The Chasm of women's liberation

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At The Tank on 36th Street, Rebecca Patek's performance piece raises provocative issues about how artists treat each other


  • Rebecca Patek in "Chasm." Photo: Skye Morse-Hodgson

A mile away from Lincoln Center, a different kind of feminist performance practice is onstage at small theaters like The Tank, recently installed in a new space on West 36th Street. The Tank's most recent presentation was Rebecca Patek's “Chasm,” directed by the organization's new artistic director, Meghan Finn. The piece asks: What does it mean for women to be good to each other as artists and people in our current #MeToo era?

“Chasm” is Patek's first major piece since she performed her duet INETER(A)NAL F/EAR at the American Realness Festival at Aborns Art Center in 2014. This piece was a shockingly satirical work about Patek's experience as a rape victim. During one showing, performance artist and provocateur Ann-Liv Young (aka Sherry) interrupted the show, got on stage and berated Patek publicity for making “bad work” and trivializing rape. The New York Times called Patek's work glorified “prostitution,” hurting the careers of both artists.

After that experience, Patek stopped her creative work and is currently applying to medical school. “Chasm” is Patek's attempt to take back her own narrative and to not let her public shaming stop her from creating. “When your whole life you've made art, [and] it's who you are, no one should take that ability away from you,” Patek stated. “Chasm” is her chance to use performance art to tell her side of the story.

When asked about her initial interest in the project, director Finn said Patek's story is important because “it happened, the community made a decision and they decided to side with Ann-Liv,” dismissing Patek.

Chasm is an opportunity for the artist to take control of her own story. And take control of it she does. In “Chasm's” most theatrically audacious sequence, Patek re-stages a public Q&A that Ann-Liv Young had in connection to a show at the Brooklyn performance space JACK, related to her piece “Ann-Liv Young in Jail,” in which the artist was “paying time” for behavior like interrupting Patek's show. In “Chasm,” Patek turns this Q&A on its head, often breaking the fourth wall, taking off her wig and speaking from her point of view. This sequence demonstrates how concepts of truth and authenticity connected to narratives of sexual assault and harassment are always being put into question, something that happened long before the #MeToo movement gained momentum. In fact, “Chasm” was first workshopped in summer 2017, just months before the Harvey Weinstein controversy erupted.

What makes “Chasm” so salient is the way it shows how the battleground instigated by the #MeToo movement is not just one pitting men against women, but also women against each other. What began as a performance intervention critiquing art about rape and sexual assault turned into a public debate about what kind of art women should be allowed to make. The Patek/Young controversy makes clear how even within the small world of woman-centered performance art, there is still a great deal of contention about telling stories of female victimization in a complex and empowering way.

“Chasm” offers no easy answers. Rather, it provides a starting point for important conversations about what it means to be a radical female artist in the #MeToo era. It also shows us that it is through critical art work, not online hashtag activism, that we are able to see the real complexities, nuances, complications and contradictions of a new movement towards gender equity.

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