Review

The Way That We Rhyme: Women, Art & Politics

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco
Aimee le Duc

“Just as our lives are not fixed or static but always changing, our theory must remain fluid, open and responsive to new information.”
—bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, p. xiii

The Way That We Rhyme: Women, Art & Politics at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, California, churns with all of the rage, sarcasm, sadness and fury of the Le Tigre song from which the exhibition takes it title. Simply put, there is movement in this exhibition, movement that evokes the profound fluidity of feminism.

The Way That We Rhyme offers a cross-section of twenty-four artists and artist collectives, most of whom document their own work, their creative process and the very spaces in which they live and practice their craft. Much of the work relies on strategies of recording and sharing with friends and strangers. For example, Miranda July and Shauna McGarry solicited via the Internet films made by women with the promise that the films would be shown publicly. The resulting collection of videos, called Joanie 4 Jackie: A Retrospective (2008), is here viewed by audiences that the filmmakers could not have reached on their own. Themes of archiving and participation thread throughout the entire exhibition. Many of the projects include other artists, specifically women artists, under the umbrellas of the artists named on the checklist. By presenting others’ voices, established artists galvanize their own practices, while at the same time new and yet to-be-recognized artists come into focus at the periphery of these artists and their careers.

Included in the exhibition is artist Aleksandra Mir, who entered into the spectacle of space travel with her video First Woman on the Moon (1999). Over thirty years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their iconic first steps on the moon, Mir completed her “moonwalk” on a man-made beach in Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. Mir spent the $2000 budget of the project, which was supported by Casco Projects, on a half-page advertisement in Artforum. The rest of the project was realized through community partnerships, commercial donations and volunteers. During the preparations, Mir opened an office in town and released a series of press releases about the upcoming moon landing. That press, along with the Artforum advertisement and word of mouth, created an air of anticipation. During the one-day event, large craters were dug in the sand. Objects unearthed during the dig were displayed as lunar artifacts. Local residents, television crews, tourists and various community groups assembled on the beach to watch the sculpting of the surface of the moon and to witness the women Mir invited to join her climb to the top. The sardonic documentation—somewhere between home video and dark satire—aims to erode the monolithic, capital “H” history and capital ”M” media. Of course, Mir is also poking fun at the conspiracy theories that the American manned moon landing in 1969 was faked in an effort of Cold War propaganda.

Aleksandra Mir, "First Woman on the Moon," 1999. Single channel video. Courtesy of the artist and Gavlak, West Palm Beach, Florida.

Curator Berin Golonu devoted the largest amount of real estate to a reading space for LTTR, a queer-centered collective founded in 2002 that produces a journal, events, and exhibitions. In front of several reading tables, a large wall mural is emblazoned with A Wave of New Rage Thinking, the title of the installation. LTTR showcases the work of recognized artists and writers while at the same time highlighting and amplifying voices that are often silenced by mainstream culture. For its fifth issue, based on the theme “Positively Nasty,” the editors call out to “Expose your displaced unit. Memorialize your gayification. Recognize stone blood patterns…” By placing a reading space at the center of a visual arts exhibition, the curators incite viewers to stop and reflect on the subject matter on view and, most importantly, to participate in it.

SWOON, in collaboration with journalist Tennessee Jane Watson, presents Portrait of Silvia-Elena (2008), a visual and auditory work that investigates multiple murders of women in Juarez, Mexico. SWOON’s large scale installation, which includes a weathered and worn wood fence delicately painted with a haunting mural, invites viewers to listen through earbuds to the families of these murdered women pleading for information. The project is eery and despondent. Similar in tone is Andrea Bower’s contribution to the exhibit, Letters to an Army of Three (2005), which is a tribute to three women who provided information on safe abortions to American women in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Andrea Bowers, "Letters to an Army of Three," 2005. Single channel video. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Culver City, California.

Further Reading