Artist Suzanne Lacy gives us an insight into her thinking behind her upcoming BMW Tate Live project Silver Action.

Suzanne Lacy Participatory Artwork Turbine Hall Tate Modern

© Suzanne Lacy

The more I learn about the history of women’s activism throughout the United Kingdom, the deeper I am moved by the depth of women’s engagement in creating a civil society. Just look at what women fought for: housing, the right to live without constant threat of violence, fair wages, the recognition of so-called minorities and socially disenfranchised people, to protect the environment, to stop war – the list goes on and on. Of course men were in almost all instances critical too, but the leadership roles of women in these social transformations begs the question: why are there still so many fewer women in public leadership roles?

This question of women’s role in public life, particularly as they age interests me more than the issue of ageing itself. How do women feel as they achieve the level of experience that predicates leadership, when they are progressively excluded from those roles? Although all of my artistic work is not directly political, for those pieces that are socially engaged, I find great beauty in the way people reflect upon their values and experiences.

In these socially engaged works, the context is critical. I’d point to two key topics in public discourse across the UK today. In the first, there is a real interest in the last half of the last century and the social welfare achievements for which activists fought. Think about the number of recent projects and exhibitions exploring parts of this history. In the second there is much political conversation about an increasingly ageing population, which encompasses issues of poverty, isolation, and health care. On the positive end of that spectrum of concerns is a focus on how older people, the majority of whom are women, can continue to meaningfully contribute.

How would I put this together in a participatory performance? Allowing women to explore their own experiences with each other, within the context of women’s activism and public engagement, is the most important part of the image. The South Tank in the Tate Modern offers a beautiful industrial setting with room for multiple actions, most focused on improvisational and real conversations. Creating a setting for this, and allowing audiences to eavesdrop, is part of the aesthetic strategy. These performances become almost “life-like”, in the words of my mentor Allan Kaprow, in that real people are doing real things – they are performing themselves. Hopefully this collective of individual voices that holds up social issues for our consideration will support seeing, and listening, in new ways.

Equally important is the impact of the project on the women participants: how questions are raised and the conversation is nurtured within public life. We start with Silver Action on 3 February, and we continue to build this conversation Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Conference and with the Sussex University and British Library’s Sisterhood and After: The Women’s Liberation Oral History Project. Stay tuned for more.

If you’d like to be involved in Suzanne Lacy’s performance Silver Action join the conversation and follow the debate online on Twitter using #silveraction.

Comments

Enjoyed being part of this project and would have liked to have continued involvement, especially during WOW in March, but there are no tickets available for the Saturday when Suzanne Lacy has invited us to join her. Shame!

Replying to my original post, you CAN buy tickets for the Saturday's performance at WOW at the South Bank Centre, if you find the wording on their online booking form misleading, just persevere!!! Hope to see more wonderful inspiring women there!

walda

Good Afternoon,

Could you please confirm if there will be another event on March 9th in London?

Thanks

Kim H

Dear All - Tate, Suzanne Lacy, all the 400 women,

It was an inspiring experience being part of the Silver Action. I'm really glad I took part and was among those 400 amazing women - especially the women I met in the workshop and the other three at my table.

The only problem with the whole event is that while we were 'performing' (though it didn't feel like a 'performance' - it was a genuine conversation) we were unable to read the stories of the women who were 'writing themselves into history'. Are these stories going to be put up on the Tate website? I would love to read them.

Another thought is that it was an ephemeral occasion with those women and those stories now disappearing back to their homes. Is there a way in which at least some of these stories could be captured in a book which would be published in book form (not just on the web)?

As someone who is reasonable quick to criticise participatory art events aimed at specific or narrowly defined groups, I thought Sunday was quite exceptional. For me, it was the best live event I have seen at the Tate in a number of years.

Often when a distinct grouping are brought together in the manner of Silver Action, there is an explicit or implicit anti something, a search for an enemy, someone to bash, a sense that the issue has been ‘caused’ by another. The broader politics of the subject, how it is contextualised in the milieu of the period it is exploring is sometimes lost by those initiating the event, maybe in an attempt to project a certain viewpoint or stance. For me, this is what made the Lacy event so powerful, there was a maturity (no pun intended) in its approach and honesty that permeated through the event. As a man sprinting towards his middle life years, I did not feel this was a male bashing exercise, a poor us event or any negative expression, instead it was an authoritative, thoughtful, well-delivered art led form of exchange.

To be left pondering, considering, discussing and having thoughts return to the subject hours and days later is the exact reaction I have when I see art in a painting or live performance. This is a difficult thing to achieve, and why I rarely see it I am supposing, so well done to all involved. Friends of both sexes who also attended had similar feelings.

For me, the event could have benefited by a few more people who had arrived from overseas during the period being discussed, although this may have just been that there were no stories displayed during the time I visited. Excellent event, thanks. John

Jan I found that too when talking about some of the experinces discussed on our table, such as women buying a house alone or going on the local authority housing register alone or even going into a pub. So important that these things are captured and recorded, women had to fight for them they were not given freely. The spoken record of womens history is great, modern and ancient at the same time and very accessible in this social media age. Thanks again to Suzanne, the team and everyone involved.

Jan

I can't express how good it was to be amongst so many amazing women,who showed how right Suzanne Lacy was to stage such a great event celebrating women. I learnt that there is still life in to old girl yet, altough,I was a little saddened when talking about the day with young female colleagues who had no idea of any womens history. It has fired me up to find a couse to become involved with. Well Done everyone Suzanne Lacey ,Facillitators The Tate and most especially Women.

Maggie

Thanks Susan. A number of us are keen to follow other feminist art projects and would like Tate support for women artists in a more material sense than a blog (although that's great). Working together with Suzanne Lacy really fired us up!

I agree Maggie. Everyone was so open and honest. I stayed all day to hear and read all the contributions. I found it all very moving. I wondered what all the young women in black thought about it ? Would be good to hear their views. Hope to see lots of you at WOW.

Maggie

Being a participant was wonderful! I felt our women's conversations were so co-operative, non-instrumental, with mutual respect. A kind of art following in the traditions of women's salons and conversations in Austen and Woolf's novels where conversations are art. Congrats to the Tate for staging the event. But please Tate do something about the appalling under representation of women's art at the Tate!!

Great event today, glad to be part of this art work. It was inspiring to hear and read the stories about how women were drawn to action over the years. I was reminded of actions I had forgotten and amazing women met thorugh activism. Still much to do, as came out in the conversations.

Jan

I enjoyed the workshop on 21st January meeting many interesting women and am really looking forward to taking part tomorrow.

Kim H

Loved the workshop last Sunday (27th Jan) - thank you to everyone and especially the excellent facilitators. Really looking forward to next Sunday when it'll be the Real Thing. Silver Action is helping me move - gracefully I hope - from my 6th to my 7th decade and I have decided to make it the most creative decade of my life.

Lines

Interesting to hear such common purpose and experience this afternoon

I enjoyed the workshop, meeting so many interetsting women and sharing stories. Glad to be part of this fascinating project.

Enjoyable workshop on Monday and great to meet such an interesting group of women. Pauline

Maggie

So excited to be part of this wonderful project!