From street protest to art spaces – Sharon Hayes highlights activism on the art scene, and is currently a seminal voice in American contemporary political art. This exhibition is her first in Stockholm and features both early and completely new works. Sharon Hayes mines the power of the spoken word in works ranging from entirely personal address to agitation on urgent social issues. By using individual voices she intentionally prevents us from relating to preconceived perspectives, be they universal or specific. In her performances, photographs and sound and video pieces, she relocates private speech to the public sphere. A central aspect of her work is the relationship between language, history, and politics.
“Echo” explores the idea of the exhibition as an echo chamber, where Hayes lets voices and materials reverberate between different historic events. It also references a feminist interpretation of the classical myth of Echo, the nymph who is cursed for her conversational skills. She is condemned to only repeat fragments said by others, sounds devoid of meaning.
The echo resonates through Hayes’s work on several levels, as both material and form. Texts and acts of speech with a specific historical charge are replicated in “oral translations” for a contemporary audience. Hayes calls these anachronisms, instances when an unresolved issue or conflict is broached by a different temporal moment – as in the video work “Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)” (2003), where Hayes reads messages to a live audience from the kidnapped Patty Hearst to her parents that were aired on the radio in 1974.
In several works the private address is transferred to a public space, as in “Everything Else Has Failed! Don’t You Think it’s Time for Love?” (2007), a daily performance of anonymous love letters in the street outside a bank in New York, at a time when the US military presence in Iraq was escalating and the worst financial crisis since the Depression was rapidly becoming a fact.
Hayes investigates how political intention and longing can manifest concretely, in a movement from the individual or the protective community of groups to larger forums. The video installation “In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You” (2016) enacts a pivotal work in the feminist and queer grass roots movement of the 1950s-1970s, of putting words to experiences and dreams that could not previously be voiced. This piece belongs to the Moderna Museet collection and forms the starting point for this exhibition, which is Hayes’ first in Stockholm.
A completely new work will be presented as part of Hayes’s evolving “Ricerche” project – made in dialogue with “Comizi d’amore” (1965), Pier Paolo Pasolini’s interview film on sex and relations. Hayes’s interviews with different groups map out a contemporary situation, but also build a living archive of voices on the challenges of owning one’s identity – conversations with a radical, transformative potential.
Sharon Hayes was born in 1970 in Baltimore and is now based in Philadelphia. With a background in journalism and anthropology, she came to New York’s experimental theatre scene in the early 1990s. This was a time and a place marked by the polarised political climate of the Reagan era, with its denial of the AIDS crisis. With her “Lesbian Love Tour” in 1996, which visited forty-five “lesbian living rooms” in nearly as many cities, Sharon Hayes brought activism to the art scene.
Hayes is currently one of the most influential politically and socially committed artists in the USA and has been featured in retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Her works have been shown internationally, including at the 55th Venice Biennale in Italy, where she received a special mention, and at the 10th Gwangju Biennale in Korea.
Meet Sharon Hayes and Every Ocean Hughes in a personal conversation about love, a friendship rooted in New York’s artistic queer community in the 1990s, about artistic practices and strategies, and about the experience of acting on different “scenes”.