Coming up this week at the Tate Modern:
a major performance-art event conceived and curated by US artist Suzanne Lacy. Silver Action will see 400 women aged 60 and over – who have taken part in some of the last century’s major political protests, from the 1968 Ford sewing machinists’ strike to Greenham Common – converge on the gallery’s subterranean performance space, the Tanks, for a live, unscripted performance about ageing and activism.
Why? Well one reason is…
One evening a couple of years ago, 82-year-old Barbara Robson was crammed in a rush-hour London tube train. Politely, she asked a young man near her, smart in his suit and tie, if he might move along a little. “He turned to me,” she says, “and told me that, as an old woman, I was a total waste of space. I felt so wounded I could hardly speak.”
I suspect that young man was raised chiefly by the internet. There are a lot of things I like about the internet, but dapper young men who feel cheerfully free to tell old women they should be dead – they are not one of those things.
Lacy’s central aim is to challenge preconceptions about older women. “There’s a very large public conversation now about resources,” she says, “and what to do with an ageing population. Because women live longer, that will impact them more than men. I’m trying to shift the discourse away from one of isolation and increasing frailty: we should see older women as an amazing resource – not just talk about them taking resources.”
Robson, a mental health activist, is certainly excited about Silver Action’s potential to change the way she feels about growing older. Along with 13 other women who will be taking part, I meet her at a workshop at Tate Modern, arranged to stimulate the conversations volunteers will have on the day, and compile a timeline of significant events they’ve been involved in. “This feels like such an important thing to be a part of,” she tells me. “Every day I feel invisible – this is a way to feel less so.”
And you know, there are actually some good things about being ancient. Having a bigger personal frame of historical reference is one. Overall accumulation – mental accumulation, I mean – is another.
H/t Maureen Brian.