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I Say I Am: Program 1

Desire and the Home: Program 1

Challenging the dominant ways of making and critiquing art, feminist art practice in the 1970s stressed personal connections to materials and immediacy of context over formal abstraction.

For many women, the home was a natural subject of artistic production as a highly charged site of rampantly contradictory meanings. As Lucy Lippard noted, "[women artists] work from such [household] imagery because it’s there, because it’s what they know best, because they can’t escape it." In Desire and the Home: Program 1, the artists explore domestic issues such as motherhood, sexuality, death, familial relationships, control of physical space and the preparation and consumption of food.

Please note that on this compilation "Chicken on Foot" is a 1:00 excerpt.

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 Learn Where the Meat Comes From Suzanne Lacy 00:14:20 1976 United States
2 Hey, Chicky!!! Nina Sobell 00:09:55 1978 United States
3 Chicken on Foot Nina Sobell 00:08:20 1974 United States
4 Semiotics of the Kitchen Martha Rosler 00:06:09 1975 United States
5 Feathers: An Introduction Barbara Aronofsky Latham 00:25:00 1978 United States
6 Beaver Valley Janice Tanaka 00:06:50 1980 United States

Learn Where the Meat Comes From

Suzanne Lacy
1976 | 00:14:20 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video


A classic feminist video, Learn Where the Meat Comes From depicts how “gourmet carnivore tastes take on a cannibalistic edge. This parody of a Julia Child cooking lesson collapses the roles of consumer and consumed: Lacy instructs us in the proper butcher’s terms for cuts of meat by pointing them out on her body. As the lesson progresses she becomes more and more animal-like, growling and baring over-sized incisors. Perhaps, in her role as a gourmet cook, she is herself as much consumed as consumer.”

—Micki McGee, Unacceptable Appetites, exhibition catalog (New York: Artists Space, 1988)

This title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 1.

Hey, Chicky!!!

Nina Sobell
1978 | 00:09:55 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | Video


In this cooking demonstration/performance, Sobell wears a chicken carcass over her face while dressing (literally, in baby clothes) a chicken to be cooked for dinner. Cooing and breast feeding the chicken as she would an infant, Sobell brings two stereotypical female roles—that of care giver and that of cook—psychotically close, emphasizing the potential dark side of women’s intimate association with food in a way similar to Suzanne Lacy’s Learn Where the Meat Comes From.

“In her performance art video Hey, Chicky!!! Nina Sobell appears nude ‘playing’ with a raw cooking chicken. With a few simple manipulations, she eradicates the cultural distance between mother and woman as sexual being. … Playing on the symbolic connection between food and sex, cooking is transformed into sexuality, but the involvement of the dead chicken pushes that sexuality towards bestiality and necrophilia. The scene is further complicated when the same chicken is given the role of baby. Sobell plays with the chicken, rocking it, holding it up by its arms as if teaching it to walk, and swinging it from breast to breast in what can only be described as a milking dance. This collapsing of the baby role with the chicken’s already established roles of dead animal, food material, and sexual object violates other taboos, including infanticide, cannibalism, and pedophilia.

—Chris Straayer, Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-orientations in Film and Video (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)

This title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 1.

Chicken on Foot

Nina Sobell
1974 | 00:08:20 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video


In Chicken on Foot, Sobell bounces a chicken carcass as one would a child, periodically crushing eggs (fetal chickens) on her knee. A statement of the displacement of sexual desire on food and women’s bodies, and an expression of female ambivalence about motherhood.

“Tersely but accurately titled, Sobell’s Chicken on Foot opens to reveal a naked leg diagonally traversing the screen. A hand attempts to balance an egg upon the knee, and no sooner is this accomplished than the egg is smashed. As the goo runs down the leg, the foot attached kicks high in the air. A knee-jerk response, you say, but more follows. A pan-ready chicken, leaving the foot, is treated to trips up and down the slime-covered leg, dangled on the knee and engaged in some sophisticated baby talk. Finally, as its off-screen mother decides to take it to some egg laying, it says bye-bye to the camera and to us. The tape is funky in a way Rufus Thomas would never have imagined, and neo-humanist readings aside, what I liked best about it is that it’s so entirely off the wall, so entirely incompatible with my mundane reality, that I get a glimpse of a profoundly original frame of consciousness. By investigating thoroughly idiosyncratic territory, Sobell has circumvented the disadvantages most video artists stumble over and made a tape in which comparisons with commercial video are neither possible nor relevant.”

—David James, “Laughing at TV,” Artweek 14:23 (18 June 1983)

An excerpt of this title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 1.

Semiotics of the Kitchen

Martha Rosler
1975 | 00:06:09 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | Video


From A to Z in this mock cooking-show demonstration Rosler 'shows and tells' the ingredients of the housewife's day. She offers an inventory of tools that names and mimics the ordinary with movements more samurai than suburban. Rosler's slashing gesture as she forms a letter of the alphabet in the air with a knife and fork is a rebel gesture, punching through the 'system of harnessed subjectivity' from the inside out.

"I was concerned with something like the notion of 'language speaking the subject', and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity."

— Martha Rosler

This title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 1 and martha rosler: crossings.

Feathers: An Introduction

Barbara Aronofsky Latham
1978 | 00:25:00 | United States | English | Color | | |


Feathers: An Introduction is a self-portrait centered on the story of Latham's grandmother’s comforter which, old and worn, scatters feathers everywhere. Displaying an arresting stage presence, Latham addresses the viewer as a potential friend or lover, speaking in a soft-spoken near-whisper, and gingerly touching and kissing the camera lens and monitor. Then, almost mocking the video’s intimacy, Latham gives us close-ups of herself chewing a sandwich and shaving her armpits, heightening the sense that she has been playing cat and mouse with the viewer all along. Despite the work’s casual and playful tone, and the use of familiar domestic props and settings, Feathers is carefully structured to keep the audience at a distance.

This title is also available on Barbara Latham Videoworks: Volume 1 and I Say I Am: Program 1.

Beaver Valley

Janice Tanaka
1980 | 00:06:50 | United States | English | B&W and Color | | 4:3 | Video


In this angry answer to the expectations advertising culture places on women and their bodies, Tanaka deftly edits commercial images and sound-bite slogans to underscore the message such images carry: that women exist to please men, as wives, mothers, and lovers. Tanaka balances such mainstream images with black and white footage of herself lying naked next to her own doubled image, rejecting the mainstream model of female sexuality that regularly consists of seductive glances and suggestive poses arranged and pre-ordained for the male gaze of the spectator. The video reveals the commodification of women and their desire.

This title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 1.