Hissy Fit are a Sydney-based performance collective made up of Nat Randall, Emily O’Connor and Jade Muratore. Their practice, which spans live art, performance, participatory action and performance lecture, approaches female empowerment via acts of transgression and reclamation. This is informed by the historical notion of the ‘hysterical woman’, which they explore through performances of headbanging and other forms of rebellious, aggressive gestures. In doing so, they interrogate actions that both trap and define women’s behaviour while simultaneously containing the potential for radical transcendence.
Their work has been included in Day for Night at Performance Space, Tiny Stadiums Festival, You Are Here Festival, Curating Feminism at SCA Galleries, and will also curate a forthcoming edition of ARTBAR at the MCA. Their upcoming work, I might blow up someday, is currently in development for Performance Space’s Liveworks program. Nat, Emily and Jade recently gave us insight into the primacy of the ‘hysterical woman’ as a rebellious body, the influence of Elizabeth Grosz and Nicki Minaj and why Chrissie Amphlett remains a touchstone of subversion against the patriarchy.
Your work is informed by the historical motif of the ‘hysterical woman’. Why is this such a potent image for you? How do you reclaim a symbol of women’s oppression as a positive symbol of empowerment and resistance?
Hysteria is rich terrain for us for a number of reasons. The hysteric body is both a movement of resistance against and a product of the capitalist machine. We are interested in the duality of this body – she can represent an individual and collective identity that is both in control and out of control. We are also interested in the performativity, theatricality and spectacle surrounding the construction of the images of the 19th Century hysteric. We seek to engage in the contagious qualities of hysteria and the ways in which the hysteric body is both de-sexualised and hypersexualised, thus entering her into the queer domain.
We use the image of the hysteric as a site to examine physical form, strength, power and productivity. We want to open up how she might be read and re-read in the 21st Century.
I’m interested in the ways that women’s bodies are pathologised throughout history – do you have a comment on how much has or hasn’t changed in the way ‘women’s illness’ is treated now?
The pathologising of women’s bodies has been written into the very fabric of Euro-centric medical discourse and has been a popular weapon of choice during periods in human history where women have sought to gain greater independence and freedom of self-expression. It is no surprise that hysteria came to prominence in the late 1800s at the exact moment when the women’s suffrage movements began to mobilise. It’s re-emergence in the 1950s as the post-war era forced women out of the workforce and back into the home is also no coincidence.
Hysteria isn’t really an illness in the classic sense. Hysteria can be considered more as a mimetic disorder, an outward expression of that which is unspeakable, a direct result of oppression. So our interest in this disorder lies predominantly in the effects of State power, patriarchy and other collective, oppressive powers in shaping physical bodies and identities. We are investigating to what extent it works the other way. What tools do we have to reshape and rethink oppressive structures?
Women today are still told not to “get hysterical” in instances when they are trying to legitimately express their thoughts or emotions. Women’s bodies are still seen as transgressive, as abject. Women’s bodies are still regarded as open sites for comment, scrutiny and ridicule. So really nothing much has changed, it just manifests itself in different ways.
The absence of women from this medical or psychiatric discourse is also mirrored by the absence of women in the culture industry (as well as public life, of course, for much of Western history). How does your work address the position of women in a male-dominated genre like punk rock, which prides itself on being anti-establishment?
Figures like Chrissie Amphlett, Grace Jones and Lydia Lunch have addressed the position of women in punk and rock culture and have used their bodies in various ways as powerful and productive tools against the patriarchy. Hissy Fit certainly aim to channel the attitudes of hysteric bodies, both historically and in contemporary music contexts, but we do this in order to explore the possibility of a “liberation of desire, a revolt against the overcoding of individuals by the fluxes of capitalism”… thanks for that one Felix Guattari 🙂
Who are your artistic and musical influences, and are they equally significant to your practice? What are you reading at the moment?
Music is important in driving us as a collective. Between us we are influenced by a broad range of music from Nicki Minaj to Bikini Kill. Emily even listens to hardcore techno and gabber, a genre that is hyper-masculine and hyper-aggressive. All these sounds, though varied, influence our practice significantly because we tend to work a lot from our bodies. Whether we are dancing, running through drills or brawling we generally have a soundtrack on in the background.
In our leisure time we’ve been reading Miranda July, holly childs and Deborah Levy. For brainpower we’ve most recently been reading Elizabeth Grosz, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
In Kim Gordon’s recent memoir Girl in a Band, she discusses how she consciously started dressing more ‘femininely’ when Sonic Youth signed to a major label, in ironic awareness of how bands with female musicians were marketed. I love Kim Gordon, but this kind of made me angry. What do you think?
There are many ways in which we can subvert and overcome gender prejudices. Similarly, Chrissie Amphlett took to dressing in a school uniform on stage. She coupled the schoolgirl look with grotesque, idiosyncratic gesturing which forced spectators to experience a body that could not be easily categorised. Australian feminist academic, Elizabeth Grosz, has stated that patriarchy is most successfully dismantled through its own structural devices. I think you could argue this was the tactic of artists like Gordon and Amphlett. These subversive acts don’t always work, but it’s important that we try, and try again.
How does your upcoming work for Performance Space, I might blow up someday, extend your exploration of the notion of the deviant or radical woman?
I might blow up someday utilises the creative and provocative energy of the hysterical woman as a mechanism through which to examine how gender, sex, sexuality and social propriety are manifested in the contemporary socio-political climate, and how they begin to unravel through repetition, ritual and the return to the human primeval. I might blow up someday is going to be our biggest project to date and a work that has been with us since we all came together as Hissy Fit. It’s the work that brought us together over a shared interest of exploring the notion of the deviant woman, so it’s a really important project for each of us.
Hissy Fit will present I might blow up some day at Performance Space in October 2015. http://www.hissy-fit.com
Images: Hissy Fit, Episode, Day for Night presented by Performance Space 2014. Image credit: Lucy Parakhina.