So, what have we today? Someone thought it would be a good idea to label a new tax on ‘luxury goods’, proposed by UKIP, ‘the wag tax’, because only this group of women – whose acronym, derived from their marital choices, was surely coined to ooze respect – would ever splash out more than £200 on a pair of shoes. George Clooney got married and one publication upped its credentials by including his new wife’s name in the (front page) headline. Oh, and there’s a new app you can use to make sure you are having consensual sex – it keeps track of all your casual encounters, in case you ever go backsies on the consent.
In short a festival of feminism is not a relic of bra-burning times, but a timely response to a society still battling with sexism. Now in its second year and devised by Camden People’s Theatre, Calm Down Dear was named after David Cameron’s off-hand remark to a female MP in the House of Commons. It features an array of mostly emerging artists, concerned with a variety of topics: from employment and skirt length in 4th wave feminism to body hair and body image. Old Dears, curated by LADA, attempts to connect new generations of feminist performance makers with the women who came before them; rather than being an ode to the greats alone however it also focuses in on age: its imminent relevance and the role it plays in feminist art.
Liz Aggiss is in the centre of Old Dears, contributing with an extract from her new piece English Channel and performing A Bit of Slap and Tickle. Thirty five years into her career, Aggiss is now finding new audiences via the means of becoming an emerging live artist. Her work is bare – reduced to a couple of props and herself alone, relying on fragmented movement and language. Both pieces take on the aging female body: the self-consciousness surrounding it, the cultural preconceptions and social pressures epitomised in an infinite number of words the english language has for a no-longer-young-woman, and finally, the sense of relief that comes from deciding that time brings with it a dedication to disregard imposed norms and generalised opinions. A Bit of Slap and Tickle progresses from a female body hiding its face (and brain) to confidence, throwing evocations on chauvinistic social pressures every step of the way. English Channel features an idiosyncratic appropriation of Too Drunk to Fuck that interjects the Dead Kennedys punk into Nouvelle Vague rhythms. It takes the juxtaposition of the two styles into the reinterpretation of the song, that sees a very agile Aggiss jump from an over toxicated women to one that’s perfectly sober but shattered and equally not in the mood. Rather than using it as a gimmick, Aggiss employs Too Drunk to Fuck to go where not much of pop culture has gone: a place where a woman over 50 can still be sexual, active, picky and indeed drunk.
LADA’s selection of work by seminal female artists, sandwiched in between two of Aggiss’ shows, provides ample evidence that notions of age, aging and gender have been experimented with for some time, at least within live art. Frances Mezzetti and Pauline Cummins took to the streets of Dublin (and later London) dressed as aging time-spending pub-goers, attracting attention but no suspicion; Lois Weaver blows a candle out for every significant year in her professional life while counting to 60 as if to test whether the number is big or small, and Rocio Boliver goes back to the catwalk, ignoring its age-limits, this time with a dildo in hand. What’s on show is not a random selection, but a careful contextualisation of both the festival and the topics aching younger female artists. Away from the recent surge of feminist twitter accounts, it turns out there was plenty of boundary-breaking stuff before Sex and the City elaborated on sexuality past the age of 35, though perhaps not in the limelight. It’s a helpful reminder that radical art did live up to its name and that the emerging voices in Come Down Dear’s lineup originate from a well trod tradition and not vacuum.