Washing and drying, mending and sewing, restoring and refurbishing—this is the specialized paraphernalia of modern creative expression?
Call it the blurring of art and barter economy.
Your Donations Do Our Work: Andrea Bowers and Suzanne Lacy, which opens this Saturday at UCR’s Sweeney Gallery in downtown Riverside, sensitively amalgamates feminist activism, women’s crafts, non-violent protest and community intervention in a work that stretches far beyond the walls of the Sweeney.
“This is a collaborative, community show,” Bowers says during a telephone interview. “It’s a different kind of art.”
Though nominally it’s feminist art legends Bowers and Lacy who are the driving forces for the exhibit, the show itself co-stars a wide-ranging cast of civic volunteers and benevolent contributors, each playing a small but vital role in the artistic process. The “Donations” of the title is meant literally—on Saturday the Sweeney will resemble a small-scale haberdashery, as your donated clothes are reinvigorated and readied to be trucked up to Laton, a small farming town in central California.
“We wanted to do a group show based on what is relevant now,” says Shane Shukis, Asst. Director of the Sweeney. And what’s relevant now is the eroding economy and an American crisis of confidence. Thus the theme of artists and performers reaching out to help citizens in need was born.
Lacy, who is the founder of the Otis College of Art and Design’s Public Practice graduate program, was already developing in Laton a barter and exchange store to open in late March, a place where public service would be the monetary unit for purchases, not cash. What the store needed was product.
Enter Riverside. The goal of the exhibit, says Shukis, is to turn ordinary citizens into “agents of generosity.” And so far, he says, the contributions have been phenomenal. “We have so many who are ready to give their clothes, time and money,” for the project. This includes people who will come in and wash clothes, sew and mend, fold and stack. And, Shukis adds, the need for volunteers will encompass the entirety of the installation. The IE’s contributions will be accepted during any time the Sweeney is open.
Bear in mind that all this could be accomplished outside the aegis of an art gallery. That’s what makes this show risky and a huge roll of the dice.
“I love it,” says Bowers, who is very cheerful for a self-described radical. “Challenges and risks are definitely for me. I’m constantly trying to push myself.”
Bowers says the show is a natural progression in the field of feminist activist art, a field that has historically championed conceptualism over form. Lacy is a pioneer of feminist art and Bowers, who teaches at Otis as well as Cal Arts, a disciple. Though this is their first show together, their careers have mirrored each other, documenting the struggles of those who’ve fallen between the cracks of media exposure.
“Suzanne is a superstar,” says Bowers, as she excitedly describes The Crystal Quilt, Lacy’s 1987 performance piece which utilized 430 elderly women as they formed a human quilt on public television. The actual Crystal Quilt has never been exhibited, until now. It will be displayed at the Sweeney along with the names of all the women who participated.
Bowers herself has major experience with quilts. Her installation The Weight of Relevance focused on meticulously restoring the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which now weighs over 54 tons. Video projections from that work will be staged at the Sweeney, surrounded by piles of clothes.
Bowers admits that this show has taken her a bit out of her comfort zone. “I had heard nightmares about collaborative shows. I was very stressed out over it!” Not to worry. The staging of the exhibit has produced no artistic difficulties.
How it all plays out is a different story. There will be plenty of art to gawk at, but this will definitely not be your average wine and cheese opening, as gallery patrons will have to step around sewing machines and ironing boards to get to a bank of TV monitors that will show Laton citizens telling their stories. There will even be a web-cam hook-up that will allow video communication between the Sweeney and Laton.
It is equal parts traditional, performance and activist art and even when it ends it will continue in perpetuity, miles away, where the art produced at the Sweeney may become someone’s everyday apparel.
Says Shukis, art becomes all about giving yourself to a greater cause.
(Note: Although there will be donation and volunteer activity all throughout the exhibit, there are three formal “performances”—the opening on Saturday from 6PM to 9PM, and also the Art Walk Thursday’s on Feb. 5 and March 5)
Your Donations Do Our Work: Andrea Bowers and Suzanne Lacy at the UCR SweeneyArtGallery, 3800 Main Street, Riverside, (951) 827-3755; Opening Sat., Jan. 31, 6PM, through March 28