Rise of Raven Woman
Mid July this year I received a message on my socials from the eco-feminist and performance artist Monet Clark: “Esther, from your content I believe you will be inspired by this…” followed by an invitation to watch her collaboration with the legendary performance artist Linda Mary Montano in which Linda interviewed Monet about her new ideas, works in progress. They were also discussing other artists including Karen Finley, Penny Slinger, Jennifer Locke and a collaborative work of Monet’s with the media art pioneer John Sanborn, (I come back to this one later), “to further elucidate the ideas presented”. Said ideas covered: “Illness as Kundalini awakening, misogyny in the medical establishment, female Hollywood film tropes, the Völva, busting the #madonnawhorecomplex, the feminine principle, familial decolonization, holistic theory, in depth eco-feminist ideologies” to name a few. To top it off the whole thing was launched by The Interior Beauty Salon!
To say I was inspired is a severe understatement. Beside Monet Clark’s works and her brilliant mind, I would call her upbringing and underground background in her hometown Los Angeles and later San Francisco as a treasure cove for anyone who is interested in “The Art of Transformation” or “The Transformational Power of Art.” A month later I would experience first-hand how potent her body of work can be. Let me put it like this, if someone would ask me how to describe the impact Clark’s “NOW a Video Art Ritual” (the above mentioned collaborative work with John Sanborn) had on me I would say it was giving massive Tower Energy. Tower as in the probably most dreaded card in the Raider Waite Tarot, as it stands for sudden change, upheaval, chaos, revelation and often very drastic, rude awakenings (which can lead if faced head on to profound transmutation). On that said day I was not well emotionally. But in an accepting and weirdly transparent, vulnerable ethereal way. It was like my body and mind had no physical barriers, when I received a message from Monet. It was a video link for NOW. It was still a.m. hours on my side of the planet, and I remember watching it in bed with first a lot of anger and irritation that developed into uncontrollable sobbing. It literally pierced into and through my whole being. It was so on point, its relevance hit deep within me, way beyond words. The pain I felt had a raging raw quality, that I remember. It was simultaneously universal and deeply personal. What can I say, Monet Clark’s performance medicine is powerful and she is a transformational trailblazer.
I can’t imagine any better way to finish this challenging and intense year, going out with a bang!
The Way of Water
Which of these elements space, air, fire, water, earth would you choose in relation to your practice and yourself, and why?
All of them.
Ideas and the conceptual are essential to my process, so air is present
I like to reference ancient Taoist philosophy as a tool to illustrate contemporary western cultural biases which have led us to global warming.
In Taoism water is yin/feminine, and I have often used water in my performances.
Yin/feminine attributes include the subconscious, the intuitive and telepathic, the internal, healing, nurturing, yielding, contracting, calmness, stillness, softness, contemplation, slowness, and moisture, and all of those are cooling.
The opposite yang attributes create heat, such as the conscious mind, the logical, the external, force, control, domination, expansion, agitation, hardness, reaction, speed and dryness.
My works for years have sought to validate the often culturally ridiculed aspects of the yin/feminine, which include the mystic and can be embodied by all genders.
To me it is clear that a cultural value system which marginalizes and threatens women, trans women, and indigenous cultures, and which dismisses the yin/feminine attributes, leads to global warming.
This happens through the encouragement of an excess of yang behaviors, and when these are not in balance with the yin/feminine they lead to toxic masculinity. Then nature, including water, is disrespected, over-exploited, polluted, and destroyed.
Image: Monet Clark, DAKINI (Water Ritual), 2011 still from performance video/transmutation device
When internal, intuitive, and telepathic ways of communication are not validated, the sentience of nature and animals is easily dismissed and humans assert dominance over them.
In indigenous culture, humans are recognized as a part of a web of all life, a part of nature, as opposed to being above or dominant over nature and animals.
The indigenous perspective is generally more understanding of the mystic, reflecting a respect for both yin and yang attributes.
So human’s cultural biases can lead to actions which heat up and deplete our planet of its moisture/water, and likewise widespread changes in consciousness can literally cool it back down.
In that balance is important, I use the fire element as a catalyst to fight injustice, bust through corruption and mistruths, and to harness force.
Earth grounds my work into physical being. Earth is also often my co-star in my performance-based video and photographic works.
Space brings the infinite potentials of the work to affect the individual and the global.
Is there a particular situation or place you can recall that inspired you to become an artist?
I grew up in the creative and musical subculture of Southern California in the late 60s and 1970s, where I was trained early on in spontaneity and improvisation.
As a child I always had a camera in hand. Later as a teenager in San Francisco in the 1980s, I was immersed in that rich and amazing era of punk culture, and rap music, performance art, radical politics and alternative living collectives, all infused by the city’s long history of bohemianism.
It was on those electric San Francisco streets that my art education really began, and that I became an artist
I was hired as a photographer by the female erotica magazine On Our Backs, a deeply radical feminist voice that was busting through cultural biases surrounding women’s libido and gender roles.
It was reflective of the activism of San Francisco at the time. I was also studying women’s studies at San Francisco State University, as well as minoring in Holistic Theory. It all added to my artistic vision.
Another impact was winning a scholarship to the magical San Francisco Art Institute. Once there, I found my way to the hard edge of the performance/video department. I fell head over heels in love with the medium, and its method of working in front of and behind the video camera, simultaneously.
I extended this methodology to my still photographic works. I was also inspired there to incorporate the framing of my real life events as performance art
Monet Clark at the Hilma af Klint Guggenheim Museum exhibition, 2019
Do you consider yourself spiritual, and how does this feed into your work?
Yes, innately so. As a child growing up in the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles, I always felt deeply spiritually connected to the land. We lived near the Self Realization Fellowship and its Lake Shrine, established by Paramahansa Yogananda, the first yogi to come to the United States from India and teach yogic practice.
So his legacy of eastern spirituality and philosophy was very influential on the multicultural, spiritual melting-pot of L.A. that surrounded me. L.A. is such a racially diverse place that mixed families like my own which includes four races, is not uncommon, and I grew up appreciating the commonalities between spiritual disciplines of diverse cultures, and mysticism in general.
As an adult, I have studied with Tibetan Buddhist teachers, and trained extensively in psychic school, and more.
I started performing specific rituals harnessing the unseen world in my performance-based video and photographic works in the early 90s.
There was a stigma associated with these works, which I’ve come to realize is the very cutting edge of cultural biases I’m interested in exploring.
I’ve also addressed feminist subject matter over the years, such as busting the Madonna/whore complex, objectification, sex positive feminism, etc.
Monet Clark, Thangka, Prayer, Blessing, Incantation, Medicine, Spell drawing series (My Radiant Heart Shine Through A Dark Wind), 2003
Is there a book and or author you are currently reading general that stimulates inspires you?
I am onto Yoko Ono, An Artful Life, by Donald Brackett, an art critic and author whose grasp of the spiritual as well as contemporary art, makes for a wonderful take on one of my heroes.
Please tell us what you are looking forward to this year!
I look forward to seeing my new Femme Fauna portraits printed large scale. In them I play ironic, humorous, sexualized animal/woman hybrid characters. I look forward to editing and finishing my performance video work Rise of Raven Woman and series of photographs.
Where do you find inspiration, how can we imagine your process while creating works?
I made a performance video work early last year titled Ritual For A Living Future, a pagan prayer for both individual and global recovery.
I shot it thanks to an assistant during a serious relapse of my physical health. It addresses the climate crises in the Pacific Northwest, and the now seasonal toxic smoke plumes that poison the skies from burning forests, houses, cars, etc.
It speaks to the resultant health implications for people, plants and animals.
The piece incorporates spoken-word from virtual reality pioneer, theorist, and Pagan, Brenda Laurel.
It poses that we are a part of the Earth and that disabilities such as mine, ME/CFS and Environmental Illness which are neuro-inflammatory immune diseases, these are symptoms and indicators of our Earth’s ailing biosphere.
The video evolves then into a potent invocation and meditation for recovery.
Ritual For A Living Future, 2021 still from performance video
Rise of Raven Woman
The raven, an animal which bridges the veil between life and death, came to me intuitively later last year, as I was coming back from that near death experience.
I began to make Rise of Raven Woman, capturing my gradual physical rebound and recovery after 9 months of being frail and unable to walk.
In it I humorously play a raven woman hybrid character. I worked blind, setting up my shots and then improvising my performances, playing off of natural locations.
The piece parallels my rise back to health, with the rise of the yin/feminine.
I then became obsessed with costuming more animal/woman hybrid characters. Still mostly bedridden I made costume parts and found others online, masks, body parts, and slutty clothing creating humorous and absurd juxtapositions.
When my physical strength returned this year I shot numerous Femme Fauna characters. They’re inspired by Hollywood’s femme fatale archetype, animals of course, the interconnected web of all life, supermodels, and big impossible shoes.
I performed them in sweeping Californian landscapes that are all at high risk for burning.
I work behind my cameras, framing the scenery on tripods. Then I perform and pose in front of them using an interval timer for the still camera, which snaps shots every few seconds.
Rise of Raven Woman, (Nataraja and Protector of Animals), 2022 photograph
Femme Fauna speaks to the parallels between the exploitation and suppression of the yin/feminine and animals, and climate change and extinction.
Aesthetics and Process aside, which emotions you want to trigger with your work and why?
Humor, awe, shock, a gut reaction. I create a space where audience members may be confronted with internalized patriarchal biases they hold. Sometimes I walk them through a ritual process and give them tools to keep working. There is often a healing aspect to my work.
If you could, what would you change in the artworld/market?
I want to see more mid-career women artists represented, showing, and collected
The future is .. ?
The future is female. The future is healable.
Holistic Theory shows us that our body systems are designed to heal and they work together to heal the whole body.
Gaia Hypothesis has shown us that the Earth is also made up of self-regulating biological systems, and that these behave as a single entity to keep the conditions on the planet favorable to life.
So the Earth is designed to heal just like our bodies.
I like to consider the countless examples of spontaneous remissions of diseases, healings and placebo effects which remain inexplicable by science, when looking into the potentiality of our biosphere healing from climate change.
Applying that curve ball, coupled with the discoveries of quantum physics and consciousness, I am personally choosing to leave open a doorway of possibility.
If we apply science to support the Earth’s self regulating systems with projects such as refreezing the poles, participate in activism for climate justice, examine our own internalized misogyny and internalized biases which subjugate the yin/feminine attributes, and lastly if we let ourselves believe, climate change is still possible to resolve.
Monet Clark, Rise of Raven Woman (Conjure), 2021
Interview conducted by Esther Harrison