Pictures by Lisa Rastl
You have to desire to be a feminist. History tells us: men produce; women reproduce. Men create; women mediate. Men are the innovators and women the technicians. Women weave, transcribe, and edit. Women are 0s and men are 1s. Technicity brought women into the labor force. The early film editors were both secretary and seamstress: organizing reels, deleting errors, mending cuts to realize man’s vision.
Today, in the wake of the digital transformation’s gender shock, coding is our feminine labor. We can trace the threads to the industrial age, when women were bent over the weaving looms. Looms are early computers, programmed in advance to run off a series of punch cards operated by a single human hand. Sadie Plant writes: “The matrix weaves itself in a future which has no place for historical man: he was merely its tool, and his agency was itself always a figment of its loop.” If she’s right, then production will soon cease entirely.
Before all that, the editor sometimes became the filmmaker. In 1927, Esfir Shub, the founder of montage film, made the official film of the Soviet Union’s October Revolution. The film was praised for its “invisible authority.” She functioned like a machine, cataloguing old newsreels to make the perfect impersonal document of propaganda.
Can two things be true at the same time? Woman as rational machine and woman as pure emotion. Ada Lovelace, author of the first machine algorithm, was both mathematician and hysteric.
In Mashes of the Afternoon and Story in Reverse, Loretta Fahrenholz’s original objects—a film and a story from during and after World War Two—were made by women and are about women dying. Time is circular or in reverse. Ilse Aichinger’s Mirror Story, from 1949, goes from death to abortion to birth as death. Meshes of the Afternoon, from 1943, is a cyclical nightmare punctuated by death, weighted under the mirror shards that had been the face of the protagonist’s stalker.
Repetition and reproduction: Desire can never be fulfilled. Instead it renews itself over and over again. Either the story never ends or it does so in absolute destruction. Like harbingers of the future, these originals emerge from the wartime that introduced cybernetics, “control and communication made possible by computers,” before it came to structure our lives.
Now YouTube’s own algorithms can lead us from one #MeshesoftheAfternoon to another, shot in shithole suburban America by teens using Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s film as an imitable score. You can just turn it on and watch it run. But it’s Loretta who relegates her role from maker of film to remixer. She turns herself into an algorithm, but one with agency and even desire. It’s not a playlist she produces but a dutiful mashup of the awkward reproductions spanning YouTube’s existence to recreate the original film shot for shot.
Reproductions pale in comparison to their originals, but that’s not the point. Instead of making something new (is that even possible?!), Loretta has instead inserted herself into these systems of reproduction. With each iteration comes not a resurrection of relics from the past, but realizations of the repetitive tasks that are weaving our future.