In (visual) conversation with Ester Martin Bergsmark

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Ester Martin Bergsmark is a genderqueer filmmaker from Stockholm. Their award-winning work (Maggie in Wonderland [2008], She Male Snails [2012], Something Must Break [2014]) is easy to identify due to Bergsmark’s striking visual style, but hard to categorize: documentary, porn, fiction, all, none? As Bergsmark’s identity is articulated through their work, the genre-defying nature intentionally speaks to removing and challenging binaries: documentaries cannot be reduced to either truth or fiction, pornography is both implicit and explicit.

Emergent throughout the course of our conversation was a sense of the urgency of moving beyond thinking in diametrical oppositions: between male and female, truth and fiction, right and wrong. Indeed, I soon realised that the question and answer format is yet another binary to which Bergsmark has a limited interest in conforming. It doesn’t capture the complexity and beauty of the worlds that we inhabit. My friend Simona Castricum, a trans musician and architect from Melbourne, once mentioned the problems of feminism being imbued in a dichotomous connotation of gender. Simona suggested that a better phrase would be “gender futurism,” as it reframes equality in a non-binary framework to create a more liminal, and transformative, way to deconstruct patriarchy. This momentum forwards, and into the future, is what lends this piece its sci-fi aesthetic.

A transcript of the interview:

“I take turns imagining myself with and without a cock, and the two images keep following each other like a game on a seesaw. But I know that the moment I get undressed, she’ll only see one of these bodies. Being reduced to one, fixed image, frightens me.” – Paul B. Preciado       

Ester Martin Bergsmark: Perhaps all of my work is addressing the experience of when the inner and outer doesn’t correspond, and how to visualize that experience. Lately I’ve been thinking about hormones a lot; I was skeptical before. But I’m frustrated to be out of sync with reality. Documentary and porn are much more intertwined with truth production—how to break the living political fictions.

cléo: Does porn lean more towards reality, or fiction?

EMB: There are so many things connected to this because, like…authenticity. The idea of sexuality as something pure, different from other kinds of things. I think the perception maybe is somewhere between documentary and fiction, like it has both. Maybe that’s why I’m also drawn to it. Maybe porn is a third thing. I don’t know.

cléo: Lol, porn is genderqueer identity, it’s not either binary. It’s in the middle, or transcendental.

EMB: Yes, I think so. Because I think it is another binary, fiction and documentary. I’m working on a new pornographic piece now, with Marit Östberg. The performers and the piece are called Hyena, it’s about the hyena clitoris. It’s really big. For a long time, scientists thought that they were hermaphrodites. They have these greeting ceremonies where there’s a matriarchy, and the younger hyena has to smell and lick the clitoris in order to show that they abide by the matriarchy. Marit is a person who can really mirror, or see themselves as a hyena. I think that’s also a part of She Male Snails (2012): how the common reality and the idea of what’s real is a violent system that excludes many trans bodies, and fictionalizes them. Femininity is fictionalised in our society. Masculinity is naturalised and femininity is fictionalised. So, for me, the fiction and the documentary has always been a weird divide because also some of my true experiences have been fictionalised. The fantasy sometimes has been more close to the real, and authenticity, than what has the qualities of documentary. I think that both porn and documentary are really, there are quite solid frames or boundaries within those two genres that I don’t want to…I think that they are oppressive, authoritarian in a way. They have some kind of choking presence in limiting the possibilities of deciders of sexuality. It’s, I don’t know. So I have a problem with those, both documentary and porn as a genre. I think that they are so… untrue.

cléo: There’s an inherent untruth in realism, or realism that isn’t realistic, I dunno. In a way porn goes past the bounds of realism. Porn isn’t realistic; like, it’s literal but it’s not real, if that makes sense?

EMB: Yeah.

cléo: So why do you think queer porn is subversive?

EMB: I don’t know, I can’t know. It’s hard to formulate. Subversive, but I think, I don’t, mMaybe it’s because I think it’s hard to talk in general terms about anything. And that’s a problem that I have all the time. To not, I have a really difficult time defining things as something. Strategically I think it is good to do that sometimes. I think that’s also why I make films, they inhabit a more complex way of talking about stuff.

cléo: What similarities and differences would you draw between queer porn and feminist porn?

EMB: Queer porn and feminist porn?

cléo: Yes, do you think they’re the same, different? How do you draw those lines? Or would you draw those lines in general?

EMB: Uhmmmmm, I don’t know. But it’s like, for me again, I think it’s really hard to talk on that general level because I find that it’s reductive. From this sort of straight, feminist porn for cis-women to queer porn. It’s such a broad genre, an umbrella. What is queer and what is feminist? I’m not the one to define that, I don’t think.

cléo: What inspired [your short film, that you co-directed with Sara Kaarman,] Fruitcake?

EMB: I think it was the anus, it has a big potentiality.

cléo: Why does the anus have a lot of potential?

EMB: It has a universalising way of… I don’t know. I read somewhere: it’s “the hole of pleasure that everybody has.” I don’t know if everyone has it actually…

cléo: Well if you don’t you die.

EMB: What?

cléo: Well everyone has an anus because if you don’t you’d die. Well, you wouldn’t live for very long anyway.

EMB: If you don’t you die?

cléo: Essentially.

EMB: It’s a bit connected to Lee Edelman.

cléo: No butt, no future.

 

Amanda Jane Barbour, boss lady at FEM&IST Films in the land down under.

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Amanda Jane Barbour, boss lady at FEM&IST Films in the land down under.