For the American artist Andrea Bowers (born in 1965, lives in Los Angeles), political involvement and artistic work cannot be separated. For more than two decades, she has stood for an artistic position which combines a well-thought-through aesthetic practice with acute political observation from a feminist perspective. Her creative output is characterised by a masterly balance between activist resistance and its transfer into artistic language. Her involvement with various forms of non-violent protest or civil disobedience is motivated by an historical awareness and an archival curiosity with regard to the history of political activism and its visual language.
In 1971/72 Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro founded the feminist art collective Womanhouse and the Feminist Art Program at the famous California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where Bowers would study twenty years later. The combative spirit and fearlessness of its women activists such as Suzanne Lacy or Mary Kelly deeply inspired her and has served as an impetus for her artistic production right down to today.
The point of departure for Bowers’ works often consists of intensive and meticulous investigations of social and political conditions which are archivally registered and subsequently translated into elaborate, space-encompassing drawings done in graphite and felt pen, installations and films, as well as book- and word-objects. For example, she denounces the immigration policies of the US government or its lack of effective gun-control laws, condemns the destruction of forests, or focuses on the AIDS epidemic, the right to abortion, the #metoo movement, non-violent acts of civil disobedience or climate change.
In 2005, for example, she becomes aware of the so-called Army of Three, three American women who, in the 1960s and early 1970s, advocated (health-)rights for women, including access to legal abortions and birth control. Bowers transforms her intensive research and interviews with the participants into a large wall installation, an artist’s book and a film, all of which focus in various ways on the letters addressed to the Army of Three by desperate women, men, doctors or family members. Arising since 2013, on the other hand, have been drawings in felt-tip pen which blow up historical illustrations dating from the beginning of the twentieth century — for example, by the Arts and Crafts figure Walter Crane — into a large format, transfer them onto rudimentary cardboard collages, and insert current political slogans into their original banners. In 2018, Bowers’ preoccupation with the #metoo movement leads, among other things, to a colourfully blinking light-object with the words ‘Trust Women’. These several examples from her oeuvre are typical of Bowers’ artistic approach inasmuch as she gives a face to a single case previously lost amid the masses, brings to light an overlooked individual or a theme forgotten in the daily newsfeed.
The exhibition Light and Gravity at the Weserburg Museum for Modern Art is the very first survey of Bowers’ work and consists of some 35 large-format murals and drawings in felt-tip pen, along with films and word objects, installations and intimate works in graphite from the last 15 years. Additionally on display will be two works created especially for Bremen, one of which explicitly refers to the local resistance movement against the planned cutting-down of 136 plane trees.
“Light and Gravity” is a quotation from the French philosopher Simone Weil, whose connection between theory and practice, thought and action constitutes an important foundation for the artistic approach of Andrea Bowers.* Light and Gravity at the Weserburg is the first presentation of the internationally renowned artist in northern Germany.
The exhibition is being curated by Janneke de Vries, director of the Weserburg Museum for Modern Art. It is being realised in collaboration with the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach. Afterwards a joint catalogue will be published.
*„Two forces rule the universe: light and gravity.“, in: Gravity and Grace, p. 1, Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003.