Barbara Hammer


“As a visual artist who primarily uses film and video in experimental, nonlinear time based work, my practice includes performance, installation and digital photography. I embrace critical and formal complexity while promoting an active and engaged audience. Thematically, my work deconstructs a cinema that often objectifies or limits women. My work makes these invisible bodies and histories visible. As a lesbian artist, I found little existing representation, so I put lesbian life on this blank screen, leaving a cultural record for future generations.

The content and meaning of my work have evolved through forty years of work. In the seventies I created an aesthetic based on connecting sight and touch. Tactile imagery would make viewers physically involved while watching film and lead to greater involvement in the world (Dyketactics). In performance I mobilized the projector and made the audience move to ‘see’ the film (Available Space). I hoped that once an audience saw and felt in a ‘new’ way, they would become active in a local, national and global politic.

In the eighties I found my earlier films with themes of lesbian representation had not been recognized as fine art. I began a series of more formal work in optically printed films on themes of fragility of light, life and film itself (Sanctus). This strategy worked and my work was included in several Whitney Biennials and MoMA Cineprobes.

In the nineties I returned to identity politics, but enriched by the formal concerns I mastered in the eighties. I made essay documentaries, a genre whose subject is an idea rather than a person or event. I kept my audience active, giving them the role of historian or archeologist of my densely collaged cinema. These feature documentaries asked questions such as: who makes history and who is left out, is autobiography truth or fiction, and how can a false cultural representation be re-appropriated (Nitrate Kisses, Tender Fictions, History Lessons). My goal of motivating the audience to take action remained the same.

Presently, I am increasingly concerned with global wars and my own ageing and health issues. I ask what can an artist do during a time of war (Resisting Paradise)? Matisse’s grandson defines the slow decline of civil liberties as the avenue to resistance and my film builds in a similar way. In all my work form is not predetermined, but grows from the thematic material.

In 2006 a diagnosis of ovarian cancer changed my world. I had to survive and that I have, as I am currently three years into remission of what is now called a chronic illness. I needed to make visible this horrific disease that is so often misdiagnosed as women’s concerns are ignored by the medical profession. I returned to my experimental roots to make a personal film that travels with me through chemotherapy treatments into the great open spaces of the West. I needed to attend to my archive so that my own history would not become invisible. I checked the condition of original film elements and organized their containers. I loosely grouped papers into boxes by decades.

I need to reprint some early films that are deteriorating and make a database for each piece of material in the paper archive. My archive is rich in women’s histories, and experimental film. It needs to be organized and made accessible to others.

In my commitment to passing on my inspiration and skills to younger artists, I am in the process of making a new experimental film on mentoring and collaboration with a much younger filmmaker (Generations).

How alive and lucky I am to be a practicing artist!”

Barbara Hammer, 2010

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