Myths of Rape (2012), performance by Audrey Chan and Elana Mann, a reinterpretation of Leslie Labowitz-Starus’ Myths of Rape (1977), part of Suzanne Lacy’s Three Weeks in May (1977). (Video by Peter Kirby, photos by Neda Moridpour)
Myths of Rape (2012) by artists Elana Mann and Audrey Chan, working with Leslie Labowitz-Starus and Suzanne Lacy, recreates a 1977 performance by Labowitz-Starus, originally performed as part of Three Weeks in May. The 2012 re-invention of Myths of Rape transforms the original piece to raise contemporary concerns around rape, sexual assault, and activism. Thirty diverse performers, including women and men, enact compelling tableaux and spatial interventions, wearing presentation boards featuring current myths and facts about rape. The performers enact a series of movements (created in collaboration with choreographer Mecca Vazie Andrews) that create both intimate moments and bold statements, which activate the site of the LA Convention Center. Drawing inspiration from traditions of feminist agit-prop, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Arab Spring, this performance reinforces how activism and performance art are as relevant today as in the past.
The production was presented by Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) for Three Weeks in January (2012) as part of the Getty Pacific Standard Time Performance Festival. The performance took place at the opening night of the LA Art Show on January 18, 2012 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Adam Tinnell, Amitis Motevalli, Arielle Saturne, Audrey Ellis Fox, Audrey Wollen, Candace Kita, Cathy Salser, Christy Roberts, Marjan Vayghan, Justine de Penning, Katie Sinnott, Kim Cummings, Krista Jiannacopoulos, Launa Bacon, Leslie Dick, Lynn Fischer, Malene Dam, Michiko Yao, Miggie Wong, Nancy Richler, Niko Solorio, Paige Tighe, Rachel Finkelstein, John Martin, Sandra Mueller, Sandy Rodriguez, Stephen van Dyck, Tamarind Rossetti, Theresia Rosa Kleeman, Yael Samuel
FAQ by Audrey Chan and Elana Mann (January 2012):
Why are we re-creating a feminist artwork from the ‘70s?
As young self-described feminist artists, we have looked to the work of feminist artists from the 1970s for inspiration. Strategies were developed — especially the blending performance with protest and activism — that responded to social injustice. These are strategies that are still relevant as issues of patriarchy, economic inequality, and racial injustice have become deeply entrenched in American society.
What changes have we made to the original work?
- We are including men in the performance — without the active participation of men, the work of feminism is only partially achieved.
- The performers are not wearing blindfolds — we want the performers to be able to make eye contact with the audience.
- The boards are worn on the body rather than carried high as protest signs — the signs and text activate the body, bringing attention to the body as the site of the individual, the site where sexual violence takes place, the carrier of strength and change.
- The performers will all be wearing street clothes rather than uniform costumes — we wanted to emphasize the personal and everyday nature of the crime of rape.
- We are using three-paneled presentation boards that are commonly used at expos and conventions — we are responding to the site of the LA Convention Center and the idea of presenting information in an approachable and accessible manner. When closed, a myth (or common misconception) about rape is presented in black text on a white background. When opened, a fact that responds to the myth is revealed in black text against a colorful gradient background. Color represents an illumination of the truth.
- The performance will not be completely silent — there will be a call-and-response vocal element that is inspired by the “mic check” strategy used by the Occupy Movement protesters. It is a simple but effective method of collectively harnessing the power of individuals’ voices into a chorus of dissent. The audience is encouraged to participate in the “mic check.”
- The myths and facts of rape in the 2012 performance address some new topics, including rape in prisons and in the military, as well as male victims of rape. Persistent subjects include misconceptions about acquaintance and stranger rape, and society’s tendency to blame the victim for the crime.
What has it been like to collaborate with artists Leslie Labowitz-Starus and Suzanne Lacy?
Leslie Labowitz-Starus and Suzanne Lacy invited us to re-envision this piece thirty-five years later as a way to connect the original work to contemporary performers and audiences. They were interested in how we, as a younger generation of artists and activists, would imbue the work with a fresh perspective. Towards that end, Labowitz-Starus and Lacy have served as consultants, supporters, and advocates, providing dialog and assistance while allowing us the freedom to make this performance our own. These powerful artists continue to pioneer ways to work with a younger generation of artists such as ourselves.
We are all interested in producing models of working so that these ground-breaking performances can continue to live on through future generations. The re-invention is a first for Labowitz-Starus, and one of the first for Lacy, so we are interested in creating a methodology of re-creating these types of works.
What do you hope to achieve with this performance?
We want to bring awareness about issues around rape and sexual assault. There are many preconceptions and misconceptions about rape in society, rape in various types of relationships, and how rape functions in global conflicts. Rather than serve as activists with protest signs, we are presenting illuminating information and confronting audience members in a public space with a subject that is often hidden and secret.
Why is it important to speak about the subject of rape?
Rape statistics have not changed that dramatically since 1977, actually, the amount of reported rapes have increased (which possibly points to the fact that more people are reporting rape). Sexual assault destroys the fabric of society and we want to see an end to this violent crime.
In January 2012, announced by the Obama administration, the FBI has finally updated the definition of rape that it uses to judge sexual crimes. While states have long used more modern definitions of rape, the FBI continued to use a definition from the 1920s that was limited to vaginal penetration and female victims. Thus, countless rapes reported across the country were not accounted for in federal crime statistics.