Collecting the Future – Andrea Geyer & The Irish Queer Archive


Posted 5 months ago in Arts & Culture Features

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“Art is an integral part of life and not something separate from it.” – Andrea Geyer

The multi-disciplinary artist Andrea Geyer is known for negotiating the shifting boundaries of gender, class and national identity in her work. More recently, this negotiation has turned to focus on what the museum is and can be. In 2017, her installation To Those Who Have Eyes To See at SFMOMA was a tribute to Grace Morley, who was the museum’s director from its founding in 1935 to 1958. Morley resigned over disagreements with the board because of her ‘lifestyle’; she was gay and lived with her partner.

Part performance, part video and textile installation, at the heart of Geyer’s tribute to Morley are both the question of the museum as civic institution and, tied to this, the question of invisible communities and stories in the grand narrative of modern art. The museum as civic institution was a principle that was dear to Morley – she felt that these were spaces that should be accessible to all and present in public life; that going to a museum or a gallery should be as mundane as going to the supermarket, yet as significant as going to a polling booth; that visitors to museums would be from diverse communities and all walks of life. Within her prolific career, which included bringing 100 shows a year to SFMOMA in the 40s and 50s, she was also the person who introduced the first museum tours in the West, as well as opening a public art library, introducing the first film series on art at an American museum and bringing the series Art in Your Life to television.

This vision of the museum as civic space is vanishing today, Geyer feels.

“The museum as a civic space as these women established it 100 years ago is something we’re not seeing today. How museum culture is funded, what is displayed, the politics of access to spaces of culture has become more exclusive again. Many US museums have a $25 entrance fee and SFMOMA does not currently offer a free day.”

Geyer’s tribute to Morley includes a textile-based work. Using textiles is a recent departure for the artist. She’s inspired by the idea of integrating ‘useful’ objects with ‘art’ objects in the museum or gallery space, a pairing she found common in installation images of exhibitions in early modern museums. Also more common at that time was the inclusion of plants in museums, which continued up until the 80s, Geyer tells me. “It was really concerns about conservation that made museums removed living things from the galleries, so making them more sterile.” For the artist, the removal of plants from the gallery or museum space is just one step on the journey towards rarefication that prevents art from being ‘part of living and breathing.’ Geyer’s use of textiles, a practical or useful material, also invokes the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the Bauhaus, in their desire to equalise the importance of form and function, and to promote a socialist society.

The textile-based work in the 2017 SFMOMA show, titled Collective Weave, is a series of large swathes of cloth patterned with an array of images. These images are drawings taken from historical zines and newsletters published by the lesbian and feminist community in America from the 50s to the 70s. The piece acts as a physical backdrop to the installation as a whole, while also referencing Morley’s interest in exhibiting modern textiles alongside fine art. But the resonances of Collective Weave are multiple, touching also both on the potentiality of textiles, and on what the drawings printed on the piece say about the community that produced then.

“What I really like about these drawings is they hold the space that a photograph would take in another type of publication.  Because these communities experienced repression, they used drawings to imagine other bodies, and to imagine a community they could project themselves into. I believe this imagined space, this representation of a lived body, is important for communities that are isolated or closeted.”

Sifting through hundreds of these drawings in the publications, Geyer noticed a trend towards imagery that indicated ‘community, wholeness, a world, support, movement, mobility.’ Often, the drawings contained circles, or hands supporting others. The sentiments she found in the drawings from the female-identified gay community chimed with her fascination for the numerous functions of fabric; that it can work both inward and outward, protecting and proclaiming. It made sense, then, to print these drawings onto a piece of cloth. “It can be shelter, it can be clothing, it can be a flag, it can be a curtain, it can be a backdrop; [I thought it was interesting] to have this as a representation of imagined community, and at the same time a protection for oneself.”

Last month, a show of Geyer’s recent work opened at IMMA. Titled When We, the exhibition ranges across a series of ‘salons’, with Geyer’s recent works such as Constellations (2018), Manifest (2017), and Revolt, They Said (2012–ongoing) installed. These are pieces that challenge the sidelining of women’s contributions to modern art in the main narrative, seeking to reclaim a space for these stories in the museum. As part of When We, Geyer was commissioned by the museum to create a new Collective Weave, (Collective Weave (Ireland)), based on imagery drawn from the zines and newsletters in the Irish Queer Archive at the National Library of Ireland and the Cork LGBT Digital Archive. She was assisted in her research into these archives by Orla Egan, Dr. Katherine O’Donnell, Tonie Walsh, Jennie Taylor and Emma Haugh.

“At first I was a little hesitant as an artist to arrive in a local context I didn’t know, that I’m not familiar with, and make certain claims around this local history. But when I found similar drawings in the Irish queer zines and flyers, I felt they function similarly to those I found in US magazines. This enabled me to activate them for the commission. Similar to my research in the US, I focused on women-identified queer communities, particularly because, like everywhere else, within queer culture there are also hierarchies that particularly affect the visibility of female identified and indentifying individuals.”

Geyer chose to stop her research at the end of the 80s when looking through the archive. Not, as I assumed, to draw a line around the part of the archive that covers the period before homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland, but to focus on the communications of a community formed before the advent of social media.

“Today I think it can be hard to imagine (particularly for younger people) how communities formed before social media existed. These drawings are an important reminder that there were and are different kinds of representational means to connect to others, to identify with others, beyond the photograph. It’s an invitation to think about what it means to not rely on the selfie but to come up with an image that can hold the space of one’s own imagination and that of others. That can represent oneself and connect to likeminded people. I think that’s really interesting. If you don’t have a photograph, then what do you choose to draw?”

I mention my expectation that cutting off the archival research at the 90s was to do with decriminalisation. Geyer is mindful about how changing the letter of the law might have affected the gay community.

“Legalisation creates a well needed protective framework but it doesn’t stop harassment or discrimination at large. Also, it’s important to remember that the legalisation of gay marriage, which was a great public achievement, doesn’t stop the “outlawing” of other queer communal forms. Dominant cultures will continue to produce ideas of normality and try to fit or assimilate subcultures into these, but if you don’t fit within that normality, you’re not truly safe, and there will be structures that will make sure to disempower you continuously in one way or another.”

Collective Weave (Ireland) at IMMA is both proclamation and protection, a floor-to-ceiling installation of white linen printed with the drawings collected from Queer Irish Zines in iridescent silver. It carves a space for the historically less visible communities in the country, demanding that the museum truly operate as a civic institution, letting everyone in. The piece does this both through its inclusion of the visual signs from the Irish Queer Archive and Cork LGBT Digital Archive, and in the inclusion of a ‘useful’ object, a curtain.

“My aim is to integrate the museum into a lived life. I feel that today’s museums suffer from an enforced separation from the lived world that audiences bring to the institution. I am inviting a lived time back into the galleries (setting them up as salons) to rupture the cleanliness of represented time we often find in museums. Museums in historicising art sometimes stand for something that does not account for the complexity and messiness of lived experience. They produce an idea of linear time, of a past you can neatly separate from the present. I believe that to separate the past from the present in this way creates a problem because it allows for history to be written according to the beliefs and values of those who write it. It is a form of control, of who is part of this past, which stories are included, what gets preserved. I believe in the power of recognising the past in the present moment at all times. The past not only produced this moment, but in its multi-layered, dense, comprehensive, unorderly complexity, it is the very substance of it.”

Andrea Geyer, When We is at the Courtyard Galleries in IMMA until October 21st.

Words: Rachel Donnelly

Image Credits:

Andrea Geyer Collective Weave / The Lesbian Tide / April 1973, v2 no9 (Maggie Brauner) , 2017

silk-screen prints on linen Fabric size: 365.76 x 152.4 cm 144 x 60 in Edition of 5 plus 1 artist’s proof Image Courtesy the Artist and Hales Gallery. Copyright the Artist.

DOB 3099 = Andrea Geyer Collective Weave / Daughters of Bilitis , 2017 silk-screen prints on line Fabric size: 365.76 x 152.4 cm 144 x 60 in Edition of 5 plus 1 artist’s proof. Image Courtesy the Artist and Hales Gallery. Copyright the Artist.

Woodgirls = Andrea Geyer
Collective Weave / The Ladder / February, March1969, v13 no5 and 6 (NEL), 2017
silk-screen prints on linen Fabric size: 365.76 x 152.4 cm 144 x 60 in Edition of 5 plus 1 artist’s proof Image Courtesy the Artist and Hales Gallery. Copyright the Artist.

Andrea Geyer, Constellations (Carrie Stettheimer after Genthe), 2018. Image courtesy the Artist and Hales Gallery. Copyright the artist.

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