Barbara Hammer, Available Space #2, 1978, Silver gelatin print, 5 x 7 in.
Tell me there is a lesbian forever...
Oct 2–Nov 6, 2021
COMPANY Gallery, 145 Elizabeth Street, NYC
TNM Curatorial Statement
1968/1969 is the beginning I’ve chosen. Barbara’s marriage to her husband Clay has ended after a joint trip around the world and building a home together - she realized that that is not the life that she wanted.Barbara buys her own motorcycle, a 1972 BWM R75/5, and proceeds on a trip of her own across the country, into her identity as a lesbian. She goes toward her desires, her sexuality, and the development of her artistic practice. She decides to make herself. She studies herself. She writes herself. She never turns back.
In 2018, curator Vivian Crockett and I were about to go on stage for a Museum of Modern Art film screening. Vivian walkedover with Barbara––tiny, somewhat frail, but smiling widely and vibrating.Barbara pulled me close and said, "I'm dying, but I just want to tell youthat I love your work, and this is where things should go. It's hard forme to sit for long periods of time, and I don't know if I can sit through the entire screening, but I just want you to know that I think your work is badass." Teary, I gave her a deep hug. When she passed the following year,I thought, "Did I hug her too hard?"
I looked up at the seats after the presentation ended, and Barbara was still there. I looked up again and she was gone.
In 2019, shortly before her passing, Barbara was in conversation with Sophie about her next solo exhibition for Company. Unbeknownst to me, my name was on the list of possible curators. Barbara chose me, and I accepted.
Barbara Hammer practiced what I would call faith-based filmmaking, of a kind that is now rare. Her work is deliberate, rigorous, and exacting in production and in post. In today’s field, there is too much control of the image, while at the same time too much error is allowed, since it can be corrected later.
I have centered Hammer’s relationship and work with Terry Sendgraff, an aerial dancer and choreographer and an icon of her own, who also passed in 2019. Their work together appears at the core of Double Strength (1978). I’m attracted to the film’s display of immense strength,as well as the way the women’s bodies slip into each other, mirroring one another.
I have been wrestling with the mirror for thepast five years, in relationship to a larger work that I’ve produced for theorisha Oshun. The mirror, her primary attribute, has carried over into the conceptual framework for this exhibition. Hammer’s mirror is time-based and must be placed in motion.
A mirror that moves when you do… This is what it means to love another woman, a friend, a sister, a lesbian.
-from my notes
Barbara’s widow Florrie has a selection of Barbara’s notebooks that are being prepared for art storage, and invited me toview them. For this exhibition, Florrie has provided photographs of Barbara, including one with them alongside her motorcycle in San Francisco. In one ofher public talks given in 2017 for NYFF55 at the Lincoln Center, Barbara refers to Florrie, her greatest love, as her life support.
It is 2021. I find a motorcycle that is the same model Barbara purchased all those years ago. It is driven across the country to my studio. Florrie tells me that when it came time to sell her bike, Barbara did not want to let anyone test drive it. I decide this bike will be retired. It sits in my studio as an object of desire and reference. I have it drained of all fluids and taken fully apart. The bike is cleaned, rebuilt, and refinished using a mirrored chrome that reflects everything around it. I wash it in a white spiritual bath made of honey, white flowers, and efun. The only movement present, as the bike sits quietly, is what the viewer’s eye catches when the body circles the form.
In this show, I situate Barbara’s 1985 copy of the Daughters of Bilitis FBI report as a work of art. The work is in her redactions, which read the report as a prompt for producing what is hidden.
The pandemic keeps me from viewing the Barbara Hammer Papers at the Beinecke Library, which has restricted visits to Yale affiliates only. My greatest love, Mia, is a Yale PhD candidate, and she arranges to view the archive for me. We drive to New Haven. She comes back daily and recounts what she has seen. Through her eyes, I become able to envision Barbara. In our conversations, I encounter who Barbara is becoming to Mia first, before I am able to figure her myself.
In looking at Barbara’s work during this time, I feel the privilege of being able to re-assess, to arrange and reposition her work through and alongside my own subjectivity. Too often, lesbian identity has been treated as a nostalgic or archaic proposition. As a Black dyke, I refute this stasis. Lesbian identity has always been in flux, changing overtime within itself. Barbara’s archive reveals a portrait of a lesbian constantly challenging herself in real time, constantly seeking a way to exist as her full self, unbridled, in a society which has tried to erase her and others many times over.
A letter from a lover reveals a note in the margins, perhaps an afterthought penned just before sending:
Write me that you love me dearly and that youalways will.
Tell me there is a lesbian forever.
In 2019, while teaching my course “Curating Within Obscurity,” I screened Black Nations/Queer Nations (1995). Prior to class, I reviewed the film on my own. Ten minutes in, as the camera panned across a crowd of faces, I jumped to pause the video. Barbara Hammer was in the audience.
With love and immense care and consideration for you, Barbara, and for all of us.
xTiona Nekkia McClodden
Film Still. Black Nations/Queer Nations, 1995 by Director Shari Frilot
October 2 - November 6, 2021
145 Elizabeth Street, New York