Ruzicka, the founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, was advocating for humanitarian aid in Iraq when she and Salim were killed by a suicide bomber. In a gesture allied with that work, Bowers reproduces each article twice, once in its complete form and once omitting all but the few references to Salim, illuminating how Western media distort death to privilege the lives of certain individuals. In an interview printed in the show's brochure (it will appear in a catalog due out later this summer), Bowers attributes her concern with activism to her experience several years ago making a video about a grass-roots campaign to save an old-growth oak in Valencia from destruction by developers. (The work, "Vieja Gloria," was included in the 2003 COLA [City of Los Angeles] grant exhibition at Barnsdall Art Park.) She went into the project a detached and somewhat skeptical observer, conceiving of activism as "rather ineffective and out of touch." Her interactions with the environmentalists, however, not only changed her opinion but influenced her artistic conceptions as well.
"There were two positions constantly presented to me," Bowers says in the interview, "which the activists saw as crucial to their work and which had a major effect on my artistic practice. First, regardless of whether they were successful in their actions, the activists felt it was essential that they bear witness to the events. To bear witness is not only to observe but also to provide proof and testify. The second principle was that dissent is patriotic and essential to maintaining democracy. These positions allowed me to consider the relationships between art and politics in much more fluid ways."
Both principles are ingrained in all of the work assembled at REDCAT, their moral weight epitomized in the show's unequivocal title.
But it is in the graphite works that the effect of "bearing witness" feels most profound. In reproducing the documents so meticulously, Bowers honors the memory of Ruzicka, Salim, the "Army of Three," the anonymous letter writers and the many thousands behind them whose voices won't ever be heard. She employs one of the humblest and most powerful tributes she has to offer: her labor.
The works exude a reverence rarely felt in a cynical and ego-driven culture, pointing to a valuable realm of potential for the fusion of art and politics.
`Nothing Is Neutral: Andrea Bowers'
Where: The Gallery at REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles
When: Noon to 6 p.m. or curtain time; closed Mondays
Ends: Aug. 27
Contact: (213) 237-2800; www.redcat.org