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Yours, KOW

Barbara Hammer 1939 – 2019

Barbara Hammer died this Saturday in New York at the age of 79, after many years of battling cancer. Our thoughts are with her spouse Florrie Burke and the many friends and colleagues who have been close to her in life, art, and politics.

Barbara stood up against the human cruelties and social atrocities that crossed her path, but most of all she cherished and honored the intimate as well as public struggles she and many others experienced in a normative environment, still making self-expression and solidarity a precarious project. Barbara’s work as a filmmaker, her public voice as a feminist, and her stunningly open and decided persona have influenced and inspired more than a generation.

Born in Hollywood in 1939, an artistic career was not granted to Barbara Hammer. It was in her late twenties that she decided to study experimental film, while at the same time she discovered a non-heteronormative world during the late 1960s in San Francisco where she joined the feminist-lesbian movement. Her early films are radical, unafraid, and formally risky. The way she displayed sexuality and gender conflicts were self-confrontational and challenged the status quo. For many years Barbara maintained her practice under very precarious conditions.

Since 2010, the art world increasingly valued her contributions, with the MoMA being the first institution to give her a screening retrospective that was followed by monographic programs at Tate Modern London, Jeu de Paume Paris, and Filmmuseum Vienna. Today her oeuvre contains over 90 experimental and documentary films, many drawings and collages, sculptures and performances, photographs and texts. Many of her non-filmic works have only recently been shown for the first time.

We discovered Barbara’s work by pure chance during a brief visit to the Iaspis Center’s archive in Stockholm in 2010, where we found a DVD with her name, and took a look. The first scene we saw was an elderly couple filmed in black and white, engaged in tender kisses and loving passion. We had never seen such intimacy between two love veterans and wondered who might be the author of this precious scene. Three weeks later we met Barbara in New York and since then have been partners in crime. We will continue to do so.

Barbara has looked deeply into the vulnerability of existence, both her own and the ones of others. She was a poet of unconditional love, a constant promoter of the freedom to speak, touch, and feel, and to self-determine one’s own representation of identity and desire. We will miss her deeply – privately, but also collectively as one of the indispensable voices in society that insisted on another future, one that overcomes harmful norms and stands up against the repetition of the past.