On 10 May 1987, Mother’s Day, in Minneapolis, 430 women over the age of 60 gathered to share their views on growing older. The resulting participatory performance, The Crystal Quilt, included mass action, spoken word and sound, and was broadcast live on television and attended by over 3,000 people.
Participants all wore black, and engaged in simple actions using their hands, manipulating tablecloths to create a ‘quilt’ pattern that created a large-scale spectacle of participation. The soundtrack to these movements included the women’s own voices, mixing personal observations and reminiscences with social analysis about the unused potential of the elderly.
The event was the culmination of the Whisper Minnesota Project, a three-year public artwork empowering and giving a voice to older women. Suzanne Lacy was interested in enabling self-organising groups, and worked with selected women participants who were trained as ‘leaders’ and coordinated sub-groups of participants on the day. Lacy recalls interviewing several of the women afterwards:
They were just so high. They loved the experience. They understood that they were being honored, that they were special, and there was a deep connection to each other they expressed.
The Crystal Quilt now exists in the form of a video, documentary, quilt, photographs and sound piece. Its fusion of art and social responsibility is something Suzanne Lacy has pioneered in her long career as activist artist, writer and teacher.
Curated by Catherine Wood and Valentina Ravaglia
The Crystal Quilt took place at the IDS Center Crystal Court, Minneapolis, and was broadcast by KTCA television. Suzanne Lacy collaborated with Phyllis Jane Rose, Miriam Schapiro, Nancy Dennis and Susan Stone.