more thoughts here for theorizing the web and Three Weeks In January

Update January 30, 2012

making Katie King talk about art pastpresents

As Three Weeks in January wraps up, I’ve been pondering more the historical perspective on this event.  Art scholars have been ruminating on the notion of re-performance for a while now, but historians have just begun to discuss the notions of repetition and reenactment, which is odd given how popular historical reenactments are.  However, whether taking a positive or negative view of such events, historians have generally agreed that the impulse to relive the past reflects some particular aspect of present day society.  As I’ve been looking at the online documentation of Three Weeks In January, and following it on social media, I’ve noticed a sort of tautological cycle of legitimacy is created, this is important art because that was art, that was art because this is now art.  I admire these artists and their activism tremendously, but as a historian who writes about the originals, I’m troubled by the way pastpresents are colliding here.   As Katie King notes in Networked Reenactments, something, or rather many things,  happened in the nineties” one of which is the notion of historical re-enactment.  This timing lines up quite nicely with the notion of re-performance that also emerged in the nineties among artists and art historians.  King argues for “three large social domains of power-knowledge relations”

1. knowledge work – work cultures centering on  knowledge and information systems and technologies as economies themselves
2. culture, crafts, and industries – public culture sewn up with  economic developments amid shifts in  cultural value
3.  academic capitalism – displays of national interests, global economies, and ideological shifts of the nineties have made their way into Anglophone academies

1. Lacy and her original collaborators were quite skilled in using what they called “the media” in 1977, however, the 2012 incarnation draws even more extensively on “new social media” and other forms of technological systems of information.  Just as Lacy created her original to be covered by television and print journalists, the 2012 event is conceived of for twitter, facebook, youtube and the many other technological forms of communication.

2. Lacy herself participated in the transformation of public culture that has shifted discourses around violence against women.  So while it is still a horrible thing to see the rape map of Three Weeks in January, it is not the same kind of horrible thing it was in 1977.  The event itself is part of a huge city-wide celebration of the past (specifically 1945-1980) funded by the richest art institution in the world, also creating a different context than the 1977 in which Lacy struggled to get permission to use venues, and produced her work “outside” the mainstream art venues of Los Angeles (working primarily with artists from the Los Angeles Woman’s Building with documentation funded by another alternative art organization, Studio Watts).

3.  Lacy is now a professor, many of the original participants are also working in academia, and many institutions of higher education participated in the project of Three Weeks in January.  I note this not derisively, but only to point to the very shift King highlights in academic capitalism, that marginal in 1977 is now mainstream in 2012 because of the changes that occurred in how we “traffic in knowledge worlds.”

Update January 28, 2012

I storifed images discourse and art from  tweets about Three Weeks In January.  

Update January 26, 2012

Suzanne Lacy’s blogs about the differences between original and recreation, emphasizing the new uses of media and the success of feminist activists in transforming the discourse on violence against women.

But the differences between May and January are significant.
2011 has had entirely different statistics. LA’s reported rape count stands at 683, a 20 percent decrease from the previous year. An approximate 60 to 65 percent are still never reported, but rape accusations are now enough to topple politicians, celebrities and entire football programs. That long-established code of silence has strained under the pressure of media and public scrutiny.
If I had to point to an overarching cause for this shift, it would have to be that the discussion of sexual violence has gone viral.  What started in feminist consciousness-raising groups moved to the offices of elected officials, law enforcement and the medical establishment. Campaigns like Denim Day, V-Day and Slut Walk have not only mobilized hundreds of thousands, but also fought off harmful myths. Now every significant effort to prevent sexual violence has an online presence, and a global reach.
Today, confronting rape can be done in 140 characters, like in Three Weeks in January’s “I know someone, do you? #RapeEndsHere” campaign. Or in the backlash against the #ItAintRapeif hashtag. Or Ms. magazine’s #RapeisRape action that successfully pushed the FBI to include other penetrative acts and male victims into the definition of rape.
The conversation is out in the open, and anyone with an Internet connection can join.  The ability to post anonymously has allowed people to express their unfettered opinion, and for myths to be exposed. Articles, blogs, private survivor forums and email make rape a common topic. It would be foolish to call the Internet a “safe space,” but there are sites where victims can find a community, support, or just some place to share their story without worry or shame.
Yes, we lose the intimate quality of a consciousness-raising session, but even without physical presence, sharing continues. The Internet simply allows for a larger group, one with more voices and a greater diversity of experience.
However the discussion on rape unfolds, at least this is certain: sexual violence thrives when we turn a blind eye and when victims are shamed or pressured to keep quiet to protect their assailants, or their families.  Rape is a crime of recidivism, which makes it a crime we all have to confront—by talking, by Tweeting, by commenting, and by gathering.  If the former rape capital can transform itself into a city bent on eradicating sexual violence, any city can do it. Someone just has to start the conversation.

Updated January 23, 2012

another post on related re-creation in LA

[View the story “Three Weeks In January” on Storify]

Update January 22, 2012

As I peruse the online documentation for Three Weeks in January I have to admit I’m jealous that I’m not there, particularly at the symposium being held today RE-CREATING FEMINISM: Performance and Politics 1977/2012

A lively discussion between artists Audrey Chan, Leslie Labowitz-Starus, Mecca Vazie Andrews, Nancy Buchanan, and Alexandra Grant exploring connections between the current interest in performance re-creation and its relationship to feminism past and present

Of course to me, the most interesting aspects are the framing of the event as “re-creating” and the comparison of the two events. I wish I could attend the events to hear what sort of historical narrative is being constructed to connect 1977 to 2012. What justifications are offered for re-creation?

I see many many events are virtual replications of the original, a map on which incidences of sexual assault are marked

a series of performances, which are framed in the documentation as “original” and “remaking” which I like very much, but in the publicity emphasizes the notion of recreation.

From the program: This special LA Art Show opening night performance of Myths of Rape by artists Elana Mann and Audrey Chan, working with Leslie Labowitz-Starus and Suzanne Lacy, recreates a 1977 performance by Labowitz-Starus, originally performed as part of Three Weeks in May. The 2012 re-invention of Myths of Rape transforms the original piece to raise contemporary concerns around rape, sexual assault, and activism. Thirty diverse performers, including women and men, will enact compelling tableaux and spatial interventions, wearing presentation boards featuring current myths and facts about rape. The performers will enact a series of movements (created in collaboration with choreographer Mecca Vazie Andrews) that create both intimate moments and bold statements, which will activate the site of the LA Convention Center. Drawing inspiration from traditions of feminist agit-prop, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Arab Spring, this performance reinforces how activism and performance art are as relevant today as in the past.

In the above description, my eye is immediately drawn to “recreate” and “re-invention.” To the historian a re-creation is not possible, only re-invention.  I wonder about the discursive need to position the 2012 events as “recreations.”  It seems to me to speak volumes about the need to legitimize the initial events as legitimate art events.  At the time, they were incredibly controversial and often marginalized by the art world, even as they garnered extensive mainstream media attention and within the women’s movement.  I’m struck also by the desire to link these prior forms of activism to currently “hot” public topics, not that I don’t agree (I do definitely believe, and have written about, the ways that uses of the public sphere by Labowitz and Lacy, and others under their Ariadne umbrella re-shaped discourses), but again it feels like the present incarnations are a desire to confer legitimacy to the events of the past by reference to the present.

I’m completely fascinated by the short-term consciousness-raising sessions apparently being planned “women raise consciousness on violence against women.”  While I admire the pedagogical impulse behind the groups, I wonder a bit about the simulacra aspects of a dictated topic for a group meeting over just for three weeks with a facilitator, as this is not how consciousness raising was generally practiced in the women’s liberation movement.

I see some interesting variations in this “recreation.”  The first difference that jumps out at me is the subtitle “End Rape in Los Angeles,” not appended to the original, which focused on drawing attention to the issue of rape and to coordinating the efforts to address violence against women that were scattered across the greater Los Angeles area. The other divergence that immediately strikes me is the broader political context in which violence against women is situated, such as the event “Rape: A Weapon of War” and the “panel of formerly incarcerated women on the relationship between violence against women to crime and incarceration.”

If the piece,  The Healing Trees, hosted by the Loyola Marymount University, is a ritual event of sorts for people who have experienced rape, then this event also highlights a key difference.  The 1977 events for women who experienced rape were held in private, while by 2012 the climate  has altered enough to allow for public, open events of healing.

January 13, 2012
In May of 1977 the performance artist Suzanne Lacy coordinated a city wide event designed to raise awareness about rape.  I’ve written about Three Weeks In May before and blogged lots about reenactment of/in the women’s liberation movement.

Currently Lacy is “re-creating” her piece,* which works out quite nicely for my work in which I consider pastpresents and history making ( and a big hello to all the students assigned to write about this piece.  Please don’t plagiarize!).

I ruminated a bit about reenactment of history in Lacy’s work before here and here, which I now want to join with an idea of repetition.  Historians have have relatively little to say about repetition, reenactment and history, but thankfully into the breach steps anthro, as they did in early ruminations about women and culture.  In Kath Weston’s complex, but incredibly provocative Gender In Real Time, she takes on the notion of repeat performance as central to the formation of gendered norms.

In embodying various personae the activists I discuss engaged in performances of gender that in some ways laid bare the fiction of gender.  By revealing gendered norms as temporally constructed, they disrupted the fiction that gender is “natural.”  However, this Butlerian idea of repetitiously performed gender constructing norms is taken on by Weston who argues that scholars hvae allowed one temporal notion to trump other mechanisms at work.  Quoting Gilles Deluze, a French Philosopher, Weston argues that  the “paradox of repetition” is that it can only be spoken of “by virtue of change or difference that it introduces into the mind that contemplates it.”  “Difference inhabits repetition” claims Deluze.    Thus  repetition, which relies on sameness, t also evokes change and difference, while shaping “expectation.”  This notion of repetition always and ever enacting hsitoricized gender norms is itself insufficiently historicized according to Weston.  Deeply embedded in repetition is a “cyclical” time as well as the linear.  In a sort of repetitious “cycle of mutually reinforcing citations,” which stands outside/beyond the historical, the repetition of gender relies on commodified identities, with objects standing in for various “selves.”  Intending to draw attention to the “workings of time” in performativity, Weston connects it to the historical moment of “assembly-line mass production.”

What then does this have to offer for discussion of my slippery art pieces?  The art world itself is having a bit of a moment about repetition and reenactment with troubling ideas about the “repeat” performance of works originally done in the 1970s.   Weston herself conducted ethnographic research for Gender In Real Time in a setting that is quite similar to that of the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles about which I write, but still, I ask, where does that leave me?  The narrative Weston offers is one of the convert-turned-reject, confessing as she does that in her efforts to understand the lesbian feminist world of San Francisco in the mid 1980s she initially turned to performance theory, but she eventually recanted as the theory proved insufficiently historicist/materialist.  Shades of the beginning of my book, gender not locked down by the historical is reduced to idealized essence, floating free of any specificity.  I haven’t quite decided if I agree with Weston that repetition is cyclical rather than linear and commodified rather than created.  I need to find a way to make King and Weston speak to one another as I work through this chapter.

I will be quite curious to see how the current incarnation of Three Weeks in May differs from its original.  Will the narrative of sexual assault be expanded beyond the male rapist female victim?  Will empowerment be construed differently?  Will causality derive from different narratives? 

*Judy Chicago did a similar re-enactment, “becoming” her younger self (my copy of the speech is clearly dated May 1969) who delivered a talk at Pomona  and then dialoguing with that self in her current embodiment.  In that original speech Chicago, viewing herself as something of an “exceptional woman” had started to understand that her certain amount of career success rested on a sort of false consciousness she terms a “slave mentality.” “It [Sexism] just never penetrated my consciousness” until college … [where] … these things started to happen to me … it still didn’t really affect me.  I still didn’t really understand.”