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by dr andrew cousins

The Video Art of Francine Germaine Wilson

Francine Germaine-Wilson is one of the most controversial experimental film makers in Britain. Her short films and video art installation pieces have drawn condemnation and commendation in equal measure. She is an ardent feminist and intellectual and she does not shy away from incorporating taboo subjects into her work. Her new exhibition "Menstrually Recycled" is currently showing at the Tate Modern in London. I went to talk to her about her work.

AC: Brian Sewell, the art critic of the Evening Standard, said in his review of ‘Menstrually Recycled’- "Never in my life have I witnessed such a travesty in the name of art. It is so banal, so utterly devoid of wit or imagination (let alone talent) that one is left with the feeling, not so much of an opportunity missed, but more that the opportunity didn’t actually exist in the first place". Does that kind of criticism upset you?
FGW: I think it would if it wasn’t for one thing.

AC: And what would that be?
FGW: The fact that I know that Brian Sewell is a brain-dead old fart whose head is so firmly planted up his own arsehole that he’s in grave danger of ingesting his own pelvis. He wouldn’t recognise true art if it was tattooed onto the inside of his eyelids. In fact, one of the pieces in my exhibition deals with Mr Sewell and his so-called artistic values.

AC: That would be ‘Brian Sewell has a tiny cock’?
FGW: That’s right. It’s a multimedia installation piece. Basically it consists of a bank of video monitors placed around a rabbit hutch. The monitors continually display examples of different works of art while in the cage are two rabbits eating their own droppings. It’s an ironic comment on the state of art criticism in Britain at the beginning of the 21st Century.

AC: It’s certainly divided the critics hasn’t it?
FGW: Yeah, ‘Art Review’ called it, "Powerful and shocking. Like being slapped in the face by your own preconceptions" while the ‘Sunday Times Magazine’ called it, "wank". But that’s the whole point of my work. I want people to be challenged by it. I want to see people running out of the gallery screaming because their brains are about to melt. I think the ultimate ambition is for everyone who comes to see the exhibition ending up needing psychiatric help. They featured it on ‘Newsnight Review’ last week. Mark Lawson is now getting treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

AC: Your work is made up almost entirely of film and video pieces. Why did you choose that as your medium?
FGW: It has an immediacy to it. It’s real. It’s now. It’s also very organic but technological at the same time. I hate canvas. It’s a dead medium as far as I’m concerned. To me there’s no difference between a painting and a slogan on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker on a car. ‘The Haywain’ is as meaningless as "Honk if you bonk" or "My other car is a Batmobile". The ‘Mona Lisa’ might as well be a large picture of Craig Charles' fat ugly grinning face plastered over a quote from ‘Red Dwarf’ on a spotty teenagers chest. It’s all dead, lifeless. Film is like a living thing. It changes and evolves. Unless it’s ‘Red Dwarf’ – that just recycled the same jokes over and over again after series three. There wasn’t much that evolved there.

AC: I want to talk about some of the other pieces in the exhibition. One of the more powerful films you made is called ‘My Cervix – My Self’. Can you tell us about that?
FGW: It’s an attempt to show how women are portrayed in films as nothing more then sex objects. To that end the film follows one day in a woman’s life but all filmed by a camera inserted into her vagina. It gives us a wombs-eye view of the daily struggle we all face as women.

AC: So essentially you’ve created a whole new genre - the gynaecology epic.
FGW: I don’t like to apply glib labels to my work. I am an artist. I let my art speak for itself.

AC: Another of the films you have showing here is called ‘Cross your Heart’ isn’t it?
FGW: Again it’s a piece about femininity. It depicts Edwin Caulder, the inventor of the bra being strangled by his own creation. It is a metaphor for the way that women are confined by an item of clothing designed by a man. An item of clothing that men can never wear but yet they dictate its form.

AC: I believe one person has already dubbed it ‘Bra Wars’.
FGW: You feel threatened by my work don’t you?

AC: No. Not at all
FGW: You are. I can see the fear in your eyes.

AC: Oh that. Actually, I’ve got a touch of conjunctivitis. ‘Cross your Heart’ has a companion piece doesn’t it?
FGW: Yes. It’s called ‘See how you like it’. It’s about the male inventor of the tampon. He’s forced to wear one himself. Hence the title.

AC: But seeing as he’s a man how on earth is he supposed to do that?
FGW: Use your imagination.

AC: Oh. Oh God, I see.
FGW: My favourite piece is called ‘Man’s inhumanity to Man’.

AC: That’s a live action/video installation isn’t it?
FGW: That’s right. It depicts two men wearing nappies. They alternately beat each other with cricket bats then tickle themselves with feathers. They are surrounded by video monitors that show either images of themselves relayed by closed circuit cameras or images of pornography. This is coupled with a soundtrack featuring the greatest hits of Bucks Fizz interspersed with the cast of Coronation Street shouting "No!" in a variety of European languages. It represents the ineffectuality of reality.

AC: Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. It’s rubbish isn’t it?
FGW: What?

AC: It’s complete and utter rubbish.
FGW: Are you daring to call my art rubbish?

AC: Well somebody has to. Look at it. It’s crap. It’s just two out of work actors pretending to hit each other with rubber cricket bats. One of them was in ‘The Bill’ last week.
Actor 1: It was ‘Silent Witness’ actually. I played Amanda Burton’s old boyfriend who accidentally gets involved in a murder she’s investigating thus forcing her to come to terms with her own past before she can face her future. My agent’s talking about a BAFTA nomination actually.

AC: And you can shut up too.
FGW: Don’t talk to my art like that.

Actor 2: I’m sorry, I’m not ‘your art’. I have actually done Shakespeare.

AC: If you’re so good why are you doing this? Why aren’t you out doing some proper acting?
Actor 2: Bitch.

Actor 1: Ignore him Justin.

FGW: Will you two be quiet! You’re destroying the ambience of my work.

AC: Francine Germaine-Wilson, I think we’ll leave it there.
Actor 1: Justin, your nappy’s falling off.

FGW: I hope you’re satisfied with yourself Dr Cousins.

"Menstrual Recycling" is showing at the Tate Modern until the 26th August 2001.

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