What is a crush? Some thing – physically, emotionally, tautologically – crushing. A weight that you feel on the chest first. If a crush is a weight it is also gravitational, a kind of pull. The Czech-Slovak feminist artist Anna/Anča Daučíková makes work that works this kind of gravitational weight and drag on me. Her videos and photographs keep dragging me to them, devices of instant attraction. Yet, the temperature of Daučíková’s oeuvre is cool; the artist’s effortless levity keeps things from getting too heavy as she surveys and reports on state control of the private body and queer, feminist society – Soviet, post, and other. In the past couple of years, Daučíková’s moving-image works – surveying the body and architecture, literature, authoritarianism, women, bureaucracy, queerness, surveillance and state and self – have caught me in their oddly sensual net. Her strange, thinking surfaces have become the artworks I think about the most.
Born in 1950, in former Czechoslovakia, Daučíková studied in Bratislava before moving to Moscow in the 1980s to live with a lover. There, she worked as a glassblower while pursuing her art. Back in Bratislava in the 1990s, Daučíková edited ASPEKT, a feminist magazine that evolved into a library and publishing house. This literary tenor, the fumble and armour of language, touches all of Daučíková’s work, including the video 33 Situations (2015). Its camera impassively pans over interiors of homes, including private libraries, and then of typed scripts, hung in windows, offering scenes of Soviet-era women attempting to navigate the state’s patriarchal, authoritarian bureaucratic controls.
There are different forms of passing, of course. And we are particularly used to passing and scanning women: panning over them, a kind of touch, optical or not. But what about other gendered forms or visual regimes of construction and desire – libraries, for example. Or moving images. So many interiors, exteriors. Can such gendered observation be applied to further bodies – literary, architectural or other? Can they be a means of social reflection and construction? And how to apply feminism to these surfaces? When we scan a bookshelf, what are we looking for? Whose eye? What body? Watching Daučíková’s camera pan across bookshelves, then over scripts shot through with weak light, I feel a body in both shots. Not in front of the camera, though. Somewhere else.
As I write this fan letter, this report of ardour, the Trump regime is rescinding civil-rights protections of transgender people by redefining gender as an ‘immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth’. Daučíková has spoken about her early attempt at gender confirmation surgery during the Soviet era, when homosexuality was neither acknowledged nor legal. The doctors she consulted were sympathetic; they didn’t turn her in but suggested she attempt surgery in the West. She didn’t. But the artist’s name remains doubled – Anna/Anča – evading an easy account, a clear report or final review. Her work centres moments of possible transition – from public to private, institution to home, straight to queer, male to female: a litany of uneasy, hierarchal binaries that she cogently surveys.
Scanning newspaper reports of the American regime’s biopolitical assault on all bodies that do not conform to white-male heteronormativity, I think: We have been in this situation before. The language has shades of Daučíková’s. The ‘Department of Health and Human Services’ argues ‘in a memo’ that sex is ‘determined by the genitals that a person is born with’. I imagine these pools of language streaming down a piece of paper, back-lit in someone’s window. I imagine the camera panning over it, bodies nearby. So much intimacy, so many selves, and then the state.
First published in Issue 200