Five women, five ages, one colossal mess of a place – New York City. Chiara Clemente’s Our City Dreams is a documentary about five female artists finding their respective spots in a city where everyone and no one has a place.
SWOON is a burgeoning street artist turned gallery baby. Kiki Smith is an erotically-leaning sculptor and multimedia artist. Marina Abramovi? is an experimental performance artist who doesn’t shy away from masochism. Ghada Amer opts for elaborate embroidery but is something of a jack of all trades. And Nancy Spero is an accomplished collage artist and painter who made her biggest mark as an activist during Vietnam. All of the women immigrated to New York City from abroad and allude to the city’s unique influence on artists and its unparalleled creative pressures.
Each segment runs about 17 minutes and some of the women are much more engaging than others. Marina Abramovi? is the standout. She has a confidence that’s rare on film, let alone in the rest of the world. I suppose that’s what you get from years of masturbating in front of hundreds of people, razoring designs into your stomach, and letting strangers whip you in public. Her art could only gain such great appreciation in a few places in the world so it’s natural that she would resonate more deeply with a film about New York City’s unique appeal to the art world.
Each woman’s story is unique but it never feels that way. They combine together to form one narrative, which gives the film much-needed continuity, but also forces it to take on one too many themes. Ostensibly about femininity, sexuality in art, the enigmatic role of the modern female artist, acceptance into community, and the sacrifices of a life spent wedded to creation, New York city, the rope that ties and binds it all, becomes the most intriguing character.