Clara Meister, Anna Raimondo

Clara Meister: In your video work “Encouragement” you appear on screen with your headphones on; it’s not clear whether you are talking to someone or just listening. Can you tell us more about the genesis of the work?

Anna Raimondo: The idea came through when I was studying Sound Art at LCC (London College of Communication) in 2012. We had the chance to study materials from the Hernoise Archive of sound art and feminism. I reread the work of Lydia Lunch, Annie Sprinkle, Pauline Oliveros, Hayley Newman and feminist-activist fanzines; it was a crucial moment in my sentimental education, a moment I understood as an encouragement to continue my research, to “follow my own way”, so to speak. I really felt a strong solidarity with these women. I have received many such encouragements in my life, and with this project, I wanted to ask other women about encouragements they themselves have received from other women. I wanted to reflect and reactivate the solidarity between women that I myself have experienced, with my mother, my grandmother, friends and activists; with texts by Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Beatriz Preciado, and, say, the music of Antony and the Johnsons.

The solidarity I refer to is not “only” an emotional and empathetic way of being, it is an ethical-political tool as such. This solidarity holds the potential for transforming relations for it creates proximity. Solidarity is a way of sharing what we have and what we don’t, supporting each other no matter how different our ways of being and thinking are. Solidarity is a space where we can listen, be heard, and speak, knowing that we are not alone. Based on a desire to activate a space of solidarity, I asked about 20 women from different generations, cultural, sexual and social backgrounds to send me encouragements they have received: suggestions from friends or families, quotations from books or songs. In choosing what kind of technology to use, I began by using headphones to simulate a typical phone conversation, because I was interested in focusing on the act of listening. Following this iteration of the work, I decided to make an intervention in an urban space and document it as a video piece with the collaboration of video-artist Chiara Caterina.

These sentences were initially written by women for women, but I am interested in how these encouragements are received and interpreted by everyone, of whatever gender… The question then is: how do these encouragements resonate? How is the gender of the receiver a factor in their interpretation?

CM: Are there encouragements that appear more “feminine” to you?

AR: Following Butler and Preciado, I do think that gender is a social and cultural construction. So, what then is feminine? A construction, a desire, a ritual, a condition? I have just read an interview with Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), about the exhibition Future Feminism (2014), and I really like this thought of hers: “Let’s start to explore what male and female systems really are and how they’ve served us in the past and how we can apply them to save ourselves and to save the paradise of biodiversity that we’re a part of.“

During a residency programme at Fondazione Aurelio Petroni in Italy I again worked with encouragements, on a project called “In tempo di crisi“ (In the time of crisis). This time, it was about collecting encouragements from the inhabitants of San Cipriano Picentini, a small village in the South of Italy, and then diffusing the most significant ones through a camioncino per la vendita ambulante – a small truck that sells fruit and other stuff in the street. , This time, instead of selling things, this one offered free encouragements to everybody who wanted to listen. Often people started out telling very bad anecdotes or discouragements, but then while speaking about specific events in their lives and focusing on what they would say to someone in a critical moment, more encouragements came out of their mouths. After a long conversation, a 80-year-old woman told me something very touching; she said: “Do not be afraid of death.”

Encouragements are for everyone. Even while here, on the “Encouragements” project, I was specifically engaged with activating and articulating solidarity among women I was also interested in understanding how certain very gender- and situation-specific questions, concerns and encouragements, like those relating to being pregnant, for instance, can resonate for everyone. And perhaps this is about the degree to which we are able to empathise with others, to support and understand. Beyond gender we occupy specific locations, places we speak from. Another definition of solidarity could be: acknowledging the space we came from, the particularity of our experiences and how this can in turn be translated into a sharable and shared, or, we could say, universal experience.

CM: What does an encouragement tell us about the one who gives it?

AR: I would say that it reflects an ideal, it says something about what one values as important in a particular moment in life. It tells of personal stories, projects and desires. Two of my own personal encouragements are “Dreams generate realities” by Carl Gustav Jung, and “We will be serious in the happiest way” by the Spanish philosopher Maria Zambrano. I also hold an encouraging image of feminism: I feel that feminism supports me along my way, like good shoes for a long walk.

CM: Has any encouragement made a particular impression on you?

AR: In the collection you can find thematic blocks: statements about life and fear, life and desire, life and failure; other are more concerned with masturbation and sexuality and yet others to the experience of maternity. I love each one of them, but I would like to mention the final one “Blow, blow…Stop…Blow, again, again…Stop…I can see his hair!” This was from a friend of mine who had just given birth and this was the encouragement of the nurse. It sounds like a joke, it still is quite ambiguous, don’t you think? I also enjoyed the invisible dialogues those voices made without knowing each other just by being put together in this project; for example, in the way this passage:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
“Failure may be your style.”

segues into:
“This is the best sign that you’re going in the right direction.”

Or how this statement:
“Before becoming two, you must learn how to be one.”

fits the following response:
“Well… you don’t have to get married, do you?”

CM: You told me that you contacted many different women for this project. Could you distinguish different understandings of feminism in their encouragement?

AR: The first one, “Queridas amigas y compañeras de la vida”, is from an feminist activist friend, Esther, a very special woman. Her encouragement quotes the opening passage of a letter of invitation from a feminist bookstore in Madrid, which sentence echoes the way feminist meetings generally begin in Spain. I like this sentence very much: it includes friends (amigas) and the word compañeras, which means companions but also lovers. In Spanish, this sentence contains the feminine of the word friends, amigas, and that word should be the embodiment of women’s solidarity: a different kind of solidarity that values difference. Another one is, “At some point, I felt the artwork as an opportunity for an encounter”. This one is from Lucia, who quotes Carla Lonzi, art critic and prominent figure in Italian feminism. This line embodies a certain way of understanding and experiencing art, which resonates with a particular experience of feminism: feminism as an art of encounter. I took it as an important encouragement for the whole project.

CM: In your video we hear only your voice, almost as a monologue. You now want to push this monologue into a dialogue, by inviting the reader to respond to these encouragements and compose their own…

Can I speak to the reader directly? Here we go: You are invited to follow the text and discover the encouragements.

First, put the right light around you: If it is sunny and you like this light, open the windows.

If it is raining and grey you can choose to close or open the curtains.

If there is a rainbow, express a desire before you go on reading.

If it’s night, perhaps you would rather choose an intimate little spot, and, as follows

Regulate the temperature around you.

Ok, well done for the light and the temperature!

Now think about your acoustic surrounding.

Would you prefer silence? Would you prefer, rather, to hear the footsteps of your neighbours, or to listen to your favourite soundtrack?

If so, then take the time to select some good music and a good place to listen to something…

Sit comfortably.

I imagine you are ready…

I invite you to read the following encouragements.

Following each one there is a blank space; that’s your own

Which of the encouragements resonate most within you?

Is there one you would like to scream out the window? You could do it.

Is there one you would like to murmur into the ear of that person?

Is there one you would like to tell to your mother right now?

And one you would have liked to hear when you were child?

If you do not find them, write or draw your own.

Sip your favourite wine or drink a glass of fresh water.

Take your time.

y compañeras
de la vida.

At some point,
I felt the artwork
as an opportunity
for an encounter.

Every choice
is a surrender.

Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.

may be
your style.

This is
the best sign
that you’re going
in the right direction.

Don’t mind
what you are reproached for,
just push it to the extreme,
it’s you anyway.

The one
who doesn’t move
is not aware of his chains.

do you know
that a hole
is a hole,
when it lacks
an edge?

“Les regrets blaise
les rachètes”
in the Marseillaise parlance,
it means that you should not regret
anything in life.

If you don’t love yourself,
you won’t feel loved either.

y pa’lante!

Free from the enchantment
of your province,
your heart is ready for the risk,
your mind is ready for venturing
against the unknown,
your wings can fly high.

A life
lived in fear
is a life
half lived.

Before becoming two,
you must learn how to be one.

you don’t have to get married,
do you?

You don’t have to be pretty.
You don’t owe prettiness to anyone.
Not to your partner,
not to random men on the street.

You don’t owe it to your mother,
you don’t owe it to your children,
you don’t owe it to civilization in general.
Prettiness is not a rent you pay
for occupying a space marked ‘female’.

Women are
and brave

Women are
in constant
as their bodies
contain the sense
of becomingness.

Women need to think
of themselves as predators
rather than prey.

I’m disgusted
with the idea of women
making themselves invisible
as they go down the street,
that has to be turned around.
The attitude is the first thing,
whether you back it up
with your physical self-defense
or a gun is your option,
but the attitude needs to be there.

You are brave.

I don’t do anything of worth
except to accompany you
to total victory.

And don’t allow guys
to get you angry.
Believe in your talent,
don’t forget that you are strong
and that the obstacles are there
for fostering your growth.

I want you
to be a solid,
strong, free woman,
one who trusts herself,
be frank,
work, work, work,
and you will get whatever you dream of
from life.

Take care of your health.
Without it, you cannot do anything.

I also think
women are denied masturbation
even more severely than men,
and that’s another way of control.
If women could really take themselves
as their own lover,
and enjoy their bodies and their sexuality,
with and to and by themselves,
that’s 50% of the battle.
My favourite line is
“masturbation satisfies
what reality cannot withstand.”

If women could just
be strong enough,
secure enough,
and happy enough
to live with themselves,
satisfying themselves,
finally they’d be satisfying
other people as well.

can be dangerous
to your health,
can cause anxiety,
If you like sex,
don’t give it up.

Women are capable
of having 3 hour-long orgasms.
Men are capable
of having 1 hour-long orgasm.
Women have something really special
to offer in terms of helping our society
grow sexually.

I find it outrageous
that 30% of women
have never experienced
an orgasm.

Why sex is so important to me?
Sex as sedative.
It helps you go to sleep.
Sex to fight addiction.
It helped me quit smoking.
Sex to improve concentration.
Sex for rejuvenation.
Sex to keep warmer in the winter.
Sex for cardiovascular health.
Sex to create intimacy.
Sex to avoid working.

Most people are
more lonely with someone else
than they are
when they’re by themselves.

I think
the basic key
to a long lasting relationship
is to realize
that the other person is not there
to satisfy your desires and goals,
but to satisfy their own.
And if you at the same time
are clear on your goals
and desires and satisfactions,
then you can coexist,
I don’t say cohabitate.
Freedom and respect
for the other person
have got to be the priorities:
you want to do that? Do it!

When you
as a woman
can make yourself
and encouraging,
…That’s when you start developing.

Mamma, mamma.
Mamma, mamma.

Well, let’s go,
let’s blow,
let’s blow.
Let’s blow
right now!
Stop! Stop!
Again and again…
Let’s blow.
I can see his hair…!!!!

Clara Meister
Clara Meister is a curator based in Berlin and co-founder and editor of …ment. She was the 2012 curator in residence at MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38 in New York, with a publication series published by Sternberg Press. Meister contributed for exhibition catalogues and wrote for various magazines.

Anna Raimondo
Anna Raimondo is an artist currently based in Brussels and Naples. Her research explores listening as both a political and aesthetic experience, using sound as a device to build relational environments.