MY HERSTORY" by Johanna Fateman


I live uptown with my bunnies Ratty & John-John. I like coffee, candy, making beats, writing, and talking on the phone. My natural hair color is dirty blonde and I am the tallest member of Le Tigre. I grew up in Berkeley, California. Girlhood anxiety re: nuclear annihilation and Reaganomic injustice were the disjunct backdrop to daily life in a university town with a romantic history of radical protest. As a kid, my primary concerns were reading and small animals (specifically rabbits and mice), and I was lucky to have parents who encouraged my intellectual curiosity and supported my pet habit. I had an elaborate fantasy life based on my identification with the Betsy character in the Betsy-Tacy-Tib book series by Maud Hart Lovelace in which Betsy ultimately becomes a successful writer in the big city. That was my dream too.When I was seventeen I went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon where I hung out 24 hours a day with a pack of extremely mischievous genius girls. We talked about our lives with an amphetamine candor and applied an unforgiving brand of feminist analysis to everything under the sun. In the sensory-heightened flush of new politicization, it was hard to figure out what the fuck I was doing in college. I think I just wanted to be an artist.

Around this time, I started making a fanzine called Snarla with my best friend from high school, Miranda July. We made about six issues over the course of 3 or 4 years. It would probably be grouped in to a confessional genre of writing associated with Riot Grrrl Press in the early/mid 90s (and Snarla was actually distributed by RGP briefly), but our style was more aloof and abstract. One of the best things about making a zine was having an excuse to walk up to someone I thought was cool and give her a copy, which is how I met Kathleen Hanna.When Kathleen moved to Portland and wanted to move into my house and start a band with me, how could I say no? I had just dropped out of school and was working at a used clothing store/Halloween warehouse, wishing something cool would happen. I lived in a house called the Curse with a bunch of girls who never did the dishes. The house was infested with possums, but there were beautiful roses in the front yard. I bought a bass for $60 and my friend Radio Sloan built an amp for me that looked like a haunted doll-house with a speaker. She taught me how to tune and how to play the bass-line of Planet Earth by Duran Duran. I was in the Troublemakers with Kathleen and Molly-16 as well as a band called the Mandy Sturgill anti-sex BMX Space War with Radio, Bella Foster, and Mandy Sturgill. We built a stage in the basement of the Curse and drove the neighbors insane.Art school seemed like a good way to get to New York. Believe it or not I have a BFA in painting. In school, my thing was painting dogs, cats, skunks or girls in an impressionist/cake-frosting style on backgrounds that looked sort of like famous colour field painting, and making fun of the fake bohemianism and retrogressive values endemic to art school culture. I still made zines, but my subject matter was totally different. "The Opposite, Part I" was a "fanzine about art" and was an experiment in writing about disparate areas of culture (i.e. conceptual art, modernist painting and feminist performance) in the same voice. "ArtaudMania!!! The Diary of a Fan" and "My Need to Speak on the Subject of Jackson Pollock" followed shortly thereafter.

When I graduated from art school I had trouble making ends meet between various jobs assisting artists, art dealers, working at a coffee shop, and temping. When I didn't get a job answering the phone at Artforum, I became sub-contracted phone psychic for a number of national networks and I bought a cheap sampler and a drum machine. Then Kathleen moved to New York. She taught me how to use her 8-track and we started making music together again. By the time things really started coming together with Le Tigre, I was working full time at a non-profit art space. It was really difficult to work full days and then go to "band practice." At that time it seemed like we spent most of our time trying to figure out how to get our crappy equipment to work and we clung for dear life to rare moments of inspiration and discovery. But the hard work paid. In the fall of 2000 when we went on our first full U.S. tour I was able to quit my full time job. Even though we are still just scraping by, I felt like I had finally "made it" in New York! I still can't believe that making art with two of my best friends is my "job."

Le Tigre has kept me super busy for the past few years, but I have worked on a few other projects also. I was the sound designer for experimental videomaker Cecilia Dougherty's "Gone" and I have a solo music project called Swim With the Dolphins. SWTD evolved from what I was doing in Le Tigre (using the same equipment and technical skills we were developing together), but I wanted to depart from the performative, collaborative, rock context of the band to do something more like the "faceless" production associated with some electronic and dance genres. In the winter of 1999 I made a 5 song cassette called "the struggle for the full exercise of woman's equality." I dubbed a bunch and gave it to my friends and people I met on tour with Le Tigre (i.e. the rare girls who approached me to ask about how we made our music, what kind of equipment we use etc.) The name "Swim With The Dolphins" was inspired by a book of the same title, subtitled "How Women Can Succeed in Corporate America On Their Own Terms." I have a couple of tracks on a couple of compilations, but I haven't really released much.

What else? I sporadically work on a sprawling piece of fiction called "Love Vs. Light" which is about female friendship, the nineties, the new age, identity politics, feminist aesthetics and micropolitical decay. And I love to make heavy metal video-game soundtracks with my old friend Radio Sloan. Eventually, I hope to go back to painting and start a pet portraiture business.

Johanna Fateman

 

Kathleen's herstory / JD's herstory