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SFMOMA explores nearly five decades of Suzanne Lacy's work
Cleaning Conditions.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Co-organized by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here is the first major retrospective of Lacy’s fifty-year career. Conceived as one exhibition at two venues, the SFMOMA presentation features approximately seventy solo and collaborative works from Lacy’s earliest feminist performances and photographs to her recent immersive video installations. The YBCA presentation departs from the traditional retrospective format and focuses instead on an experimental approach to authorship and participation by exhibiting two of Lacy’s groundbreaking works, The Oakland Projects (1991–2001) and La piel de la memoria / Skin of Memory (1999), as an entry point to examine today’s youth culture and media activism.

Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here is jointly curated by Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at SFMOMA; Lucía Sanromán, director of Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City, and YBCA curator at large; and Dominic Willsdon, director of the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University and former Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Practice at SFMOMA. Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here is on view at YBCA and SFMOMA April 20 through August 4, 2019.

YBCA Presentation
The Oakland Projects (1991–2001, including collaborations with Chris Johnson, Annice Jacoby, Julio Morales, and Unique Holland) and La piel de la memoria / Skin of Memory (1999, with Colombian anthropologist Pilar Riaño-Alcalá) are long-term projects and performances in which Lacy and her many collaborators worked with government, education, and social service agencies to engage with youth and address the structural stresses inherent in urban spaces. La piel de la memoria / Skin of Memory engaged young people in the creation of a civic process to address systems of violence and trauma in Medellín, Colombia. The Oakland Projects provided public-school youth tools to create their own media images to counter the negative representations of them prevalent in the media in the 1990s.

Lacy is working with Unique Holland, a past participant and collaborator of The Oakland Projects, on a new multichannel video installation to explore the underlying systemic issues that created oppressive conditions for Oakland youth at the time of the original project. YBCA celebrates Lacy’s rich legacy of youth-focused work in the Bay Area today through the inclusion of organizations and artists who are placing young people in control of their stories and representations. YR Media is working with eight young creatives to offer visitors a visual and sonic impression of gentrification in Oakland. Youth Speaks exhibits a multimedia installation that illustrates the creative process of their poets. The Center for Media Justice presents an interactive timeline that traces their role in the nationwide movement around media organizing, which began by amplifying the ongoing work of challenging media bias against youth of color— efforts that Lacy touched upon in The Oakland Projects. Harkening back to the classroom roots of The Oakland Projects, students are exhibiting two projects from YBCA’s residency at San Francisco’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. These projects will illustrate San Francisco through the lens of approximately one hundred eighth-grade students. At Oakland’s Fremont High School, the location of The Oakland Projects performance Eye 2 Eye at Fremont High (2000), transdisciplinary artist Caleb Duarte is collaborating with students who have migrated from Central America as unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.

Curator Lucía Sanromán elaborates on the exhibition strategy of creating a major update to these very relevant issues: “Given the participatory nature of The Oakland Projects, it is important to break down the category of ‘author’ in our presentation, and look for methodologies that allow for distributed authorship. At YBCA, we interpret this as dedicating gallery space to organizations that have maintained proven relationships to youth since the 1990s and continue this work today. This approach distributes authorship away from the artist and the institution, and toward young people and their advocates now. It underscores YBCA’s commitment to youth work.”

SFMOMA Presentation
At SFMOMA, Lacy’s retrospective encompasses the diverse range of mediums the artist has explored throughout her career, including performance, photography, film, sculpture, video installation, drawing, artist’s books, and ephemera. Spanning from Lacy’s projects in the 1970s to her latest video installations, SFMOMA’s presentation also features the world premiere of the video installation of De tu puño y letra (By Your Own Hand, 2015/2019), which draws from letters written by Ecuadorian women about their experiences of violence. Also included is the US debut of The Circle and the Square (2017), which explores the racial and religious consequences of globalized capitalism in England.

“This retrospective requires an exhibition approach that historicizes the artworks while simultaneously anchoring the exhibition in the present day,” remarks Rudolf Frieling. “These projects are not over—the artist rewrites the scripts and the framing of these works from the perspective of our time.”

Lacy’s ethically committed, participatory performances and large-scale projects have blurred the line between life and art. Several works on view at SFMOMA honor the voices and contributions of women to public life, and embody Lacy’s role as a pioneer of feminist art practice since the early 1970s. Her best-known performances convening groups of women, such as Three Weeks in May (1977), In Mourning and in Rage (1977, with Leslie Labowitz), and The Crystal Quilt (1987), are represented through videos, photographs, and sculptural elements. Attesting to the artist’s lasting relationship with the Bay Area, several coauthored works on view were originally staged in San Francisco, including Alterations (1994, with Susanne Cockrell and Britta Kathmeyer), Freeze Frame: Room for Living Room (1982, with Julia London), and International Dinner Party (1979, with Linda Preuss)—a work that comes full circle after having been performed at SFMOMA in 1979 at the opening of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. The exhibition constantly reflects both the process and the result of social practice and its corresponding audiovisual production.

The installation/performance Alterations (1994–95) and the performance Cleaning Conditions (2013) address issues of labor and has been updated and activated at SFMOMA with local participants. In addition, both institutions will present a robust array of public programs. The SFMOMA programs will focus on feminism, and the YBCA programs will focus on youth.

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