M_______, The Menopause Project
370 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn
August 17 - 26, 2018
Curated by Nancy Nowacek
By MARK BLOCH, September 2018
“M_______, The Menopause Project” was a pop-up shop and public platform to educate and empower women of all identities and ages around the biological, physical, emotional, and cultural facets of menopause, addressing silence, isolation and shame with visibility, education, exchange and community. There were open forums, speakers, information dispersed, art objects to buy and a sizable sound event nearby all headquartered in a beehive of activity in a jubilant and informative Brooklyn storefront.
The project aimed to bring light and attention to a topic still shrouded in quietude and confinement in a well travelled public space where visitors could listen, learn and reflect on menopause and aging, referred to as “the Last Taboo,” one of society’s final unspoken topics of mixed social conversation.
With genius taglines like “End mystery, shame and anxiety around aging bodies. Celebrate puberty in reverse!” and “Menopause affects half the world’s population. Why don’t we talk about it?,” the curator Nancy Nowacek demonstrated her prowess with persuasive pronouncements manifesting as public art.
Nowacek is a designer, teacher, creative director, branding strategist, amateur architect, and socially-engaged artist whose focus is claiming power through the body. She makes sculpture, performance, and drawings to reestablish the body as a site of imagination and “collapse thinking into doing.” Working in the realms of socially-engaged art, visual design strategy, and education, the Brooklynite received MFAs from the California College of Art, and Virginia Commonwealth University and was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College and at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. She has worked at Eyebeam pursuing architecture and computer coding around the body and technology.
Nowacek's M_______, The Menopause Project was funded by the Brooklyn Arts Council and inspired by a collaboration between the artist and the writer Sasha Davies on a primer Menopause, An Imperfect Guide, released in June 2018, which was available for purchase in the shop. The writer Davies and designer Nowacek, with illustrator Kate Bingaman-Burt, created the booklet to be digestible, “like you'd want to hear it from a funny, wise older sister or friend.” Menopause: An Imperfect Guide is a refresher course on reproductive system anatomy and physiology, what the average person can expect around the “change of life,” your mother may have warned you about and suggestions about how to set oneself up for the best possible experience during this transition. “It is a 72-page, digest-sized, imperfect guide to menopause. It is a beginning,” Nowacek said, “that paves the way for in-depth exploration.”
Menopause is a natural physiological process experienced in every female body during middle age. While there are books and websites devoted to the topic, there is little mention of menopause in public beyond the occasional joke about hot flashes or hormonal outbursts. As a result, no one much talks about it openly, perpetuating myths about something no one should have to endure silently.
The project began Friday, August 17 with an opening night party that preceded the Saturday opening of the “No Anthems” sound piece by Lainie Fefferman, a commissioned three-hour environment on the topic of Menopause composed of music and sounds of women expressing or evoking power, mystery, and rage, weaving bel canto, found and digital sound with popular music.
Speeches and workshops were then hosted by Dr. Paula Derry, a health researcher, theorist, and educator from Baltimore, Dr. Lisa Sasson on how food and nutrition can support women, and Dr. Randi Epstein, the author of Aroused, on hormones and aging. On Sunday, clinical herbalist Lena DeGloma, Nicole Tammelleo from MAZE Women's Health and the author Davies, whose book inspired the project, made presentations leading to group discussions.
The following weekend Dr. Joan Chrisler, author of Women's Embodied Self, explored how biology affects self-identity. In Menopause, Personal And Political, a fascinating discussion followed a well-crafted monologue by Liz Margolies, founder and Executive Director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, who shared her personal experience of menopause, alternately hilarious and deadly serious, through the lens of contemporary identity politics.
Saturday got physical with featured segments on jumping rope led by Nowacek, Kyle Marsh presenting pilates exercises and with the hands-on workshops concluding energetically with powerlifting by Dr. Lindsay Cormack. Sunday the project concluded asking how language informs the experience of one’s own body or of a community of bodies, unpacking differences, misunderstanding and linguistic obstacles. Participants were encouraged to reveal their personal views of menopause, including who benefits and who suffers from culturally constructed concepts.
M_______, The Menopause Project is a pilot program that aims to become a template for other communities around the world. “We hoped it would improve the experience of menopause for generations of women to come,” said Nowacek. WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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