The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía dedicates a retrospective to the audiovisual work of Yvonne Rainer (San Francisco, 1934), a key figure in experimental film in the San Francisco Bay Area and then in the East Coast underground scene after she moved to New York in the 1950s.
Rainer was drawn to performance art after studying acting and modern dance with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Judith Dunn and Viola Farbe. In 1972, she left performance art for film, although her past experience permeated her work and even her texts, which Peggy Phelan called “rhetorical performances”. In her opus, which is strongly influenced by the American minimalism of the 1970s, there are as many film references as choreographic ones.
Rainer especially uses aesthetic minimalism in her early films, in which she conceives of the body as something ‘neutral’. Lives of Performers (1972), her first feature length film and the one that most clearly shows her transition from dance to film, may well constitute the clearest example of the influence of minimalism on her work. Both Yvonne Rainer’s texts and praxis had a decisive influence on the New York avant-garde. Her films Lives of Performers, Film About a Woman Who… (1974), Kristina Talking Pictures (1976), Journeys from Berlin/1971 (1980) and The Man Who Envied Women (1985) combine intellectual rigor with apparently narrative and formally complex structures.
The move from dance to film also allowed Rainer to explore the emotional sphere from a genre at once popular and extravagant: melodramas. In this vein, she had already produced twelve films for multimedia performance pieces by the 1990s that are included in this selection.
Other works that form part of the series include Privilege (1991) and MURDER and murder (1996), in which the director examines fundamental spaces in the daily lives of women. The recipient of awards at the 1997 Berlin Film Festival and the 1999 Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, MURDER and murder was the first film that Yvonne Rainer made after she came out as a lesbian in 1991. Given Rainer’s interest in women’s issues, bodies and identity, this artist could well be considered a feminist filmmaker avant la letter, since these themes appeared in her work even before some aspects of this movement had been identified.