Andrea Bowers’ exhibition Nothing is Neutral features two projects and related drawings that consider the echo of history on our current political moment. The presentation at Artpace draws from the artist’s recent solo exhibition organized by the Gallery at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater), Los Angeles, CA.
Letters to the Army of Three (2005) has its origins with mail sent to Rowena Gurner, Patricia Maginnis, and Lana Clark Phelan, a trio who crusaded for legal abortions and women’s health rights from 1964 to 1973; such activities played a seminal role in the subsequent founding of the Pro-Choice movement in the United States.
Bowers’ project presents these letters in a wall installation, bound book, and video of people reading the letters. Each iteration alternates the emotive correspondence with decorative elements (flower arrangements in the video; colorful wrapping paper in the book and installation) that link politics with craft and lend weight to the tradition of women’s involvement in non-violent activism.
Eulogies to One and Another (2006) is comprised of twenty framed graphite drawings divided into two grids—one an ominous monument to American Marla Ruzicka and the other to Iraqi Faiz Ali Salim, both of whom were killed while researching civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of an effort to gain accurate counts of the conflict’s losses. Eulogies documents and humanizes their work through converting internet news media obituaries into drawings of words hovering in white against backgrounds filled with pencil marks. Ruzicka’s grid is dotted with the many mentions of her while Salim’s looms more densely due to the few references to him. Bowers’ gesture both provides a potent memorial to an Iraqi ignored by the media and suggests the role of privilege, power, and unequal respect for life in war.
Letters and Eulogies are connected by the largest object in the show—Bowers’ faithful re-drawing of a six by four inch photograph from 1966 on a sheet of otherwise blank paper more than four feet tall. The photo shows a young girl with a picket sign calling attention to troubles at home and abroad: the 3,000 casualties in Vietnam and the 7,000 deaths to date caused by illegal abortion. Confronting us with these disparate but concurrent issues, Bowers probes the concept of activism and, ultimately, its relationship to art.