From the Hive: A Conversation by Guest Editors Gabrielle Civil & Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe

video still from “Art Letter (for Gabrielle Civil)”-Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe

Gabrielle Civil (GFC):  Maybe we should start with how “Girls in Their Bedrooms” came to be.

Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe (EMH):  So my first memory: it was summer and you stopped by one night and I was up in my bedroom and I had just started watching the Kathleen Hanna documentary.

GFC: The Punk Singer.

EMH: And you plunked down on my bed and watched it with me.  And the thing that hit us that night was when she was talking about making the solo album, the Julie Ruin album. And she was talking about making it in her bedroom and thinking about all the other girls creating in their bedrooms. Which was a riot grrrl notion about girls in isolation, figuring out they weren’t isolated and that there is all that creativity out there.

GFC:  That is very riot grrrl but also very From the Hive and channeling creative energy.  Also you were kind of down in the dumps that night and I had recently moved away and was back in town and you know you are really good friends with someone when you show up and you are just like, “What are you watching?  Scoot over.”  Then you are in their bed watching a movie on Netflix.  That feeling of connection and intimacy was so nice.

video still from “Art Letter (for Gabrielle Civil)”-Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe

video still from “Art Letter (for Gabrielle Civil)”-Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe

And there was something about race in it too.  I had just seen a show, one of many shows with some white people using some Nina Simone songs.

EMH: That’s the other conversation we got into, about how often white people will pull music like that to use in their own work, including me and you were saying…

GFC: I want to go the other way. Nina Simone is a genius.  And it was not so much that they [white people] shouldn’t do it, but what about as a black woman if I used a riot grrrl song or Julie Ruin and flipped it.  So that was in the back of my mind.

EMH: That’s how the “Locus of Gold” video showed up as one of the projects we started working on and we used a Julie Ruin song and we were playing with the notion of that internal space, in your bedroom and all that creativity and then taking that out into the world, and in the film it shows up as that gold thread that you are dancing with.

GFC: Something about “Locus of Gold” and “Girls in their Bedroom” that is important for us as artists to remember is that we had an idea and then we just did it!

EMH: I went to Joanne Fabrics, bought that shimmery gold ribbon and then came over with my camera and we just had the idea for internal/external and shot the video.

video stills from “Locus of Gold” by Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe with Gabrielle Civil

video stills from “Locus of Gold” by Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe with Gabrielle Civil

GFC: And we had also seen that artist at the Walker Art Center. Jim Hodges.

EMH: That’s right we went to see him and the space was cavernous and cold. But there were flowers and webs.

GFC: His work was beautiful.

EMH: And that really got us thinking about installation.  And I had this notion that I really wanted to hang blank pieces of paper from the ceiling with gold thread.  So what was coming together was a night of performance, but installation was really alive.  We looked into a gallery space, but it didn’t work out and we were sitting way up on the third floor in your art space in The PoppyCock drinking wine, and all of sudden it was like what if we do it right here?

GFC: That was where things magically came together because there was a turnover at The PoppyCock and it was just two or three people living there and I was renting a bedroom and the attic art space for part of my three-month research term from Antioch College.  So there were empty rooms and Josina really wanted to open up the space more for art.

Image of “What Remains” installation by Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe (Credit: Chrys Carroll)

Image of “What Remains” installation by Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe (Credit: Chrys Carroll)

video still from “Art Letter (for Gabrielle Civil)”-Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe

video still from “Art Letter (for Gabrielle Civil)”-Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe

EMH: We went down to the kitchen and found Josina . . .

GFC: And she came up and we pitched it and she was like that sounds great! So it was re-imagining an art space. And speaking about that and thinking about the Walker, which in the Twin Cities can be this monolith, this fortress of ice and solitude.

EMH: Brick and aluminum.

GFC: And I go to the Walker quite often and have seen things that matter a lot to me but something about the big capital A, capital W Art World . . . and what I have been discussing with my students in Black Women and Performance class. There’s this article by Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis [“In Search of a Discourse and Critique/s that Center the Art of Black Women Artists” (1993)] and she talks about an alternative notion of art worlds, how there are all these little art worlds coming together that are different than the big Capital A, capital W “Art World” that is really on some level just interested in perpetuating and justifying itself.

So we did go to the Walker and Jim Hodges inspired us which is a goal of the Walker—to be a catalyst for artists—but also we can create our own art space and community where we are experimenting and really pushing our own artistry in different directions which is as valuable—and often more valuable—than what is happening on the big art scene.

GFC: That was really important coming out of some conversations I had just been in around the “Radical Presence” show coming to the Walker. And just the way community was being conceived in some of those conversations as opposed to the ways we were not conceiving it but activating it, mobilizing it, inviting it, creating it. That felt so nourishing and great and I want us to document that to remember for us and others: We Can Do That.

EMH: And the flip side of the Big AW is that Community Art gets put in tiny letters. And what “Girls in Their Bedrooms” speaks to is the depth of talent and skill and commitment of artists in the Twin Cities. We were able to pull this all together in less than a month, maybe three weeks from conceiving to doing the show. And we could have curated ten times more amazing people. So having those connections and having those artists here doing interesting work and being available and then the flexibility because if we had conceived of this idea for an Art World venue, it might be a year from now if we could even get them interested. And that is something missed, something really alive about art when it comes together in this way. So there are these things stirring in us, there is the availability of space, then there is the depth of talent to pull from. Now I wish we had funding to pay those artists what they deserve. But we pulled that together and sold out both nights.

GFC: Yeah and on the dynamics of money, we laid out snacks and drinks and charged $5-10 because we wanted it to be affordable and we didn’t really make $ but we didn’t lose money either.

EMH: And yeah we laid out the food and there was wine, and I believe a little bourbon.

GFC: A lot of bourbon!

EMH: It was a party as well.

GFC: And it wasn’t conceived of as a money-maker but as something that would feed our souls and the souls of the people who came. I want to come back to the idea of community art as lowercase c, lowercase a. And between the big global art world and let’s say an open mic at a coffee shop, how do we talk about what’s in the middle? I feel like GITB was different with such a range of work and that we were all pushing ourselves. Even as we pulled the event together quickly, the ideas of the work were not slapped together.

EMH: And damn it was hot. It was summer in Minneapolis and it was urgent and intimate.

GFC: And I had just gone to a show recently also in a South Minneapolis house with Malia Burkhart and Miré Regulus.  They were inside and outside the house. Miré even went across the street to Powderhorn Park and dug into the earth and laid her body down. And there were the house shows through Bedlam with Molly Van Avery and Harry Waters Jr. and so I was wondering about this kind of art space, house space, intimate space and linking the world inside houses to the world outdoors . . .

images from “My brown body, this I know”- Miré Regulus (credit: Gabrielle Civil)

images from “My brown body, this I know”- Miré Regulus (credit: Gabrielle Civil)

GFC: So the downside to all this, and I know we talked about with Josina as well is it’s a big old house and it was not accessible as a space to wheelchairs and I appreciated Ellen that you were honest about that in the PR stuff.  Especially because after GITB, I was in Montreal performing at the [Hemispheric Institute’s] Encuentro and I saw the most amazing performance by Baraka de Soleil and some other artists in the Disability Work Group where they showed up at a cabaret event that was not accessible and they dragged themselves and their wheelchairs up the stairs. It was one of the most powerful performances I had ever seen. After that, I am going to always be more aware of accessibility.  So it’s hard because seeing, performing art in a house was very rich for me, but most houses are not accessible in that way.

EMH: And yes, we put that on the PR to be honest about that, but, of course, that is not a solution. So the flipside to this style of spontaneous art is trying to cover your bases from a thoughtful place, not to cover your ass but to really think differently next time about that.  There was an urgency and intimacy to the show that if the gallery space had come through would have been lost.  But, yes, we both would think differently next time in terms of accessibility.

GFC: Let’s come back to the idea of reclaiming the bedroom and intimate space.  And to have a big sign on a house that says, “Girls in Their Bedrooms.”  And people think, sex show.  But wait a minute. No. We are reclaiming that creative space for girls, and not just for girls but for all kinds of people who through their domestic/intimate spaces are creating other worlds and to do that in a house.

EMH: Let’s say more about why it was called “Girls in Their Bedrooms.”  And how you have to fight against the instant external sexualizing of that and if there is sexuality here, it’s coming from us, from me, not from the outside looking in.

GFC: To talk about you and your bedroom is not only about sex. Sex is there as part of creativity. And to say Girls is not to dismiss genderqueer or gender fluid people but to also say yes Girls, we were girls, honor girls. And that touches on the riot grrrl thing and also our own conversations and our desire to make I Heart the Library someday.

EMH: It will be made.

GFC: So if you are reading this, fund our film. And our girlhoods were both different and similar. Our desires to be creative, scribbling in notebooks, daydreaming, secrets, channeling a vision of a life, a world that you don’t see around you and not wanting to speak it because if you do someone might say, “You can’t have that!” But you are busy building it and creating a framework for another way to be in the world. That for me is Girls in Their Bedrooms! Girls in the Universe! And so Girls is not solely about being a girl but is tapping into a kind of female energy that in many places is still not respected and cherished.

EMH: Makes me think of our Bedlam 10-Minute Play Festival piece we did a few years back that was our retelling of The Outsiders both book and film. And how we both had such a relationship to that story and both experienced desire for these bad boys in trouble and also a desire to be them. And I think if someone came to “Girls in Their Bedrooms” expecting a shallow notion or essentialist notion of girl power they would be confused by what happened. And back to riot grrrl there was a time where reclaiming was super important. So “you throw like a girl” becomes a source of pride and we still need that reclaiming for Girlness but we also need to push that idea more so it continues to be expansive and not shutting down who we are.

Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe & Gabrielle Civil at “Girls in Their Bedrooms” (credit: Chrys Carroll)

Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe & Gabrielle Civil at “Girls in Their Bedrooms” (credit: Chrys Carroll)

GFC: It can feel a little strange to be like “We did this thing and it was great!” But the reason I feel very thankful for this issue of *Aster(ix) is because so many amazing things happen and go into the ether and I feel haunted by that especially in terms of black women’s creativity and all the creativity that is not in the capital A capital W art world.

EMH: Just thinking of Michelle, Mankwe, Juanada, You and all the people in the audience as well that we know who are making work. The amount of strength and risk-taking and beauty in that room. It fed me. And I want to talk about isolation too. Because I have felt isolated as an artist. The time around getting the event together was so great. You, Josina, Mankwe, Reggie Prim and myself were all there working, talking, eating, having intense conversations about Beyoncé and art, and politics. Chrys Carroll stopped by and took pictures. So feeding. I need more. Sometimes you need to make what you lack. And you were just talking about being stuck in your studio and another person walked in and helped you get unstuck just by their presence. That’s the power of audience.

GFC:  Oh, yeah! Let’s talk about the audience for “Girls in Their Bedrooms.”

EMH: The first night the audience was predominantly white people. As a white woman that was interesting as I was reading about being a young, deeply political white woman and I felt a lot of head shaking of “Yes, I know what you are talking about” and a lot of laughter at the crazy and pitfalls of that.

GFC: It was super interesting to have the first night be almost all white audience members and the second night predominantly people of color and mostly African American people. And also the second night there were a lot more male-identified people.

EMH: And more elders the second night. And the second night when we evoked Maya Angelou at the beginning, who had just joined the ancestors, there was such a strong feeling in the room. And it was amazing how this elder, now ancestor, Maya showed up as such girl energy and we opened one of her early memoirs and you read from it about being in a room with music and it was perfect.

GFC: Both audiences were great and showed what a wide range of communities we were pulling audience from. And I also like to think about audience as a way to push myself as an artist. So how do you cultivate an audience that can hold the energy for you but also push you? That is something we have talked about for years as artists and also as members of the audience. I think about Jean Ann Durades who was there. She would be the first to say, “Good job, but you know what, you can do better.”

EMH: That is the gift of our friendship and collaboration: a lot of support but a pushing. There were many artists both nights in the audience that I respect and that does push you to bring your best, not to impress, but we owe that to each other as artists. And that trying and failing and trying some more is different than just the notion of self-expression.  Finding your voice is important but you have to work at that voice. Certainly as a white woman I have to be very diligent about my voice and what I am doing. And to support other white artists to think critically about those choices and not just express themselves without critical thought. Goes back to the beginning of this conversation and the ways in which white artists utilize black cultural expression in their work. Which is a huge conversation in its own right but always asking why. Not that you can’t, but what are you doing? An audience full of powerful artists will not just sit back and say “good for you,” no matter what you do. You can’t just open your journal and read how you feel. I’m sorry I am getting off track trying to feed Naima and talk.

GFC: No, you were right on target. But baby Naima is letting us know it’s time to wrap it up. Ha! Still thinking about your baby and my installation about all the stolen girls from Nigeria and how that was activated—especially the second night—and about Maya Angelou makes me think about the connections between girls and ancestors and how it ended both nights with Mankwe singing the ancestor song [“Breaths”] from Sweet Honey in the Rock.

image from “Say My Name (for 270 abducted Nigerian girls)”-Gabrielle Civil (photo credit) Chrys Carroll

image from “Say My Name (for 270 abducted Nigerian girls)”-Gabrielle Civil
(photo credit) Chrys Carroll

EMH: Yes and Maya who ended her life as an elder and a giant of society but she starts as a girl and her story very much starts as a girl. And her intense, profound silence into voice and, not metaphorically, but her actual, extended silence by an act of sexual violence and then her voice! Survival, girlhood is a place of intensity and can be dangerous and that was what was powerful too about your installation because you don’t have to have the western notion of a “room of one’s own” to be creative. What you have to have is safety, a space to be yourself, whole. You could share a room with five people and be a girl in your bedroom as long as you have psychic space and physical, sexual autonomy.  So we end on ancestors because they are us, they were girls and they made the way. Not to martyr art because you shouldn’t have to suffer but look what women and girls have done in the face of it all. Stay alive, stay creative.

GFC: Wordsworth said, “The child is the father of man, but the girl is the ancestor!” So we were saying we celebrate creativity and we want every girl to be safe in her bedroom and in her life.

EMH: Yes.

From the Hive is an artistic collaboration of Gabrielle Civil and Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe.

Performances include “The Outsiders” (inspired by S.E. Hinton’s young adult novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s film) in 2008 and “From the Hive,” a performance meditation on creativity, place and ancestors in 2011, both for the Bedlam Theater Tenfest in Minneapolis. Gabrielle & Ellen were both 2011 Core Artists / Mentors for Tenfest and designed and facilitated a “Creating with Magic and Weirdness” workshop for other participants. In May 2014, From the Hive organized and presented “Girls in Their Bedrooms” at The PoppyCock ArtSpace in Minneapolis.

Ellen Marie Hinchcliffe says: “I am a poet, filmmaker, performer, loving mother, 85 auntie and daughter. My work is about ancestors, spirit, politics, contradictions, humor, confronting white supremacy and always about healing. My recent work includes the collection of poetry Fierce Shimmer- Poems for Mama, the film Thought Woman- The Life and Ideas of Paula Gunn Allen, and organizing “A Place at the Table (We Have Always Been at the Table),” an installation exhibition with film screening and performance at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. This March 2015 event celebrates women as leaders, creators and thinkers transforming our worlds.

Gabrielle Civil is a black feminist poet, conceptual and performance artist, originally from Detroit, MI. In summer 2014, she premiered “_____ is the thing with feathers” and reprised “Say My Name” (an action for 270 abducted Nigerian girls) at “Call & Response,” an innovative two-part festival of black women and performance that she organized at Antioch College. Other recent work includes: “Fugue (Da, Montréal)” at the Hemispheric Institute Encuentro in Montreal, Canada (June 2014); “Aide-mémoire,” at the AFiRiperFOMA Biennial in Harare, Zimbabwe (Nov. 2013); and a restaging of John Cage’s “How to Get Started.” Gabrielle is currently circulating Swallow the Fish, her critical/creative text on black feminist performance art practice. She is Associate Professor of Performance at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH. The aim of her work is to open up space.