Artist Conrad Atkinson writes about the life of performance artist Monica Ross.
My friend the performance artist Monica Ross died on the 14 June 2013; the very day on which her performance Anniversary—an act of memory reached its 60th and concluding Act at the 23rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. “Anniversary—an Act of Memory” is a solo, collective and multi-lingual series of recitations from memory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a performance series in 60 Acts by Monica Ross and co-performers from 2008-2013.
The sixty performances may have reached their conclusion as a series but it is a sincere hope that others may be encouraged and inspired to continue the endeavour to promote human rights throughout the world and if using “Anniversary—an act of memory” as a model or template it would be a great tribute to Monica if this was to be taken up by many artists in the future.
The performances may have concluded but the work will continue. Her husband Bernard and her daughters Alice and Lydia will be editing the many hours of documentation and collating much of the material which will then constitute a body of work which can be exhibited widely as she would have wished it to be.
I first met Monica when she was studying at Reading University and she and other feminists in the early seventies were trying to insert themselves into a male oriented art world. The first show was at the ICA 1977 “Portrait of the Artist as A housewife” and was amongst the explosion of consciousness of the work of women artists and associated groups such as the Women’s Postal Art Collective which was such an inspiration to artists both male and female. In the press release to that exhibition it says, ”These women are fighting isolation inventing a women’s art. The aim is communication not perfect aesthetics.”
These were pioneering artists who arguably amongst others created the place in which the Tracey Emins and Sarah Lucas’s and the Guerilla Girls could comfortably exist and it is to my regret that that contribution has been largely unacknowledged.
Monica taught at Central Saint Martins (CSM) on the Fine Art and Critical Studies Course from 1985 and went on to lead the Critical Fine Art subject area at CSM from 1990 –1998. So many former students and colleagues speak of the profound impact Monica had on their lives. As an external examiner for that course I was, like many impressed by her enthusiasm and her energy. This energy was evident right up until the end when I took this photo of her two days before she died in a hospice in Hove, her eyes sparkling and her beautiful rage about the current government of white male middle-class millionaire public schoolboys that she perfectly articulated to me. At that last meeting I said to her it’s not fair (she was 10 years younger than me) she said “no it isn’t fair and I was going to buy a bike”. She was also delighted to tell me that the previous day she had her first review in ARTFORUM. She died aged 63 the day before my 73rd birthday June 15th.
She was a pioneering artist and a force for aspiration in education and an inspirational teacher who transformed the imaginations of all those who had the privilege of learning from and working with her. Her extraordinary influence on curricula and attitudes to teaching in CSM, across UAL and in fine art higher education endures.
Recently Monica visited CSM at Kings Cross to speak to the Fine Art course about her seminal work “Anniversary – an act of memory “which comprises as outlined above, solo, collective and multi-lingual recitations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights performed from memory by herself and co-performers. The work has been touring since 2008 and the final performance of the 60 Acts took place at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on the day she died June 14th. There was a minute’s silence at the UN when her death was announced.
Those who were fortunate enough to have known Monica will have been touched by her strong ethical values, intellectual rigour, originality, tenacity, courage, generosity, the warmth of her personality, her sense of fun and so much more. We laughed like drains most times we met including her last two days in the hospice. She made a difference she will be deeply missed.