I will be participating on a panel discussion scheduled for Tuesday, June 17th from 6:30-8:00 pm to discuss the work of Bay Area artist Evie Leder. Her current body (no pun intended, maybe) is currently on view at A Simple Collective (San Francisco, CA). Here’s an excerpt from the shows press release,
Evie Leder’s The Objects is a meditation on the male body consisting of approximately thirty videos, along with a series of detail photographs and video stills. Over a filming period of ten days, fourteen men—a diverse group of performers and artists in the San Francisco queer scene—visited the artist’s studio one by one. Creating an intimate space and relationship between artist and subject, Leder gave simple, but deliberate instruction: stand quietly, breathe, stretch, open and close eyes, turn…In Leder’s series, the men are objects, but specific, very human objects, with presence.
For more information, please visit the event link here
The opening of Question Bridge: Black Males (2011), a new-media work by Chris Johnson and Hank Willis, is a timely response to events like Trayvon Martin’s death and the Oscar Grant case. By mimicking a roundtable discussion, Question Bridge excavates and delves into issues around the notion of the African American male, forcing participants and viewers across the spectrum of human experience to witness a thought-provoking exchange.
Originally, Johnson began the Question Bridge project in 1996 in order to address concerns regarding divisions within the San Diego African American community.1 Close to a decade later, Willis approached Johnson about collaborating, which resulted in interviews gathered from black men in different cities across the United States.2 The work consists of one hundred fifty videotaped black males from a diverse range of demographics (age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, to name a few), answering questions about violence, health, intelligence, masculinity, education, fears, lifestyles, and sexuality. The installation speaks directly to the collective consciousness, for although there’s never an easy time or place to discuss race relations, posing questions around the topics of race, gender, and cultural amnesia feels especially urgent.
Johnson and Willis asked participants to provide questions as well as answer questions from other participants. In response to a vehement question about the code of the streets, the answers vacillate between the prevalent street mentality that silence is the ultimate code to anger and frustration that young black men perpetuate the cycle of violence. For some of the younger participants, respecting the unspoken commandment of the streets—in the belief that “the streets will take care of that” with “that” being the violence inflicted or received from an assailant—is common and strictly observed.3
Yet, as others noted, the code of the streets is a mere “set of playground rules” that some may or may not grow out of to deal with the complexities of violence and power struggles found within a disenfranchised community. All of the men speak of solidarity but are unaware of how to bridge the differences that exist between them.
The editing of the video footage makes it appear as though men on separate screens are looking at one another as they pose and answer questions. Each of the speakers seems to express genuine and sincere interest in listening to and addressing the questions of his interlocutors. The illusion that these men are in discussion together, in the same physical space, makes the artwork less of a physical object and more of a glimpse into the experiences of African American males and the issues and concerns often obscured by the media, silenced by culture, or cloaked by hyper-masculinity.
The nearly pitch-black installation space and editing of the videos also implicate us as witnesses as we listen to these conversations between men. As we wait for a question and answer, our heads might slowly turn from screen to screen, as if watching the trajectory of a ball in mid-flight. These gestures echo the connecting of complex ideas and thoughts between and among the participants.
Despite the power and effectiveness of the work, it would nonetheless be advantageous to expand the scope of the Question Bridge project. Participants identifying themselves as gay or queer were certainly incorporated into the discussion and, understandably, the work focuses on African American male experiences. However, the absence of African American transgendered men suggests another aspect of the male experience that remains concealed from the public. This lack of representation certainly does not make the work deficient, but it raises the question of how American culture defines the male experience.
Indeed, what happens in the space between the participants serves to remind the viewer that the archetypal black male is nonexistent. One participant’s question, “What is common to all of us?” provokes a flurry of answers. Though the participants’ commonalities overlap time, space, sex, gender, color, beliefs, and much more, a more significant commonality emerges from their responses. These men are willing and ready for engagement. All that they needed was for someone to ask the question.
I went to the Night Light: Multi-Media Garden Party at the SOMArts Cultural Center. It was great seeing friends and meeting some wonderful artists. Below, you’ll find some footage I shot of Radka Pulliam‘s piece, Up and Down the Street. It’s quite clever in that the viewer must “look in” the building to “look out” at the street view. The placement was spot on since it was in a relatively inconspicuous place towards the front of the entrance. I noticed people stopped when they noticed someone looking down and ponder the location of the projection.
One of the memorable performances of the evening was the Spanish Contemporary dance routine of Elias Aguirre and Alvaro Esteban. They are amazing. The isolations and articulation of their bodies is best seen in person. If you were at Night Light, you would know exactly what I’m talking about. Fortunately, there is a video of this phenomenal Spanish Contemporary Dance duo.
There is SO much going on BUT I had to take the time to share a few photos I took during my studio visit with new media artist, Allison Holt. I’m looking forward to settling down and writing a piece about my conversation and visit with Holt. Her re-telling and artworks of the different energies and hybrid realities through her Fulbright research of Javanese culture is not only fascinating but yet another example of how artists can impact a community and engage in dialogue and discourse across cultures. Again, looking forward to posting parts of my interview with Holt as well as some reflection on her work.
I previously posted videos of the Hypercubes here. They’re extremely meditative, which I will get into during my write-up. For now, enjoy the studio visit photos and videos! If you have any burning questions and/or comments, please feel free to share and comment below. 🙂