The American artist Andrea Bowers does not see art and politics as two fixed realities but as two realms that influence each other. Her broad interest in various forms of non-violent protest, civil disobedience and feminism is motivated by a historical awareness and archival curiosity regarding the history of political activism and its visual language or bodily expression. This interest is also decisive for her action within the art system and the very precise articulation of her art in both aesthetic and thematic terms. Bowers’ project for the Secession continues her investigation of the intersection between activism and art. The exhibition examines the people who maintain and display The AIDS Memorial Quilt and the storage facility they oversee that houses this cultural artifact.
For her exhibition Bowers has produced new video works and drawings. All of the drawings are made in 3 x 6 foot units and all but one are displayed on the floor mirroring the size of the individual panels and method of display of the quilt. In her videos Andrea Bowers focuses on an activist employee who has been sewing and repairing the quilt since its beginning. Bowers’ interest in this project is the current fragile balance of the quilt’s role: The people who care for the quilt (a staff of once 52 now under 10) try to find equilibrium between preserving a cultural artifact and using an iconic activist tool. Historization is not necessarily negative, it is just an inevitable change. Because a cure for the disease has not been found it has become an unmanageable size. The quilt has not been shown in over 10 years because it is too costly to display and difficult to find a site large enough. There is also an emotional transition from the rage and urgency at its infancy. The majority of the current staff is women leading to investigations of women’s simultaneous roles as caretakers, preservationists, activists and artists.