ALICE Through the Glass Ceiling

Sally Levine

In 1994, New Langton Arts, a San Francisco art gallery, invited me to continue my installation work addressing the status of women in architecture. The result was Architecture Lets In Chicks, Except (ALICE) . . . through the Glass Ceiling. ALICE recognized that the very metaphor of the glass ceiling indicated that women had made gains. After all, if women had not gotten their collective "foot in the door," they would not be able to see the ceiling at all. But like a ceiling of glass, women’s progress has been fragile, and it was (and is) imperative that these gains not be taken for granted.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen notes that “it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.” Entering the exhibit through strips of mirrored mylar, this ALICE’s wonderland was a series of seven playful, interactive, three-dimensional installations showing that women still needed to run at least twice as fast.

The vignettes confronted the ways statistics can be interpreted, the differences between media portrayals of women architects and the real work of women architects, the ambiguity of affirmative action programs, the ways that women are made to be invisible, and the challenges of climbing the corporate ladder.  The pieces gave context to these issues, noting both how far we had come and how much further we have to go. Twenty-four years later, many of the same challenges lie ahead.

Feedback about the exhibit was particularly gratifying.  While many men recognized themselves in the mirrors and statistics, women were able to share their encounters with invisibility and be made visible; and everyone was given permission to discuss important subjects that often are unspoken.