Out on the music school courtyard, my graduating peers gathered to participate in the creation of photographic evidence of our time at CalArts. Years from now these same individuals will pour over the image, looking for recognizable faces; forgetting some and remembering others. The memory of the time spent at the institution might not jibe with what actually took place, but the photograph will nonetheless be used as evidence in service of that memory.
Taking a break from my typing, I stopped to pull out my 1987 graduation photograph. It lives behind my diploma, as it was the thing inside my diploma's presentation folder when I walked across the stage my first time. Sitting to my right in the photo is Ray Navarro, the artist who died of AIDS in 1992. The photograph is now transformed into a memento mori, a bit of nostalgia for a place and time that is impossible to recapture.
In Mary's Kelly's Circa 1968, the installation can be seen to function in a similarly nostalgic way. The original event, captured photojournalist Jean-Pierre Rey was printed in Life magazine. The iconic image was appropriated by Kelley and transformed by multiple media. There is a flickering video image of the photograph projected onto a felt surface recessed into the wall. The felt is comprised of hundreds of rectangles of lint, pressed into light and dark patches to reproduce the original image.
Formally, some interesting things happen. The tangible object--the felt--functions as a surface for the projection. Because it is recessed into the wall and the only source of light is the projection, the object becomes subliminal. As a retinal object, it functions as the nexus of projections: the light from the LCD projector, and in the Lacanian sense, the projections of the viewer. This system creates a fairly impenetrable work. Any reading I give the piece then becomes my projection, a neurotic mechanism that ultimately points it's finger right back at me.
One way out of this conundrum would be to view the work through its maker. Mary Kelly spoke about the catalog blurb written by Debra Singer, curator of the Whitney exhibition. In the first draft, Singer spoke (in regards to the original event) of workers striking for higher pay. Kelly corrected her, saying the protesters actually wanted more time off. In response, Kelly created a bumper sticker for the deluxe boxed exhibition catalog.
In the end, the lint seems at odds with the workers agenda. We have a material that is primarily associated with domestic labor, and by association with the subjugation of women. One can read into the surface not only the laborious process of separating lint by color and tone, but also the heaps of laundry that were sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away.
In the end, are we left with nothing but nostalgia? Does Circa 1968 point out the failure of the movement to address issues around domestic labor? In defense of the movement, the workers managed to gain some concessions. The workweek in France is now 35 hours to the US' 40. Paid vacation leave is almost triple of that in the United States, with an average of 37 days a year.
What's interesting about the installation shot above is the empty lighting tracks in the ceiling. All the light in the room emanates from the work itself.
As in the problem with reading a Lacanian projection into Circa 1968, one's first impression of the glass house above is that one shouldn't be throwing stones. Here the nostalgia is for the women's movement, along with an attempt to create ties to the lives of young women today.
In the lecture Kelly kept referring to, "You people," presumably "us" being a younger generation of feminists. I assume this work is interested in creating dialog between women of different eras and cultures. While listening to Kelly talk, I wondered if the works were focused on race, if she would still be referring to us as "you people?"
This made me think of how much the demograhic has changed at UCLA, now that race can no longer be considered in the calculus for admitting students--a result of Proposition 209. In Los Angeles County, Blacks comprise 9% of the population. More that ten years ago they made up over 5% of the incoming students; now the number is around 2%. Rather than admitting students of African descent, UCLA now admits their clothing and other cultural artifacts.
Like Kelly's multi-story house at Documenta, the voices of other cultures can only be read form the outside.