Last fall, when I was abroad in Hong Kong, I immersed myself in the vibrant art atmosphere of Asia’s world city. Among the numerous art spaces, galleries, auction houses, and artists’ studios, there are always opening receptions, artist talks and interesting conversations going on. It was eye-opening to see art from not only Asia or the rest of the world, but a fusion between the two.
Out of all the shows I visited, the most unforgettable one has to be “This is not an Art Show.” The show presented exhibitions of different media, and together they questioned the practice of mass classification, labeling ideas and promoting boundaries. Walking into the art space and looking through the photographs and videos, I was intrigued and confused. I was expecting a common reception, where they serve wine and crackers, present big tangible pieces of artwork, and an easy theme to be understood. This was nothing like that. I was surrounded by stories, statements, and photographs and I could not figure out why they were there. Why was there a picture of the bricks, why was he telling me this, why were pictures placed outside of the frame, why could I not understand what is being captured in the photos… While I was drowning in my thoughts, the background music suddenly stopped. All the attention then shifted to two dancers, on the other side of the room. We gathered in the center, facing them. They stood there, silently, staring at us. After a long pause, the music began again. The two performers then started stripping. After another pause, they started moving towards us. I could not recognize the moves, which looked like a combination of walking, falling, dancing, and crawling. What I did feel, was the symphony between the bodies and the music. I felt that I was moving with them, traveling through time and music notes. As the music went on, they kept moving towards us. They moved as if we were not there. I stood at the very front of the crowd, and as they got closer and closer, I was anxious. What are they going to do, are they going to stop, what should I do, should I move?… While my brain was confused about what to do, my body automatically made the way for them to pass through. Silently and concurrently, we made way for them. In the crowded little space, they were moving inches away from us. We were so close to them, yet we were in two different worlds. In their world, we the crowds did not exist. In their world, they were not performers but living objects moving. They kept moving, in the same direction, to the wall on the opposite side from where they started. Eventually, they stopped as they reached the wall, where pictures hung with statements:
This is NOT you. This is NOT relevant. This is NOT a gallery. This is NOT finished. This is NOT unique. This is NOT progressive.
Then the music stopped. After a long pause, everything went back to the state before the performance started: videos and background music playing; people walking around and chatting. I also went back to where I was before the performance: asking myself what do these exhibitions mean, and is this an art show? I lingered around and talked to other visitors. At the end, I realized that there is no perfect definition to what an art show is; there are only perfect definitions.
Above: This is NOT an artshow. 2016. LIGHTSTAGE Arts&Events, Hong Kong.
On the day of opening reception for Collective Monument, I spoke with artist Nara Park. Her artwork Never Forget was made of plastic packaging boxes and vinyl, which imitated the stones that build monuments in DC and the mosses that grow on them. I asked, why plastic boxes? She told me, both plastic boxes and the stones to build moments, are all purchased disposable objects. What’s interesting is that, while the plastic boxes are meant to be thrown away, plastic itself lasts forever while statues come and go, even though they are meant to be built forever.
Preconception kills art, and to follow a single definition is to limit. What does ‘monument’ mean? Is it a statue? Is it tangible? Does it have to be monumental? Is the object’s physical presence in accordance with its purpose of existence?
There is no perfect answer, only the perfect answers.
By Yvette Yu
This weekend, I visited D.C. to volunteer and was shocked by the poverty-stricken corners of the capital I had not seen before. Since most of my escapades to the district have been touristy, I was familiar with the city’s gorgeous architecture, Parisian flavor, and historic monuments. Generally, I have never felt particularly touched by the works I’ve seen there. I recall feeling at ease at the tranquil FDR memorial, unsure how to connect my environment to the influential president. Granted, I was relatively young and unaware of Roosevelt’s legacy and the social tumult of the Great Depression (an ironic contrast to the serenity of the memorial site). In fact, nothing about any of the monuments I’ve visited have informed my historical knowledge. Still, I know the random guy on a horse represents valor and wartime bravery. I understand that the stoic granite faces embody hope and leadership. I know that to touch a marble hand or face would be irreverent, but I am never tempted because the stone would be cold anyway.
While I do believe in commemorating heroes, monuments can never be as evocative as eyes lit with passion, veins surging with determination, and voices overtaken by hope. Many times, this defective representation can be stirring in itself: while the thousands of shoes at the Holocaust Museum are unfilled, the distinct human presence saturating the air is inescapable. Some of the most powerful and ineffective attempts at remembrance invoke the sensation of reaching. Representation is only ever approached; it is not an arrival but a subjective ideal.
Ultimately, the inspiration and solemnity D.C.’s monuments and memorials grasp for is more honestly encompassed by their context. In deteriorated, struggling urban neighborhoods, the Capitol Building overlooks citizens largely neglected by the government. Homeless veterans brace for winter within miles of war memorials. The peak of the Washington Monument towers over protesters petrified by the executive branch. Irony infects the air, but it cannot pierce stone. Even if it could, most monuments are far from the dark regions of the city. If they are in sight, they only taunt citizens who need action, not ideals locked in granite.
Above: Nara Park, Never Forget. 2014. Plastic packaging boxes, vinyl. The Stamp Gallery.
When I first stepped through Nara Park’s Never Forget, I experienced a strong and unexpected cognitive dissonance. Shiny, striking, beckoning, Park’s work stands familiarly in our dimension, and is undeniably dynamic. My mental hesitance was not immediate, but seeped into me with closer inspection of the piece and its label. Park builds with “bricks” that are hollow, that have nothing natural about them, that have no part that ever came from earth or should ever return to it. “Moss” exists in a stagnant state that does not begin or end in growth, only geometry. I walked through “stone” that had no history beyond a factory print date and folds under Park’s hands. All of her work is made of mylar, plastic, vinyl, and patterned with ink printed off-site.
And I felt truly alienated. I felt an alienation that was amplified by my weeks spent with Never Forget, working in the site of its stature, and so I began to articulate a ‘why.’
I walk through Park’s work and am forced to recognize the bounds I tie to the trueness of materials. I have begun to recognize how much of the things that I love, I shamelessly love for their grounded nature. Grounded: I love not the space things occupy but the matter with which they occupy that space. Nature: I love not the things alone in this moment, but the things as a part of moments before and moments to come. It is not a realization of materialism in the traditional sense, but a sudden awareness of a strange attachment to materials nonetheless.
In other words, I was not rudely asked to reflect on how much I love to possess things, but rather asked to reflect on why I love the physical things I love. I love the buttery texture of oil paint. If you were to hand me an aerosol can of oil paint, I would not love oil paint. I grew up in a world of true-false questions and Holden Caulfield’s crises over phoniness, and so I grew up hating fake and loving transparency. And somewhere along the way, as I loved the transparent and honest and real, I either created or found the romance of those characteristics. These vinyl shipping boxes before me that held nothing but contained “PROTECTION,” “DIGNITY,” and “LOYALTY,” were completely artificial and completely without romance.
Really though, that’s the point. Like a poem you write and then find online in Comic Sans, my experience with Park’s work is not my own, and what Park is saying is not romantic. And despite how my staggered impression makes it seem, Park commits no crimes in her studio practice. She is openly and wholly un-aggressive about the altered realities she builds, and in a way, her written words seem to express greater humility towards her materials than many of those uttered by sculptors who wield the very materials she mimics.
Her goal is not to deceive, her goal is to understand. She asks us to figure out something with her. What really matters, to us as persons, and to us as a people? What about the things that matter, actually matter? What about the things that matter, should?
In the present, I continue to fall in love with the unique character of materials, the behaviors they practice that you take away when you only offer their image. I am still greedy: I want to experience an item with all of my senses, and am betrayed by the option of only using one. But I am also at times made humble by the way in which I consume the visual, tangible world. Here is Never Forget, filtering objects through one sense. Here are “inscriptions” that purposefully encourage dissonance. Here are items I have trouble connecting with because of their materiality, serving as a list of attributes that have no materiality at all.
Transparency is not about things that are true to their form, nor does it blindly communicate a harmony. Transparency is the champion of alienation, dissonance, discomfort. Because in this discomfort, we are made to reflect, and to grow.
In this way, there can be nothing more transparent, more honest, more real, than massless boxes building massless ideas.
This exhibition has welcomed perspective and reflection to its visitors—an outlet for expression and an experience where people are thrust into a multisensory experience that activates emotions implicitly and explicitly. I wanted to share my experience and reflection to the exhibit from the perspective as a docent, surrounded by the artwork including Upresting by Adam Holofcener and the Counter-Archive Project by Antonio McAfee.
Black Maths has allowed me to address emotions, reflect and contemplate on past and current events surrounding issues of inequality. Upresting is a powerful piece that allows people to have a voice—to speak into the microphone and become a part of the protests of the 2015 Baltimore Uprising. I have always been a quiet person; I observe and rarely speak out. In the past few years I have gained the confidence to speak out on important issues. This exhibit was an opportunity for many to express their emotions about the current state of our country, the unjust treatment of people of color, the election results, and to add their voices to the collective sea of unrest and anger. As millennials, information is thrown at us constantly through technology and several media outlets. We must sift through a wealth of information and interpret the world through what we see and experience. In my opinion, it isn’t acceptable to be silent or willingly blind to our privilege. Silence is compliance and silence is privilege, and this piece symbolizes the need for us to stand up and speak against racism, discrimination, and police brutality. Sitting in the gallery constantly submerged in the mix of voices, images, and spaces threw me into the experience and forced me to confront these thoughts. The art served as a constant reminder that issues of inequality in the black community, police brutality, institutionalized racism, discrimination, and more still exist and remain in full force. Although slavery has been abolished, racism has not disappeared, it has evolved. I have always found an outlet in music. I believe that music is poetry that artists use to vocalize and articulate their experiences. In “Black America Again”, a song written by Common, a rapper from Chicago, known for his powerful and socially conscious lyricism, discusses the issues of the perpetual misrepresentation of black people in the US. I interpreted Antonio McAfee’s Counter-Archive Project to bring these same issues to light. In the song, Common addresses discrimination, opening with the lyrics “Here we go, here, here we go again… Trayvon’ll never get to be an older man. Black children, they childhood stole from them”. This lyric refers to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 16 year old African American boy killed in 2012 when walking to his father’s house through a gated community. Common continues his verse with “The new plantation, mass incarceration… instead of educate, they’d rather convict the kids… From schools to prison y’all, they tryna pipe us. Tell your political parties invite us instead of making broke laws to spite us” and “The color of my skin, they comparing it to sin.. The darker it gets, the less fairer it has been”. In this part of the song, he refers to the school to prison pipeline, institutionalized racism, and discrimination. This made me think about the way the system deals with communities with high crime rates. Instead of attacking the root of the problem and providing better opportunities through education, the government criminalizes and convicts those who had no other choice but to be involved in illicit activities. This album came out in November right after the exhibit opened. I used to come to work and sit at the desk and experience the Counter-Archive Project. I would see the faces of African American men and women from the 1900s distorted and represented in new ways and I listened to the echoes and distortion of men and women marching together in response to the death of Freddie Gray to protest the unjustified killings of black Americans. I listened to this album repeatedly after I got off work. Listening to others articulate thoughts that I could not helped me understand even more. Being immersed in this experience allowed me to organize my thoughts on the treatment of black people in our country. I gained more perspective through the emotional context of these issues rather than just seeing news story after news story. Racism is real, police brutality is real, and discrimination is real. These statements must be seen, heard, and engrained in the brain of every single person to activate change. The last line of “Black America Again” is echoed by Stevie Wonder, “We are rewriting the black American story…”—it is up to us to change the course of history and let our voices be heard.
Antonio McAfee || Baltimore-based visual artist || Black Maths October 31–December 10, 2016 at the Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Grace DeWitt
This is the second installment of the Black Maths artist interview series.
To start with some background, did you grow up in the Baltimore area, where you’re currently based?
I moved to Baltimore when I was 9. My father was in the army so my brother and I were born in Germany; prior to moving to Baltimore, I lived in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Where did you study, and were you gravitated toward art early on, or did you have to find your way to art-making?
As a kid, I gravitated to understanding how things worked and story-telling. I started out taking apart toys and other devices (trucks, Nintendos, stereos, etc.) just to exercise my curiosity of how things worked. I also wrote stories which was something I would get absorbed in. Drawing was another activity I did quite a bit for many years, but I was mostly captivated by technology and telling stories, which plays a crucial role in how I think and work in the study. As evident in Black Maths, deconstruction and narratives really drive my current body of work, and has since college.
Art-making came into my life in high school. I went to Carver Center for Arts and Technology which is a magnet high school that allowed students to major in primes. Officially, I was in the Culinary Arts program but during my second year I saw the work of two visual art students (Justin Blische and Johnny Rogers) who were doing experimental photography, and it completely fascinated me, in part, because I have not seen much like it at the time. I wanted to learn how they made their images, so I approached the photography teacher (Charles Schwartz) about taking a class and I have been obsessed ever since. Junior year I participated in the school’s Italian Exchange Program; during this trip I went to the Venice Biennale and it blew me away. Going to galleries and museums was not a big part of my life; seeing ideas presented on a grand scale was the turning point, and I decided to dedicate my life to art.
Right after high school, I studied at Morgan State University for a year, then transferred to the Corcoran College of Art and Design to be as immersed as possible in art. Right after that I attended the University of Pennsylvania to get my MFA in photography. While at the Corcoran I worked at numerous art institutions and learned a great deal about facilitating exhibitions, collections, and programs. This experience influenced me to study Art and Culture Management at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Your work in Black Maths, the Counter-Archive Project, transforms black-and-white photographs made for the The Exhibition of American Negroes organized by W.E.B. Dubois, Thomas Calloway, and Historic Black Colleges at the Paris 1900 International Exposition. How did you come across The Exhibition of American Negroes?
In graduate school, I was on a trip to San Francisco, while there I visited my aunt who was studying at UC Santa Cruz. She gave me a chapter from the book Photography on the Color Line in which the author dedicates a chapter to analyzing the photography of The Exhibition of American Negroes. This text was eye opening because it introduced Du Bois’ involvement with photography, and thinking about archives as something I contribute to, as opposed to something that is static and set in stone.
Can you explain how you encountered the ideas of Lucy Lippard, and how your work in Black Maths resonates with Lippard’s thoughts on intersubjective time?
Lucy Lippard initially came to me in an art theory class while I was a student at the Corcoran. As a feminist theorist, she offered a critical point of view that was new and exciting to me in that context, enabling me to think much broader about representation. Ms. Lippard presented the idea of intersubjective time in her essay Doubletake: The Diary of a Relationship of an Image, in which she discusses different levels of personal attachment to a black and white photograph of a Native American family. Through stages of research into the photographer and the family Lippard developed a deepened affection for the photograph. An affection that transcended time and evolved the more she researched.
This mimics the engagement I have with the portraits from the American Negro Exhibition. Researching and understanding the back stories contributes to knowing the whys and whats of the portraits, which allows for personal points of entry I can relate to. Using photography to address misrepresentation and realigning it towards accurate representations struck a chord with me because being subjected to others’ expectations, assumptions, stereotypes, etc. is an on-going battle. Images are a profound way in which people understand each other, so it is pertinent for me to use that medium to counter those notions and take depictions of others to a different direction that a) deconstruct and reconstruct photographic portraiture and b) offer depictions that are influx, inexplicable, and play with static representations. It is through experimenting and remaking these images that I develop a deepening connection to these pictures, their time period, and the narrative behind their inception.
You mentioned at the Black Maths opener that a certain book also played a large role in inspiring the Counter-Archive Project. Could you go into further detail about that?
Photography on the Color Line by Shane Smith is an influential book in which the title of the project comes from. Dr. Smith outlines the context that contributed to the creation of this project by Mr. Colloway and Du Bois. To combat racist ideas and depictions of Blacks, The Exhibition of American Negroes was created to survey their middle class status from a lower social and economic status (slavery, sharecropper, etc.), using photographic portraiture as a counter move to reposition one’s self and others, to establish control of how someone or a group of people are to be seen, understood, and engaged. I think it is powerful to have a personal stake in history, in particular, a document that is locked in a time, place, idea and to take back some authority of history and rework it in a way relates more specifically that person. This process can reveal a web of connections that may not have been noticed before, ushering new directions, ideas, and relationships.
A Small Nation of People by David Levering Lewis and Deborah Willis (on display at the gallery) is also informative because it presents research conducted about the exhibition which presents more information about the people photographed and the backstory about how the exhibition came about and Du Bois and Colloway’s experience developing and exhibiting the exhibition. In general, literature plays an essential part in the ways I think about myself, others, and what I do: books from The Body in Pain: Making and Unmaking the World by Elaine Scary, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, to White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
Counter-Archive is photography-centered. Have your artistic endeavors always focused on photographic elements, or has this interest developed from projects in other media?
The core of my endeavors is photography. I also make pieces in video, drawing, collage, sculpture, and painting, but they revolve around photography and portraiture. My interest in other media developed from photography.
To what degree would you say that spontaneity, or an uncontrolled use of materials, play a role in your work?
Spontaneity plays a huge role in my process. Using glue as the initial method to alter pictures gives me a jumping off point I cannot completely control and allows for moves after that guide me in unexpected directions. It helps keep the images and process fresh, offering new challenges and problems to solve, but the more I use it the more I can understand.
“The Trickster” and the “Woman in Black” are recurring characters throughout the Counter-Archive Project. Was there a specific reason for repeating or revisiting these characters?
While I am working on one piece questions of “what if this or that happens” come up. So, I will make many versions of the same figure because I want to see my initial idea through, but I do not want to ignore the various stages along the way, especially if they are effective images. It is a matter of paying attention to what is in front of me and letting different stages and thoughts sit for a while to see what they offer.
Could you explain what led you to the incorporation of 3D elements into Counter-Archive?
The 3D portraits are an extension of The Trickster (In Motion) which is an image of The Trickster that has been duplicated and overlapped to give the effect as if someone is looking at him cross-eyed. I wanted to enhance that effect by creating figures that seem to
vibrate, shift left and right, and turn visible and invisible. One way to achieve this was to use a 3D visual that actually did that with the assistance of red, blue, and 3D glasses.
It appears that you explored a number of photograph manipulation techniques in your series. Could you explain your process in creating El Tarta, one of the more noticeably varied works in the collection?
El Tarta is a collage that is made of fragments from the 1900 studio portraits. I use a transfer process that takes inkjet ink from dried glue –- applied to the studio portraits -– to acrylic medium. From there I glue the medium pieces, holding the ink onto paper to build figures partially from scratch.
What about your process in creating The Abrupt Unmaking?
For The Abrupt Unmaking, I poured glue onto the inkjet print and let it rest there for three months. Over time, the print buckled and curled as a result of the hardening glue; then I peeled off the glue, leaving the wistful impression of a fading figure.
Can you tell me a little bit about your conceptual and physical processes in creating the three Unmaking and Making panel pieces in the show?
The process for creating the panels pieces is the same as El Tarta. After transferring the ink to acrylic medium I glue the pieces, building out the figures and simultaneously abstracting and camouflaging them amongst the black, white and grays tones of the photographs. These collages are a move towards more imaginative interpretations of these individuals, trying to see far I can push my interpretations. This process is closer to drawing than most of the work in the show. It has been a fruitful, challenging move away from the strictness of the historical aesthetic and image, to reconstruct the figures to numerous small pieces.
Were there any other particular experiences or connections that emerged from creating certain pieces in Counter-Archive that you’d be willing to share?
Woman in Black Cross Fade was an exciting, spontaneous development because I just happened to come across a three-eyed figure that had two heads blended together. I have been fascinated by three-eyes figures in Christian paintings for some time and always wanted to make some, but other pieces and techniques taking place in the studio superceded that goal. Once I came across the merged head with three eyes, I remembered immediately “I have wanted to create images like this;” it was an exciting surprise that felt like an accomplishment.
I understand that the exhibition title ‘Black Maths’ was a joint decision between you and Adam. Would you mind explaining a little bit about how the title relates specifically to your work in the show?
The title Black Maths comes from the idea of reworking traditions, offering visitors the chance to take in styles of images and sounds that may be familiar or established. Through experimentation, Adam and I have developed process-centered methods, i.e., our own equations, to produce pieces that are rooted in the past or a certain event but offers new interpretations to what they mean or how they function today.
When someone walks into Black Maths, what is one thing you hope that person will grasp about your work?
The abstract/inexplicable is valid and powerful in its own right. No one has to bear the burden of proving his or her existence or normalcy, which is quite often the plight of people that are categorized as “other” and not a part of a dominant culture. It is quite all right having others put in the effort to meet you halfway to understand who you are.
Do you feel that the message or significance of either the Counter-Archive Project, or Black Maths, has changed since its state at opening?
No, I do not think it changed. It has just been presented holistically to showcase the range in which the message can be seen in the array I have been working and conceptualizing it.
In close, can I ask what you’re currently working on?
I am working on an 8 1/2 ft tall portrait collage of D’Angelo as Mary Magdalene with life-size photographic sculpture cut-outs the 1900 portraits. This month I am participating in two group shows as well.
McAfee’s work is included in Black Maths at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, October 31–December 10, 2016. Read more about Antonio McAfee.
Adam Holofcener || Sound Artist, Composer, Performer || Black Maths October 31-December 10, 2016 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Sarah Schurman
This is the first installment of the Black Maths artist interview series.
Black Maths embodies a visual and auditory conversation between the works of two Baltimore-based artists. Holofcener’s quadrophonic sound installation Upresting configures field recordings from the 2015 Baltimore uprising into a new sound installation that evokes a body navigating a protest. Visitors are encouraged to speak into a microphone to experience their voice join a multitude.
To start with some context, did you grow up in Baltimore? Did your upbringing and schooling bring you to art?
That’s a good question. Well I grew up in Baltimore. Nobody in my immediate family were art makers. Definitely grew up in a sports household. I’m a white suburbanite, I wasn’t good at sports so my angst sort of channeled itself by playing punk rock music. My first engagement with art actually was somewhat through my grandfather, he grew up in East Baltimore and he got me hooked on jazz and literature. My schooling: I was extremely fortunate. I went to a school in the Baltimore called St. Paul’s school. That school was full of fascists, but the academics were really good and the guy teaching jazz there (I believe he still teaches jazz there) his name is Carl Grubbs and he was actually John Coltrane’s cousin. Carl, he’s rich, he’s as sick as can be, and he’s also sort of an artist. He was wasting his time with stupid white boys; we weren’t worthy. I feel like the combination of literature and jazz pushed me into thinking of art making in a more concrete way. Having access to intellectuals…a lot of teachers in my high school were intellectuals. Part of my neuroses got me to this point where I needed to then hear, listen, read, and see everything. Then it was just a slow matriculation on the course of avant-garde (all art media), it’s more grounded in the more bizarre subcultures out there.
Your sound installation Upresting reawakens the 2015 Baltimore Uprising in a way that invites the individual to experience collective emotion outside of its’ original context. How does Upresting explore the relationship between the individual and society?
That’s a good question. I look at all things on a continuum. On that continuum, things like the Uprising, they manifest the expression of the many and the expression of the singular all at the same time. For many of the people at the Uprising– there were a lot of people in Baltimore, they’re not from Baltimore, they don’t care about Baltimore; they weren’t gonna care about it later. Then, other people were not from Baltimore and trying to give a damn about something. For a lot of people it’s hard to separate their Ego (Ego with a capital E here): they are bringing to fruition whatever their compulsions are. Even myself to a certain extent, my whole career outside of art making has been in the public interest and I never even really did any protesting because a lot of my own pathways had put a narrative in my head that ‘well you know, you’ve got to use your skills and privilege to sort of operate within the system.’” Protesting is an extremely important part of that process, I just didn’t know if I was the one to do it. If you’re protesting I think you really need to be there as a vessel. You really need to remove your ego. It’s definitely one of those aspects of my privilege of white male-dom…It’s hard to really work in that space where you are just a vehicle. The Uprising was such that even those who didn’t feel compelled to act that way normally, everyone just felt crazy compelled. Everyone just felt like there was there was a magnetism in that way. It was an intense feeling. Then that sort of groupthink mentality that kicks in. I thought about it a lot: so much that got me thinking about Upresting while I was in the protest, especially the really long ones that would last all day long. It really helps me, the sound that operates in the protest is what joins everyone together. This exhibition is strange for me, when I first got funding to do the piece, it was sort of a community art piece. Nowhere really did I say “Upresting by Adam Holofcener.” The piece for me has kind of come full circle because I conceived of it as this very aesthetic, intellectual thing, and then I had the opportunity to make a piece of public art about it, and because those things interest me very much I took that opportunity. Then, when the opportunity came to bring it back into the realm of this more intense aesthetic it came back. It involved the many and the few; it gives you the opportunity to look at it from either of those perspectives. In contexts like this it’s worth diagnosing it from both sides.
People tend to dichotomize individual identity and society. Does Upresting suggest that collective voices can diverge from society’s message?
That’s an interesting question. Cecilia and I were talking about this before the exhibition. One of the things I thought a lot about is how you organize a collective message. What are the other opportunities that people have in such large numbers, you know thousands of people, to try to channel a good message at the same time. To me the most premiere counterexample is a sporting event; something like a football game. You have 60,000 people chanting in unison. They’re collectivizing their message but their message is a lot easier to package, and why I think that football games happen all the time and a protest happens a week after someone gets killed and then they dissipate. It’s hard to chorale the thoughts of two people of any complexity, let alone 60,000. The really amazing thing about protest or trying to organize collective people, like community organizing too (God bless anyone who truly is grassroots organizing), even people from the city council and they have to have meetings where they have someone come inside and they start screaming that the cracks in the sidewalk are yelling at them. It’s hard to chorale. Complexity, obviously, an honest protest or rally or something that is trying to bottle that very nuanced magic, I think that’s what adds to the heightened, almost spiritual nature of the event, but it makes it harder to contain. A lot of people there are there for a lot of different, but converging reasons. After the sports game people can be like “we all won;” “we all didn’t”. After you leave a protest and you’re like “what occurred?” Other times you might be like “I felt solidarity.” There’s multiplicity of feelings. It’s very important that people continue to act in that way–protest–it’s a very important part of the organizing process.
How do you think that that pairing your individual work with Antonio’s Counter Archive Project further investigates the relationship between the individual and collective? Is the message of Upresting different when in conversation with Antonio’s visual installation?
Another good question. I think Antonio’s work (this is my own reading of it), the photographs that he’s taking from Dubois really are attempting to not only distill the comments and the materialized form, between the whole category of people (individuals of color at the turn of the 20th century); they are primarily formulated by individuals. He’s commenting on the communal by exploring these individual presences. With my work, there’s a lot of different voices that come into play but it’s still somewhat focused on the individual experience. The opportunity for a singular voice to impress itself upon the environment that is embodying the many. When I first spoke to Antonio about working together we really thought a lot about–we both think a lot about process, these very academic ideas, sociological, anthropological, ethical, and then we were also like “how can we approach that from a unique form? A unique way of packaging that has a lot to do with conceptual processes.” My art is always based upon larger ideas and concepts. I’m not the type of person that if you gave me a cabin the woods, I’d be like “yeah!” I’d be like “I don’t know.” I don’t have an internal muse. I need to read five newspapers a day and be out with the people. I think Antonio is that way too, he’s really good at being inspired by all these amazing, ridiculous, horrifying wonderful things in the world has to inspire us. Being an artist is a very a selfish thing, you come at it from this singular solo page and then you attempt to take it back to your community and a larger whole.
By extending the life of the 2015 Baltimore Uprising beyond its temporal existence, Upresting challenges conventional notions of time. How is the ephemeral eternalized and universalized in your work?
To a certain extent I’m not sure. A lot of my practices involve improvised or aleatoric or experimental works. A computer program itself is on an improvisational journey. I think the universe operates on these types of irrefutable ephemera. I always get really nervous by anything that’s trying to put anything in stone. I really don’t want my reading of communal events or something like the Uprising to really have anything that is definitive about anything. It’s not my story to tell. Look, I’ve had these powerful experiences walking around the streets of this city that I care about and in which I live and work with a lot of other people, and I felt it this way and it was kind of ever-changing and different and to me, that’s interesting. In many ways, it’s inspired by an extremely emotionally politically and universally charged set of circumstances that demand a tremendous amount of respect from whomever is interested interacting with them. It all comes from almost the same impulse I have–it’s my kind of artistic practices. When I’m walking down the street and the car mixes with the sound of the, all the sounds mixing all the time there’s always that opportunity for you to sort, in an aural sense it’s without language so it’s tough. The mathematical complicated nature of the universe is such that when things sort of come together, to me that’s sort of like the closest that you’ll get to some kind of church of experience. Something like a protest is the closest you’ll get to a really intense of orchestra. There are so many opportunities and people and voices and places; things that are gonna make your hair stand on end. The form is very important.
What is the current relevance of Black Maths, especially post-election?
It’s really hard for me to even think about my own work right now. It’s been a little bit of a wild ride. We have our artists talk coming up and I haven’t really told anyone about the exhibition since the election. Anything I did is totally irrelevant. Even if this is possibly conceptually talking about something that might be Relevant (with a capital “r”) it doesn’t seem to be. How relevant is it? A lot of what I’m interested in…[being] on the vanguard of the newest most bizarre type of aesthetic criteria or a new media being created. I knew none of it really mattered because I disagree with most things that occur most of the time anyway. You fall really hard between “its pretty bleak” and the intense optimism–this is more important than ever people need to be thinking harder and empathizing more than ever. It’s hard to answer because everyone is still mining this particular existential crisis and will do for a long time. Something like the election is still so emotionally intense, a lot of work I was thinking about I wanted to not do anymore and I had a lot of new ideas for work I want to spend a lot of time thinking about now.
What do you hope visitors will gain or contemplate because of Upresting or Black Maths as a whole?
I think when you go to something like Black Maths, there’s part of me that’s like I don’t want to tell anybody what to do how to feel ever. What comes to mind if someone is like, really asking me. It’s one of the reason why I feel so obliged to try to utilize my privilege for other people. Black Maths does this pretty well, I think it might’ve done it better than I’ve ever done up to this point….My whole life of being an artist has just led from one continual opportunity after another to gain other perspectives. Every situation that you go in you should tear down into millions of perspectives that are attending to anything. It’s only been five years that I haven’t been outwardly hostile to my audience. I’m still on training wheels [laughs]. To me something like Upresting is just avant-garde music. It’s weird sounds doing weird stuff. It’s funny, especially coming from a music composition/performance background, I’m really used to standing in front of an audience and people coming in with a brain that’s like “I like when people make sounds that are either difficult to listen to and I haven’t heard before, they might be out of my sonic palette,” or it’s gonna be such a difficult thing. In a gallery context people are so much more accepting. Sound is a full body experience. There is part of me now that’s thinking less that every act is a political act. It’s easier for me to be like, I want everybody to go, because if everyone doesn’t go then what’s the point. It’s a challenge because I’m never not gonna do weird shit. I’ll always never prescribe anything to anybody. Everybody’s just got to think hard about everything.
Adam Holofcener’s work is included in Black Maths in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, October 31-December 10th, 2016. Holofcener will be joining Antonio McAfee for the Black Maths Artist Talk Saturday, December 10th at 2pm.
The Stamp Gallery is pleased to announce a Call for Papers for “Monumental Form/Memorial Time: A Graduate Symposium in the History and Practice of Art and Architecture.” The symposium will take place on March 10-11, 2017, in association with the closing weekend of the Stamp Gallery’s upcoming exhibition, Collective Monument. Submissions for the symposium are due on Sunday, January 15, 2016. Details can be found below.
Call for Papers and Projects
The notion of monumentality—as an aesthetic, temporal, and existential category—is one of the most conflicted concepts in historical and critical literature on architecture and the visual arts. Efforts to create monuments are often perceived as fundamentally complicit in consolidating political power and ideological hegemony, and many critics have attacked the traditional concept of the monument as fundamentally incompatible with the context of global modernity. Others look to monuments as sites where—through collective production and preservation—an authentic sense of localized community might still emerge. The coordinators of the Stamp Gallery and the Graduate Art History Association at the University of Maryland, College Park, welcome graduate student papers addressing the topic of monuments, memorials, and monumentality across time and space.
Papers may consider topics including—but not limited to: the notion of monumentality in ancient societies; collective efforts to produce monuments or memorials respondent to (post/)modernity; the relationship between monuments and political power; the relationship between gender, race, and monumental representation; the production of monuments as a factor in global artistic networks; the aesthetic of ‘monumentality’ as a quality of objects not typically considered ‘monuments’; monuments and the monumental in literature and poetry; the commission and afterlives of controversial monuments; and the kinds of time or temporality produced in monuments and memorials.
This symposium is organized in conjunction with the exhibition Collective Monument at the Stamp Gallery, University of Maryland, January 25—March 11, 2017, featuring work by Onejoon Che, DZT Collective, and Nara Park. The symposium will be held Friday, March 10 – Saturday, March 11, 2017, with a keynote lecture by New York-based artist Lisi Raskin on Friday evening at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, Center for Campus Life, University of Maryland.
We welcome submissions from current MA or PhD students at all stages of their studies, working in any area, chronological period, or discipline. We also welcome proposals for presentations or performances by artists pursuing MFAs whose work deals closely with the question of monumentality as a form or concept.
Papers must be original and unpublished. Please send a paper title, an abstract (maximum 300 words), and a CV to email@example.com. The deadline for submissions is Sunday, January 15, 2016. Selected speakers will be notified before January 30, 2017, and are expected to accept or decline the offer within a week of notification. Papers, presentations, or performances should be 15 minutes in length and will be followed by a question and answer session.