Alex Martinis Roe - Their desire rang through the halls and into the tower, film still including material courtesy of Utrecht University Gender Studies

Reviving feminist collectives, together

Issue no5
okt-nov 2021

When theory and practice meet. In her (hand)book To Become Two, Alex Martinis Roe traces the differences and meeting points between several feminist collectives. How can or should future generations collectively live together?

It all starts with a refusal. When Alex Martinis Roe asks the well-known feminist philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray to engage in a conversation with Elizabeth Grosz, another acknowledged feminist theorist, but from a generation that came after Irigaray’s, Luce Irigaray declines. Irigaray’s unwillingness forces Alex* to rethink relations between feminist thinkers from different times as well as between practice and theoretical elaborations in these histories.

Still from Alex Martinis Roe - Their desire rang through the halls and into the tower

This happening, this refusal, eventually resulted in the project To Become Two, that Alex undertook with help of Casco and If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, The Showroom and ar/ge kunst among others. From 2014 on, the project has been exploring specific histories of political feminist practices in Europe and Australia that share concepts and ideas, but that are nevertheless also different. These practices can all be seen as part of a genealogy of the kind of feminism that focusses on sexual difference and/or as the foundation of a very closely related strand of (feminist) thought that is often described as New Materialism or posthumanism. Methods and ideas have been elaborated by and migrating through these different feminist groups and their activities, producing differentiating practices within a lineage. For To Become Two Alex travels to different places and engages in their feminist communities, to explore this fragmented history of sexual difference and New Materialist feminism. Based on these experiences, she now proposes strategies for future collective feminist practices.

The project To Become Two consists of six films, that were made at the places that Alex visited and in collaboration with different generations of feminists in these locations. Besides these films, a series of workshops and public salons are organized, and Alex eventually writes an accompanying book, which was presented at Casco last month. To Become Two is a proposition for new feminist collective practices that do not only take connections between and with feminist thinkers from older generations and their ideas seriously, but that also generate new connectivity between young feminists. This might still sound vague or not actual, but allow me to explain this statement by first looking at one of the films, Their desire rang through the halls and into the tower (2014-2016), that was re-screened at Casco as part of the book launch.

Still from Alex Martinis Roe - Their desire rang through the halls and into the tower

Still from Alex Martinis Roe - Their desire rang through the halls and into the tower

In the film, members of the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht narrate both the history of Anna Maria van Schurman, who attended Utrecht University in the seventeenth century as the first female university student in Europe, and the development of the Women's Studies research school, also at Utrecht University. The women in the film read a collectively edited script that came into existence through research and interviews with the feminists that founded and developed the Women's Studies research school. The film is shot in the very spaces that played a role in the (hi)stories that are voiced. What immediately strikes me while watching the film, is that in the narration of these genealogies names are almost completely left out. The film does not necessarily focus on the autonomous contributors, but instead on the collective practice that brought forth the Women's Studies research school. Leaving out specific names, dates and other facts also contributes to my interpretation of the film as a story instead of an historical account. However, the film does not only talk about collective practices, it also, in its making, engenders such a practice. Through working together on the film and the script, the contributors from the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht University and Alex performatively create a new relational web in which they can be influenced by each other and the different feminist genealogies that are or have been important in their thoughts. The film is not simply narrating or reproducing a (specific) feminist history, but it is also performatively creating new feminist collective practices that include women from different generations.

The book To Become Two, I want to argue, works in similar ways. Just like the film(s) it encourages transgenerational feminist exchange through, among other tactics, the narration of feminist histories, while it also provides propositions in the form of exercises for collective feminist practices that are still to come. The book’s first part explores different, but specific, genealogies that all played a role in producing sexual difference and/or feminist New materialism/Posthumanism. Alex’s aim here is not, I think, to provide an historical overview, but rather to present and analyze how certain feminist conceptual frameworks, that have been important to her own ideas, have come into existence as an outcome of the very actual activities and actions that were undertaken collectively by the respective groups of feminist thinkers. The second section, titled “Our Future Network”, contains twenty propositions for future feminist collective practices. In this part Alex puts the network, which she created through making the films and travelling, to work. Each of the propositions was written together with a contributor – an artist, researcher, activist, choreographer, curator- that Alex met while making the films and is focused around a topic that this specific contributor is interested in. The propositions function as a handbook, with exercises and examples that react to the feminist practices that were analyzed in the first part. What I find remarkable is that Alex not only theorizes and proposes strategies for collective feminist practices, but she also actively forms them through all the work that she is doing. This sensitivity is present in the film(s) as well as in the book.

Book launch of To Become Two at Casco

I unfortunately did not find the time to read the book in its entirety before writing this text, but I definitely will, and I hope I can put some of the propositions to work myself, together with others, naturally.

* In To Become Two Alex Martinis Roe uses first names when she refers to other feminist thinkers as a way to continue feminist storytelling. I will continue this practice here, LP.

Alex Martinis Roe, To Become Two: Propositions for Feminist Collective Practice, 2018

The book launch of To Become Two took place 30 April 2018 at Casco, Utrecht. 

Liza Prins
is kunstenaar

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