Anna-Stina Treumund’s practice in the context of lesbian, queer and feminist politics

February 11, 2021
Author Airi Triisberg
Published in Detour

The text was published in the exhibition catalogue ‘Anna-Stina Treumund’,  Ed. Rael Artel. Tartu Art Museum, 2017.


Entering the search term “lesbian feminism” into Estonian Google will give you less than ten results. They can be roughly divided into two categories: either anti-feminist rants on anonymous message boards or text fragments about the history of feminist movements in the West. Although internet search results are not a trustworthy source, this experiment still shows the remarkable invisibility of lesbian feminism. Looking at the fragmented sources that map the developments of LGBTQI politics and feminism in Estonia, lesbian feminism seems to fall between two camps. The sources on LGBT histories emphasise the pioneering role of lesbian organising: for example, they identify the Estonian Lesbian Union, founded in 1990, as the first organization representing sexual minorities, but don’t mention the points of intersection between the lesbian movement and feminism.[1] In writings about the developments of feminism, on the other hand, lesbian subjectivity is placed in the background. One example is a recent article by Redi Koobak that uses extensive oral interviews to analyse the development and dynamics of feminism in Estonia. The article also talks about the formation of different feminist positions and offers important and critical self-reflection on the class- and nationality based composition of the feminist movement, but completely ignores the issue of how feminist politics is shaped by sexual difference.[2] Keeping in mind that Estonian society has recently been polarised over the debate about the gender neutral civil partnership law and that an important strand within feminist politics has been solidarity with the LGBT movement, this blind spot seems surprising. To put it briefly, we are left with the impression that the lesbian movement contains feminists and that the feminist movement contains lesbians and bisexuals, but the lesbian feminist position is not articulated.

A similar Google search with the term “queer feminism” offers slightly different results. There are more search results and these mostly reference sources where queer feminism is used as an autonym, while the term is not common in homophobic or anti-feminist contexts. It seems that in Estonia queer feminism functions as an umbrella term that accommodates lesbian, bisexual and trans feminist positions and doesn’t isolate them from each other or from the wider feminist discourse. Recently, “queer” has been a travelling concept that has continued finding new meanings in different contexts. Looking at how queer theory, practice and activism have been adopted and reappropriated in different East-European countries, it is worth noting that the sharpest critique of queer politics originates from lesbian feminist positions. This critique is mainly based on the argument that the popularisation of “queer” as the hypernome for different LGBTI identities produces new invisibilities for individual sexual and gender minorities.[3] At the same time, the queer framework has many important advantages as well, because of its potential to mobilise solidarity between different sexual and gender minorities and to articulate transversal positions that transcend the boundaries of singular identity categories based on sexuality or gender.

Recently, an active queer and lesbian feminist (counter)public sphere has developed in Estonia, and Anna-Stina Treumund (1982-2017) has played a crucial role in shaping it. Therefore, looking at Anna-Stina Treumund’s work makes it possible to formulate more general observations about lesbian and queer feminist politics. This article places Anna-Stina Treumund’s work in the context of activist practices, feminist positions and queer theories. My aim is to map the social context in which Anna-Stina Treumund works as an artist and activist, and to show how she intervenes in these contexts as lesbian, queer and feminist. The text has three foci: the first looks at the recent development of lesbian, queer and feminist (counter)publics in Estonia and their interrelated dynamics. The second analyses Anna-Stina Treumund’s photo series Lilli, Reed, Frieda, Sabine, Eha, Malle, Rein and Mari as an example of queer and lesbian feminist memory politics. The third views dissident sexual practices and their representations through Anna-Stina Treumund’s oeuvre and contextualises controversies about sex within feminist discourse.

The development of queer, lesbian and feminist public spheres

In the context of the lesbian movement, the communication between generations tends to be fragmented, and therefore I cannot say for sure whether the reading group Virginia Woolf Is Not Afraid of You!, initiated by Brigitta Davidjants in 2009, was the first to establish a collective platform that articulates feminist positions from the perspective of sexual difference. However, it can certainly be said that this reading group became a mobilisation base for a younger generation of queer and lesbian feminists that includes Anna-Stina Treumund.[4] The reading group has also greatly influenced the development of feminist public spheres and the formation of feminist alliances. On the one hand, the Virginia Woolf reading group has given rise to a queer and lesbian feminist network that started to build bridges between the LGBT movement and feminism. On the other hand, some of the central strongholds of the current feminist public sphere have grown out of this reading group: the social media forum Virginia Woolf Is Not Afraid of You!, the feminist festival Ladyfest Tallinn and, perhaps more indirectly, the web journal Feministeerium, which was founded in 2015. Recently, these initiatives and the important debates in society have helped feminism to find a wider basis in society. We are witnessing an extraordinary moment, as feminism has probably never held such a strong position in the Estonian society. I find it important to recognise the constitutive role that the queer and lesbian feminist impulses have played in these developments. However, it is also important to discuss the position of queer and lesbian feminist subjects in the feminist contexts here and now.

‘Reed’, 2012

The queer theorist Jin Haritaworn has pointed out that the kitchen table has a very long history in the context of feminist struggles that do not rise to the status of a social movement. Haritaworn acknowledges the kitchen table as a space where oppositional theories and grass-roots organising emerge, differentiating it from political practices that are oriented towards the public sphere and privilege visibility, legal reforms and measurable outcomes. In reference to M. Bahati Kuumba’s writings on feminist politics within the context of social movements, Haritaworn emphasises that the discourse of civil society favours those who already resemble “citizens” and aims to professionalise and institutionalise movements.[5]

In line with Haritaworn’s observations, it is interesting to analyse the transformation of the Virginia Woolf reading group from an informal network that gathered around a kitchen or living room table to a 5000-member internet forum. The queer and lesbian feminist dimension of this group has weakened over time, whereas the central focus is now on critical discussions about the representation of women in media, politics, education and society. Meanwhile, some smaller Facebook groups have split off from the Woolf forum and these are characterised by a stronger orientation towards professionalism and concrete actions. The political struggles of LGBTI people are addressed in these groups mainly in terms of legislative issues, for example when gender neutral civil partnership law or transition procedures of trans people are discussed. In conclusion, it can be said that the more the counter public space formed around a kitchen table has expanded and grown, the more its character has also changed. On the one hand, queer and lesbian feminist initiatives have played a central role in the consolidation of the feminist public sphere but, on the other, their own position within that space continues to be peripheral.

The massive expansion of the Woolf forum has been somewhat coincidental: when the Facebook group was founded in 2010, it was initially meant to be a tool for sharing texts and references within the internal circle of the reading group, but soon it started growing through a snowball effect. Ladyfest, however, was explicitly founded with the aim of popularising feminism and consolidating a feminist counter public sphere. Ladyfest was initiated in 2011 by Anna-Stina Treumund and, like other previously mentioned initiatives, it has been a collective project. Besides Anna-Stina Treumund, the founding members include Brigitta Davidjants, Dagmar Kase and Aet Kuusik, all of whom had also participated in the activities of the Virginia Woolf reading group. Later various people participated in organising the event throughout the years: Minna Hint, Elli Kalju, Mari-Leen Kiipli, Nele Laos, Birgit Pajust, Rebeka Poldsam, Kristiina Raud, Pire Sova, Killu Sukmit, Paula Vahtra and many others. These different organisers have shaped the festival programme according to their own interests and preferences. Most notably, Ladyfest has been a very inclusive platform, encouraging a wide variety of women and trans authors to present their cultural practice and to engage in dialogue with each other. The queer and lesbian feminist focus of the festival programme has sometimes been explicit and sometimes implicit, and not always distinct from the overall feminist agenda. Nevertheless, the festival has always carried a strong queer connotation. In addition, Ladyfest has gradually become more affiliated with the spectrum of left-wing political culture.

In conclusion, I would like to claim – in reference to the preceding and following examples – that the queer and lesbian feminist strands of politics in Estonia are characterised by a somewhat ambivalent position: in the narrative of the feminist movement, it is both central and marginal; in its different modes of expression, it is both continuous and fragmentary; and in its relations with mainstream feminism, it is both in alliance and in conflict.

Constructing queer/lesbian/feminist histories

In the context of Estonia, the histories of LGBTI, queer and feminist movements are very fragmented and therefore it is particularly important to work with memory and archives. In institutional terms, women’s studies and feminist history writing are in somewhat privileged positions since they have established firmer places as academic disciplines. Research on LGBTI and queer histories, however, largely takes place outside of academia. For example, in autumn 2016 an academic conference took place in Tallinn that mapped research on LGBT histories in the post-socialist region.[6] The conference took place after a long period of academic silence regarding these issues, making it evident that the dominant part of queer memory work in contemporary Eastern Europe takes place somewhere between activism, art and academic studies of history. However, despite certain status differences, researchers of women’s studies, feminism and LGBTI histories face similar challenges. They try to make visible what has been marginalised or silenced by institutional archives and official narratives. Below, I will look at Anna-Stina Treumund’s contribution to this collective process by contextualising her art work Lilli, Reed, Frieda, Sabine, Eha, Malle, Rein and Mari (2012).

Lilli, Reed, Frieda, Sabine, Eha, Malle, Rein and Mari is a series of photos that visualises fragments from the history of lesbian, feminist and non-normative women in Estonia and Livonia from the 16th to the 20th centuries. To create these images, the artist searched for knowledge in old newspapers, church books, court documents and folklore. These are sources that Lisa Duggan has termed “stunted archive”.[7] These archives are dominated by the cis-heteronormative voice of the state, religion and patriarchy, a voice that only talks about sexuality and intimate practices when it punishes those not adhering to the norms. It is not hard to understand why lesbians have left so few traces in archives when every sign of homosexuality could be used as evidence by the penal system. How can the histories of lesbian sexuality be reconstructed if the sources are so limited and non-objective?

‘Malle’, 2012

For many researchers, the stunted archive of sexuality is not merely a source of information but also a horizon against which the queer experience can be conceptualised. For example, Jose Esteban Munoz has drawn parallels between the ephemerality of queer archives and the performativity of queer experience. He notes that since leaving material traces in repressive heteronormative societies has been dangerous, queerness has existed as innuendo, gossip, fleeting moments, performative acts and affects.[8] Carla Freccero, in turn, conceptualises the writing of queer histories as “phantasmatic historiography”,[9] which brings together history and fantasy, past and present, facts and affects. Another interesting question is whether homosexuality and heterosexuality can be seen as unchangeable identity categories or whether they project homo/hetero polarity into history as just a fantasy created by contemporary queer historiographers. Variations in men’s homosexuality throughout history have been thoroughly analysed by David Halperin.[10] Ann Cvetkovich has looked at gay and lesbian archives from the perspective of traumatic experience. These archives reveal painful experiences that are connected to homophobia and social ostracism, and such experiences are hard to document because feelings are difficult to archive. Her concept “archive of feelings” encourages new approaches to narrating lesbian and gay histories by focusing on the transmission of affects. Cvetkovich emphasises the potency of oral histories and artistic representations in transporting these affects.[11] Dan Healey has likewise stressed that the collecting and mediating of LGBT histories is a political project through which contemporary queer communities construct themselves as collective subjects.[12]

How does Anna-Stina Treumund work with this stunted archive, whose heteronormative voice needs to be outsmarted so that it starts to speak in a different language? Who are the people she has depicted and what does she know and imagine about them? Instead of the historical figures, the contemporary viewer will probably recognise the characters in the photo series Lilli, Reed, Frieda … as key figures in the present-day queer, lesbian and feminist community. These include Ene Allas, Brigitta Davidjants, Redi Koobak, Aet Kuusik, Mae Koomnemagi, Miina Leemets, Mare Tralla, Paula Vahtra and the artist Anna-Stina Treumund herself. These are people close to the artist: her friends and comrades. These are women who are connected by a shared experience of feminist activism and who have recently contributed to the formation of lesbian/queer/feminist (counter)publics in Estonia, with their various articulations in activism, theory, art and culture. In Anna-Stina Treumund’s photos they lend their bodies to historical personages, in order to inscribe those historical figures in the public sphere that they have developed through a collective effort. By embodying their historical predecessors they construct a genealogy for that public sphere and this process is a combination of carefully collecting archival materials and reading them with an attitude of open fantasy.

Some personalities presented in the photo series are more well-known than others. Some have a place in institutional and historical narratives, others have been constructed on the basis of fragmented traces found in the repressive heteronormative stunted archive, and some are completely fictional. The people embodying their historical predecessors are similarly not equally well-known or recognisable from their photos. For example, Redi Koobak embodies Lilli Suburg (1841–1923), who founded the first Estonian women’s magazine, Linda, in 1887 in Viljandi. Juxtaposing these two feminist authors and educators can be seen as a statement by the artist, who connects them through similar professions and ascribes to them comparable social roles. Brigitta Davidjants embodies the writer Reed Morn (Frieda Johanna Drewerk, 1898–1978), whose sexuality is fairly unknown because her biography has only been partially researched. For a phantasmatic lesbian historiographer, such uncertainty is a prolific basis that doesn’t prevent speculations, assumptions and imaginations from being constructed regarding her untraditional life course and feminist writings… especially as there is no evidence to prove the contrary. At the same time, not all of the depicted personages (or people embodying them) are lesbians. For example, the werewolf Malle could be read as a more general metaphor that emphasises how the traces of women’s rebellion against patriarchy have been preserved in the legends of werewolves and witches. This is an unruly reading of the stunted archive, assuming that where there has been punishment, there must have been resistance, whether sexual, social, political or intellectual.

‘Eha’, 2012

Many personages are fictional and, when constructing them, the artist has found impulses in archival sources. One motif is focused on women who have presented themselves as men. Some archival information that describes such cases has been printed in the publication that documents the photos series. Here, as well, it is worth mentioning that these people are present in the official archives only because their actions were criminalised and pathologized. For example, in the newspaper Võru Teataja it was written in 1929 that the criminal police of Tartu had disclosed a “rare forgery” when they apprehended 20-year-old Alfred Oinatski, who had been presenting himself since childhood as Alma Saar. The newspaper account states that a medical examination could not determine the sex of the person and that the “male miss” will be prosecuted for living under a false name.[13] The information about A. Oinatski is too fragmentary to ascertain whether they were a trans-woman, an intersex person or a lesbian. To assume that women who presented themselves as men were lesbians is one possible speculation, because historically homosexuality has frequently been the reason why women have adopted masculine roles. The personages of Sabine and Frieda are also fictional and they represent upper-class women. By featuring them in the series, the artist is referring to the historical fact that high class women have had the opportunity to avoid marriage and to live in lesbian relationships that have sometimes been masked as close relationships with female companions.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that the gallery of lesbian, trans and feminist lives that Anna-Stina Treumund visualises in her photo series is not merely focused on the past. It is also a collective portrait of the key figures within the contemporary lesbian/queer/feminist public sphere that records their intellectual, political and intimate relationships. To recognise these relationships, the viewer must know certain facts about the political and intimate biographies of the depicted women. In this way, the series can be seen as a snapshot of the relationships and affects that have been constituted around a cycle of organising in the recent past. Some of these relationships still exist but others have either ended or been transformed: as always, the intensity of relationships can change over time. In the future, this will be a valuable document because the archives of activism are no less ephemeral than the archives of LGBTI and queer histories. In line with Ann Cvetkovich, I want to emphasise that the series of photos by Anna-Stina Treumund is also an archive of emotions that records friendships, intimacies and emotions associated with an activist network.

Visualising dissident sexualities

Sex is a divisive subject in the feminist discourse. Historically, feminist thinking about sex has been greatly influenced by the debates that took place in the late 1970s and in the 1980s in the USA that led to the polarisation of the feminist movement. At the centre of the conflicts, known as “sex wars”, were controversies about pornography and sex work, the position of trans women in the lesbian community, butch/femme lesbian relationships, BDSM and kink practices and other questions related to eroticism and sex. These lines of conflict are still present in the feminist movement, and feminist pornographers and sadomasochists often find themselves stigmatised. In many feminist contexts, a stronger position is held by the discourse that considers porn and BDSM anti-feminist practices that reproduce and sexualise the patriarchal hierarchies of power and gendered violence. Recently, anti-porn feminism in particular has gathered new strength that can be interpreted as a reaction to the expanding accessibility of pornographic materials due to the internet and media technologies.[14] Can pornography and BDSM be reconciled with feminist values?

‘Die Hard’, 2014

The dividing lines between the opposing factions of the feminist sex debates in 2016 are certainly not as clearly defined as they may seem when re-visiting the confrontations from 30-40 years ago. Contemporary anti-porn feminists who share concerns about the normalisation of porn culture and the pornification of sex cultures, expressed for example in Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs, may not distance themselves from feminist or queer porn. They might not contest the core argument of sex-positive feminism that the representation of sexuality is an important arena for feminist politics that demands intervention and resistance, in order to create alternative imageries and to broaden the established sexual norms. They might not subscribe to the historical anti-porn slogan “Porn is theory, rape is practice”, just as many sex-positive feminists would not contest the argument that the majority of heterosexual internet porn is misogynist. Can this confrontation be solved through distinguishing “good” and “bad” porn?

This question brings us to the core of the matter, guiding the discussion towards actual sexual practices rather than representations of sexuality. Analysing the new rise of antiporn feminism from the beginning of the 2000s, Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood observe that anti-porn feminism takes as its standard a certain “healthy” sex that is not “debased and dehumanised” but involves “empathy, tenderness and caring” and is based on “love, respect and connection.” They note that such an understanding of sex frames it as something special or sacred in which there is no place for casual sex, kinky sex, rough sex or even regular monogamous heterosexual sex that might be the product of routine, boredom, fun or thrill-seeking. Their question is why should feminism value sex in these terms. Why should the feminist understanding of sex privilege its value as a space for developing intimacy rather than anything else?[15]

For sex-positive feminists, porn and BDSM are tools that can be used to challenge the conventions of patriarchy and to make room for sexual acts that reside outside of heterosexuality, monogamy and reproduction. Feminist porn and BDSM are arenas where sex does not have to take place between couples and in the domestic environment, does not have to imitate the choreography of reproductive sex, does not need to be genital and can include objects besides bodies. Feminist porn and BDSM are alternative sexual cultures where sexual norms are subverted, expanded and transgressed, also making room for fantasies and desires that are liminal, controversial or perverse.

In Estonia, topics related to sex are rarely subject to feminist controversies. From time to time, passionate disagreements about sex work break out in the Virginia Woolf online forum, but in other contexts sex is not discussed much. LGBT advocacy initiatives also prefer to talk about rights rather than sexualities. A good example is the central position held by gender-neutral civil partnership law in LGBT politics, due to which homosexuality is mostly framed in public space in terms of monogamous relationships, property rights and legal regulations regarding parenting. The Ladyfest festival has tried to raise awareness of different sex cultures, and particularly during its first years featured some programme elements connected to sex. The 2011 and 2012 programmes included a burlesque show, domina workshop and discussion of sexual consent. In 2011, during the OMA festival, the organizers of Ladyfest held a workshop on producing DIY sex toys. During the same period, the topic of sex cultures was also present in the Virginia Woolf reading group. This list is by no means complete, but it shows that such initiatives have been fairly rare, and low-threshold in nature. Nevertheless, the Ladyfest team has had to explain and justify their choices on many occasions, which shows that the issue of nonnormative sex practices brings out ambivalent feelings: for example, Sandra Jogeva’s domina workshop during Ladyfest 2012 provoked controversy in feminist circles. In later years, the sexpositive focus has somewhat disappeared from the Ladyfest programme. From time to time the OMA centre organises film nights, workshops and discussions of sex, and the social centre Ulase12 has started holding regular feminist sex-positive events during the last year.

By mapping out these initiatives, I am trying to show that as a sex-radical feminist Anna-Stina Treumund is rather alone in Estonia. In line with her efforts to organise within the queer and lesbian feminist community, she has tried to invite her closest sympathisers to relate to and get active in kink practices, but unlike many of her other undertakings this has not been particularly successful. A small circle of lesbians and feminists has gathered around the fetish studio BDSM Estonia, which is primarily a commercial enterprise, but gladly opens its doors for free to BDSM practitioners among close networks of friends. The owners of the studio, Princess Lilian and Domina Frankie, organised the first Baltic Fetish Festival in the Laitse manor in 2014, but so far there has been no follow-up event. Recently, this studio has functioned as a platform around which the sex-radical queer feminist subculture has started to coalesce. Anna-Stina Treumund has been an active user of the BDSM studio: she has used it both as a space to play and as a setting for many of her photos. One publication in which she publishes her pornographic photos is Menage a Trois, a queer feminist porn magazine founded in 2013 with the editorial board located in Finland. In the present situation, where most of the queer culture reaches our region through the English language, the magazine was founded to stimulate the local queer culture. The magazine was supposed to be published in both Finnish and Estonian, but articles in the latter language are quite scarce. Despite this, the magazine is an example of transnational queer feminist subculture, and Anna-Stina Treumund is one of its regular contributors.

Photos that Anna-Stina Treumund publishes in porn magazines have a different handwriting compared to the works she exhibits in art spaces. In the context of art, her works are often slightly over-staged and demonstratively constructed, placing single refined elements in the foreground. A good example is her exhibition Dread, in the Hobusepea Gallery in Tallinn in 2015, which was her first BDSM-related exhibition ensemble. This exhibition focused mainly on props and their materiality: toys used in BDSM sex were separated from the bodies for whose pleasures they were created. The gallery was dominated by whips, chains, belts, ropes, costumes, masks, lace, nylon, leather and latex. These elements were presented as fragments that posed a challenge to the viewer’s imagination, asking to be assembled into a whole. In the rare moments when bodies were present, they also appeared as fragments: a head hidden underneath a mask, fingers clutched together for penetration, and a torso framed like a Courbet painting. Compared to the photos that Anna-Stina Treumund publishes in queer feminist porn magazines, she seems to adopt a significantly more formal and tame visual language in the institutional context of contemporary art. There are no passions or bodies that enjoy, fondle, lick, knead and whip each other, using different objects to penetrate or to irritate the senses. The artist creates such images for a different audience than the viewers of contemporary art. In this light, it is interesting to observe that the only work at the exhibition Dread that showed sexual contact between two bodies was an art historical citation: the photo Origin of One Possible Orgasm. It seems as if discussing BDSM sex in the contemporary art space still feels a bit uncomfortable for Anna-Stina Treumund, prompting her to search for legitimation in the canon of art history. At the same time, it is precisely the iconographic charge that lends a powerful meaning to this photo, encouraging the viewer to see it as the key work of the exhibition.

The photo Origin of One Possible Orgasm is a paraphrase of Gustave Courbet’s famous 1866 painting L’Origine du Monde. Courbet’s work depicts a nude woman lying on a bed with her legs spread, exposing her genitalia to the viewer, while her upper body and feet are outside the frame. In its time, this was a provocative work that confronted conventions of both society and academic painting, and ignored the canon of depicting female nudes in the idealised language of mythological genre painting. Throughout art history this painting has been cited and paraphrased. One of the most famous of these is Tanja Ostojić’s After Courbet, L’Origine du Monde where the artist is posing in the same position as the woman in the painting, wearing panties that display the flag of the European Union. When this work was exhibited in the public space in Austria in 2005, it generated a huge media scandal and after two days the posters were taken down. One of the criticisms was that it was a case of state-funded pornography, although the critical message of the work dealt with the sexualised position of East-European women in the European Union. Anna-Stina Treumund’s Origin of One Possible Orgasm, which uses the famous composition to depict a scene of lesbian fisting, should probably be read in reference to both Courbet and Ostojić. From a feminist perspective, the emancipatory content of Courbet’s painting is modest if we disregard the direct and realistic depiction of nudity. Otherwise, it is a typical example of the patriarchal tradition of the representation of women’s sexuality, where women’s sexuality is connected to reproduction and forced into a heteronormative framework. In relation to Courbet, Anna- Stina Treumund’s photo can be interpreted as a counterargument or a gesture of protest that highlights the pleasure-oriented, non-reproductive sex between women. But in a similar vein, the artist also challenges feminist discourses that are pre-occupied with the critique of representational regimes, such as the sexual objectification of women. The photo Origin of One Possible Orgasm demands a more central place for sexual emancipation, lesbian sex and alternative sexualities in the feminist discourse. This demand is manifestly presented with a fist.

The image of a fist has a long visual tradition in the context of social movements and practices of resistance. A raised fist is a symbol of protest that has been re-appropriated countless times by oppressed social groups. It has been reproduced on logos, flyers and posters that mobilise resistance against oppression, exclusion and stigmatisation. The Ladyfest logo also plays with the image of a fist by showing two fists side-by-side, with the knuckles reading two four-letter words: LADY FEST. The fists of Ladyfest can be read in two ways: on the one hand, they are female fists that are associated with feminism and, on the other, they are associated with lesbian sex. Or at least this is how I have always wanted to see them. The fisting fist depicted on the photo Origin of One Possible Orgasm makes this allusion more material and the artist also encourages such an interpretation by sometimes referencing hands as lesbian sexual organs in her other works. However, the fisting fist is not just a traditional protest fist that is demonstratively raised in the public space to say “no” to unfair society. It is also an intimate fist, creating pleasures that are predicated on consent and an active “yes.” Therefore, this fist functions as a connecting link between different public spheres, with its various addressees.

‘Klitt’, 2016

In conclusion

In this text, I have linked Anna-Stina Treumund’s practice with the mapping of lesbian, queer and feminist public spheres. To conceptualise these public spheres, I refer to the notion of “counterpublic” as it has been theorised by Nancy Fraser. As a critical reaction to the idealised universalism prevalent in theories of the liberal public sphere, Fraser addresses the issue of the public sphere from the perspective of minority groups. She demonstrates how the liberal public sphere has always co-existed with subaltern counterpublics, where marginalised groups of society formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests and needs.[16] Following Fraser’s example, I have tried to delineate the recent formations and inter-relations of the lesbian, queer and feminist counterpublics in Estonia. I have mapped how these counterpublics have developed recently: sometimes together and supporting each other, but sometimes also in isolation, in competition or in conflict with each other. By analysing Anna-Stina Treumund’s photo series Lilli, Reed, Frieda … I have showed how the artist also includes feminist historiographies in her narrative when she constructs lesbian and queer histories. Describing the transformation of the Virginia Woolf group, I found that the feminist public sphere that was formed out of queer and lesbian feminist impulses has grown apart from its roots and, in a way, has even overshadowed and marginalised them. Contextualising Anna-Stina Treumund’s pornographic and sex-radical art practice, I have noted how it fits uncomfortably into both the mainstream and lesbian feminist publics. Moreover, I have tried to show how the lesbian, queer and feminist counterpublics are also intimate publics that are formed around kitchen tables, in friendship networks and in pleasure dungeons. As Laurent Berlant has argued, intimate publics are not necessarily directed towards articulate demands and visibility in the dominant public sphere, but towards shaping feelings of social belonging and forming affective relationships.[17] Anna-Stina Treumund’s artistic practice also functions as an archive that vocalises and visualises these intimacies for her friends and fellow activists.

[1] Helen Talalaev, “Eesti geiliikumine. Eesti vordluses USA, Laane- ja Ida-Euroopaga.”Kapiuksed valla. Arutlusi homo-, bi- ja transseksuaalsusest. Ed. Brigitta Davidjants. MTU Eesti Gei Noored, 2010, p. 112.

[2] Redi Koobak, “Millest me raagime, kui me raagime feminismist Eestis?” Ariadne Lõng 1/2, 2015, pp. 49–69.

[3] 3 Tea Hlava, “Queer Trouble in Ljubljana,” Import-Export-Transport. Queer Theory, Queer Critique and Activism in Motion. Ed. Sushila Mesquita, Maria Katharina Wiedlack and Katrin Lasthofer. Zaglossus, 2012, p. 185.

[4] About twenty people participated in the reading group during its existence, some of them continuously and others only a couple of times. I will not name any names here. Firstly, the reading group functioned as an intimate safe(r) space and I don’t know if all the participants would agree to publicise their names. Secondly, I don’t want to create hierarchies by naming a core group since that core was diffuse and changing. I do promise, however, to examine the Virginia Woolf reading group further in a more thorough article that will also try to acknowledge the contributions of individual members.

[5] Jin Haritaworn, Queer Lovers and Hateful Others: Regenerating Violent Times and Places. Pluto Press, 2015, p. 20.

[6] The conference Researching, Reworking and Representing Soviet and Socialist LGBT Histories took place in Tallinn University in autumn 2016 and was organised by Uku Lember, Andreas Kalkun, Martin Runk and Jaanus Samma.

[7] Lisa Duggan, “The Discipline Problem: Queer Theory Meets Lesbian and Gay History,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 2, 3, 1995, p. 181.

[8] Jose Esteban Munoz, “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts,” Women & Performance: a Journal of Feminist Theory 16, 8: 2, 1996, p. 6.

[9] Carla Freccero, “Queer Times,” South Atlantic Quarterly 106, 3, 2007, p. 486.

[10] David Halperin, “How To Do the History of Male Homosexuality,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 6, 1, 2000, pp. 87–123.

[11] Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings. Trauma, Sexuality and Lesbian Public Cultures. Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2003, pp. 6, 242.

[12] Dan Healey, Archives, Histories, and Insurgent Projects of Queer Memory: The Chairman’s Tale as a Soviet Story. Manuscript, with permission of the author.

[13] Anna-Stina Treumund, “Lilli, Reed, Frieda, Sabine, Eha, Malle, Rein ja Mari.” Lugemik, Tallinn, 2013, p. 25.

[14] Clarissa Smith, Feona Attwood “Emotional Truths and Thrilling Side Shows: The Resurgence of Antiporn Feminism,” The Feminist Porn Book. The Politics of Producing Pleasure. Ed. Tristan Taormino, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Constance Penley and Mireille Miller-Young. The Feminist Press: New York, 2013, p. 42.

[15] Ibid., p. 50-51.

[16] Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Habermas and the Public Sphere. Ed. Craig Calhoun. MIT Press, 1991, p. 123.

[17] Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint. The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Duke University Press: Durham, 2008, p. 8.