Conversation with Melissa Potter

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of talking with Melissa Potter, mixed media artist and Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago.  Her work explores gender, feminism, untold personal stories, and so much more. I met Melissa Potter at Out of Site’s “On Occasion Public Performance Think Tank” in February 2015.  In her lecture “Kings, Queens and Hard-core Normcores: Gender as Performance” she talked about her multi-faceted work “Gender Assignment.” In the workshop, participants took Dr. Sandra BEM’s Sex Role Inventory test measuring masculine and feminine characteristics. In the course of this project, she administered about 300-400 tests. You can read the results of the work here:

The finds have fueled additional work, projects and so much more. She has a blog by the same name that talks about her research in former Yugoslavia, gender performances, and much more. She also interviews feminist artists, and many others and writes about them. It’s pretty fantastic; you can easily spend hours on it. In her work, she makes the important point about how we have to move away from the gender binary and be more inclusive about how we think about gender. We talked about the performative aspects of gender, a topic she explores in various ways in her research and work in countries in the former Yugoslavia.

 As part of Melissa Potter’s work on Gender Assignment, she researched, filmed, and directed What Other Girls Do, focusing on a Montenegro tradition of “sworn virgins” where women live as men in villages. She juxtaposed the Stana Cerović’s story with the lives of five women in Belgrade, Serbia, exploring how they think about themselves with relation to gender and relationships. The juxtaposition really supports this idea as gender as performance. One of the subjects was a street artist known as TKV. Melissa Potter became acquainted with her when she came across a Virginia Wolff quotation in a street art piece signed by TKV, which was serendipitous to her life. She did some research and learned about her, who is starting to get more fame. The documentary is really interesting; I highly recommend it. Find out more here:

Continuing our conversation about gender as performance, we talked about her piece “Boy Brides and Bachelors.” She talked about how she came to film an old pagan ritual in Serbia on a lark. During the course of the filming, she discovered that it was a huge gendered performance.  Men were dressing up as women and engaging in fake sexual acts on the streets. However, she noted that women weren’t included in this ritual.  Check out the short film here: 

We also talked about her work in papermaking. She described it as “socially engaged art form. It’s a handicraft… It’s locational. I’ve been obsessed with working with plants from a particular area.” She’s working on setting up a papermaking studio in Bosnia as she had previously in Serbia. She’s working on Pulp and Pastry project where she’ll be exploring cooking and Bosnian kitchens with papermaking, with a ‘hidden agenda’ of looking at women and alternative history building. I can’t wait to see more on the new project. In the past, she’s worked the project Seeds In Service with Maggie Puckett to explore “the intersections of art of hand papermaking with gardening, social, practice, community engagement, and creative pedagogy in The Papermaker’s Garden at Columbia College.”

 We both talked of our admiration of incredible the Jane Addams! 

This is just a small segment of our conversation. For the rest of our conversation, you’ll have to wait for the book to come out!

For now, check out her blog Gender Assignment. It will rock your world: