Eliot Circular

Cooley Takes Tracy + the Plastics to New York

By Randall S. Barton

As a youth, Seattle artist Wynne Greenwood borrowed a neighbor’s video camera and filmed stories about her family and friends. The slapstick humor of those early efforts carried forward into her professional work, where she combined her unique voice with whatever was at hand to tell a story.

Greenwood built a reputation as a queer feminist, performance artist working in various media. But she is perhaps most famous for her work as Tracy + the Plastics, a band that celebrated life on the margin.

In September, Reed’s Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery and New York’s New Museum will partner to mount an exhibition of Greenwood’s work in the Big Apple.

Cooley director Stephanie Sakellaris Snyder ’91 will curate the show with the New Museum’s curator Johanna Burton. Snyder will write and edit the exhibition catalogue.

The show is an evolution of the residency and exhibition that Greenwood did at Reed in 2014.

Starting in 1999, Greenwood created nearly 30 performance pieces as Tracy + the Plastics, playing all three roles of the band. She created the backup singers “Nikki” and “Cola” by prerecording herself on videos and then projecting them behind Tracy as she performed live. The project ended in 2006, but as the Tracy role was always live, there was no documentation of the pieces with all three players.

“I’ve followed Wynne’s work for a long time and believed she deserved the support to do it right,” says Snyder. “If the Cooley Gallery hadn’t supported creating that archive, nobody would be able to see those performances.”

During her residency at Reed, Greenwood got back into the role of Tracy, both physically and emotionally. She reproduced all of Tracy’s performances and combined them with the old footage. The new films will be mastered as editions and made available to collectors and museums.

“The work is captivating because Wynne is able to express her identity in ways that are at once extremely simple and complicated,” Snyder says. “With a beautiful, open spirit she weaves together fact and fiction to explore politics, queer identity, and aesthetics. She’s one of those rare people who doesn’t edit or censor herself based upon presumptions of other people’s feedback and criticisms. To me, that makes her a visionary.”

“The most interesting work opens a conversation or shows us a new vision of the world,” Snyder says. “Wynne’s work is so relevant to students raised on video culture. They are at an age where they’re exploring their identities, trying to find a voice and trust themselves. Our students related to the way Wynne externalizes the conversations we all have in our heads about who we are—our sexuality, politics, self-image, and self-criticism.”

Snyder hopes that Reedies in New York will join the opening party and plans to stage several special events just for alumni.

The Wynne Greenwood exhibit will run at the New Museum from September 16 to January 10.