Critics’ Picks

View of “Andrea Bowers and Suzanne Lacy,” 2009.

Los Angeles

Andrea Bowers and Suzanne Lacy

Sweeney Art Gallery
3800 Main Street
January 31–March 28

Though their practices are distinct, Los Angeles–based artists Andrea Bowers and Suzanne Lacy share an interest in blurring the boundaries between art and activism. “Your Donations Do Our Work”—a community art project in the small town of Laton, California, and a related exhibition in the Sweeney Art Gallery—represents the first time the two have collaborated. Drawing on feminist, interactive, and Conceptual art, Bowers and Lacy created work in Laton that includes video documentation of townspeople and the creation of a “Free Store” (something of a misnomer, as locals are asked to perform a service—sweeping the sidewalk or picking up trash—in exchange for coupons to shop). To fill the store, the artists invited visitors to contribute discarded items at the “collection point,” the Sweeney gallery, where a cheerful team of volunteers—mostly students and merchants—organizes, cleans, and mends a growing assortment of clothing, electronics, and sundry tchotchkes.

On the back wall of the gallery, televisions, interspersed among pink cowboy boots, aged cameras, and a child’s backpack, play selections from the video installation Laton, California, 2009. Captured in a direct, PBS-meets-art style reminiscent of Bowers’s recent works about activists, on each screen a resident of Laton quietly tells a story about his or her life while participating in the bustle of the exhibition as if beamed in by satellite. Also on view are several older works by the artists: videos and collages squeezed alongside spinning washing machines, busy ironing stations, and stacks of donated objects with the chaotic efficiency of a charity rummage sale. It’s an imperfect viewing experience, yet by design, the most integral aspect of the project lies outside the gallery—in a sense, beyond the arena of critique—impenetrable to all but the artists, students, and townspeople who share a story when the camera stops rolling or shoot the breeze between shifts at the store or watch as a ceramic pumpkin, passed down from mother to daughter, is placed on a gallery shelf.