Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Veering Escapology of Sharon Hayes and Patty Hearst

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Veering Escapology of Sharon Hayes and Patty Hearst

Article excerpt

Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) Screeds #13, 16, 20 & 29 (2003) by Sharon Hayes begins with the title card, "Patricia Hearst s First Tape." An androgynous white woman with short hair that eagerly curls out around the ears begins speaking in a monotone voice. She gives very little away. On screen, Sharon Hayes takes the place of Patty Hearst, reading out the audio-screed ransom notes initially broadcast on Berkeleys KPFA radio station in 1974. Only, Hayes is not reading them-she is more nearly reciting them. The frame fits neatly around her face as she stares out to the deferred audience beyond the lens. Emotionless, she speaks directly into the camera, "Mom, Dad, I'm okay. I had a few scrapes ... and stuff... but they washed them up and they're getting okay?" On the word "okay," her intonation trails up at the end, so that it sounds more like a question than a statement. Around fifteen seconds into Screed #13, the first of the four Patty Hearst ransom tapes that Hayes respeaks, she misses her line and you hear that Hayes is not alone. There is a live studio audience for this recorded performance, a room full of people whom we cannot see, but who are present for the recording of the video.

An audience member positioned behind the camera, somewhere in Hayes's line of sight, corrects her, feeding her the line that she should be performing instead of the one that she has incorrectly uttered. Hayes nods ever so subtly, and easily picks up with the correct line that comes next, "I am not being starved, or beaten, or unnecessarily frightened." She stumbles through the words, not stuttering, but not delivering the lines with their attendant bodily or emotional meanings. She maintains steady eye contact with the camera, performing specifically for the video. It quickly becomes clear, however, that the invisible live audience in the time of the video recording is in possession of Hearst's transcript. They have been instructed to correct Hayes when she deflects from the script and to feed her Hearst's exact lines, however inarticulate or awkward they may be. Hayes concentrates to remember the proper words, fluttering her eyes and momentarily closing them, or scrunching her nose and squinting as though she is straining to see something in the distance as she reaches inside to find the words in their correct order.

From respeaking public documents, such as the Guantánamo Bay prison tribunals (the collaborative Combatant Status Review Tribunals, pp. 002954-003064: A Public Reading) and Ronald Reagans official "Address to the Nation" speeches (My Fellow Americans: 1981-1988), to her performance of political protest slogans on the streets of Manhattan (in the Near Future), Hayess performances, installations, and videos explore the manner in which words, politics, and histories tend to "find a home in the body" (interview by the author, February 20, 2012). Her work is performance based-expanding across video, painting, lithography, and sound installation-and often has an initially "public" moment on the street featuring unknowable open audiences, or a "live" crowd in the moment of address. Afterward, the performance script, audio recording, or video documentation of that action is reframed and presented in the space of the gallery. Hayes's work, like the various audiences and moments created in her choreography of media, engages questions of public address to explore the power of recitation in the body and on the tongue. Coming of age and coming into art in the New York City of the early nineties, Hayes is deeply attached to the specificity of space and context, to the performance situation in which art comes to he, and comes to he seen. She explains emerging into a political, queer, dance, theater, and performance scene in 1991 in NYC-from ACT UP to Queer Nation to the Lesbian Avengers-saying, "We became political, we became artists in deep relation to precise historical conditions and these singularities, these precisions linger with us; they're carried along with us in our bodies" (Hayes 2009). …

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