UA Alumna in National Cathedral Performance Art Celebrating Women’s Suffrage

In March, UA art history alumna Corey Dzenko (MA 2007) was part of a performance of social practice artist Sheryl Oring’s ongoing project “I Wish to Say,” held in the Washington National Cathedral. Dzenko is an associate professor of art history in the department of art and design at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, and a scholar of photography and performance.

Alumna Corey Dzenko (right) typing in a performance of Sheryl Oring’s “I Wish To Say,” Washington National Cathedral 2022. Photo by Christian Carter-Ross.

According to a Monmouth University post, the performance was part of the Cathedral Choral Society’s event, “I Have Something to Say,” celebrating the anniversary of the 19th Amendment with commissioned works by three living prominent women composers, as well as past works by women composers who have largely been erased from public memory.

I Wish to Say” grew out of Sheryl Oring’s concern that “not enough voices were being heard about the state-of-affairs in this country and her belief in the value of free expression that is guaranteed under our Constitution,” in a statement by the artist. Oring began “I Wish to Say” in 2004 out of a desire to make sure all voices are heard.

At the National Cathedral, Oring assembled a group of actors dressed as 1960s typists and set up a portable public office – complete with a manual typewriter – and invited people to dictate messages to the President of the United States. Dzenko was part of the typing pool, her sixth time as part of Oring’s project. The typists typed each message on a postcard, making a copy of it using a layer of carbon paper. At each performance, Oring sends the original card to the White House and keeps the copy for her exhibitions.

A typed message from Jonas, age 3, in a performance of Sheryl Oring’s “I Wish To Say,” Washington National Cathedral 2022. Photo by Corey Dzenko.

Dzenko originally brought Oring and her performance project to Monmouth University as part of the campus’ visiting artist series ArtNOW: Performance, Art, and Technology. It was 2016 and the beginning of a presidential campaign, so community members dictated postcards to the presidential candidates. The Guggenheim Library at Monmouth displayed the postcards before they were mailed to the White House.

Dzenko. who has been interested in performance art since graduate school at UA, wrote the introduction to Oring’s book about the project, Activating Democracy: The I Wish to Say Project (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Dzenko said that she “began to study theories of performance during my MA research on staged photographs, when the photographer performs for the camera. I’ve continued to examine performance-photographs and also Social Engaged Art like that of Oring’s, in both my research and teaching.”

Dzenko, who received the PhD in art history from the University of New Mexico, teaches History of New and Expanded Media in Art, History of Photography and History of Graphic Design, among many other courses at Monmouth University. She is the co-editor, with Theresa Avila, of Contemporary Citizenship, Art, and Visual Culture: Making and Being Made (New York: Routledge).

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in art history and studio art, visit our degree programs page.