As artists, sometimes we must take a critical look at past influences and redefine our relationship to the work that helped form our practice. Gemini Rising is doing just that.
Christa Schadt, who goes by Gemini Rising in the art world, is a video artist creating work in response to Busby Berkeley’s Hollywood musicals. Formally educated in video art, sound art, performance art, and installation art from OCAD in Canada, Christa was drawn to the moving image and eventually began working in the documentary film industry. Her work has been shown at numerous festivals such as the Women in Film Festival in Hollywood, the Cologne Art Fair, the Fodor Museum in Amsterdam, the Electronic Image Conference in Bologna, the Institute Unzeit in Berlin, the Ivam Centre in Valencia, Spain, LVA in London, England and the Festival of Festivals in Toronto. Christa began minting her art on Ephimera in November of 2020, beginning with her series Zeitgeist Fairytales.
Zeitgeist Fairytales is a series of video art works deconstructing the work of Busby Berkeley. Berkeley, who is mainly known for his large-scale 1930’s Hollywood musicals, choreographed showgirls to create kaleidoscopic performances. His films, which often objectified women, inspired Christa to reclaim the female form – taking pieces of his works and remixing them to create her own narrative.
Ephimera: Tell us about how this concept was created. How did the work of Busby Berkeley impact you?
Gemini Rising: I liked the visual look of bodily movement in water. This is when I started remembering the Busby Berkeley synchronized swimming movies and found so many rich and beautiful visuals I might be able to work with. I started researching Busby Berkeley himself as a choreographer and director, and the kind of dance and musical films of that era. What I found out about him was disturbing. He was a misogynist and a racist whose career greatly benefited from the use of the female form and cultural appropriation. At this point, I could not look at the films from that era the same way again. Their beauty was somehow marred by the story behind the making of them. So I started thinking about how I could use the beauty of those moving images to make something profoundly engaging. And being a woman, I wanted to reclaim the images he created and make a new narrative. A narrative from a female perspective.
For my series, Zeitgeist Fairytales, I produced my own music to help create a deeper meaning to the images. By stylizing and constructing a repetition of movement of those images I wanted to revive the beauty I had originally found in the work of that time. But mainly, I wanted it to be known that the narrative has changed.
Ephimera: In the descriptions of your work, you talk about how Berkeley’s musicals were an escape from the social and political turmoil of the 1930s. In your opinion, how did the mass-consumption of Berkeley’s work influence the portrayal of women in Western media?
Gemini Rising: People have always used the cinema as a way to escape. The depression of the 30’s, which later led the world into war certainly was a case in point. But during the war, the role of women changed drastically. While the men were away fighting, it was the women who stayed behind and did the work previously done by men. The genie was out of the bottle. When men returned from the war they wanted everything to be the same as when they left, but it would never go back to the way it was. And although it wasn’t yet the 60’s, which brought the invention of the birth control pill, women were already becoming a force to be reckoned with.
I think the media, which after the war was still run by men on the whole, delayed the liberation of women somewhat but the hold on the old patriarchal values was slipping. Yes, in a lot of cases women were considered objects, especially in film and advertising but slowly this also changed. I believe that had there not been a war, directors such as Berkeley would have had a far greater influence, but thankfully their time was at an end and the role of women in society changed.
Ephimera: In your mind, how important is it that artists recognize the societal impact of artists and filmmakers before them when creating their own work?
Gemini Rising: I think naivety is a refreshing thing in the art world. Without reference to anything, or anyone, an artist can draw deep into his or her own creative well. Children do this all the time. But I think that can only go so far. If you don’t know the history and the implications of various art movements in and on society you end up living in an echo chamber. You can never really get very far.
Art has always reflected society as well as predicted societal change. You can’t really move forward if you know nothing about the past. That doesn’t mean constantly reproducing something that came before, but having an understanding of it and being able to create something different from that understanding. I believe it is very important to not only recognize what has come before, but to acknowledge it.
Ephimera: What do you hope the audience can take away after watching Zeitgeist Fairy Tales?
The first thing I hope is that people will enjoy and be entertained by what I have produced. To be entertained so much, that they will want to watch it again. And while being entertained eventually see the deeper messages I am trying to convey. I don’t want to hit people over the head with my messages or ideas. I want them to enjoy what they are watching and to discover those messages on their own terms.
You can follow Gemini Rising on Twitter and check out her works in the Ephimera Marketplace below.