Estate of Barbara Hammer

Tell me there is a lesbian forever...

Company Gallery
88 Eldridge Street, 5th Floor
New York
Lower East Side
Oct 2nd — Nov 6th

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In 1968, the filmmaker, photographer and writer Barbara Hammer along with Clay, her husband, take a trip around the world, build a home—a life. Within the year, that life is over when Hammer purchases a BMW R75/5 motorcycle and embarks on a solo sojourn around the country. Like always, this ending is also a beginning. Hammer realizes she is a lesbian. As Tiona Nekkia McClodden, the curator of “Tell me there is a lesbian forever…” at Company, puts it: She makes herself.

“The artist struggles with her imagination,” Hammer captioned an ink drawing from the 70s, which depicts a figure hiding behind her own hulking form, hair straggling, fingers arranged in a claw grip. Beside it, a drawing of the same figure, arms splayed, hair flowing, breasts sagging, is captioned: “surrenders herself.” The twin poles of struggle and surrender, flexing and relaxing, can be read as one anchor of this show. Creatively hung in gap-toothed arrangements by McClodden, some drawings are detailed plans of film shots—in one, Hammer plots the cardinal directions down to five degrees—while others are photographs of leisure and repose, such as Roommates (1973), which captures a friend jabbering animatedly atop pillow and bed. Indeed, both poles can be seen in Hammer’s cinematography, on view in the film room downstairs. McClodden terms her style a kind of “faith-based filmmaking”: exacting in production because the medium forgave so little, while indulging in serendipity for the exact same reason.

Multiple layers of mediation and desire are on view in this exhibition. In 2018, Hammer approached McClodden, also a lesbian filmmaker, at a screening. Shortly before Hammer passed in 2019, she tapped the younger artist to be the curator of what would be her posthumous solo show. Because of the pandemic, McClodden was unable to consult Hammer’s papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale University; she sent her own lover, a PhD candidate at the university, in her stead. “I’ve been wrestling with the mirror for the past five years,” McClodden writes in the accompanying press release, which can be read as a kind of stream-of-conscious journal in dialogue with Hammer’s own entries, some of which are exhibited in this show. “Hammer’s mirror is time-based, and must be placed into motion.”

Also on view is one of McClodden’s own works: a mirrored, chrome-plated motorcycle — the same model that Hammer owned. Though BMW retired the R75/5, the sculpture’s new surface reflects the viewer and their surroundings as they move around it. “A mirror that moves when you do,” McClodden writes in the press release, quoting her own notes. “This is what it means to love another woman, a friend, a sister, a lesbian.” —Lisa Yin Zhang

Barbara Hammer, Hand Print "Lesbian", 1985. Xerox on paper, 11h x 8.50w inches.