Beauty, dignity and compassion. Conscious creator, Antony Hegarty from ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS talks about Turning and the future of feminism.
I waited quietly for the call to connect to New York, after watching the film Turning for a second time. The film, directed by Charles Atlas, features Antony and the Johnsons’ critically acclaimed European tour of the same name. The concert footage is intercut with intimate, behind-the-scenes portraits of the 13 diverse women who appear one by one onstage on rotating pedestals throughout the concert.
Turning opens with a powerful and imploring mantra: “Everything is new.” Whether proclamation or appeal, the opening song, like the entire film, walks a tightrope between joyful optimism and the sadness of acceptance.
My first question: Are you optimistic?
Hegarty begins all his answers with a thoughtful pause.
“There’s certainly movement happening. The recent Climate March here in New York and around the world, for example, is a positive step towards something good. There’s certainly a kind of ‘raising of consciousness’ that’s been going on for the past few years, especially around feminism and the appropriation of that word in different discussions.”
Although recorded in 2006, the Turning film and live album are only being released now as a CD/DVD box set. It seems to be no coincidence that part of the funding for the film came from the Nordic region. 2014 also saw Sweden’s Feminist Initiative send an elected representative to a seat in the European parliament. Feminism, and gender representation, are on the agenda.
Hergarty interjects: “It filled me with joy to see that news. What the Feminist Party is doing in Sweden cannot be underestimated. In America we can’t even fathom having a Feminist Party. Please keep pushing because it is such important work that you are doing. I’ve been saying this for a while; Scandinavians are creating the prototypes that the rest of the world needs.”
Sweden is known for having an active political dialogue about social evolution, and according to Hegarty, feminism itself is also evolving. “It’s no longer just about asking for equality within old systems. Feminism proposes totally new types of systems and approaches based on the common good.”
It is worth mentioning that not all the women in the film are transgender. Nor are they all the same age, or from the same cultural gene pool. Turning is a milestone in the representation of diverse feminine experience. It heralds the complex, shifting nature of identity as an opportunity rather than a barrier.
“Estrogen and testosterone are types of software any human can access,” Hegarty explains.
Feminism has always been a natural forum for exploring inclusivity and identity, the personal as political. Some of the women who appear in Turning are also part of a collaborative called the Future Feminism Foundation. Earlier in the year, Hegarty, Kembra Pfahler, and Johanna Constantine from Turning, were joined by the sisters Bianca & Sierra Casady of CocoRosie for a Future Feminism exhibition at the Hole Gallery in the Bowery, New York.
The Future Feminism collective also has notable names such as Marina Abramović, Laurie Anderson, Terence Koh, Lydia Lunch, Lorraine O’Grady, Narcissister, Viva Ruiz, Carolee Schneemann, and Kiki Smith, to name but a few. Shown here: Filmmaker and performance artist Kembra Pfahler
The exhibition presented 13 Future Feminist tenets that include: “Future Feminism requires the participation of all people,“ and “Advocate for feminine systems in all areas of governance.” Not so different, perhaps, from the UN millennium goals or those of Amnesty International. So why feminism and not humanism?
Hegarty’s brand of feminism asserts a new vision for the future, the potential to govern from a feminine point of view. Feminism, she says, offers common tools to make wiser, more informed, decisions based on the wider interests of our communities and the environment. And by reframing problems from diverse perspectives, we open up new opportunities to innovate.
“Let’s face it, our current systems are not serving everyone’s best interests. They aren’t even serving male interests. Men also need to be freed from the burden of their archetypal roles of protectors or predators.”
Hegarty appreciates that transgender people are finally being acknowledged in ‘daylight’ media – for the common good. Thankfully, the ‘anatomy’ of gender is no longer a taboo subject.
“There is something of the transgender experience that can be put to the greater good of the community, and I am very interested in that. Trans people have been bridging the divide, and experience first hand the mutability of gender expression.”
Left side: Long term collaborators. Antony Hegarty and film director Charles Atlas.
Turning is a beautifully moving film and collection of songs that reach new emotional heights. Hegarty’s voice needs no introduction, but the band also deserves credit in creating this exceptional live album. Without a doubt, Turning is an important project. It plays a major role in shaping the ‘daylight’ conversation that in turn shapes our consciousness. It brings new colours to a worn out palette. It explores an emerging sensibility and worldview relevant to us all.
Artists and musicians have always being pioneers of freedom of expression, in that sense. They have always been truly modern-day people. The individuals involved in Turning are no exception.
Words and interview by Tanya Kim Grassley