Animating the Archives: The Woman’s Building
Avenue 50 Studios, Highland Park
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Through June 3rd
The great blessing of Animating the Archives is that while it succeeds in its core imperative to re-introduce the pioneering work of the original Woman’s Building actions of decades ago to new generations of audiences and artists, it is first and foremost as engaging, fresh, and un-didactic a group show as an independent contemporary gallery might present. Its organizers and participants have deeply understood the importance of engaging the aesthetic and technological zeitgeist of the present, the better to accomplish a lively, colorful contextualization of this salient piece of art history and Los Angeles culture.
In a deliberate effort to not only present but embody and in a way to reenact the atmosphere of the 1970s and ‘80s feminist community at the Woman’s Building, many of the 15 projects receiving Metabolic Studio fellowships to develop their inclusion in the exhibition involve performances, workshops, readings, and interdisciplinary collaborations. All the artists have produced work that responds to that of their forebears in ways that expand, push back, and build on that special early-wave feminist legacy — while firmly remaining tethered to the art of today. At moments in the exhibition, this generational hybridity in itself reveals the deep degree of influence this history always already had upon these artists’ contemporary practices.
Take for example the walk-in installation by an anonymous group calling themselves Hackers of Resistance. A day-glo orange vinyl curtain both obscures and beckons past the entrance, flickering lights and muffled sounds emanating from beyond. Inside is a makeshift studio/bunker/command center in which dissonant video, voice-altered audio, deconstructed drones, robot diagnostics, art supplies, and further accoutrements of performative revolution’s coziest lair are arrayed in a witty, retro-modern assortment. Being an anonymous group of “Cyberfeminists” taking aim at the dominant paradigm recalls the tactics and personality of groups like the Guerrilla Girls and other collectives, yet the post-web visual language reflects not the hard and sharp ‘80s but the messy and brightly hued ‘10s.
Diana Wyenn worked with multiple performer/collaborators on her video work 1+1=3 documenting a series of unpermitted performances at landmark locations around the city in which their schematic pas de trois movements challenge political power biases using the language of avant-garde public-space intervention and DIY video. Teresa Flores and Maryam Hosseinzadeh also updated a previous iteration of take-away postcards offering viewers the chance to commiserate and disseminate messages expressing heartbreak — from Mary-Linn Hughes’ 1984 BrokenHeartArtCards into a new “2.0” in which the heartbreak is both continuous, personal, collective, and newly, tragically, infuriatingly post-Trump.
Hana Ward’s installation A Room of One’s Own references the famous Virginia Woolf essay on women writers, combining a series of small-scale vignette paintings in which a woman in seen wrestling with food-shaped demons, with a miniature shelf of books and potted plants, the whole representing not only an allegory of the struggle for intellectual freedom but also the image of a literal safe space. Also working in miniature though for very different reasons and by eccentric group means, is a small-scale project representative of CamLab’s overall undertaking. Anna Mayer and Jemima Wyman have, since 2005, organized a social practice centered around “relational object-making” which in this case involves women making small models of artworks that address issues of sexul assult including Nan Goldin, Kiki Smith, and Barbara Kruger and Suzanne Lacy. The project succeeds on several levels, both externalizing the process of contemplation and internalizing the process of making, so that a workshop participant is able to access and transmute their own experiences directly through the empathetic prism offered by the women who made this work before. It’s also a tidy and charming way to mount a convincing capsule version of what would be, at full scale, a difficult, ambitious thematic survey show.
Also by the operations of the viewer’s hand, J. Alex Matthews’ Strike Light requires intimate audience actions in a cumulative durational gesture of moments. A tray of tea light candles and matchboxes is nestled amid a sea of makeshift portraits and presentations from art and anthropology, executed on matchboxes as well, formulating an altar to and by a parade of souls passing through. Visceral and romantic, with the warm scent of sulfur and wax, this work speaks to the idea and action of ritual, with no religion except the paying of attention.
Animating the Archives is on view through June 3rd, with events happening throughout the run.
Artists: Johanna Breiding, CamLab, Teresa Flores, Raquel Gutierrez, Hackers of Resistance, Onya Hogan-Finlay, Carolina Ibarra-Mendoza, Marissa Magdalena, J. Alex Mathews, Felicia Fe Montes, Cindy Rehm, Gladys Rodriguez, Hana Ward, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, and Diana Wyenn.
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