Rebel Dykes, Digital Archives and Sapphic Screenings Under Lockdown

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My practice based PhD research focuses on using quilt making as a methodology for re-visioning lesbian archives. Much of my time is spent in intuitional archives as well as personal collections leafing through historical ephemera. I also spend a great deal of time 

in the Embroidery Workshop at Manchester School of Art creating my quilted artworks. The lockdown, which has been a challenging time for everyone, has been a difficult time for me in terms of the de-materialisation of my research practice and the shift into the digital realm. 

During lock down archives have closed to researchers meaning that I have had multiple fieldwork trips postponed. This has led me to explore the possibilities of connecting with archives, communities and histories digitally. 

I had a zoom meet up with the photographer Phyllis Christopher (who’s personal collection I have been working with), where she kindly shared some of her portfolio archive – holding prints up to the screen while I took notes and awkward screen shots. It was an attempt to recreate the intimacy of the last archival encounter, sitting with tea, snacks and plastic shopping bag full of lesbian erotica. The conversations we had about the complexities of consent, femme culture, and the importance of leopard print have fed my practice. But we are both looking forward to meeting in person once it is safe, as sometimes there is no replacing the haptic pleasures of being together.

I have also been working with the Rebel Dykes, which is a history, archive and film project telling the stories of the feminist punk dykes of 1980s London. I had recently been asked

to exhibit work at their Archive Exhibition in 2021. Luckily the wonderful Siobhan Fahey who directs the project has been collecting archive materials from the community in a google drive. Although at the beginning of my project I decided to exclude digital archives, this google drive has become one of my key archival encounters, and the inspiration for new work. 

Over lockdown Siobhan has also been running the Rebel Dykes film clubs, brining together often isolated lesbians to watch ‘should be’ lesbian cult classics, each time with a special guest. Siobhan’s DIY punk hosting skills, blue hair and themed backgrounds bring a joyous warmth to the often dull drudgery of online events. The intergenerational focus of the project brings together older dykes and younger queers into a messy dialogue.

The film club begins with a chat all together, and then a break out into randomly assigned rooms, this is awkward and delightful all at the same time. Each of the chat rooms seems to spiral new threads of connection, recognition and criss-crossed recollections between women. After the break outs we all disappear to try and figure out the links and how to watch the film individually before we all come back for a discussion and special guests. Films/discussion pairings have included Time Square with Jack Halberstam, Preaching to the Perverted with Guinevere Turner and Liquid Sky with DJ Michelle who played a set after the screening. It was amazing to hear the recollections of the members of the London SM (sadomasochist) community who had worked as extras in the Preaching to the Perverted film alongside its star. Particularly their memories of being tied up and left on the floor for a full day of filming in a big country house.  

Questions come in on the chat, and in the spirit of punk Siobhan doesn’t mute anyone so there are interruptions, overlaid commentary, cats on keyboards, shouts to other rooms and layers of discussion all over the top of each other. These are the digital textures of Rebel Dykes archive, creating a DIY sensational space in lockdown for intergenerational encounters, conversations and community building.

You can find out more about the Rebel Dykes project here: https://www.rebeldykes1980s.com

And you can see more about my work here: https://sarahjoyford.com

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