Rowena Gander is an international performance artist who creates thought provoking solo performance works that question and negotiate themes of sexuality, power and objectification in women. This year, Rowena’s preparing a second national tour of ‘Barely Visible’ from February – April 2023. Last week, we had Rowena’s ‘Barely Visible’ dinner at local vegetarian café Lovelock’s, exploring lesbian visibility in the arts, and here Rowena discusses her reflections on the dinner and project themes.
Barely Visible, a powerful and physical solo show that brings light to common issues that lesbians face, was conceived out of a frustration around lack of lesbian representation on stage, particularly in physical arts, such as dance. The show is driven not only by my own frustration, as a choreographer and performer, but also from the team of women who assisted in bringing the project to life — Elinor Randle as director, Claire Bigley as producer.
After already touring the work nationally in 2022, we learned very quickly that there was a need for this work to continue, and that there was a desire for conversation to take place. Thus, as part of the national 2023 tour, we are including pre / post show discussions, as well as movement workshops on sexuality. This approach will allow us to explore the nuanced subjectivities of lesbian sexuality in more depth, and to understand how audiences experience and receive lesbian themed physical performance. Of course, touring, conversations, and workshops, will also allow us, as practitioners, to be the change we are searching for, and to be more visible as gay women within our industry.
In addition to the above, Barely Visible is partnered with Metal, who are providing space for me to reflect upon and share some of the journey and outcomes of the project with you. These reflections will be shared in a series of four blog posts via Metal Liverpool’s Instagram and will include:
- A day in the life of a touring artist
- Why representation matters
- A round up of tour pre / post show conversation
The first reflection, below, provides a brief overview on the projects first conversation – A dinner discussion, hosted by Metal, at Lovelocks Café, whereby 16 established / emerging artists, including directors, filmmakers, actors, poets, performers, writers, discussed lesbian visibility from their experiences / perspective.
The conversation was loosely based on a series of provocations concerning some of my own research questions, such as “what, as a lesbian, do you associate with lesbianism?” “Is there a stigma is attached to lesbianism?” “Why are lesbians ‘Barely Visible’ in society, stage, TV / film, and art?” Do you see any challenges in making artistic work about lesbian sexuality?” Due to limited word count, I will select three key themes that stood out for me.
Lesbian / Dyke
I wasn’t surprised to learn that so many women have situational use of the terms “dyke” and “lesbian”. I too find myself describing my sexuality as “gay”, in certain situations, usually around lots of straight people, because it somehow seems less in revealing than lesbian or dyke. I will tap into this some more as I move through tour conversations.
Considering the number of repetitive questions, I have been asked over the years, because I am a gay woman, such as “how does it work”, “which one is the man”, and “if you like women, does that mean you fancy me?” (All referenced in Barely Visible), I found it pertinent that “education” came up within the discussion.
We agreed that whilst some questions are incredibly invasive and sometimes embarrassing, we must recognise that context is important and that sometimes people ask questions because they have a genuine desire to learn. For instance, if a friend asks us about our domestic routine, that is ok, but if someone asks us to kiss our girlfriend in front of them, just to prove we are attracted to women, that is not ok.
We joked that we should come with a handbook (How Lesbians Work), and whilst I do think it would be a great idea for another show, it made me reflect upon the educational value of Barely Visible and how heterosexual men and women have thanked me for their new found knowledge of the lesbian experience since watching the show, and how that they felt they now had a better understanding of their lesbian friends and family.
Where is all the lesbian work?
There was an overarching recognition that lesbians are invisible in many artistic domains, but more so in dance, which, of course is my motivation for Barely Visible. I expressed openly about some of my own insecurities around making the show – maybe I was sharing too much or that I would be judged personally or professionally. I tried to dig into this a bit more with others, and one artist, who shares a very similar viewpoint to me, said she felt there is no challenge in making the work, but that she would only choose to show the work to people who exists outside of her immediate family. In other words, it is easier to show this side of ourselves to strangers than it is to those places, spaces or people we consider ‘safe’. Lots to unpack there for a later blog.
Some works that I was not aware of, and I will definitely add to my list of resources, are.
A huge thank you for Metal for hosting this dinner and giving space for conversation to take place. Also, a big thank you to Lovelocks for the delicious vegan dinner, dessert and hot chocolate.
Read Rowena’s blog The Impact of Lesbian Representation On Stage here.
Lesbians are dirty, aren’t they?
With incredible strength, a pole and a lot of humour, Rowena Gander’s powerful solo performance explores identity, objectification and what it is to be a gay, ‘barely visible’ woman in a raw and physical journey of empowerment.
Upcoming tour dates and ticket links
- Pre/post show conversations
- Movement workshops on sexuality
- Get involved #BarelyVisible
Let’s raise the visibility of lesbians in the physical arts.