#Hashtags: Black Futurism: The Creative Destruction and Reconstruction of Race in Contemporary Art

#blackness #afrofuturism #identity #agency #mobility

Today we’re partnering with our friends at ART21 Magazine to bring you Nettrice Gaskins‘ excellent consideration of “Black futurism as a form of creative expression [that] pushes against the conventional limits of black subjectivity.” This article was originally published on June 24, 2014, in the “Future” issue of ART21 Magazine.

nuri Kahiu. Pumzi, film still, 2009. Courtesy Focus Features Africa First Short Film Program.

nuri Kahiu. Pumzi, film still, 2009. Courtesy Focus Features Africa First Short Film Program.

For the online research project Liquid Blackness, Alessandra Raengo reflects on Harry Elam’s assertion that in contemporary culture, blackness is able to “travel on its own, separate and distinct from black people.” Raengo writes that the detachability of blackness from black subjectivity, identity, and history “remains exceedingly attractive and possible” in mainstream society and that this detachment opens up possibilities for artists. Art exhibitions such as Nicola Vassell’s Black Eye leverage contemporary forms of mobility in blackness. Vassell states, “A black eye is our true tool—it’s the thing a lot of us rely heavily on for this art world to even exist… But at the same time, a black eye is the document of having been bruised.”

Artists who trouble notions of blackness include Wangechi Mutu, Jacolby Satterwhite, Sanford Biggers, Hank Willis Thomas, Rashid JohnsonKerry James Marshall, and Wanuri Kahiu, who made Kenya’s first science-fiction film, Pumzi. These artists visualize the creative and symbolic dimensions of the future in ways that also resonate in the texts of black science-fiction writers such as Octavia Butler. In “The Intuition of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” Jerry Phillips quotes Lewis Mumford’s idea of the author (or artist) as the creator. Mumford asserts that “the writer is still a maker, creator, not merely a recorder of fact, but above all an interpreter of possibilities.” Phillips further elaborates, “By exploring “possible worlds” and “intuitions of the future” that critique the present…the [artist] recovers purposive human time, the sense that history is not something that simply happens to us, irrespective of our will and desires, but is, indeed, ours to make.”

In her essay “Race as Technology,” Beth Coleman provides a foundation for the social imaginary that moves race and gender away from the “biological and genetic systems that have historically dominated its definition and toward human agency.” Coleman offers a view of race that exists as if it were on par with an instrument, as a technology or system that is “denatured from its historical roots” and “freely engaged as a productive tool.” This is different than, for example, the Wachowski brothers’ Matrix films that envisioned a futuristic world in which machines rule and use humans as slaves. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Kahiu’s Pumzi convey visions of the future where people are slaves or enabled to leave their walled-in communities.

Read the full article here.


Shotgun Reviews

Kenturah Davis: Narratives and Meditations at Papillion

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Anna Martine Whitehead reviews Kenturah Davis: Narratives and Meditations at Papillion in Los Angeles.

Kenturah Davis. Narrative IV, 2014; grease pencil on paper, Wenge wood box; 75 x 54 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Papillion, Los Angeles.

Kenturah Davis. Narrative IV, 2014; grease pencil on paper, Wenge wood box; 75 x 54 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Papillion, Los Angeles.

As an artist playing with the limits of realism, Kenturah Davis points to the construction and materiality of the portrait, while also emphasizing the internal and social nature of language in her solo show Narratives and Meditations at Papillion in Los Angeles.

Through an impressive mastery of her subjects’ image, Davis creates portraits of brown-skinned, kinky-haired, vocal subjects. Installed in a grid-like pattern on the wall, the series Narratives comprises two graphite murals, each formed by numerous sheets of archival paper. Within these two murals, four portraits anoint the gallery lounge. The faces emerge from lines of Davis’ poetry, scrawled in densely layered cursive script that reads: “There’s something about dignity/And something about shame/There’s something about honesty/And something about blame…” Covering each sheet, the text creates a wide range of value gradation, punctuated with highlights of negative space. In the next room,nine framed portraits (graphite, 42 x 38 in. each) from the series Meditations command the viewer’s gaze. Similar to those in the Narrative series, these images are also constructed from layers of text; however, they read as mantras, or vocalizations of the self. Whether it’s Davis’ own writing, scripture, song lyrics, or a quote from Audre Lorde, a sentiment of personal resilience is conveyed. The text constitutes each subject, but it also activates a dialogue between subjects, as well as the subjects and viewers, that works to intercept culturally constructed notions of otherness made apparent by their deftly captured features.

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San Francisco

Women in Performance: Rigorous Ecstasy – Language & Performance, Part I

Today from our friends at Art Practical, we bring you the first installment of the new column “Women in Performance,” which kicks off with an interview between author Jarrett Earnest and artist Carolee Schneemann. To quote from the column’s introduction: “Impelled by painting, Schneemann has plumbed the history of images, embodiment, and language since the 1950s, creating pioneering performances, films, installations, sculptures, and drawings. This two-part interview focuses on her relationship with writing, drawing, teaching, and the evolving nature of performance today.” This part of the interview was originally published on September 15, 2013.

Carolee Schneemann. Correspondence Course (triptych), 1980/1983, self-shot silver prints mounted on silk-screened text; 30 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and PPOW Gallery, New York. © Carolee Schneemann.

Carolee Schneemann. Correspondence Course (triptych), 1980/1983; self-shot silver prints mounted on silk-screened text; 30 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist and PPOW Gallery, New York. © Carolee Schneemann.

Jarrett Earnest: One thing that has been important for the deeper understanding of your work has been the publication of your letters and writing. When did you start writing, and how do you see it in relation to your visual art?

Carolee Schneemann: I wish I could grasp the writing. When I write, I cannot remember what I wrote. Writing is so difficult; it’s like a terrible kind of sculpture. But I was writing from the time I was a kid. I had Bruderhof neighbors who had a little printing press, and one year for Christmas, they printed a book of my poems—probably about cats, water, and birds. I was nine or ten. In school I was always writing; when I had a good teacher, they were respectful of it.

JE: The great thing about the publication of your letters is that it shows how important fiery missives are as part of your work: “This is not how you talk about my work. That is not what I was doing.” You are allowing people to have their own ideas; you are just insisting that they properly understand what’s actually going on. That means getting the words right.

CS: It is especially difficult the more these enclosing terminologies establish themselves as irrefutable. You can’t even talk about what you do unless you go through this nightmare of linguistic intervention. I’m doing a lot of writing now about these deformations of language—for instance, references to studio process as “practice.” I wrote an enraged letter once saying: “Dentists have to practice. Ballerinas practice. Visionary artists do not practice! We enable. We enact. We realize.” Also, we do not have ‘careers.’ What language-devils have evolved to substitute “unpacking” for “research”? I have a whole list of hateful language problems. I received a beautiful but bewildering essay this week from an English graduate student comparing Woolf’s The Waves and my Fuses (1965). It kept referring to the “film plate.” What? The sausage and eggs on a plate? It uses this expression over and over. I didn’t know what it was, so I wrote to her: “You are in the same coven—the moldering den of academics—destroying our ability to think straight with these deformed expressions!” I was very harsh, and she wrote back and said: “I’m only 22, and I’m at Oxford, and I don’t have anyone with imagination here, but I believe I’m a good thinker.” Bless her heart! She’s a very good thinker, and I can’t wait to meet her.


Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Lisa Wicka

At the heart of Lisa Wicka’s artwork is a set of keenly nuanced spatial and visual adaptations. Her work transforms motifs, compositions, and ideas—human figures, abstract shapes, and reinterpretations of physical and perceived spaces—into unified bodies. Her small canvases, combine-like sculptures, and large-scale installations all mark their spaces of display with striking gravity.

Lisa Wicka. Construction of Self (detail), 2013; House paint, vintage wallpaper, laminate flooring, wood and chalk line; two interior spaces: 5 x 7 x 15 feet and 4 x 5 x 6 feet. Courtesy of the artist.

Lisa Wicka. Construction of Self (detail), 2013; house paint, vintage wallpaper, laminate flooring, wood, and chalk line; two interior spaces: 5 x 7 x 15 ft. and 4 x 5 x 6 ft. Courtesy of the Artist.

Most arresting is Wicka’s ability to create compositions that profoundly alter visual perception; she disrupts and disorients visual expectations while simultaneously building new patterns of seeing through careful layering and juxtaposition of physical material—wood, paper, canvas, windows—with geometric shapes, hard grid-like lines, and rich swatches of saturated color. In her installation Construction of Self (2013), Wicka transformed two vacant interior spaces into vibrant, immersive compositions that she describes as, “Remnants of vintage wallpaper, colors, and the architectural elements of this building (that) reminded me of my past spaces, in particular my childhood home.”

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New York

Nick Cave: Made by Whites for Whites, at Jack Shainman Gallery

In Made by Whites for Whites, Nick Cave’s new show at Jack Shainman Gallery, the artist continues to exhibit works characteristic of his making process, in which the reclamation of found objects functions as a catalyst. “It’s always the object that provides me the impulse,” he said in a recent talk at the gallery. “It’s always one thing that sort of sets it up. It has to have a pulse. It also has to have multiple reads, that I can sort of turn it upside-down.” In this case, Cave is working directly with a collection of racially charged historical artifacts that he came across at flea markets.

Nick Cave. Golden Boy, 2014. Mixed media including concrete garden ornament, vintage high chair, dildo, and holiday candles. © Nick Cave. Photo by James Prinz Photography. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Nick Cave. Golden Boy, 2014; mixed media including concrete garden ornament, vintage high chair, dildo, and holiday candles. © Nick Cave. Photo by James Prinz Photography. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Among them are a spittoon shaped like a black man’s head, a golliwog-costumed mannequin, a Topsy-Turvy doll that allowed children to flip between a black servant boy and his white counterpart, and several sculptures of small black slave boys. Each object owes its “pulse” in part to its loaded history and uneasy presence in contemporary space. At the core of this series is a kind of reconciliation with these relics’ very existence. How can they be shown in public life without behaving like painful reiterations of a violent and oppressive history? How can they be destroyed or hidden when they are an important societal record that should not be forgotten?

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Mexico City

Erick Beltrán, interviewed by Rodrigo Ortiz Monasterio

Today we bring you a video of artist Erick Beltrán at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, discussing his work Atlas Eidolon, a sculpture that addresses the question of memory, or “what lives in our heads and how things appear in the world.” This video was produced by our friends at Kadist Art Foundation.



Yaakov Israel: The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art

In 1981, John Baldessari said, “Probably one of the worst things to happen to photography is that cameras have viewfinders…” but artist Yaakov Israel would certainly disagree.[1] Israel’s photographs in The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art in Charleston, South Carolina, are carefully constructed. Israeli-born and -based, Israel relishes the serendipitous encounters he’s had while exploring the geography and people of his native land, and this show is a case in point: As he was packing up his equipment after a long day in the desert looking for subjects for his photographs, Israel was approached by an elderly man riding a white donkey. He convinced the man to sit for a portrait, quickly assembled his equipment, and captured the image The Man on the White Donkey, HaBiqah (2006). Intrigued by this chance occurrence—it uncannily invokes the Orthodox Jewish tradition of the messiah arriving at the end of days on a white donkey—Israel then used it as the titular inspiration for this series, a body of work rife with chance findings and encounters in the Israeli landscape.

Yaakov Israel. Abandoned Water Park, Dead Sea, 2010; c-print. Courtesy the artist and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Charleston, South Carolina.

Yaakov Israel. Abandoned Water Park, Dead Sea, 2010; C-print. Courtesy of the Artist and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Charleston, South Carolina.

Composed of forty-two photographs of various sizes, the exhibition offers a glimpse of Israel’s inquiry into his native land. The documentary-style photographs demonstrate his curious mind and portray the noteworthy people and places that the artist has encountered in his travels. The work captures unique moments, such as a man praying on the trunk of his car at a gas station in Breslav Hasid Praying, Petrol Station, HaBiqah (2011), or an eerily empty view of the usually crowded Ein Gedi spa on the Dead Sea in Sunshades, Ein Gedi (2011). A wide variety of portraits are mixed in, ranging from a peculiarly staged photograph of two police officers on a highway, Police, HaBiqah (2011), to a candid glimpse of two men waiting for a ride to work in Riad and Mahmoud, Almog Crossroad (2010).

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