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​Bicycle, Catsuit, Girl-Gonzo Publishing: Hello, we’re the Ladies of the Press*

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Camden Council has invited us to be one of their commissioned artists for the 50th anniversary festival of the borough, and one of the subjects they encouraged us to touch on in our work is the subject of gender, the other is radical press and DIY publishing. Well, we didn’t need much encouraging.

We recently met Nikandre Kopke, the founder of Mazí Mas, at the Change: How? 2015 festival, held in London in February, who gave an inspiring talk about empowering women from the ground up. Incidentally we had spent the day before typesetting her essay for the BMW Tate Live Thought Workshop Series book, and felt the need to say hello. We liked her take on what she calls ‘stealth feminism’, instilling value in women’s care labour.

The story of Maria is sited on their website but here is a little taster:

'With only a primary school education and rudimentary English Maria wasn’t qualified for most jobs, and in any event was expected to have dinner on the table when her husband got home from work. She loved America, but even after fifteen years it felt just beyond her reach. She wanted to be part of it. She wanted to open a bakery.

It never happened. Her husband wouldn’t hear of it. Women did not go into business, he said. They took care of children. So Maria answered an ad in the Greek newspaper for a nanny, and started caring for a two-month-old baby girl.'

Mazí Mas,‘Our Story’

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Mazi Mas

Kopke’s social enterprise recruits and supports migrant and refugee women from across the world, bringing together a wide range of culinary skills to provide a delicious concoction of food that has a global perspective, quite literally. And what is really refreshing is that Mazí Mas encourages reinterpreting a traditionally ‘female’ skill into a vehicle of empowerment. This resonates with what Laurie Penny wrote in the introduction to her latest book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution:

‘For fifty years, patriarchy has been telling women to get back to the kitchen, first in genuine outrage, and then with the type of ironic crypto-sexism that is supposed to be amusing: get back in there and make us a sandwich, dear. Those who are so eager for women and girls to go back to the kitchen might think again about just what it is we might be up to in there. You can plan a lot of damage from a kitchen. It’s also where the knives are kept’

Penny, Laurie (2014). Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. 16.

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Ladies of the Press, Photo by Elly Clarke

For the two of us at Ladies of the Press* our kitchen is the press room, and the form of this press desk is somewhat elusive. What we do is provide an outlet to voice things: big and small, serious and silly.

Our contribution to #Camden50 will be an entirely new piece, what we call a ‘Demo Press’: our contemporary and subversive take on publishing as a demonstration, both in the sense of being demonstrative (theatrical) and instructional (utilitarian). A mobile press in every sense of the word, we are going take our DIY publishing kit literally on the road, setting up pop up presses in various venues, bookshops, cafes and even on the street corner. We are looking for subjective content from anyone, but we have a hitlist of people we will be having in-depth conversations with, which will be revealed in due course and we're hoping speak to female writers, activists, entrepreneurs, educators, GPs, union leaders and of course artists who have changed and are changing the feminist face of London over the past 50 years.

Our practice as a whole takes a democratic approach to what we publish, and how to publish. Our signature take on theatrical printing is derived from a desire, during our art student days, to make a small, delicate piece of text art sing as loudly as an enormous sculpture or painting. For us, a book format is the perfect way to do it. The live aspect dawned on us at the last minute because our classmates at art school were too disorganised to send us images for the catalogue we were trying to make for the school exhibition. Hell, if we can’t get material beforehand we’ll just do it all in the gallery! This mentality of impromptu decision making ended up becoming one of the core concepts of Ladies of the Press* through the development of our signature piece the LIVE PRESS.

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Ladies of the Press, Photo by Elly Clarke

We invariably do our pressing in theatrical and ridiculous costumes, and we’ve upped the game for our costumes this year. We’ve been in touch (and busting out that tape measure) with a specialist catsuit maker in the US to construct a custom made holographic catsuit that will survive London weather while being fabulous on our matching bikes and go with our rainbow wigs. Just to make sure you don’t miss us! There is also a more serious reason behind our shiny catsuits, and that is that it rids a lot of inhibition: both in terms of our own as well as the audience. In the years of performing, we’ve found that the more ridiculous we looked, the more people were keen to come chat to us and find out what we were doing. We figured that if we look so ridiculous that our audiences couldn’t possibly make a fool out of themselves, it opens up new avenues of communication. The audience begin to interact, draw, and write where they otherwise wouldn’t have.

We will be kicking off at the festival’s launch at the House of Illustration on 1st April 2015 with a LIVE PRESS performance, and we’ll start biking around Camden shortly thereafter, posting regular on-the-go, girl-gonzo style dispatches from the heart of London.

Come join us!