Make Believe, It’s Just Like the Truth Clings to It: In Conversation with the Work of Cecilia Dougherty
by Amanda Mendelsohn
Cecilia Dougherty got her start as a video artist in an unconventional way, fitting for her experimental body of work. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, Dougherty was a painter. However, in her last semester of college, she took a video production class, changing the course of her education and career permanently. Dougherty fell in love with video art, and was inspired to singularly pursue the medium. Using the one video she made for that class,
Dougherty applied to the Performance and Video MFA program at the San Francisco Institute of Art in the late ‘80s, and the rest was history. Prior to this, she had very little knowledge about the history of video art, let alone the process of making it. Additionally, during this time period Dougherty was grappling with her identity as a lesbian in a heteronormative society, working to “find an adequate expression of it as a place to exist inside the social realm sexually, politically, and personally.”
She was simultaneously breaking ground in new territory as an artist, and that territory for lesbian expression was in no way near established for video art. Combining this aspect of her life with her practice, Dougherty created the following works included in this program: TheDrama of the Gifted Child (1992), My Failure to Assimilate (1995), The dream and the waking (1997), and Gone (2001).
SCREENING: Your World Dies Screaming (1981) by Dale Hoyt; Garbage Head (1981) by Marshall Weber; The Madonna Series, Parts 1–5 (1987) by Leslie Singer; Fuck You, Purdue (1987) by Cecilia Dougherty; Jungle Gym (1981) by Andrew Huestis; Mirror, Mirror (1987) by Paula Levine; High Fidelity (1986) by Ivar Smedstad; Funk Is Its Own Reward (1981) by Marshall Weber; Malaysian Series, Parts 1–6 (1987) by Azian Nurudin; My Pal Foot (excerpt) (1981) by Andrew Huestis; Donkey-Skin (1988) by Emjay Wilson.
Remember Dale Hoyt! Support video art and artists!
CHAOS THEORY by Steve Seid
How would you describe a gathering group of unruly artists? A fortuitous anarchism, or just trouble on the way? And if such a faction existed in one particular moment and in one particular place, the SFAI, providing unruly succor for its constituent parts, what would you call that moment? A discordant convergence?
Just such a thing occurred at the San Francisco Art Institute in the early-and-mid eighties when a gaggle of singular young artists converged on the recently formed Performance/Video Department and all (heaven and) hell broke loose. A moment, such as it was.
With every upheaval, whether aesthetic or political, there are ringleaders, and among them at the P/V Dept. was a bratty pact—Dale Hoyt, along with his pals Marshall Weber (who would go on to found Artists’ Television Access) and Andrew Huestis—and Cecilia Dougherty, leading an insurgent group of women artists that included Leslie Singer, Azian Nurudin, Didi Dunphy, Jill Garellick and others. The creative energy welling from this convergence was enough to overheat nearby North Beach. If you add to that mix a core faculty of Howard Fried, Paul Kos, Sharon Grace, Doug Hall, Kathy Acker and Tony Labat, you had fissionable artistic material.
SCREENING: Your World Dies Screaming (1981); Dancing Death Monsters (1981); Ringo Zappruder (1981/82); Over My Dead Body (1983); The Complete Anne Frank (1985); Braille (1986); Transgenic Hairshirt (2001); Don’t Be Cruel (2004); Because (2006). All works by Dale Hoyt.
Dale is Dead by Steve Seid Dale Hoyt (1961–2022) Dale is Dead. Dale Hoyt who at age 19 was already showing his irascible works to perplexed audiences. Dale who five years in made a remarkable, sui generis video, The Complete Anne Frank, that still holds its own. Dale who, it was rumored, slept on the roof of the SFAI when his money got thin. Dale whose uncompromising ways never found welcome from grants panels of his supposed peers. Dale who left briefly to run the video program at New York’s The Kitchen, but faithfully returned. Dale who in later years haunted the Tenderloin like a sage and wily guy. Dale who left behind a chill absence where his vital life had once warmly sounded.
But let me tell you about Dale Hoyt’s body of videowork that streamed forth for a decade, then vanished for a time, only to return in his waning years. Dale came-of-rage in a fruitful moment, the late-70s/early-80s. From the scrap heap of punk culture, he snatched an aesthetic that was low-rent, appropriative and bratty. Video art had moved on from the performative documentation of the ‘70s to cut-and-paste storytelling from the likes of Tony Labat, the Yonemotos, Ilene Segalove, Tony Oursler and others. Dale deployed shreds of narrative, shrewd iconoclasm, and cut-and-paste tech, then coerced his artist-pals into enacting their own angst. The never-faltering early works, like Your World Dies Screaming (1981), Dancing Death Monsters (1981) and Ringo Zappruder (1981/82), drilled into the frontal lobe of juvenile yearning, marshaling pop icons, cascading pills, viscous props and grotesque wallowing as the stuff of post-pubescent misery. Atop this heap, Dale added a miasma of sound bites, pop song lifts, and plaintive dialogue to amass an unnerving swamp of sonorities.
Online screening of works by those of us who were in the same groove in San Francisco i the 1980s.
How would you describe a gathering group of unruly artists? A fortuitous anarchism, or just trouble on the way? This online streaming accompaniment to Dale is Dead—also curated by Steve Seid—presents performance/video work from the turbulent Bay Area ‘80s, a selective sampler pack of works informing and informed Hoyt’s iconoclastic work. Artists include: Marshall Weber, Leslie Singer, Cecilia Dougherty, Andrew Huestis, Paula Levine, Ivar Smedstad, Azian Nurudin, Emjay Wilson and more from Hoyt himself. Details and complete program here.
And for some flavor, here’s Dale’s unofficial commencement address to the final San Francisco Art Institute (RIP!) graduating class:
The show was in November, 2021, before all hell broke loose. And the catalogue just came out, June 2022.
Cecilia Dougherty (USA) DRIFT web-based art, 2020
“Drift” tells the story of a walk the artist took in March, 2020, along the North Shore of Staten Island, NY, just as it was beginning to dawn on people that leisurely strolls might be a bad idea at the present moment. The project was created using basic HTML/CSS coding, and the images were taken with an iPhone. The artist takes a final stroll through favorite parts of her neighborhood before lockdown.
Descriptions of the surroundings and a chronicle of events of the pandemic are mixed with critical thoughts on virus capitalism, such as the experience of resisting the virus in the USA and the inaction of the Trump administration.
I like the way my piece, Drift, is displayed – it’s a good size – not gigantic and not tiny, and it’s at a height and an angle that looks pretty accessible to me. Thank you, CYFEST!
As you listen, the particles of sound (phonos) decide to be heard. Listening affects what is sounding. The relationship is symbiotic.
Curator’s Statement, Jamie Chan:
I wanted to see a collection of artworks together that could speak about daily life and art but outside of categories or commentary, sort of like a stream of water, a walk, a place to rest the mind. Thereness, but not at all reductive. Works that communicate intimately to the viewer through stories with a soft focus. Doesn’t represent a dialog, but represents the relationship between thought process and idea formation. A circle is a thought pattern. Not fiction or nonfiction, neither formal nor informal. Works that are grounded in specific places, groups of people, and rest in fluid qualities of time. A sense of resolution that lingers.
Works not exactly being in service of “process” – not ephemera or document – but concretely living and direct. The form of the works themselves is materially lightweight, diffuse and comprises accumulated gestures, yet is emphatically manual and sourced from the materiality of life and the senses. The works also all resemble piles – larger trajectories and practices exceeding the sense of time that they exist in. These artists capture our attention in both the front and back of our minds, skillfully folding time into a narrative movement that smolders, and the implication of that movement circles us back to elemental and early experiences of the earth and of place, individuals in groups connecting back to the source. JC
Cecilia Dougherty’s small drawings (pencil and conté crayon on paper, various sizes, 2021-22) have been created as the background drawings for episodes from the story she has developed over several visits and much research into the Paleolithic cave art in Spain and France. The story follows Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons on a migration through France, Italy, the Balkans and southward to what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, to a site called Shanidar, the location of the well-documented Neanderthal flower burial. Cecilia Dougherty is a visual artist living in New York.
In the work of Lucía Hinojosa Gaxiola, two decaying leaves reveal their venation patterns where hidden traces suggest a map of movement. She brings landscape to the foreground–the words root, rot and rotation are repeated in her ritual typewritings, and her drawings are made upon uneven ground. Lucía is an interdisciplinary artist and writer from Mexico City, and the editor of diSONARE, an experimental editorial project. Her time-based practice explores the fluidity of language through investigative poetics, resulting in a corpus of visual, sonic, and text-based works. Her expanded poetry practice involves an engagement with the environment and collecting natural and found objects.
Anthony Leslie’s 2014-22 sound diaries are the products of an ongoing daily practice that combines field recording, concentrated listening and first-person narrative. They represent an extensive and growing archive of his sound memories, mostly from his time spent living, working and caregiving in and around Los Angeles. They contain public sounds, domestic sounds, sounds from the world of nature and of music, the voices of friends, family, people on the street, poets, protestors, and others.
I’m creating a web-based interactive story called Shanidar, a sequel to my 2019 piece, TimeBefore Memory (https://paleolithic.ceciliadougherty.com).Shanidar takes place in Paleolithic times and tells a story of a small band of Neanderthals and Cro Magnons on a migration through France, Italy, the Balkans and southward to what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, to a site called Shanidar, which is the location of the famous Neanderthal “flower burial.”
I started Shanidar, while we were, more or less, in lockdown. And while I had traveled to sites in Spain and France to research Time Before Memory, I had to do a most of my research for Shanidar from my desktop. Unable to travel to Europe to gather source materials and take photographs of paleolithic sites, I decided to draw the background imagery for the story and imagine my fictional characters more clearly as people and less as (pre)historical elements.
Both stories have involved research into human species, climate change, patterns of human migration over thousands of years, and most wonderfully, into Paleolithic art, ritual, and behavior. There’s queer and trans influence in the storyline and characters as well, acknowledging a long history of multiplicities of gender.
Shanidar is speculative fiction, and is not science. It questions and critiques scientific findings and observations, nonetheless. I expect to finish this piece in mid-2022. I’m using Twine game software to create the story and am adding not only original imagery, but also an original soundtrack.
Walter & McBean Galleries, Diego Rivera Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute. Margaret Tedesco & Leila Weefur, Curators
The San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2021 with A Spirit of Disruption, an exhibition that reflects on the school’s profound and sustained influence on contemporary art and highlights the contributions of generations of diverse artists and individuals often overlooked in the historical narrative of SFAI. A Spirit of Disruption includes the work of more than thirty alumni and faculty from the 1960s to the present; a dynamic media installation drawn from SFAI’s vast archive; and a section dedicated to artist model Florence “Flo” Wysinger Allen, the subject of countless paintings, sculptures, and drawings made at the school from 1933-1997.
A Spirit of Disruption also includes a dynamic media installation drawn from SFAI’s Anne Bremer Library archive featuring artists Rigo 89, Karen Finley, Cliff Hengst, Doug Hall, Debora Iyall, Jun Jalbuena, Jennifer Locke, Paula Levine, Cecilia Dougherty; and George Kuchar in collaboration with Tim Sullivan, among many others.
The ferry, the bus, the subway. Walk, too. Walk around the neighborhood in the early morning hours, especially, when few people are up and about and you can occasionally take off your mask and enjoy the air, the colors of dawn, and the fragrance of the fall.
Announcing the launch of my new web-based essay, RIDE, about what it feels like being in public and being on public transit in New York. A complete environment for daydreaming, people-watching, and finding your place, your role, in the city.