Interview: Louise Orwin - 'I consider my feminism queer and intersectional'
Live artist talks about the ideas behind her upcoming performance at September's Buzzcut Double Thrills
If the patriarchy had a catchphrase, it would probably be Jean-Luc Godard's famous statement that all he needed to make a movie was 'a girl and a gun'. Lousie Orwin has taken Goddard at his word, and catalogued the films, YouTube videos, posters and pornography that evoke this minimalist approach to sex and violence.
'I watched Spring Breakers and the scene where two teenage girls lie on a bed surrounded by guns and using them a sexual props stuck with me,' she explains. 'And I came across the work of B-movie mogul Andy Sidaris, who makes low-grade action films which always star Playboy bunnies running around with guns.' From these inspirations, Orwin decided to challenge both the films and her own feelings.
'I wondered about the economy of power when a woman in a bikini holds a gun: can it ever be empowering?' she says. 'I wondered who these images were for. I then started thinking about my own appetite for these images, perhaps starting to realise that there was something almost unconscious about my response to these kinds of films. I decided I wanted to make a show that interrogated the allure of the image of the girl and the gun on film, and interrogated how deeply embedded these kinds of films can become in our psyches.'
Having presented the work in progress at the 2016 Buzzcut Festival in Govan, it is appropriate that she is part of September's Double Thrills at the CCA, which is curated by the same team. It also signals Orwin's roots in the live art tradition – a genre which defies classification but usually challenges expected notions of theatre and has a strong association with progressive and provocative ideas of identity. Orwin's willingness to grapple not only with the social context of the woman and weaponry trope, but also her own attraction to the imagery, is recognisably complicated within a live art performance.
'I consider my feminism queer and intersectional, but I wouldn't be surprised if some labelled this show as post-feminist. I show the clear struggle I have in being both attracted and repulsed by the idea of the femme fatale,' she says. Orwin examines the tension between rejecting the kind of stereotypes that action films trade and the ingrained appreciation of their titillating mixture of sex and death because, she adds, 'It's important to me that my work is never didactic; I want to be honest about the complexity of modern life.'
This commitment to honesty often leads to comparisons with a group of artists who use their personal experiences to fuel their art, from Bryony Kimmings to Tim Crouch to Action Hero. 'I used to struggle with these sort of comments,' she admits, 'as I wanted my work to be unique and be independent on its own. However, saying that, none of us make work in a vacuum, and there will always be similarities between my work and the work of my peers.' But while Kimmings uses the detail of her life on stage, Orwin is more concerned with using it as a springboard into almost academic analysis of a wide subject.
However, A Girl and A Gun is far from an uptight polemic, or a dry treatise. Each performance sees her take to the stage with a different male performer (playing 'Him'), and deconstructs ideals of masculine behaviour, which are as formulaic as the female stereotypes in action movies.
But above all, Orwin recognises the importance of discussion within theatre. 'I dislike being preached to, and I think many people feel the same.' she says. 'I like to play with ambiguity a lot in my work. In my mind, ambiguity can activate an audience – keep them alive with questions, and part of the conversation. That's not to say that I don't have strong opinions, but often the work I make covers a topic where there isn't black or white. I want to make work that provokes discussion and debate, that keeps you thinking, or keeps coming back to you, niggling at you long after you've left the theatre.'
A Girl and a Gun, CCA, Glasgow, Wed 14 Sep.