POWER FROM REPOSE: A WOMAN'S PATH TO PURPOSE
Maayan Goldman is a deeply insightful writer as well as an innovative stylist from Tel Aviv. With many years living a hectic life within the fashion industry, she has experienced and laments the feeling of being absent from herself. Her mission now is to spread a message that women should be both consciously present and yet passive at the same time to live a healthy fully reflective life. For that reason, her Instagram is called @present__passive and focuses on the theme of resting women, which epitomizes a mindset of powerful repose.
She is currently writing her doctoral thesis at Tel-Aviv University about the possibility of desire awakening in the presence of certain images or texts. Also, Maayan’s debut novel will be published this fall by her publisher, Pardes. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is titled "Woman Reclining."
FH: Why is your Instagram handle “present_passive’? How do these words resonate with you or even define you?
These two words are qualities that I want to cultivate in my writing and in my every-day life, or perhaps, two formerly missing pieces of it.
I'll try to explain: a few years back I maintained quite a different lifestyle. While I always wrote, I also worked as a stylist, mainly between 2003 and 2013. And I mean worked in the sense of a full-blown "career" (don't love that word). 24/7 work mode: meetings, managing of assistants, overlapping shooting days and daily interactions with PR, designers, editors, advertising agencies and so on. I loved coming up with editorial ideas and having my own diary-like fashion column in a magazine, but there were many aspects of that job that I grew very weary of.
Looking back, these aspects had to do with a certain sense of rushed, anxious time. One that's inseparable from fashion's future-oriented and economy-driven mentality. The result of which is a demand that you use your time in an overtly active, re-active and productive way. Like when you see a beautiful new collection that somehow touches you and immediately feel the need to compose your own response to it, be it a post, an editorial use of the items, an opinion or an article.
Of course this rushed sense of moving through time while constantly making yourself seen and heard has a polar opposite– a numb passivity that I know all too well. At times I found myself so worn out that I collapsed and for a while could only consume, binge, shop, stare at one collection after the other for hours on, or scroll down an endless feed. I don't think this is wrong or inherently bad but it saddens me how absent I tend to be in these modes.
So, unsatisfied with these options of anxiously doing or anxiously being unable to do, I asked myself when and how can I be both present and passive? And I mean passive in the sense of receptive. Allowing myself to be changed, slowly, for the sake of the experience and not so I can later comment on it, use it for the sake of my personal gain. Passivity has a bad rap but the kind I'm talking about is an almost active passivity. It's choosing to not do or at least to not do right away.
Present Passive is how I wish to be in the face of an experience, a text, a person, a work of art, a collection, an image.
It is a little like breathing. I breathe whether I'm paying attention to it or not, it just happens without me having to DO anything. And yet conscious breathing is such a different experience. So being presently passive is about conscious consumption of the outside world. A reflexive state of mind in which I try to pay careful attention to whatever it is I take in.
Seeing all that– I turned to writing.
Writing is beautifully passive and receptive because all you can do is wait for the deep subconscious to rise to the surface. It is an incredibly natural process that yields a rhythm and poetry, which is distinct from today’s fashion commentary. First I see or read something, then don’t rush to think of what I’m going to say or write about it, nor distract myself with everything everyone has said about it. I just do nothing for a while. Chances are an idea or a thought will form. Of course, then sorting them out and putting them out there in a somewhat coherent way is a challenge.
The writing I love combines the extremely personal with the highly theoretical, because I think those two aren't brought together often enough. I passionately believe that the only future for critical theory is one where the critique isn't placed on an impersonal axis, but rather exposes the writer in a personal context.
Polaroid by Mayan Toledano (from the show "Singular", curated by Maayan)
How has Tel Aviv influenced your work?
Living here, one tends to believe she's part of this hectic fashion and cultural metropolis when in fact she's living in a smallish middle-eastern beach town. At the same time, one sometimes does feel like she's living in a fun loving beach town and forgets how she's a citizen of a military state where religion and politics are inseparable and where millions are living under occupation; not being treated as citizens or even as humans.
Add the complexity of our many inner conflicts and mixed racial backgrounds and you find a place where all are constantly figuring out where and who we are.
So on the one hand, Tel-Aviv has taught me how to create with limited resources as part of a community of creative people who are trying to understand their own complex identity. On the other hand, it’s over-familiar social codes and unity only within groups have made me crave the solitude of my desk and my thoughts.
Why is it important for your platform to show women resting? Why should women “take a break or permanently give up” as depicted in the images? What messages are you trying to send to women with your writing?
The resting women are figurative embodiments of that state of being I talked about– receptivity, presence, letting reality change you rather than attempting to change it.
As for the images, I am interested in how feminist critiques of art history have deemed the portrayals of women reclining (the odalisque, etc.) as a symbol of men's active gaze and stance vs. women's passivity and objectification. These are extremely transformative theories which had changed how we understand cultural perceptions of femininity and the body. At the same time, today's reality is so much about being productive and pro-active, about the celebration of busyness and the admiration of superwomen, the "I don't know how she does it" type who combines perfect motherhood and full time career. For me, these passive images of reclining women figures can be thought of as subjects of soft rebellion rather than docile objects of the male gaze. Who says the male artists rising to fame by painting these women are to be our role-models? I think the women lying down to rest are a more radical role-model, certainly today. And it doesn't matter what kind of break we allow ourselves. It could be that of a barely-there slowness, like June's delayed reactions to orders in the first season of "The Handmaid's Tale". Or it could be more in the shape of my small fantasy– going off the grid and living in the Faroe Islands, only writing, never publishing.
Next to the images, in my captions, I'd like to make room for a whole gallery of different modes of taking a break: waiting, not-knowing, stopping, collapsing, wondering, napping, actively surrendering.
Tell me a bit about your photography show about authenticity in fashion.
The show was part of a three-day fashion convention put together to ask questions about the possibilities of authenticity in fashion. When asked to curate the photography exhibition, I thought about the relationship between authenticity and iconography. These two concepts seem as if they would never mix and yet are both so dominant in today's fashion photography. Why are we always looking for the new, young and untouched and at the same time are in such a hurry to make that fragile quality into a symbol of itself? Into an icon?
It's as if fashion creatives are gifted with the Midas touch– everything we touch turns to gold (both metaphorically and literally, as it eventually translates to money and commerce). But what happened to that original flesh-and-blood girl with whom we initially fell in love?