This week: This week, our resident feminist commentator Patricia Maloney sits down with one of her heroes, the Los Angelesâ€“based artist Andrea Bowers to talk about her solo exhibition, Andrea Bowers: #sweetjane, on view through April 13, 2014 at the Pitzer College Art Galleries and Pomona College Museum of Art in Southern California. #sweetjane explores the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case and the social mediaâ€“driven activism that brought the young men responsible to trial in two distinct ways. At Pitzer is a 70-foot long drawing of the text messages sent between the teenagers in the 48 hours following the assault on the young woman who is known in the media and throughout the trial as Jane Doe. At Pomona is a video installation comprised of appropriated media footage and billboard-size photographs of disguised Anonymous protestors at the trial. Taken together, the installations create an incredibly damning document, not only of the events and of the young men, who were depicted sympathetically by the media, but also of the significant tolerance in this country around sexual assault. Bowersâ€™ activities in creating this work reflect the fluidity between art and activism that is a hallmark of her practice, as well as her belief that art can bear witness to the individual gestures and commitments that collectively enact significant social change.
An abridged text version of this conversation will be published by our friends at Art Practical on March 27, 2014.
Andrea Bowers received her MFA at the California Institute of the Arts in 1992. Solo exhibitions include: Secession, Vienna, Austria; REDCAT, Los Angeles, CA; and the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Sammlung Goetz, Seedamm Kulturzentrum, Switzerland; Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY; Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst; Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn, Germany; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL.
This week, Jana Leo’s Rape New York, subtitled An Open Archive, went on view at Invisible Exports in New York City. The exhibition consists of boxes of photographs, documents, transcripts and other material relating to the artists’ rape seven years ago.
The gallery’s press release describes the project as follows:
The documents assembled here, seven years in the making, accompany the release of (Leo’s) book RAPE NEW YORK. The archive consists of photographs from her emergency visit to the hospital, police reports, crime scene photographs, notes from her therapist, as well as records from the civil suit and other assorted items and documents related to the rape and the legal case that followed, none of which can be reproduced, or even reviewed without the victimsâ€™ consent. The documents are kept in organized boxes to be retrieved by the archivist, not displayed on the gallery walls. The archive is not presented to the visitor; instead, each guest must fully identify oneself (photo ID is required), and request materials from the archivist. This way, the visitor takes responsibility for whatâ€™s requested, making private again what was made public by Leoâ€”the latest revolution in a cycle of public and private that began with the rape itself.
The outlines of Leo’s project recalls that of a number of 1970′s era feminist works dealing with traumatic exposure–Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (link is to a video of the performance) and 1968 film Rape come foremost to mind–but the heart of Leo’s piece seems to lie within the viewer’s decision to take responsibility, in a public way, for looking at material that is private in the deepest sense of the word. Does the artist’s complicity in the exposure negate its voyeuristic qualities? Does the decision to study Leo’s rape archives signal compassion, curiosity, or cruelty on the part of individual viewers? Perhaps, a bit of all three.
Lately I’ve been mulling over a bunch of questions that essentially revolve around blogging and personal responsibility. Yesterday I came across mention of Leo’s show in a brief blurb on one of the art news blogs. I initially decided not to reblog the item, because there was only minimal information about the show itself. It felt sensationalistic, somehow, to just shoot the item out there once again without providing any further context. As coincidence would have it, this morning I randomly came across Caitlin Roper’s lengthy and fascinating interview with Jana Leo on Bomb’s blog, which contains a few reproductions of images and documents from the archive. Roper’s piece, I think, provides enough background context to give Leo’s project meaning even to those who can’t see the show in person.
To be honest, I feel somewhat relieved that I don’t live in New York and therefore don’t have to decide whether or not I want to visit Leo’s show and read her archives. I have an easy out, this time. But I did have to make the decision about whether and how I should write about it, particularly in the zippily superficial context of a blog post. So in that sense, I am still a participant in Leo’s project, still accountable for my decision to engage it from a distance in the manner that I have.
Here’s a last, chilling postscript. Eva Rhodes (nee Eva Majlata), the unnamed woman who was the subject of Ono’s aforementioned film Rape, was bludgeoned to death in 2007 by one of her employees, set on fire,Â and buried not far from an animal sanctuary she had established in Hungary. Sukhdev Sandhu writes movingly about Rhodes’ death, and Ono’s film, here.