20th Confrontations FestivalDecency Clause
One of the programming leitmotifs of this year’s Festival is “Decency Clause” that we have prepared together with Dr Joanna Krakowska, the author and curator of events subsumed under this umbrella.
In 1990, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) – the US governmental agency founded in 1965 as a means of supporting culture and the arts – refused to pay out already assigned grants to four artists on the grounds of the alleged indecency of their art. The NEA based their decision on the “Decency Clause” that had been approved of by the Congress and which in result obliged the agency to take into consideration not just the artistic merits of the applicants but also the supposed “moral” dimension of their work. In this particular case, what was deemed “indecent” was everything that was feminist and queer. Holly Hughes, Karen Finley, John Fleck and Tim Miller were denied their rightful grants despite the fact that their projects had been positively evaluated by NEA pundits. The artists in question lodged an official complaint: their appeal at a district court was favourably reviewed, however, the Supreme Court asserted the legality of the disputed “Decency Clause”. The 1990 ruling has had long-term consequences as far as US art is concerned: since then, due to the influence of the Congress, the NEA has ceased to bestow grants on individuals.
Holly Hughes, one of the “NEA Four” will visit Lublin as the Confrontations Festival’s guest of honour. This New York-based performer, Professor at the University of Michigan and an icon of the North American feminist and queer movement will present her own “Clit Notes”, which she created in direct response to the NEA-related events of the early 1990s.
Together with Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, Holly Hughes established the legendary Women’s One World (WOW) Café in the 1980s, a cooperative of artists in New York’s East Village, which later became one of the centres of avant-garde art; it is at the WOW Café that leading female practitioners of experimental theatre, women’s underground and queer performing arts made their debut and/or made a name for themselves.
Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw are co-founders of the outstanding Split Britches collective – the legendary and the most famous lesbian theatre group in the world, which gained renown because of among others “Belle Reprieve”, a performance based on Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” and re-written as a play about the network of relations between women. In Lublin Weaver and Shaw will show two solo pieces.
The two artists will be accompanied by Penny Arcade, one of Andy Warhol’s stars, an exquisite performer and social activist, who will work with Lublin-based artists on her work presented during the Festival.
In the course of the Confrontations Festival we will premiere in Poland the New York performing arts and theatre avant-garde. The emancipatory struggle waged by Holly Hughes, Split Britches and Penny Arcade has forever changed the shape of contemporary art as well as provided a fertile ground for artists, such as Martha Graham Cracker, critically acclaimed and lauded by the Lublin audience alike in 2014. We will engage ourselves in a dialogue with the most important personalities of the US queer and feminist performing arts and discuss the current social, political and economic state of the arts. We will touch the avant-garde to understand the present. All in the belief that censorship did not disappear in 1989 – this is a myth that we would like to defy and dispel. We are too familiar with suppression and bowdlerisation. The decency clause is omnipresent – all that changes is just the perception of what is decent and what is indecent. Our bodies, desires, ideas, age, gender, race and freedom are constantly under the scrutiny and pressure of churches, institutions and politicians.
Taking place in Poland at present, the culture wars related to politics, women’s rights, gender issues, economic inequality, social solidarity, religion, military campaigns and gender are a case in point. The Lublin showcase of the New York theatre avant-garde constitutes also a reference to the identity of the Confrontations Festival, whose roots are steeped in alternative, avant-garde and political theatre.
Joanna Krakowska, PhD works at the Polish Academy of Science’s Institute of Art; deputy editor-in-chief of theatre monthly “Dialog”, contemporary theatre historian, essayist, translator, editor. Co-author of a number of books, including “Soc i sex. Diagnozy teatralne i nieteatralne” (2009) and “Soc, sex i historia” (2014). Editor of the following books: “Teatr drugiego obiegu” (2000), “Aktor teoretyczny” (2002), “Teatr. Rekonstrukcje” (2004). Author of “Mikołajska. Teatr i PRL” (2011), a book shortlisted for the prestigious NIKE Award and recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York (2013-14).