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Lambert-Beatty, Claire, and . Twelve Miles: Boundaries of the New Art/Activism

2008, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 33(2): 309-327.

Summary: Lambert-Beatty explores the limits of art activism through a detailed account of Rebecca Gomperts’ Women on Waves project. Starting in 2001, Gomperts – a physician with a background in art – sailed a customized maritime gynecological clinic with a crew from the Netherlands to the coastal areas of countries where abortion had been outlawed. The clinic would dock far enough from the shore (twelve miles being the limit of states’ naval jurisdictions) to offer healthcare to local women undisturbed. Lambert-Beatty notes that for all of its political import, the project retains a radical imagination of the poetic kind. Considering its enthusiastic reception by the international artworld, and inclusion in major art exhibitions, it is also clear that Gomperts intended the work at least partially as art. And, yet, Women on Waves challenges notions of the aesthetic as the “retreat from the real” that it is so often seen as. Lambert-Beatty sees the pragmatic aspect of the work as an integral part of its beauty, and vice versa. This symbiotic balance seems to resolve the tension Ranciere finds “between the logic of art that becomes life at the price of abolishing itself as art, and the logic of art that does politics on the explicit condition of not doing it at all.”

Comment: This text is best used in discussions of the relationship between art and political activism. It can also be used as a case study in applied ethics classes on abortion.