Pacific Standard Time: Art of the Woman’s Building
March 8, 2009
I just completed a grueling, intense, and edifying week of study with a team of feminist scholars who have been commissioned by Sue Mayberry and Meg Linton at Otis College to produce a show and writing about the art of the Woman’s Bulding as part of the larger Getty funded opus, Pacific Standard Time, celebrating the art of Los Angeles from 1935-1980 at 15 institutions in 2011. Arriving at Otis last Sunday, ours seemed a daunting and exciting charge. I knew none of the scholars, nor few of the many alumnae of the Woman’s Building we were soon to meet, but I had interviewed several women who had been deeply shaped by its radical program in feminist art education for my Women of Vision project, and I had also written about Woman’s Building video screened at their 1983 At Home show comparing it (favorably) to the ten years later feminist decade show, Bad Girls (1994).
Meeting and listening to many feminist artists from The Woman’s Building’s several hey-deys (1973-1991), and then processing their stories, histories, archives and art work with my research team (Jennie Klein, Jenni Sorkin, Michelle Moravec, and Vivien Fryd, who sadly had to miss the meeting), we came to an exciting and responsive focus and method for our year long research project. We plan to examine the unique and groundbreaking processes and structures of the Woman’s Building: from feminist (and sometimes Sapphic) art education rooted in consciousness raising, to collective and process centered pedagogy, performance and art production, to the building itself as a place of refuge, community, and collaboration.
I will be focusing, of course, on video at the building, in particular, its early uses of video as one manifestation of their larger commitments to document and history-making (to telling their story and making sure it would not be lost to history), and to process-focused art production. The tapes archived at the Getty are surprising, and moving, in their attempts to preserve and present the everyday activities and processes, as well as the endless special events, visitors, and art shows, that defined life at the Building. I want to think about these often unauthored, and as often uncontextualized pieces of documentary footage as art video (even as many video artists were honing their craft as teachers and students at the Building). I also hope to make this amazing, but hard to get to, archive more accesible to contemporary audiences, hoping to produce a project where people can respond to our feminist legacy with feminist video of our own. More on this experiment in honoring, continuing, and growing the video processes and legacies of the Building here in the future…