NAGA BUAH: An Ecofeminist Music Project by Kodi Twiner
2.1 LITERATURE REVIEW
The following literature view is a selection of vital texts I have consulted throughout the course of this research. The texts intersect in various ways but I have discussed them through themes of ecofeminism, the mind/body split, the marginalisation of women and music as political expression. Note that these subheadings have been arranged accordingly so the reader can move from broad (ecofeminism), to narrow (music industry statistics), finalising with the theme of music as political expression, which informs the methodology section that follows.
Ecofeminism grew from the intersection of feminist, peace and ecology movements of the late 70s and early 80s (Mies & Shiva 2014, p.13). Ecofeminism has always been an activist and academic movement (Phillips & Rumens 2016, p.3), with the notion of ‘radical scholarship’ discussed by renowned ecofeminist author and scholar, Greta Gaard (2011), as fundamental to the ecofeminist movement.
Drawing on the insights of ecology, feminism, and socialism, ecofeminism’s basic premise is that the ideology which authorises oppressions such as those based on race, class, gender, sexuality and physical abilities, and species, is the same ideology that sanction the oppression of nature. Ecofeminism calls for an end to all oppressions, arguing that no attempt to liberate women (or any other oppressed group) will be successful without an equal attempt to liberate nature (Gaard 1993, Chapter 1, Loc. 29).
This is echoed by Mies and Shiva (2014, p.16) in that ‘liberation of women cannot be achieved in isolation, but only as part of a larger struggle for the preservation of life on this planet’. A core value of ecofeminism lies in it’s plurality and intersectionality, which can be likened to a ‘patchwork quilt’ constructed of ‘patches’ from different social, historical and materialist contexts (Cuomo 2002, p. 3).
The borders of a quilt allow for an infinite range of internal designs, ecofeminism’s boundary conditions (i.e., opposing social and ecological domination, encouraging justice in all spheres, rethinking ontology), allow for a wide range of emphases and methodologies. (Cuomo 2002, p. 3)
Mies, a Marxist feminist, and Shiva, a theoretical physicist of the ecology movement, discuss reductionist science as a construct, and violent tool of capitalist Patriarchy, which is driven by the capitalist system’s pursuit of profit. The capitalist Patriarchy internally colonises women, whom, under a reductionist science perspective, are reduced to isolated parts; not recognised as whole and equal beings (Mies & Shiva 2014, p. 25). This reductionist view is the very same view that enables the complex systems of nature to be reduced into commodified units.
Reductionism thus reduces complex ecosystems to a single component, and a single component to a single function. Further, it allows for the manipulation of the ecosystem in a way that maximises the single-function, single-component exploitation. In the reductionist paradigm, a forest is reduced to commercial wood, and wood is reduced to cellulose fibre for the pulp and paper industry. Forests, land and genetic resources are then manipulated to increase the production of pulpwood (Mies & Shiva 2014, p. 24).
This reductionism is also applied to womens bodies, reducing them to reproductive systems, as wombs, as a source of ‘raw material’ (Mies & Shiva 2014, p. 25). ‘In this way, reductionist science is at the root of the growing ecological crisis, because it entails a transformation of nature that destroys its organic processes’ (Mies & Shiva 2014, p. 25). This critique of reductionist science influences my methodology, and has parallels with the arguments for artistic research as a new research paradigm, as they both argue the importance of embedded-ness (Borgdorff 2012; Haseman 2006).
Mies states that wherever women have joined the ecological movement, they have become aware of the link between patriarchal violence against women and nature (2014, p.14). She goes further to suggest that women have a deep and particular understanding of this through their experiences as women, and that by defying the patriarchy, ecofeminists are loyal to future generations, to life and to the planet itself (Mies 2014, p.14).
An example of ecofeminism and it’s intersectionality in action, can be observed in the critically endangered Leard State Forest, NSW, Australia, when on International Women’s Day 2016, three female activists locked themselves to trees, in solidarity with the protest of Traditional Owners, the Gomeroi people (Front Line Action on Coal, 2016). This land was threatened with deforestation by Whitehaven Coal (Front Line Action On Coal, 2016) and after government inaction, has since been cleared. The intersection of gender, race, nature, Indigenous rights are all evident in this scenario (see Fig. 1).
Routledge scholars, Phillips and Rumens (2016, p. 2), expand on the ecofeminist concept, claiming that exploitative relationships are ‘allowed’ due to social acceptance of hierarchical dualisms and binaries such as mind/body, reason/emotion, masculine/feminine, human/nature. Certain groups of these dualisms (mind, masculine, human) are accepted as dominant, and the ‘second’ groups (body, feminine, nature) are classified as the ‘other’, considered inferior, and
devalued (Phillips & Rumens 2016, p. 2; Gaard 1993, Chapter 1, Loc. 72).
One task of ecofeminists has been to expose these dualisms and the ways in which feminizing nature and naturalising or animalising women has served as a justification for the domination of women, animals, and the earth (Gaard 1993, Chapter 1, Loc. 72).
Fig. 1. Women holding protest sign on traditional Gomeroi land in NSW, Australia.
2.1.2 THE MIND/BODY SPLIT
The mind/body split, as a socially constructed dualism, is discussed throughout almost all of the reviewed literature. It seems as necessary in the discussion of ecofeminism by Mies, Shiva, Phillips and Rumens, as it is to Susan McClary’s western music analysis, ‘Feminine
Endings’ (1991). It is relevant in the examination of political music, as evidenced by the trial of feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, and extends to the work of Angela Y. Davis, on blues music and black feminism (1998). Other dualisms relevant to this research include masculine/feminine and nature/culture, however the mind/body split has emerged as the most inextricable from my research thus far.
Ecofeminist scholar, Phillips, claims that social experiences are constituted by the body one possesses, and that in order to bring about social, economic and political change, the representation of that embodiment must be challenged (Phillips 2015, p. 63). This is an important concept to my research, as it suggests that my personal experience is influenced by my body (Phillips 2015), and if that body if considered ‘inferior’ (Phillips & Rumens, 2016), then where are women, and their bodies, situated in music?
Those associated with the more-than-human, reproduction, the body and the unpaid labour of those demarcated into nature’s sphere become invisible and unvalued inputs to an increasingly rationalized [sic] economy (Phillips & Rumens 2016, p. 8).
In the course of my research, it seems that this mind/body dualism discussed within ecofeminism, intersects with my artistic practice in a very tangible way. In a feminist analysis of the Western music tradition, McClary describes the paradox of the mind/body split within music.
The mind/body split that has plagued Western culture for centuries shows up most paradoxically in attitudes toward music: the most cerebral, nonmaterial of media is at the same time the medium most capable of engaging the body. This confusion over whether music belongs with mind or with body is intensified when the fundamental binary opposition of masculine/feminine is mapped onto it (McClary 1991, p. 151)
In efforts to prove music’s objectivity and rationality, women have often been excluded from the field altogether (McClary 1991; Cusick 1994). This is due to the association of women with ‘body’, and links to the erasure of women in music.
In denying the bodily actions involved in any music's existence, we have taken a position on one of our civilization's [sic] most fundamental and enduring philosophical dilemmas, the so-called Mind/Body problem... Surely no one needs to be reminded how the elements in the Mind/Body duality are gendered. Metaphorically, when music theorists and musicologists ignore the bodies whose performative acts constitute the thing called music, we ignore the feminine. We erase her from us, even at the price of metaphorically silencing the music (Cusick 1994, p. 16).
If the mind/body split is resulting in erasing women from music, then it is indeed in my own personal interest, as a woman in the music industry, to challenge this dualism. Phillips (2015) claims we can effect this challenge by creatively re-writing the human body, to help humans reflect on their embedded-ness within nature and the world. She explores the work of French post- structuralist philosopher and poet, Helen Cixous.
Her vision of an embodied writing represents a move to resist the ways in which women/nature are linguistically, historically and sexually confined, and opens up the possibility of writing the body differently, particularly women’s bodies, to undo binary hierarchies (Phillips 2015, p. 64).
Cixous' work claims that to escape the restrictions of these dualisms, we need to play with their inherent hierarchies, to ‘see the Earth from the Moon, and thus perceive the Earth differently’ (Phillips 2015, p. 67). This feeds into my research methods and outputs, as I will be using creative writing in the form of song lyrics. Furthermore, McClary (1991) discusses music’s ability to cause bodily experience.
Nor are the bodily experiences engaged by musical metaphors stable or immutable. Indeed, music is a powerful social and political practice precisely because in drawing on metaphors of physicality, it can cause listeners to experience their bodies in new ways - again, seemingly without mediation (McClary 1991, p. 25).
Thus, a link emerges between McClary’s claim of music as a way to cause bodily experience and Phillips’ claim of creative writing as a method for re-imagining our relationship with the body. This link directs my research and informs my methods. It suggests that my lyrics and music can cause listeners to experience their body in a new way (McClary 1991), and reflect on their embedded- ness (Phillips 2015), in order to create ‘urgent planetary stewardship’ (Steffen et al. 2011) and unleash the ‘creative Anthropocene’ (Mies & Shiva 2014).
2.1.3 THE MARGINALISATION OF WOMEN
The marginalisation of women is a recurring theme within this literature review. Mies and Shiva (2014) discuss this marginalisation more broadly, whereas Phillips and Rumens (2016) acknowledge the marginalisation in the form of hierarchical dualisms, which extend into music, as observed by McClary (1991) and Cusick (1994).
While women have been marginalized [sic] with respect to Western culture for most of its history, our perspectives from the margins have offered some advantages. For example, we have been privy both to the public displays and explications of official masculine culture - including the ways male artists construe women - as well as to experiences not accounted for within that official culture (McClary 1991, pp. 146-147)
This marginalisation is quantified through analysing gender representation within my artistic field, the Australian music industry. In recent studies by ABC’s Triple J radio station, only 1 in 5 artists registered with the Australian Performing Rights Association are women. Furthermore, 80% of independent record labels in Australia are managed by men, and women only hold 30% of board positions on peak Australian music bodies (McCormack 2017). Festival line-up statistics are similarly imbalanced, with the highest percentage of female acts in a line-up ranking 38% (see Fig. 2)(McCormack 2017).
This research argues that women making music is a political expression in itself, because it challenges the erasure of women from music (McClary 1991; Cusick 1994; McCormack 2017), gives voice to their social experience which is constituted by the existence of their body (Phillips 2015), and furthermore, discusses the link between women’s oppression and nature’s exploitation, as articulated by ecofeminists since the 70s (Mies & Shiva 2014).
2.1.4 MUSIC AS POLITICAL EXPRESSION
Music as political expression is not only a theme within the literature, but it also informs the research methodology and methods. It is necessary to examine examples of political music performances, and how those examples direct and justify my methods. Black feminist scholar, author and long-time social activist, Angela Y. Davis (1998, p. 91) has observed ‘the personal and the political’ within the blues music tradition, as performed by Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday.
This intermingling of the private and public, the personal and political, is present in the many thousands of blues songs ... There is also a significant number of women’s blues songs on work, jail, prostitution, natural disasters, and other issues that, when taken together, constitute a patchwork [of] social history (Davis 1998, p. 91).
This aligns with McClary’s arguments (1991, p. 21), when she states, ‘music and other discourses do not simply reflect a social reality that exists immutably on the outside; rather, social reality itself is constituted within such discursive practices’. Both McClary and Davis’ statements inform my research. My project is not just a reflection of a social and political reality, but that same social and political reality is present within my artistic practice, as evidenced by erasure of bodies from music (McClary 1991; Cusick 1994) and the lack of women in the Australian music industry (McCormack 2017).
This research, concerned with music, ecofeminism and politics, can follow in Davis’ suit and look back in time to survey existing artists and performances that encompass or address those themes. An iconic example of music as political expression is evidenced by jazz musician, Billie Holiday, and her recording of ‘anti-lynching appeal’, ‘Strange Fruit’ (Davis 1998). Davis has examined how ‘Strange Fruit’ put protest and resistance back on the agenda of contemporary music culture in America (Davis 1998, p. 184).
Millions heard her sing this anti-lynching appeal ... She could not have predicted that ‘Strange Fruit’ would impel people to discover within themselves a previously unawakened calling to political activism, but it did, and it does (Davis 1998, p. 195).
Aside from the blues and jazz music, a more recent example of music as political expression can be found in Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, who gained international infamy after an unauthorised ‘Punk Prayer’ performance in a Moscow cathedral in 2012. Decrying the Virgin Mary to ‘become a feminist’, the ‘Punk Prayer’ recording went viral on YouTube, and members of Pussy Riot were jailed, sparking global debate about dictatorship, feminism and political music (Bernstein 2013, pp. 220-221). Pussy Riot’s performance also follows a tradition of feminist political punk music, most iconically, the 90s feminist music movement, Riot Grrrl (Radway 2011, p. 140; Rosenburg & Garofalo 1998, p. 811).
Harvard’s social anthropologist, Anya Bernstein, writes in her article ‘Body Politics and Sovereign Power in the Pussy Riot Affair’, ‘whether Pussy Riot was supported or condemned, a common sentiment was that they crossed a mysterious invisible line, breaking a previously unspoken taboo and, thereby, revealing its existence’ (Bernstein 2013, p. 222). Bernstein’s observation of the ‘taboo’ element in Pussy Riot’s performance, links to McClary’s claim that music operates as part of the political arena, not as just a reflection, and that when music transgresses a ‘deep-seated taboo’ it can bring certain antagonisms and alliance boiling to the surface, in a passionate way that could not otherwise be expressed (McClary 1991, p. 27).
Angela Y. Davis echoes this concept, arguing that art cannot achieve greatness by transcending it’s social or historical reality, but rather, is deeply rooted in social reality (Davis 1998, p. 183). All of these ideas reflect the artistic research paradigm, as embedded in social context (Borgdorff 2012), and this supports music as an effective method for creative political expression and a method through which to explore ecofeminism.
This research is a creative exploration of ecofeminism in response to the challenges of the Anthropocene. Taking influence from previous political and feminist musicians, the research brings ecofeminism into dialogue with artistic practice, in efforts to catalyse the positive forces of a creative Anthropocene through liberation of women and nature.
This research is timely and important. Environmental concerns are more urgent than ever, with scientists describing a new geological age, the Anthropocene, which threatens human survival (Steffen et al. 2011).
In the twenty-first century, we face scarcity in critical resources, the degradation of ecosystem services, and the erosion of the planet’s capability to absorb our wastes...The advent of the Anthropocene, the time interval in which human activities now rival global geophysical processes, suggests that we need to fundamentally alter our relationship with the planet we inhabit...The need to achieve effective planetary stewardship is urgent (Steffen et al. 2011, p. 739).
So, how can humans fundamentally alter their relationship with the planet, to achieve this urgent planetary stewardship? Ecofeminist philosophy suggests that a destructive Anthropocene is not the only future, and that humans need to reconnect with their organic embedded-ness, as part of nature and it’s biodiversity (Mies & Shiva 2014).
We need to get grounded again – in the Earth, her diversity, and her living processes – and unleash the positive forces of a creative Anthropocene (Mies & Shiva 2014, Loc. 344/7288).
This research contributes to this creative Anthropocene through creative arts practice. This brings ecofeminism out of its traditional realms of academia and activism (Phillips & Rumens 2016, p. 3) and into new dialogue with music practice.
This research follows in a long tradition of music as creative political expression. I approach this research as a multidisciplinary artist, within the artistic research paradigm. My artistic practice, which draws on intersecting discussions of ecofeminism, womens marginalisation, and music as political expression, is the focus of this honours project.
Chapter 2 reviews diverse sources of literature addressing ecofeminism, the mind/body split, marginalisation of women and music as political expression. I contextualise my creative components by analysing works from Bjork, Solange, Esperanza Spalding, Laurie Anderson and Pussy Riot. The creative components are constructed through methods of songwriting, zine-ing and conceptualisation of a multidisciplinary performance as discussed under Methodology in Chapter 3. The nine original songs and the zine are discussed and analysed in Chapter 4. It should be noted that the delivery of the live performance art sits outside the scope of this research project and its performance is not included in this submission. The conceptualisation has been realised through aesthetic, content, planning and budget, attached in section 4.3 and in Appendix E. The nine songs are presented as partial scores (Appendix A), lead sheets (Appendix A) and demo tracks attached as MP3 files on a USB stick (Appendix B). Samples of the zine have been integrated throughout this thesis, are discussed in section 4.2, and has been attached in it’s entirety as Appendix C on a USB stick. Chapter 5 concludes this thesis, reflects on the research process, creative outputs and discusses implications and direction for further research on this topic.
This Honours research is the first phase of NAGA BUAH, which is a broader creative project, requiring long-term planning, resources and implementation, of which the majority lies beyond the parameters an Honours research project. This Honours project has provided a comprehensive and formidable foundation for the creation and conceptualisation of NAGA BUAH, which throughout the course of my research, I have discerned will be most effectively presented as a performance art piece, incorporating the research outputs of this research.
NAGA BUAH is a creative exploration of ecofeminism in response to the challenges of the Anthropocene. Ecofeminism is an intersectional philosophy articulating the oppression of women and nature as a result of capitalist patriarchy, and calls for an end to all oppressions, arguing that no attempt to liberate women (or any other oppressed group), will be successful without an equal attempt to liberate nature. This research investigates the mind/body dualism, women’s association with the body, and the resulting marginalisation of women in the music industry.
Through the artistic research paradigm, this research examines the embedded-ness of humans in nature, and of art practice in social context. In response to the challenges of the Anthropocene, this research asks how songwriting, zine-ing and performance art can creatively explore themes of ecofeminism to fundamentally alter humans’ relationship with the planet.
This research draws on diverse viewpoints within ecofeminist scholarship to build a conceptual platform for the creative outputs. The creative components draw artistic influence from contemporary, multidisciplinary musicians who explore political themes through their practice.
Conceptualised as a live performance and presented as nine original songs, with program notes formatted as a zine, this Honours research is the first phase of a broader creative project, NAGA BUAH. This project brings ecofeminism into new dialogue with music practice and embodies the ecofeminist notion of ‘radical scholarship’ in response to the challenges of the Anthropocene.
NAGA BUAH is a creative exploration of ecofeminism in response to the challenges of the Anthropocene.
This project investigates the mind/body dualism, women’s association with the body, and the resulting marginalisation of women in the Australian music industry.
These blogs are adaptations from 'NAGA BUAH: An Ecofeminist Music Project' creative arts thesis written by Kodi Twiner in 2017.
These blogs are by no means exhaustive of the vast definition(s) of ecofeminism, and are instead, insights into the NAGA BUAH project, it's collisions of themes, and the creative process.
They are referenced to encourage further research and to acknowledge the brilliant artists, academics and activists that have informed this artistic research.