Your 5,000 Years Are Up! (Rituals & Works to Celebrate the New Time
exhibition essay by Arlene Raven, 1977
The Mandeville Art Gallery of the University of California, San Diego, will present a major exhibition of the work of New York artist Mary Beth Edelson - Your 5,000 Years Art Up! (Rituals and Works to Celebrate the New Time) - from March lst through March 20th, 1977 . The Opening Celebration, March 1st from 5:00 until 7:00 p.m., will feature rituals by the artist, performed by her and members of the Feminist Studio Workshop, The Woman's Building, Los Angeles, to which the public is cordially invited to participate. This exhibition, arranged by guest curator Arlene Raven, wi11 be the first showing of Edelson's work on the West Coast. Edelson has exhibited widely in galleries and museums on the East Coast and in the Midwest and is presently a member of the feminist cooperative A.I.R. in New York. In 1972 , she was instrumental in organizing the landmark Conference for Women in the Visual Arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and now works with the new Heresies magazine collective, New York.
Since 1973, Edelson's art has taken directions inspired by her interest in symbol and myth and her involvement in feminist activity and consciousness. These commitments in her work have been a source of freedom for the innovative variety of forms which she has created over the past several years and are also the first fruits of a maturity of aesthetic sensibility culminating 18 years of professional work. One of · the significant artistic gestures which she has made has been to include others in her process and, importantly, acknowledge their participation. In 22 Others, for example (a 1973 exhibition at the Henri 2 Gallery, Washington, D.C.), she invited twenty-two people to look at her work, discuss it with her, and then to suggest a piece that each would like to see her execute for the exhibition. The show consisted of exactly these twenty-two pieces and a catalogue in which Edelson explained her intention: "I am interested in exploring symbols ... in my work and… an inclusive way of doing this would be with other people -- incorporating interaction between myself and people with my art, tapping the collective unconscious as well as conscious creative energies … As a goal I wanted to mature into a content that allows me to encompass rather than exclude. I rejected working in one direction, selecting whatever materials and course seemed most appropriate to each piece.” Her 1975 exhibition, Woman Rising, continued her exploration of collective content and formal freedom, this time specifically focused on her experience as a woman, women's history and culture. Woman Rising included eight-foot wood cutouts of Great Goddesses, ritual photographs, and "story-gathering boxes" containing stories, dreams and fantasies about mothers and fathers which she had collected since 1973 when the boxes were exhibited in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. as well as blank cards for visitors to share their own experiences.
Your 5,000 Years Are Up! (Rituals and Works to Celebrate the New Time) will include story-gathering boxes (continuing Edelson's sharing and research of contemporary myths, dreams, fantasies, and memories), fire rings (fire circles, 11' diameter; which will be part of the permanent installation for the exhibition and will also be a site for rituals during the Opening Celebration), a seven-part sculpture installation -- Mourning Our Lost History -- (8’ high, 6' deep, taking up the length of one 38’ wall) and photo/drawings documenting her rituals. Edelson's recent work announces the death of the patriarchy and the ascent of the Great Goddess -- a manifestation of effective female power in the world. A sense of primitivism underlines the rituals in which she communicates with Goddess through the medium of her own naked body, then adorned by painting the photos. This ritual form does not represent a retreat to an idyllic prehistory but rather a projection of a post-patriarchal spiritual consciousness and an understanding of the past which accounts for the present and the future. Her ritual forms of communication utilize female erotic and divine energies, images, movement and sound to explore the glorification of women, the powers of the female principle, and the Goddess as the natural and established godhead.
In a radical departure from the experience that women generally have in dominant culture, Edelson regards woman's experience of herself to be the first premise of all interpretation of events and issues. Her images, rituals, posters, participatory assemblages and other art forms synthesize political and spiritual feminist subject matter. Ede1son's poster, made especially for this exhibition, celebrates feminist political art workers on the West Coast. This poster image, as well as the three others she has made since 1972, records some of the activities and organizations of the present women's movement in art and offers a challenge to dominant pictorial modes by collaging over famous heroic paintings by important male artists.
All of the work in the present exhibition is most valuable and exciting not only as a large body of maturing individual work but also as an index of the nature and state of women's culture, its forms and concerns, presented as a member of that culture by Mary Beth Edelson.
(For images of the exhibition "Your 5000 Years Are Up!", see the Installation section, under Art Works.)