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Writing (MA)

Violet Ames

My name is Violet Ames, I am a contemporary writer and artist from the U.S., where I was both born and raised. I spent most of my childhood in Texas, then moving to Los Angeles, to complete my undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California. There I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Narrative Studies and minored in Fine Arts Photography. In the time since graduating I’ve worked both independently as a freelancer and within a creative advertorial capacity on the agency side. I am currently engaged in an MA in Writing at the Royal College of Art, focusing on literary and arts criticism. 

Currently, I am completing an independent research project exploring the intersection of gender, religion, and collective memory. Within these larger themes, I am more specifically interested in martyrdom, female-coded pain, historic saints, and celebrity culture. 

In the past my work has been more on the confessional side, with works like L.A. Affairs: He insisted on paying for our date. Then I got his Venmo request. However, I also have an equal measure of interest/curiosity in cultural criticism with works like Imagine the Swell of the Water: Reading The White Album in 2020, featured in L.A. Review of Books’ Short Takes column; as well as the series of articles I wrote for the now defunct archival feminist fashion zine, Marchioness Magazine reviewing YSL’s final film Celebration (2019), Fat Girl (2001), Viv Albertine’s memoir To Throw Away Unopened, and more.

As I embark on future creative endeavors, I hope to explore more on how my work and own subjectivity position me in historic precedent and the world at large. Overthrowing traditional narrative structures and modalities while applying feminist, anti-colonial, Marxist is an approach that I hope to fine-tune and explore in the course of my artistic career.

a photo of my great-grandfather Manuel Arvizu, who was a Catholic deacon in West Texas, U.S.A. during the 1970s

The journey towards this project has involved much consideration of how I want my work to resonate with readers, as well as how I want my practice to be an enriching experience for myself as I rediscover touchy points in my own relationship to religion. The initial premise of this project involved an exploration of female martyrdom — both in a historic biblical context & in the modern secular notions of the woman who can (more like MUST) do it all. But in my reading of historic female saints and ascetics, I've grown more interested in the epistemological thought which creates a shaky line between Eros and Agape — look no further than St. Teresa de Avila and Margery, and you'll see what I mean. My final project will be analyzing the theological framework of Agape and Eros, as guided/influenced by the likes of Anders Nygren, Wilhelm Reich, Kierkegaard, and my own personal experience as a former attendant of private Christian schools and summer camps. And of course the father of my maternal grandmother who was a deacon in the Catholic Church.

neon clown sign of Circus Liquor, famously appeared in a number of famous films/music videos/tv shows in Burbank, California


{When you least expect it, you become just like your mother. Maybe it’s the way you take on that same grating laugh, or how you try your hardest to seem appealing and not the least bit threatening. A soft manipulation. To fawn. The lesser-known survival response evoking a genteel grace. You could never soften those prickly edges. So I guess in over-correction I became my father.}

Like my mother, I make the same trite references filtered through ᵃᵐᵉʳⁱᶜᵃⁿ ᵖᵒᵖᵘˡᵃʳ ᵐᵉᵈⁱᵃ – so I’m told by my grandparents in the San Gabriel Valley, the sweltering land of chlorine and well-tended homes and mom-and-pop restaurants that actually make me hungry, stores that are abundant and well-stocked, where it seems that scarcity is not real. Maybe these are not my sentiments, but ones I’ve appropriated…

Yet I’m also told by my grandparents that I sound just like my father when I speak. This is a thorn in the side of my preconceived self-concept of femininity – it is in the same vein as when daughters are told that they look just like their fathers. I don’t feel pretty being told this. Where did this accusation of likeness originate? Do we share the same disaffected vocal fry meant to imbue coolness?

ʸᵒᵘ ᵈᵒⁿ’ᵗ ʰᵃᵛᵉ ᵗᵒ ˡᵒᵛᵉ ˢᵒᵐᵉᵒⁿᵉ ᶠᵒʳ ᵗʰᵉᵐ ᵗᵒ ⁱᵐᵖᵃʳᵗ ᵗʰᵉⁱʳ ˢᵖᵉᵉᶜʰ ᵒⁿᵗᵒ ʸᵒᵘ. ʷʰᵉⁿ ⁱ ᵉᵐᵇᵒᵈʸ ᵃⁿᵒᵗʰᵉʳ’ˢ ᵛᵒⁱᶜᵉ, ⁱ ᵃᵐ ᵒᶠᵗᵉⁿ ᵈⁱˢᵗᵘʳᵇᵉᵈ.

In my 8am linguistics lecture, where I mostly shook from anxiety and over-caffeination, and dreamt of being able to take a shit and of traveling to the Netherlands, I learned that the reason the Southern California dialect is so peculiar is that all of the vowels are flat and thus sound all the 𝓈𝒶𝓂𝑒. Long ago, I started lowering my voice to appear like a more self-assured go-getter because whenever I’d listen to my voice recorded, I’d recoil, noting how whiny and nerdy it sounded. As if my voice were mouth-breathing and pushing on the bridge of its glasses.

a photo of my Aunt Donna's recipe for Mushroom Tarragon Tart
Anne Wiazemsky of La Chinoise

{Meditations on the Death of the Auteur}


To watch Jean Luc Godard’s films is to know him, or in the very least, his persona. From his creation of Breathless, which helped to define and usher in a new era of narrative storytelling and filmmaking techniques, which would go on to define the French New Wave, which temporarily led him astray to create popular films for the masses. Inspired by the radical political sentiment of his time, he then went the more esoteric Marxist route, which was partly inspired by the censorship of French cinema and the morally egregious war in Vietnam - which Godard vehemently opposed. And yet, as he grew older, his techniques and storytelling became almost self-referential, encompassing a circular logic, creation of and in itself. Yet through it all, Godard abided by certain guiding principles. 

* * *

In a similar vein as Blair McClendon, who wrote in n+1, “...from a humid, uneasy sleep, I looked at my phone, saw that he had died and thought, as a kid might, but I loved him,” I too recall learning of Godard’s death and being similarly devastated. I think I had just perhaps returned from a friend’s belated birthday at the Red Lion Tavern. I was feeling the weight of being at the crux of gratitude and impending doom. My friend is a documentary filmmaker, whose fervent occupation with French New Wave was partially responsible for the formation of our friendship. That evening when I made an Instagram post in honor of her birthday and achievement as a filmmaker, I wrote ‘RIP Godard, you would have loved [friend’s] work.’ I am oft to question whether my own attempts at humor are secretly earnestness masked in artifice. On some level I was mournful of his passing, and I also do believe he would have enjoyed her work.

* * *

One can tell a great deal about how an author feels about their characters by the way that they decide to write their deaths. Be it gory and self-satisfied in its gratuitous use of violence, or dramatic and slowly withering. Godard utilizes both.

* * *

He is famously quoted, having said, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun,” this sentiment is reflective not only of a pervasive sexism, which he is oft criticized for, but an attempt at a deceivingly simplistic framework to his modality. For as much as he’d like to present himself as the dark horse, homme fatale of cinema, owing nothing to his films but the hedonism of sex and violence - as suggested here - Godard is attentive to narrative mythology. Archetypal symbols have a real weight for him. It is not merely gorgeous people falling in and out of love, going on wild goose hunts to escape society and themselves (although, this happens plenty.) Godard took visual cues from the lineage of the avant-garde and cinema verite traditions in Europe which preceded him, as well as the American big-budget blockbusters that was a vocal admirer of. Seemingly fusing the two, he invented bold and hugely dramatic stories that defied the prior visual landscape. In addition, he wrote characters, whose inner lives seemed to reflect conflict riding off the coattails of prior French existentialism.


shot from the short film, "Come Coyote"

A Conversation with Dani ReStack, Exploring the Gross-Out, Crazy-Making of Love, Desire & Devotion

The authority in most high art is the singular artist. In my undergraduate career, we were taught the notion of ‘auteur theory’, i.e. that you could look at a work - especially a film - and just by its most obvious features in form or content, remark the notable impact of its director. Nevermind the legions of other folks on set, from the lowly PA, to the more esteemed cinematographer ignored in the process... Although it’s not uncommon to see group exhibitions, or even artist collectives, it’s not common to see a true team of working artists. Dani and Sheilah Restack (née Leventhal and Wilson, respectively), along with their daughter Sky, who they’ve lovingly added to their ‘Stack’, are the art world’s version of a family band.

V: It feels blasphemous only speaking to one of you, as I know you and Sheilah create together. Is that exclusively so? 

D: No, we both have solo practice. Sheilah makes sculptural photography work and I draw. We recently collaborated in printing Feral Domestic as a small edition with the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester. In the Camden Art installation you can see her work on these concrete plinths and mine on wood panels. We have a separate practice, but we support each other because I trust her point of view.

V: You're both from rural North America. Sheilah being from a small town in Nova Scotia, you being from Ohio. Have you noticed any similarities or differences? 

D: Sheilah was raised, in a small town with a lot of homophobia. Her father built boats while her mom taught kindergarten. They were back-to-the-landers from the States. It was very influential on her and how she perceives the world. There was a lot of inequality and lesbians just didn't exist. That's the same for me because I was born here [Ohio] but raised in upstate

New York. I felt like I didn't even know about queer. My family was more middle class, so we have differences with how we make sense of security. 

V: Collaboration and allowing the interpersonal to bleed into your work, reminds me of other famous artist-lover collaborators: Marina Abramovich and Ulay, for example. Does it also pose conflict at times by intruding on the personal? 

D: It's so intertwined at this point. I really believe in personal work - it’s what I tell my students - because it’s what you know best. The domestic is incessant but we're always thinking about work. We shoot in the house, we’ll prepare props right in the studio. We fight a lot in editing or making a shot. When we were in Camden installing that piece, there was some tension. We're both very opinionated, and have ideas of how things could be.

V: I'd imagine that gives more spontaneity, that you could wake up on an odd Sunday and say let's go do this in the park.

D: It happens all the time, a kind of magical occurrence. Rose will be working and the sun will be pouring in the window. So we'll shoot it - don't know necessarily where to land an arc, or if it ever will.

V: I think in Come Coyote, there was a shadow of legs which created this lovely diamond shape.

D: Yeah, we were doing the insemination and this shadow developed on the ceiling. The difference between a home movie and our work, is to bring in the formal. That triangle, or the diamond shape is the way to transform and elevate the work.

V: I also wanted to touch on ‘living in the feral’, and what that meant. How does one adopt this ethic in their work or daily life? What has it meant to you and Sheilah?

D: That term came up when I was starting to get overwhelmed by the domestic…Being domesticated by capitalism is a big problem for me and Sheilah. We can't go back to the wild, so the ‘feral' is in between. You have to pay your taxes and can't just fly away to Iceland to get the shot you want. But keeping the Iceland shot paramount - is like putting art, joy and imagination, first. It's simple, but it's what capitalism tries to squash in us. 

V: Anti-productivity culture has pushed back against the notion that not contributing is time wasted or a sign of laziness. And it's like no, we were actually not put on this earth to produce in the name of capital

D: Absolutely. You gotta keep it at the forefront or you get just swallowed up in it. 

V: …The films at Camden were played in a loop together. It felt like a movie when there's a double feature, or I guess, in this case, a triple feature. Was that partly intentional? How do you make sense of this trilogy? What’s the underlying thread?

D: Strangely Ordinary This Devotion is about lesbian witches in Ohio, struggling with the climate crisis use magic to create offspring who can survive without water. That's the crux of the story, but when we were showing it to people who were like, I don't get that. It's an emotional roller coaster, but I don't see your story. That's when we thought, well, let's make another and another. So the trilogy came about organically. They were made for the cinema but this idea of a loop is what institutions have wanted. Come Coyote, is about Sheilah’s desire to have another baby and the conflict between us. Sheilah intended that by the third film, she’d get pregnant and we’d close the movie with a birth, but she didn't. Future From Inside, is a quest to make this baby. Say they survive the water crisis, but then what?  My theory, Sheilah sees it differently, is that the children make kin with predator animals who would protect them. 

V: Are you familiar with the French film, Évolution. It's about an island of young boys who are impregnated once they enter puberty. It feels very Freudian to me because it's a village of just mothers and their sons. Their stomachs are cut open and they are inseminated. This image reminded me of your scalp being incised in Come Coyote

D: At first, it sounded like Lord of the Flies, right? The boys are on an island, but their mothers are there.

V: There's that sort of animal quality too, very non-verbal, which seems to speak to the notion of feral domestic. Continuing with this notion of the wild, in a lot of your video work, you seem to display a lot of animal knowledge, could you speak to how that was derived?

D: My brother taught me how to skin animals, which is what you see in that video [Drawing for Quill.] I make sculptures with hides and work them into drawings. They become a lot about texture. I become so close to these animals that the experience of color and texture is 

just phenomenal. It's a premature death when I wind up with them, this work feels like I'm 

honoring them in a way. 

V: And in Project Nine, there were a couple shots petting the fur, mimicking a live animal. Touch is also how we form intimacy with each other. Do you see that extended as a form of understanding in your work?

D: I started in ceramics. So I think that's why my work is imbued with that kind of visceral quality.

V: Yet the text felt very resonant in Drawing for Quill. Attachment theory, mentioned here and in Come Coyote, shows that insecure attachment causes severe problems with empathy. Does living and creating work in a queer family unit attempt to undo some of the damage, which has been caused by that structure?

D: That's a very astute read. Sheilah and I changed our names - because of an Ann Carson poem in the chapbook, Float. It’s about cutting with the patriarchy and our own families on a certain level. There's an attachment that I've never experienced before and I'm really rattled by it. It's not always joyful. Attachment means loss, in all kinds of ways.

V: In cases of surrogacy or adoption, there's always that element of embedded trauma. But even with most biological attachment, there's going to be an aspect of that. In FFI,  a woman voiced the opinion that even a loving and empathetic person will cause hurt to a child because it’s inevitable. So even if you tried to escape that —

D: —she's like, “no one can escape it, you will hurt people,” Right? The decision to be a parent is to get ready for that, as we all hurt each other, all the time. You try not to cause harm, but it happens.

V: More people are questioning their own desire to have children. Both the source of their desire and its validity. These discussions surrounding the nuclear family seem so concrete in people's minds, when really the idea is very modern, created between the 1940s and 50s. So these rules feel historic but are really more recent.

D: I agree. To have grandparents around in a multigenerational household or, you know, living with cousins and aunts and uncles and everybody helping out, man, I could use some of that.

V: It’s one of those things where the micro is the macro. These might seem like very person to person, family to family problems, but what about the collective? There's not the collectivization of child rearing that there maybe should be.

D: And the kids, the more love the better.

V: Does the feral domestic ask ‘what would I look like if it hadn't been weighed down by all these systems and structures of oppression?’

D: I also actually think it's about relationships and how one chooses to engage. My parents didn't ask me about how I felt. They just got divorced and it was a big secret. All of a sudden I was taken to upstate New York. How are you going to operate with your kids and talk about things? Choosing the paths of authenticity and honesty are harder but ultimately worth it. 

V: While we're on the topic of families and children, I wanted to talk about play, because it feels very forward in your work. Play is seen as this integral aspect to the social development of children but in adulthood, so often ignored. 

D: So important! I play a lot. Having fun, having pleasure and having joy are all part of it. But it's tricky, because our daughter will make a disaster mess. She was experimenting with glue, got it everywhere. It’s like I wanted her to experiment with glue, but then clean it up, Goddamnit? Like, I'm not always on board for this.

V: Every parent is a human, it's bound to happen that as you're raising a child you’ll trigger some of your own wounds. Everyone's big on the idea of the inner child, meaning, having the space to be free and act on authentic expression.

D: Inner child work is challenging for me. You're supposed to nurture and parent yourself but I didn't really have a steady example. Sheilah shows me unconditional love, but I have to direct it towards my little wounded person inside.

V: I wanted to go back to the witchy activity in Future From Inside. Why do you think the cultivation of the feminine often points towards the occult and paganism? Do you think there’s a proto-historic element to it? 

D:  I think it has to do with women refuting the church with their own ideologies. Are you familiar with Hilma af Klint’s work? She left the church along with a group of five women. They performed seances where they’d channel whatever their higher power was saying. She made these huge, gorgeous drawings based on that channeling. There’s also the Sanctified Sisters in Texas, who in the 1870s created a women's separatist household. The rules were: no sex with men, and all decisions had to be made through dreams. The scene that we're making tomorrow is an homage to those women. There's ancient knowledge in the moon and in water. There's gravitation towards it, because of cycles in our body and things like that.

V: Especially when we live in such a sterile, detached world, there can be yearning to return to ancient knowledge. I was also wondering if you were familiar with Lea Cetera?

D: No, I'm out of it. My life…

V:  She just had a show at Phillida Reid. One of her pieces felt reminiscent of Drawing for Quill. There was a monitor contained in a cage showing the killing and gutting of various crustaceans, with text overlaid. The one with lobsters featured an old wives tale warning not to put two female lobsters in a pot, because one will kill the other with its own weight trying to escape. Whereas if you have two male lobsters in a pot, they'll work together to build a bridge to get themselves out of there. So I guess it's supposed to be commentary on gender essentialist notions of female competition. The blobfish one talked about empathy and collectivism, how a lot of inequalities happen before our eyes, not out of ignorance but complacency. 

The work of the ReStack crew is not without complication and unresolved tension. Opposing notions of domestic and wild, rest alongside grief and desire. As Maggie Nelson writes in the file note essay, “The viewer is feeling the overlapping but distinct orientations toward the world that the artists seem to want very much to convey to each other and to us.” At times it felt like Dani was not only speaking to me, but through me. To the work, to Sheilah, and the world at large. 

In editing this piece, I noticed how often she and I would use the second-person when relaying a story. Which seems to point to that part of human experience which exists solely in the confines of our inner monologues, the ongoing waves of emotion that we cycle through daily. We revert to this second-person speech not only as a metric to ensure that our interlocutor understands us cognitively - a.k.a. Do you follow what I’m saying? - but emotionally too, - Have you ever felt this way before? I don’t believe the artists are looking for active participation from the audience. I never felt pressured to commit to anything. Instead through these poignant moments of acute vulnerability, I had the sense that there was the more sheepish inquiry, ‘do you see me?’ I think this innocence is beholden to the handicraft and childlike qualities to the work. This work is not asking of you to respond with extremes, Dani’s confrontations with the grotesque or Sheilah’s bids for cultivating warmth and safety, but to simply observe and consider. To an extent, I think this contradiction of the feral-domestic resides in us all.    

layout from the text "Feral Domestic"