Wilder Alison Alexandra Bell Al Freeman Ariel Jackson Shellyne Rodriguez Leah Weinberg-Moskowitz Curated by Natasha Marie Llorens
September 7 â€“ Oc tober 11, 2018
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Theodore S. Berger Vernon Church Marcy Cohen
Thomas G. Devine Thomas K.Y. Hsu John S. Kiely
Beatrice Wolert-Weese Deputy Director
Shona Masarin-Hurst Programs Director
Lionel Leventhal Christen Martosella Aliza Nisenbaum Kyle Sheahen
Brian D. Starer Lilly Wei
Gregory Amenoff, Emeritus
Development Coordinator Programs Assistant
Polly Apfelbaum Lynn Crawford Ian Cooper
Michelle Grabner Eleanor Heartney
Trenton Doyle Hancock Pablo Helguera Paddy Johnson Deborah Kass
Sharon Lockhart Juan Sรกnchez
Irving Sandler Lilly Wei
CUE Art Foundation is a visual arts center dedicated to creating essential career and educational opportunities for artists of all ages. Through exhibitions, arts education, and public programs, CUE provides artists, writers, and audiences with sustaining, meaningful experiences and resources. CUEâ€™s exhibition program aims to present new and exceptionally strong work by under-recognized and emerging artists based in the United States, and is committed to exhibiting work of all disciplines. This exhibition is the winning selection from the 2017-18 Open Call for Curatorial Projects. The proposal was unanimously selected by a jury comprised of panelists Larry Ossei-Mensah, independent curator and cultural critic; Kate Shepherd, artist; and Shannon Stratton, Chief Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design. In line with CUEâ€™s commitment to providing substantive professional development opportunities, panelists also serve as mentors to the exhibiting artists, providing support throughout the process of developing the exhibition. We are honored to work with Shannon Stratton as the mentor of this exhibition.
Natasha Marie Llorens
Original Language proposes six responses to the problem of language today, or to this question: how to speak about what has been done to the body if to do so involves using language, which is itself a form of violence?
A traumatic event is one that shocks the body and the mind so profoundly that the subject has difficulty constructing a narrative to describe it. In her work on the relationship between trauma and narrative, Cathy Caruth argues that the traumatic event is actually defined by the impossibility of its ever being fully integrated into a survivor’s memory.1 The tenuous relationship Caruth articulates between representation in language and an individual’s memory of a traumatic event calls into question the possibility of any objective account of history. This theory of trauma locates an absence at the origin of testimony. It suggests that the language we make about violence is derived from this empty center, from this incomprehensible origin. Caruth also describes an urgent imperative to speak about what has been done to us, though we do not remember and cannot remember the disaster. We must speak anyway. We must invent structures of representation capable
of expressing the incomprehensible magnitude of the disaster that we are all in the wake of, somehow, though differently.
“I want to feel the place where your teeth meets the word, where sense suffers the word, the mark, the shape, the sound.” This is a line from a video by Kerry Downey, Nothing But Net (2016), whose work is not in Original Language but whose voice rings in my ears like the echo of an air drill.2 “I want to feel the place where your teeth meets the word,” I think as I bike down an orderly Dutch bike-path in the dim golden light of a late summer sunset, “where sense suffers the word,” I intone to myself as the stillness of mid-century socialized housing blocks slide by. In the context of this structural calm, I struggle to find some form of language capable of superimposing the scenes of subjection wrought by a civilization of pedestrian rationalism back onto the tranquility of the evening, scenes that have been so meticulously subtracted by that civilization’s humanist discourses. To me, Downey’s video constitutes a necessary and alternative discourse, one that avows the violence of language and the way it permits sense to suffer the word.
I want to watch the violence in language appear so that it can be called by its own name. I want to see the suffering of sense. Not because visceral forms of injuring the human are less egregious, and not in order to claim that everything happens in language alone, or that nothing is beyond the text in some obsequiously poststructuralist sense. I just want to see the suffering wrought by language acknowledged, in full, and without condition.
Original Language is the sixth curatorial project to date in a series entitled Children of Violence that maps, elliptically, the representation of violence in contemporary art.3 The Children of Violence is also a series of semi-autobiographical novels by postcolonial British writer and Nobel Prize laureate Doris Lessing. Her books roughly sketch a white woman’s coming-of-age in colonial Africa in the mid-20th century and the painstakingly slow awakening of her socialist feminist consciousness. I borrow the title in homage to the clarity with which Lessing describes protagonist Martha Quest’s complicity with the patriarchal and colonial violence that is destroying her. The gesture is also an acknowledgement of the implicit value Lessing accords to feminist rage, which
is excessive of reason and multivalent in its address. The research project of which Original Language is an iteration assumes that there is a crisis in the representation of violence today. It assumes that the most graphic, spectacular forms of violence are reproduced obsessively in order to distract from the degree to which our lives are saturated with acts of micro-aggression, acts of silencing, and acts of violence aimed at delineating those kinds of bodies that count and those that are uncountable. As a series of curatorial projects, Children of Violence wants to acknowledge all of the conditions of black, trans, female, queer, and gender-nonconforming life in the wake of the disaster that is hegemonic whiteness. And further: it wants to see the suffering of sense at Capital’s demand that we be impossibly self-sufficient, that we disavow the respective histories of trauma that might provide a ground for durable and embodied solidarity.
There is a guarded precision to the linguistic propositions made in Original Language. Figures are meticulously cut from Jehovah’s Witness promotional materials and speak the language of lottery tickets in Shellyne Rodriguez’s intimate paper collages, sharply
juxtaposing one brightly ideological idiom of hope with another. Leah Weinberg-Moskowitz’s camera frame traces the letters “S-U-I-C-I-D-E-N-O-T-E” in the dark, using a fixed point of light as the marking agent for the message. The language in the video is luminous, abstract and disorienting, yet written with studied concentration. Original Language represents the edges of what it is possible to articulate semantically, as well as the forms of rhetorical address that exceed language in a literal sense. Ariel Jackson’s video projection onto a blackboard is centered on the transmission of knowledge consciously excluded from the letters and sentences that make up accepted historical narratives. She traces farming techniques that were appropriated from slaves, ways of communicating with the earth the origin of which white slave owners obscured by writing them down. Al Freeman’s vinyl sculptures of a flaccid Greek alphabet renders the text and the letter without their authoritative rigidity; the origin of philosophy becomes a collection of soft containers, organs without a body. Language is also broken apart in Original Language, or revealed to exist as already and inexorably broken. In a mural installation of text and abstract drawing, Wilder
Alison describes a dream, a sequence of fragmentary events rendered in an absurdly structured syntax. By focusing on stuttered and half-remembered language, Wilder acknowledges that desire and aggression bury themselves in discourse. Alexandra Bell lifts white rage out of the racist discourse of the Daily News coverage of the Central Park Five, rendering language the site of violent subjective production with her precise annotations. Enlarged, reprinted and edited, Bell’s newspaper clippings span the entire length of the longest gallery wall.
The enigmatic patience of the work in Original Language is a curatorial decision taken in response to the success of Trump’s candidacy and to his flamboyant disregard for language. I am not talking about his poor grammar; I am talking about his understanding that there is no sense in presidential discourse not derived from his idiosyncratic will. For Trump, words do not make meaning as rhetorical forms that, once uttered, float in the public space independent of his body, from which his “instinct” emanates. Language is captive to his quixotic intention, even as it lands on people and their bodies and maims them.4
Trump’s disregard for the integrity of language prompts this response from the well-intentioned: “But there is such a thing as truth in language, and therefore in representation! Truth exists and he is destroying it!” The proposition at the center of the work on view is that the integrity of language is not defined by any essential and irreducible origin for sense. Rather, respect entails avowing language’s capacity for violence, watching it drift, and tracking its multivalence. The artists in Original Language remind us—very carefully—that language is not innocent, and that what it produces is much more complex than truth. What is happening to the body under racist and patriarchal capitalism is truly happening, yet each individual violent event is one facet of an eco-system issued from the disaster of slavery and colonization. Language was always already complicit with that disaster, though this fact does not excuse us from the obligation to use it, regardless, in protest.
1 Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative,
and History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). 2 See: https://www.kerrydowney.com/videos--/nothing-butnet/1.
3 The exhibitions are: Frames of War at Momenta Art (2015),
vois-tu pas … que je brûle? at Artists Alliance (2015), City and City at the Aronson Gallery at The New School (2016), “Mine are True Love Stories…” at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Manhattan (2016), The Exposed Suture at Rond-Point Projects (2017), and Studies for a War Criminal: Mary Walling Blackburn at BravinLee Gallery (2017). See: http://nmllorens.website/. 4 In 1989, after the Cental Park Five were accused of rape and murder, Trump spent $85,000 placing full-page ads in the
four daily papers in New York City, calling for the return of the death penalty; he also attacked the settlement when the CPF were exonerated. I am grateful to Lilly Hern-Fondation for making this connection to Alexandra Bell’s work. See: http:// www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/donald-trumpcentral-park-settlement-disgrace-article-1.1838467; https:// www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/10/12/ im-one-of-the-central-park-five-donald-trump-wont-leaveme-alone/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8789b8dbc551; https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/opinion/why-trumpdoubled-down-on-the-central-park-five.html.
Natasha Marie Llorens: What is it about the language of dreams that interests you? How does this feel different from the structure of language in conscious life? Does this difference relate to the idea of an 'origin' or the lack of one? Wilder Alison: What can a suspension of judgment allow us to access? Writing about psychoanalysis, Leo Bersani posits that we can learn more about the unconscious if thought and speech aren't shut down by a line of questioning that might betray attempts to know, to possess, the other. Instead, psychoanalysis challenges us to find meaning and order in what appears, at first, to be disorder. So we begin to see how language structures the unconscious. Instead of asking, Where do I begin to make something?, I wonder, How do I begin to see something that is already here? How is this already a painting? Dreams grant us access to a different kind of logic than that which structures the physical world. They are aesthetic. You “make” dreams, but usually experience them as something mysterious, in the role of a witness even though they are coming from you. In this sense, encountering a dream can be like looking at art. Like art, dreams can also threaten us with uncertainty, as we inevitably fail to remember them accurately. In both cases, we can produce meaning in spite of the
impossibility of casting dreams, or art, in language. In my practice, I use the language itself that appears in my dreams as “found text” that points toward (and away from) many possible meanings. In the dream that yielded ARE YOU THE GOODS?, this text exploits my loosening grip on the French I once learned, but its translation errors are the site of its profundity. NML: You have written elsewhere: “My defiance of visual cohesion is motivated by the failure of language and culture to accommodate invisible modes of (dis-)identification with gender binaries and psychonormativity. The slippage between language and form in my work suggests analogues for the interfaces of transness, queerness, and madness.” Can you locate this failure in the work on view for Original Language? WA: ARE YOU THE GOODS? is based on a dream about a store called Les Biennes, the erroneously feminized version of les biens: the goods. Unconsciously, it might seem natural to feminize a word that resembles lesbians, but perhaps this error is less a casualty of my mostly-forgotten French than a productive ambiguity of dream-logic. The fulcrum of the piece is the (also grammatically incorrect) question asked of the narrator and “Maggie” by a man on the street, Tu es les biennes? I take the question as part
greeting, part cat-call. Ça va bien? or How’s it going? Maggie and I may be lovers. Are you lesbians? He addresses us with the singular you. This error, in fact, extends the possible interpretations of our exchange. Is my no meant to correct his grammar, or to refuse the identity category he projects onto us? Perhaps this man identifies us as either representatives (Do you work here?) or products (Did you steal?) of the store we enter. Did he shoot me as punishment for leaving it? “Les Biens” means “The Goods.” Les Biennes, the feminized version, does not, in fact, exist. Are you good? Are you the goods? In any case, violence attends our refusal to identify. But, I live. In dreaming, to live is to wake up, or to wake up again. NML: Can you describe the panel structure of this work? What is figure and what is ground? Does the rectangle act like a grammatical phrase in the work? WA: Here and elsewhere, my work engages with horizontality, dispersing the viewer's encounter of painting through a confluence of visual languages: mural, color, architecture, and text. My piece in Original Language is a mural-like formation of brown paper grocery bags installed in a grid between blocks of brown-painted wall. The white ink silkscreened on the bags circumscribes a text, which emerges from the ground of the brown paper. The text is punctuated
by a set of interrogatory, ovular eyeball shapes. Their shifting pupils introduce a graphic paranoia to the spread, aggressively reciprocating the viewer’s gaze, and/or reading along with them. The text's white background elides with the unpainted wall, receding in contrast to the bulbous pupils, and inducing the viewer to approach the piece to read it. The work is not an image, but a text to be experienced with the body, a production of empty space with quotidian, utilitarian roots. Its rudimentary design and low-budget production evokes generic grocery store branding of an indeterminate era. However, these bags are deceptive as ready-mades: despite the specter of Les Biennes, the store, they aren’t branded. Rather, each print tells a fragment of a story that dispels the possibility of Les Biennes as either a brand or an identity category. Installed upside down on the wall, the bags are empty, evidence of a failed shopping trip that instead makes room for interpretation.
FOLLOWING SPREAD: Wilder Alison Details from ARE YOU THE GOODS? (‘Les Biennes’ mural), 2018 Silkscreen on paper bags Dimensions variable
Natasha Marie Llorens: Your work is usually centered on the breach between language and photography in news media, especially as both media represent people of color. The project you've proposed for Original Language seems to me to focus less on photography, though, in order to address rhetorical violence more directly. Is this how you see the focus of your work? Can you describe the shift in focus in this latest project? Alexandra Bell: I don't think there's a shift in focus. What’s different with the No Humans Involved series is how I’m engaging the content. I’m not looking at just one article, but a collection of reportage on a single topic over time. The primary goal of the work, however, is the same — to locate bias and racism, and to tease out the various ways news media assigns value to black and brown bodies. Photography is less prominent in No Humans Involved because I obscure images rather than swap them out, but in many ways, I’m hoping that makes them more prominent. I also make a lot of protective gestures: I cover images of the accused and I redact their names and personal information. As for text, I’m trying to orient the reader to systems of classification and language that is used to define black and brown bodies and behaviors.
NML: Can you elaborate a theory of language in this work? In your view, does language here function to produce racist violence? Or destabilize the humanity of people of color? Or normalize the white fantasy of submission? AB: The language used by the Daily News to report on the Central Park Five doesn’t just produce racist violence, it is racist violence. That is one of the main concerns with the series: How can language be violent? The commonplace use of the term "wolf pack" to describe a group of Black and Latino youth is a more obvious example of violent, dehumanizing language. It is used throughout the coverage of the event. There is also more coded language used to describe behaviors and actions. It normalizes thinking about Blacks and Latinos as less than human. These references and frameworks are both subtle and overt, and recurring. In fact, they are so frequent, it becomes normal to think of these kids as subhuman, as animals. One article even includes a quote from an officer who seems both surprised and relieved that the young boys are, in fact, human. It is treated as an extraordinary revelation, but that supposition is violent. I'm pointing to language that is weaponized and racialized and that contributes to the belief that
Blacks and Latinos aren't human. Any language that contributes to that thinking is a form of violence. NML: I think of annotation as a form of touch, or editing as a way of moving language around that is also touch. Does this make sense to you as a metaphor for what youâ€™re doing? If so, how would you say that you touch this kind of language and what do you hope touching it will do? AB: I see marginalia (or annotation) as a form of evidence-making and acknowledgment. Itâ€™s proof that I witnessed something. Note taking, margin notes, talkback, and highlighting provide the sort of tactile engagement I believe is necessary for in-depth and critical close reading. When I use it as part of a visual arts series, to be seen by others, it gives me a level of control with the reader. Even if my notations are something as simple as an underline, I know it is disruptive and perhaps that forces someone to really look closely.
ABOVE AND FOLLOWING SPREAD: Alexandra Bell No Humans Involved (Process Notes): After Sylvia Wynter (detail), 2018 Archival inkjet prints
Natasha Marie Llorens: Is your gesture about the flaccid word? What does softness do to language, in your view? Al Freeman: When I was a child my mother worked as a calligrapher and collected alphabet books. I grew up learning calligraphy and that the alphabet is a subject. That may be why I’ve always worked with language, letters, text, and the idea of text, alongside images and objects. As my work began to develop, a word or phrase would inspire an artwork or would be the artwork. Often I don’t separate text from drawing and feel that there is fluidity between them. It just made sense to me to make an alphabet, think of alphabet as object, and incorporate a soft alphabet into my lexicon of soft sculpture. NML: What does the Greek language symbolize for you? Is it about the origin of philosophy, or are you more interested in the way Greek has drifted into more artificial or symbolic uses, like sororities and fraternities? Or? AF: I studied philosophy in college and I especially loved the Presocratic philosophers, the way their texts were fragmented, mysterious, poetic and beautiful. Part of me has a reverence for the Classics, but another part of me can’t help but mock academia, institutions,
and lofty old texts. I think that’s where my interest in frat culture comes in. I love how they appropriate the Greek alphabet and culture and how it plays out on their bed sheet signs and disturbing rituals. I would say I’m definitely more interested in contemporary symbolic uses of the Greek language than the origin of philosophy. NML: Can you describe the relationship between your interest in the alphabet and other ways language surfaces in your work? I am thinking specifically about the graffiti drawn on people while they are passed out in some of your older drawing work... AF: I’m inspired by scenarios where art gets made unintentionally. As you mention, I like the drawings that party people make on their passed out friends. Often they are great drawings and convey a type of pure expression of gesture and language, if there is such a thing. The incorporation of drawing, text and real objects used to decorate the victim often show a lot of creativity, and again, it’s a place where drawing and text become fluid.
Al Freeman Alphabet 1, 2018 Oil stick on paper 24 x 18 inches
Al Freeman Alphabet 2, 2018 Oil stick on paper 24 x 18 inches
Al Freeman Alphabet 3, 2018 Oil stick on paper 24 x 18 inches
Natasha Marie Llorens: What is the significance of projection in your work? What layer or illusion does this introduce and why is this important to you?
NML: What is your experience of language in the context of education and how does this experience inform the work for Original Language?
Ariel Jackson: Projecting a voice, a video, or an image are points of departure and/or points of return. What kind of space am I beginning with vs. what kind of space am I entering? This space could be a stage and most oftentimes is. That is where the projection becomes a question of gaze, and for me the layering and illusion are ways I hope to complicate how the body is accessed. Video of a figure is like looking at a ghost when projected into space. The gaze doesn't affect the remnant of the body in the same way as eyes on flesh in my practice. However, I know that in a digital age the digital body, although a remnant and perhaps a ghost, is still on the other end of the gaze. The layering of imagery and the direction the figure is facing transforms the body into being part of the space, but an inaccessible aspect of the third dimension. For performance the eyes are directed between performers or away. The voice is made inaudible as it's layered over sound. The video is broken up when the viewer moves in front of the video. The image that is drawn onto the board is made false, or out of the viewers reach if they dare touch.
AJ: My mother's Louisiana Creole ancestry is a history of constant transformation, loss, recovery, and re-creation/development. Creole is an archaic French language using African syntax with Spanish, Indigenous, and African embellishments; it has only recently been written down, making the language something that is passed down through experience. Having grown up in New Orleans, away from my mother's hometown, most of my life I am forcing myself to learn the language as much as I can. Because different parishes in Louisiana speak slightly differently, you have to have grown up around the language to learn it properly. The histories of many people belonging to the African diaspora are obscured, up for debate. Family stories, told in familial languages like Creole, are crucial to understanding alternative histories. Written documents and kept records were not designed to tell these stories.
Ghost Imaging is a diagram being drawn out as if to teach something. The labor I'm interested in here is in thinking about my family's ambiguous history
and experience based on language only recently made concrete. The diagram is from Judith Carney's book Black Rice, in which she describes how West African rice-growing techniques were brought to the Carolinas by West African slaves. The circular diagram is sourced from my grandfather's collection of mechanic books. He was self-taught and could barely read, so diagrams were useful for him in order to fix his farm machines. All I See Is Blue is a manifestation of the past being projected into the present. Michael Love and I translate Langston Hughes' 1935 poem "Let America Be America Again" by layering my voice over Love's tap dancing. Hughes was known to layer his poems over music, and so this performance pays homage to him and also points to similarities between politics in the 1930s and now in terms of American identity. The distortion of the voice and dance for me calls to the way language and meaning transform as action, experience, and emotion, and are added to the recitation of the poem. There is also a militaristic nature to the recitation of the poem. I do an about face, a military gesture, towards the flag and out towards Love as he dances facing away from the audience. Many people of color have gone into the
military, then and now, for various reasons, one of which is education and financial survival. There is a risk of death for either of these goals which is represented in the size of the flag. It is approximately nine feet by five feet which is roughly the size of a casket flag, the flag presented to the family of a deceased member of the military. NML: How do you see the relationship between the structure of language in the installation and the structure of language in the performance you will stage with Michael Love? AJ: The language here is both the poem spoken and the mark-making of Love's tap dancing on soil. The process of mark-making in response to voice is one of distortion, and from that a transformation of meaning develops itself through distortion and rhythm.
LEFT Ariel Jackson All I See Is Blue, 2017 Top layer soil from the Bronx, muslin fabric, blue dye, clothespins, wire polyester thread 72 x 108 inches
ABOVE Ariel Jackson Ghost Image: (Re)Creation and (Re)Understanding, 2017 Two-sided chalkboard, chalk, projection, video, image sourced from Judith Carney's Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Civilization in the Americas, artist's grandfather's 1970s farm machinery handbook 60 x 72 x 2 inches
Natasha Marie Llorens: Can you describe the significance of the lottery tickets, or their rhetoric from your perspective? Shellyne Rodriguez: The lottery ticket is a template designed to manage one's day-to-day relationship with subjugation. Through engagement with this device, the passions of the soul are performed as they climax and descend. The blank lottery form is pregnant with possibilities. The right combination of numbers might provide the winning ticket out of poverty, can put to rest one's worrying about bills, about rent, etc. The lottery ticket provides a temporary resting place for these concerns, as one is brought into a momentary realm of this possibility of winning. The possibility provides an affirmation of life, a euphoria, and a way to go on. The moment is severed by the morning, as the realization sets in that one did not choose the winning combination of numbers. We descend into despair, yet again. Back into the world to toil. But the possibility presents itself anew each day, and provides that resting place located in a possibility. A false hope. NML: The formal language of the speech bubbles is echoed in the work by the grid of brick or cement walls; both recur, both condition the appearance of
people. Can you elaborate on the relationship you see between space and language? SR: Can there be an echo in receding space? The lottery tickets take the form of speech bubbles in the work as figures emerge in a narrative. The impetus to engage in this cycle of false hope is rooted in one's desire to live. Nevertheless, it is a template - a form of management of these passions of the soul, meaning one's emotive and psychological responses to their lived experiences. I purposefully use this dated language to speak of these qualities because I want to draw in some of these older considerations coming from the Baroque, but also Christian theology. I am summoning St. Aquinas and Le Brun. The management of one's emotive and psychological responses to their lived experiences occur simultaneously with the management of our physical space, which is rapidly disappearing. Space is a melting glacier. Figures are pushed into corners and have restricted access, as does the workâ€™s viewer. Paths lead nowhere. The walls are always institutional and cinder block. The same walls one finds in poor and working class public schools, public housing, and prisons.
The articulations of hope are predetermined, and the template by which one will express that in these claustrophobic spaces is shaped by prefabricated structures. Figures in the work who break past this mold and speak out of turn are shown with the classic white thought bubble. NML: How do you conceive of the relationship between hope and violence, either in this work or in general? SR: I understand the many models of false hope provided by the ruling class and their institutional entities (not just lottery tickets) to be devices for subjugation, and subjugation is extremely violent. If our passions and our bodies are being managed by these apparatuses, then my work is about violence. What does life under late capitalism feel and look like? The hope in the work is located in the subversive acts that undermine these patterns. Those guerrilla victories, however small, that cheat subjugation, if only momentarily. I am interested in how those moments appear, and how we might sustain them. How this hope appears in the work is an ongoing inquiry.
LEFT Shellyne Rodriguez Cul de Sac no. 3, 2017-18 Mixed media collage 12 x 12 inches RIGHT Shellyne Rodriguez Cul de Sac no. 1, 2017-18 Mixed media collage 12 x 12 inches
Natasha Marie Llorens: A theory of language describes the relationship of humans to language acquisition. The most heated controversies exist around the way that people learn languages - if this is an innate process or a behavior that is learned. What is your theory of language in this work? Leah Weinberg-Moskowitz: This work is very quiet to me. To name it is to feel the language fold in on itself. Opaque to the spritely anecdote or literary reference, it doesnâ€™t care to be smart. It is textual and visual and minimal and greets you with precision in the place where you are when you come to it. Any working theory of language hesitates here in speculation. It picks up somewhere down the road, a forgotten thing remembered. Or a known thing unrecognized. A new thing read (felt). A catalog of attempts. Its own character set a redaction. NML: What is the role of death and mourning in this body of work? Would you describe this role as necessarily involving violence? If so, how? If not, why? LWM: Think of life as an active excavation â€“ each moment scrapes against a type of ground that forms from the air and earth and sea. The process builds a line as it removes one: scrawling, swinging, floating, jagged, hollow, solid, off-kilter, tight-throated, tuned,
resolute. Here and there: the material sensation of having stepped into extra gravity. A coldness that distills and makes visible but is not the thing itself; you stand outside of it and grasp with your eyes the light reflected back. NML: Your work is often in profound dialogue with the technical processes and intellectual history of photography. Are these works metaphorical of the contradiction at the heart of photography in your view? I see that contradiction in terms Roland Barthes set out as a medium that is indexical only to light, yet undeniably indexical. LWM:
Leah Weinberg-Moskowitz Still from SN, 2018 Endless video loop
Leah Weinberg-Moskowitz Stills from SN, 2018 Endless video loop
Cogitations on Surviving Language
“The first language the keepers of the hold use on the captives is the language of violence. The language of thirst and hunger, and sore and heat. The language of the gun and the gun butt, the foot and the fist. The knife and the throwing overboard.” - Christina Sharpe1 I So much of survival resides in living in abstraction. The overconsuming registers of injustice elicit an experimental living2 and cyclic rituals to undo, loosen, or see through the grips of violence. Survival engenders a critical labor that produces openings towards relief, reprieve, cultural creation, and selforganization. It is a process of mapping and mark making rather than escaping. The potential of unmaking the conditions of injustice is what we are motioning towards. II “The necessity of trying to represent what we cannot, rather than leading to pessimism or despair must be embraced as the impossibility that conditions our knowledge of the past and animates our desire for a liberated future.” - Saidiya Hartman 3
III Black survival is not an individual project. It is oriented around the collective. It is a practice of outweighing the disbelief in one’s own survival against the peculiar dream of the survival of future kin. To build the capacity to develop and sustain a dream outside of the hold of terror, for you and your kin, is an act of radical imagination. This is a meta imagining, where the unknown is never a void in the laboring for the tomorrow of another. Instead, it bears the promise of new creation and renewed tools for those yet to come. This is love. Positioning survival outside of the paradigm of futurist thinking, but within an actionbased time. A time frame that acknowledges that so many of us have died and that we live, create, and struggle amongst and with our dead. Time that looms in the space of death’s past and future, tying our ideation of survival to a cyclical and plural present. An active present that shapeshifts Black social life into a politics of refusal and preservation.4 IV The fragmented discourse of survival swells in the underground and interior landscapes of the psyche, the body, and in the production of things, of space. Emerging through thought in practice and creation.
V “What is the purpose of revolution? To restore the sense of time? To create a new relationship between necessity and choice? Can we say anymore that man’s social being determines his consciousness? … How should people spend their lives? What is the relation between wants and thoughts? Between masses and revolutionists? What kind of vision of themselves and of society could transform rebels into revolutionists?” - Grace Lee Boggs5 VI Language is a precarious site of cruel punishment and violent matter. It is a site of dispossession, exploitation, neglect, and erasure. The need for reprised speech acts, for more works that are consciously concerned with the enfleshed nature of language, is unwavering. Christina Sharpe asserts that, “We must think about Black flesh, Black optics, and ways of producing enfleshed work…”6 with writing that is imbued with the urgencies of Black life and survival. Enfleshed writing and speech emboldened with the reaches of truth and a willful subjectivity. Language that extracts both the parallels and the contradictions from our relationships across the familial, the archive, popular culture, and the body. Occupying the word space with a textual unfolding of intimacy.
Marking the structural weatherings that have kept a hold of Black life and death, Sharpe configured the analytic of the wake as a response to the extended terrors of trade, enslavement, and death that the Black world exists within. “Living in the wake,” as Sharpe explicates, “means living the history and present of terror, from slavery to the present, as the ground of our everyday Black existence; living the historically and geographically dis/continuous but always present and endlessly reinvigorated brutality in, and on, our bodies while even as that terror is visited on our bodies, the realities of that terror are erased.”7 Additionally, it is through wake work that we survive the hold of the wake. “Wake work as that work that attends to physical, social, and figurative death, but also to the largeness that is Black life. Black life lived still. Black life insistent from death. For to be in the wake is to recognize the ways that we are consisted through and by continued vulnerability to overwhelming force. Though we are not known only to ourselves and to each other by that force. Living still, we perform wake work from the knowledge that there is nothing natural about these disasters.”8
VII “To look at Blackness, in and with Black workers, in and against the world, but also to listen for Blackness everywhere on earth in its radical and generative dispersal is the task that emerges when sociology and poetry converge." - Fred Moten9 VIII Black speech and its devices of performance, song, lyricism, and poetry are all a part of the experimental living that enables a hope-filled survival within the wake. The very idea of undoing the violences we carry generates new meaning for our cultural production within the constant states of emergency we inhabit. How might we continue to self-organize our capacity for collective action? Continue our experimentation with an absolute understanding of the failures of neutrality or objectivity in radical speech. A radicality that understands the difference between intended audiences and peripheral publics. An uncompromising speech. Dissident. A language of the undercommons, the underground. One that recognizes the necessity for interiority and opacity - a speech that derives from a place within and to those who stand alongside you within the veil. This veiling is not a closure nor a performative gesture of collectivity, but a movement towards new possibilities in Black thought.
IX In thinking about feminine strategies within language, the paradox of agency comes up. Agency in relation to the body, gender, and sexuality. The relationships between language and women, language and queers, language and all those we group as sociopolitically vulnerable. We are familiar with the implicit gender and heteronormative biases within language performance and constructions. What becomes more nuanced is our strained rhetoric of survivorship. In our common language on survival, survivorship is associated with key concepts like success, wellness, an attainment of elevation, or capital accumulation. From health to the daily impediments on the survival of the vulnerable, a more complex language of survival is necessary. Lana Lin explores the need for a multidimensional queer art to survival that is not constructed around success or failure. For Lin, it needs to be filled with the spaces between and around distress and distrust. “This definition of queer survival acknowledges the protective distrust that Audre Lorde found justified for those who ‘were never meant to survive.’ This queer art of survival embraces the entanglements of distress in their very unaccountability.”10 Pleasure is a large part of the feminine pursuit for a survival language. Pleasure as a political material of desire, power, and agency. The modality of pleasure creates a language that is bodied and marked. A
collective and shared conscientious language. One that’s fluent in spectrality and desire. A language that labors, foremost, for one’s own survival before the care of others. In rendering the illegibility of care, the traumas it carries, and the autonomy of self-care, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick arrives at the relationship between pleasure and survival in a tentative exchange between a male doctor and woman patient. Sedgwick writes: “Then, there’s something about pleasure that might be important. I don’t know how to say it properly: I’ve gotten hold of an intuition that if things can change for me, it won’t be through a very grim process. It won’t happen as I always used to imagine in the old days, by delivering myself up for good at the door of the Law. I used to take one deep masochistic breath and determine I was ready to surrender to the disciplinary machine – in enough pain to have to do it – but then of course I didn’t know how to, and couldn’t sustain my resolve anyway; and nothing about the therapy would work. Now it seems that if anything can bring me through to real change, it may be only some kind of pleasure. Does this make any sense to you?” 11 X The artists represented in Original Language illustrate a counter vernacular of thought production on the consumption and embodiment of violence. Their works trace and retract the lingual and textual
constructions of multiple violences by the state, mass media, and one’s cultural subconscious. Working with everyday objects and charged compositions like the newspaper, the lottery ticket, the paper bag, the chalkboard, and the photograph, the works on view attend to the materiality of violence, not theoretically, but of a tactile order. These artworks are not seeded laments over violence and its visual discourses. They are not reinscriptions of trauma seen or absent, nor do they gesture towards resolves or reconciliations. They demonstrate acts of subversion as form, and, in some instances, subversion as aesthetic thought. Towards complex conversations on language, artists Alison, Bell, Freeman, Jackson, Weinberg-Moskowitz, and Rodriguez offer the tooling of re-imaging and re-reading as modes of disruption. With collage, performance, and photography we encounter the resonating affect of rigorous observation and critical annotation. The practices of assembly and convoking. Redactions as code and exercise. Remaking and making anew as a diagnostic approach to critique. Rethought - to return to - and unthought - positioning absence. Cultivating interpretations on the meanings and experiential journeys of living with and through violation, the works purvey an intimacy with violence through language, while illuminating the countercultures of critique and survival.
1 Christina Sharpe, “In the Wake: A Salon in Honor of
Christina Sharpe” (lecture, Columbia University, New York, NY, February 2017).
2 The research of Dr. Sylviane Diouf on the slave trade
and marronage outlines the historical examples of African
5 Grace Lee Boggs, Living for Change: An Autobiography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
6 Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2016).
experimental living in the wake of enslavement. Her texts
Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroon map
8 Christina Sharpe, “Wake” (lecture, Princeton University
survival and resistance.
NJ, March 18, 2017).
Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies and
the social, economic, and spatial strategies for freedom,
3 Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 26, Volume 12, Number 2 (June, 2008): 1-14.
4 The poem “The Mask” by Maya Angelou surmises the
African American Studies Graduate Conference, Princeton,
9 Fred Moten, “Hesitant Sociology, Blackness, and Poetry” (lecture, University of Chicago Division of the Humanities, Chicago, IL, May 3, 2016).
weary truth behind survival apparatuses. The poem brings
10 Lana Lin, “The Queer Art of Survival,” Women’s Studies
“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar in a new
together her past piece, “For Old Black Men,” and the work poem to commemorate the life of a domestic worker she
encountered on a bus. The last stanza reads: “They laugh
to conceal their crying, / They shuffle through their dreams / They stepped ’n fetched a country. And wrote the blues
in screams. / I understand their meaning, / It could and did derive / From living on the edge of death / They kept my race alive / By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
Quarterly 44, No. ½ (SURVIVAL, SPRING/SUMMER 2016):
11 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “A Dialogue on Love,” Critical Inquiry 24, No. 2 (Intimacy, Winter, 1998): 611-631.
This essay was written as part of the Art Critic Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which pairs emerging writers with AICA-USA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for more information on AICA-USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. Ladi’Sasha Jones is a writer and curator based in Florida. She has written for Aperture, IAM magazine, Houston Center for Photography, and Recess amongst others. Currently, Ladi’Sasha is the Sophie Davis Curatorial Fellow for Gender and Racial Parity at the Norton Museum of Art. Prior to this appointment, she held positions at the New Museum’s IdeasCity platform and NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Mentor Sara Reisman is the Artistic Director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, whose mission is focused on art and social justice in New York City. Recently curated exhibitions for the foundation include Mobility and Its Discontents, Between History and the Body, and When Artists Speak Truth, all three presented on The 8th Floor. From 2008 until 2014, Reisman was the director of New York City’s Percent for Art program where she managed more than 100 permanent public art commissions for city funded architectural projects, including artworks by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Mary Mattingly, Tattfoo Tan, and Ohad Meromi, among others for civic sites like libraries, public schools, correctional facilities, streetscapes and parks. She was the 2011 critic-in-residence at Art Omi, and a 2013 Marica Vilcek Curatorial Fellow, awarded by the Foundation for a Civil Society.
ARTIST AND CURATOR BIOS Wilder Alison is an interdisciplinary artist and a 2016 graduate of the Bard MFA painting program. In recent years, Alison has exhibited work in New York City with 247365, Rachel Uffner, Culture Room, Primetime, and Garden Party Arts, among others. Alison has apprenticed at the Fabric Workshop & Museum, Philadelphia, PA; and has participated in residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA; Lighthouse Works, Fishers Island, NY; Ox-Bow, Saugatuck, MI; Fire Island Artist Residency, Fire Island, NY; and the Lower East Side Printshop, New York, NY. Alison will be a second year fellow at FAWC in 2018-19. Alexandra Bell is a multidisciplinary artist who investigates the complexities of narrative, information consumption, and perception. Utilizing various media, she deconstructs language and imagery to explore the tension between marginal experiences and dominant histories. Through investigative research, she considers the ways media frameworks construct memory and inform discursive practices around race, politics, and culture. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1, We Buy Gold, Koenig & Clinton Gallery, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, all in New York, NY; Atlanta Contemporary, Atlanta, GA; Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, CA; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS; and Usdan Gallery at Bennington College, Bennington, VT. She is the recipient of the 2018 International Center of Photography Infinity Award in the applied category. Bell holds a B.A. in interdisciplinary studies in the 38
humanities from the University of Chicago and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Al Freeman lives and works in New York. She received her BFA from Concordia University in 2005, and her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2010. Her work has been featured in numerous group and solo presentations, including recent shows at 56 Henry, New York, NY (solo), Bortolami, New York, NY (solo) Reyes Projects, Detroit, MI; Marlborough Contemporary, New York, NY; and Almine Rech, New York, NY. Forthcoming exhibitions will be presented by Carl Kostyal, London; Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels; and Auroras, Sao Paulo. In 2017, Freeman published Comparisons with Flat Fix press, Brooklyn. Ariel Jackson’s work explores and transforms gaming, navigational, and domestic systems and diagrams using video, sculpture, and performance. Using chalk, chalkboard, soil, fabric, and found objects, Jackson is interested in how educational signifiers can evoke a creolization of identity. The artist often uses installation to situate her practice into ideas of spatial matters as black matters. In Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds, McKittrick points to sociological cycle theory which argues that rather than events and stages in society and history progressing linearly, they are progressing in cycles, suggesting repetition and, as an outcome, remnants of the past. Throughout Jackson’s family’s history, land has been
both a permanent reminder of systemic racism, as well as a temporal unfolding of possible transformations and outcomes based on individual and communal actions. Theories and familial conversations about what it means to be Creole, material remnants of a life of farming, and a struggle for higher education function as guides to sourcing materials and research. Natasha Marie Llorens is an independent curator and writer based in Marseille and New York. Her curatorial research is focused primarily on the relationship between violence and representation in contemporary art from a feminist perspective. She has curated exhibitions at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, Brooklyn, NY; REVERSE Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; the Project Space at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York, NY; Ramapo College, Mahwah, New Jersey; the Zabludowicz Gallery, London; Momenta Art, Brooklyn, NY; the Aronson Gallery at Parsons Design School, New York, NY; the Essex Street Market and Cuchifritos Gallery, New York, NY; Skowhegan's space in New York, NY; and Hercules Art Studio Program, New York, NY. She has held curatorial residencies at Marra Tein in Beirut, Triangle Arts Association in New York, Rond Point Projects in Marseille, Tabakalera in San Sebastian, and PRAKSIS in Oslo. She has taught at Columbia University, the Cooper Union and Eugene Lang College, all in New York City, and in the Curatorial Studies MA program at Parsons in Paris. A graduate of the MA program at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard, she is currently
a PhD candidate in Modern and Contemporary Art History at Columbia University. Her academic research is focused on the representation of war in Algerian national cinema between 1965 and 1979. Shellyne Rodriguez is a visual artist who works in multiple mediums to depict spaces and subjects engaged in strategies of survival against false hope, a device employed in the service of subjugation. These psychological and emotive inquiries puts the baroque in contact with a decoloniality rooted in the traditions of hip hop culture. Her work utilizes text, drawing, painting, found materials, and sculpture to emphasize her ideas. Shellyne graduated with a BFA in Visual & Critical Studies from the School of Visual Arts and an MFA in fine art from CUNY Hunter College. She has had her work and projects exhibited at El Museo del Barrio, Queens Museum, and the New Museum, all in New York, NY, and her work has recently been commissioned by the city of New York for a permanent public sculpture which will serve as a monument to the people of the Bronx. Leah Weinberg-Moskowitz uses structural and perceptual elements of photography to engage and confuse visceral registers of causality - photography understood as an experience of time made visible - made into a picture, materialized in sculpture, or activated by way of performance.
CUE Art Foundation's programs are made possible with the generous support of foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individuals.
MAJOR PROGRAMMATIC SUPPORT PROVIDED BY The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Anholt Services (USA) Inc. CAF American Donor Fund Compass Group Management LLC Compass Diversified Holdings Lenore Malen and Mark Nelkin The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, Inc. The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation New York State Council on the Arts with the support of
Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts
Catalogue accompanying September 7 - October 11, 2018 exhibition at CUE Art Foundation.