Suzanne Lacy has been facilitating experiences in social practice art since the 1970’s. Her art is based largely in performance and happenings. Her work has maintained themes of social equality, feminism, and empowerment throughout her career and has gone through several permutations during the last four decades. One of the exciting things about her work (and of social practice art as a whole) is the experimental and shifting nature of the scope of her projects over time. Her early work was poetic and abstract, often without a formal audience. During the eighties she began working with large groups of performers and an audience on site, eventually broadcasting performances on public television. From the 90’s onward her work grew from performance to interventions within the community. She set up workshops and initiated policy change within the Oakland school system, produced installations with women in domestic violence shelters across the country, and engaged in a number of international performances within local communities.
In 1998 she founded the Center for Art and Public Life at the California College of the Arts. In 2007 she started an MFA program in Public Practice at the Otis College of Art and Design.
Lacy’s early work included projects such as The Monster Series – performances and interactive experiences commenting on the objectification of women and presumably the meat industry and animal rights. Lacy created performances with lamb carcasses, created an instructional cooking film while symbolically transforming herself into the animal being prepared and explored mapping and individualized art experiences with students and the California Institute of Arts. These early works often expressed Feminist issues of the time; reclaiming traditionally female designated spaces such as that of the kitchen, and exposing objectification and traditional ideals of the female body
In the 1980’s Suzanne’s work took on a larger scale, often involving hundreds of women in front of a live audience. In the Whisper Projects, groups of four women sat at tables arranged in a grid. In Whisper, The Waves, The Wind, an audience observed from cliffs overlooking a beach as the women talked about their lives and relationships. A prerecorded audio score of conversations the women would be having was broadcast to the audience. In mid-performance, the audience was invited to listen to the conversations at a closer range. At the end of the performance, the observers were invited in to take the place of the women at the tables.
A similar project in Minnesota, The Crystal Quilt, became one of Lacy’s most famous works. In the culmination of workshops at the Minnesota College of Art and Design and a series of photographic essays, 430 women over the age of sixty took place in a Whisper Performance broadcast live on public television. The women were arranged in foursomes at a series of tables resembling a quilt. The women engaged in conversation while an audio score played a mix of 75 voices of women talking about aging.