“The Book of Lies: Volumes I, II, & III” (Photo by Michael Sakamoto)
The artistic beehive known as the 18th Street Arts Center first came to art-world attention in the 1970s as a hotbed of feminism. While talking publicly at the Skirball Center with Judy Chicago the other day, Suzanne Lacy noticed with some pride and wonder that the project she has on view there, created with longtime colleague Leslie Labowitz, is in the exact spot where some of the first Dinner Party workshops were held 30 years earlier. Their project — “The Performing Archive: Restricted Access” — is appropriate to the center’s pedagogical bent. “Restricted Access” supplies a younger generation of feminist artists with documentary material so that they might re-examine and re-interpret several public-action performances of the ’70s, including “Three Weeks in May,” a rape-awareness street action in downtown L.A.
Back then Eugenia Butler was a young conceptual artist on an extended expatriation in South America, but she too was touched by feminism, and has become known back here for her own process-driven communitarianism. Drawing on work from many collaborators with varying approaches and attitudes, Butler compiles multimedia boxed editions around oblique but provocative themes. In “The Book of Lies,” also at 18th Street, drawings, collages, found objects, poems, films, CDs and all varieties of things hang on, off, in front of and nowhere near the wall, the floor and/or one another in a dynamic and elegant installation. Behind a maze of translucent curtains sits a ponderous old conference table, around which — as is also Butler & co.’s wont — discussions take place at scheduled intervals.
With all this activity on display, Joe Biel’s “Toccata,” a string of very small square cutouts hung in a continuous row around the wide hallway outside “The Performing Archive,” seems especially aloof and singular. The sometimes peculiar pictures Biel has appropriated from magazine and online pages are quiet and meditative in their own way, but they do bring in the noisy public realm, and the repetition of certain subjects creates certain counter-rhythms to the drumbeat (the “toccata” of the title) of the march of squares on the wall. 18th Street Arts Center, 1639 18th St., Santa Monica; Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru March 23 (“Restricted Access” thru March 25). (310) 453-3711.