Sound and vision blog

07 September 2020

Recording of the week: The V-Girls’ Academia in the Alps

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

Listen to Academia in the Alps: In Search of the Swiss Mis(s), a performance by the V-Girls, recorded by the British Library at the Feminist Theory Conference, Glasgow University, Scotland, 13 July 1991.

illustration of Heidi
Illustration by Edna Cooke Shoemaker in Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Translated by Helen B. Dole. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, c1927. PZ7.S772 H30 1927. Image from Crossett Library Bennington College licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Academia in the Alps In Search of the Swiss Mis(s)

The V-Girls was New York-based collective of five women artists: Andrea Fraser, Erin Cramer, Jessica Chalmers, Marianne Weems and Martha Baer.

They started as a critical theory reading group and collaborated together for ten years (1986-1996). They created performances shaped like academic panel-discussions, and presented them at universities, art galleries and museums.

Titles include:

Sex on Your Holiday Season (1987).

Academia in the Alps: In Search of the Swiss Miss(s) (1988).

The Question of Manet’s Olympia: Posed and Skirted (1989).

Daughters of the ReVolution (1993).

For these panel-performances the V-Girls wrote papers drawing from gender theory, linguistics, psychoanalysis and deconstruction. Their topics ranged across power and gender relations, education, literature and art history. They used satire and parody to challenge the opacity of the academic discourse.

Academia in the Alps focuses on Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic Heidi, published in 1881. This was a pretext to talk about the position of women in academia.

In a book devoted to Swiss women writers called The Madwoman in the Hayloft, Gilbert and Gubar describe how Spyri wrote standing up while cooking the evening meal so that if her disapproving husband came into the kitchen, she could quickly thrust her pages into or under the stew. This conflagration of novelist and nourishment is typical of 19th-century women writers, who were burdened both by the responsibility of making the broth and by the curse of stewing in it.

Some of the papers given on this panel include:

‘The Goatman in the Freudian Field’

‘Derrida and Dairy: Recovering the Balanced Meal in Heidi’

‘Why Heidi Can’t Read?’

This recording has been digitised by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project (2017-2022) funded by the National Lottery Fund. (British Library reference C537/1).

References:

Baer, Martha, Erin Cramer, Jessica Chalmers, Andrea Fraser, Marianne Weems, Herb Rorhback, Werner Sanchez, Pip Winthrop, and Raul. ‘The V-Girls: A Conversation with October.’ October 51 (1989), pp115-43.

‘The V-Girls / MATRIX 123’ February 16-17, 1989 (exhibition text by Lawrence Rinder). University of California, Berkeley Art Museum. Pacific Film Archive http://archive.bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibition/123

Academia in the Alps: In Search of the Swiss Mis(s) [unreleased video recording, online]. Jessica Peri Chalmers The V-Girls. Franklin Furnace / Judson Church, 5 January 1991. 56 min. 58 sec.

https://thev-girls.tumblr.com/tagged/jessica+peri+chalmers (accessed 24/09/2020).

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