Weitzman’s Sharon Hayes explores performance, identity, and history

The professor of fine arts is debuting the fifth installment of her video series ‘Ricerche’ at the 2024 Whitney Biennial.

For artist and Weitzman School professor of fine arts Sharon Hayes, time is a public resource. Her work, which engages strategies of performance, video, and sonic and public sculpture, explores the impulse to represent one’s self and one’s presence in moments of history.

Sharon Hayes.
Fine arts professor Sharon Hayes. (Image: Courtesy of the Weitzman School)

Beginning with her 2003 video installation of repeating audio tapes made by the Symbionese Liberation Army and continuing through her five-part video series “Ricerche,” Hayes has investigated the ways people speak in groups, and the way groups speak through individual people. Last month, the final installment of “Ricerche” debuted at the “2024 Whitney Biennial: Even Better Than the Real Thing,” where it will be on view through August 11.

Hayes came to Penn in 2015 after 10 years teaching at The Cooper Union in New York City. Her work often engages with the creation, or assemblage, of queer histories. “In my work, I am in dialogue with these actions and activities–past, present, and future–and try to ask questions that are hard to ask in the space of the work itself, questions about time, the grammars of resistance, about sadness or disappointment as a political force.”

“The work I am showing at the Whitney is the final part of series called ‘Ricerche,’ which steps off of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1963 film, ‘Comizi d’Amore (Love Meetings),’ in which he goes across Italy interviewing people about sex or, what he calls, the sexual problem. My recent work is ‘Ricerche: four’ and is an 80-minute, two-channel video installation composed from footage from interviews with three groups of LGBTQIA elders: one in Philadelphia, one in Dowelltown, Tennessee, and one in Los Angeles,” Hayes says.

“Ricerche translates from Italian as ‘research,’ and is a word that Pasolini used in his film as an intertitle between sections (Ricerche I, Ricerche II, etc.). What I love about his film is that he’s asking these questions to people in groups and so those he interviews must navigate the very personal territory of sex inside of their collective affiliations and relations (with neighbors or family or their army troupe or their football team, etc.).”

Hayes’ subject of queer histories suggests a relationship between the artist and activism. “I have such deep gratitude for activists, organizers, and community advocates who do the hard and often unpaid work of creating more humane, safe, healthy and just futures,” she says. But, she explains, “while in the course of my life, I respond to and join this work (a large project that I think of as dismantling white, patriarchal heteronormativity) in and through participation in protests or organized actions, I have not been on the front lines of ideating and organizing.”

This story is by Jesse Dorris. Read more at Weitzman News.