February 3, 2016

Dear Governor Rauner

I am not proud to say that I stopped writing politicians several decades ago. OK, I’ve sent an occasional email, usually prompted by some Facebook post, but my overly-long, impassioned missives to national and state officials ended with my use of the typewriter and carbon paper. Similarly, this old newspaper photo of me in front of the White House protesting the Vietnam War made me feel badly at how rarely I show up for protests these days. I’m still mad, still opposed to the drone devastation, Guantanamo, bombing raids, renditions, and on and on…but, but what? I confess it seems pointless, as the Koch Brothers continue to buy our government. But today I wrote to Governor Rauner. It may still be pointless, but, what to do? I kept my message very short and devoid of the RAGE that I feel about the way so many people are treated as disposable and all the programs being demolished that, however imperfectly, aim to serve those folks. This state has been poorly-run for a very long time and there are many systems to blame, while a few people have profited handsomely from the dysfunction, corruption,and callousness. I wrote to the state legislators, too, who are no doubt at least as frustrated as I.

In front of the White House in DC in 197x with a Quaker group

In front of the White House in DC in 197x with a Quaker group

“Dear Governor Rauner [I did not say “Dear Bruce”],” I wrote today, “I support a progressive income tax–as in, tax those of us who can afford to pay for a better Illinois and stop punishing the most vulnerable among us. The state budget impasse has permanently damaged so many non-profits and schools that we cannot recover. Still, we must solve the crisis immediately and begin to repair the damage as quickly and as best we can. Compromise, please, with your equally stubborn and egotistical opponents.
Sincerely, Sharon Irish”


“Dear Sharon,” the Governor [via his robot-minion], replied nearly immediately,
“I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to my office about tax reform in Illinois. My staff is reviewing your message. Please know I value your opinion and thank you for sharing it with me. Hearing from people in Illinois gives me a better idea of what is impacting local communities across the state. Knowing those opinions helps me make decisions for you in Springfield.
Please feel free to contact me in the future. My office phone numbers are (217) 782-0244 and (312) 814-2121.
Governor Bruce Rauner”

So I called and left a message on the machine. Will the machine call me back? To be continued…maybe.

June 12, 2013

“All the animals and birds around Taksim Square are dying”

TurkeyWaterCannonArchitectural historian HEGHNAR WATENPAUGH wrote a very useful post for the Society of Architectural Historians on the urban planning aspects of the unrest in Taksim Square and its broader implications.

Thanks to her, I also read Orhan Pamuk‘s reflections in the New Yorker on some of the history and his memories of Taksim Square.

Amnesty International is encouraging people to write to the government officials in Turkey about the police violence and lack of information about those who have been injured and detained. So much tear gas has been used in the area, and inside buildings, that non-human animals are dying and many people are severely injured.

ROAR Magazine has been posting a lot of links to coverage, especially pointing to the abuses occurring in other Turkish cities, when attention is on Istanbul.


July 5, 2010

Dawoud Bey at CAA

After a really crazy spring semester, I am finally cleaning my home office, finding tidbits here and there that I intended to blog about, but never did. Dawoud Bey was the keynote speaker at this year’s College Art Association conference. He teaches photography at Columbia College in Chicago, and runs a speaker series there. Bey spoke about “authoring the culture of our time.” He quoted a nurse and activist from his childhood growing up in Harlem: “If you know, teach; if you don’t know, learn.” He encouraged those of us at the CAA conference to move beyond our isolated academic circles and engage with the world, noting that “this larger community is key to sustaining and deepening our work.” If memory serves (this was in February 2010, after all!), he also mentioned Walter Hood’s Phillips Lifeways Plan in Charleston, South Carolina, from 2004-09 as an example of artistic engagement. Also during that evening, we discussed a project in Puerto Rico by Chemi Rosado-Seijo. With volunteers and residents of El Cerro, a former coffee plantation near Naranjito, Rosado-Seijo painted a group of houses in Proyecto El Cerro (El Cerro Project), 2002. The documentation of this project was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial,  and written about in Literature and Art of the Americas v. 37 issue 1(2004). That article mentioned that Rosado-Seijo wanted the houses to be painted green to match the mountains; there was hesitation by residents of El Cerro because green is associated with the independistas, and most residents are pro-statehood (color, blue), according to this review. So the artist had the residents pick their color and sometimes the colors were combined. The interactions around donated paint and an artist’s ideas mixed with local residents’ responses created more than a colorful hillside.

July 4, 2010

iCollege and Educational Consumerism

I grew up in Minnesota and still have many relatives who live there, so I was intrigued by this interview of Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota (“pawlenty of trouble,” according to my relatives), by Jon Stewart. Pawlenty is articulate and clear in his points, affable, even. But to equate education with other service deliveries, to say, download a lecture on your iPad like you might choose a vegetable from a display, so misses the point. Not that I think there isn’t a lot broken about our institutions of higher education…there is. But to call students “consumers,” which is already common in academe, and to view discrete lectures on economics or Spanish as interchangeable with pants or shirts on a rack, takes away the interchange, the discussion, and the challenge that ought to be at the heart of the educational process. This iCollege idea mocks the academic effort in a way that is at once necessary–by pointing to the already “sales-heavy” approach to college, and the often lousy teaching that goes on there–and also scary, because Pawlenty is not being ironic; he means this. I agree that information technologies can be used to great effect by a variety of learners, but the face-to-face interactions, and the layers of disciplinary insights within an academic setting are crucial for creative, responsible learning.
February 14, 2010

Images from College Art Association 2010

The College Art Association’s annual conference met this year in Chicago. Apparently there were 4000 registrants, but many were unable to get there because of bad weather. Suzanne Lacy was awarded the CAA Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award, Griselda Pollock received the Distinguished Feminist Award, Holland Cotter received the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art, and Dawoud Bey was the convocation speaker. A terrific start to the conference, in my book. The conference ended with an all-day series of panels organized by the Feminist Art Project, open to the public.

Artists Heather Ault and Bonnie Fortune at Feminist Art Project, Chicago

Artists Heather Ault and Bonnie Fortune at Feminist Art Project, Chicago

Sharon Irish and Suzanne Lacy at Minnesota Press booth

Sharon Irish and Suzanne Lacy at Minnesota Press booth

January 1, 2010

The Cover Controversy

In September of 2009, the graphic designer at the University of Minnesota Press presented an idea for the cover of my book on Suzanne Lacy. Suzanne and I had both agreed that one image from her “Anatomy Lessons” series might be a good choice. The designer chose one that was a close-up of her in a pool, from the mid-70s, and then also flipped the image. I loved it, but Suzanne understandably had reservations. She objected to the manipulation of her work by placing it upside down as a double. She also (again rightly) felt that this one work was not representative of her entire oeuvre and that it was removed from the context of her lengthy visual consideration of violence against women. While I agreed with her on all counts, I also felt strongly that the cover worked powerfully and that its effectiveness made it worth the distortions. I am still not sure that I did the right thing pushing for this cover, but here is what I wrote several months ago, in support of the cover.

September 29, 2009

My relationship with Suzanne Lacy has been one of the most important of my life. (Did I say thank you?)One of the basic points of my book is that art exists in the relationships among people, who are anything but easy and straightforward. So this conversation is both “only about a cover” and about “everything” at once. Given the time crunch, the anxiety levels on all sides, and the importance of the issues, I think it helps to say that this is challenging work!

Here’s why I want to proceed with the current cover (beyond my own personal response of “I love it”):

This book is for an art audience. Using this work makes sense because it is beautiful and repulsive and not well known.Suzanne’s work is not merely pretty or gentle, and often edgy. This work is beautiful and repulsive, calm and alarming, and difficult, one reason why it is so powerful. Film historian Bruce Elder noted that Stan Brakhage [and Lacy in turn] set up a “tension between responding with horror at the images [in his film], and responding to the real beauty of the images (for they are astoundingly beautiful); that this is the character of the film’s central tension [and] suggests that beauty and horror lie close to one another, an idea that has long been a key to radical aspiration in the arts.” This is radical art. I don’t use “radical” lightly—by “radical art” I mean that art challenges glib assumptions and damaging values that have otherwise been normalized and are invisible.

By turning the image upside down, while it is not what Suzanne did, in a way brings out another aspect of the original: that floating can be like flying, disorienting, that bodies turn in water and air, that shadows in water alter forms. That bodies exist in space.

This is a work from early in Suzanne’s career—one of a series that is aesthetically very strong. On the cover, it provides a jumpstart to the beginning of the book. On the cover it supports the themes of the book: body, feminism, space.

I think this is an award-winning cover. If it won a design award, of course that wouldn’t hurt me or Suzanne that I can conceive of, but more importantly, I think it would be a small triumph for art of the seventies that was informed by feminism. Now of course it doesn’t represent all of that decade and certainly not all of Suzanne’s work. I don’t think there is one image that can do that, particularly because Suzanne has worked across scales, media and issues.

If feminism is a political position that analyzes power relations among people in order to foster social justice, how does this cover support that? I think it works more like a tactic than anything else. It is a beginning. People pick up the book to find out what that image is about, and look at the color plates in the middle. (Libraries will bind the book so the cover won’t show, so that eliminates some readers from this cover discussion.) They might even read some of the text!

Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between

Book on artist Suzanne Lacy

Book on artist Suzanne Lacy

At long last, my book on Suzanne Lacy is coming out next month from the University of Minnesota Press. I will be tweaking my website over the next month to feature it more prominently, because this project was a very long haul and I am delighted to have it completed. I first corresponded with Suzanne in 1991 and worked with her a bit in Chicago in 1993. By 2000, I had made sufficient space in my life to start research on her work in earnest. From 2000 until 2008, then, I was immersed in archives, travel, article-writing, and generally trailing around after Suzanne, which was an intense, exhilarating endeavor.

I had long wanted to connect myself to someone whom I admired and learn their process from the inside. Because Suzanne is a most generous and amazing soul, I was able to be a participant-observer for a number of activities, as well as visit sites of many of her projects. I was able to fund Suzanne’s ten-day residency here in Urbana in 2001, and I visited her in Oakland and Los Angeles a lot.

Suzanne has just been awarded the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from the College Art Association and will come to Chicago to receive it in February 2010. Congratulations to her and many thanks to Jerri Allyn for spearheading the nomination process.

October 25, 2009

Women Hold Up Half the Sky

by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

A number of friends have read the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. There’s also a movement by that name. The book was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine recently, which is where I first learned of it. Then my friend Carol interviewed Sheryl on WILL Radio, after reading the book.

My sister Gail compiled a short list of groups from the book that we all have the opportunity to support:

Afghan Institute of Learning operates schools and other programs for women and girls in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan.

Apne Aap battles sex slavery in India, including in remote areas in Bihar that get little attention.

Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) supports schooling for girls in Africa.

Fistula Foundation supports the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, established by Reg and Catherine Hamlin.

Global Fund for Women operates like a venture capital fund for women’s groups in poor countries.

Heal Africa runs a hospital in Goma, Congo, that repairs fistulas and tends to rape victims.

Worldwide Fistula Fund works to improve maternal health and is building a fistula hospital in Niger.

With all the bad news in the world, it is gratifying to know of these amazing, tenacious efforts to support women, and men.

September 20, 2009

Guerilla Art Action Group

Five booklets from Half-Letter Press

Five booklets from Half-Letter Press

Temporary Services (TS)–through Half-Letter Press–has been producing wonderful little booklets of interviews, which now number five. One of the “Temporary Conversations” was with Jean Toche of the Guerilla Art Action Group (GAAG). Formed in 1969 and enduring through 1976, GAAG consisted of Jean Toche, Jon Hendricks, and Poppy Johnson, with occasional others. The bright orange booklet (2008) that features TS’s interview with Toche has illustrations provided by Jon Hendricks.

I really enjoyed driving back from Chicago with Brett Bloom of TS and hearing more about the process of this interview. The entire interview was conducted using snail mail!

One excerpt from the booklet–which you can buy from Half-Letter Press–that has been sticking with me, is a 1971 communique by Hendricks and Toche called Esthetics and Revolution:



Seems like a good description for getting through life in general.

September 5, 2009

Every Body! Visual Resistance in Feminist Health Movements, 1969-2009

Artist Bonnie Fortune is tremendous! She conceptualized, organized, and raised funds to produce a two-city, multi-event extravaganza called Every Body! This past week I have gotten the flier for the public performance of Terri Kapsalis’s “The Hysterical Alphabet,” and the flier for the series of “Every Body!” events. In addition to Kapsalis’s performance, there will be a display of Feminist Health Political Graphics at the Women’s Resource Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, and a small display of books and posters by the History Library up the street. The books will include publications by UIUC scholars like Sarah Projansky, Leslie Reagan, and Ruth Nicole Brown, as well as some of our inspirational books by Andrea Smith, Dorothy Roberts and Suzann Gage. In addition to Terri Kapsalis’s books, there will be some zines and posters in that case too. Suzann Gage is coming from California to give an artist’s talk on September 12 at the I-Space Gallery in Chicago where the main exhibit will be held. Artist Christa Donner will give a presentation in Champaign on October 5. So the next month will be a flurry of activities around women’s health justice! Melissa Mitchell of the UI News Bureau wrote a nice publicity piece too. Congratulations Bonnie!