This April, we peek into the New York ballroom scene, and reflect on the everyday experiences of life as a woman and non-binary person
The days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter, but the world remains in lockdown. Aside from checking out our ongoing list of digital art exhibitions, podcasts, films, and other fun things to engage with and keep you busy in these strange times, we’re sharing our favourite experimental and educational short films to keep you in-the-know.
To kick things off, we have an experimental short by London-based filmmaker Sweatmother, which reflects on the everyday experiences of navigating life as a genderqueer person; an avant-garde deep-dive into the New York ballroom scene by Berlin-based Tsellot Melesse; and Codi Barbini’s hard-hitting study into the Orwellian language used by the American government to address school shootings.
When you’re done with that, check out our #AloneTogether campaign – a new space for art, advice, and entertainment from our peers and collaborators.
EXECUTIVE CONDOLENCE, CODI BARBINI
For Codi Barbini, a New York-based filmmaker, it started on February 14, the day of the 2018 Parkland school shootings in Florida. “That day, I learned that an active shooter was at my cousin’s high school. Thankfully, she was safe, but the majority of students and families would be dealing with the countless, long lasting effects,” she tells us. A few days later, Barbini’s cousin asked her to come to Florida to document the aftermath – the results of which are recorded in the documentary, The New Normal.
In this accompanying piece, Executive Condolence, Barbini pieces together 30 years worth of governmental addresses that respond to mass shootings across America (“The vast majority of these events never make headlines,” she explains). The result is less human, more robotic: an Orwellian soup of newspeak, near-identical statements that overlap time and time again to no tangible outcome. What’s stranger is the repetition of body language, the precise placing of iconography, such as the American flag, which is indistinguishable from clip to clip. “I didn’t want to make a purely historical overview of the response to mass shootings,” says Barbini. “I wanted to look at the role of language and media – how we communicate sorrow and grief when it’s wrapped up in power and authority.”
SOFT EXITS, SWEATMOTHER
“Fuck!” begins Soft Exits, an experimental short film by London-based filmmaker Sweatmother. Peppered with voice notes exchanged with friends, the film takes the form of a series of single-person interviews against monochromatic backdrops. Inspired by the artist’s writing series What People Say to Me, they recount experiences of verbal assault, harassment, homophobia, and gender-based violence felt by womxn and non-binary people in everyday life. “The people who share these collective experiences are discouraged from sharing and are often taught to hold all these things inside without expressing them and that manifests as a disease in ourselves and society as a whole,” explains Sweatmother.
Stories of producers calling ‘cut’ to debate the colour of their bra, sexist taxi drivers openly judging their sexual exploits, and playground homophobia are all examples of the ways in which womxn and non-binary people are casually removed from their own narratives by those who assume it for them. It’s only by giving these people a platform to share their experiences, then, can we elicit change. Or as Sweatmother puts it: “There is power in telling our stories.”
SOLIDARITY IS THE ONLY ENEMY OF MISERY, ACTE C/O TSELLOT MELESSE AND PHILIPP GROTH
In Solidarity is the Only Enemy of Misery, a member of the legendary drag House of St Laurent is asked about the New York ballroom scene. “(It) lets me express who I am as a person other than what I am in the world,” they respond. The quote, which gets to the heart of ballroom culture, is but one of many mesmerising moments in Berlin-based filmmakers Tsellot Melesse and Philipp Groth of acte TM’s documentary, which was shot across a matter of weeks last year.
Interviews with members of the drag family are stretched across three screens, zoomed-in shots of mouths, eyes, and facial expressions, intended to keep you fixated on the subject at hand (“Your eye doesn’t have the chance to get away from the key figure,” says Melesse). These intimate, avant-garde clips are interspersed with panoramic shots of the city and behind-the-scenes looks at the family in their apartment: getting ready, playing video games, hanging out. “There’s a strong sense of community written into the DNA of ballroom houses, which lies in opposition to western individualisation,” Melesse tells us. “This work is really here to inspire hope and optimism, not only for the viewers, but also for the voguing community itself.”