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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Andrea Bowers

Los Angeles,
United States

Andrea Bowers has an MFA from CalArts and lives and works in Los Angeles. Recent solo shows include “The Weight of Relevance” at the Secession, Vienna and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; “Vows” at Halle fur Kunst, Luneburg; “Nothing Is Neutral” at REDCAT, Los Angeles and Artpace, San Antonio. Recent group shows include “Tanzen, Sehen” at the Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Siegen, Germany; “Personal Affairs” at the Morsbroich Museum, Leverkusen, Germany; “Particulate Matter” at the Mills College Art Museum, Oakland and the “Whitney Biennial 2004”, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. She is represented by Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Sara Meltzer Gallery in New York, Mehdi Chouakri in Berlin, Galerie Praz-Delavallade in Paris, and Van Horn in Dusseldorf. Bowers is currently a Visiting Artist at CalArts.

Feminist Artist Statement

I am proud of the moniker “feminist.” My work also addresses many other issues, both political and aesthetic. It’s like we are living back in the 1950s again; with the Bush administration, things are more conservative than ever. This administration is trying to force the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, outlaw abortion, illegally wiretap people’s phones, and read their email. This conservatism has permeated the entire country and has international influence. In the art world and beyond, race and gender discrimination is thriving, and this makes me very sad. If this weren’t the case, more young women would not be so afraid to call themselves feminists. Young artists fear being ghettoized being considered an “artist” only as associated with an adjective such as black, Latino, feminist, political, gay, and so forth. This is understandable, because these attitudes are prevalent; but underlying this tendency to categorize is a notion that somehow there is a type of art production that is nonpolitical or neutral. In other words, you can choose either to make “Art” or to be one of those “other artists.” As far as I can tell, “Art” is about the interests and identities of a modernist tradition of Euroethnic men and is easily consumed by a capitalist system because its politics coincide with the agendas of those in power. I’m talking about a system and not a physical description of people. Participation in this system is a choice. “I’ll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.”

<p>Diabloblockade, Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, Abalone Alliance, 1981</p>

Diabloblockade, Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, Abalone Alliance, 1981

This is a drawing of a protest held by members of an activist group in California called Mothers for Peace. In 1981 they were protesting the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, an electricy-generating nuclear power plant, built near the San Andreas and Hosfri earthquake fault lines. This drawing was one of three included in a body of work called “Magical Politics”. All three drawings focused on acts of civil disobedience performed by women’s affinity groups centered around the arms race and its impact on the environment. Magical politics was a nonviolent, direct-action movement that arose during the early 1980s in the United States and combined feminism, spiritualism, and environmentalism. Barbara Epstein in her book, “Political Protest and Cultural Revolution” coined the term, though I doubt any members of the movement are even aware of this name. It refers to the movement’s spiritual makeup, which constituted an alliance between radical leftist Christians (mainly Catholic and Protestant groups such as the Catholic Workers, Jonah House, Atlantic Life Community, and Ground Zero) and feminist pagans. There is an absurdity in the union of these groups faiths that is at once humorous and utopian. Their ability to work together effectively was an amazing accomplishment, especially considering the fraught interactions of other opposing religions around the world. Viewed from the current climate of religious fundamentalism in the United States and throughout much of the world, the collaborative spirit of the magical politics groups presents an almost unimaginable model of acceptance of others’ differing beliefs.

Diabloblockade, Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, Abalone Alliance, 1981

This is a drawing of a protest held by members of an activist group in California called Mothers for Peace. In 1981 they were protesting the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, an electricy-generating nuclear power plant, built near the San Andreas and Hosfri earthquake fault lines. This drawing was one of three included in a body of work called “Magical Politics”. All three drawings focused on acts of civil disobedience performed by women’s affinity groups centered around the arms race and its impact on the environment. Magical politics was a nonviolent, direct-action movement that arose during the early 1980s in the United States and combined feminism, spiritualism, and environmentalism. Barbara Epstein in her book, “Political Protest and Cultural Revolution” coined the term, though I doubt any members of the movement are even aware of this name. It refers to the movement’s spiritual makeup, which constituted an alliance between radical leftist Christians (mainly Catholic and Protestant groups such as the Catholic Workers, Jonah House, Atlantic Life Community, and Ground Zero) and feminist pagans. There is an absurdity in the union of these groups faiths that is at once humorous and utopian. Their ability to work together effectively was an amazing accomplishment, especially considering the fraught interactions of other opposing religions around the world. Viewed from the current climate of religious fundamentalism in the United States and throughout much of the world, the collaborative spirit of the magical politics groups presents an almost unimaginable model of acceptance of others’ differing beliefs.

Detail of “Still Life of The AIDS Memorial Quilt in Storage (Blocks 4336-4340)”

This is a detail of a drawing illustrating a folded stack of quilts in the AIDS Memorial Quilt storage facility in Atlanta, Georgia. All the drawings in the series are 3 x 6 foot - mirroring the size of the individual panels on the quilt. This work focuses on the current status of the AIDS Memorial Quilt - an enormous quilt made by thousands of people all over the world celebrating and memorializing the lives of the people who have died of AIDS related illnesses. It now weighs over 54 tons and is composed of over 40,000 3 x 6 foot handmade quilt panels. Each panel is the size of a grave and contains a name. The quilt was first conceived in 1987 as a laying-out-of-the-dead to demand attention for a disease that was cutting down the young men of San Francisco’s gay community. While small sections are still displayed each year in schools, charities, churches and companies, the entire quilt has not been exhibited since it was laid over the Washington Mall in Washington D.C. on Oct. 11, 1996. Although the disease continues to spread, the quilt itself is growing much slower than it once did. It was moved by the foundation that cares for it, The Names Project Foundation, from San Francisco to Atlanta, not only because of more affordable storage but also because it better represents the new face of Aids: the highest percentage of infections is now occurring in people of color and women.

Vieja Gloria (video still)

“Vieja Gloria” is a documentary about the first suburban tree sit in America. In Valencia, California there are huge suburban developments where many streets are named after oak trees because the natural landscape of that region was once filled with old growth Californian oaks. What was once natural landscape became ranch land during the 19th century. In last 30 years this land has been bought by developers and filled with suburban master planned developments for as far as the eye can see. Many of the old oaks have been cut down or dug up to make way for suburban landscaped lawns, shrubs and sometimes even newly planted oak saplings. Recently the natural environment and suburban development collided in this region. Developers, environmentalists and suburbanites went to battle with one another at the site of a 400 year old oak tree named “Old Glory” that was scheduled to be cut down in order to widen a road leading to another massive master planned community. In a last minute attempt to save the tree, environmental activist John Quigley moved into the tree where he lived for 71 days until he was physically removed by Los Angeles County authorities. This video documents this conflict over the landscape, and is an account of John Quigley and the multitudes of people who came to bare witness. The story unfolds through the voice of John Quigley. Issues of patriotism, activism and prejudice are raised. Because of its age and namesake the tree serves as a surrogate for America. In a climate when dissent from the political mainstream is often portrayed as un-American, a collective of people uses protest as a patriotic display. As the story spread through the press, the early supporters from the mainly white, suburban neighborhood grew to encompass a larger group of predominantly Latino immigrant families. The developers built ever-expanding fences around the tree to keep protesters and supporters at bay. Ironically the repetitive motif of fences becomes a metaphor for suburban fear of difference. Political upheaval is familiar to Quigley who grew up in a political family. His uncle is Eugene McCarthy, the presidential peace candidate in 1968 whose campaign was largely run by young people called the “Ballot Children”. The role that family plays in activism is revealed through the relationship between John Quigley and his uncle’s historic presidential campaign as well as the number of families who committed themselves to the cause of saving the tree.

Eulogies to One and Another (Installation view)

This series of text-based drawings address the deaths of 28-year old activist Marla Ruzicka and her Iraqi co-worker Faiz Ali Salim. They were killed in a car bombing incident in Iraq in April, 2005. Ruzicka had been the founder of the organization CIVIC, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, which had been working on a census of innocent victims from the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars and trying to raise money from the American Government for the victims’ families.

Composed of eulogies downloaded from the Internet, the authorial sources of the texts range from journalists, politicians, military personnel, war historians, Iraqis, and NGO workers. Created almost in the spirit of photographic negatives, the text remains white while the negative space has been meticulously shaded a medium gray. In the first set of drawings, the eulogies have been enlarged and rendered in their entirety - including text and images. The second set of drawings is a duplicate of the first, however only those passages referencing Faiz Ali Salim are illustrated. Through this editing process a hidden agenda of privilege is revealed. Bowers’ aestheticization of the dull form of an Internet document visually illustrates her concern with the temporal and impermanent nature of Internet information.

Defense of Necessity

This weaving is part of a project that originated as an archival process, and is centered on a specific nonviolent direct action movement that took place during the 1970’s and 1980’s in the U.S. Combining feminism, spiritualism and environmentalism, Barbara Epstein in her book, “Political Protest and Cultural Revolution,” called this movement “Magical Politics.” This sculpture is a 30 foot long x 8 foot high weaving that serves as a blockage in the exhibition space. The inspiration for this large sculpture came from the first Women’s Pentagon Action where some activists wove the doors to the Pentagon shut with brightly colored yarns. Weaving was used in many protests by this movement as a metaphor of women’s power against institutions.

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.”

Letters to the Army of Three and Letters to an Army of Three (Installation view)

This installation shot from “Nothing is Neutral” is part of a body of work developed about an abortion rights activist group of three women located in the San Francisco Bay area of California who crusaded for legal abortions and women’s health care rights prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade.

The video “Letters to An Army of Three” records thirty people reading letters written to the activists from people desperate to find abortions for themselves or loved ones prior to the legalization of abortion in America. All the letters read in the video were dated between 1965 to 1969.

An oversized book contains a much more comprehensive collection of these letters which are separated from each other with different sheets of decorative gift-wrapping paper. A second set of the book pages hang on the wall as a large poster installation called “Letters to the Army of Three Displayed”.

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