WHAT’S SO DANGEROUS ABOUT MY WORK? – A Conversation with Amy Greenfield

by Anna Simone Minzer

Amy Greenfield is one of the core originators of the cine-dance genre. Having worked in an array of media including writing and holography, Greenfield has produced, edited, directed, and intermittently performed in over thirty films. Greenfield’s work is often inter-disciplinary in practice, using the nude body as a primary form of expression. Her latest work blends installation, live dance and video into a performative spectacle. Recently, she has undergone an on and off battle with YouTube over the removal and censorship of her nude dance videos.

Downtown Goddess photograph by Robert Haller (1998)

I first wanted to talk about Tides, Element and Transport….all these pieces are very raw, basic and they differ visually from later pieces like Club Midnight, Wildfire, and Light of Body. Could you describe this shift in approach—how the body has changed with the aesthetics around it from the beginning of your work to what you are doing now?

Tides, Element and Transport were basically in the 70’s, Tides in ‘82. Club Midnight, Light of the Body and Wildfire were all shot in the late 90’s up to 2007. Of course this is an enormous amount of time, and in between was my biggest project of Antigone: Rights of Passion. And art has changed. One big change I would say, of several changes, would be the era. And another was that I was no longer performing…it was the same (ideas) within me but not coming through my identity or where I am at.

I found Tides to be emotionally complex, complex because there is such a tension between power and powerlessness. I see you somewhere between dancing and tossed, moments on your knees and other moments invigorated by the ocean. Can you talk about how this corresponds to being a woman in the body—that sort of dynamic of powerless and powerful through the body?

Music of the Body (1983)

I would not feel powerful, I think, if I was not directing myself.  (laughs) Ya know, I’ll get that way (thinking), “You’re going to tell me the way I do this or the way I’m going to look?” ….My decision to become a filmmaker, came out of doing this film where I answered this ad for a nude dancer. I thought, I was so naked, but I did it. But I was scared afterwards, which feels ridiculous because it (the film) was so mild and abstracted. But I didn’t like that the men did certain things that I wouldn’t have done. I tried to do another film to and I just stopped it. I am so often doing that with men who are in positions of making statements about me, how am I’m represented. With some women, they find that being nude, it brings out both (powerless and power) and I can’t explain why…I think choosing the ocean starts to do that, because anyone who has been in the ocean has the experience of both being tossed and going against those waves.

So I set up this opposition—these two extremes, they come together.

From what you where talking about before with powerlessness and power and the female body; Club Midnight and Downtown Goddesss, in both those pieces you see a platform and a woman on display. And I see someone who is being watched but at the same time empowered— a very delicate line.

Seline Savarie (the performer in Downtown Goddess) talks about it in her poem so well. She says, “He and I have strapped ourselves inside a tale of Beauty and the Beast/ Where the roles are reversible and a passive revenge could butcher us both/ Is all his power in the face of George Washington?/ And is our power in how many we can count out at the end of the night?” In the strip club there are issues of control and losing control and the women are both disempowered and empowered because they (the women) are moving.  For instance, the first contemporary strip club I went to was in Los Angeles, and the men were literally not allowed to move. They had to stay in their seats. They couldn’t get up during an act. Isn’t that amazing? But, the women…the more they do it the more they are trapped and it’s a complex trap. In the club itself there are those two things going on and I wanted to liberate the women from this trap and do something else and take their expression in a literal sense. With Selene, she was in the club but I was behind the camera. And I was putting myself out there. I was standing in front of the whole audience and I was disrupting.

Wildfire (2002)

I wanted to know about the relationship between poetry and film for you. How they inspire each other or inform each other.

I used to write poetry. Before I started making films, it was just dance and poetry. So when I started making film it all came together AS film. I just feel the avant-garde film, (that) its urges are visual poetry. As (Maya) Deren defined: feature films work horizontally but an avant-garde film works in layers—so it is vertical. And poetry works like that, of course. That’s what a metaphor, simile, and what language does in poetry. I am very influenced by poetry.

I watched some of your videos on YouTube. One of the things that struck me, other than the great quality of them, was the recommended videos underneath. A lot of them were art, some of them were your videos or films, then a couple of them had pornographic intent—meaning that they didn’t have a value artistically, and were meant singularly for masturbatory purposes. So, it made me think about the line between pornography and expressing the body. Your work is very sexy at times, very sensual but is it about sex?

No, its about sexuality. Everything’s in there all together, but not denying one’s identity. They are never about sex, sexuality is in there as part of the expression. Pornography is definitely about sexual titillation. That’s the purpose of it. But my work is not about that at all—if it (sexual titillation) is there its there. But I’m so innocent, I don’t think it is.

Element (1973)

So, we were talking about YouTube and the recommended videos. Recently, you went through some censorship of your work. Can you talk about what you see as an artist working in this era some of the advantages and disadvantages of YouTube?

Yah, well I was aware when I made the website for Club Midnight the perception of what I’m doing on the internet, with all these people that I would never have as an audience seeing it, and the perception would be so different…So, the advantages are (that) no matter who they are and how they might be viewing your work, you are able to reach more people and people that you never would have. Because of the nudity there is this hook to get people to view it, but not nearly as much as one of those YouTube phenomena videos. But it’s really nice having that possibility, but I might as well do it on Vimeo. YouTube manages to block stuff more, I never know if things (my artworks) are under general audience or adult audience. They managed to get Tides and Element just to an adult audience.

I just don’t understand the whole thing, even the National Coalition Against Censorship doesn’t understand the whole thing about what choices they (YouTube) are making and why. It’s putting this wrong message out to young people that the body is something that is bad and dirty.

You were pretty shocked, right? When YouTube censored your work?

I was, but people had told me if I put it (my work) on YouTube that it might be taken off. My art dealer put it right up there and I figured nothing would happen because I had had four minutes of Light of the Body up for a year. My art dealer put the new pieces up and YouTube took them right down….I thought, “This is interesting, what’s so dangerous about my work?”

See Amy’s work on Vimeo here.

Read cinemabody’s blog here.

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3 Comments

  1. karen X says:

    great interview/inspiring perspectives/voice of the avant-garde/voice of the women people/voice of the tides/stunning beautiful work

  2. Chuck Taylor says:

    I was reading DH Lawrence on his banned paintings. He blamed the prudery of his time on syphilis and how it began to hit England hard during Queen Elizabeth’s time. The prudery of our time may be due in part to HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses we’ve only recently become aware of. It seems like most dance, for all its sensual qualities, has been behind film and painting in its unwillingness generally to present the uncovered human form. I know that what Amy Greenfield does is multimedia and not exactly dance.

  3. Inferno says:

    Good interview.
    Youtube is lame.

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