2009 Art Activism in Buenos Aires Combats Bathroom Discrimination: More Relevant Now than Ever

In 2009, a group of artists and activists in Buenos Aires, Argentina transformed the gender-segregated bathrooms at the University of Buenos Aires’s Social Science Faculty into universal, gender-neutral bathrooms with a project called “Baño Revolution” (Restroom Revolution).

Led by artist and sociologist Dr. Syd Krochmalny and lead member of the well-known Argentine rock band “Ahora,” Nacho Marciano, a group of about 50 participants linked to the national university’s sociology department took action to both draw attention to and combat the discrimination against the LGBT community inherent in the gender binary bathroom system.

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During the Baño Revolution happening, participating activists concealed the men’s and women’s signs on all the bathrooms in the national university’s social sciences building by covering them with universal, genderless bathroom signs (shown below). Each bathroom that used to be designated as “men’s” or “women’s” was then open to anyone who chose to identify as either gender, or anyone who fell anywhere along the gender identity or sexuality spectra, regardless of the gender indicated on his or her birth certificate.

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Also during the happening, participants were invited to express any gender they identified with, and freely enter any of the new, universal bathrooms. There was even a discotheque set up inside one of the new universal bathrooms, where participants were invited to dance, observe, interact, and celebrate.

Expanding beyond the one-time happening, performance ephemera from the Baño Revolution project includes universal Baño Revolution bathroom signs, Baño Revolution T-shirts, an eponymous original song and music video composed by Ahora specifically for the project, plus a music video, unique still images, and more.

In Argentina, Baño Revolution generated press in newspapers and drew significant attention. To note, the project was executed in 2009, which was a very important and charged year for gender and sexuality rights activism in the country. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America and the second country in the Americas to legalize gay marriage.

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A considerable amount of time has passed since I last thought about this project. But, given recent current events happening here in the United States like the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (HB2), it returned to my radar in a new way. It makes an impact when artistic interventions are carried out in order to address societal problems and work toward sparking positive change. It is an awesome use of art and creativity which we could use here, now.

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I think it could be interesting to look into what creative or artistic action might currently be being taken, and even keep our eye out for future projects, aimed at combatting the problem of bathroom-oriented (and other) discrimination due to new laws in North Carolina, Mississippi and other U.S. states.

While this isn’t quite the same thing as Baño Revolution, some celebrity creatives in the U.S. are protesting the laws in their own way. According to this article, Sharon Stone refused to film a movie in Mississippi and musicians including Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelled concerts in North Carolina in reaction to the new discriminatory laws. Other prominent art world figures are also taking a stand, such as the director of the Andy Warhol Museum boycotting the laws by declining an invitation to serve as the visiting critic for UNC Chapel Hill’s 2016 MFA class.

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It is at least somewhat settling to see President Obama speak out against these laws in a recent visit to the UK, but it is still shameful that the laws are even able to exist. I agree with British PM David Cameron, who according to the New York Times recently stated that the British “view on any of these things is that we believe that we should be trying to use law to end discrimination rather than to embed it or enhance it.”

If you are aware of any artistic intervention against HB2 or other similar discriminatory laws, I invite you to comment on this post and share your thoughts.

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Wynne Greenwood Spent Seven Years as All Three Band Members of the Activist Punk Rock Trio, “Tracy and the Plastics”

Many of you might have seen Jim Shaw’s recent multi-floor show, “The End is Near” at the New Museum, but what I’m hoping you had the chance to check out was queer feminist artist Wynne Greenwood’s smaller exhibit, “Kelly” which was open simultaneously on the fifth floor. Greenwood is an inspiring and unique creative talent who works with performance, video, object-making and music to practice what she calls “culture-healing.” From what I gathered at the exhibition, the idea of “culture healing” has to do with disrupting/debunking harmful, commonly held cultural beliefs that divide or misrepresent people, with the goal of healing relationships between different types of people.

Specifically, “Kelly” (which was also a 6 month artist residency for Greenwood at the New Museum) comprised Greenwood’s works from 1999 to 2015, during which time she concepted and acted out a variety of distinct characters for live performances and video recordings. To execute this, Greenwood would create partially improvised/partially scripted dialogues for these characters, generating profound conversations that questioned common beliefs and behaviors related to identity, gender and sexuality, and were frequently set to original music.

Greenwood’s main three works included in “Kelly” were Tracy and the Plastics (1999-2006), Strap-On TVs (2010), and her most recent project, More Heads, which she is still working on. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to shine the spotlight on the fascinating Tracy and the Plastics.

Tracy and the Plastics  is a three-member punk girl band, created by Greenwood in her basement in 1999 in Olympia, Washington (birthplace of the Riot Grrrl movement). The Tracy and the Plastics project was presented at the New Museum in the form of a series of music videos displayed across about 20 individual TV screens.  In terms of the band members, Greenwood would play all three of them herself (she would pre-record two of the band members and display them to either side of her on television screens – or project them onto the walls next to her – during performances). You can check out some official Tracy and the Plastics videos here and below to get a real idea of some of the interesting themes Greenwood brings up in the project and see it in action.

To note, Tracy and the Plastics went on tour in 2000, was featured at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and joined forces with other bands and artists including Le Tigre, Bangs, and Fawn Krieger for a variety of shows, before it later “broke up” in 2006.

One of my personal favorite things about Tracy and the Plastics is that Greenwood developed complex relationships between each of the band members, Tracy (vocals), Nikki (keyboard), and Cola (drums), which resulted in potent conversations brought about in often subtle and unexpected ways regarding identity, perception, sexuality, and more. In addition, the dynamic between Tracy, Nikki, and Cola was never boring: like any rock band, the three members often had disagreements or misunderstandings, and would sometimes hurt each other’s feelings. For example, per written materials authored by New Museum curators Johanna Burton, Stephanie Snyder and Sara O’Keefe:

…while setting up for a show, Cola spray-paints the name of the band on a wall and then asks, “Hey Tracy, does that look straight?” When Tracy confirms that it does, Cola, concerned rather than reassured, spray-paints two women’s symbols beside it, in an attempt to make it look “less straight” after all.

In 2013, seven years after Tracy and the Plastics’ 2006 dissolution, Greenwood realized that she’d wished she’d documented all of their performances, so both privately and over the course of an artist residency, she completed recreating and documenting the majority of all of the Tracy and the Plastics performances so that they could be shown as they are in exhibits like “Kelly.”

A final point that I found interesting was that at the New Museum, “Kelly” was situated within the context of a larger exhibit called “Histories of Sexuality.” This was an interesting and enriching curatorial choice because the museum placed Greenwood’s work among that of other artists in the past who had worked with similar ideas about sexuality and gender, ultimately providing viewers with the possibility of a more full-circle experience of Greenwood’s work.

The two former New Museum programs that “Histories of Sexuality” focused on included: “Homo Video: Where Are We Now” (1986-87) curated by William Olander, and New Museum Founder Marcia Tucker’s “Bad Girls” exhibition (1994) curated by Cheryl Dunye. According to the New Museum’s archives, these programs:

…attempted to redress the reductive representation of homosexuality and gendered subjects that their curators perceived in art as well as in culture at large. Both were characterized by works concerned with the texture of individual subjects and communities rather than celebrating some uniform, idealized fantasy of either gay or female liberation.

In other words, with works like those featured in “Kelly,” Greenwood carries on the conversation about these critical ideas that Olander, Tucker and Dunye focused on in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Greenwood’s additions amplify and electrify the full conversation when compiled in one unified exhibit with the other artists’ works.

For more information about Greenwood, I encourage you to check out her official website. For more information about current exhibitions at the New Museum, click here.