Irish filmmaker Vivienne Dick looks far younger than her 63 years with her short thick hair and forceful stare. When we met in a pub in London before Christmas, I was reminded of film critic Jim Hoberman’s 1980 article on her No Wave films, where he wrote about her ‘obsession with female macho’. Cut to 2010: at the time of Vivienne’s major retrospectives, perhaps echoing Hoberman, there were articles written entitled ‘Dick Flicks’ and ‘Dicking Around’. This ruffles, because, if anything, her work, then as now, is rigorously gendered and firmly rooted in French feminism. Since the heady days of 1970s radical art and feminist thought, the bright lights have certainly gone out in New York’s Lower East Side, and Ireland’s Celtic Tiger has bottomed. Despite this, Vivienne’s films remain consistently uncompromising and consciously connect the personal with the political, reminding today’s audience just how vital oppositional filmmaking is.
Born in Donegal in 1950, after a bout of global travelling Vivienne settled in New York’s Lower East Side in the mid-70s and became friends with a group of artists whose connection to music and a radical punk aesthetic suited her own emerging politics. Conjuring up the spirit of Maya Deren and 60s underground filmmakers such as Jack Smith and Marie Menken, her trangressive Super 8 shorts became known as No Wave films as she turned a fresh Warholian camera on intimate performances and (at the time, underground) New Wave music from her friends such as Lydia Lunch and Pat Place. Some of her key films from this time are Guérillière Talks (1978) and She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978), both of which had an influence on 80s feminist filmmakers Lizzie Borden and Bette Gordon. In the early 80s, she marked her return to Ireland with a biting satire on her birth country’s shameless tourism called Visibility Moderate (1981). She relocated to London in the mid-80s and became involved in the London Filmmakers Coop. In 1990, she made a film about her friends and London’s cultural diversity called London Suite (Getting Sucked In) . Then in the mid-90s she moved back to Galway to teach, make films and raise a family. Finally, last year she settled in Dublin and turned back to making films full time.
In anticipation of the UK premiere of Vivienne Dick’s new film The Irreducible Difference of the Other presented by Club Des Femmes and Open City Docs at the London Short Film Festival on 11 January 2014, which the filmmaker will attend, Selina Robertson of Club Des Femmes talked to her about art, politics, feminism and No Wave film.
Selina Robertson: You always pick strong titles for your films. Can you tell us how you came to find the title for your new film The Irreducible Difference of the Other?
Vivienne Dick: The title comes from the writings of Luce Irigaray, whose work I am very interested in. Woman is the primordial Other, but otherness can be displaced in colonialism, and war, and through caste and class. We have to find a new way of relating to the Other which is not based on dominance and brute force.
In The Irreducible Difference of the Other, we are taken on a personal journey through many portals: literature, song, poetry, performance, pop music, landscape, gardening, welding, the Arab Spring, war, politics in Ireland and feminism. On first viewing, the film unfolds like a collage – where or what was your starting point?
The starting point was war, vulnerability and otherness. I set out to make a film that would be very open to different pathways or directions. It can be a risky way to work because it is only when you are editing that it begins to coalesce. Fortunately the Arts Council in Ireland is still willing to fund work like this.
Three artists, Olwen Fouéré, Antonin Artaud and Anna Akhmatova are woven into the narrative. How do they relate to each other in the context of the film?
Olwen performs Antonin Artaud and channels, rather than plays, Anna Akhmatova. I see Artaud as a seer for this century. With all the technology we have in our hands we seem to be killing each other with ever more ferocity. It seems to me there is a connection between our treatment of the Other and our treatment of the planet. We all belong equally to nature and culture.
For the London Short Film Festival programme, we asked you to pick another one of your films and you chose one of your early No Wave films She Had Her Gun All Ready from 1978. In what way do you see the films as companion pieces?
She Had Her Gun All Ready is about relationship. The two main characters are performed by Lydia Lunch and Pat Place. I have been interested in the politics of relationship from when I first began to make films.
Your No Wave Super 8 films were so incredibly cool. They captured an underground punk art scene in downtown NYC as well as critiquing patriarchy, power, capitalism and gender relations. Can you expand on how your feminism and politics today connect with your filmmaking practice?
I have many of the same concerns I had when I began making films almost 40 years ago. I am going back to researching prehistory and images of women. It is about using images as a creative impetus for change. The starting point for new work is often people I meet, or a place, or music. I was in Cairo recently and would like to get to know the city and culture better.
Interview by Selina Robertson