To Know Herself explores the lesbian bar as a place for social and political change. Bars dedicated exclusively to queer women are systematically disappearing around the country, particularly in San Francisco. Once a thriving ground for queer culture with numerous spaces where queer women gathered, there are few remaining bars specifically for queer women here today. Maud’s, which operated from 1961 to 1989, and Amelia’s, which opened its doors in 1978 and closed in 1991, were two of the most popular and longest-running spaces both owned by respected LGBTQ activist Rikki Streicher (1922–1994). More recently, The Lexington Club, a beloved lesbian dive bar and LGBTQ cultural landmark located in the Mission, closed its doors in 2015. This was one of the last historic lesbian bars in San Francisco. Queer spots have since emerged in the city, but none have gathered as vibrant a community as any of these now-lost bars.
To Know Herself utilizes the bar in CCA Wattis Institute’s event space in lieu of its gallery space next door in order to study the different ways artists are thinking about lesbian bars and the impact of their disappearance—as well as possibilities for their eventual reconstruction. In a commissioned performance installation titled Save the last dance for me (2019), artist and CCA Provost Tammy Rae Carland invites visitors to dance with her to a looped, three-minute song performed by Los Angeles-based musician Kelly Martin, also commissioned for this piece. The music becomes audible only when participants stand on the re-created dance floor.
While guests are invited to the dance floor during gallery hours, the special appearance of Carland will conclude each day. On some days, Carland will share the last dance with a visitor. On others, Carland will dance alone while waiting for audiences to show up and, hopefully, share the last dance with her. Save the last dance for me is a visual and physical reminder of the power of music to pull people together in synchronicity, even for a fleeting three minutes.
Artist Macon Reed’s Eulogy for the Dyke Bar (2015), for this CCA Wattis presentation, is a three-part installation featuring a jukebox, two neon signs, and 20 framed archival photographs from various lesbian bars in San Francisco. The non-functional jukebox stands as an abstraction of the familiar icon long-associated with bringing people together. The neon sign reads “Dyke Bar,” not only pointing to the main subject of the show but also covering the atmosphere of the entire exhibition with a feeling of vibrancy and movement brought about through the light and the color of the simple yet effective piece. The framed archival photos call attention to the rich history of these spaces, in San Francisco and around the world, that demonstrate the value of convening queer community in real time and space. While the reasons and causes for the disappearance of these spaces in San Francisco range from rising real estate costs and shifting demographics to increasing reliance on technology as a social network, the absence of these physical spaces remains an undeniable loss to the queer community.
To Know Herself is accompanied by a series of public programs including: a night of performance with Zahra Axinn, a Bay Area-based multi-genre writer; a salon discussion on how to maintain these spaces in our current moment; and a night of film screenings that further explore the impact of gathering spaces on social and political change.
A parallel publication, Your Presence is Requested, will be produced alongside the exhibition. It will contain a forward by the CCA Graduate Curatorial Practice Program chair and editor for this publication, James Voorhies; a catalog essay by curator Yomna Osman; an original piece by a Bay Area artist and writer Jenny Odell; and a reprint of an essay by Axinn.
About the Artists
Tammy Rae Carland (b. 1965, Portland, ME) is a multi-media artist working mainly in photography. Carland is the current provost at California College of the Arts (CCA). She is a former co-owner of the independent lesbian music label Mr. Lady Records and Videos. Her work engages with queer identity and intimacy; it also looks at marginality as a fertile site for resistance as opposed to victimhood or disempowerment. This April, she will participate in the group exhibition Queer California: Untold Stories at the Oakland Museum of California.
Macon Reed (b. 1981, Arlington, VA) is an artist working in sculpture, installation, video, radio documentary, painting, and participatory projects. Reed completed her MFA at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a University Fellow in 2013 and received her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. Motivated by human relationships within evolving queer and intersectional feminist frameworks, her projects recognize that aesthetic form and social engagement are not mutually exclusive but rather, deeply intertwined. Reed is currently participating in a group show at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design titled Interior/Exterior.
About CCA’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice
At the time of its founding, the MA in Curatorial Practice was the first program of its kind in the United States. A highly interdisciplinary, two-year experience, CCA’s curating program focuses on the role of the curator as both a productive agent and positive mediator who builds bridges between artists and their publics. Alongside diverse faculty and a cohort of recent art history graduates and other art professionals, students engage critically and creatively with contemporary visual culture. They consider broad themes, such as the politics of space and the changing roles of museums and institutions.
As of fall 2018, the program’s central hub for learning is off campus at the Curatorial Research Bureau (CRB). Located inside the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the CRB is a combined bookshop, exhibition space, and platform for public programming. Students are integrated into YBCA’s infrastructure, giving them opportunities to witness planning meetings, conversations among curators and administrators, and marketing initiatives for exhibitions.