'Alien She' Brings Riot Grrrl Energy to OCMA

The gaggle of teenage boys wearing Minecraft tees, bad complexions and thick-framed glasses starts to giggle, grimace and look askance immediately upon entering the gallery at the Orange County Museum of Art. Ginger Brooks Takahashi's stuffed jeans and shirts arranged in an orgiastic dogpile (Feminist Body Pillow) draws the first derisive comment, as one of them misreads a Guerrilla Girls' “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist” T-shirt altered by artist Ridykeulous. Though the comments never reach Gamergate level, they hover around the intellectually hostile logic that “you can't criticize feminist art because then they'll call you a misogynist.”

The three girls tagging along with them don't comment, yet “Alien She” isn't for these uninformed man-children; it's for the silent women accompanying them. Curated by Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss and organized by Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, this terrific show—its art, music, literature and film inspired by the '90s punk rock Riot Grrrl movement—is irreverent, tongue-in-cheek, overt in its politics and revolutionary simply because it's about work created by women for women.

Previously, I've considered actress/director/screenwriter Miranda July to be too precious for my tastes, writing her off as indie-film quirk personified, but after spending time perusing her fascinating, intimate web projects (Learning to Love You More, with Harrell Fletcher), listening to her recordings and reading her support of the work of other “lady” filmmakers, I've changed my opinion.

Yet the handful of her projected short films are marred by a volume too low to be effective. And her provocative images—an underwear-clad July in grainy surveillance footage, a young boy staring into the exposed genitals of a baby girl, two adults flashing each other while a child is in the room—are incomprehensible in that incomplete context. Likewise, presenting selections of July's innovative Joanie 4 Jackie video chain letters in a one-hour clump, without seating and with a set of headphones less than 6 inches from the small screen, doesn't make much sense unless you want eye fatigue and a sore back.

I'm ambivalent about Faythe Levine's photographic documentation of communal living off the grid, Time Outside Time; most of the pictures are too mundane in their hippie clichés, revealing nothing we haven't already seen elsewhere. But the inspiring five-minute Feminist Art Gallery (FAG) slideshow, documenting Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue's creation of an art haven in a garage, is a delight, the photos of women and men playing, debating and collaborating look joyful and creative.

Mitchell's Ladies Sasquatch are bigger-than-life, furry, multibreasted sculptures reveling in a hairy, back-to-nature beauty, sexual, creepy, aggressive, the tiny pink familiars crawling around the threesome suggestive of a feral reproductivity. L.J. Roberts' loom-woven tapestry and handmade art wears its politics on its sleeve, whether it's a flag warning gay-bashers they're going to get bashed back, a banner image of a woman holding a rifle or an upside-down pink triangle with the words “Mom Knows Now” woven into it.

Also remarkable: Roberts' pink, barbed-wire fence We Couldn't Get In, We Couldn't Get Out, a 360-degree, 10-foot-by-30-foot yarn sculpture that reminds one as much of Guantanamo as of the personal prisons queer people lock themselves away in, the areas in which the yarn is coming loose and the fence opening up offering the possibility that those walls are collapsing. Stephanie Syjuco's The Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy) takes the previously “feminine” skill of knitting and uses it to make feminist points on consumer and copyleft culture, backhanding the acquisition of expensive designer purses and watches—Gucci, Chanel and Marc Jacobs, among others—by democratizing them and making knockoffs out of yarn.

I found Tammy Rae Carland's series of Lesbian Bed photographs quite moving, each disheveled sheet and rumpled pillow a mystery, the isolated items left behind (a book under a pillow, a baseball cap, a gym sock or a black cat) clues to the personalities of the otherwise-unseen women sharing the places of rest. Likewise, Carland's photos of empty stages, I'm Dying Up Here, addresses the late Christopher Hitchens' idiotic trope that women aren't funny. Picturing a glittery curtain, empty stool, mic and bottle of water, two spotlights on a red curtain like two giant breasts, she's given women a silent invitation to take that space and make it their own.

As I left, I passed the three girls who had accompanied the boys, two of them debating adamantly. “He gets really mad about feminism,” says one.

“He needs to deal with it,” remarks the other. “I think anyone should say anything they want, and then people can make up their minds afterwards.”

Here's hoping these young women will continue to rise above their male pushback and be part of a nurturing community like the one many of the artists in the show have created. Making it up that Sisyphean mountain is a lot easier accompanied by a Do It Together attitude.

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