Max Thesen Law

1969: “FOR ME THERE CAN BE NO ART REVOLUTION THAT IS SEPARATE FROM A SCIENCE REVOLUTION, AN EDUCATION REVOLUTION, A DRUGS REVOLUTION, OR A PERSONAL REVOLUTION.”

Lee Lozano addresses the Art Workers' Coalition in NYC, railing against museum reform as an inadequate political strategy. Lozano understands art-as-life / art-is-life as inseparable from everything else. The art revolution will be absolute or it will be bullshit. This polemic initiates a series of gestures that constitute GENERAL STRIKE PIECE, which Lozano undertook alone, refusing to participate in the AWC’s concurrent actions. DROPOUT PIECE (1970), compounded by numerous smaller refusals, was its eventual culmination: “THE HARDEST WORK I’VE EVER DONE.” [1]

c.1971: BOYCOTT

Lozano divests from interacting with women. [2] This piece is undertaken with the intention of lasting one month, ultimately aiming to strengthen her relationships with other women, but Lozano, unable to work in half measures, could not end it. 

[1]  Private Notebook 8, April 5th, 1970

[2] Possibly in reaction to an invitation from Lucy Lippard to attend the Ad Hoc Women Artists’ Committee, an offshoot of the AWC (Applin, J. Lee Lozano: Not Working [2018] page 86).

2015: SISTERHOOD

I became fascinated with BOYCOTT during my art undergraduate. Lozano’s antagonism towards the politics of the ‘60s and ‘70s women’s lib movement paralleled my discomfort with the increasingly dogmatic, inflexible and carceral mainstream feminist discourse at the time - particularly its renewed preoccupation with taxonomy. BOYCOTT resonated with my own desire to slough off the markers of my assigned gender; to push back against providing a clear delineation of my identity. I wished to be illegible, evasive, unintelligible. 

Lee Lozano, Pages from Private Notebook 8,1970 

© The Estate of Lee Lozano. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Where many other women in conceptual art at the time were concerned with reproductive labour and the work of maintenance [3], focalising their practices on their own bodies, Lozano chose to withdraw her labour - her body - entirely. 

 

LOZANO REJECTS REDUCTIVE TRANSPARENCY. [4] THE PRIMARY METHOD FOR THIS IS REFUSAL. REFUSAL TO BE SEEN/TO WORK/TO BE SEEN WORKING/TO BE KNOWN. BECAUSE OF HER UNDERSTANDING OF ART-AS-LIFE, THIS REFUSAL HAS NO CLEAR LIMITS. WHEN TAKEN TO ITS EXTREME (AND IT MUST BE TAKEN TO ITS EXTREME) IT IS A TOTAL REFUSAL. [5] THIS REFUSAL IS DISRUPTIVE; DESTRUCTIVE. IT IS DEADLY.

As a protest-driven withdrawal of labour, DROPOUT PIECE mirrors the traditional worker’s strike. However it presents no demands, no alternatives, no possibility for negotiation or reform. It is so absolute and uncompromising that it destroys itself - and by extension, the artist who performs it - in the process of its realisation. Lozano recognised this self-destruction as integral to the piece, writing in her private notebooks that her withdrawal from production and participation must be accompanied by reduced consumption of calories, drugs, and media such as television and books: a paring-down of herself to the bare minimum necessary for survival. [6] It is unclear whether DROPOUT PIECE ever ended - or indeed could end at all. 

Lozano eventually left NYC in 1982, sinking into art-world obscurity until her death in 1999.

[3] An example of this is Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ residency with the NYC Department of Sanitation, as well as her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!

[4] This term is borrowed from the essay For Opacity in Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation (1990). 

[5] While opacity, in Glissant’s terms, deliberately operates against totality, the actual gestures of Lozano’s various refusals seem to contradict this. However, Lozano’s pieces, while uncompromising in their enactment, did not make Lozano herself any more legible as a woman or an artist. In Private Notebook 2, April 1969, Lozano writes: “NOT DICTATOR TO ANYBODY, BUT WHY NOT DICTATOR TO ONESELF?”

[6] Private Notebook 8, April 5th, 1970.

DROPPING OUT IS “ALL ABOUT CONNECTIONS AND THEIR SEVERING.” [7]

DROPPING OUT REQUIRES TOTAL ESTRANGEMENT FROM ONE’S OWN LIFE. 

[7] Lehrer-Graiwer, S., Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece (2014), page 9

2021: KILL YOUR DATA BODY; RESURRECT YOUR UNDEAD LABOUR

What would a GENERAL STRIKE PIECE; a DROPOUT PIECE constitute now? 

When public, relational, and professional space are all mapped onto the same virtual topography, a withdrawal of labour requires the wholesale destruction of the only vestige of the public self you have left: the avatar. The defiant and imprudent part of you desires this destruction; this reversal to the old flesh. Obscurity/disappearance provides you the gift of your own body back. Make what you will of this picture. 

[1]  Private Notebook 8, April 5th, 1970

[2] Possibly in reaction to an invitation from Lucy Lippard to attend the Ad Hoc Women Artists’ Committee, an offshoot of the AWC (Applin, J. Lee Lozano: Not Working [2018] page 86).

[3] An example of this is Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ residency with the NYC Department of Sanitation, as well as her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!

[4] This term is borrowed from the essay For Opacity in Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation (1990). 

[5] While opacity, in Glissant’s terms, deliberately operates against totality, the actual gestures of Lozano’s various refusals seem to contradict this. However, Lozano’s pieces, while uncompromising in their enactment, did not make Lozano herself any more legible as a woman or an artist. In Private Notebook 2, April 1969, Lozano writes: “NOT DICTATOR TO ANYBODY, BUT WHY NOT DICTATOR TO ONESELF?”

[6] Private Notebook 8, April 5th, 1970.

[7] Lehrer-Graiwer, S., Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece (2014), page 9

This project is supported by a

from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg