"Mei Ling, an idle young Chinese woman, lives alone in her flat, waiting for her lover. One day, she finds a little octopus in the kitchen sink. She decides to adopt it to avoid boredom. The octopus grows up..."
This is the description of French filmmaker Stephanie Lansque's film Mei Ling. The animated short will be on view as part of the Tricky Women Film Festival. For the past seven years, the Tricky Women festival in Vienna has provided a place for female animators to show their work. The five-day exhibition creates a women-only space for displaying art and forging connections. Mei Ling is just one example of the 181 films, discussions, lectures, and workshops that will continue throughout the weekend. Selected films will be judged by the public and a jury of artists to compete in five categories. It sounds like an amazing opportunity for some artists, but after our discussion earlier this week of the Whitney's "women's show," we have to ask: why have a festival of just female filmmakers?
Here is a description of the show, from the official website: "The Tricky Women 2010 programme demonstrates how profound, acute, buoyant and subversive animated films can be. Above all, however, they offer entertainment for the public." None of this sounds woman-specific, yet the show purposefully focuses on the work of one half the population. I am in no way arguing that men are being oppressed by the Tricky Women festival, but there is a part of me that wonders how long we should continue showing women's art in separate venues. Doing so conspicuously marks each piece as a women's piece. Does this imply that part of the value of the art lies in the gender of the artist?
Fortunately, Dazed Digital asks festival director Birgitt Wagner why have a women's only cultural space? to which she responds:
As long as women still earn about 30 per cent less than men, it's vital that there are people out there providing an outlet and a voice to encourage greater equality. That fact's just as true in the art world as it is in the wider economy, so Tricky Women is our small contribution to redressing the balance. That said, our audience is mixed and we do screen co-productions so long as women hold the central roles – whether that's as producers, directors or creative leads.
For much of the art world, men's art is considered somehow more important, universal and significant. The Tricky Women festival seeks to correct this imbalance by offering an alternative. Shows like the Whitney Biennial mark a step in the right direction, but so long as that is the exception, and not the rule, Wagner will continue carving out a separate space for female animators and artists.