Suzanne Lacy built her career exploring the intersection of the political and public voice, shining light on social ills.
Monday, December 08, 2014
(L to r) President Joseph Moore and his wife, Beth Chiquoine, share a laugh with Suzanne Lacy
But despite some astonishing success — a “rape wall” she started nearly 40 years ago, mapping Los Angeles locations of reported sexual assaults, has been moved out of the “basement” of the police department to an area in front of the station — plenty of work remains.
“In 1977, I explored the lack of public information on the subject of rape,” she said to a crowd of 150 people on Dec. 4 in Marran Theater. She explained that, in California until recently, it was still legal for a man to rape his wife. Though that has changed, violent assaults on women remain a problem everywhere, including Los Angeles, where she is based.
“We did not end rape in Los Angeles,” she said, adding that her agenda with 1977’s “Three Weeks in May” (re-examined in 2012 as “Three Weeks in January”) was to “educate, and transform the conversation” via the graphic depiction of where the crime occurs.
“Strategically, art supports alternative ways of seeing,” she said. “The hope is that thinking differently will help you act differently.”
‘Coma of individualism’Lacy’s performances and installations, which the artist likens to “expanded classrooms … that operate in public” are designed to evoke empathy, or at least serious thinking, as they educate. Her means of achieving these aims often involves? Or involve? the simple act of conversation, though writ large for public view.
Lacy didn’t even have to look back much more than 24 hours for an example where such conversation is needed, pointing to the high-profile cases of white police officers killing unarmed black youth in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. These incidents largely, if not entirely, stem from mutual suspicion born of a lack of understanding between young people (particularly those of color) and police officers (predominantly, though not exclusively, white), Lacy suggested.
But the situation, while grabbing contemporary headlines, is nothing new. She explored these themes over the course of a decade living in Oakland, Calif.
Showing video from her work “The Oakland Projects,” which involved a basketball game between police and city youth (“No Blood, No Foul”), unscripted and candid conversations with students regarding sexuality, drugs, culture and education (“The Roof is on Fire”) and weekly dialogue among urban teenagers and police (“Youth, Cops and Videotape”).
From left, Dean Emeritus Stan Trecker, Darisse Paquette, Suzanne Lacy, Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Hans Strauch and College of Art and Design Dean Richard Zauft.
The 9-minute video condensation of 10 years of work revealed how benighted police were about how they are perceived by the teenagers. Even after hearing from students how they have been hectored, harassed and worse by police, one officer is astonished that youth don’t turn to officers in times of trouble. Even the language used — an officer refers to a colleague “kicking ass,” commending him for adroit police work, oblivious that the phrase is being taken literally by his teen audience — hints at an unbridgeable gap between the populations.
However, something happens over time, Lacy says. After the fourth or fifth meeting, the officers and youth come to a place of empathy, or at least tenuous respect for one another. “There’s a kind of opening up that takes place,” Lacy said.
Some teens even find mentors in the police, as the officers remember being taken aside and kept out of trouble when they were young.
“Cops are kind of cute, they’re kind of charismatic,” Lacy added, explaining that the young people often seek their attention, even approval. “The good ones, they kind of bond with. There’s a kind of human connection that can occur (over time) … I’m not saying that could happen in Ferguson right now.” I think she said they were often male father figures, which might be better said than “cute” – which I know she did say.
But connections stem from conversation, Lacy’s work reveals, and help people get beyond what she called “this politically induced coma of individualism.”
Other public conversations are seen in her works “Silver Action,” a re-examination of one of her most renowned works, 1985’s “The Crystal Quilt,” which was broadcast live on public television. As with the earlier work, “Silver Action” focuses on women and aging, as 400 women age 60 and over told their stories to scribes whose typing was displayed live on an enormous screens inside the Tanks at the Tate Modern museum in London.
Similarly, hundreds of women walked down a city block in Brooklyn, N.Y., talking about issues of gender, race, social class and ethnicity in 2013’s “Between the Door and the Street,” and hundreds of others in 1999 Medellin, Colombia climbed aboard a bus transformed into a gallery for “Skin of Memory,” concerned with violence against young people. I think it’s hard to put these 2 very different “installations” in one sentence.
Student Elizabeth Legere with Suzanne Lacy
Lacy’s presentation was the latest installment of the Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture Series, sponsored by Lesley University trustee Hans Strauch, whom College of Art and Design Dean Richard Zauft thanked in his opening remarks. Zauft went on to introduce student Elizabeth Legere, who introduced Lacy to the crowd.
Following Lacy’s presentation, College of Art and Design Dean Emeritus Stan Trecker moderated a question-and-answer session, which preceded a reception in Marran Gallery.
About the Strauch-Mosse Lecture SeriesThe Strauch-Mosse Visiting Artist Lecture Series, established through a $1 million gift by Lesley University Trustee Hans D. Strauch, enables Lesley to host nationally and internationally renowned artists for lectures and exhibitions promoting Lesley’s dedication to cultural and artistic literacy. View past lectures.
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