Text accompanying Mizora’s exhibition publication.
Mary E. Bradley-Lane wrote the speculative fiction Mizora, World of Women in 1880 in the style of a report on an expedition of anthropological study, led by narrator Vera. Swathed in fantasy, utopias and borderline dystopias, such as the novel Mizora: A World of Women, camouflage both political criticism and social unrest. This novel existed before the ideas of feminism even had a term to go by in the USA. Still, the curiosity about alternative gender roles was nothing new, manifestations of these ideas found a voice behind the vale of speculative fictions in a wider genre of utopian socialism: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, when written in 1915 was late to the genre, based in an all-female society comparable to the land of Mizora. Similar feminist speculative fictions include New Amazonia (1884) by Elizabeth Corbett, Artip: A story of the marvels at the North Pole (1899) by Anna Andolph and The Republic of the Future or Socialism a Reality (1887) by Anna Bowman Dodd. James Lawrence wrote The Paradise of Single Mothers in 1801, and utopian socialist Charles Fourier is reputed to have first used the term “feminism” in 1837 in France, though it was 1910 before the term reached Bradley -Lane’s local American shores.
Within Mizora, A World of Women the seemingly pivotal moment of reveling, where the Mizoran men have gone, is meagerly explained. The economy of words used in elucidating on their ‘extinction’ avoids any hint of violence. Juxtapose this beside ‘Jael’s World’, writer Joanna Russ’s 1973 dystopian land from sci-fi novel The Female Man, and we see comparatively violence-hardy readers of the Twentieth Centaury fed and enthusiastically consuming the constant and insipid violence during a forty-year war between the sexes.
We are now on the other side of three waves of feminism and Anna Bunting-Branch responds to this with her scene selection; while Vera’s choice to return home is absent from the film, the passages depicting the beauty of Mizora is included in detailed illustrations by Bunting-Branch. The adaptation recalibrates Bradley Lane’s utopia for our advanced Feminism 3.0 society. Is it more powerful not to know that Vera chose to come home – maybe Mizora is better than our world?
The film leaves us in Mizora’s national gallery, looking at old masters that no longer exist. This location is relatable to even today, but the difference is in the attitude to preservation of history. In Mizora, the ancient works of art are only preserved as a teaching prompt; without ceremony or memorial. Today, surrounded by an attitude to the past that suffers a furious archive fever, we seem addicted to the tradition and memorial. Nostalgia leaks into our eyes, sometimes blinding us from the logical; we loose sight of why precious recourses are spent on memorial. When confused by illogical traditions, historical knowledge and progress can pull in opposite directions. Unlike the women of Mizora, we are too sentimental to be able to let sections of our past rest undisturbed.
While Mizora’s gallery preserves its archives solely as a tool for the advancement of knowledge, no romanticism is afforded to memorial of the extinction of the male race. Dedication to science replaces sentiment – Vera forgets her role as mother, forgets her beloved child and husband, and consequently, we forget them too.
Bunting – Branch‘s practice is occupied with the changing roles of women, continually excavating the term ‘women’ beside the term ‘the feminine’. This has led her research and source material to take her to different moments in pre 1928 history, where these terms have been deployed in different ways through myth, art and politics.
In Mizora, A World of Women, its not initially evident why so much page space is given over to sensuously portraying the aesthetic beauty of the women; their melodious vocal tones, their ornate clothing, ‘girls of the highest type of blond beauty’. While these descriptions are wooing only the reader, Bradley-Lane is inaugurating the existence of beauty beyond the eyes of the male gaze. This is significant for women to establish a sense of independent identity.
The specific representation of beauty in Mizora, A World of Woman frequently relies on Purist ideas; xenophobia exists and is driven only by a close-minded penchant for uniformity. The Purist attitude to beauty is symptomatic of the popular essentialist beliefs that existed during the time of Bradly Lane’s writing. Her otherwise progressive foresight didn’t consider that the specific Aryan beauty she portrayed, was itself a misconception, resting of the importance of belonging to a ‘master race’ – a false construction made by linage obsessed men.
While the ‘luscious perfection’ described in the land of Mizora is charismatic, Bunting-Branch’s flat corrugated card surfaces and impressionist painting style is distinctly alternate to the scientific realism as depicted in the text. As a viewer, the simple and playful construction entertains beyond the story itself. A sense of humor is relayed in the craft – the cardboard guitars with their loose metallic strings call out to more nostalgic receptors – I smile while watching.
Bunting–Branch’s neither makes models, or mockery, but the aesthetic style knocks the dust of the antique research material that she works with. Like the corrugated cardboard set of the painted Mizora, the novel itself creates an alternative ‘other’ to what we know. Between the real and the alternative, a space of activation exists, spurred by something just beyond escapism. A space for progress resides here.