When the influential cultural theorist Stuart Hall died in February of last year, many described it as the end of an era defined by the ‘events of 1968.’ These conversations prompted me to ask what defines an era, and for whom, not only as political discourse, but also as trace, or residue, of the personal lives that were defined by it. Subsequently, I produced a group of works for a solo exhibition at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London, entitled, On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Period of Time, referring to the film made by Guy Debord in 1959, and in particular, to the notion that what is directly lived in the past reappears in the present as an image frozen in the distance.
Prompted by the resonance of this phrase, I used the medium of compressed lint to transcribe iconic signs of the past, from newspapers, magazines and the Internet, into uncanny analogs of their digitized appearance in the present. I think of remembering as a performative act in which the durational aspect of the lint process is central. Individual units are cast in the filter screen of a domestic dryer over several months and hundreds of washing cycles, then assembled as large panels of image and text in intaglio. In the exhibition, new work revolves around an earlier piece, Circa 1968, (2004), that addresses the generation born then, and follows a retrospective trajectory to the questions posed by my own generation, known as ‘boomers.’
In London, the exhibition’s ‘end of an era’ theme produced much interest among people of different ages as well as varied histories, and this led to my collaboration with Tate Modern in organizing a public program around it.
I would describe the discursive site for this project as London in the early 1970s at the moment of an emerging women’s movement, but my focus has not been on feminism alone. Rather, my inclination has been to frame a wide-angle view of that period of time, stretching from the end of World War II to the beginning of the Arab Spring. My starting point was to document the passage of a few women, who formed the History Group in 1969. I was part of this Group and, clearly, it determines my personal recollection of the past. Yet, it became apparent in the discussion of the first exhibition of Circa 1968 in 2004, that not only what takes place, but also, what is thought, defines an era, and in this respect, the consequences of the ‘events of 68’ are intergenerational.
Although, the project’s aim is neither inclusiveness, nor objectivity, I would like to gather a representative archive of statements that, perhaps, could be read symptomatically as well as historically or theoretically. What has become most legible in the response to Circa 1968, so far, calls attention to this possibility. As Walter Benjamin suggested, ‘There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one.’ And it is this implication of historical memory that I would like to explore in the online discussion.
Whitney Museum of American Art publication, 2005
Essay, September 1998