Prior to the performance curator Capucine Perrot raised the issue about the relationship of key iconography from The Crystal Quilt and its role in Silver Action – small tables, yellow color, and even the interlude drawn from The Crystal Quilt soundtrack. It is an excellent question and caused me to think about ideas inherent in the work that we have not articulated (but that we've probably all mulled around).
Since around 2007 I have been thinking about the notion of reconstructing, recreating, re-presenting performance from the 70’s and 80’s. By now theorists are parsing the language and most performance artists of my generation have adopted a position on these issues. Museums are trying to figure out what precisely they are collecting that represents these works. This type of inquiry – what is it, why, shape/form, transience, etc. – is fundamental to the origins of performance in the 70s. I watched Allan Kaprow struggle with these ideas since 1971 or so when I was his student; we had lots of conversations on it.
My personal thoughts about recreation is that in general I am not interested in strictly ‘recreating’ a performance and the only time I seriously considered it was when we first began talking about recreating The Crystal Quilt in Turbine Hall at Tate Modern several years ago. Since my work evolves out of a profound engagement with context and particular and specific people, the idea of recreating an artwork merely as a theatrical event is uninteresting, particularly as my work is not really ‘theatrical’ in a sense that it can be extractable and re-performed. Even taking something from a public space and inserting it into a museum space, like we are doing, is an experiment.
While I have no problem with others doing re-creations, my personal interest is in ‘revisiting’ certain ideas and in how the experience, information, context and meaning of early performance art is communicated in terms of art history. So I did Silver Action not as a completely ‘new’ work but as a form of re-investigation. How does a situation from 1985 in America get translated through the lens of 2013 in the UK? The social and political context has changed, but some core issues remain similar - and of course different.
This is in line with other recent works I’ve re-investigated: Three Weeks in January (Getty Pacific Standard Time - from Three Weeks in May, 1977); Storying Rape (Liverpool Biennial – From Dinner at Jane’s, Culture in Action, 1994), Skin of Memory Revisited (Medellin Biennial – from Skin of Memory, 1999) and Stories of Work and Survival (MOCA/WACK show – from Freeze Frame, 1982). In each of these new works I investigated new themes as well as evolutions in the form/schools of art, in the context of the same public issues; what changed, what remains – in art and life. As a result in each case I freely borrow from the iconography of the earlier work and indeed even deliberately refer to it. In Three Weeks in January, for example, I made a choice to keep the map itself as the performative core of the work, to emphasize the ‘body’ as recipient of violence, and as the fundamental element of agency.
In Silver Action we’ve borrowed iconography but transplanted it to a very different environment. If we wanted an entirely ‘new’ work, I would not have added the ‘conversational tableaux’ element and only had the projections; in fact, it might instead be a piece about shape note singing and Appalachia. But the idea of re-visiting the earlier work seemed pertinent to this moment in the cultural and political discourse of the UK, with neoliberal forces threatening the social gains of the past fifty years.
Suzanne Lacy’s performance Silver Action took place at The Tanks at Tate Modern on Sunday 3 February.