes.

What’s your message to the world?

Hobbes Ginsberg: You’re OK.

Pin It
The Coven Laurence Philomène Liv Thurley Fumi Nagasaka
Laurence (l) wears silk jacket by Moschino; jumper by Replay; shirt by Element; Liv (r) wears crepe coat by Balenciaga; silk top and skirt by Ilaria Nistri; boots by Vic Matie; gloves by Gaspar GlovesPhotography Fumi Nagasaka; styling Emma Wyman

LAURENCE PHILOMÈNE 

Canadian photographer Laurence Philomène likes to photograph boys in dresses. “I don’t really care about masculinity,” says the adopted New Yorker, whose male models lie draped in pink flowers and patterned quilts. “I just pose them as I wish and make them pretty!” Philomène is all about reclaiming girlhood, turning everything we’ve been told is weak about the so-called fairer sex into something strong. As she says, “Femininity is being unapologetic.” Philomène started The Coven with artist Luna e Los Santos to create a supportive community for fellow female and non-binary artists they love.

How did you and Luna e Los Santos come to start The Coven?

Laurence Philomène: The Coven came out of growing up on the internet and witnessing the ways that young artists, and specifically photographers, were using it to share their work, learn from each other and collaborate. We wanted to do something similar but have it more aimed towards girls making art in fields that were more traditional.

Why did you pose boys in dresses?

Laurence Philomène: I put boys in dresses because it’s what feels natural to me! I really don’t care about masculinity at all, I’d go as far as saying that I try to reject masculinity entirely, especially in my work. I basically photograph boys the same way I photograph girls, and I’ve been really lucky to work with boys who are totally open to that. When I’m taking pictures of them I am definitely in control and just show them the way I see them, which tends to be in a more feminine manner. I used to photograph dolls a lot and I’ve been told that I photograph boys in the same manner as I did dolls when I was a teenager. I just pose them as I wish and make them pretty!

What does femininity mean to you?

Laurence Philomène: Femininity is something that I’m obsessed with, but it’s also really foreign to me. It’s something that’s completely fabricated but in a really wonderful way. Femininity is being unapologetic.

What do you want to change about peoples’ attitudes towards the subject?

Laurence Philomène: I think a lot of people see femininity as something that is weak and frivolous but I see it as the opposite. I think there is strength in femininity and that’s what I always try to show in my work. Especially deliberate femininity – I’m all about reclaiming girlhood and femininity and turning everything we’ve been told is ‘weak’ about being a girl into something that is strong.

Why do you use so much pink in your photography?

Laurence Philomène: I love pink as a colour conceptually, but I also just think it has such a strong visual impact. To me, pink feels very comforting, but it’s also very vibrant at the same time. I love using Pepto-Bismol in my pictures, for example, it’s just that ultimate girly colour and texture that I absolutely love.

What would you change about the world?

Laurence Philomène: More respect. Respecting people’s boundaries and differences. And more justice for marginalised women (women of coluor, disabled women, trans women, native women, etc) – their voices need to be heard.

LIV THURLEY

“On Wednesdays, we wear pink” – this Mean Girls mantra inspired London’s Liv Thurley to create PINKD, a book of artist responses to a colour with an image problem. “In the 17th century, pink was popular as a gender-neutral colour worn by European fashion elites,” she says. “Now it’s heavily associated with one gender – female.” Thurley’s book, created with artist Aryana Hessami, includes artwork by 30 creatives across the world in media from photography to poetry, all of which warps our take on the colour pink with their off-kilter artworks. The limited-edition publication sold out in 48 hours. PINKD proves pink can be tough. “It’s tough to wear, it’s tough to pull off and most importantly it’s tough to ignore...”

Why did you make PINKD?

Liv Thurley: The book was exploring the colour and how lots of people think of it in terms of being very soft and feminine. The artwork featured in the book was very strong and passionate and provided a different outlook.

What is it about pink?

Liv Thurley: I want to show it in a different light and reach different audiences. It definitely feels at the moment that there are pastel-y, feminine connotations about it. I want people to see it as it was when it was first introduced. In the 17th century, pink was popular as a gender-neutral colour worn by European fashion elites, signifying the importance of the colour even in its conception. It seems now it is heavily associated to one gender – female.

What conceptions of femininity do you want to challenge in your work?

Liv Thurley: Image is very important to me and I think a lot of my work is trying to improve young girls’ self-confidence. For this to work for me, it needs to be encouraged and supported by other women. If a young girl sees someone else feeling the same way, they don’t feel so alone.

What are the real issues facing girls today?

Liv Thurley: A lack of representation of different communities.

What can we expect from you in 2015?

Liv Thurley: I really enjoyed doing the PINKD book so I was hoping to get more into curating. I really love sharing other people’s works, so perhaps (I might do) another publication to show their work off in some (new) kind of context all together.

Pin It
The Coven Fumi Nagasaka Patricia Alvarado Simone Blain
Simone (l) wears satin jacket and trousers by Kenzo; wool cardigan by Woolrich; Patricia (r) wears lace bomber jacket by McQ; mesh top by American Apparel; choker necklace by Slim Barrett; all other jewellery her ownPhotography Fumi Nagasaka; styling Emma Wyman

PATRICIA ALVARADO

Chicago-born artist Patricia Alvarado feels strongly about body hair. “I think it’s absurd to be told that the hair growing on your body naturally is in some way offensive,” she says. “Men want to infantalise women, which is problematic in plenty of ways. Body hair exists, let's collectively move on.” Alvarado uses every inch of her body to challenge feminine beauty ideals – she glues her hair on to porn images and makes performances of her old beauty rituals that included straightening her hair and lightening her skin. Her mission is to understand the complexities and pervasiveness of racism and patriarchy. “Not all women of colour experience the same oppression,” she tells me. “But generally speaking – stop hypersexualising our bodies.”

How would you describe yourself?

Patricia Alvarado: I’m a queer, first-generation Filipina woman from Chicago.

How would you sum up what you do?

Patricia Alvarado: I dissect the intersections of systemic power structures.

Why do you use your own body in your work?

Patricia Alvarado: Representation. Brown people need to see reflections of themselves out in the world, though I don’t claim to speak over or for anyone.

What would you change about attitudes to women of colour?

Patricia Alvarado: Not all women of colour experience the same oppression, but generally speaking, stop hypersexualising our bodies.

What’s your attitude to body hair?

Patricia Alvarado: I think it’s absurd to be told that the hair growing on your body naturally is in some way offensive. Men want to infantalise women, which is problematic in plenty of ways. Body hair exists, let’s collectively move on.

What’s your relationship to feminism?

Patricia Alvarado: Feminism has a long history of ignoring the intersection of racism and sexism, as if ‘woman’ is the ultimate ‘other’. It gets difficult to stand behind the word ‘feminism’ when white women doing and saying the most basic things get so much support, but of course I have feminist ideals and believe in equal rights for everyone.

What’s your message to the world?

Patricia Alvarado: Neutrality, when it comes to addressing power structures, is a failure.

SIMONE BLAIN

“Feelings are not just for the ladies!” says Montreal-based painter Simone Blain with a grin. “Being sweet and romantic is something people associate with women, but gendering personality traits does a lot of damage to relationships.” Having been seduced by the love game, Blain paints couples kissing and wilted flowers, embracing sickly sweet themes that have been dismissed in art for years. She faces up to the fact that women have been repeatedly erased from art history. Her goal: to inject a dose of girliness back into the art scene.

How would you sum up what you do?

Simone Blain: At the moment I’m just noodlin’ around trying to make paintings that are visually interesting and humorous but aren’t totally vapid. Creating art is a clumsy balancing act. I try to make things that are in an awkward transitory state, tipping between sensitivity and absurdity. I think good work uses tension to talk about the human condition.

What do you love about painting?

Simone Blain: To be honest, I find painting incredibly challenging, I cry a bit on the inside every time I hear a painter talk about how enjoyable painting is for them. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself to make ‘successful’ work. As a child, when I was more innocent and less cynical, painting felt really natural. I think my current practice is essentially an attempt to get back to that way of working.

What conceptions of femininity do you want to challenge in your work?

Simone Blain: Women have been historically cut out of art history, so as a woman, painting and showing work is in itself a challenge to our conceptions of femininity. My paintings can sometimes feature violent subject matter, which I think of as a typically male theme, but on the other hand, I like to work with overtly romantic, borderline saccharine themes, because those have been dismissed and devalued for the last 50 years.

What do you think of current notions of gender?

Simone Blain: I think that gender issues extend further than ‘women’s issues’ and that we have a lot of work to do in terms of equality. Female/male gender binaries are extremely limiting and exclude individuals that do not fit into a reductive category.

In cover image Hobbes wears faux fur coat by Coach; printed silk dressing gown by Pigalle; printed silk shirt by Versace Jeans; jeans by American Apparel; plastic choker stylist’s own; all other jewellery her own

Hair Andre Gunnat at Honey Artists; make-up Stevie Huynh at D+V Management; photographic assistant Yusuke Okada; styling assistants Samia Giobellina, Kat Banas; hair assistant Dina Calabro; make-up assistant Mariko Hirano

Subscribe to Dazed magazine here or pick up your copy from newsstands now