A few weeks ago I sat at the only lesbian table on a regular Saturday night at Möbel Olfe and the place felt just right. If I were to imagine myself sitting there amongst more lesbian tables in the bar, who would I become if I were to point out to my friends the next dyke to watch out for? I would rather not be cast in a role of some sort of person with authority, but after being approached by Starship to come up with a column that might address an explicitly lesbian content, I want to try. I’ve wondered what would happen to my interests in this context, would this distance me from them, or expose me personally? I have talked with various people about how to approach this and my doubts about what to do with it. I am certainly not ready to summarize a look out of my own window, so sorry in advance, but this is not necessarily about observations, desires or flirtations.
My friend Elizabeth Ravn then came up with a very good idea and I was amazed when she introduced me to Dykes to Watch Out For. For more than 20 years Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel, was a weekly comic strip, printed mostly in North American college-town alternative newspapers, about the fractious lives and loves of an articulate group of lesbians in a city that resembles Minneapolis. Alison Bechdel, the inventor of this comic, makes their lives resonate in ways that are significant. Real things happen: births, deaths, adoptions, affairs, breakups, commitment ceremonies, civil unions. I would like to adopt this approach and speak about and with my friends who are dykes to watch out for. Seeing that it was Elizabeth that had made the initial connection between this column and the content of DTWOF I would like to nominate her as the first dyke to watch out for in this column. She is a painter and in Berlin since three years.
When did you come across this comic ?
My first introduction to Alison Bechdel was through her amazing graphic memoir Fun Home, which was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2013. She is perhaps most famous in the US for what’s called the “Bechdel test,” a simple assessment of female representation in films: Does the film have at least two women in it? Do they talk to each other…about something other than a man? This disappointingly low metric has come into widespread usage in mainstream pop culture, but it’s actually based on a joke between two lesbians from Bechdel’s long running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. I got a copy of the Essential Dykes to Watch Out For not too long ago and read the whole thing in a weekend. It’s kind of like the L Word, in that it centers on a circle of queer women, except the women in DTWOF are not all rich white femmes, and they have very relatable real world problems. You watch them grow over the course of 25 years, emotionally and politically. What I love about DTWOF is the way Bechdel intertwines soapy dyke drama into what are essentially political cartoons—characters are constantly addressing current events, and discussing LGBTQ issues in an open and non preachy way.
The title of Dykes to Watch Out For would imply that dykes are a threat. Maybe they were seen that way in 1985, when Bechdel began DTWOF, but I also think it was intended to be somewhat ironic. These dykes are pretty low key, I guess the scariest things they do are teaching women’s studies or working for environmental protection. But it’s a story about opinionated out queer women, without any clichés about forbidden love, and even in 2019 the portrayal seems radical. How much more representation have we seen since then?
Do you think the comic would be different if it was set in Berlin?
Dyke friend groups exist through all times and places. Fundamentally the comic might not be so different in Berlin—same dyke drama, same hairstyles and personalities. Maybe more cigarettes and less time spent at the Food Co-op, but I’m just speaking for my friend group.
You created something that is called Sit Show. How do you relate this to DTWOF ?
Sit Show is a collaborative video work I made with my girlfriend, Ellinor Aurora Aasgaard, and my friends Claude Eigan and Alizée Lenox. Each of us created a puppet, and we filmed them getting drunk together at O.T. Projektraum, a bar that used to exist in Neukölln (where the film was to be screened).
We were trying to renegotiate the idea of a group exhibition. We were invited to show in a bar, so we put our works together in a bar setting. I think Sit Show came from the same impulse as DTWOF—it was an appealing opportunity to represent ourselves spending time together drinking. Another really big influence for that show was Bildnis einer Trinkerin by Ulrike Ottinger. Especially the scene where they are drinking into the early morning with that guy whose jacket is made out of bread.
Would you like to say something about your work?
My paintings are based on social gatherings and personal situations, largely drawn from candid photographs of close friends. My artist statement is currently under construction, apologies… I also work collaboratively with others on sculptures, zines, and occasionally performances.
Why did u come to Berlin?
I grew up in Brooklyn. After I finished art school I moved back home, but I couldn’t imagine a sustainable way to be independent there whilst being an artist. My best friend was living in Berlin at the time and convinced me to come here to live with her. Of course it was impossible to find an apartment together, and she’s since moved back to New York. But she introduced me to a lot of really great people, particularly dykes.
We met at the opening of the Christina Ramberg show at Kunstwerke last year and I found it very interesting, the almost physical vibe I had noticed when you looked at these paintings. How would you describe your connection?
I think the “physical response” you mentioned was just me fan-girling. She is one of my favorite artists of the Chicago Imagist movement, which had a huge influence at the school where I studied. I love the way she turns bodies into firm, textural abstractions. I was so excited for that exhibition, and to see her work in a different context. It made me feel a bit nostalgic for Chicago; aside from Ramberg there were also a few other Chicago affiliated artists in that exhibition that brought me right back to art school. And yet, seeing it with you and others who were not so familiar, the conversation was very different. Some people’s initial impressions were related to cyborgs, which is such a Berlin thing to bring up.
Do you know what Dykes Lumber is?
Dykes Lumber is a lumber and hardware store in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. They have really fabulous signage and we’ve talked about it together a few times before. Disclaimer: Dykes has been around since 1909 and is not run by lesbians. I’d never actually been to Dykes Lumber until my last visit to New York, when I went to buy some tools for my mom. I overheard this guy working there call me a princess behind my back. They were also really rude to the other customers. Fuck those guys. That’s my Yelp review.
Is it true that lesbian bars are disappearing ?
Without a question. I couldn’t help but wonder, who is gonna open a new one already?