Still on an Identity Politics buzz, this recent interview with Nayland Blake at The Brooklyn Rail really dilated my pupils.
I had caught his show at Matthew Marks the day before I read this interview, and while the exhibition did not do much for me, I am the glad the show was scheduled at the same time as The New Museum’s 1993.
A while back, I was given a copy of Art Criticism and Other Short Stories, a collection of fan fiction on contemporary art figures edited by Helen Reed. One story that sticks out in memory was by L.A.-based Onya Hogan-Finlay asking “What would Lee Lozano do?”
Lee Lozano was a NY-based minimalist abstract painter, but has become far more infamous for her two Conceptual boycotts. First boycotting all activities related to the NY Art World, General Strike Piece (1969), she then, at the rise of the American Feminism movement, began boycotting all women, Decide to Boycott Women (1971). What started as a one month experiment eventually lasted until the end of her life in 1999. While how full proof this was, I cannot know, but by accounts, Lozano seemed pretty serious.
Refusing to participate in the art world as a gesture of resistance against capitalism, her refusal to speak or engage with women was embodied as a gesture of resistance against “patriarchy’s brutal gendering of the world.” (Read more from Helen Molesworth.) Her position of refusal is a powerful gesture, as it implies choice.
Hogan-Finlay’s project was in reference to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s ban on all non cis-gendered women. These actions by the women-only festival and its ban on transgendered women has resulted in calls for boycott of the festival itself from musicians in support of transgendered rights. Hogan-Finlay’s story partly recounts wandering the festival grounds holding a sign that read: What would Lee Lozano do? She has also completed a coinciding video work on the same subject matter that was included in After My Own Heart at Oakville Galleries about the history of feminism’s engagement with utopia.
I didn’t find the answer obvious at first, but I can’t imagine Lozano would do anything at all. If Lozano’s initial impulse of boycotting all women was to improve communication between women, the project has failed if we measure it against Michigan.
It was something in this recent article on Shulamith Firestone, as problematic as its take on mental illness is, that brought me back to thinking about Lozano. Near the end of her life, Firestone, a pioneering revolutionary on radical feminism, refused to engage in any conversation on feminism. While some can read this as an abject failure of feminism, or a result of Firestone battling mental illness, I read Firestone’s position in a different light.
While Lozano was arguably more proactive in her refusal to engage, their collective refusal rumbled something deeper. Women tearing each other down and excluding each other (socially, professionally and otherwise) has not subsided, especially between self-identified feminists of all ages. Firestone was ejected from the movement she founded for having “male ambitions” and other power-related positions that her usurpers eventually took on, but the issues then as they are now are refractions of the gender binary that does not allow for generative overlap.