Cut the World, Antony and the Johnsons’ gorgeous 2012 live album with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, contained some stage banter that was a bit more inspired than your average “Hello, Cleveland!” The second track was a long, provocative speech titled “Future Feminism,” in which the angel-voiced New York–based artist ruminated on the connections between the natural world and the human body, between environmentalism and feminism, between misogyny and organized religion. “I truly believe that unless we move to feminine systems of governance, we don’t have a chance on this planet,” Antony said, to passionate applause. “I’m very interested in Jesus as a girl. I’m extremely interested in Allah as a woman. And contrary to popular opinion, it’s not bad to say that — you can say it. I mean, you might get a little letter in the mail, but I’m probably due a hundred letters in the mail already.”
Now, two years later, Antony is one fifth of an art collective who call themselves Future Feminists and are currently putting the finishing touches on their first exhibit, which will run from September 11 to 27 at the Hole. When I visited them on Wednesday in Antony’s Soho studio, they sat next to a freshly scribbled-upon chalkboard bearing the revised 13 “tenets” of Future Feminism (I: “The subjugation of women and earth is one and the same.” VIII: “The future is female.”). As they were preparing to engrave the tenants on 13 slabs of rose quartz (which they say has a certain healing power), someone in the room rightly noted that it all felt a little Ten Commandments. The performance artist Kembra Pfahler, who is also in the collective, laughed. “Well, they’re going to grow and change as we continue our discussions. It’s not the Bible.”
Those discussions will continue over the course of a 13-night event schedule that’s pretty stacked with guest appearances: Marina Abramović, Laurie Anderson, Lydia Lunch, and Anne Carson, to name just a few. (When I asked Antony why so many 13s, he explained, “It’s the witches’ hour!”). The Future Feminists will also host a benefit show this Sunday at Webster Hall, featuring performances from Antony, CocoRosie, and more. Below are excerpts of my conversation with four of the five members: Antony, Pfahler, dancer Johanna Constantine, and CocoRosie’s Bianca Casady (her sister Sierra is the fifth member.) We discussed nature, the apocalypse, and whether or not Beyoncé is a witch.
How did this concept of “future feminism” come about?
Antony: Well, the words future feminism were originally me struggling to talk about the work of Kembra and Johanna, who I’ve followed for many years. That was how it originated — I was actually like, “Well they’re … they’re … future feminists!” It was a way for me to try and articulate their status as frontier, almost feral artists who were working in a futuristic model, creating new language and a highly personal vocabulary.
Johanna Constantine: For me, it was inspired by Bianca. She had started doing a lot of research on feminism and why people weren’t using that word anymore. And we were thinking about it, and we were just like, “Damn, that is kind of a pisser, isn’t it?” That feminism was such a nasty word. I mean, in the past three years, it’s kind of exploded as a concept again, which is fantastic. But we’d definitely been wracking our brains about what feminism needs to be now at its most effective. What can feminism do for the world?
Why do you believe environmentalism and sustainability are feminist issues?
Johanna: That was one of the first discussions we had. We just started spouting off these words that were abuses toward women, and then we started applying them to the environment, and we realized that all the same words were used …
Bianca Casady: Pillaging, usurping …
Antony: Raping, cutting, burning, usurping, stealing, draining, restricting, selling, owning …
Johanna: It occurred to us that it’s the same system perpetrating assaults on the earth and assaults on women and women’s rights. It’s that same branch of ideology. Whether it’s religion that’s severely oppressive or a corporation that’s essentially just religious dogma run amok. We own you. You are here for us. The planet and women. Misogyny equals eco-collapse.
Antony: We’re so used to standing by our man. We’ve stood by him since prehistoric times because we thought he had our best interest at heart. But the sad fact, and the reality that we all have to embrace if we want to survive, is that the male archetype doesn’t have the skill set required to lead us toward a sustainable future. And actually, our hidden reserve, that we’ve always denigrated and suppressed, is the feminine archetype in all of us.
How wonderfully convenient that the climax of every sky-god religion is the apocalypse. There’s a level of insidious hopelessness that’s pervaded society and the way we behave on a day-to-day basis. People can more easily imagine the collapse of civilization and ecology than they can imagine a shift to different systems, to reorganizing ourselves in a fundamentally different way.
Who are some other artists that have inspired you as a collective?
Kembra Pfahler: Yoko Ono has this performance where she watches the sun set on the horizon with a group of people. We tried it together, got up around 5:30, and watched the sun rise. Just stood there. It was actually very emotional. It was something I’d never done, and I didn’t think it was going to be that profound. It’s a recipe for construction instead of disaster. You’re inevitably going to have new thoughts, you’re going to clean out the rug. I know it sounds kind of corny, but … try it! Just try it.
You mentioned that feminism is suddenly “back” in pop culture right now. Do you consider that a good thing, or is something like that viral image of Beyoncé standing in front of the word FEMINIST a watered-down version of what you’re advocating here?
Antony: I personally agree with Kathleen Hanna that the provocation of the word and its reintroduction into society is good on every level, no matter what the context. In this conversation, we can’t afford to be cutting each other off right now and questioning each other’s approaches. We’re putting ourselves forward as a group of frontier women artists from New York City, and this is how we see it. And we want to participate. This is how we, to the best of our ability, see things. It’s not about us criticizing other feminist movements and other women’s struggles to make sense of their relationship to this overwhelming, incredibly important time. The challenge we’re facing as a species, it’s all hands on deck. If Beyoncé’s going to stand in front of the word feminism, great.
God knows there are women in so many parts of the world who aren’t able to express that right now. From the point of view of someone being held hostage in a bungalow in Afghanistan and being married off at age 11, that is a feminist message.
So, Beyoncé is a future feminist?
Johanna: I mean, she can do what she’s doing without being burnt at the stake, so I think that speaks to the progress of feminism.
Kembra: It’s funny how media are always trying to pivot really famous pop stars against certain other kinds of artists. But there’s this dynamic where artists are often the ones with the ideas that inform pop music and popular culture. So, that’s what we’re supplying them with here. If we make a really specific, pointed bunch of things that they could steal from us for their next video, then that’ll be fabulous.