In September 2019, I visited a relative in a remote village in rural Belarus who, in her 80s, lived alone in the middle of nowhere. Throughout her long family stories, she mentioned one more relative, Julia, with the striking fact that she was a whisperer. This is an ancient Belarusian form of shamanism, half pagan half Christian, in which women heal people by whispering words, picking herbs and burning them. They typically heal children from ‘fears’. The fact that there was a witch in my family suddenly brought me a lot of inspiration and a load of reflections. I found the tradition very touching and intimate, and considered a whispering woman a great metaphor for underheard women as a whole. Empowered by the knowledge of my witch-relative I start with my spells. By spells, I mean blocks of my research: Invisibility, Sexiness, Fertility and Voice. Each is reclaiming, demanding or empowering. A speculative multimedia reflection on the existing forms of discrimination against women.
The witch becomes a symbol of female resistance. She is a figure from myth and legend as well as from the deep history of humanity. In the present, she embodies multiple concepts and is seen in different aspects by different people. The witch is undeniably political and therefore her powers can be used to remedy many of the injustices occurring in society today. I am casting these spells to raise awareness of the ongoing and too-often still invisible discrimination against women. While magic is a refusal of the explanation, I am using it to actually explain and elucidate things. To stress how that which is invisible is not necessarily transparent in our society. Something quiet is not worse than something loud. The witch can therefore conjure up a more equal future wherein different kinds of existence are all made visible. With this knowledge, I am honoured to join the witch coven.
Voice Spell is a sonic piece.
Voicing out a flow of thoughts, a maze of anxieties. Women are not heard, voices are often excluded, voices are not listened to. I am talking quietly so people have to make an effort to listen to me. And since nowadays voice is a very gendered term, in my sonic piece the audience will experience the opposite: the absence of a comforting female voice. Whispering may be associated with ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) and considered to be a therapeutic practice with an often sedative sensation. However, in my sonic piece I aim for some irritation instead. The voice jumps from a whisper to a hiss, monotonous reading and echoing repetition. In the narration, I weave in sections about algorithms, the invisibility suit and reproductive demands on women, thereby making this piece voice the others.
A video piece where I am reclaiming my invisibility. I don't always want to be seen as a woman, as a care worker by default. No one sees me — no one demands anything from me. Such a grotesque move is an answer to the systemic discrimination against women. Biased datasets that exclude women are used everywhere: from government policy and medical research to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media. It makes half of the population just invisible. I am taking this fact of extreme unfairness to absurdity, as when escapism is taken too literally.
Here I conduct an Instagram (@spheres_as_b00bs) experiment against the technochauvinistic belief that automated systems would not discriminate. In my experiment, I'm triggering algorithms that may not be misogynistic per se, but that learned from our sexist society and failed to reach independent conclusions. It doesn't matter whether or not my page will be banned in the end. “I study my enemy,” says the narrative voice.
Witches were persecuted for helping to terminate pregnancies or contraception, infanticide. My spell is about endless fertility control. Here I will create a symbol of infinity in the form of oral contraceptives. Maternity remains one of the few social institutions to have been little affected by the process of modernization. The discovery of oral contraceptives (OK) in the 60s pushed the oppression of women a few steps back and helped reclaim control over our bodies. Although OK are not fully OK, I am going to use the pill as a symbol to pay tribute to the once-proclaimed sexual revolution. In developed countries and countries in transition, women are no longer passive political objects and are becoming more and more involved in demographic processes by advocating for their interests. Nevertheless, we still have to take to the streets in demonstrations defending the right to abortion. As in the recent Strajk Kobiet in Poland. Something that is claimed to be natural usually appears to be the greatest source of discrimination. Whether you are gay, queer, trans or a woman who does not dream about having kids and a heteronormative family — all are going to be proclaimed as ‘unnatural’.