This participatory exhibition brings together six of Mary Beth Edelson’s ground-breaking story gathering boxes—a project initiated in 1972 that is still ongoing—seminal contributions that encapsulated an evolving feminist art legacy and evidenced the very first vestiges
of what is familiarly known today as “social practice.” These works, taken as a whole, engage audience interconnectivity to establish an exhibition hinged upon “interaction” in order to explore the diverse ways in which we relate to collaborative art and its impact on the world beyond the museum.
Edelson, an early pioneer of the feminist art movement as well as participatory art works, has enjoyed a six and a half decade career that traverses media ranging from performance to photography, painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, artist books, collages, video, and collaborative art. Centered on the experimental and oriented towards activist principles, she makes art that is predicated upon a cooperative experience focused on viewers’ involvement and reflection.
The story gathering boxes comprise two types: those created with media including leather, paint, ink, graphite, and watercolor, containing wooden tablets encompassing texts and imagery on specific themes such as gender, sexuality, goddesses, myths, and spirituality; and those that involve a set of paper tablets with questions stamped at the top, prompting a handwritten response from the viewer on topics ranging from gender to immigration. The questions transcend age, sexual preference, and culture, metamorphosing the purely subjective by forming a critical mass that encompasses generations and cuts across geography. Edelson assumes the role of archivist, curator, and caretaker, offering up a re-presentation of our greater social narrative as she asks us to scrutinize our cultural evolution.
Of the six boxes selected for the exhibition, two contain wooden tablets in their original boxes: New Myths/Old Myths (1973) and Great Mother (1973), which was exhibited forty years ago in The Aldrich exhibition Contemporary Reflections (1973–74). The four paper tablet boxes on view together span forty-two years: Gender Parity (1972–ongoing), Purveyor of Hope (1972–ongoing), Childhood (1995–ongoing), and Family Immigration Stories (2014–ongoing), a new work created especially for this exhibition. Visitors are invited to contribute their accounts, which besides being collected and archived will be added to Edelson’s website, storygatheringboxes.com, in order to be read by future generations as time capsules revealing of our era.
The fact that the story boxes have no end point, and will outlive Edelson herself, allows them to circulate in perpetuity, remaining forever relevant.
Amy Smith-Stewart, Senior Curator.
Mary Beth Edelson was born in 1933 in East Chicago, Indiana, and has lived and worked in New York City for the past forty years.