Artist in focus: Sandra Lahire
Sandra Lahire (1950-2001) was a central member of the feminist and experimental filmmaking community in London in the 1980s and 1990s. Lesbian, Jewish, feminist – Lahire was a proud queer activist in a troubled time of British history, Thatcher’s 1980s.
She made ten 16mm films, most of them under half an hour in length. Hers is an important body of work that deserves wider recognition – its environmental concerns, its intersectional feminism, its honest discussion of mental health feel poignantly modern and relevant today. Marked by corporeal vulnerability – her own, that of the female body, the body of the earth, the body of film – Lahire’s work proposes a comparison between the violence committed by patriarchal society against women and that committed by humans against the non-human world. Her four anti-nuclear films echo the feminist anti-nuclear, anti-war movement at the time. Formally, they merge documentary, performance, animation and experimentation (superimposition – both in camera and on the optical printer – re-filming, colourisation, changes of speed, layering of sounds).
From her first film to her last, Lahire was in sustained dialogue with the poetry and archive of Sylvia Plath. And like Sylvia Plath’s, hers is a body of work that is retrospectively overshadowed by her premature death aged 50. Lahire’s films were ground-breaking in the frank way that they addressed the unspoken cultural causes of diseases such as anorexia, with which she struggled throughout her life and which led to her untimely passing in 2001.
Lahire was, as Maud Jacquin has written, “one of Britain’s boldest and most important experimental feminist and queer filmmakers.” This Artist in Focus programme includes all of her films alongside works by others who were important to Lahire and her practice such as her partner, filmmaker Sarah Pucill; mentor and friend Lis Rhodes; Greek artist-duo Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki. Also included is Focii by Jeanette Iljon, one of the earliest explicitly Lesbian avant-garde films in Britain, which Lahire discusses in her essay “Lesbians in Media Education”, where she also writes “Wherever I am and come from, my tongue is Lesbian.”
This retrospective was co-curated by Charlotte Procter and marks the publication of a Courtisane cahier on Sandra Lahire in collaboration with Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola (San Sebastian). Edited by María Palacios Cruz and Charlotte Procter, Living on air: the films and words of Sandra Lahire, is the first monograph dedicated to her work. It brings together new and existing texts on Lahire as well as writing by Lahire herself, with contributions by Gill Addison, Jo Comino, Pam Cook, Laura Guy, Maud Jacquin, Julia Knight, Michael Mazière, Sarah Pucill, Irene Revell & Kerstin Schroedinger, Lis Rhodes, Selina Robertson & Ricardo Matos Cabo (with So Mayer), Vicky Smith, Sarah Turner and Ana Vaz.