In Conversation with Aimee Herman
Post-Inaugural Women’s March of 2017 set off a redirect in me first as an example of the post-popularizing of male id-ism and the resistance from women the world over. Aimee Herman, Brooklyn-based performance artist, poet, and educator, widely published in journals and anthologies including cream city review, BOMB, nerve lantern, Apogee and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books), along with her several chapbooks.
We talk in search of an understanding of the appropriation, politicizing of profanity, confessional female lit and language as orgiastic and cathartic.
Kofi Forson: With respect to the new feminist how does she honor Michelle Obama as a sign of progress and maintain her sexual independence using for example Annie Sprinkle as inspiration?
Aimee Herman: I absolutely love that you are mentioning Annie Sprinkle and Michelle Obama in the same sentence. There are so many versions, flavors, and shapes to what a feminist is. A feminist as first lady. A feminist as sex worker. A feminist as educator. When we talk about language, it’s important to make room for as many interpretations as we can. And through these interpretations, it is just as important to question the meaning and significance behind these words. As I joined the thousands of humans marching in New York City, with my protest sign raised high, I took in the clever artistry of words and images everyone screamed out on cardboard. I thought about why we were all there. Now more than ever, we are fighting for more things than we can fit on these placards. We are defending our genitalia, our gender, our sexuality, our race, our class, our future. It’s frightening. And yet, I am empowered by the volume raised on so many voices. Of course there is that realization that our volume should have been raised this entire time.
As a genderqueer performer and someone who makes art of the body and so doing promotes the politics of the marginalized queer female, what is your impression of organizations like Femen? Is your performance art less a political riot and more a curatorial of female proclivity?
I believe it is important we make room for movements such as this because everyone deserves to create/locate their own tribe of humans they can feel wild and empowered with/by. Their slogan, “my body is my weapon” is something I can understand as I’ve used my body in this way, but not always as empowerment. As a former sex worker, I lost track of my body for a significant period of time. Becoming a performance artist was my way of reclaiming my skin, my gender, my sex. I don’t think of my body as weaponry, though I am grateful it has survived many of the wars I put it through. I think my performance is a mixture of political riot and curated dialogue on what it is to be human. I don’t identify as woman. I’m still searching out vocabulary to fill in the gaps of my gender.
Is it not politically correct for a woman to orgasm in public? Remember Meg Ryan in the film When Harry Met Sally? Meaning, who are the new Karen Finleys and Kathy Ackers? Is the political intervention the new performance art piece?
Political correctness has, at times, become like giant STOP signs to stop us from existing in the ways we feel most at home. It’s slippery, because I never want to offend, yet I also know that that’s an almost impossible feat. Language is emotional. And political. And historical. When I first learned about Kathy Acker and Karen Finley, I felt like I had been finally given a map with the right coordinates to reach/articulate my imagination. There can only be one of them. I feel like it would be unfair to call someone “the new” ____________. Am I influenced by them? Yes! But I want to believe we are all bringing something new to what has existed before us. There is always going to be something to question. Boundaries to push.
Betty Tompkin’s Sex Works/ WOMEN, Phrases and Stories, currently at Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach depict word paintings based on a query by the artist to women describing themselves. Then there’s the previous Facebook intervention by Marilyn Minter of her Bush Muff, Beaver… photographs. What recent works of art, literature or performance have you experienced which showed encouragement in the dimension and evolution of female sexuality? How does your performance art become a comment on female progressiveness?
I just saw Minter’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and absolutely love it. The boldness of her colors and close-ups of what airbrushing has caused us to forget finally exists again in all her glitter and illumination. I just finished Marina Abramovic’s book “Walk Through Walls” and felt so emotionally linked to her as I walked through her life with each page. She continues to inspire me through her dedication to her craft and articulation of suffering and resistance.
I want to believe my performance art and writing is a comment on just how to progress as a human in a body. A body that isn’t static or simple. A body that isn’t female or male. With each performance, I find I am getting just a little bit closer to understanding who I am (alongside an audience, figuring it out with me).
How are you as an observer, not as a writer or artist, able to formulate and interpret the maneuverings of politicians within the political realm and as a basis for gender relations? Should the politician be responsible for encouraging discourse between the genders?
Hmm. Let me breathe all this in. I want to believe that we all should be encouraged to make room for discourse on further communication and understanding of each other. I (hope to) do this as a teacher. How do I interpret the maneuverings of politicians as a basis for gender relations? I feel disappointed that politicians are so obsessed with where I am going to the bathroom. I feel utterly gutted that my spouse who is Trans is having his body and gender policed by people who are not educated to do so. What makes one person an expert of another? How can anyone possibly decide if a woman can choose to have an abortion? In 2017, to still feel a lack of autonomy over our bodies and gender exploration is abhorrent to me.
As some countries of the world, certainly this country move in a more nationalist direction, what would be the greatest struggle for the female artist? When do socio-political causes merge with politics of making art? How will sexual politics continue to fuel discussions on gender?
The greatest struggle for the female artist…..all those slammed doors and dark rooms and fingers pointing them away. But that also becomes the fuel. The female artist is most resilient because she does not yield. Art is political. Art is sexual. It is deviant. It is wild and won’t back down. THAT is what I strive to be.
The patented discourse these days between the genders can be referred back to tabloid journalism, gossip and reality television. Is “talking dirty” less a means of entertainment and more a point of attack and conviction? How do we differentiate between litigation and performance? Is the professed freedom for the female to “speak up” and “speak out” more a political front, a chance to “art out” and be creative or more the supposed cult of female lashing out?
What defines ‘talking dirty’? It is grit which makes our words often more palatable. Or at least, causes what we see and hear to linger longer on our tongues. This is the kind of art that drives me. Performance IS action. It is the opportunity to speak up and out of turn. The performance artist does not have to wait to be called. They simply speak. With body. With mind. With paint. With whatever force they use as their instrument. It may be labeled as “lashing out” because this artist does not raise their hand. This artist is messy. This artist howls.
Where in your art and performance are you as far as articulating politics of gender and sexuality? Do you give a care to association of how current party politics, promotion of authorized trolling and hate speech affect conduct and behavior of us as men, women, queered? As an artist what do you hope to achieve?
These questions weigh more than I can possibly fit in my mouth. Wow. I am moved by your carefulness and thoughtfulness of inquisition. As a performance artist and writer, I hope to create a dialogue. I hope to awaken in someone thoughts and desires that have been awoken in me by other creatives. Each performance is a challenge because I am completely nude. (Sometimes literally). I am giving a part of me away to someone in a novel way (for me) because it is consensual. I am giving the audience permission to see me. To read me. To write on me. To hear me. To know me. I continue to define my own queerness/gender/identity because I am still trying to understand it. Every time I walk on stage, I am articulating the politics of (my) gender and sexuality. It informs my poetry, my music, my performance. This is because I spent so many years NOT thinking about it. Forgetting to question or confront my queerness. We cannot allow hate speech to stop us from existing as our truest selves. That said, we also need to keep ourselves safe. I would never begin to tell someone how to exist. We are not all safe to be out and loud.
Photo Credits: Jun Liu