Antony Hegarty’s tremulous voice has been a staple of discerning listeners’ collections for the past fifteen years, yet the New York-based artist’s influence has spread far beyond the realm of well-catalogued iTunes libraries and year-end best-of lists. As a performance artist and feminist activist, Antony has been instrumental in the emergence of alternative and progressive forms of femininity within the public sphere. Never has this been more evident than in the past few months, during which Antony debuted the 13 Tenets of Future Feminism at the Hole in New York and released the long-gestating DVD and album of the 2006 Turning performance series. Directed by Charles Atlas, the film showcases trans models and artists such Nomi Ruiz and Connie Fleming alongside Antony’s Future Feminist collaborators Kembra Pfahler and Johanna Constantine.
BULLETT chatted with Antony about the impetus behind Turning, the meaning of Future Feminism, and both projects’ role in the (trans) feminist narrative.
Your early career was especially characterized by performance art, such as your work with Johanna Constantine in Blacklips. In creating a film so focused on performance, were you trying to revisit that earlier style?
It’s funny because Turning something between performance and portraiture. It’s quite interior and there’s not that much performative about it except the person is being looked at. I never really compared it to the experimental theatre work that I did in the early ‘90s but there definitely is a relationship. We first did Turning in 2004 as part of the Whitney Biennial and the piece was conceived almost as a community-based piece. Then there was the collaboration with Charlie [Atlas]. Charlie was working on the turning portrait in his own work, so we just combined it with a concert to make the portrait live. The idea of combining his form with music was the impetus. I guess there wasn’t that much thought put into it about introducing people to performance art. Because there’s no narrative it’s hard to see it in the same way as the experimental theatre work I did.
What attracted you to the image of the rotating woman within Turning? Was it an attempt to showcase queer femininities?
I had an idea in my casting of everything moving towards the feminine. I intuitively chose people who I admired. Some of them were people I was already collaborating closely with and some of them were introduced to me through the club world, but it was all people who to me had an iconic presence and were inspiring to me. Obviously there were a lot of transgendered women as well as cisgendered women. The work kind of revealed itself to us as the process went on. We were astonished by the feeling it left us. We set ourselves up in a kind of circle where the women were sat in the front row and came up onstage, standing on the pedestal and being observed by the other twelve women. It was a circle of witnessing and of empowerment that started to emerge as we watched each other’s essences reveal themselves. I compare the turning pedestal to the turning of a dervish where everything superfluous falls away. Everyone had their own journey while they were turning.
Tell me about the journey of the project from its early stages.
We did it for the first time in New York and it was quite an interior process, focused on the community. When I won the Mercury Prize, I suddenly had the opportunity to tour Europe as a significant production, so I wanted to bring Turning as ambassadorial project from New York, from my community, to other parts of the world. At the time there wasn’t really language to put around what we were presenting, which now I think of as the intersection between trans feminism and what we call Future Feminism.
The term ‘Future Feminism’ has cropped up a lot in your recent work. How would you define it?
Future Feminism refers very specifically to a group of women who I have worked side by side with for two decades. They are out on the frontier by themselves, using their bodies as material, exploring themes that are preoccupied with future landscapes and the future of the earth as well as the future of femininity, themes of violence, survivalism and the apocalypse. It’s a group of women who’ve been making work outside of institutions of feminism and yet who are in their own right feminist icons. I started to call people like Kembra and Johanna Constantine Future Feminists in an effort to describe their work. The definition of Future Feminism expanded when we started having meetings together with Bianca and Sierra Casady from CocoRosie, and we developed a series of thirteen tenets of Future Feminism that we revealed in New York earlier this year. We had a whole series of performances across the spectrum in relationship to the tenets.
Did Turning inform the creation of the Future Feminism project?
In 2006, when we did Turning, we didn’t have the language to describe this certain perspective of the group of artists we were working with, and we didn’t really have an understanding then of what trans feminism would look like. It’s kind of exciting to look at Turning today, eight years later, and realize that it was intuitively setting the stage for a lot of conversations that would be coming up over the next few years. Shortly after the Turning at the Olympia in Paris Riccardo Tisci presented Lea T as the first transgender model, and then a flux of trans models in the wake of her seemed to open the floodgates of trans awareness. Turning preceded Pussy Riot and even our own gesture of presenting Future Feminism.
During 2014 we’ve experienced an unprecedented awareness of trans people in the public sphere through women like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Carmen Carrera. Did that inform your choice to release the film this year?
I think it’s a fortuitous coincidence. We took a long time transforming Turning from a performance project into a film project, and the work itself transformed in the process of making the film. We included all of these personal narratives that weren’t a part of the staging. It does feel very relevant as a little known part of the narrative of this emergence of trans feminism. It was a sort of foreshadowing of what was to come, but also a frontier of what has yet to be fully explored: the intersection between trans feminism and other forms of feminism. In America there’s a lot of discussion about trans awareness, but for me it’s about connectivity, connecting the experience of trans women to women generally, connecting the experience of women to the experience of the earth itself. The subjugation of femininity within trans people is the same subjugation that women experience and that the earth herself experiences in our presence. I can no longer experience of the subjugation of femininity as separate from the subjugation of ecology, as articulated in the Future Feminist model. Turning was very much about the way we see each other, observing the circular, non-hierarchical model and creating a space in which we could see each other clearly and appreciate and empower one another. That seems like such a critical piece of the process and I think it’s relevant.