Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lee Lozano | Notebooks 1967-70

Lee Lozano
Notebooks 1967-70
New York City, USA: Primary Information, 2010
224 pp., 8.5 x 10.75", softcover
Edition of 1500

Before this volume, I knew very little about Lee Lozano's confounding life and body of work. I was familiar with her contribution to the SMS periodical (see previous post) and her involvement with the Art Workers Coalition (“for me there can be no art revolution that is separate from a science revolution, a political revolution, an education revolution, a drug revolution, a sex revolution[...]"), but little else.

This is possibly due to the success of two of her epic works, General Strike and Dropout. The former, from 1969, reads:

"Gradually but determinedly avoid being present at official or public ‘uptown’ functions or gatherings related to the art world in order to pursue investigation of total personal & public revolution."

Dropout went even further.

"It was inevitable...that I do the Dropout Piece," she wrote on April 5, 1970, "It had been churning for a long time but I think it's about to blow. Dropout Piece is the hardest work I have ever done in that it involves destruction of (or at least complete understanding of) powerful emotional habits. I want to get over my habit of emotional dependence on love. I want to start trusting myself & others more. I want to believe that I have power & complete my own fate."

Retiring from the art world as an artwork is celebrated in the practice of Tehching Hsieh, but Lozano never attained the same cult-like status he was afforded. Or respect. Reclusive male artists, such as Stanley Brouwn and On Kawara, were granted autonomy from the art world without accusations of being "caught in the space between art and madness” [curator Alanna Heiss]. Even Bas Jan Ader and Ray Johnson - whose deaths straddled the line between artwork and suicide - are rarely discussed in such emotional terms.

Few artist's stories are as compelling and enigmatic as Lozano's. A New York Times obituary and an unmarked grave make strange bedfellows. But rather than attempt to piece together her complicated life, publisher Primary Information instead present pages compiled from notebooks that Lozano kept from 1967 to 1970. The volume eschews any supplemental information at all, even pagination, in favour of a facsimile reprint of the loose pages as they were found photocopied thirty-odd years ago.

Lozano notes within the journal that she considered the pages to be "drawings," and they were periodically exhibited and sold as such.

The first third of the entries are essentially preparatory sketches for paintings, and the shift towards conceptualism is anticipated in the evolving way that she views these works. In December of 1968 she writes "Decided to refer to the paintings as "Movies", then changed the word to "Films" for pun value". An entry from May 10th, 1969 reads "If the canvases are on warped stretchers, let them be hung on specially built warped walls."

She fantasizes for a few pages about refusing to sell her paintings and, eventually, to only showing them to close friends. The transition away from the medium she was celebrated for soon follows.

The move from painting towards conceptual and performative work was not uncommon in the mid-to-late sixties, but Lozano's might legitimately be called radical. Writing in Art Journal Open, Lauren O’Neill-Butler noted that “at a time when Conceptual artists were outdoing themselves in dematerializing their objects and their activities, competing as to who could do less and still call it art, Lee outdid them all by doing less with an unmatched intensity that made it more.”

Alongside the two epic acts of refusal are smaller gestures that also illustrate Lozano's growing disdain for the ways that art making was intertwined with commerce and social activity. Party Piece (or Paranoia Piece) reads:

"Describe your current work to a famous but failing artist from the early 60’s. Wait to see whether he boosts* any of your ideas.  March 15, 1969. *hoist, cop, steal"

Withdrawal Piece, from February 1969, proposes:

"Pull out of show at Dick Bellamy's to avoid hanging with work that brings you down."

The two other artist notebooks I have in my collection are by George Brecht and Michael Snow, both designed to mimic the ubiquitous spiral-bound school workbook.  The Brecht title documents his time as a student studying under John Cage, and serves as a collection of proto-Fluxus "event" scores. Snow's recounts his high school days, but is in fact (like his The Last LP record) an entire fabrication, playing on the juvenile pun of the title High School. "The high in High School refers to dope," he recounted, laughing, a few years ago.

Lozano may indeed have been stoned when she wrote many of her entries, given that Grass Piece, from 1969, proposes that the artist "Stay high all day, every day. See what happens". A similar work suggests taking acid for thirty days, something many friends think forever changed her. Even a painting proposal (unrealized) calls for the same paintings to be made while stoned, drunk and sober.

But whereas other artists' facsimile notebooks tend to focus on the formative years, and serve as additional colouring to an understanding of their practice, for Lozano's work the notebooks are instrumental. “I have started to document everything," she writes, "because I cannot give up my love of ideas.”

While a few of these ideas are playful and light (such as proposing using a toilet tank as an aquarium for pet fish, because it self-cleans from the regular flushing) most of the scores consist of strict self-imposed rules that increasingly structured most aspects of Lozano's life.

Her 1969 Masturbation Investigation - which dictates the types of things she can fantasize about, as well as the various objects she may use (carrot, feather, hard rubber motorcycle pedal) - can also be viewed in the context of withdrawal and refusal. Immediately under the title, Lozano notes that the work takes place simultaneous to Grass Piece, and General Strike, but also "I refuse to see my partner or anyone else".

In August 1971, she began what might be her best known (and least understood) work, Boycott Piece. In the her New York Times obituary, penned by Roberta Smith, this work was given top billing, in the headline: "Lee Lozano, 68, Conceptual Artist Who Boycotted Women for Years."

Initially, the plan was to stop speaking to women for a month, in order to "make communication better than ever". But the work gradually morphed into a lifelong project. It was almost as though non-participation in the art world was not sufficient. Lozano had to further alienate herself, in order to achieve her own personal revolution.

Her mother was reportedly exempt, but otherwise it is said that the artist did not have a civil conversation with another woman for the last twenty-eight years of her life. Sol Lewitt, her friend, confirmed that New York waitresses became accustomed to being ignored by her. His wife, Carol LeWitt, confirmed that whenever the two encountered each other, Lozano would cover her eyes and turn away. Mark Kramer, the artist's cousin, said that she wouldn't even enter a store if a woman was behind the counter.

Alternately viewed as radical feminism or profound misogyny, the work surely must be considered one of the longest duration performances ever, and perhaps the most difficult to unpack.

Very little is known about Lozano's self-imposed exile in Texas, from 1972 until her death from cervical cancer in 1999. She left no survivors and was buried without a headstone, amongst the bodies of the homeless and unclaimed.

In a 2001 interview, Lucy Lippard (the first 'victim' of the Boycott piece) noted, "Lee was extraordinarily intense, one of the first, if not the first person (along with Ian Wilson) who did the life-as-art thing. The kind of things other people did as art, she really did as life--and it took us a while to figure that out."

Primary Information reissued Lee Lozano: Notebooks 1967-70 earlier this year. The title is currently on sale for only $25, here.

[original pages from the Journals, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art]

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