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
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.
Updated January 23, 2012
another post on related re-creation in LA
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.”
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.”