In the run up to the opening of The Tanks, Tate Modern’s dedicated spaces for exhibiting live art, performance, installation and film works, we’ve picked one of the works held in the Tate collection that will be on display in this new space.
Suzanne Lacy’s The Crystal Quilt 1985–7 took place over three years in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A collaborative and public artwork, it explored how the media portrayed ageing and what the role for older people in public was. Incorporating many types of practice, from art exhibitions and lectures to community organising and a leadership seminar for older women, it culminated in a performance on Mother’s Day in 1987.
430 women aged over 60 from Minneapolis gathered together to perform in a live tableau, lasting an hour and broadcast live on a public television network. Staged on a series of tables laid out on a huge square rug (designed by the painter Miriam Schapiro), the performers sat four to a table, their hands laid on the coloured tablecloths changing at ten-minute intervals to echo the shapes of different quilt blocks (the quilt being an emblem of the traditional sharing of North American female experience). While the performers discussed their experiences and reminiscences, the audience also listened to a soundtrack by composer Susan Stone mixing the voices of 75 women talking about ageing – personal observations, their own memories, and sociological analysis of the unused potential of older people.
Lacy’s work has often been concerned with social issues, and about including and reaching particular audiences (in this case older women). She is a pioneer of inclusion and participation in her practice, with The Crystal Quilt consciously seeking to represent and include women form diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. She has also set out to deal with the place of art in society:
In some sense The Crystal Quilt was successful politically, in that the work was bigger, it had more social impact in that region, but do one or two events ever change the way people – other than those who directly experience it – see? This raises this issue of whether you can expect art to create social change, and at what point is it no longer art.
You can hear Suzanne Lacy speaking about this project at Inside/Outside: Materialising the Social at Tate Modern 21 July 2012