Questions of empowerment and participation have been at the center of Andrea Bowers’s artistic practice. For over a decade she has been exploring the intersection of art and politics in videos, drawings, installations, and scrapbooks. Drawing from traditions of Minimalist sculpture and dance as well as such pastimes as parades, sports, karaoke, and arcade video games, she focuses on the mechanics of the spectacle and the diversions of consumer culture and engages in an inquiry into the moments when observation and participation coincide. A sports fan herself, she attends sporting events of all types, becoming more and more fascinated with the nature of these public spectacles and their fans.
In a group of works from 1997 titled Spectacular Appearances, Bowers used an amateur video camera to capture the spectators at a baseball game, an air show, and a street parade, pointing to them as the real protagonists of these events. All the World Is Waiting for You is part of a series of video installations that focus on the world of female amateur ice-skating and the skaters’ desire for perfection and achievement. In this short video, the ice-skater is a teenage girl dressed up in a Wonder Woman costume. As we watch her repeating her routine over and over again we realize that “Wonder girl” is not a particularly accomplished athlete. Thus becoming aware of the absurdity and futility of her activity, we feel increasingly uncomfortable in our role of spectator. Collapsing the safe distance between actor and observer in this way, Bowers spells out the contradictions and shifting dynamics in the relationship between viewer and viewed. To further underscore these complexities, Bowers has carefully constructed the installation so that the spectator looks down upon the scene, seemingly occurring on a patch of ice, mimicking the way in which one looks down upon the glassy surface of an ice rink.
In more recent years, Bowers has directed her attention to the arena of political activism in such works as Vieja Gloria (2004), which documents John Quigley’s seventy-day-long tree-sit to protect a four-hundred-year-old oak tree, which was slated to be cut down for a large suburban development in Santa Clarita in California. Since then Bowers has examined the cultural reception of activists in the 1960s women’s movement and the present war in Iraq in such videos as Letters to an Army of Three (2005), which focuses on three abortion-rights activists in an attempt to invent a new kind of activist feminist art practice that is beyond dogma, exploding simple notions of radicality.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art