Can art solve the problems of a city beyond the gallery walls?
by Ian Youngs
Entertainment and art reporter
Some of society’s pressing problems – such as divisions in race, class, age and sex – have not yet been resolved by politicians. Can artists do a better job?
A major new art exhibition in Manchester bills itself as “a manual for social change”.
Its title – What kind of city? – invites visitors to imagine what future they want and how art could help make it happen.
It can be ambitious, but this isn’t the kind of art that looks good on a gallery wall. The exhibit is by veteran US art activist Suzanne Lacy, who has spent 50 years organizing events that combine community building with performance art.
“There is a difference between being a political activist and being an artist,” she tells the Whitworth gallery in Manchester. “I think being an artist gives you a certain amount of pleasure.
“Over time, as an activist, it can get really difficult because the problems I face are quite depressing.”
When Lacy first started in the early 1970s, she drew attention to sexual assault by enlisting women to sit in bathtubs filled with eggs, blood, and clay while recordings of others were played giving explicit details of their rapes.
She later posted the rape locations daily on a map in a Los Angeles mall and gathered 60 women to dress in elaborate clothes to march on City Hall to “fight” a serial killer nicknamed Hillside Strangler.
The Manchester exhibition showcases footage, photos and posters from three subsequent projects, as his work shifted to unite groups of people to make their voices heard and improve relationships.
In the 1990s, he organized discussions and a basketball game between youth and police in Oakland, California, and organized a rooftop event for dispossessed and often vilified teens to tell their stories to authorities and the media.
In 2017, he took over a disused Lancashire mill for a show that combined traditional English form note chanting and Sufi chanting.
The following year, he joined communities on both sides of the Irish border for a series of events by “drawing and erasing” the border line and to compile a poster that exposed the feelings of the locals about it. Lacy later handed it over to MPs in Westminster.
However, he is reluctant to say how much difference projects like these actually made to the communities he worked with.
“The question of achieving concrete goals through art is, I think, a thorny question,” he says. “One thing I rarely trust is an artist’s opinion about it.”
But he adds, “You make a difference through your relationships, I think … Relationships give me so much pleasure.
“It’s my network of friends, so it’s a sign of success. That the work works like a work of art is a sign of success. In terms of social cohesion, you don’t expect an immediate result.”
In Manchester, gallery director Alistair Hudson hopes Lacy’s approach will produce results. His works are “a toolkit for making change in Manchester now,” he says.
The couple started a project called Uncertain Futures, in which 100 women over the age of 50 were interviewed about the burning issues they face, from increasing retirement age and job insecurity to caring responsibilities and value. of volunteering.
Those interviews have been turned into an exhibit at the Manchester Art Gallery. “It’s very important to me that the work ends up in the search, that that database is preserved and seen as a very valuable database,” says Lacy.
Those interviews will also be turned into a manifesto. Among the attendees is Atiha Chaudry, 60, who says: “One of the most important reasons why I got involved in this project wasn’t just an art project.
“It’s a research and politics project. We want to influence politics, we want to influence change, ultimately make women’s lives better from what we have learned from ourselves.”
Some members of the group met weekly, in person or on Zoom. Among them is Tendayi Madzunzu, 58, who arrived in the UK from Zimbabwe 18 years ago and says the meetings were “therapeutic”.
“With all the painful memories, I personally hadn’t found a safe space to talk about my journey and to have someone sincerely listen to my story,” she says. “I see that this project will change a lot for our daughters and generations to come”.
Another project revisits Lacy’s work in Oakland by addressing issues that affect Manchester’s youth and teaching media literacy skills so they can take control of their public image.
“Being a part of this was just a great opportunity for me to show a real representation of my city and community and the types of conversations we have,” says director and curator Alina Akbar, 21, who is helping run it. .
Manchester galleries also host workshops to come up with ideas for new projects and come up with a new curriculum for Manchester schools to use art and creativity across a wide range of subjects.
Lacy was one of the pioneers of artistic activism, which is now more important than ever. She says she is heartened to see young artists take on the role.
All five nominees for this year’s Turner Prize are collective, which are described as helping to “inspire social change through art.” The winner will be announced on Wednesday.
- Turner Award – from salmon farming to neurodiversity
- The Turner Prize honors inspirational art collectives
“There are these times when activism grows,” says Lacy. “It did that in the ’70s when I was coming up, and then it picked up a little bit in the’ 90s. And now it’s back again. It’s interesting. There are similar things that I think people are responding to.”
Those problems haven’t gone away. Is it depressing that she and other artists still have to address issues such as racial, sexual and economic inequalities?
“It would be if you didn’t make art,” says Lacy. “It’s not depressing because I like my job.”
Suzanne Lacy: What kind of city? A Manual for Social Change is at the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, until 10 April 2022. Uncertain Futures and Cleaning Conditions is at the Manchester Art Gallery until 1 May.
Turner Award – from salmon farming to neurodiversity
- September 28
The Turner Prize honors inspirational art collectives
- May 7
Galleries that use art to try to change the world
- April 9, 2019
Whitworth wins the museum prize of £ 100,000
- 2 July 2015
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