On twitter, writer Jane Hu warned us to bring tissues to Sharon Hayes’s earnestly titled exhibitionThere’s so much I want to say to you. Artist Isaac Richard tweeted that it made him cry. I cried a little at the show too, and my eyes welled up again on the train later as I read its beautifully conceived accompanying publication. In it, a long list of contributors respond to some of the images and source materials that comprise Hayes’s work—performance stills, album covers, scripts, flyers, and more. Performance artist Holly Hughes writes about a Jesse Helms senate campaign sign: “In the early nineties we called him Jessehelms. The two words blurred into one, a curse . . . If you heard us spit his name out, you knew we weren’t thinking of the helms of ships, we were thinking of helmets. We felt the need for protection.”
Andrea Geyer (also a beloved Seagull VIP), collaborated with Hayes to design the exhibition. You could think of its sprawling wooden platform as the deck of a ship, with seating and viewing areas; or a temporary stage built for a rock festival in a field (the dozen or so speakers on tripod stands support this impression); or an absurdly large soap box upon which a smaller soap box has been built for her funny army of lawn signs.
Hayes is concerned with “speech acts.” In her charismatically vulnerable performances, as well as her sound works and texts, she uses both political rhetoric and lovers’ communiqués to study human urgency. Her formally smart, expressive installations and re-performances of historic speech draw particularly from the feminist, gay liberation, and anti-war movements—without leveling or discarding their messages. Curiosity about her subjects is matched with a collaborative generosity—there’s space to be moved by a faltering voice that’s not her own, or a protest flyer hand written by an anonymous, radical forbear. Karen Rosenberg wrote in her review for the Times that “the megaphone belongs to Ms. Hayes, and Ms. Hayes alone.” I totally didn’t get that; I cried. —Johanna Fateman