The exhibition Defiant Muses. Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 1970s and 1980s (Museo Reina Sofía, 25 September 2019 – 23 March 2020) explores the intersection between film, video and feminism in France during these two decades of political turmoil, combining videos, artworks, photographs, documentary archives and films in sections which articulate myriad civic concerns. Via a guided tour prior to the exhibition’s unveiling, the photographer and experimental filmmaker Babette Mangolte and the show’s curators, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Giovanna Zapperi, will underscore the complex network of alliances between writers, artists and film-makers, of which Seyrig was a part, along with other activists, such as actress and friend Jane Fonda, film-maker Babette Mangolte, poet and painter Etel Adnan and writer Kate Millet, among others.
Delphine Seyrig (1932–1990) is known as an actress through the roles she played in French auteur cinema, most notably in Alan Resnais’s film Last Year at Marienbad (1961), in which her character symbolises an idealised femininity. Yet ‘acting’ was not just a profession for Seyrig — in the 1970s it would become a form of feminist activism. At the same time, her collaborations with film-makers like Chantal Akerman, Marguerite Duras and Ulrike Ottinger afforded her the chance to study a wide array of feminine roles and unravel her own image as a diva. Around 1975, with video artist Carole Roussopoulos and translator Ioana Wieder, she produced an audiovisual series under the collective name "Les Insoumuses" (Defiant Muses), whereby video would be used as an emancipatory tool and an agent of political activism. In 1982, the three women created the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir in Paris, comprising an unprecedented audiovisual archive on the struggles of the time, for instance the fight against torture and the Vietnam War, and the fight for legal abortion, the rights of sex workers and political prisoners, and for the anti-psychiatry movement.
Babette Mangolte, photographer and French experimental filmmaker. After training in the study program of the École Nationale de Photographie et de Cinématographie she moved to New York, where she lives and works since 1970. She documented through photography the performances of the artists and dancers of the New York downtown artistic scene, such as Marina Abramović, Trisha Brown and Philip Glass. She worked with Chantal Akerman and Yvonne Rainer as director of photography until in 1975, when she began producing her own films.
Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez is an independent curator, editor and writer. She is the curator of Contour Biennale 9 (Belgium, 2019) and associate curator at Kadist, Paris, as well as the co-founder, with Elisabeth Lebovici and Patricia Falguières, of the seminar Something You Should Know, at EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris), editor of L’Internationale Online and the journal Manifesta and co-director of Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers.
Giovanna Zapperi is an art historian and a lecturer of Contemporary Art History at the University of Tours. She works at the intersection between art history, visual studies and feminism and has published L’artiste est une femme. La modernité de Marcel Duchamp (2012), Lo schermo del potere. Femminismo e regime della visibilità (2012) with Alessandra Gribaldo, and Carla Lonzi. Un’arte della vita (2017, French edition in 2018).