Between the Door and the Street takes place in Brooklyn, where hundreds of women (and a sprinkling of men) will gather on beautiful brownstone stoops and in entry courtyards of Park Place, in the Prospect Heights neighborhood, for conversations about some of the critical issues confronting women today. The audience will act as a listening voyeur, piecing together the strands of a complicated narrative coming from this intergenerational group, which includes young girls, gay and straight men, activists, heads of feminist journals, preachers, and many others in a vast cross section of contemporary life. While the conversations will be about women, perhaps even feminism (though that term is controversial), some of the topics that will be discussed, like immigration, labor, and poverty, may not typically be viewed as “women’s issues.” They nonetheless have very powerful and specific impacts on women’s lives.
Despite incredible legislative and social progress, women in this country continue to make 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and women’s control over their own bodies is subject to legislation, some of it mandating invasive procedures. The war on women is very real, and while women (and men, and transgender and queer folks) may not agree on the term “feminism,” Lacy and those she worked with to develop this work feel a sense of urgency to grapple with a politics that moves between the female body and the spheres of public discourse and policy.
Indeed, to arrive at the stoop talks, Lacy spent six months talking to dozens of women about subjects ranging from the movement of women’s bodies in the sex trade, to nannies, to Occupy Wall Street, to Hurricane Sandy. She has relied especially on an advisory board she assembled, which includes activists, editors, a theologian, and a doctor, among others.
Lacy’s working method is equal parts community organizing and art, and she borrows from the work of Saul Alinsky, whose ground-up methodology is widely viewed as the foundation of community organizing, as well as from second wave feminist artists like Judy Chicago and Allan Kaprow, the originator of Happenings, with whom she studied.
The vast coordination and organizing that underlie Between the Door and the Street are, therefore, nothing new to her. In 1977, for example, she created Three Weeks in May, which she has described as a performance that unfolded over the course of three weeks, focusing on violence against women. It consisted of a series of life-like activities that mimicked the techniques of a basic community-organizing campaign. Speeches by politicians, press events, radio interviews, art performances, and self-defense workshops were all choreographed for this theater of political life.
Her 1987 Mother’s Day performance, Crystal Quilt, required the organizing of 430 women over the age of 60, who held conversations about aging on an 82-square-foot rug with tables designed by artist Miriam Schapiro. The performance attracted 3,000 visitors and was broadcast on local Minneapolis public television affiliate KTCA. Organizing this social endeavor required three years of meetings and preparatory conversations.
An especially telling example of Lacy’s art/community-organizing hybrid took place in July 2013, when she restaged an instruction piece by Kaprow at the Manchester Art Gallery, in England, as part of the Do It exhibition, curated by by Hans Ulrich Obrist. Kaprow’s instructions were rather simple:
“Sweeping dust from the floor of a room,
spreading the dust in another room, so it won’t be noticed,
Kaprow’s haiku-like instructions are simple and the performance equally so. When Lacy restaged it, she did so with her long-standing political lens, holding discussions on labor and using teams of sweepers from immigrant and labor organizations. She highlighted the politics of cleaning and restaged the performance to illuminate the not-so-hidden politics behind the daily act of cleaning. For Kaprow, cleaning was perhaps a performative gesture; for Lacy it was that as well as something indicative of a politics that resonates across race and class. The same gesture read in a different way: this is a method she has deployed with powerful significance since the mid-1970s.
Like all of Lacy’s work, Between the Door and the Street takes place in a space between public and private life. The stoop is an architectural space between the home and the public world and the conversations that will take place there will surely move between the politics of both. Lacy’s approach to art is equally interstitial, moving fluidly between community organizing, aesthetic form, political activism, and performance. It is a hybridity that is not only representative of a kind of art making that has gained attention over the last decade, but that, poetically enough, derives from the tradition of the avant-garde. It is an art of which both Alinsky and Kaprow would be proud.
Chief Curator, Creative Time