MOIRA ROTH | BIO
I was born in 1933 in England, and grew up there. I attended first Vienna University (1953-1954) and then the London School of Economics, London University (1956-1957) before moving to live permanently in the U.S. Here I received my B.A., with a major in sociology from New York University (1959), and my M.A. with a thesis on Francis Bacon (1966) and in 1974 completed my Ph.D. (“Marcel Duchamp and America Art, 1913-1973”) at the University of California, Berkeley.
For my dissertation, I conducted in the late 1960s-early 1970s interviews about Duchamp with some 36 artists, beginning with John Cage. A few were published early on and then more recently the art historian Naomi Sawelson-Gorse re-transcribed some, and these, together with extensive footnotes, have been published: Robert Smithson (MOCA Smithson catalogue, 2004), John Cage (Etant Donnes, a Paris-based journal, 2005, and a French translation, 2014), and, published for the first time, an interview with John Baldessari (in X-tra, vol. 8, No. 2, Winter 2005).
After teaching at various University of California (U.C.) campuses (Irvine, 1970-1972, Santa Cruz, 1973-1974, and San Diego, 1974-1985), I came to Mills College, Oakland, in 1985, where I was appointed the Trefethen Chair of Art History.
In addition to articles in journals, catalogues and books on Marcel Duchamp, performance art, feminist art practice, photography, multiculturalism, etc., I’ve edited several books: The Amazing Decade; Women & Performance Art in America, 1970-1980 (1983), Connecting Conversations: Interviews with 28 Bay Area Women Artists (1988), We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold (1995), Abraham’s Daughter: The Life and Times of Rose Hacker (1996), and Rachel Rosenthal (1997).
Since the early 1970s I have been involved in feminism, and from the early 1980s onward I have worked increasingly cross-culturally, including an intense involvement in Asian-American art history. In 1994, Yolanda Lopez and I contributed an essay, “Social Protest: Racism and Sexism,” to The Power of Feminist Art anthology and in 1998 I wrote “Afterword, Parts of a Puzzle” for Phoebe Farris’s Women Artists of Color: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook to 20th Century Artists in the Americas.
In 1998, a volume of my collected essays appeared, accompanied by commentary by Jonathan D. Katz: Difference/Indifference: Musings on Postmodernism, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. I am now in the midst of assembling another volume of writings, with the provisional title of “Traveling Companions/Fractured Worlds.” There are thirteen of these texts so far (all but one published), addressing a wide range of individual artists and writers (from Linda Nochlin and Faith Ringgold to Flo Oy Wong and Sutapa Biswas) and geographic locations (from the U.S. to England, Ireland and Cambodia). The most recent Traveling Companions text was on art and the Vietnam War: “Remnants & Reverberations: Drawing(s) in Time & Space” in the catalog, Persistent Vestiges: Drawing from the American-Vietnam War, Drawing Center, NY, 2006.
In 2010, I was given the opportunity (on the occasion of my 77th birthday) to gather a lot of my current projects and interests in a rather grand event in an art space in rural Wisconsin called the Poor Farm. See the description in Marilu Knode’s blog.
In 2012 the Poor Farm Press published a book, All Over the Map: A Festschrift, Celebration and Exhibition Honoring Moira Roth, edited by Annika Marie.
Among my current projects are fictional narratives, a series of plays, and poem cycles, including:
#1. Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker
Begun in 2001, this is a fragmented narrative about a fictional Czech Jew who first appears in World War 1 in Zurich in the Dada Cabaret Voltaire, lives through the 20th century, and now resides in California. After the 1924 death of Franz Kafka Rachel Marker writes to him daily about her own writing, experiences and thoughts, and describes to him events in European history in the 1920s and 1930s, especially the rise of fascism, and a visit to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. In the fall of 1939, she flees to Paris after the German invasion of Prague, and finally turns up in Berlin after the 1989 Fall of the Wall, where she takes photographs every day of the city’s shadows.
I have also written several plays about Rachel Marker: “Rachel Marker, Franz Kafka and Alice Sommer” (University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 2005); “Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker” (Berkeley and Potsdam, Germany, 2005-2006); and in 2008 directed and performed in a three-part play about Rachel Marker at the Right Window Gallery in San Francisco’s Mission District.
#2. The Library of Maps
Begun in 2001, these 41 texts about a fictional library, its map collections, inhabitants and spaces can be found on Picture Projects website.
Pauline Oliveros and I are also involved in an ongoing project entitled “The Library of Maps: An Opera in Many Parts, “sections of which have performed in Berlin, Oakland, Troy, NY and Berkeley. In 2009, “The Library of Maps” -- an exhibition, in collaboration with Slobodan Dan Paich, of large broadsheets of a selection of the Library texts -- began to travel. It was exhibited at the Bonnafont Gallery, San Francisco; the Firehouse North Gallery, Berkeley; Porter Faculty Gallery, U.C. Santa Cruz, and at The Poor Farm, Manawa, Wisconsin.
#3. Plays & Multimedia Theater
In 2002, I began to work in theater: “The Cyber Theater of Mneme (Memory) and Melete (Meditation).” In San Francisco in 2003, Dinh Q. Lê and I collaborated on “From Vietnam to Hollywood.” In 2003-2004, Mary Sano and I created two dance-dramas: “Dancing/Dreaming, Izanami and Amaterasu” (San Francisco and Tokyo, Fall 2003), and “Amaterasu, The Blind Woman and Hiroshima” (Concert Hall, Kyoto, Summer 2004).
#4. From Far Away
Begun in 2003, this is a series of texts (numbering fifty-seven) that started as my response to the Iraq War. I have written them sporadically ever since then on a wide range of subjects (from AIDS in Africa and the Burmese monks uprising in 2007, to the life and death of my 101-year old adopted mother in 2008). In the fall of 2008, selections of these texts were presented in a large illustrated book in an installation, “An Atlas of War & Peace,” a collaboration with Ginger Wolfe-Suarez and Primitivo Suarez-Wolfe, in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts “Bay Area Now” exhibition. A smaller version of this exhibition was on display at The Poor Farm, Wisconsin, 2010-2011.