Barbara Hammer on Experiment and Exploration

Barbara Hammer on Experiment and Exploration

Laura Belik on the Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA | Experiment and Exploration talk with Barbara Hammer on January 31, 2018.

Hammer“I am a lesbian feminist filmmaker”, Barbara Hammer emphasized as the lecture started. Her production of over eighty iconic films and videos touches upon topics that were just starting to be discussed almost fifty years ago, when her career started. Hammer is one of the most important names when it comes to woman directors working on experimental film and performances, thinking about cinema beyond the big screen.

When Hammer moved to the Bay Area in the 1970’s, she was a student at San Francisco State University. As she recalls, she was the only woman in a class of twelve. That was challenging on many levels. While Hammer would work on her physical abilities to hold all the equipment required for classes, she also had to cooperate with sexist scripts that she would often not agree with, as part of collaborative projects amongst the students. “I wasn’t comfortable with it, and tried to sabotage it as I could”, Hammer joked. But her response came later on, when she presented to the professors her own production as an out lesbian, “Dyketactics” (1974). “I was shocked and frightened”. Hammer described how she was apprehensive of her mentor’s reactions, and could only calm down as the screening ended, and they all came to shake her hand and congratulate her for the innovative work. “That’s how I knew I had made it!”

Hammer also shared with the audience some of her photography work from the 1970’s, and how, by that time, she would always carry a camera with her, taking photos as she wished. Those photos of her everyday life and close circles are currently being revised by the author for an upcoming show in New York in October. Part of the images are extremely personal and portray a very important period in Hammer’s life, as she had recently left her husband and came out. Hammer’s “first lesbian home”, as she calls it, was in Berkeley. She appreciated being in the Bay Area, feeling comfortable with who she was, and how she was accepted and supported by the community around her. One of Hammer’s first performances was at San Francisco’s Modern Art Museum. Hammer noticed the lack of “lesbian art” at the institution and called out friends to perform in front of the museum in retaliation for that.

The artist often combines screenings and films with performance works. During her lecture, Hammer surprised the audience with an attempt to do so at BAMPFA’s auditorium: Lights came down, a person holding a projector started spinning around the room while one of Hammer’s documentaries was on. Different parts of the film were projected on different walls while we heard Hammer’s voice reciting over those strong images and memories. The lecture then, truly became an experimental immersion into Hammer’s life and work, now adapting modern technology and possibilities of new performative experiences.

Lauren Belik (PhD Student, Architecture) reviewed the January 31, 2018 talk with Barbara Hammer, as part of the Spring 2018 Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA series. To learn more about the series, see below:

Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA: Experiment and Exploration. This series explores the exciting world of the Bay Area’s alternative, underground, and experimental media arts communities and the ways they have transformed contemporary art and media culture. Led by UC Berkeley Associate Professor of Film and Media Jeffrey Skoller, the series engages prominent media artists, curators, and critics to explore the idea of experimentalism in art as a risk-taking approach to creative expression and as a philosophical position that emphasizes art as process and invention over product and professional mastery.

Arts + Design Wednesdays @ BAMPFA is organized and sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Arts + Design Initiative in partnership with Big Ideas courses. In-kind support is provided by BAMPFA. Learn more here.