In 1999, human rights activists, community members, artists and public intellectuals joined forces to produce The Skin of Memory to support the development of alternatives to violence in Medellin. Eleven years later, because this project lives on as a referent in local and national contexts, Lacy and Riano were invited to revisit it for the Medellin 11 Biennale. . In the decade since The Skin of Memory, political activism, public policies, community and artists projects have continued to develop some of the earlier themes; in particular the use of memory work as a tool for developing public voice in the midst of on-going conflict.
The current project took advantage of the reflective space of the museum to view the past decade through the lens of today; to consider the present moment and the future for the region; and to revisit the diverse Medellin residents who produced The Skin of Memory and created a fabric of relationality that continues today. It offered a space of discourse, separated by 12 years, to rethink the future in the context of the past. As an early work of community-activist public art that grew out of, and subsequently was reabsorbed into, the ongoing production of a civil society in Colombia, this moment of reflection also provided a rare opportunity to revisit a work based on memories and layer on that original work the subsequent memories of over 30 participants. From the most basic questions--what happened to those who produced this work--to the more complex--where did we succeed and where did we fail?—this installation takes the position that memory is a disputed and present terrain where the rich fabric of relationships across generational/geographic/background differences is, ultimately, the skin that unites our plural memories .The installation consisted of two video projections facing each other: one of the 1999 performance and directly across the new video featured former participants reflecting on the cultural and political changes in the intervening 11 years.
The Project examined how narratives of gender violence from media and official political discourse in Spain are constructed and impact the public domain. Through a series of performative interventions in varied social sites, the gap between the social mask, and the experience, of women who have suffered and survived physical or psychological abuse was explored.
Nine women living in a shelter were interviewed wearing masks to protect them from their abusers. 400 personal stories of gender violence were gathered from across Spain. School youth transcribed the stories on white masks that were used in performances at an annual award ceremony and a march on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
In another intervention, a group of 10 leaders and spokespersons for governmental and non-governmental organizations, the press, and the academy met in the Museum to “rebuild the protocol of the victim.” The project explored re-constructing the narrative on violence in political speech and on the state of public knowledge in Spain. It ended with the performance at Reina Sofia for 450 people who engaged with, and found themselves framed within, a video of women rewriting their own narratives.
Comprised of political speech, radio interviews, news releases, self-defense demonstrations, speak outs, and art performances, Three Weeks in May represented a synthesis and expansion of the respective avant-garde practices of artists influential to Lacy at the time such as Allan Kaprow. In its active engagement with mass media and what Lacy calls an extended ‘performance structure,’ it is an early demonstration of the transformative potential of socially generative art practices that followed.
Three Weeks in May was anchored by a twenty-five foot long map in the City Mall on which Lacy daily stenciled the word RAPE on the location where an attack had been reported to the Los Angeles Police Department. This map was flanked by a second indicating the sites of related resources such as rape prevention training centers and crisis hotlines. The work was extensively covered at that time in three contexts: art, feminist, and mass media.
Founded during the great depression in the early 1930’s, Knowle West is a small community in the southwestern English city of Bristol. Residents face unemployment, stereotyping, and limited access to higher education, but their community contains unrecognized assets that are the focus of this project.
Suzanne Lacy worked with two art organizations in Bristol-- the Arnolfini Gallery and the community-based Knowle West Media Center—to produce the University of Knowledge, which takes as its starting point the notion of forms of knowledge and reciprocity in learning/teaching. KWMC staff and artists worked with Lacy to record 1,000 video pieces, ranging from 30 seconds to 4 minutes each, of residents discussing useful bits of knowledge that were eventually assembled online in a constructed “university”: rabbit hunting (animal husbandry), raising children as a teen mom (adolescent psychology), growing organic vegetables (agriculture studies) and how to maintain classic cars (mechanical engineering). A website designed by University of Bristol computer scientists portrays the “University” through the eyes of its residents.
Barrio Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, is an old community with a rich, varied, and sometimes tragic history. Death and disability are familiar companions of young people in particular, in this community that has seen civil war, violence from drug trafficking and youth gangs. Lacy worked with Colombian anthropologist Pilar Riaño, whose work on memory, loss, resiliency, and community revival has been instrumental in creating venues for residents to explore the relationship between grief and violence. A coalition of local organizations invited Riaño and Suzanne Lacy to produce a public art project to re-create a lost sense of community.
A team of local youth went to each house collecting objects that held often painful memories; these were exhibited anonymously in a converted school bus. Because no single place was safe for all in this territorialized community, the bus-museum moved from one place to another to give all a chance for the cathartic community witnessing. Over ten days 300 people a day came to witness, leaving behind letters to an unknown neighbor as requested by the collecters, turned docents. At the end of the project, the letters were randomly delivered to residents in a community parade and celebration.