ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW         ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW    

Young Girl Reading Group

Words by
Federico Sargentone

Established in 2013 by Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė (respectively Polish, b. 1986, and Lithuanian, b. 1987), YGRG started as a weekly, queer-enthusiast bookclub around feminist-inspired theory and fiction, later expanding into the domain of performative installation mediated through technology and the Internet.

Invited to join the 2,895 members of a Facebook group whose description reads “Young Girl, I did love you once,” I start skimming the feed, wandering through art opening e-vites, installation views and queer-theory articles.

The group’s admins, Dorota Gaweda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, send me a co-signed email on their arrival day in New York. They are embarking on a residency at Art in General after a busy year spent between Basel and Athens (where the two live and work) and traveling around European art institutions; their solo show at Cell Project Space in London has recently come to an end, while their work at the 13th Baltic Triennial is still on view in Tallinn and Riga. Even though I’ve never met Dorota and Eglė IRL, various interconnections, both virtual and factual, paved my way into their work. In our email exchange, the answers they hand over are poignant, relaying an acute consciousness of what Young Girl Reading Group (YGRG) is and will be.

Named after Tiqqun’s seminal text Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, published in English by semiotext(e) in 1999, , the performative entity develops from the formulation of a paradigmatically centered identity, breaking similar ground in the spheres of identity politics, self-determination and economy of presence.
Initially operating on a weekly basis as an actual, queer-enthusiast bookclub from the artists’ apartment, Young Girl Reading Group became a community seeking new ways for approaching text, reading, and sharing knowledge. Indeed, text is still at the core of their every activity, and is the central element of the performative installations through which YGRG exists in the realm of contemporary art institutions. Their diverse and playful output, encompassing films, merchandise products and, most recently, fragrances, ultimately adheres to an overarching language.

Selecting performers through word of mouth or from self-initiated communities such as Facebook groups, Dorota and Eglė stage Instagram-streamed readings enforcing the public, collective dimension of the text. “In our performances, the readers are placed in casual lounging positions, bringing to mind bodies hanging out in bedrooms,” they explain. ”In doing so, a sense of intimacy and vulnerability is generated—a sense of girl-on-the-Internet catharsis, where feminist theory rubs against ‘girlish’ reading practices.”

Paul B. Preciado, Nina Powers, Ursula K. Le Guin, Richard Sennett and Donna Haraway are just a few of the key authors that have been, or will be, performed by the group. The out-loud oratoria performed by breathing bodies, as well as the gestures captured by a rounded iPhone flashlight, prompt a process of self-affirmation, which is in turn livestreamed and disseminated. As Gaweda and Kulbokaitė put it, “By performing the text, assuming uncomfortable positions to read, or writing down some of the words in the space and on their clothes, the readers complexify the perception of the body, the space and the text itself.”
Self-described as a “sonar-social architecture of shared curiosity and synchronicity, a live Instagram hangout, and a self-conscious aesthetic chamber for intimacy and discovery,” Young Girl Reading Group happens simultaneously in real life, onscreen, and through language. This ubiquity of sorts allows their Young-Girl to act as a main character at the center of the stage. Her body is pivotal, her voice of paramount importance—both to herself and to bystanders, her daily experiences of sexuality, desire and legitimation framed and reclaimed through the public action.

Tiqqun writes, “The Young-Girl never creates anything; she re-creates herself”—and it’s the enactment of this particular, polar image that concerns Young Girl Reading Group most. With the body becoming a proxy for language, the “seductive power” of the Young-Girl becomes an exchangeable value—a dramatic yet ironic replacement of the everyman’s “labor power.”

Images courtesy of the artists; Cell Project Space, London; MMOMA, Moscow.

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