The political is performative for Sharon Hayes | Art Sidebar | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Art Sidebar

The political is performative for Sharon Hayes

The artist/activist gets her first solo show, "Focus: Sharon Hayes," at the Art Institute


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


In 2008, artist Sharon Hayes led crowds outside the Republican and Democratic national conventions in mass recitations of a text about "political desire and romantic love." It wasn't her first attempt to wed performance to politics. Hayes has been at it since her college days during the AIDS crisis. Still, the Art Institute curators couldn't have known how prescient it was to pick this moment for her first solo show at a major U.S. museum: it's been widely noted that there's a certain amount of political performance art going on around the country right now.

The show, "Focus: Sharon Hayes," features variations on the activist theme. Attempting to find out how the language of bygone protests—women's lib, civil rights, the Vietnam war—speaks to the present, Hayes spent the years from 2005 through '09 holding up placards with slogans from those movements (one said, I am a man) on street corners; her In the Near Future documents that experiment. Hayes's collection of vinyl recordings of political figures—Angela Davis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malcolm X—is put to work in An Ear to the Sounds of Our History, an exploration of how some voices gain purchase in the public sphere while others don't. Those records also figure into the opening-night party, at which Hayes will mix and sample historical political speeches.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment