Q&A with video artist Shon Cele Rainey, Oct. 17 at Bottle Rocket Gallery


Bottle Rocket Gallery will host a gallery exhibit featuring feminist video art/stills from Springfield, Missouri-based artist Shon Cele Rainey at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17 in Fayetteville.

Rainey explores the “othered” perspective and feminine identity through analog formats. In her artist statement she explains: “My curiosity in the manipulation of images goes back to an interest in the distortion of reality in media, particularly how prescriptive images have shaped the reality of womanhood.”

In addition to Rainey’s work, Springfield DIY rockers Slugs and King Don’t will perform along with Fayetteville’s Izzy Savage and the Cannibal.

The free event will also feature food donated by Greenhouse Grille and drinks from Ph Alchemy.

An artist who immediately comes to mind when I experience your work is Cindy Sherman. I’m interested in your thoughts on her work.

Who: Video artist Shon Cele Rainey / Slugs / King Don’t
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015
Where: Bottle Rocket Gallery, 1495 S. Finger Rd., Fayetteville
More: Free event, refreshments included

My interest in her really came from the film still element and her construction of feminine identity. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get a good handle on her until I worked on a symposium lecture called “The Mirror in Contemporary Photography” when I had to analyze “Untitled Film Still #56,” the specific one where she’s looking straight into the mirror. I almost drove myself crazy looking at that picture, trying to dissect its density was difficult to say the least. I’m still trying to understand the connection I have to her work. I’m inspired by her flexible subjectivity: who is the author, who is looking, is there a reference to an audience, is this personal psychology or is she attempting to reference our embedded understanding of women? It’s a good example of exploring who holds the power in constructing one’s identity. It’s like being lost, powerless, and constantly in flux when you don’t know who you are. Her early photographs are unsettling, which is something I absolutely love.

You mention coming late to feminist studies so I’d love to hear more about that.

I think it’s bullshit never having heard much of women’s history in an academic setting until I was 24. Taking these classes was my attempt at making up for all the patriarchal history I had to learn over and over for more than a decade. You get one chapter on women getting the vote and three weeks of any kind of Civil Rights history.That is so wrong and I still can’t believe it. When I took that women in history class I was exposed to a rich history that had been largely (and intentionally) neglected in school. I knew I was a feminist and had feminist role models, but that history course was a complete submersion. That history was more thrilling, fascinating, and important than anything I had heard before.

Let’s talk about the phrase ‘male gaze,’ which was coined by Laura Mulvey. Your work seems specifically to really take in and redefine the gaze. I’m curious about that and whether you’re specifically wanting to distort the male gaze as Mulvey has defined it.

Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema” has been an interesting work to r examine. I am very interested in reading about ways feminine identity has been shaped and molded by the male gaze. When I was preparing a lecture that essay had to be a reference. When you reread the essay it gets a bit tricky. I always understood it as this negative act, that only men could be the lookers. I think a lot of people take it that way. II realized rereading the essay as well as Bell Hooks “The Oppositional Gaze,” that there are many ways of looking but it happens that Mulvey’s is the most studied and referenced gaze theory. I wondered why more theory wasn’t written about different modes of seeing and looking. The male gaze is the most negative and destructive in my opinion. There seems to be a different kind of participation that happens when considering a non-patriarchal gaze.

You’re bringing DIY bands with you from Springfield. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the intersection between music and art and how these both work to catapult feminism.

Springfield bands King Don’t and Slugs are playing at my gallery show. These musicians are a really great examples of that art and music combination.They all functions in communities that cultivate creative minds. It’s a shared respect of community that you find in most feminist collectives as opposed to others I’ve seen that were based on popularity and money. Their music offers a unique perspective in the same way art does. When things are happening in such a communal way there’s no threat of ego and i think people are more comfortable expressing themselves. Seth of King Don’t helps book for a local venue that started taking covers based on donations, more people are exposed to new traveling bands from all over. Slugs are fairly new but all the girls that go to their shows seem to be really excited about seeing a band like Slugs in Springfield. Delaney Smith from Slugs makes and gives away some of their merch at shows. All these bands are super heavy in their expression, which is inspiring to a lot of people, particularly young feminists.

We operate in a culture where the ‘male’ perspective is the norm. What have been your experiences as specifically creating feminist art while operating within a culture that sees the ‘male’ perspective as baseline?

I’ve had difficult periods where instructors would hold me accountable for expectations of what was deemed respectable and relevant in photography. In a sense you’re being molded to fit their experience in the art world and in the past I had to think of ways of posing sitters as to not offend my audience. I have prepared things in a way that have been read as sexual but were innocent in nature. It seemed hard to get away from the sexualization of the feminine body, and addressing it directly was a hole task in itself. You have male instructors telling women they need to be careful about how they depict young women in their photographs as well as instructors telling women artists they are narcissists because they do self portraiture. God forbid a woman has control of her own identity.

They don’t understand that telling a woman their expectations of how to depict feminine identity is difficult to reconcile. I think it’s the same as telling a woman to open or close her legs. They seem to want to control your exposure of who you are and how you think based on their comfort levels and understanding of that which is deemed feminine. Consider the controversy of Tracy Emin’s work, or Kara Walker being censored because of how uncomfortable her depiction of the antebellum South makes white people. Not to say men don’t go through the same kind of censoring, but think of all the women who have held back or even crumbled under the supervision of the male perspective dictating their work. I’m at the point where if a woman makes anything, it needs to be considered through the eyes of its owner. There have been too many years devoted to the male dominated perspectives in art, in everything.

Why did you gravitate towards video as your medium?

I love film and the cinema. Before I began as a photo major I was in film production/studies. By the time I entered those classes everyone was a videographer. I thought I was going to study the art of filmmaking but we were doing projects where people were only concerned with the technical aspect, which is super important but if there was no voice in the work, it was unwatchable and felt boring and male dominated, to me. It was all about gear and software. I look to feminist artist for inspiration when I think of filmmaking. Miranda July’s early community project Jonnie 4 Jackie; the all girl video mix for example. The relationship I formed with feminist art through video was an understanding of transmission. I took note that they were the main category of artists who used film and video as their medium.There has been nothing more fascinating to me than the art documents made by women artists from the 1960s to the late 90s. That video and photo work has a very strong impact.