Glasgow-based artist Jamie Crewe is the subject of the “First Look” column in our March issue. As Philomena Epps writes, Crewe’s works “convey a fluid sense of cultural ancestry-one at odds with the established canon, which is heavily skewed toward binary and cisgender experiences.” A solo exhibition, “Female Executioner,” is currently on view at Gasworks, London, through March 26. A Faggot in the Tempest, Crewe’s latest album under the name Poisonous Relationship, was recently released on Bandcamp. Here, Crewe introduces a compilation of videos that highlights an array of the artist’s female icons, who span the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation. —Eds.
nycFLLOYD, “Pittburgh Pillow.” Flloyd filmed his friend Page Reynolds on a trip to Pittsburgh, where she discovered that she had forgotten her outfit. She wears a hotel pillowcase instead, and is thrilled by the result: “I was just telling Bernard, wasn’t I? I can’t take wearing clothes anymore. I wanna start wearing objects, you know? This is hot!” Page is goofy and charming and incredibly beautiful in her pillowcase-she embodies something I long for but don’t achieve. Page was a transgender artist, actress, and performer who lived in New York City. She died in 2002.
Samuel Beckett, “Not I.” In 1977 British actress Billie Whitelaw starred in a production of Samuel Beckett’s Not I (1973), which was filmed for the BBC. The play is about thirteen minutes long, and features only Billie’s isolated mouth, lit up on a darkened stage, as she delivers a rapid monologue. The mouth talks about an old woman, “speechless all her days,” who nevertheless once or twice a year finds words pouring out. The play cycles frantically around various passages and phrases, but the ones that resonate with me the most right now are “how she survived!,” growled out with astonishment, and “nothing of any note till coming up to sixty when-…what?…seventy?…good God!” In an interview introducing the performance, Billie admits that she burst into tears when she first read the script, recognizing the “inner scream.” She died in 2014.
Trish Streeten, preview of Juliette of the Herbs. Juliette of the Herbs, directed by Trish Streeten, is a 1998 documentary about Juliette de Baïracli Levy, a writer, herbalist, breeder of Afghan hounds, and pioneer of holistic veterinary medicine. The film captures Juliette, aged eighty-five and living a semi-hermetic life on the Greek island of Kythira, as she shares anecdotes from her life of nomadism, cultivation, and natural medicine. We also see her travel to attend a conference with a younger generation of herbalists, and later she describes to the camera the effects of the Chernobyl explosion on the flora and fauna of Kythira. When watching the film I’m fascinated by Juliette’s health, and the kind of health she describes, as well as the film’s imagery (particularly a moonlit, cliff-top campfire, attended by her gorgeous hounds galloping around in the dark). She died in 2009.
Joe and Zach Survival, “Wild Edibles: Common Tansy.” Tansy is a common herb in Europe, distinguished by bushy yellow flowers and fernlike leaves. Joe and Zach, a father-and-son-team who have made a series of wilderness preparedness videos, find the plant and describe its qualities; once it was commonly used as an insect repellent and as funeral flowers, and it has been used in food as a flavoring (though its leaves are poisonous). But these days it isn’t considered very useful. I see this video as an allusive bridge between Juliette of the Herbs and Rusty Mae Moore and Chelsea Goodwin’s Transy House, a location featured in the following video on this list. This video touches on toxicity, funerary redolence, and contains an image of a faggot of tansy flowers hung up to dry.
Tara Mateik and Denise Gaberman, Sylvia Rivera: A Video Tribute. This short documentary, directed by Tara Mateik and Denise Gaberman, lightly covers the life of transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, focusing particularly on her later years. It contains interviews with her friends and lover, as well as footage of Sylvia voluntarily living on the New York City piers and working in her church’s food pantry. Sylvia lived through childhood prostitution, homelessness, drug addiction, and alcoholism. But as Randy Wicker notes in the film, “You would have thought as she got older she would have got uglier and more twisted. And instead somehow she went through this rollercoaster ride of tragedy and suddenly bloomed like a new rose of spring or something—I should say an opium poppy!” The film makes me think about aging and health in different ways than Juliette of the Herbs, but the two are complementary-think of Juliette’s caves and ruins in opposition to Sylvia’s piers, hotel rooms, and hallways. She died in 2002.
Nina Simone, “My Way.” In this clip, Nina Simone stands up and sings Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” accompanied by musicians playing a hand drum, drum kit, piano, and upright bass. The tempo is accelerated, driven by a restless double-time pulse and punctuated by ebullient descending chords at the end of each verse. As the performance goes on, Nina’s taut composure bursts into fearsome energy, and she unmakes the song. I love the reanimation she gives to “My Way,” which looks back on one’s life. Nina is not smugly reflective, but electrified. She died in 2003.
Princess Janae Banks, “End of the Road Medley.” Princess Janae Banks lip-syncs Gladys Knight’s live medley of songs by Teddy Pendergrass, The Spinners, and Boyz II Men. It is a ten-minute virtuoso performance, full of exquisite moments—a pained and reflective downward look; removing her earrings and cradling them as she flips her hair; a devastating close-up. At its climax, the video develops a glitch, crackling with digital distortion. This is one of the most accomplished lip-syncs I’ve ever seen. It kind of kills me that the momentum is broken by the damaged file, but this makes me think of how fragile documentation of marginal artistry can be, and of what survives when a person is gone. Princess Janae was a trans drag performer and host who worked in New York City. She died in 2013.
Macy Rodman, “She Will Be A Relic One Day.” Macy Rodman’s new single is the hardest thing she’s ever written. She sings about her rage, and the strength and balance her sisters give her, but on the chorus Macy declares, “Nobody sees her around much anymore / You know she always wanted to stay / It’s just so unfair, she always tried to be more / But she will be a relic one day.” These lines come across as both conversational and brutal. They condense a lot of my thoughts that recur throughout this playlist: who gets to survive, in what state, and what form? Who lives long, who lives on the edge, and how do they age? Which woman is poisoned or enriched?