The Celluloid Body: Women’s Artist Films at the Limit

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    Trailers, Jasmine Hirst

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    Solitary Acts #6, 2015, Nazli Dinçel

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    Her Silent Seaming 2014, Nazli Dinçel,

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    Soi Meme by M.M. Serra

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    Anne Hanavan, Medication

Past Event

This event was on 30 March | 7pm

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The Celluloid Body: Women’s Artist Films at the Limit

30 March | 7pm | £5

Exploring some of the darkest and most intimate aspects of the human experience, this programme presents the work, very rarely screened in the UK, of the New York Underground chicks: Jasmine Hirst, Anne Hanavan and M.M. Serra, alongside the hand-made films of counter-current voice, Nazli Dinçel.

Disparate in approach, these short experimental films share as their subject the body in all its pleasure and pain. The programme reflects on the binary division between art and pornography and considers the language we have available to describe sexual acts and their censorship on screen. It presents the ramifications of violence on the human body, and offers alternative portrayals of erotica and self-expression. DIY in approach, comprising heavily hand edited footage, variously punk-leaning and avant-garde; the works of the filmmakers shown are unwaveringly provocative in their presentation of embodiment, desire, and the paradoxes of both.

Curated with and presented by Agnès Houghton-Boyle. 

Content Warning: Some of the films in this programme contain explicit content and deal with issues of sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, sex work, substance abuse and suicide.


Jasmine Hirst, 2006, 21 min 

A collation of unfinished documentary footage presented in the trailer format, in which the filmmaker utilises a self-conscious mode to communicate her formal decisions to the viewer. Hirst’s work is melancholic and raw in its exploration of the psychic wounds of women who are lost and broken. Including preview footage of the documentary that Hirst began work on in 2002 towards the end of her ten-year correspondence with the serial killer Aileen Wurnos, in which she was granted rare access into death row to interview the woman who killed in response to the rapes she endured on the roads as a sex worker. Hirst’s unconventional journalistic approach leads to a powerful and intimate conversation with Wurnos, in which we see the friendship that has developed between the women, the gentle preparation for the interview and the careful consideration of her words, in the lead up to Wurnos’ execution. The incompleteness of the work leaves us with more questions than are answered and troubles the nature of endings more generally.  

Anne Hanavan, 2006, 2 min 

Evoking the work of Nan Goulding, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Kathy Acker, Anne Hanavan’s explicit, hard-core, provocative solo short set to a killer punk soundtrack is an experiment in bodily performance and self-expression. Part of a larger series, made to interrogate and express challenging feelings about her past experiences with sex work, rape and Catholicism. 

Anne Hanavan, 2007, 3 min 

Fifth in a series of self-portraits in which the artist aggressively confronts her past. Medication is a short film where Hanavan is coming to terms with her present-day obstacles as they relate to those in her past, namely residual health issues from her former life as a homeless heroin addicted prostitute. The artist enlisted the help of her best friend and lover Paul Korzinski to help film this personal exploration. 

Bitch Beauty
M.M. Serra, 2011, 7 min 

Bitch-Beauty is an experimental documentary profiling the life of Anne Hanavan, whose experiences as part of the underground scene in the East Village of the 1980s paralleled those of now-deceased Zoe Tamerlis Lund. Lund was the actor and screenwriter of Bad Lieutenant, who died of a heart failure due to extended cocaine use in 1999.  Using Hanavan’s films, performances, readings, and music as well as footage from Lund’s work, Bitch-Beauty is an intense 7-minute time capsule of addiction, the perils of street prostitution, and subsequent renewal or revival through cathartic self-expression. 

M.M. Serra, 1987: 3 min

Colourful, energetic, delicate, and sensual, this early short by M.M. Serra presents her unique vision of eroticism and poetic cinema in a fast-paced collage of dreamlike imagery. Fragments of a poem by C. Breeze are read and manipulated in a manner recalling the tape experiments of Steve Reich. Rich reds and deep blues stutter and sparkle along with her descriptions of love and “canine sex.” Turner is a brief glimpse at Serra’s roots in the New York avant-garde and the Filmmakers’ Cooperative. – Stela Jelincic 

Soi Meme
M.M. Serra, 1995, 6 min 

Soi Meme translates to ‘for oneself.’ Inspired by Barbara Rubin’s Christmas on Earth M.M. Serra, Abigail Child and Peggy Ahwesh recreate a performance by Goddess Rosemary that featured Maria Beatty performing a female ejaculation in an art gallery at The Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Experimental Film Festival in the 1990s, restaging the performance for the camera at Goddess Rosemary’s apartment.  

Enduring Ornament,
M.M. Serra, Josh Lewis, 2015: 14 min

Made using erotic footage found outside of a closing adult bookstore on New York’s former 42nd Street sex district, M.M. Serra makes use of a salvaged contact printer and applies chemical alterations to five 16 mm filmstrips. Faintly distinguishable through plumes of disfigured celluloid, and accompanied by Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven’s avant-garde sound poetry, the filmmakers add artistic elements, modifying the originally intended onlooking gaze. 

Nazli Dinçel, 2016, 12 min 

An eye-opening piece of guerrilla counter-surveillance, Untitled documents Dinçel’s time working as a tech assistant at a film festival where they managed to record the headset chatter between themselves and the two male projectionists working the event. Over the course of 12 short minutes, we hear the men continually berate Dinçel, ignoring their specific knowledge of film and dismissing them when they correctly diagnose technical problems. 

– Michael Sicinski 

Her Silent Seaming
Nazli Dinçel, 2014, 10 min 

A transcription of what I have been told during intimate experiences while separating from my husband. Sections consist of destroyed originals from Leafless (2011), motifs of the “feminine” alluding to Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963) and of reconstruction of a pomegranate. Obscured images clear out while the hand scratched text becomes harder to read with each section. Direct sound of cuts and hand processing are composed of 26 frame shots.  

Solitary Acts #4
Nazli Dinçel, 2015, 8 min 

The filmmaker films herself masturbate the object of debate. She hears others claim her body, her habits: those in her conservative surroundings as a child. The viewer claims her as well, by watching her in this private act. She is 9 years old, then 12. She observes popular icons, dismissing the agency of their body, she then rejects the other, objects outside of her body: with some teenage angst, denies climax to everyone else but herself. 

Solitary Acts #5 
Nazli Dinçel, 2015, 5 min 

The filmmaker films herself practice kissing with a mirror. She recalls teenage memories of overconsumption, confusing oral fixations that are both sexual (kissing) and bodily (eating). She ends up eating the carrot she is masturbating with, and she feels a sense of cannibalism. The components of the background of the scene are broken down and filmed in extreme closeups. These wave and play with one another: when text is overconsumed it becomes the image by wiping it out, then the image becomes the fabric where the filmmaker physically attaches the film together with fishing line. 

Solitary Acts #6
Nazli Dinçel, 2015, 10 min 

This is a feminist critique of the Oedipal complex. It is not the male child’s desire to have sexual relations with the mother. It is the mother’s desire to be sexually attracted to child-like men. The filmmaker recounts an abortion she had in 2009. If she had the child, he would have turned six this year, in 2015. The aborted child survives and becomes her lover. The filmmaker films her subject in a private act, complicating what could be considered a solitary act. 

About Jasmine Hirst

Jasmine Hirst is an experimental documentary filmmaker living, working, practicing, and exhibiting her films in New York since 1981. Her work is polyvalent in approach, including artist-run collectives, long-running collaborations, photography, design, and filmmaking. The recurring theme of her practice is her submersion into the darkest recesses of humanity’s most ferocious wounds: abuse, broken hearts, suicide, and murder. Rather than simply offering a finished film to audiences, her work explores the artist’s maddening, challenging and fervent process of making art. Hirst is currently working on a film in collaboration with Lydia Lunch, Artists: Depression, Anxiety and Rage! 

About Anne Hanavan

Anne Hanavan is a filmmaker, writer, performance artist, and lead singer of the multimedia performance troupe: Transgendered Jesus. Hanavan uses her body as the subject in a series of video self-portraits where the artist aggressively confronts her past in a frenzy state of cathartic self-expression. A key figure in New York City’s art scene, Havanan has been the subject of M.M. Serra, David Moog, and Clayton Patterson’s work, and has interviewed artists about their living spaces for Apartamento Magazine.  

About M.M. Serra

M.M. Serra: “As an artist with the name Mary Magdalene, my entire body of film work and the films that I have researched and curated, are striving to create alternative images of the body, of sex, and of intimacy – images that are about individuality and freedom of expression, rather than standardization and profit.” M.M. Serra is an experimental filmmaker, curator, author and the Executive Director of The Filmmakers Cooperative in New York. She formally describes her practice as Art(Core): “Art(Core) is the explicit in the cinematic body… (It) explores the abject body in all its messy physical glory – in its pleasure and pain.” 

About Nazli Dinçel

Nazli Dinçel works primarily on 16 mm, their entirely handmade films offer a language to an earlier avant-garde history that re-evaluates what it means to create work on celluloid as a Turkish immigrant to the United States, and as a nonbinary body. They are interested in using sex as a subversive force, a force that is capable of deleting meaningless social structures, or stereotypical conventions of “the female” in society and in the art world. Dinçel is recipient of The Helen Hill Award from the Orphan Film Symposium, Ann Arbor Film Festival’s Eileen Maitland Award, a Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowship (2018), and a 2019-2020 Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard University. They live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where they are building an artist-run film laboratory, part of a global network of collectives that work with analogue film. 

About Agnès Houghton-Boyle

Agnès Houghton-Boyle is a film programmer and moving image curator based in London. She received her M.A. in Modern and Contemporary Literature from the University of Manchester, where she completed her dissertation on the presentation of the sick body in Anne Boyer, Jo Spence, and La Toya Ruby Frazier’s work. Agnès is interested in the experimental, and non-fiction films of female and queer filmmakers, artists, and performers whose work explores the body politic and offers alternative gazes.