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The Lure Of The Iconic


Despite not identifying as a woman myself or perhaps exactly because of that, I've become quite the expert of feminine-coded cultural techniques. Growing up, I meticulously curated my assigned gender, compensating for my lack of womanhood with flamboyant displays of femininity. Letting go of that façade was downright liberating. Even though society still reads my body as female, I've taken to dodging anything too "femme," opting instead for a blend of androgyny, gender fuckery, or anything that doesn't neatly fit the label assigned to me at birth. So, you can imagine the complicated feelings I brought to the workshop titled "How to be Iconic: Hairflips and Other Femme-inine Coded Cultural Techniques" by Anina Müller, Ramona Kortyka, and Jennifer Merlyn Scherler. Did I really want to re-learn these techniques?

A small group of people of different genders gathered around a table at Ausstellungsraum Klingental, with tea brewing and snacks on standby. Next to us, a mountain of crafting supplies. Awaiting us were two insightful talks sandwiched between crafting sessions where we fashioned our very own "gesture enhancement props" to flaunt during the grand finale "Walk of Fame." Over the next five hours we churned out fake nails, a handbag with a secret compartment for emergency smokes, a multicolored wig, an Ice Age-inspired scarf, and a bouquet of flowers. But it wasn't just about accessorizing – it was about elevating our gestures, pondering which gestural expressions truly defined us and how we could amplify them. Do our everyday gestures stem from within, or are they borrowed from external influences? Can we truly own adapted gestures, or do they retain a trace of their origins?

During the first talk, Ramona Kortyka shed light on the significance of crafting. She drew parallels between the undervaluation of reproductive or care work and crafting when compared to wage labor and fine arts. While the undervaluation of feminine-coded techniques in the art world is not per se surprising, I was shocked to hear that a young artist is being criticized today for incorporating crafting techniques into their art – given the precedent set by artists like Rosemarie Trockel. Trockel’s incorporation of machine-knitted pictures referenced not just the hierarchy of craft and fine arts, but also contemplated how the spread of wage labor during industrialization is linked closely to our current understanding of acts like knitting as crafting rather than manual labor. In this way, crafting today can also be reframed as a strategy of learning how to do something by yourself and therefore gaining control over its production, comparable to zine, hacker and DIY cultures.

Next up, Anina Müller and Jennifer Merlyn Scherler took us on a tour of "Performing Girlhood'' in all its glorious forms – from drag queens to the infamous crying selfie to the rise of Bimbo Feminism. Turns out, I wasn't alone in my careful construction of femininity. Anina and Jennifer argued, with a quick detour to theories of camp, that the current tendency to understand overt artificiality as insincerity is not helpful (or interesting). If you saw the exhibition, you might remember the discussion around body-building and femininity. During the workshop, Jennifer and Anina built the bridge from body-building to Bimbo Feminism: “The overt parallel among the two examples given is that they deliberately aim to be objectified” (Stan van Rompaey, Notes on Bimbos and Bodybuilders. A heteropic* enquiry into “Camp”, Brussels 2022, p. 7). By inhabiting the extremes of stereotypically male and female gender expression and pushing the societal beauty ideals into the absurd, the artificiality of these ideals might become more visible – or the achievement of them normalized and widely expected.

After we finished our crafting session and walked the improvised runway to music and loud cheering, it was time to pack up. Observing the sense of liberation that can accompany the exploration of femme-inine gestures and props was insightful. Feeling how alien fake nails felt on my hands was insightful too. And let the record state: Hair flips are just awkward with short hair. It became apparent that a return to the hyper-femme aesthetic of my past is not on the horizon. But visiting was certainly fun.