Art history, Suzanne Lacy, and the ‘spaces between’: A Q&A with Sharon Irish

Sharon Irish, an art and architecture historian who works at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is author of Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between. Suzanne Lacy is the recipient of this year’s College Art Association Lifetime Achievement award. She will join Irish next week at the CAA convention in Chicago to sign copies of the book at the U of M Press booth (details here). Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with the author; you can read the full text of this Q&A here.

Q: On your website, you indicate an interest in “ways to activate history and the arts in the present day.” Was it this motivating force that first introduced you to Suzanne Lacy?

A: Almost twenty years ago (1991), during the first Gulf War, I was looking for a way to connect my art historical scholarship to my political concerns about violence and racism. (I felt pretty distant from my research in American architecture of the early twentieth century.) I had gone to the Women’s Caucus for Art meeting in NYC in 1990 and experienced a profound awakening of sorts, by seeing and hearing about a number of women artists who were using methods drawn from theatre and political protest to give visual form to their ideas, including Suzanne. Of course, these were not new methods, but they were new to me. I started corresponding with a number of artists that winter and eventually I met Suzanne in 1992. She invited me to participate in “Full Circle: Monuments to Women” in Chicago. That involvement with the placement of 100 boulders in downtown Chicago to honor women made me realize that architectural history could be activated, for me anyway, by connecting it to socially engaged contemporary art.

Suzanne builds coalitions to accomplish her artistic and political goals. While often uneasy and difficult, these relationships realize what Bernice Johnson Reagon noted: “Today wherever women gather together, it is not necessarily nurturing. It is coalition building. And if you feel the strain, you may be doing some good work.”


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