New York

Vanalyne Green

Vanalyne Green’s latest performance, a 30-minute-long piece about job alienation and sexual discrimination entitled This Is Where I Work, took place in lower Manhattan in the lobby of the Federal Hall Building on Wall Street. Green transplanted organizing and consciousness-raising techniques developed by feminist artists like Judy Chicago and Suzanne Lacy in Southern California (where she lived until recently) and used them with a New York audience composed, in large measure, of white-collar workers from the financial district. She attracted a large number of people on lunch breaks by stationing a barker on the steps of Federal Hall who invited them in from the street and announced that free coffee would be given out after the performance. The outside stairway railings of this imposing. neoclassical building were wreathed with a string of blue-and-white paper cups (the kind often used for take-out orders in coffee shops) imprinted in English and Spanish with the words “It’s a pleasure to serve you.” As the performance began, the relevance of these cups and slogans became clear: this was a recreation of a day in the life of a female secretary, and it dwelt at length on her resentment at the “services” she was expected to perform for her bosses.

Dressed in conventional uniform—a dark A-line skirt and a cream-colored blouse—Green came onto the set, a typical office environment (except for a large and unsightly pile of toilet paper which was strewn on the floor to the right). Crouching under her desk, the artist began her monologue by describing the rituals she performs upon arriving at the office each day. A slide showing a sink full of dirty coffee cups flashed onto the screen at the left as Green, by then sitting genteelly at her desk, expressed disgust at having to wash dirty dishes (“I am a secretary, not a janitor”) and to serve her overbearing boss Edward his morning coffee. The artist then announced the arrival of Edward, who appeared in the form of a childish line drawing that, Green explained, embodied her perceptions of her boss.

As the performance progressed (the artist gave us the structure of a day at work), Green commented on various other aspects of her job: her attempts to escape to the bathroom to gossip with the other secretaries; the sexual harassment and discrimination she must endure with a smile in order to keep the job; her decision to “rip off’ the company by taking long breaks and filching office supplies (a decision made, she said, only after she started typing her boss’s expense account). These discussions were accompanied by related black-and-white slides, and occasionally by audiotaped comments and conversations. Toward the end of the ”workday,“ a short film was shown of the artist, dressed in a flannel nightgown, crawling on all fours through a maze of halls and corridors. As the film faded out, a still image of Green sleeping in a fetal position on top of her desk appeared on the screen. She ended the performance with the words: ”I think I’m going berserk . . . How can the world be constructed so I feel this awful, this shitty, this alienated? . . . I hate being a secretary now, but I didn’t always."

This Is Where I Work was a highly successful piece of “guerrilla theater,” a popular art work that was community-oriented in its messages and methods. Judging from the appreciative response of the audience (especially the women), it was clear that Green had articulated attitudes and feelings that many people share but few express publicly. The artist also tried to improve the female employee’s lot by handing out mimeographed sheets listing organizations and books aiming to help women office workers. In a very direct, sincere, and uncondescending way, Green stepped over the boundaries separating art and life, and used the Whitney lunchtime performance series to address issues very relevant to the local populace.

Shelley Rice