This past Friday, we had the rare opportunity to be in, broadcast, and witness Suzanne Lacy’s Storying Violence performance. We mentioned it briefly on Friday, vaguely knowing what exactly was going to be happening with the performance (and, really, we didn’t even know what made it a performance). Being there, though, we learned a lot and actually had some fun.
The performance was a part of the Lacy’s Three Weeks In January, a semi-reperformance and updating of her seventies Three Weeks In May. Storying Violence was one of the climaxes of the three weeks, where city leaders like Charlie Beck and Aileen Adams along with creatives and activists like Jodie Evans and Julie Hebert had a discussion about rape, Los Angeles, and the intersect of the two. As they spoke, they were flanked on all sides by bloggers, writers, and other voiceboxes who were taking to Twitter to share their thoughts on the event. This was the performance: an intimate conversation broadcasted, critiqued, and–in some ways–fictionalized by online voices.
We sat in the circle, watching what was happening and taking it all in, not really realizing the severity of the conversation until it got going. Even though we were at the top of City Hall and cameras were set up practically everywhere, there was a sense of “Well, this is just some art thing.” But, the moment I dropped my phone mid-conversation and a pause in talk was seemingly created by me, shit got real.
What was also real was the subject: rape. It was a little bit uncomfortable as it’s a very sensitive subject but the persons involved with the talk handled it very delicately and all came to agreements very easily. The awkward position was not for them but for us Tweeters, who were sharing this with our audiences. A lot of the other people participating–Peace Over Violence, Code Pink, Fem Newsmagazine, For Your Art–have audiences that may have already been in the conversation (and, frankly, more interested) but, for me, broadcasting the conversation became a little weird as I wasn’t sure people were listening: did our audience care? Do they feel they already know these statistics? Did they find it annoying? Were they just waiting for pretty artwork to be shared? What did they think? The response was actually quite good, as our audience got into the conversation as well (something we were very proud of).
Another thing we noticed was that we were one of two men participating in the performance. Not that it really matters, but we were glad to share another perspective as a viewer/commentator and were glad the conversationalists did the same (they also had two men in it and definitely did share how men can be victims as well). We did wonder why that was: did no other men want to participate? Do men see the issue of rape as a non-issue? Were mainly women only approached to participate? Is rape in Los Angeles something men feel is “not their problem”? (When, in reality, is entirely their problem because men are the problem.) Regardless of why, we were glad to share our point of view from a localized queer male gaze.
That brings up another thing that was glossed over by a lot of participating Tweeters: the relationship of all of this to Los Angeles. The people in the conversation did a good job of bringing it back but the fellow Tweeters we saw in the stream the Three Weeks team made only gave facts and quotes, none of which were really brough back to our city (or even given some personality). We realized this very quickly and were sure to bring it all back to here and now, taking a pointer from why Lacy even started her performances to begin with: to highlight rape in Los Angeles.
The talk was guided by NBCLA’s Ana Garcia, who was a superstar in managing opinions and steering a conversational ship (while also being a part of it, observing it, and–at points–bringing it back to her). Garcia, for me, was the most intriguing part as she, too, is a journalist and someone who observes these things from afar. Her opinions were the freshest because they were like our commentary being embedded into the talk from offline into real life. The highlights of the talk were from her, where she opened up the conversation admitting she was confused by what she got herself into (the idea of being a part of “living art” and putting the terms “art” and “rape” together) and pointed out how NBC didn’t care to cover the event or rape coverage in general (something we kept Tweeting at them to call them out). Her opinions made everything a little sobering and kind of makes you want to shake some television executives until they get their shit together.
Participating in Suzanne Lacy’s Storying Violence was a great experience that we were honored to be able to take a part. We hope everyone who saw our Tweets learned s a few things and that you were able to see some of Lacy’s works over the past three weeks. It definitely was one of the highlights of January for us.