“It is hard work to listen, though we probably spend more time doing it than almost anything else we do. But it is even harder work to be attentive to how we listen and this, I suppose, is what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years.”
-Sharon Hayes, “There’s so much I want to say to you”
Andrea Rosen Gallery is pleased to announce Fingernails on a blackboard, Sharon Hayes’ first project with the gallery and an eagerly anticipated exhibition at Gallery 2. She has had numerous institutional exhibitions in New York, including her 2012 survey There’s so much I want to say to you at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The exhibition expands and builds upon an established line of inquiry in Hayes’ work through her active mining of the intersection between history, politics and speech. Both the title of the exhibition and a new body of work, Fingernails on a blackboard investigate how voice acts as the embodied medium of speech. Hayes takes an action at the Statue of Liberty on August 10, 1970 and the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas as points of departure. The 1977 conference was a result of an executive order to assess the status of women in light of the United Nations proclaiming 1975 as International Women’s Year; New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug was appointed to head the conference. Following the conference, an extension was granted for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Having only been ratified by 35 states by the 1982 deadline, the amendment has never been passed.
In the exhibition, Hayes reproduces a fragment of a banner hung off the Statue of Liberty that read “WOMEN OF THE WORLD UNITE!” The banner was hung to promote the Women's Strike for Equality held two weeks later, August 26, 1970 on the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Hayes’ interpretation features black painted text on a white ground that only reads “WOMEN.” Hayes also reproduces a banner hung on the stage of the National Women’s Conference. Approximating the scale of the text of the actual banner, six-foot high panels become a painted translation of voice literally shouting the word “WOMAN” and nearly exceeding the size of the gallery space. The scale and media of these particular works reflect Hayes’ engagement with both the context of the gallery and the specificity of the physical space. A new video and sound work uses the transcript of a meeting between politician Bella Abzug and a vocal coach in which both work at neutralizing Abzug's regional accent and softening her tone. The work addresses the political consequences of gender and specific limits of power in the specter of public speech.
“It raises the question: Could you actually live in this country for eight years having to listen to her voice?”
-Megan Garber quoting Tucker Carlson on Hillary Clinton, Columbia Journalism Review, 2008
Hayes engages the present moment by calling upon the past. Through its material animation, Hayes shows how history embeds itself in collective memory and gets played out in current political situations. Viewers are asked to traverse the boundary between public and private, recognizing themselves as beholden to and actors in historical realities. Events like the 1970 action at the Statue of Liberty or the 1977 National Women’s Conference are recalled in gestures that document but also transform the original objects. By isolating and re-contextualizing the words WOMAN and WOMEN, Hayes’ exhibition points to the precariousness of the terms in this time and place and raises questions about the complexity of collective affiliations around gender now.
Sharon Hayes (b. 1970, Baltimore, MD) has had major solo exhibitions at the Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Art Institute of Chicago, and most recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her work has been widely exhibited in significant exhibitions including The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale; the 2010 Whitney Biennial, documenta 12 (collaborative project), Kassel; MoMA PS1, Long Island Cith, NY; Generali Foundation, Vienna; Museum Moderner Kunst (MUMOK), Vienna; Artists Space, New York; New Museum, New York; Tate Modern, London;and the Istanbul Biennale. Hayes has been recently granted the Alpert Award in the Arts. The artist lives and works in New York.