Calendar of Events

Fall 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Peggy Ahwesh (Film, Bard College)
Film Screening and Discussion
7:00 pm UWM Union Theatre
2200 E Kenwood Blvd
Co-sponsored by the UWM Art History Department, the Center for 21st Century Studies, the UWM Film Department, and the UWM Film Studies Program

One of the most respected filmmakers of her generation, Peggy Ahwesh first embarked on filmmaking in the 1980s, in an era of punk, feminist art practice, and post-minimalism. Ahwesh finds revelation in a gamut of genres, modes and materials—found footage, horror, porn, melodrama, documentary, adaptation. Her heterogenous body of work engages questions of embodiment, sex, female desire, the archive, language and performance. At once playful, conceptual, political, and formally challenging, these films plumb the detritus and fragments of moving image culture for serendipity, sublimity and anarchic surplus.

Ahwesh will be present to discuss recent and past work. Films to be shown will include:

The Deadman (1989, video, 39 min)
Martina's Playhouse (1989, video, 20 min)
Beirut Outtakes (2007, video, 6 min)
The Third Body (2007, video, 8 min)
Bethlehem (2009, video, 8 min)
Collections (2013, video 5 min)

Still from Beirut Outtakes
From Beirut Outtakes (2007)

Over the last twenty years, Peggy Ahwesh has produced one of the most heterogeneous bodies of work in the field of experimental film and video. A true bricoleur, her tools include narrative and documentary styles, improvised performance and scripted dialogue, synch-sound film, found footage, digital animation, and crude Pixelvision video. The work is primarily an investigation cultural identity and the role of the subject, in various genres.

Ahwesh started out with Super-8, attracted, like Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas before her, to the medium's evocation of home movies. For her, this was a subversively amateur form, and also a discourse that yielded traditionally female-gendered themes like home and family, relationships, and confessions, which she appropriated as scenarios. She and other female filmmakers of the time had little use for the primarily formal strategies of the structural materialist film tradition (which was in any case dominated by men), and viewed conventions of direction, character, and performance as tools. For these filmmakers, feminism presented a viable avant-garde praxis: unlike the radical formal dislocations of materialist film, the political narrative inherent in feminist art was exceedingly resistant to cooptation by dominant media or advertising.

Still from Bethlehem
From Bethlehem (2009)

Ahwesh's work, for all its reliance on theoretical concerns, isn't dry or forbidding. She values humor, playfulness, and, ultimately, the pleasure of the audience. The cluttered sets and fragmented stories in much of her work evince a baroque and almost mystical sensibility, with a lineage including the ornate films of Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger. Of course, this is a mysticism that locates its systems of meaning in mass culture, and in recent years Ahwesh has expanded her work to consider the techniques and critiques of nascent digital culture, including videogames and the Internet.

Ahwesh has developed a practice that insists on political and social topicality, handled with theoretical and formal rigor, while remembering the audience. It is her lighter touch that has helped make her work, densely critical as it is, so accessible to so many people. She draws them into the world and traditions of avant-garde film and video, where, as she has remarked, "there's nothing to prove and no money to make," only the pleasures of the text.

Her work has been widely shown, at the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; the Balie Theater, Amsterdam; the Filmmuseum, Brussels; the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Rotterdam; Museu d'Art Contemporani Barcelona (MACBA), Barcelona; The Flaherty Seminar, the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among other venues. Ahwesh had a mid-career retrospective in the New American Film & Video Series of the Whitney Museum called Girls Beware! (1997) and was featured in the epic program Big As Life: A History of American 8mm Films at MoMA. Her numerous awards include the Alpert Award in the Arts, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and grants from the Jerome Foundation, Creative Capital, and the New York State Council on the Arts. She teaches at Bard College.

(Electronic Arts Intermix, NYC)

Peggy Ahwesh on Vimeo

Still from The Third Body
From The Third Body (2007)

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