Vows (Goldman, Emma. "Marriage and Love." New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1910.)
Vows is a two channel video installation using Emma Goldman's essay "Marriage and Love", a text which analyzes how the social institution of marriage is an oppressive institution of capitalism and oppositional to love. The videos are rear screen projections of two women in full wedding attire projected onto 9 foot high screens so they are larger in scale than the viewer. A single bride reading sections of the Goldman text is projected on each screen. In the installation the two women face each other and appear to be listening and responding, as though reciting marriage vows. The representational combination of the two brides satirically comments on gender and racial stereotypes in traditional marriage. Emma Goldman, 1869-1940, was an anarchist and pioneering feminist activist and theorist with incredible courage and inner strength to withstand the isolation and harassment that she endured because of her commitments and beliefs. Even the most radical men of her time found her activities "unsuitable" to her sex. Born in Russia, she immigrated to the US, where she was described by J. Edgar Hoover as "one of the most dangerous women in America". She was connected with advocates of assassination, which she may have regarded as reprisals. She played a central role in the American labor movement and was a great influence in anarchist, feminist, artistic and literary spheres. She was imprisoned three times: for allegedly inciting a riot, for supplying information about birth control, and for obstructing the draft. Goldman was deported illegally to Russia in 1919 and remained active politically until her death. In a speech delivered at her funeral, Harry Weinberger stated, "In a machine age, Emma Goldman always seemed to me the glorification of individuality. She was symbolical of the greatness of mental freedom in an age of regimentation." In many of my recent projects I have investigated the role that our knowledge of the past can have on the present. Perhaps it was Emma Goldman's character that attracted me to this project; she was honest and intelligent but admittedly flawed and very human. In her memoirs, she courageously entwines personal issues with her political and intellectual pursuits. This video proposes a comparison with the contemporary state of the institution of marriage. The contemporary relevance of her ideas surprised me, even though many of the texts are almost one hundred years old. It struck me that women's relationships to marriage have changed surprisingly little over the last century. At the time of her death, in 1940 one journalist wrote that Goldman was "about 8,000 years ahead of her time." Her texts are a reminder that we are dealing today with many of the same political problems that existed a century ago. There is a common notion that radical ideas historically are absorbed and normalized. Studying Goldman and other progressive radicals from history has shown me that this is not true, especially in our current political climate that seems dominated by intolerant fundamentalist ideologues that have taken root in the US but seem to be spreading globally. To quote Weinberger's eulogy, "The plea for liberty has been made a thousand times, aye, ten thousand times, but always needs repeating."