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January 31 - March 28, 2009 at UC Riverside, Sweeney Art Gallery, Riverside

by Diane Calder

Whenever Andrea Bowers senses that she is banging her head on a glass ceiling, she re-examines an old paperback entitled “Woman Power: The Movement for Women’s Liberation,” by Celestine Ware, which reminds her that “Radical feminism is working for the eradication of domination and elitism in all human relationships. This would make self-determination the ultimate good.”

Andrea Bowers and Suzanne Lacy,
"Your Donations Do Our Work"

Andrea Bowers, "Still Life of The Aids
Memorial Quilt Project in Storage
(blocks 3286-3290)," 2007, 72 x 35".

Suzanne Lacy, "Crystal Quilt
photographs," 1987, 1 of a series
of 36 photographs, 16 x 20" each.

When “Women Power” was published in the early 1970’s, self-determination through collaboration was already central to Suzanne Lacy’s method of operation. Relinquishing studies in medicine to join the feminist movement in its infancy at Fresno State College and Cal Arts, Lacy’s grounding in consciousness-raising was seasoned by Alan Kaprow’s theories on the joys of performance. As artist in residence at the Guy Miller Homes, a HUD-funded housing project for the elderly in Watts, Lacy developed a friendship with an African American woman, Evalina Newman, engaging Newman and other members of the community in organizing activities, installations and performances designed to attract attention to the needs of seniors in that crime-ridden neighborhood. Lacy’s “Crimes, Quilts, and Art” is one of over a dozen works by Lacy and Bowers exhibited in conjunction with their new collaborative performance installation, “Your Donations Do Our Work.”

Metaphorically and literally interwoven with selected past works incorporating fabrics and quilting, this critically relevant exhibition utilizes clothing, public rituals and community organizing to piece together an examination of issues involving labor, class, immigration, race and gender. The work focuses on interconnections, socializing, and the reclamation of public space. The gallery is transformed into a site of daily activity for visitors, community members and UC Riverside students, operating as a collection point for contributions of cast off clothing and small appliances. There “your stuff” is washed, dried, pressed and repaired at various stations so as to be readied for distribution as part of a barter economy established by the artists and Otis College of Art and Design students in the struggling San Joaquin Valley farming town of Laton, California.

While proactive engagement in the community is central to the artistic production of both Bowers and Lacy, their personal histories, working methods and links to feminism swerve and collide in ways that enliven and enhance their collaboration. Bowers supports her Cal Arts students in the re-evaluation and re-engagement with the legacy of previous generations of feminists ignited by last year’s MOCA exhibition, “WACK.” Appreciative of Lacy’s role in the healthy matriarchal historical lineage that supports her work, Bowers has fully embraced the opportunity to collaborate with Lacy in their ongoing dialogue exploring the contemporary place of feminism in the practice of art and social engagement.

Both women grew up in rural, working class families, Lacy in a farming community near Bakersfield, and Bowers, twenty years later, in Willington, Ohio. Bowers’ assessment of her upbringing is revealing. “I was raised in a community with a strong and healthy emotional attachment to others. Simultaneously, however, there was an embedded tradition of racism and sexism in the community. The need to respond to this dialectic has been a constant influence in my work.”

Two large graphite and colored pencil drawings, referencing bilingual versions of banners from the Adalberto United Methodist Church sanctuary in Chicago, are evidence of Bowers committed response. They honor the site where activist immigrant Elvira Arellano and her American born son spent a year in sanctuary before being arrested by ICE agents outside Our Lady Queen of Angels church in Los Angeles and subsequently deported to Mexico.
Bowers conducts archival research around subjects that provoke her, incorporating and making their contents personal by constructing detailed photorealistic drawings that slow viewers down, seducing them into carefully considering her socially engaging work. Bowers’ moving investigation of the current status, continual maintenance and storage of the largest piece of folk art in the world, the “Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt,” includes oversized drawings along with video and C print light-box installations selected from a powerful body of her work, “The Weight of Relevance.”
In a late 1980’s project similar in content, involving quilting and showing respect for those on the margins of society, Lacy again demonstrated her ability to engage the audience in shaping public agendas. The culmination of over two years of community work and planning, “The Crystal Quilt” performance, in which 430 older women simultaneously unfolded hand-sewn tablecloths, was broadcast on public television from Philip Johnson’s Crystal Court. Combined with other collaborations shown here, it underscores Lacy’s and Bowers’ belief in the importance of moving beyond the lone efforts of the heroic individual creator while underscoring the relevancy of their production of socially engaging work in initiating change away from hegemony and fear of “the other” that ravages society.