Allan deSouza | Through the Black Country: Body Doubles and Fictive Presence

Allan deSouza | Through the Black Country: Body Doubles and Fictive Presence


>>It is with a sheer pleasure that I
welcome Allan deSouza to Krannert Art Museum. Allan is coming to us from the
University of California Berkeley, where he’s Associate Professor and
Chair of the Department of Art Practice. An artist of exceptional range, Allan’s practice
includes photo-conceptual and text-based works, performance, sculptures,
installation, criticism and fiction. Indeed a is amply evident in
“Through the Black Country…”, the expedition currently on view up at KAM. Allan flourishes in the fusion of media using
mimicry, layering, reversal and artifice to unsettle our assumptions and to
call attention not only to our acts of looking, but also to their precarity. Allan’s slight of hand is
everywhere in his work. His images possess a temporal quality where
elements of illusion and surprise yield to a dawning recognition of something familiar. A southwestern landscape, a
view from an airplane window, a popular painting by Paul Gauguin. This elusive and allusive quality is
a deliberate strategy of the artist to subvert the documentary claims of photography
and to probe our own attachments to the idea of authentic places, histories
and unequivocal truths. Connected to the South Asian diaspora in
East Africa, Allan was born a Nairobian, moved with his family to London during the
heady yet uncertain days of Kenyan independence. While his biography informed his critical
ruminations on being placed and racialized to gendered and temporal frames, as
well as his participation as an activist in the Black British Art movement in the 1980’s, his practice moves well beyond
identitarian politics to engage instead with the ongoing fallout of
colonialism and empire from the diaries and Henry Morton Stanley
to the Brexit vote of 2016. Allan has had innumerous artist residencies
and fellowships across the globe, and his work has been shown extensively
in the US and internationally. His forthcoming book, “How Art Can Be Thought”
is an examination of art pedagogy and a lexicon of terms commonly used to discuss art. Other writings have been published
in various journals, anthologies, and catalogs including Third Text, London,
Art Practical and Shifter Journal, New York. Having had the privilege of working
with Allan on several projects, including an exhibition here in 2010 featuring
selections from his Divine, Redactions, Terrain, and The Lost Pictures work, I’ve come to
known Allan as a most provocative thinker, a generous collaborator and
an irreverent co-conspirator in this world of making exhibitions. So please join me in welcoming Allan deSouza. [ Applause ]>>Thank you so much, Allyson. Although I have to say, it is kind of weird
to be just standing there when someone so close to you is talking about you. OK, I’m going to– the video I had playing
was actually part of a larger work as part of an installation and I’ll show you
some of the stills from that later on. OK. So this is just the kind of
title page of the show upstairs. And for those of you who have seen
it already, then it will be familiar. And I’m not actually going to
show or talk about that project. But we’ll talk about what
sort of leads up to it. And I just want to sort of
place my work– what’s– I guess things that I have been thinking about
just in the last week or so and hopefully that will become apparent why
it’s been in the last week. So an artwork exists or occurs physically
in the world, but it also functions as a complex of fictional propositions in ways that we
can compare to a novel or to a movie as more or less convincing what-if events to be
experienced or to be– or to investigate. And I’m particularly interested in
scenarios in which we are invited to imagine how one body stands in for others. The most common being the fictional
protagonist of a novel or movie standing for– in for or being the point of
identification for the viewer. And why I’ve been thinking about this
very recently is that I belatedly saw– the week, saw the film “The Shape of Water”. I just saw it last week. The main Italianish character
Elisa Esposito is played by a very non-Italian actress,
by a British actress. Her name– The character’s name Esposito
was historically given to foundlings who were given up for adoption. So we are already clued in
to a lost and mute body, a body that cannot speak
itself, nor of its origins. In relation to exactly such a non-speaking body,
the philosopher Jack Rancière, who also last week I attended a lecture of his,
he considers politics or the political moment is that in which the non-speaker claims
speech or proves that they can speak. And this is similar to Gayatri Spivak’s question of whether the subaltern can
speak and to what degree that speech is muted or mutated through the systems
that might appear to enable speech, and in this case, the university or the museum. “The Shape of Water” is not considered a
political film in the same way as, say, the film “Black Panther”
which I also saw last week, has in overwhelming ways
acquired the burden of speaking for an African American future imaginary
as well as an African imaginary. But I’m not going to get into that since
that’s much longer discussion. In “The Shape of Water”, Elisa and her
closeted friend Giles with no last name and her co-worker Zelda,
they represent disability, queerness, and blackness respectively. All of which come together in the body of
the unnamed creature played by Doug Jones who previously acted as the amphibian,
Abe Sapien, in the film “Hellboy”, also directed by Guillermo del Toro. So I’m being kind of a little bit insiderish—
revealing my sort of interest in sci-fi movies. Who has actually seen “The Shape of Water”? OK. Well, actually, not that many of you, OK. In the film, disability, femininity, queerness,
and blackness extend to other relations and locations in the film and more complexity
represented than I’m doing justice here. For example, Elisa’s white femininity
is clearly sexual and depicted as such right in the beginning of the film. But it’s depicted as sexually
isolated and closely aligned with Giles’ also isolated sexuality. This bodily fluidities and
containments are spelled out by the film title of “The Shape of Water”. The film is set in Baltimore, which isn’t where, as one character suggests,
where anyone would choose to be. And it is set during the
pre-Civil Rights segregation. And at the height of the Cold War with its
fears of alien and foreign infiltration which is the era of the body snatchers. The film also falls within a
genealogy of “water monsters”. Post creature from the Black
Lagoon from 1954 and– which inspired Guillermo del Toro
enough to sign on to do a remake which the studio later cancelled. And the film was pre-Swamp Thing, the comic
series that made its debut in the 1970’s. The movie depicts the intersection of the
two main characters’ bodies in “A Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name” to quote
the poem “Two Loves” by Alfred Douglas. His poem depicts a dream of a perfect love. One that crosses all societal prescriptions and
restrictions, and in this case of the movie, it speaks also to love that
crosses the societal proscriptions around race, genus, and disability. Yet, as I said, this is considered less as
a political film and more as a fairytale. So, in talking about those movies, I’m sort of
setting a kind of– a loose ground as it were. And I’ve sort of wandered off the path of my
own work, but these are the kinds of questions about which kinds of bodies are
represented, and who gets to speak, and what points of identification the viewer
has, and which kinds of viewer are prioritized through those points of entry, and who
actually assumes the role of speaker. So moving towards my own work, and as I said,
I’m not going to talk about the gallery that’s in the—- the installation that’s in the gallery upstairs,
but I want to offer some entry points. The protagonist in the installation upstairs
is a Muslim Indo-African named Hafeed Sidi Mubarak Mumbai. I know I said I wasn’t going to
talk about it but just a little bit. His expedition is a fairytale. And like all fairytales, there’s
an element of the fable. In its proposition of a speaker, a
fictional one, an expedition leader, a discoverer, and this is Hafeed. It is a claim to counter-speech against who
Édouard Glissant has described as and I quote, “Western discoverers: explorers,
merchants, conquerors, ethnologists– those men of intelligence, faith, and law.” Hafeed is one of many counter-speakers
who in this very politicized moment in which the non-speaker, the one
who had been erased from history, the one who is rendered mute in the present,
claims speech, and proves that they can speak, and claims territory from which to speak. One of my artistic methods is to
chart what Rosi Braidotti described as figurations or cartographies of the present. And at the risk of overstating my case,
I’m presenting her description here as “
as cartography is a “politically informed map
of one’s historical and social locations, enabling the analysis of
situated formations of power and hence the elaboration of
adequate forms of resistance.” And so that’s really one way that I think about
my work—- as a kind of network of social relations which are materialized through the art object. But it really becomes enacted
through the viewer. And so while my work is conventionally
not interactive art, I do rely on it to be activated. And so– I mean I do consider it as a kind of social practice even though
it takes the form of, you know, framed works on the wall text and so on. But underlying it is a– I
guess layers of performance. So I’m going to go back to sort of earlier
work that really relays some of this and also to complicate this notion of what
comes early, what comes later, and in fact even the notion of a timeline. So the series here Rumpty-Pumpty–
Rumpty-Tumpty and this is number 5, and you see the dates are from the 1997 to 2017. So they’re photographed in ’97 and then
printed last year and exhibited last year. And I’m not sure how well you can see. Could– You know, usually
photographers will clean their negatives and these are shot in film. We will clean the negatives before printing. And so in that 20-year period, before
printing them for an exhibition last year, I decided not to clean my negatives. So in the print itself, you’ve
got the 20 years of dust. And you can see, I don’t know, there’s a sort
of little sort of marks everywhere on the print, and in some ways there’s an image
which shows you a moment from 1997, but the surface of the print actually conveys
to you the 20 years of the passage of time. And there was something also that– I didn’t want these to be pristine
images because of the content. Some of you might recognize this, this location. And I’ll show three images from that series. So there’s a Muslim family in the same site. And here’s a larger view of that location. It’s the Taj Mahal Casino in New Jersey,
which I think is now being demolished. Last year they had a fire sale to
sell off all the interior fillings. And so they were in an exhibition
of contemporary South Asian work. And my work doesn’t really fit that easily
within that terminology of South Asian art. It doesn’t look South Asian, whatever
we imagine South Asian is to look like. And I deliberately participate in those
kinds of exhibitions in order to expand and extend how we might think
of those kinds of designations. And so I put in these three
images and which were then– this was the image that was used for the
publicity and on the cover brochure and so on. And so most people, I think, assumed it was an
image in South Asia and a kind of orientalist, exotic, an image almost of the past moment
of how we might wish India could be. And the fact that it’s actually
the Trump Casino and against– and again is a kind of orientalized
vision of the past India. And it’s not just Trump that’s doing it, it’s
also Hindu fundamentalism in India itself who are claiming this kind of mythical heritage, and also aligning with Trump in the
present in terms of trade relations. So, again, it’s an image which doesn’t appear
to be political but it becomes politicized by being activated by other events
that are happening outside that image. And that’s really one way I
think of my work being activated by circumstances and how viewers come to them. OK. So, I’m going to go through,
fairly quickly, some of these pieces. These are from the Terrain series. And I think of sort of fairly innocuous
barren landscapes, the idea of Terra nullius of empty land which certainly
was part of the rhetoric of manifest destiny. It’s also the rhetoric of a
Apartheid South Africa and so on. As empty land, it’s waiting to be inhabited
by the sort of influx of gene migrants. There’s another image. And each image has its own title
as part of the Terrain series. So these two, for example, the previous
one and this one, they’re made from models which are very small and deliberately abject. So the surface of this is paper
and it’s essentially a painting. It’s stained by me look in my own body. And the objects, you can see there, are– those are eye lashes in the foreground which
gives you a sense of scale of the object itself. And what could be tumbleweed or I know herds of
bison are actually– are little balls of earwax. So, you know, its very deliberately made from
the sort of cast-offs of my own body. And so, I guess created an image of empty land. And I was thinking particularly of the
American southwest and the sort of– the idea of the frontier and the sort of
dessert, you know, that I was familiar with growing up and sort of watching the
western movies as I’m sure so many of you are. And so this– that image of the sort of
frontier was really part of my upbringing. And so it didn’t matter where you were
in the world, you were kind of immersed in American popular culture
and it has its effect. And so, you know, these are as part
of the sources from my own work. There are others in the series which are
different kinds of landscapes but also connected to the body and using materials that one ingests or somehow associated with
sort of digestive systems. So this is actually cake icing,
dental floss and chocolate. This one is salt and fingernails
and toenails clippings. The fingernails and toenails will
come up again in another work. And then a slightly different series making
other landscapes that we’re more familiar from news images, and 2001, this
is after the initial bombing of Afghanistan and hence the title. And these were kind of– these are the kinds
of landscapes we were seeing in the news of these already derelict spaces
which are then being further bombed. And this is, again, another model
that’s made out of melted candles. And so the little black objects
you see are the candle wax. And this is also– this was
made around November, December. And I think also in my mind was all
the shrines in New York after 9/11. And so afterwards one would wander the
streets in New York and see the remnants of all these melted candles everywhere. OK. At the same time, the title is
actually a quote from a GI in Iraq. Basically anything that moves
west of a certain territory line– in the territory, and anything that moves
you could shoot, shoot to kill. So this was something that was mentioned– and I guess the terminology
of the time was the kill box. And again it’s a model. These are recycled trash,
bottles, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s on a surface of carpet. So basically I just built the
installation and photographed it. I was doing a residency in
Manhattan actually in 2001. And so these are materials collected off
the streets of Manhattan, lower Manhattan, transistor parts, old bits
of computer, and so on. And this was made– my residency
was in May, April to June. So, yeah, April, May, June. And so these were works done before 9/11. And this was the image for the
invite card that I was supposed to– for a solo show that I was
supposed to have in September. And there was no way to use this image after
9/11, and so the show was then postponed. Madinat al-Salaam, Arabic for the City of
Peace, and it’s also a name given to a kind of mythical version of Baghdad
from the 7th century. And we don’t have any archeological
evidence of it. It just really– we know
about it through literature. And again made from recycled materials. So the– you know, I was showing
those photographs of models which I made and then photographed. Alongside some of these, photographs of Vegas. And people also assumed that
I had made these as models. And, you know, Vegas just seems so artificial. You know, and the titles which
kind of seems so dated now, but Caesar lays foundations for A New Day. It Caesar’s Palace and it’s the
foundation for Celine Dion’s– the theater that was built for her show. And her show was called A New Day. So actually– I mean, it’s a very
literal description of the site. But it also has– this is 2002 and
photographing on the first anniversary of 9/11, and it’s during the initial occupation of Iraq. The only rainbow I’ve seen in Vegas,
and the sign obviously, God Bless, America because of the anniversary of 9/11. And this is– Actually, there’s a better image
coming up, but this is the Aladdin Casino. And the Aladdin Casino is on the far left. And soon after, actually, it was demolished
because Aladdin is the thief of Baghdad and so the casino itself
was a version of Baghdad. It’s no longer there. So this is Vegas and this is
why it looks like a model. The thief of Baghdad, Aladdin on the left, in the middle is the Goncourt
Brothers, which is representing Paris. The white building there with the
American flag is Caesar’s Palace. OK. So the Goncourt Brothers stand
between Caesar and the Thief of Baghdad. And again, it’s a very descriptive
title which was particular to the time. It was just after the vote in the UN about whether UN could grant the
permission to the US turn invade Iraq. And France was one of the
few countries that vetoed it. So in some ways-— I mean it’s a documentary
photograph of a location but it takes on a kind of political narrative because of circumstances. OK. So, a lot in my work does depend on existing
locations and Vegas has something that is a kind of a simulation of other locations, you know. So Paris, Baghdad, you know,
ancient Rome, and so on. So this– I’m always interested in
the preexisting and the effect it has on our imaginations and then
within our physical surroundings. So I was doing a residency
in Maine and– in midwinter. So this was January in Maine. And looking out of my studio window, there
was something very familiar about it. And eventually, I realized it reminded
me of this painting by Pieter Bruegel. And this is the view out of my studio. And so I made that piece “The Return
of the Hunted” after Pieter Bruegel. And instead of his hunters returning with the
pack of dogs, I have images of me and I’m sort of with broomsticks rather than spears. And there’s a yellow ribbon on the tree. And so this is also during election period. But one of the dogs on the left is
sniffing a torn up Al Gore poster. OK. And I guess there was
an autobiographical element and one of my jobs post-university
was as a road sweeper. OK. So the video that was playing when you
walked in after the plane coming into land and a shadow appears actually like a drone is
connected to this series, the Divine series. And so it’s fairly low resolution video
because I was photographing and shooting video at the time when you’re told no electronics,
no cameras allowed, and again post 9/11. And the images are completely innocuous. Some photographed in clouds,
the landscape below. And so, you know, it’s very prepared to
show to actually hand over my camera to show that there’s nothing– I’m not
conducting surveillance, you know, or– which is what a passenger
accused me of actually. And said to me, I don’t care
— I don’t care who you are. Those are not tourist photos. And as an American citizen I’m
demanding that you stop, which became the title of a subsequent show that I did of these works. And which also gave me a way of thinking
about how this works might function. So the images of– really are looking
straight out of the window and photographing, and then the images are mirror imaged. So if you– you could kind of tilt your
heads and look at one side of the image, that’s really what you’re looking at. And then putting them together creates
these, I guess, divine images of sort of gods and other kinds of divine
beings or monsters and so on. And I was interested in how–
imagining of these other sort of beings or divine beings can really be just
derived from the landscapes around us. This is actually Chicago,
the suburbs of Chicago. This I think of as a Ganesh image. I guess I think of this one as sort of Mayan. And a kind of pre-Columbian image as well. Again, Chicago, I don’t know what it is
about Chicago and kind of death masks. And then others which look like shrines. One of the things that also intrigued and sometimes really worried a
passenger sitting next to me was that I would clean the windows
before photographing. And I realize this was during the time
when I’m being profiled in planes. So there’s something very
deliberate but also very careful about photographing in those
kinds of public spaces. OK. And then another series with those
landscape images are of– the kind of– the photographs of the plane, the plane
itself, again, photographed through the window, so the wings, the tail, and also
the tire mark, the airport itself. And I’ll show you some details. But, you know, these are constructed of,
again, a mirror imaged five sections. And, you know, you can see
better in the details. But then that create these kind of missile
shapes or rockets or unidentified flying objects or unidentified foreign objects,
which was how I was being profiled. OK. I’m going to make a big
jump, just go with me. Back to– I’ll tell you what
they are in a minute. OK. The Scratch series. And they’re photographs of hairstyles of blonde
American actresses from different decades. OK. Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield. This is for the ones– in
the audience who are I guess in their upwards of 50s,
in their 50s, and so on. Although it– for those who are sort of
younger, you’ll start recognizing them, Farrah Fawcett, and Pamela Anderson. And these are made from my
fingernails and beard shavings. So the background is beard shavings and
the hair itself fingernail clippings, and from a collection of about 20 years. So just some details. It just seems like such a waste
to throw these things away. [audience laughter] OK. So I have a few sort of hair pieces as it were. This is a collaboration between Yong
Soon Min, who was my partner at the time and also an artist, and my two
children, and she is not their mother. We were traveling in Europe, going from
Paris to Portugal, and we’re trying to pass as a European family in holiday. OK. Hence the title of Tress
and Pass and this is Poitier. And so then we would go up to people and
just ask them to take our photographs. And, you know, people were kind of very polite
about this and, you know, took our photographs, occasionally engage us in
conversation but not mention the wigs. And it’s kind of like that Monty Python
skip, whatever you do, don’t mention the war. This is whatever you do, don’t mention the wigs. But walking around, we could
hear people behind us talking about what have we done to the children? [ Laughter ] And then we– this is Bilbao, and we were
queueing up to go into the Guggenheim Museum. And here, it changes because
people realize it’s a performance. This is a museum audience. They’re waiting in a line to go into the museum. And they’re laughing. And this is when the kids, you
can see, they are now embarrassed. And we got as far as Madrid, and that was it. The kids were like we’re not doing this anymore. So– And we were also having
our portraits drawn. And again, the portrait artist, no mention
of the wigs as if this was totally normal. OK, another hair piece. Again, Yong Soon Min and myself. We’ll (bleep) for Peace. And we did this twice. Again, first time doing the
invasion of Afghanistan. And it’s invoking John Lennon and Yoko
Ono’s “Bed Peace”, and they did as a way to bring attention to and
protest the Vietnam War. And so, yeah, we wrote to Yoko
Ono ask for her permission. This is the 2002 version, 2003
version, the invasion of Iraq. Yoko Ono gave us her permission. She sent us the flowers, which was wonderful. Yong Soon Min does a pretty good Yoko Ono. I’m sort of less convincing as John Lennon. And I do say this, I look
much more like the Maharishi. But we stayed in the gallery for
the duration of the open times and people will just come in and sit. And we invited them to talk about anything
they wanted to talk about basically. And we would sometimes bring
discussions around the war. And we would ask them what
would you do for peace? And then they could fill in these
little kind of speech bubbles of what they would do and gave it to us. You know, people say I will sing
for peace, I will make drawings, I will cook, you know, all kinds of things. And then this became a sort of peace
quote which we then gave to Yoko Ono. And people also cutting our hair for souvenirs and sometimes they would
attach the hair as well. So it’s a much more elaborate
other elements of the installation. But I’m going through it fairly quickly. There was a projection on the opposing wall
and so it was being live-streamed as well. OK, yeah, another hair piece. So this is me doing a performance
in Korea, in South Korea. And the migrant workers in South
Korea are predominantly Chinese, but there were also substantial numbers from
South Asia, mostly Bangladesh and Pakistan. And so I’m here at the opening serving drinks. And everyone just assumed the
gallery it hired a migrant worker to staff the opening to serve
drinks at the opening. And a few people complained to the gallery
that this is really not very good practice. So anyway, there I am dressed all in white
barefoot, not speaking, but I am simply serving. I don’t speak Korean anyway. Serving drinks. And then, at some point in the opening, I
gather together all the sort of empty glasses or glasses with residue of liquid in
there and emptied them all into a basin– a white basin on a white pedestal
in the middle of the gallery. And using that liquid, I begin
to shave one little hair I have. It was a kind of stubble. And with that shaving water, refill
the glasses and carry on serving them. I love your humor. OK. So, I mean, essentially the
people that accepted my labor. And so then it’s really just
offering the body that– I guess that’s kind of biblical, isn’t it? I never thought of that. I’m offering the body that produced the labor. And most people were very polite. They took their glasses and
then for the duration of the evening just walked
around with these full glasses. OK. OK. There is a segway to these actually. These are from The Lost Picture series. And– Oh date here is incorrect. It’s from 1962 to 2004. And they work in a similar way as
the first three images I showed you. The photographs– initial photographs
were taken from 1962 to 1965 by my father. And he took them as 35-millimeter slides,
which then in 2004, after my mother died, I made them into 8 by 10 prints and
put these images around my apartment. And they’re images of the family in Kenya and during the transition
from a colony to independence. And so this image actually
is taken on Independence Day. And you can see in the background the sort
of black, red, and green of the Kenyan flag and it’s doing the sort of– doing the parade. And all of them– in all of the
image are my siblings and myself. And you can just make out in the foreground. The figure in the middle is not my
father as various people ask me. It’s actually a figure in a gorilla costume
as a kind of representation of Africa, OK. So the same day, another image from that series. I’m on the left, my brother on
the right, and again not my father but a cardboard cutout figure
of a train conductor. And so, again, this sort of invocation of the
train as a symbol of the nation in a similar way that it was used in the US, the sort of
opening up of the west coast from east. And so, again, from– in East Africa
from the coast into the interior, the train became the symbol of this
sort of progress, this idea of progress. I should mention just going back that
I put these images around my apartment. This image here was in my shower and
over a period of months gets washed away. This one was in my basin. And so, it’s toothpaste after
brushing my teeth—- each… So, you know, the accumulation of the
detritus and, you know, dust and hair, lint, and so on from the sort of domestic
space and from, you know, the body. most of the dust in any
kind of domestic setting is, you know, 90% is from the human body. And so that creates a surface
which speaks to the present. And so, I was interested in how memory
itself works as not of a specific moment which is what we think of as the moment of the
memory is formed and the photograph of the past, of that past moment, but how memory
changes over a period of time. And so our recollection of the
past changes over a period of time. It’s always fragmentary, it’s always in the
process of being lost and reconstructed. And so I was interested in whether
photograph can do something similar. To represent the past moment but to represent
also the passage of time and present moment in which the recall is being performed. And so the surface essentially
speaks the present and the image embedded is the one at the past. And here’s the detail. So I’ll just go through these. You know, and depending on the duration
that they were in my apartment and what kind of staining, it’s also the image of the
past gets erased or completely overlaid by other kinds of stainings
and sort of detritus and so on. And so, you know, which is also how memory
works as this sort of, as I mentioned, the kind of constant lost and erasure
from accumulation of new material. Now I mentioned this was the work– the first body of work I did after my
mother died and I’d just returned from Kenya. And so it is about revisiting the idea of
a motherland, but also there’s all of kinds of relations to my mother herself
who was born in Kenya as well. And I guess a kind of mourning
for different kinds of loss. My mother was also blind when she died. And I’d taken all these photographs
in Nairobi specifically to show her. And I didn’t know she’d been
going through chemotherapy which affected her eyesight
and which rapidly declined. So the time I was taking the
photographs, I didn’t know this. So I photographed places that she had lived,
places where she had worked and so on. And then I spent the last week with her describing those
photographs which she couldn’t see. And so for me, this– as a photographer, this
also became a kind of crisis of the image that they had– it had to be translated
back into a kind of verbal language. But also became a kind of opportunity
for me for other kinds of work and to really investigate what the photograph
does and its relationship to language. So this series is also connected to an
essay that I wrote about that whole process. And the essay is being published
in a few places. If you go to my website, you
can find it and download it. It’s called My Mother, My Sight. OK, so there’s a detail and that’s me. And I’ll comeback to some of
these details in another piece. So as part of this series, there
were also images of my mother. And these are treated differently. I found I couldn’t put them
around the apartment. I couldn’t sort of bare to look
at them on a sort of daily basis. And so– And, you know, at a distance,
it again appears to be a photograph. And if I show you a detail, I’ve
digitally scratched away it– essentially erasing the image but turning
it into what looks like a drawing. And so there’s a kind of way that actually
I’m forcing myself to look at the photograph and every inch of its surface in order to do
this kind of um very labor intensive erasing. And for me, that was part of the mourning
process as well by making myself look. And another one of my mother– — with a detail. OK. So this was a series or an installation
I did in New Orleans after Katrina. And I think after seeing that
series, actually, The Lost Pictures, someone asked me to do an
installation in New Orleans around some of these questions of mourning and loss. And so in the gallery space, I
constructed a map of New Orleans but made up of my family photographs, with
my whole collection of family photographs. And let me just go through a few of these. And so the installation is called The
Courses of Empire of the Thomas Cole’s series of paintings The Course of Empire. And so in order to get to
the images of the back, you have to walk over my family photographs. And so we erase them in the process
and sort of marked them in the process. And the images on the back wall, there are some
landscape images which are constructed from sort of models similar to the ones I showed earlier,
but mostly of oil rigs and power stations. OK. And there’s the details. So, people started taking
selfies of themselves standing in their neighborhoods actually,
which is kind of interesting. And actually, you approach from
the elevators into the installation from the same direction where the sea comes in. And then on the back wall were these already
erased images of my siblings and myself from The Lost series– The Lost Pictures series. So people were kind of doing, to
the family photographs on the floor, what had previously being done
to the images on the walls. OK. So, the Redaction series, 2010. I’m going through, fairly quickly, but I’m hoping
that you’ll make the associations yourself between one body of work and another even
though they appear to be very different. So these are the Redaction
series, and I’ve gone back to 19th century paintings and redacted them. So let me give you an example. So here’s a Gauguin painting,
Woman with a Flower. And on my left is my redacted version. And so what I’m doing, I’m taking the color
from the furthest point on the painting, in this case the back wall, and then overlaying
it onto other– onto every other color. And some I’m digitally selecting colors and
then overlaying the background onto it. But just selecting by colors
tends to leave lines intact, because where two colors
meet, another color is formed. And so those color– the edges remain intact. So you can still recognize the painting. And so I’m actually bringing the furthest
point to the closest point to the viewer. So the titles, I’m redacting in parenthesis,
I’m redacting the title, you know, so that just removing the vowels,
those– so it reads Woman with Flower. And once people realizes, they’re
actually able to read them pretty easily. The title Imperial is from the–
Benjamin Moore color paint swatch that most closely resembles that color. So, it’s the colors that we used to
decorate our interior domestic spaces. OK. So, the colors came ready for–
the titles came ready formed for me. And so detail just so you can see
how the surface works a little bit. Rousseau. So I was using Gauguin and Rousseau. Gauguin because he’s always traveling and the
sort of fantasy of sort of other locations and Rousseau because he’s producing these
sort of jungle images but never leaves France, and his source material is the
botanical gardens, the zoo, natural history museum, and so on. So there’s the Rousseau, Fight Between a Tiger
and a Buffalo and my redaction and the detail. Gauguin, Judith, the 13-year-old
girl he lived with in Paris. Redaction, there’s the detail of her head. I think it’s hard to see
these actually in the slide. So, I’ll go through them quickly. Secret Garden, Man with an Ax. Oh. So, OK, that was a bit of a jump. It’s actually– So, X Man series, again from–
this was done from the series of performances but they’re also invoking Gauguin and Rousseau. OK. Maybe there’s no easy way
to talk about the monkeys. OK. But from the flute player
from Rousseau’s painting. The text backwards at the top. The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. So these images are intentionally racist. But they’re also were close to the images that
were circulating of Barack Obama as an ape. That suddenly started appearing everywhere. I don’t have it with me but even in like stall
windows, there was an image of stall window from Barnes & Noble, which had kind of– sort of
animal section for all these books about monkeys and apes, right in the middle
was the autobiography of Obama. OK. Yeah, so the backgrounds are really–
are taken from Gauguin and Rousseau. And here’s the detail. How are we doing for time? [Inaudible] Another minute?>>A couple, five minutes.>>OK. Can I do this one? Maybe I’ll sort of make this the last
piece, as a way to come out of this. I’m going to– — see if I can find– it’s gone. I can show this one?>>We usually have to wrap up around 7–>>OK.>>So, maybe five minutes or so.>>OK. Oh, that’s your file. Sorry. You got to see Allyson Purpura’s desktop. Sorry. I was trying to find– so
talk amongst yourselves for a minute? OK. I had opened it, I can’t find
it, so I’m going to open it again. And so– And I mentioned translation right
at the beginning and I’m sort of interested in what happens in that process of
translation and obviously it’s related to my own sort of history and background. And also going back to the
sort of material culture of the late 19th century, that
period of high colonialism. And so I’ve been– you know, Gauguin
and Rousseau. I’ve also rewritten “Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad’s novel. And I’ve done it in a way that when read
aloud, it rhymes with Conrad’s text. And so I’m going to show– just
play you a short excerpt from it. And so what you’d have to do– the voiceover
is Conrad’s text and the visual is my text. So you have to read my text while simultaneously
listening to Conrad’s text and the sort of simultaneous translation between the two. Mine is a novel that makes sense
in his own right and it takes place on a cruise ship during a wedding party. And the cruise ship is adrift. The people in the wedding party don’t know that. And it’s also a way of trying to
engage with the contemporary moment or at least contemporary
to when the work was made. In that the text consists of the
guest at the wedding party listening into their conversations
and their mental chatter. And so it’s everything that they are anxious
about, everything that’s in the news, you know, their desires, anxieties, and so on. OK? So, let me play– I think
the sound should be OK. Let’s see. And– The sound will come up in a minute.>>Heart of Darkness. The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor
without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly
calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to
and wait for the turn of the tide. The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us
like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky
were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of
the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas
sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that
ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and
farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over
the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth. The Director of Companies
was our captain and our host. We four affectionately watched his back as
he stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole river there was nothing
that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a
seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was
not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom. Between us there was, as I have already
said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together
through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of
each other’s yarns and even convictions. The Lawyer, the best of old fellows, had,
because of his many years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck, and
was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought
out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft,
leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion,
a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of
hands outwards, resembled an idol. The director, satisfied the anchor had good
hold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us.>>OK. I’m going to– I think I’ll stop there. Yeah. OK. So I guess– yeah, just– that the
bride is transgender but is also pregnant. I think– There’s a kind of– I mean I chose
Conrad because it’s such an iconic book that set out to be antiracist by critiquing
Belgian colonialism but ends up supporting British colonialism. And I was also so interested in his
language that he’s Polish speaking and then learns English and
then writes in English. And so, I was interested in
someone who invents the language. So the– yeah, a number of
reasons, you know, for him. And again, I guess that particular
novel of how important it’s been within, you know, culture and Apocalypse Now, the film, is based on,
you know, based on the novel. There have been so many other
reiterations of it and so on. And so I just found– I kept coming back to it. And I just needed to engage with it. So, OK, so, I hope that one gives
you sort of glimpses into some of my– sort of my working methods. So thank you. [ Applause ]>>Thank you so much, it’s daunting. It’s really daunting. So, a moment if you have questions please. And please just repeat
questions as they come, folks.>>Yeah.>>Thank you so much. Thank you so much for the work– [ Inaudible ] And I’m thinking about that
relationship as a really wonderful– how that works for you, how you
think about that because those– that relationship is really what [inaudible]
expectations of where we find you in the work. And so I’m wondering about the
origin story of that relationship, I mean as a sort of post-colonial artist, I can
see this being a form of institutional critique, you’re confounding our– in the
institution’s expectations [inaudible]. But it’s also maybe about class if that’s right. And so I just wonder, for you, you know, what
are the stories that sort of sprang that concept where you’re [inaudible]
but the body is so clever?>>Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so I think, you know, as I had mentioned
at the beginning, I know it’s the relationship of the body to speech as well,
you know, who is speaking. One of the things that I sort of negotiate
is the idea of the spectacular and the sort of demand on artists if you’re
going to exhibit internationally, the demand to be spectacular,
which I’m always resistant to. And so, you know, I’m sort of [inaudible] and I
think each project is sort of trying to figure out how to do that, how to sort of
prioritize the sort of content of the work, and often by making the process of
fabrication and of making apparent. And, you know, I think there are skills that
one acquires over a period of time, you know, even whether it’s sort of taking
photographs or printing or, you know, building models with fingernails. You know, I think to play against the notion of
artistic skill that somehow endowed by genius or there’s only a select
few of us who can do that. You know, so I think it’s– there’s only–
there’s a lot of labor in what I set out to do. And, you know, I mean rewriting
Conrad is a ridiculous thing to do. And, you know, I mean it takes
years and constant rewriting. And for some reason, I have a
sort of amnesia of just how much labor each previous project took. And I– so when I begin a new one, it’s
just oh, this is such an interesting idea, let me see what happens with that. And then five years later,
you know, I’m still doing it. But it is something about the sort
of mundane accumulation, I think, rather than the spectacular gesture
that I am interested in, you know? But of course then the body so involved
in that mundane labor, you know? And I think there is a relationship in
the kind of– in the very physical labor– the manual labor I’ve done, at
different times in my life, as a living, and who is expected to do that labor, you know? As I mentioned, as a street sweeper, I’ve worked
in the kitchens and, you know, [inaudible]. Yeah, please.>>This is somewhat related. I’m sort of curious to hear what you have to
say about the various senses of humor as it goes from [inaudible] funny sort
of humor [inaudible]. It also seemed that you’re using humor
to tell a story about [inaudible], oftentimes the history you’re
telling is about that. I don’t know what–>>Yeah, no, that– you know,
that’s sort of great observation, and the sort of ways of situating humor. I think humor is a way that allows you
to speak about things that, otherwise, are difficult to bring into language. So it’s actually something
like, you know, death, violence, like how does one talk about colonialism. Like, who wants to talk about colonialism? And so– But then there’s also like how do you–
can you bring humor into something like that? So I’m interested in, can humor
provide sort of entry points? Can it be initially funny and
then it stopped being funny? And I’m also interesting in that moment
of when does something stop being funny because it reveals something else? But I think I’m mostly interested in
humor as a way to be able to speak of something which is otherwise unspeakable. But there is a kind of deliberant
levity, initially anyway. But then once you become embedded in a subject
matter, then I’m hoping the viewer gets caught in a way that then they’re led
to other things past the humor. And I think there’s a kind of permission, too. I mean, the kind of racism within Conrad,
for example, and I mentioned this in terms of monkeys, that there’s a kind of violence
in literature, in painting history and so on. And to restage it and address those violence not without necessarily replicating the
violence, I think helps one expose it. That there is a kind of violence
that’s operating in– but mine seem to be the most innocuous
kind of representations for them to make it apparent through humor, I think. Anything else? We can talk about movies. I take– Can we take one more? There’s a kind of hand that’s sort of–>>I’m just wondering about
the kind of [inaudible]. I’m just wondering about the
institutional settings that helped the–>>Yeah.>>You know, just looking at the slides,
it’s so much hard to imagine them in the settings they are actually
presented elsewhere [inaudible].>>Yeah. Yeah, that’s, you know, that’s
a really important question, I think, because I’m not sure how
much work an object can do. You know, can– you know, can a photograph or
a sculpture do the work that one wants to do, you know, engaging audiences in
different sort of complex way, different kinds of narratives, and so on. And so, you know, I teach. And so teaching for me is
part of my studio practice. I write quite a bit, I mean not just rewriting
but, you know, the book that was mentioned, “How Art Can Be Thought” is looking at
the language we use to talk about art. And so all these things, I see as part of my
studio practice, as part of my art practice. And I think they’re necessary because to go
past the limits of what the object can do. I know– You know, a lot of the activating
of an object is done through the exhibition, you know, is done by the curator, by the
discussion around the work and so on. So it takes place around the object,
rather than the object doing it itself. But the object can be the focus and can be the–
not necessarily the starting point but a kind of a way of generating other sort of
questions and discourse and so on. But that needs to be done around it, you know. And so those are things I’m most interested
in and to be engaged with them by writing and doing talks and teaching, and so on.>>I think in relation to that
question about space [inaudible]–>>Oh, I can repeat the question. [ Inaudible ] Yeah, OK. So the location of
the gallery space as well? [Inaudible] Yeah.>>Or how did you choose to go to Las
Vegas specifically to take this photo. You were talking about Maine when you were
in your studio [inaudible] that piece.>>Right. OK. So, I guess– yeah, the importance of location
both for me as an artist and being sort of fairly mobile and, you know, for work
reasons, for family reasons and so on, but also location of exhibiting
spaces and so on. I mean, I think of my work certainly
responsive to site and location. I do think of it as being discourse
specific rather than site specific. And I am interested in how ideas travel. And Allyson and I actually did an essay,
which was a conversation between us when we were both traveling, and so it
was written from different locations. And we’re interested in how ideas–
like transmission, how ideas move– kind of move from one place to another,
but how they might change from one place to another as well or get mutated in that. And so, I really am sort of an ongoing question in
my work around these questions in mobility and temporary status, not like
necessarily, like, settling in a place but what does it mean to
be in a space for a while. And I’m interested in tourism for that reason. You know, I don’t discount
tourism as a form of knowledge because I think there is something important
about the idea of seeing from outside not that we can ever do that completely,
but not to discount that, you know. [ Inaudible ] Yeah, you know, I mean I gave the example of
“Shape of Water” as a film that’s not seen as being political, you know, that it’s cast
so much as a fantasy and all about love. But– And I haven’t seen any reviews talking
about the different bodies that involved in that film and how they get either contained by their circumstances or
activated through each other. And– I mean, I do think there is a
separate category of political art which is– where the art is intended to be political. And– But I think, you know, as
culture or art is inevitably functions within the social and political realm. And we as viewers activate it
politically or not, you know. I mean, we can actually shut down its
political possibilities as viewers. But because I’m interested in how art gets
activated which is why like I feel I have to also then engage in other
ways with audiences. Oh, yes?>>Thanks for your talk. As I was watching you with your presentation, I was thinking in one hand how does this
man organize his working space, his studio, considering that you have multiple studios. But I’m wondering if you could talk us
about how you organize your workspace given that you collect a lot of, you know–>>Where do you keep those toenails?>>Oh, OK. Well, we have 20 years of
fingernails and toenails. It really doesn’t take that much space.>>But in terms of–>>Yeah, go ahead, go ahead.>>– especially how you
situate yourself in relation to your themes whether they’re family
photographs, how do you organize yourself?>>Yeah, well– OK.>>And then two, how do you work? Do you work with this meticulous,
time-consuming approach, I wonder if you work in 10-hour stretches or you do bits by bits. Can you talk us a little bit about that?>>Yeah, no, those are great
questions, thank you. Well, I love that you used the
words organize and organize spaces which I certainly don’t think of
my work process and working habits and workspaces as being organized. I do have two studios, one at home and one
actually at the university where I teach. And so, you know, between a clean space
and a sort of slightly messier space. I do work constantly. But I also work, you know, I work in the
plane, I work in the bus, so wherever I am. And so, redacted by sort of working
habits to be able to do work while mobile. Like, I don’t need a set
physical space to be able to work, which also then determines
the different ways I do work. So, you know, with the writing,
I photograph constantly. It’s only in the last month that I’ve trained
myself not to always have a camera with me. Before, I couldn’t leave
the house without a camera. I mean, I have phone, iPhone
which is sort of reasonable. And the reason for that change is because
I’m working so much on specific projects that I actually I get overwhelmed with
new ideas from constantly photographing. But there has to be a method to create
this sort of accumulations of material. And then going over them, which I do
regularly, that’s where the ideas coming from. It’s sort of constant monitoring of, like,
oh, what do I have here as well as sort of organizing, that word, that
kind of archive of materials. My studio is kind of a mess at the moment because I was collecting for
the installation upstairs. Like whatever materials I
thought might be relevant. So, my studio is just full of clothing and
other [inaudible] and just stuff I found. And actually what allows me to be more
organized is that I’ve been– I’ve moved a lot. And so, you know, when I move from England
to the US, I just threw away so much. And so every time I move, I get rid of stuff. That’s the only thing that keeps me organized. But, yeah, other materials, yeah, all the– it helps to have a private
bathroom like your own bathroom where you can keep those–
I won’t go into details. Yeah.>>Thank you.>>Yeah, I mean, you know, private spaces,
much as I don’t sort of venerate the idea of, you know, the sort of mythical
romantic notion of a studio, certainly a space where one can think and
collect, for me, that’s really important. My clean space is, because I
have a large format printer. So, I need to keep that clean. OK. That’s it. OK. Well, thank you so much. [ Applause ]