An exhibition by Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz
in collaboration with Brienne Arrington, Cara Baldwin, Irina Contreras, Nzuji De Magalhaes, Anoka Faruqee, Zeal Harris, Micol Hebron, Anna Sew Hoy, Cory Peipon, Haruko Tanaka, Elizabeth Tremante, and Ginger Wolfe
This exhibition of the artist’s archival material from 1970-1980 explores how past and presents collide and re-emerge through the perspective of a dozen young Los Angeles artists.
In a series of contemporary performances and installations on gender, the production of knowledge, and the cyclical nature of political and cultural events, Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz position their considerable archival documents from the decade 1970-1980 as a key actor. The Performing Archive, sponsored in part by The 18 th Street Art Center, is housed in the historic Santa Monica exhibition and artist’s residency space, founded in 1988. What began as a process of reviewing and archiving their work soon became a performative project that raises questions on archiving performance art, the technology of archiving, and the politics of inclusion.
In Restricted Access, the first exhibition from The Performing Archive, which coincides with WACK! Art of the Feminist Revolution at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the artists explore how past and present collide, are considered, and re-emerge through the individual perspectives of young women artists. Inviting participation from a restricted number of practitioners, most born in or around the decade in question, Lacy and Labowitz demonstrate the open-ended inquiry characteristic of Los Angeles conceptual work of the 70s in an installation with video, text, and the archives themselves.
Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz are central to the history of West Coast feminist and performance art movements during the late 60s and 70s, and Lacy continues a vital international practice at the boundaries of art and life today. The partnership of these two artists, between 1977 and 1980 and the years leading up to it as they studied in California and Germany with artists like Joseph Beuys, Judy Chicago, and Allan Kaprow, is documented in this archive. Production notes, performance scores, letters, cultural paraphernalia such as magazines and newspapers, texts on worldwide cultural conditions of women, reports on early feminist organizing, photographs, videos and audio tapes provide a window into how they (and to some extent contemporaries such as Barbara Smith, Nancy Buchanan, Martha Rosler and Paul McCarthy) approached art-making during this formative time.
Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz are best known for their private and public performances that explored women’s bodies, relationships, and cultural representations. In the late 70s they formed Ariadne: A Social Art Project, as a contextualizing concept for a series of large public performances on violence against women in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. In an era when process trumped product, artistic strategies in collaboration, relationship, media intervention and political engagement emerged in a cultural context influenced by the Vietnam war, feminism, civil rights activism, and mass media critique. Lacy and Labowitz’ performances, particularly In Mourning and In Rage ( Los Angeles 1977), were known for their strategic engagement with local politics, community organizing and journalism. They deconstructed coverage of crimes against women on television news and in newspaper feature stories, cleverly inserting a critique of media into mass media itself. Their performances, exhibitions, and published texts expanded the public audience for art and provided strong demonstration of its relevance to political activism.
The Performing Archives serves as an activated space of private and public reflection on how artists preserve their work and how the history of art is told. Currently, the formulation of the historical records on Los Angeles artists, feminist artists, performance artists, video artists and others working between 1965-1985 is taking place through international exhibitions. Given the difficulty of maintaining paper-based archives, those that are selected for preservation and made accessible to the public will play an important role in this formulation, becoming, if not the work, then a stand-in for it. With the advent of digital technology, the nature of artist’s archives will be dramatically different in years to come. However, in this transitional moment, radical artistic thought from the 70s—which, in the case of Lacy and Labowitz, deals with subjects of gender and race erasure, the nature of audience, and the public roles for art—is preserved today through living artists and their paper-based archives.
This summer, The Performing Archives will launch Open Access, an on-line exhibition, a shared reconstruction of the history of feminist performance art in Southern California between 1970-1980 by a group of artists central to this history. Revealed through performance descriptions and personal anecdotes, the history will be contextualized by a timeline of other events in both art and culture. Sue Maberry, Director of the Library and Assistant to the Provost for Instructional Technology at Otis College of Art and Design will design this project, using technology for the collaborative construction of knowledge. Data collection will begin with 13 originating artists in March 2007.
Other events and exhibitions in the series will follow, including a performance commemorating ArtScene Los Angeles Magazine’s 25 th year anniversary by Lacy and Kim Abeles, and an exhibition of informal video interviews with curators, historians, and artists on the subjects of legacy and archives.
The Lacy/Labowitz 1970-1980 archives are available by appointment to scholars and arts professionals.