Not Lying Down
Not Lying Down is a large multiple narrative installation of Cibachrome photographs that I produced in 1988 and exhibited at artist run spaces in the U.S. and Canada until 1992. The installation comprises almost two hundred photographs and requires at least one hundred feet of linear wall space. The centerpiece shows a bird’s eye view of a collective meeting in progress and covers a ten by ten-foot floor area. "Not Lying Down" discusses ideas about conflict and cooperation through the visual and written dialogue of individual and group interactions. Collective process facilitated through consensus remains an important method to equalize power in many groups and organizations. For me and many others, working with groups provides both a means for breaking down personal isolation and for approaching the political machinery of the status quo. As the conservatism of the 1980’s overtook the concerns of the feminist movement of the 1970’s, consensus decision making faded from view. During this decade, the success and development of individual careers dominated our imagination and less importance was placed on collective movements. Therefore, my conception of "Not Lying Down" was deliberately out of time with contemporary art issues as a corrective to eighties ‘dressed-for-success-get-aheadism’.
The title "Not Lying Down" invokes the phrase ‘not taking this lying down’ and asserts that passive resistance in civil disobedience makes it possible to establish alternative power structures. The subjects in each of the narratives literally lay down to engage in negotiation and conflict. The contradictions of the title and the content of the photo narratives are meant both paradoxically and semiotically. The use of the negation ‘not’ is both accurate and is also invoking its opposite. This negation does not simply deny the subject; but raises it to the surface so that it will not disappear. "Not Lying Down" shows that collective process actualized through consensus decision making is an active engagement. This process of self-legislation employs non-hierarchical kinds of management and physically requires that the participants sit down (and sometimes lie down) during the course of long meetings. Throughout the world, civil disobedience is enacted through a strategy called passive resistance. In contradictory actions militants lay down to disrupt the state’s machinery. When photographed cooperative movement can appear to perform the same gesture as police seizure of civil protesters. Dance performers who lift one another must actively engage in the choreography of weight. In the language of love, to lie down with another is to exchange the sexual positions of submission and domination and this activity requires both resistance and surrender. Conflict and cooperation are the seemingly oppositional actions that comprise consensus decision making and the struggle for balance of power in individual relationships.
In installation, arranged in descending order on the wall, each one of the four sequences introduce characters that negotiate spatial and conversational power relationships. First, a series of studio photographs of women and men lifting and carrying one another illustrate ideas about physical work and cooperation. These images have been staged with blue colored light like a dream dance sequence from a musical. These images represent a dance of cooperation – an idealized cooperation in our dream world. The text for this sequence is written like a libretto from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera with all the exaggerated language and rhymes.
Second, to personalize the political ideas the piece also focuses on power issues between two lovers. A lesbian couple sits in bed discussing dominance and submission from various psychoanalytic and political theories. They try to relate these ideas to their relationship and their political activism. This "pillow talk" continues as their bed moves locations from studio to empty bedroom to the desert where they begin to question cultural ideas about "natural" superiorities and division between people. Third, I have included appropriated news photographs of people being arrested for acts of civil disobedience. These arrest photos are from all over the world and in the context of different political situations and, while they most certainly focus on the spectacle of public conflict, do show the repetition of the cycle of action and resistance involved in movements for social change. The inclusion of documentary news photography makes use of the genre’s traditional association with humanist values while its placement within the context of other fictional dramas simultaneously questions it authenticity. Finally, I use docu-drama photographs and dialogue, of the by-law committee meetings of an anti nuclear action group, to present the theory and mechanics of collective process. Newspaper reporting of movements for social change feature extreme images of protesters as they are dragged away before the camera. "Not Lying Down" juxtaposes dramatic images from yellow journalism with mundane pictures of people sitting and talking out the mechanics of anarchism.
I've color-coded the four narratives of "Not Lying Down" much like you would color code sections of a map. At the far left of the narrative installation the colors are arranged in top to bottom order; with the dance pictures in blue at the top, the lovers photographed in black and white are the next down, the news photos in monochromatic yellows are the next and at the bottom the committee meeting is in full color. The color is manipulated with long exposure and flash using tungsten and daylight for ambient fill light. This distorts the color of the committee meetings into non-naturalistic color while it distinguishes itself from the monochromatic color in the other three narratives. The color codes enable the viewer to recognize and follow the story line as the grid of photos periodically break apart and shift their hierarchy on the wall. The narratives are interrelated and frequently comment on each other.
These reoccurring juxtapositions encourage viewers to take an active and critical approach to the reading of "Not Lying Down". This representation of collective process is not one that acts like an advertisement ("let collective process work for you!") but as a discus
sion about the efforts to create non-hierarchical power structures, which are fraught with conflict and inconsistencies. My intention is to use an open narrative approach to raise question rather than to proselytize or to offer consensus as a solution to any particular problem.
Just as language forms the meaning of the words we say, and narrative structure informs the content of the story, and differing economies create the values associated with desire, consumption and production; so do the structures for group decision making reflect the integral power balance. The spatial arrangement of individuals in a group context creates political relationships. The arrangement of the photographs and text in "Not Lying Down’ mirrors this concern with an open and changing relationship to meaning. Directional questions are being asked through the text and the gestures of the hands/arms throughout the installation.
Neither collective organization nor non-linear multiple narratives are easy or convenient. Those who are more concerned with what gets done than how it gets done will be constantly dissatisfied with such an association. And those that desire clear plot structures and dramatic narrative identification will feel frustrated or simply unengaged. For me, the structure is the meaning. Collective process is an open narrative, imperfect with rough edges exposed. This unfinished business allows entrance and the possibility of participation for those who are willing to be active.