Stuart Croft Foundation, in partnership with Jupiter Woods presents
Questions: ‘The Bang Straws’ with Michelle Williams Gamaker
Online, Friday 19th March at 1pm
The Stuart Croft Foundation is hosting a series of online events called ‘Questions’, where we will be inviting artists, curators, researchers and writers working with artists’ moving image to discuss the process of thinking and making behind their projects.
For the first in a series, we are partnering with Jupiter Woods and will be welcoming artist Michelle Williams Gamaker to talk about her film The Bang Straws, which in 2020 was awarded the SCF Moving Image Award from the Stuart Croft Foundation and a ‘Herstories & Feminisms’ research and development grant from Jupiter Woods.
The Bang Straws draws its vision from the production history of The Good Earth (Sidney Franklin, 1937) which was one of cinema’s most notorious cases of casting discrimination, with American-German actress Luise Rainer winning the high-profile lead of the Chinese farmer’s wife O-Lan. To do so, she wore racist “yellowface” as so many Hollywood actors did. Despite Anna May Wong’s talent and clear desire to play O-Lan, MGM only offered her the role of sex worker Lotus instead. While the focus on Anna is now no longer directly present, the casting discrimination she faced in 1930s Hollywood remains, alongside the violence of the casting process, a recurring motif in Williams Gamaker’s work; The Bang Straws re-casts O-Lan and reconstructs its innovative analogue VFX: filming locusts in hyper close-up, a storm sequence and locust swarm made from tea leaves.
Michelle will be joined in conversation with Carolina Ongaro and Katie Simpson from Jupiter Woods. Together they will talk about their collaboration and the research and production process, discussing the importance of supporting artistic research and experimenting with ways of making this public.
Curator and researcher Annie Jael Kwan will then talk with Michelle in response to ‘The Bang Straws’, exploring the film’s relationship with traditional Chinese art forms and tropes, the legacy of colonial filmmaking and cinematic practice, and how fictional activism and intercultural solidarity might operate as a methodology/lens for artists and organisers.
The discussions will be followed by an audience Q&A, chaired by SCF trustee and artist filmmaker Steven Eastwood.
The title of this series comes from Questions (2013), written and directed by Stuart Croft; a single-screen gallery projection on a continuous loop (5 mins 24 sec) in which a disgraced former US politician is endlessly interviewed about political fraud, financial corruption and marital infidelity.
Michelle Williams Gamaker
Michelle Williams Gamaker works with moving image, performance and installation. Her practice is often in dialogue with film history, particularly Hollywood and British studio films. By restaging scenes to reveal their politically problematic, imperialist roots; her work is a form of fictional activism to recast characters originally played by white actors with people of colour. She combines scriptwriting, workshopping with actors, revisiting analogue SFX and producing props to create intricately staged films. Williams Gamaker is joint-winner of the Film London Jarman Award 2020 and is also recipient of the Stuart Croft Moving Image Award 2020 for The Bang Straws (2021)
Carolina Ongaro (Co-Director and Founder) and Katie Simpson (Co-Director) head up Jupiter Woods – a London-based, non-profit art organisation and platform for interdisciplinary research and practice. Their activity is rooted in developing and experimenting with different methods of working, and in alternative formats for the production and presentation of writing, research and contemporary art. Jupiter Woods prioritises slow-paced production, research and active engagement as forms of instituting. Since 2014 they have worked as an exhibition space, residency programme, research facility located in a domestic setting in South-East London, with a focus on discursive events, solo exhibitions and publishing.
Annie Jael Kwan
Annie Jael Kwan is a curator and researcher whose exhibition-making, programming, publication and teaching practice is located at the intersection of contemporary art, cultural and pedagogical activism with an interest in archives, feminist, queer and alternative histories and knowledges, Asias, collective practice and solidarity. She is founder of Something Human, a curatorial platform focusing on intersectional live art that launched the landmark Southeast Asia Performance Collection in London in 2017, the co-founder of Asia-Art-Activism, the intergenerational and interdisciplinary research network. She is also a recipient of a Diverse Actions Leadership Award 2019, and the founding council member of Asia Forum 2021/2022.
Steven Eastwood (Chair) is an artist-filmmaker who has screened and exhibited internationally. His projects often involve using participatory action research. His critically acclaimed BIFA-nominated ISLAND (2018) premiered at IFFR and BFI’s London Film Fesival. His debut feature Buried Land (2010) was officially selected for film festivals in Tribeca, Moscow and Mumbai. In 2001, his documentary Those Who Are Jesus was nominated for a Grierson Award. Eastwood is a trustee of the Stuart Croft Foundation and Professor of Film Practice at Queen Mary University London. He is currently making a feature film and multiscreen artwork in co-creation with a collective of neurodiverse artists, as part of his wider research project Autism through Cinema.
Top image: Still from The Bang Straws, by Michelle Williams Gamaker. Courtesy of the artist.