ART Fiona Ruckschcio’s seminal video work, “Retaped Rape”, didn’t get screened but the artist is not disappointed. Once the public outcry against rape subsides a bit, she will be back again to take the discourse on women’s rights forward

Fiona Ruckschcio has an artist’s ego but not one so big that it will come between her and reason. So no hard feelings that she hasn’t been able to showcase a significant work here, the purpose of her visit from Austria.

Fiona’s film Retaped Rape was to be screened at Ojas Art Gallery in New Delhi yesterday but the event got cancelled. The initial information one had received seemed to suggest that the screening didn’t happen due to the intervention of the External Affairs Ministry of India, but Raimund Magis, Charge d’Affaires, Austrian Embassy, which was facilitating the event, denies it. Based on a subject that has caught the imagination of the entire nation, it is indeed a sensitive issue but Raimund says it was the Austrian Embassy which decided to postpone the event as it didn’t want the work to be eclipsed in the cacophony of voices, demands and debate and that they have only postponed the event and not cancelled it.

“We intend to have a long-term dialogue on the subject of women, for which we had planned a lot of events through the year. This was planned long ago and it is sheer coincidence that the screening coincided with current happenings. Rapes were always happening but the remarkable thing is that there is such an outcry over it now. The current debate which is unprecedented in India is extremely important to us in the West. It has triggered a debate back home about women’s status in our society. The idea is to allow this dialogue to take place, and we will come back with the film for sure.”

But what would have people seen had the film got screened? They would have seen a number of locations across London, a cemetery, a house, a corner, a turn... as if the camera is chasing somebody. Only, that somebody is invisible. The film is based on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s film Rape made in 1969, which portrays a young woman being chased by a camera till the time she breaks down. Though nobody ever lays a finger on her, the camera or the male gaze — the camera is handled by a male cameraperson — violates her by intruding into her private space. In reality, the girl who was being chased didn’t know about the film and the chasing camera. “It was actually her sister who had set that up but the girl wasn’t aware of anything,” says Fiona, who first saw the film in 2010 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and felt disturbed by it. “I felt bad that as a viewer I was soaked in, curious to know what happens next. And by doing that my gaze is also intruding and committing aggression on her.”

Raising questions about voyeurism, Fiona does a different take. She sticks to the original angles, shots and locations but does away with the woman. “I didn’t want to re-victimise the woman showing her as a victim. I decided to concentrate on the gaze, reinterpreting the imagery rather than documenting the protagonist,” says Fiona, who made the film in 2012 for an art exhibition in Vienna, exhibiting it alongside photo collages and screen shots. Though there are no copyright issues involved as it is a reinterpretation, Fiona says she thought it to be her duty to inform Yoko Ono. “I think she knows because I tried to inform her. I even approached the cameraman who shot her film but he refused as he was very busy. In June this year she is curating a film festival in London; not in that festival, but I plan to have a screening of the film during that time elsewhere in London.”

According to Fiona, Yoko and John hadn’t intended to base the film on the male gaze. “To start with they were interested in the idea of the violence of the camera. Being a celebrity’s wife, she experienced it but it so happened that she ended up filming a woman. She was criticised a lot for this work. I think my work is a very subtle work questioning our position and how far we are ready to go to communicate it,” says Fiona, who often works around the theme of women. Her other short film, Bill Posters Will Be Prosecuted , based on domestic violence, was screened at another art gallery Art Bull as part of the ongoing exhibition “R.A.P.E” there.

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

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