08 March 2011

Conference Report: The Carnival of Feminist Cultural Activism 2011

The Carnival of Feminist Cultural Activism has just taken place at York University. It involved three days of presentations, panels, discussions, performance, workshops, films and a whole lot of talking and hanging out. The event was a lot of fun, as well as being challenging and thought-provoking. The organisers did a great job in creating a space where many different kinds of feminists could come together. I was there for four things: to participate in a bunch of presentations; to chair a couple of sessions; to see my friends and meet new folks; and to present the final plenary: Fightin' Dirty With The Chubsters.

I had an hour, so I showed my Chubsters short film, had a stab at introducing the concept, and got people to take part in some Chubsters skill-sharing. I thought that few would turn up to this final plenary, but I was wrong, it was busy, and I was worried that a feminist and largely academic crowd would be a little starchy, I was wrong about that too.

I offered four skill-sharing options:

Participants were invited to use eyes, mouth, expression, hair and brains to attack with their faces. I nipped back into the room at one point, after being outside taking part in one of the other activities, to witness the glaring group standing in a neat circle practising their glaring at each other in silent aggressive rage.

I drew some cans of Slim-Fast on a piece of card and invited people to do some target practise with the Chubsters' weapon of choice - spud guns. This was by far the most popular group. Social justice activists take note: people really like a spud gun.

This was what I was most excited about, and daunted. I've wanted to be good at spitting ever since I saw Patti Smith accurately shoot a jet of saliva out of her mouth onstage and hit a spot to her side. I imagined that it would be great to see or be a Chubster spitting insolently at something. But spitting really is disgusting, and offensive to many, especially when done by women and I wondered if I was pushing people too far, though I also saw my role in the plenary as goading a group of over-tired, conferenced-out people into antisocial pleasure and risk-taking. Anyway, I drew a picture of a BMI (Body Mass Index) Chart because I thought that it would make a good target. I was delighted that people went for it. None of us had Patti Smith's technique, but we made up for it with gusto. My favourites involved the running spit, the up-close and phlegmy spit, and the crab spit, where a woman bent backwards into a crab and spat in a graceful arc onto the BMI Chart.

This was an anything goes option for people who didn't fancy any of the others. From what I gather it involved a lot of arm-wrestling and actual, down on the floor wrestling. It made my heart sing to see a pair of very serious feminist intellectual heavyweights rolling around on the floor of the lecture theatre in a leg grip.

Some people combined different skills, advanced Chubsterdom! Later we welcomed some new Chubsters into the gang, check out their names: Awesome Jonnie, Backwoods Bettie, Biscuits, Cat-Face, Chaos Flower, Count Fatula, Crab, Faye Bentos, Gorrilay, Grrrran, Grummel Pott, Hell's Granny, Junk, Myxt, Pinkie, Piseog Dubh, Rabid Fox, Raptor, Robin Hood, Rough, Round Robin, Rump-Shaker, Skiff, Southern Fried Chubbin', Stink-Eye, The Fixer, Thunder Domes, Toxic Pink Stuff, T-Rex, Twisted Stitch, and Von Vixen.

By the time I got the train home from York I was pretty exhausted and had that brain-buzzing feeling that I often get after some Chubsters action, or a really good Fat Studies event. I'm really grateful that the Carnival organisers enabled me to create this weird space for people to play in, and that people got it and were engaged.

There are more pics of the whole event in Evangeline Tsao's Facebook Album.

I kept coming back to the BMI Chart covered in spit, dripping with it. This chart is so oppressive, it's today's equivalent of phrenology and about as much use. Kate Harding's fantastic Illustrated BMI Project was one way of transforming it and reducing its power, I've seen others address it as activists too, and I saw the spit-fest as a extension of this approach. I felt so happy to see it defiled with the collective spit of a group of feminists! It perfectly captured my (our?) contempt for it. I thought about how great it was to have been able to facilitate the creation of this real life mental image, and I wondered if other people might remember it dripping with spit the next time they come across it in a doctor's office, or are being lectured about it, or whatver. It felt like I was spitting it out of myself and removing its power over my body. Maybe the next time people see a load of Slim-Fast for sale in a shop they might imagine having a pop at it with a spud gun.

It's made me think more about how, in my experience, The Chubsters is often a vehicle for creating unlikely yet enriching moments of real-life wildness, peculiar tableaux that stick with you later. These become like mental touchstones that stay with me and comfort, amuse, captivate, inspire me when I draw upon them. I'm sure a spit-covered drawing of a BMI Chart is not what many people would consider a treasured memory, but it is for me.

Full disclosure: some of my friends chose to withdraw from the Carnival last December, stating their position on Red Chidgey's blog Feminist Memory: Open letter of withdrawal from the Carnival of Feminist Cultural Activism (2011). Then as now my feelings about Raw Nerve are different to my friends', as is my understanding of what happened. I am mentioning this here because I don't want to pretend that this issue was not also a part of my Carnival experience.

1 comment:

Petunia said...