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A girl called Jonny

Have you met Jonny yet? If not, it's time to in Insitu's first of four character-based exhibtions, this one on through Dec 19. Exploring the not-so-distant past's portrayals of strong femininity, "Jonny" is here to examine past and present.

Image for A girl called Jonny
Film still from “These Creatures” by Nancy Buchanan

Insitu’s owners and curators Marie Graftieaux, Nora Mayr, Gilles Neiens and Lauren Reid are showing their second of four character-based exhibitions, and this time we’re meeting enigmatic Jonny, “your dreamgirl from the future that passed” – the utopian 1960s media imagination. You know the type, like Jane Fonda in Barbarella: she’s strong and independent, but her primary role was to be a sexy, perhaps escapist object. Now she’s reemerged in the next millennium’s Berlin, and the many facets of her inner thoughts and dreams are on display in the non-profit art space.

Your first encounter with “Jonny” as you enter the blacked-out room, interspersed with glowing screens, will likely be Nancy Buchanan’s These Creatures (1979), the tongue-in-cheek, condescending nature documentary describing horrid aliens, otherwise known as women. Nearby is Valie Export’s Syntagma (1984), a 17-minute film that exudes a strong feeling of estrangement between its female protagonist and the outside world.

One might expect pieces by highly influential feminist artists in a show questioning 1960s gender tropes, but the rest of the exhibition is far from predictable. Looping excerpts from Daisies (1966), the Czechoslovakian avant-garde film, portray two nihilistic young women who’ve made the world a plaything. George Petrou’s Never Met (2011) looks at first glance like a cliché sci-fi landscape of a foreign planet, but it’s in fact a still shot of slowly dripping stalactites, seen upside down, transforming a natural phenomenon into a poignant metaphor for the invisible things that slowly add up and form a whole.

In the back room you can listen to the track “(I Know) A Girl Called Jonny” by Rowland S. Howard, featuring Jonnine Standish, lead singer of HTRK, who also happens to be the artist behind “Golden Gaytime God” (2015), another work on view. Here’s where the exhibition gets meta: Howard’s Jonny inspired the curators when they were developing the show, they got in touch with the real Jonny (Standish), and she offered to contribute a piece.

All tropes are time capsules, and all time capsules, when unearthed, clash with the futures they could not have predicted. Jonny travels back in time, locates past ideas of the Other, the empowered woman, and then connects the dots up to now, deepening an otherwise incomplete character. Here, she doesn’t only exist to excite you. She’s a feminist, an intellectual, an individual – dejected yet inquisitive, nuanced yet still iconic.

JONNY Through Dec 19 | Insitu, Kurfürstenstr. 21-22, Mitte, U-Bhf Kurfürstenstr., Thu-Fri 16-19, Sat 14-18