The streets of New York fill one’s ears with fascinating snippets of overheard conversation—it makes one greedy to hear the whole story, decorum be damned. Los Angeles artist Suzanne Lacy’s performance this past Saturday, Oct. 19, Between the Door and the Street, was composed of many unscripted conversations, held by groups of three to seven, that were meant to be eavesdropped on. The piece was presented by the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and New York public art organization Creative Time.
Sitting on the stoops and front gardens of a stretch of brownstones located on Park Place in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, each group began its conversation promptly at 4:30 p.m. The groups were primarily composed of women, many of whom are activists in women’s organizations. Each dressed in black clothing and a yellow pashmina scarf that matched potted marigolds placed in front of the stoops. A large audience was encouraged to meander through the street and to listen to any conversation they liked.
One conversation centered on domestic violence, and the group featured the reporter Rachel Louise Snyder recounting her riveting and moving story of fighting to get her essay on wives murdered by their husbands published. She revealed that after the New Yorker rejected her story, she called again and told them: “If women were killing their husbands, this would be news. Stop thinking of this as a domestic violence issue and start thinking of it as a human rights issue.” She said that the magazine accepted her piece within 24 hours. Across the street, a conversation focused on gun control, the group speaking about the Constitution and the Second Amendment’s relationship to slavery.
Known for creating socially engaged performative work using group encounters, Lacy staged her best-known work, The Crystal Quilt, in 1987. Taking place in Minneapolis, the piece featured 430 women over the age of 60 converging to talk about aging. Filmed from above while seated at tables, the women were choreographed to move their hands in unison, and to reveal the brightly colored underside of the tablecloths. The visual tableau recalled the stitching of a quilt. This year, at the Tanks at the Tate Modern, Lacy staged Silver Action, a performance of conversations held by female British activists.
While issues like the wage gap were discussed on Saturday, the conversations composing Between the Door and the Street—which was presented as a feminist work—folded in both personal stories and broader humanistic concerns. A well-spoken and irate young woman bristled at the invisibility of the exploitation of immigrant labor: “We’re going to use all those special talents [immigrants] develop in their own countries, and we’re going to make them pay taxes, but we’re not going to give them any rights.” Another woman spoke about a more intimate problem concerning her church group: she noticed that the Asian members weren’t attending social functions. Instead of asking why they weren’t attending, she wanted to know why they didn’t feel included: “When you want to have a talk,” she said, “you have to include everyone.”