Interviews

Aliza Shvarts

View of “Off Scene,” 2018, Artspace, New Haven, Connecticut.

Aliza Shvarts’s writings and artworks explore the possibilities and impossibilities of performance, race, gender, and class. Her solo exhibition “Off Scene” presents works from the past ten years and is on view at Artspace in New Haven, Connecticut, through June 30, 2018.

THIS SHOW IS ABOUT TESTIMONY—how the capacity to speak and be heard is gendered, classed, and racialized. Whose words carry weight? Whose speech precipitates action? Whose bodies bear assurances of trustworthiness, and whose incite doubt?

The title of the show is a metaphor for different kinds of marginalization: for the kind of work that takes place in the shadows, gets overlooked, silenced, and erased. It describes subaltern narratives and refers to femme work. Silvia Federici has described “reproductive labor” as having to do with the maintenance and care of our families, ourselves, and our communities. This labor has been historically performed by women, people of color, and other subjugated bodies, and is not normatively recognized or valued as real work. The “off scene” is also a performance concept because it names the body’s capacity to disrupt, which is often categorized as obscene.

The organization of the exhibition allows the viewer to move around the gallery and draw out connections, repetitions, and visual rhymes in a chronological but disjunctive flow. I use video, installation, text, and digital media, but consider my work to be performance-based. Adrian Piper has used a concept of the “indexical present,” which is a space that opens up between the viewer and an artwork where the two might act on each other. Mary Kelly has formulated a notion of the “practical past,” which is a term she adapts from Hayden White to describe an intergenerational concept of feminism, one that is grounded in the relationships between language and the subject. Both enable me to challenge the broader political scope of aesthetic address.

Excerpts from an interview with Aliza Shvarts

Several of the works take up the issue of consent in its sexual, legal, and institutional contexts—not just what it feels like when you try to speak and are not believed, but what happens after. Disconsent: Pedagogy is a four-channel video that explores this issue through techniques of reperformance: I asked several of my former students to relate a time when they either consented or dissented in the context of school. Then, each re-narrated the story of another, flipping the terms of consent to dissent (or vice versa). Between them you hear a collective story that speaks to the power dynamics of education and the university as an institution. What becomes possible when your speech is silenced, your acts interdicted, or your body deemed a fiction? This, for me, is a genealogical question—something that not only happens on an individual level, but is part of a historical lineage and collective condition.

Another one of the works, Cite/Site, visualizes this shared condition by using posters to map and link events typically thought of as independent and isolated. In the first two rows, there are cropped and enlarged images from Suzanne Lacy’s The Weeks in May from 1977 and Ana Mendieta’s Untitled (Rape Scene) from 1973, as well as photographs of Tawana Brawley speaking at a news conference in 1988 and Anita Hill testifying before Congress in 1991. The grid is meant to suggest an inheritance of two kinds: one of trauma that has been abstracted, and another of silencing and displacement. This heritage is not just forgotten—it has never been recognized or valued. Posters are a social format, a medium for dissemination and a mark of individuality.

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