Dada Meets Mama, Lorraine O’Grady on WAC
© Artforum International Magazine Inc. 1992*
O’Grady was one of less than a handful of women of color active in the Womens Action Coalition. WAC had been begun by women in the New York art world in response to Anita Hill’s denigration during the congressional hearing on Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Today again, it feels like a World War I moment, what with a breakdown in bourgeois certainties and the new order nowhere in sight. The world seems cut deep with trenches out of which heads pop only to be shot off by mortars from the opposing side. That Dada arose then, and WAC now, proves that the sleep of reason produces not only monsters but millenarian dreams of bliss.
WAC (for anyone who hasn’t been watching) is the Women’s Action Coalition, and for me it’s become a sort of “guilty pleasure.” Begun anonymously in New York last January by some 15 women, mostly artists, WAC in five months multiplied 100 times to become a more heterogeneous grouping. But it still retains the sensibilities of the art world, and for an artist, that’s the pleasure of it. As with act up, on whose nonhierarchical model of spontaneity they are based, WAC meetings and actions have the compelling quality of process art: things come together, and then they intuitively click.
At a meeting, the first thing you notice is the anger, a fissioning energy that seems as though it might lead anywhere. The room has the excitement of danger; at the Friends
Meeting House, the high ceilings and consecrated space seemed to damp down some of it, but earlier meetings at the Drawing Center felt about to explode. Attending may be 600 mostly upper-middle-class white women between their late 20s and their late 30s, many of whom, in the wake of the second feminist movement of the ’60s and ’70s, expected the doors to their lives to be open but have found them stuck instead. Now, Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas,William Kennedy Smith/Jane Doe, and the threats to Roe v. Wade have pushed these women to the edge.
Educated to know the purposes of analysis, they often seem to have decided not to think. At WAC, the line from idea to action is unmediated and direct, and little distinction is made between the sublime and the trivial: between collecting personal statements from junior high school girls, to defeat the parental-consent abortion bill in Albany, and the “breastival,” a topless beach-party supposed to promote awareness of breast cancer, every proposal is presented and received with the same intensity. Votes are taken with delirious speed; minutes are kept, but there is no time to read them. Each meeting is so dense that. ( … )