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.
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.
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.
Art appreciation can be a deeply personal, transformative experience. The different themes embodied in the work might meet a visitor on a minutely relatable level, or the visitor might have some sort of transcendental realization. Regardless of the magnitude of the emotional response, the discussion of artwork—especially in a casual sense—tends to be superficial. When I’ve gone to various galleries and exhibitions with my friends, the depths of our conversations regarding the art has been limited to a discussion of aesthetics: “I like how the artist…” and “This piece reminds me of…” are phrases that dominate my conversations within such artistic spaces. Talking about our emotions is largely ignored, and we would rather show off our ability to analyze what the artist is trying to say. Some might argue that there is a time and a place for such deeply affecting discussions, yet this interpretation discounts the very real impact that art can have on our everyday lives. Especially regarding the relevant social and political themes of the Stamp Gallery’s current show, Black Maths, these conversations must happen beyond the scope of aesthetic analysis.
I’d like to share my personal reaction to Adam Holofcener’s sound installation, Upresting, as an example. After spending a considerable amount of time with this piece, my emotions have ranged from uncertainty to empowerment. I am uncertain because the sounds of protest do not loop in a predictable pattern, and because I cannot anticipate the chanting or the screaming or the silence, I experience a loss of control. I am at the mercy of the work, and that is personally terrifying. This fear subsided, however, when I discovered the interactive aspect of Upresting: the microphone. I learned that my voice is amplified in the simulated multitudes and that my contribution has an audible (if only fleeting) impact on the sound. My voice became powerful, yet I had to continue to speak lest my voice faded away into the crowd.
For me, experiencing Upresting has given me the opportunity to admit my fears and embrace my voice, yet this personal sentiment is not easily relatable to others. I try to take these emotions home and discuss with my roommates, but often my words are as scattered as my thoughts. People are afraid to engage in these conversations because they fear either their interpretations are wrong or that they won’t be able to present their emotions cohesively. That is not the point of discussion. The point of entering artistic discourse—especially on such a personal level—is to work out the jumble of thoughts and emotions into something more cohesive. The uncertainty we might feel after taking in an art piece isn’t to be avoided, but celebrated. So I urge to engage in the discussion in any manner you like: express yourself creatively, take time to sit and talk with friends, write a blog post.
If a work of art makes a statement that affects you, the least you could do is respond.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
When people typically think of an art gallery space, I would assume that they think of paintings, prints, sculptures, and the like. The rules are unspoken but evident: no touching, no flash photography, mindfulness of the space. A very present connection between the artist and the art piece is established, and by setting the aforementioned limitations, the exhibitors and curators reveal part of the artistic intent.
So what happens when the artwork and the experience becomes democratized, where the only boundary presented is your imagination? What happens when the visitors in the gallery are invited to not only touch the artwork, but to participate in the process? These are the questions presented to visitors as they experience Paradise Now. Over the past seven weeks, the Stamp Gallery has exhibited a show in which guests have reshaped the topography of the space, embraced the subversion of everyday life, and put themselves on display. Yet this show has meant so much more.
After activating multiple sessions of Paradise Now, I’ve seen a variety of different responses from our visitors. Some boldly push the limits of what they are allowed to do, others are paralyzed by confusion and uncertainty, and still others simply play and give themselves to the experience. Each person’s response is wholly different but equally valuable, giving them a self-understanding with which they are able to leave the space. These emotional and intellectual reactions are not traceable to a single object, but rather to the ethereal moment of experience. The visitors are invited to put themselves into the process, so the relationship is not simply art-informing-viewer, but instead self-informing-art-informing-self.
Despite my praise of the alternative Paradise Now format, I am not discounting the traditional gallery experience. By no means has the Stamp Gallery given up on exhibiting artwork in the conventional sense. Both types of exhibition engage their audiences differently, and both aim to confront the participant with some sort of thoughtful engagement. Some subjects that an art piece might reflect are love, social dissonance, artfulness, etc., but part of what Paradise Now reflects is the audience, and that aspect is the crux of why we were interested in curating this show. This exhibition has been a stark reminder to our University of Maryland viewership that art does not have to be transcendentally significant.
Art can be about you, too.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
Paradise Now is truly more than a game. Beneath the fun interactivity of the exhibit lies a profound commentary on humanity. Like everyday life, the gallery offers a broad space where visitors can make decisions based on their circumstances. The game is shockingly liberating: patrons are encouraged to manipulate their horizons however they please. Through that freedom, visitors encounter an accepting environment where wearing a milk carton on your head or screaming through a megaphone is welcomed enthusiastically. In many ways, Paradise Now has created a safe space and a creative habitat.
Ironically, the liberation of game is also one of its constraints. Immersing oneself in Paradise Now is a surrender to limitation: the clock is ticking, self-consciousness is looming, cooperation of a partner is crucial, and the kindness of others is variable. Unless the circumstances are optimal, the freedom of Paradise Now can be its most daunting restriction. In many ways, the paradoxical nature of the game serves as a microcosm for life- choices and the question of free will.
The tension between fate and free will in Paradise Now is a testament to the philosophical, psychological, and creative power of the exhibit. This dimensionality inspired me to reconfigure portions of the score into a poem. The first section of the poem reflects suffocation, while the other savors in release. In the same way that Paradise Now embodies freedom and restraint, so also does my poem represent creativity in the midst of limitations. In life, we also have to stick to the Score, no matter how beautifully vague it may be.
Only At Arms Length: A Reconstruction of the Paradise Now Score
Have you ever closed your mind?
Like a bad habit: stop. scream.repeat.
Down at the ground
when the stages are stacked
Holding onto any moving object
Somethings cannot be learned or granted for your hard work.
Just an infinity of impeccable restraints–
A hunger to know something for certain
How did we get here?
Pick a player
Follow your lead
Face the inward windows
silently now, start to
Fill your body
Foam on top of foam
Only at arms length.
Thank you for beginning your journey to becoming an unlocked player in the game of Paradise Now.
Paradise Now is a game of unequal circumstances and varying objectives that invites unlocked players to alter and redefine the game’s Score by participating in various rounds of the game. The Score is a series of directive actions that happen over each 60 minute round of the game. Unlocked players may alter the Score by navigating the space with their bodily movements, altering the various gaming mechanism at play, and by adding directive phrases to its structure. Although many players may be active in the game simultaneously, every player may choose to fill the role of player 1 or player 2 and respond accordingly to their set of directive actions in the Score throughout each round played. Each round of the game played throughout its occupation of Stamp Gallery in September & October of 2016 will be documented, archived and analyzed by our team, who will compose an accumulative Score. The accumulative Score will represent a collective of player movements found throughout the entirety of the game’s stay at the Stamp. Your participation is highly valued by our team and we hope you enjoy this round of the game.
The Paradise Now team