Young Girl Reading Group: Preliminary Materials for the Future
In the future imagined by Young Girl Reading Group, voices of womxn, people of color and the queer community are at the forefront.
Who owns the future has always been a political question. Future is more than just stories of orbiting the rings of Saturn — it’s in the shifting character of our reality, the way we relate to our bodies, the omnipresent engagement with technology, medicines we take and ambitions we dare to have. In the future imagined by Young Girl Reading Group, voices of womxn, people of color and the queer community are at the forefront. The best thing, this future could start right now, through the simple act of reading.
Young Girl Reading Group is a project by artists Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, which came into existence as an actual reading group in their Berlin flat in 2013. It had not so much to do with being young or being a girl, but inspired by Tiqqun’s 1999 publication “Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl”. The text proposes the concept of the Young-Girl, a category identified as neither age nor gender-specific, but rather as a product of consumer society and the epitome of its model citizen. It exposes how often our identities are often fabricated without us knowing — but how we could also understand, subvert and reclaim them.
Young Girl Reading Group started from a collective reading of texts which explore gender, feminism, and technology among other topics. “Every reading group is like a circle, and everyone reads out loud. We hear voices in the room, and everyone is empowered to speak”, Eglė explains. In the beginning, the artists also set up a Facebook group to share reading resources and connect, which is still going and now has just over three thousand participants.
Young Girl Reading Group’s output is incredibly diverse: from performances to films to clothing and even fragrances. Over the last few years, Young Girl Reading Group has performed at such prominent global art institutions as Palais de Tokyo, ICA, and Kunsthalle Basel. The world they create is both mesmerizingly strange and incredibly relatable. The settings could be Mars-like heaps of red clay, but the performers lounge around reading from their phones, transmitting performances through Instagram stories — just like us in our bedrooms.
My first encounter with Young Girl Reading Group happened a couple of years ago, in a very intimate setting. I remember coming to their flat in Athens and seeing a sewing machine mounted on a big marble table. The sewing machine was connected to an ancient IBM computer used to design embroideries — red and yellow letters YGRG for the upcoming performance. I later took part in a performance titled YGRG154: Body Heat at Amanda Wilkinson Gallery in London. I wore transparent plastic trousers and a white T-shirt, my face adorned with pearls. The text I read was about female automated voices, entropy, and desire. As I reclined under a heating lamp, I could feel the temperature rising. Surrounded by the onlookers in a small gallery space, I felt incredibly empowered by words.
I talked to Young Girl Reading Group about future feminism, fashion and books they find inspiring at the moment.
Anastasiia Fedorova: Today reading is often regarded as a thing of the past, or a luxury no one ever has time for anymore. What is the relationship between reading and technology in your work?
Eglė: We think of reading as a technology. Especially considering that there are many people who are not given possibility or ability to read. Reading is a tool, and your mobile phone is another tool.
Dorota: In Paul B. Preciado’s text “Gender, Sexuality, and the Biopolitics of Architecture: From the Secret Museum to Playboy”, which has been very influential for us, there is a chapter about the boudoir, which was a space which enclosed both female reading and female sexuality. In this confined room, both were intimate experiences rather than something which is publicly acceptable and visible. We are interested in bringing reading to the public space, both physical and digital.
Anastasiia: Your performances are often broadcasted and documented through Instagram in the selfie mode. What’s your attitude to social media and why are you interested in working with it?
Eglė: With the social media recently it’s becoming more and more difficult to differentiate what’s public and what’s private. You’re on display, but always on your own.
Dorota: The phone gives you a feeling of safety and familiarity. it makes you feel like you are in your own space, although actually, it’s the opposite. We’re also interested in what does it mean if you actively choose to be there and become textualized in the form of data.
Anastasiia: Do you think of your work as futuristic? What draws you to the ideas and aesthetic of the future?
Eglė: We’ve always looked into the future for two reasons: the discontent about the present and the fact that the narrative of the future is often male-dominated. The idea that marginalized groups could imagine the future for themselves is very exciting.
Dorota: The more you look into the future the more you can create it. It’s very important because there is so much bias in people’s imagination and you can really see how it’s shaping technology now. The more you have of different visions, the more possibility for the future to be shaped differently.
Anastasiia: Clothes are always a very distinguishing feature of your performances. At Lafayette Anticipations, you had garments from Ottolinger and collaborated with stylist Christelle Owona Nisin. What is the role of fashion in your work, and are you not weary of it perceived as something superficial?
Dorota: From the start, we wanted to have a kind of uniform, an identity for the reading, something symbolic about these people being together in one moment. Also, consume is so close to the body, and the body is crucial for our practice. At our latest performance SULK III at Lafayette Anticipations, we tried to create a fictional laboratory setting. Everything was made from sheer fabrics to give an impression of materials that are fragile — everything disintegrating, falling apart, showing layers. Part of the set was the heap of rotting grass, connecting all these changes: the materials, the molecules, the process, the scent made during the performance.
Anastasiia: How exactly did you work with fragrance?
Eglė: We’ve been interested in scent for a while, we first started working with it in 2013. There is a hierarchy of senses, where vision is always the primary one. We wanted to make the performance less about the visual experience but more sensual one, about the smell and sound.
Dorota: The fragrance RYXPER 1126AE was conceptualized during our performance YGRG159; SULK at ANTI, the 6th Athens Biennial, in 2018. We worked with International Flavors and Fragrances Inc., Mackenzie Reilly and Renee King at the NYC branch. Working on SULK, we got interested in how the highly aestheticized performance is often very concerned with its own image, but we thought it would be interesting to focus on smell instead. The choreography is staged for the sensual experience of smelling the performance, and the performance actually makes the smell and captures it. It’s interesting how the collection of smell is a bit like the collection of data, another area which could be potentially capitalized on, molecules becoming the same type of information as the text of image.
Anastasiia: The last but not least, what are you reading at the moment?
Eglė: The next project we’re working on is going to be a horror film. We are interested in evoking the eerie, the prolonged sense of dread rather than a single identifiable moment of fear. It’s also going to involve nature and ecology. We’re reading a lot in preparation for this project. Timothy Morton’s Queer Ecology. Sarah Ahmed’s Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology. Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie. Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror.
Dorota: We recently read Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure. It’s a novel which is based on an island — or it seems like it’s an island but maybe it’s not. It’s about the limited knowledge which the main characters have which makes them feel like they are on an island. In the end, you never get the full picture of where it is or is it the future, but I guess this is what makes it intriguing. Also, Ali Smith’s How to be Both. She writes speculation on the lives of painters. The one I read was about the Renaissance painter who was intersex, and made these amazing frescos in Ferrara. Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet. Also, we had one reading group here in Marseille and read the fairly new Silvia Federici’s book, Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women, although we didn’t like this one as much as her 1998’s Caliban and the Witch.
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