On May Day, May 1st, 2016, Glossary Magazine attended a talk at the Oakland Museum of California, presented by Angela Davis. Davis is a political activist who is well known for her efforts during the United States Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s; she was a leading member of the Communist Party USA, with ties to the Black Panther Party. The talk was given at Open Engagement, a consortium of conferences focusing on Art as Social Practice. This year the theme for Open Engagement in Oakland was appropriately POWER.
It is with great pleasure that Glossary presents to you dear readers, our notes from Angela Davis’s talk—especially for those who were not able to attend either because they didn’t know about it, or because they could not afford to buy the entry ticket or the tickets were “sold out.”
As a member of the media we realize that we are in a position of privilege, because we are able to attend such events. Even though we do not make a living wage at the efforts of this publication, it is part of our mission to forge onward and provide readers with important dialogue that is happening in our art community & beyond. We do this through our Review as Dialogue platform, which transcribes artist talks.
Notes are taken in-situ, and are not literal transcriptions of neither audio nor direct quotes (unless otherwise noted in quotation marks), but rather points that were touched upon. Certain key word choices and diction has been retained to accurately reflect the tone and sentiment of the discussion [+notes for reflection and/or clarity]. In many instances, Davis’s talk is abstract, leaving gaps that are open for research, to fill in with more examples that she did not mention, but are pertinent, which I have done and included in the transcription.
Her discussion includes reference to artists making work about resistance and power, as well as citing philosophers and art theory. Her presentation style is dynamic and flows from topic to artist, to theory and back again, peppered with inspirational and powerful remarks about the current state of culture for people of color, and our response to each other.
And now, the incomparable (as they say in Jazz): Angela Davis. Enjoy.
We are here today in Oakland, where we know that Black Lives Matter, and that we have the highest concentration of artists per capita than any other US city. It is home to the Black Panther Party, Oscar Grant, Occupy, Critical Resistance , Black Lives Matter, theTGI Justice Project. It is a place of anti-policing, anti-prison, radical justice, food sovereignty . . . where “art and politics are always clashing, sometimes converging.”
This conference is a three year long venture, with the theme of Justice in Chicago next year, and the Sustainability in New York the year after that. . . and here we are in Oakland for the POWER conference. “And I would add ‘To the People’ to that: Power to the People, Power to the People.” [slowly, calmly]
“Make Art and Make Change.”
The Black Panthers have inspired many artists to make art. One example is Elizabeth Catlett’s Homage to the Panthers, of 1993. Or her pieces Black Unity (1968) and Homage to My Young Black Sisters (1970).
And let us not forget this: Emery Douglas' Black Panther Logo.
Music has been inspired by the Black Panther cause as well. [plays Mannenberg by Abdullah Ibrahim (1974)] a song recognized as a South African apartheid song, which when Nelson Mandela heard it said, “Liberation is near.”
“In order to generate power, softness is required.
Softness overcomes the hardness.
Softness will overcome.”
Softness is a place of reflection, imagination and possibility. Art pushes us to places beyond; Animated by freedom and justice; Discovering motion, comforting and troubling.
“Wherever we land we have to continue to move.”
Art shapes awareness of people—it contributes to consciousness of others, to change. It endlessly challenges the world. When we reference art theory, we are taught that art moves us away from the given and points us elsewhere, toward possibility—through the power of negation. In referencing the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, [paraphrase] art allows us to focus on and beyond what it is in order to make room for what might be.
“This is the power we need to generate.”
Power can be soft and transform through interdisciplinarity and reflexivity. It can purge domination and oppression. It is critical. Critical power and resistance educates the imagination and is central to our thought processes and engaging with art. I want to turn to Immanuel Kant . . .
When I taught, my students were reluctant to read Kant. “They didn’t want to read the work of another dead white guy.” But this is the world we are in, and we need to understand it. “Personally, I found Kant really provocative.” [audience laughs] He said that aesthetics assume the most pivotal position. That aesthetic judgement represents freedom in ways that are impossible in discursive ways. If you want to know about this, you can read it in his “Critique of Judgement.”
The ability to be moved by something beautiful, to use the imagination beyond the cognitive process [that is the importance of aesthetics]. “Conceptual thought can be rendered possible through art.”
Returning to Marcuse, he stated, “Art preserves the promise of happiness.”
Art is ultimately the goal of all revolutions.
The Power of Art.
In the struggle to change the world, it engages with power and politics.
The quest for freedom is a constant theme. The US is the oldest democracy, and France is the second oldest. But we cannot deny that it is an Elitist Democracy, and that is what we have been working with. Here, we cannot deny that slavery existed as a part of that “democracy.”
[in contrast] the Haitian Constitution of 1805 stated that all citizens are designated Black. They is extremely symbolic to create a non-exclusionary category of people—that Blacks are the majority, and welcomed all others to be a part of that. We understand race only as white [through a white lens]. [Race is a matter of differences]. It is the collective struggles that that define humanity. To say that Black identity is all human. . .What if we were to imagine black women as emblems of humanity? [Consider that everyone is a women].
Racial hierarchies need to be overturned, and so do gender hierarchies. Black women are the mules of the world. [reference to character Janie Crawford, in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1938), also references general sentiment that Black women carry a heavy burden of the world on their shoulders and perform feats of back-breaking, tedious labor as slaves.]
Recently Hillary Clinton made a remark about Trump: “ I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak,” Clinton said [in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, which first aired on "The Lead." Even though we don’t condone Trump, this remark is highly problematic for other reasons]. Her apology is not any better, because she is not bringing her moment of mis-speaking forward for discussion.
“Racism is so embedded in the psyche that we don’t recognize it anymore.”
ANGELA DAVIS (continued)
[Throughout the talk Davis continues to cite artists and their role in activism].
Leonard Peltier has been incarcerated for over forty years. [In 1975, Peltier was convicted of two consecutive life terms for the murder of two FBI agents at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The incident that Peltier was convicted for took place in 1973, and was known as the Wounded Knee Incident—part of a federal siege during violent conflicts over elected officials at the reservation.]
David Hammons’ In the Hood. It is an important piece to revisit in context with Trayvon Martin [and the stereotypes of the hoodie in relation to Black bodies].
Black Lives Matter is recognizing how racism works; Women, men, trans, boys, queer, lesbians, immigrants, girls [all bodies are subject to racism/violence].
Latino, Native American, Asian, White peoples’ lives matter. We have much more work to do before we can start to claim "all lives matter."
“The tyranny of the universal.” [Here, something is lost in the notes, but Davis has spoken extensively on this topic in countless academic settings, and I encourage readers to look it up. Also, Glossary directs readers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, available in its entirety on the United Nations website.]
Davis shows audience a map of the Palestine loss of land, 1947 to present.
[When viewing a map of Palestine, we can see that over the course of 68 years, beginning in 1947 shortly before the issuance of the Declaration of Human Rights, we see a disparity of sides. The idea of Universal Human Rights is still marked by barbarism that the Declaration clearly is against].
“It is important to be supportive and critical at the same time.”
[Segue into African American pop culture, Davis sites Janelle Monáe’s song “Hell You Talmbout (Say His/Her Name/Say Their Names).” If you don’t read any of this transcription, you must at least listen to this song]. Video from Blacklce Bell You Tube
You can also listen to the mix version issued on Wondaland Records soundcloud, including artists Janelle Monáe, Deep Cotton, St. Beauty, Jidenna, Roman GianArthur, and George 2.0. LISTEN HERE: Hell You Talmbout
Africa is far greater than one element of our origin story.
“One can intensely enjoy something and at the same time be ambivalent about it.” There are many examples of songs in pop culture that I enjoy [guilty pleasures]. But pop culture has an element of capitalism that I have to critique. There are many renditions of Billie Holiday’s song Strange Fruit. [Singer Annie Lennox spoke with journalist Tavis Smiley about the topic on NPR, which the Gawker critiques as “Annie Lennox White Washes Explanation of Strange Fruit.”]
During the Civil Rights Movement the anthem was “We Shall Overcome.” But some of us think it was “Mississippi God Damn!” Sometimes potency is lost in the power of the fetish.
Artists imagine their contributions to the freedom struggle. [Prison is the subject of many artists work – is she saying that there is an artist fetish for prisoners? Creation empowers others to rally, yet we still see a lack of results and action from government (Peltier another example)].
Artist Jackie Sumell and Herman Wallace, whose incarceration and ultimate death prompted Hermans House.
These are important times. It is the most wonderful time to be young. It is also a good time to be old! We have been waiting for decades for this [What is this? We think she means Social Practice Art]. The turn toward art is a sign that we are at a juncture for the possible. What will happen if we don’t make it happen?? We can be involved, but our country is engaging in racist violence. In Europe too, racism has reached massive proportions as immigrants seek asylum from more violent place. The US is not immune to responsibility in this problem; who invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria?
“The power of art can help us decolonize our minds.” We need new ways of talking about racism. We have a major responsibility to get out of Palestine. Islamaphobia has played a major toll on our psyche after 9/11. We need “descriptive solutions.”
When we are told that people are shot, we say that we need better police. [Do we need better police, or different policing?] But institutions are embedded with violence. We need to restructure it! “I don’t know what a “better” prison is. To me, a better prison is NO PRISON.” We need to abolish police and imprisonment as we know it. It needs to be Dematerialized.
Power. Justice. Sustainability.
ANGELA DAVIS answers questions and responds to comments from the audience.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1
As a black man I perform every day—but we call it professionalism. I use $20 words when a 5cent one would be fine. I need to prove that I am educated. I am performing blackness. I get so tired of performing blackness all the time. What is it like/why does [have to be] the experience of living day to day as performance?
Yes, Performativity. Most of us do that. We all engage in that. I would like us to think about that differently. The ways in which we need it or feel compelled to do it. But also the ways in which we all need art. All of us have creative potential. It may not be embraced by the art world, which is so much about profit, but we need creativity [to be creative] in order to survive. I would prefer to be a Negro all the time and think about what that means to me. There are a lot of different kinds of Negroes; one way of being may not be that comfortable [for another person].
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2
I own an organic farm in Washington State. My partner is white . . . I am wondering what advice you have for mixed race [business people], considering issues of race/racism going forward.
There is no easy way to fix racism. There is no one, no [one] thing we can do to avoid it. Everyone is implicated in racism. There will be no two-week intensive or a year-long, or 5 or 10 or 100 years [to quick fix this].
The work we are doing now can create transformation that may not be seen for generations.
We have to learn how to remain interested, despite geographic borders, beyond generations. “We are in community with people who have not been born.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3
I am from Melbourne, Australia, originally from the Congo. (paraphrase) I had to dismantle white supremacy to see outside of me. Your work is an inspiration, Thank you.
I am a real person with no higher powers. I am standing here because of people all over the world. I am a witness to solidarity, to community.
[I wish I could] demystify how people see me as a dream come true…You know who is an inspiration? This women sitting right here – Dorothy Verner, 101 years old!! When her kids were grown she started going to art school—she started showing her work in her 70s!
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4
I grew up in white rural Minnesota, and spent [recent, more open-minded] 3 years in Minneapolis. I was presented with an opportunity to teach art to underserved youth, but received a lot of negative feedback and response because I am a white female. I turned it down because I wanted to avoid the stigma or “parasite artist” [an artist that takes advantage of others for their gain]. Do you have any advice for social practice artists that are working with unfamiliar cultures?
Again, I have no one piece of advice— these are complicated situations. “What I want is for us to be more complicated. If you are committed you have to be a part of the community you are working with.” History and work creates relationships—for the long run.
Find humility. When a community appears to be less privileged, if you don’t undo the hierarchical relationship you are perpetuating the problem.
What can you learn from the situation? What will be the epistemological value—that knowledge would you have gained from that community?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5
I recently witnessed racism in my school, and participated in a 3-day long anti-racism protest/demonstration. I realized that being a person of color, and being HAPPY is defiance in our society.
There are ways in which we can learn from other peoples’ struggles. How can we share our stories with each other? What you have is the same as what everyone else has in the community and wants to be a part of.
But that is a kind of narcissistic way of creating community. We need to learn from other peoples’ stories. To quote Audre Lorde, “Difference is a way of bringing communities together.”
Racism is fear. The way of being is the way you have always been. We need to be BOLD, and artists can do that. To create something that has never been done before [create something that is not the way you have always been].
“Power to the Artist.”
And a sincere thanks to Angela Davis for her thought-provoking talk.
Stay tuned for more Open Engagement coverage by Glossary soon.
Meanwhile, a recent response titled "Making Art Politically: A Reflection of Open Engagement, 2016" was published in Temporary Art Review by Anthony Romero and Abigail Satinsky, as well as "Who Speaks: the Power of Voice at Open Engagement 2016," written by Genevieve Quick each offer insightful points.
Until next time, Leora Lutz, Glossary Magazine.
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On Saturday April 23rd, Glossary attended a panel discussion that happened at Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco.
The topic was “Painting: For and Against,” moderated by
Chair of Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts.
Glossary’s Editor in Chief, Leora Lutz took feverish notes at the discussion. The acoustics were terrible at times, as the bustle from busy Geary Street in downtown SF bellowed up into the 4th floor windows. Therefore, in the spirit of Abstraction, the notes here are abridged and sometimes paraphrased to reflect the at-times abstraction of the conversation and the setting.
Panel discussions are not something normally covered by the press, so Glossary fills this need with its series Review as Dialogue. The series is not a transcription or a podcast, but rather notes in real time, with real human mistakes, just like memories.
There are no direct quotes unless noted in quotation marks. Notes were taken in-situ, and are not literal transcriptions of neither audio nor direct quotes (unless otherwise noted), but rather points that were touched upon. Certain key word choices and diction has been retained to accurately reflect the tone and sentiment of the discussion [+notes for reflection and/or clarity]. Enjoy.
. . . conversation around painting . . . textured range of perspectives . . . Why? . . . painting and post WW2 gave way to Abstract Expressionism/Minimalism in response to Ab Ex . . . materiality . . . market appeal . . . “Zombie Formalism” . . . essentialism . . . fetishizing processs . . . *Village Voice article by Jerry Saltz, “Zombies on the Wall: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?” . . . art arises by talents, subject to a division of . . . the departure . . . “crapstraction” . . . provisionalism.
[*The article appeared in Vulture, which originally appeared in the New York Magazine, June 16, 2014 issue].
Peter Schjeldahl article “Take Your Time; New painting at the Museum of Modern Art,” in The New Yorker, regarding the exhibition “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” featuring 17 artists.
[It’s not that painting is “dead” again—no other medium can as yet so directly combine vision and touch to express what it’s like to have a particular mind, with its singular troubles and glories, in a particular body. But painting has lost symbolic force and function in a culture of promiscuous knowledge and glutting information.]
. . . nobody thought to bother with it . . . Vision and touch, promiscuous . . . strike a chord with insecurity?
I have a repetitive practice. There is an energy that comes from it. Again and again —indicative of being human. There’s power in it. It’s not like I look at a painting and think, “I have never seen this before,” and I am not necessarily looking for that. Exciting . . .
Something unfamiliar resonates out of the familiar.
Sometimes a “call” goes out with the work and I get an echo in response, sometimes this is daunting.
I don’t want to blame the area (Bay Area) but here are isolated pockets of dialogue and it’s easy to drift away and become a satellite.
Repetition . . .in everything you do.
Meditation a process. . . . speaks about how an object arrives. How it operates is outside of itself . . . formal elements emerge. Repetition—I think of the body as an entry point that you cannot escape. . . . closeness with the material, with what you are working with and a sensitivity to the material.
. . . Material . . .I have been painting since 1978, around the time that an article came out stating that Painting is Dead. [jokes: so I have great timing, audience laughs] I didn’t choose painting. I’m a painter, that’s how I think. Painting (P/) has a deep history. It’s a lot like God. [When we talk about God, we can say a lot and nothing at all, it means something a little different to everyone]. People try to get rid of P/, but it’s like air. [We cannot get rid of it, we cannot pin it down]. From caves to modernism, the history of P/ is deep.
Writing about art [What have you been reading] . . . Andrew, in 2014 you published an article titled “Who’s Afraid of the New Abstraction,” . . .(?)
I began to enjoy abstraction more once I began to live with it in my own collection, as well as showing it in my gallery. Abstraction offers exchange of ideas around these topics. [ideas, the market, whether or not it is dead].
. . . grounded in the moment, an *Artforum article Jacqueline Humphries through the eyes of David Bowie
*There is also an article in the Independentdiscussing Bowie’s video with the work of Jacqueline Humphries.
I think of the book, *Thinking Through the Canvas, which contains personized activities, an index of agency, determining its limits, the entrances and exits of self-referentiality, of self-reflexivity. Thinking across disciplines. There is a long history of specialists who are concerned with the value of positionality in terms of subjecthood . . . adjacent background . . . practice formalism and can operate as agents.
*Thinking through Painting: Reflexivity and Agency beyond the Canvas by Peter Geimer
How do the ideas remain sustained after so many years?
Coffee. The same thing the whole time. . . How to make something real and non-verbal. I am an optimist. I don’t make a picture, I make a feeling. I communicate what I am experiencing. (P) and Painters are 2 different things. People say that (P) is affected by the market—but it is people who are affected by the market. (P) delivers to our nervous system. (P) resolves issues of structure. All (P) when it moves to the monochrome is saying that life and art are coming together.
Is (P) enough?
(P) is not entertaining and fun. (P) is in the expanded field now. Things are considered (P) that others do not consider (P). (P) is difficult. It is a language . . .
I am always jealous of painters in a way . . . that idea of the lone artist facing a blank canvas and “going to battle.” It’s a powerful symbol of what it means to be an artist. [at least that is the mystique].
(inaudible mumbling about violence)
Well, I suppose some people use the terms “journey” or “adventure.” The idea of the unknown that you are faced with, it’s just you and the materials.
A kind of heroism, romanticism, an almost Biblical idea of the Painter.
There is a certain level of self-loathing involved. A physical element and isolation to sit and deal with the images, one-on-one with the images, and images that don’t move. [We are bombarded with moving images, the internet, television, movies—painting is a static image.]
These move [gestures to Everett’s work]
Do you ever ask yourself “why?” [to Zurier]
No, I don’t. Something is always arriving. You have to come to/from the space of the canvas. It’s not neutral. There is a history there, emerging from it.
The rectangle automatically conjures history. The critic sees it “all done” and comments on that . . . “Not for or Against” [the canvas].
It’s for AND against. Metaphor of repetition we can all access . . . signs on the surface. There are things that are flat surfaces, we all know what it is to make a mark—it is a lived experience.
(P) does not have to be paint. Artists call what they are doing (P) or that they are doing paint, yet there is no paint there.
It’s a language. Not a verbal language, it’s a visual language. There are very few words for it. In French they use the word “tableau” [that is somewhat a better word because it means “little table” – things that are on it. In linguistics, tableau is a method of evaluating strengths of a set, or truths to various logic in relation to meaning]. The (P) leave the studio so they can live outside of it. Then we have to think of what the studio means. The tendency is when talking about (P), we talk about what is special to it.
What is special about (P)?
And drawing, what is special about (P) as opposed to drawing?
Everything is conceptual now, Is (P) performative?
I disagree [with everyone]. There is something special with (P). I tried to run from (P). I did performance, I did song. But every time I make a mark I know I am here. I make another mark and I know I am here, I make another mark—I am here. I have an index of proof that I am here. I go through a process of editing—What do I allow? What is important? Drawing and (P) are married. And also (P) is a performance. In a way it is the best kind of performance because there is no audience. There is movement, there is breath of the form there.
Yes, this is where I disagree that (P) is conceptual. [If we view conceptual work as thought, and that the object does not “matter”] You cannot just think of painting for it to function. The idea cannot be divorced from the action.
(P) is expensive, drawing is not—that’s what makes it more special. [audience laughs] The mark is always new. Is there an analogy in here with music? We don’t say things like “Sound is dead,” “Music is dead, “Tone is dead.”
Is there a “point” in saying Something?
Thank God (P) is always dying! Every time something goes another thing comes in. I thrive on constant dying and recycling. It’s “not special.”
Both music and painting elicit emotional reactions.
In response to “(P) is dead.” I’m old—older than jazz—Painters roll all night because we have to. It’s an addiction. We need to create, so yes the act of (P) is special. Why? I have to. Is that true with any creative function?
In working with students I see it, they are compelled to do it. Not because they are too lame to do anything else, but because they cannot do anything else—it is there way of being.
Claudia Altman Siegel
What makes a good (P)? What makes a bad (P)?
When (P) resonates, it is good.
It gives it a new life in the gallery, the viewer adds to its impression, and so does that change it?
It challenges that. There is a problem, and that is (P) goes out into the world. When we stop working on it, it is not finished. When it goes out it becomes something else. It has a Quality. How it is delivered is its completion. They are “open documents.” Experiences that are unresolved, formal, spiritual, asking and demanding questions. It is not in a formal language . . . I want to have a sensual experience. I want to be confronted with the thing, sharing this room. Who else is in the room? How are things living and involved together. The studio as an isolated place is a delusion. There are always implications there.
Are you aware that someone will see it?
It is “caca” [sic] that we make work without anyone else. We are always together, engrained. We are not alone, there is some other person or voice with us, with me “making this thing.”
I need/want to feel nourished. To use the God analogy again, it is too big, it is deep and personal. The feeling of going into the studio is not a competitive place, it makes me want to DO something. The viewer completes the work. Until that happens, in between me and the (P) is when [it’s done it’s thing]. We are giving expression so people can have a connection. There is generosity there.
I come from an architecture background. In architecture there is always an intentionality behind what we do—is that the case with painting, too?
Desire to be a perpetual student . . . looking at science, philosophy, theory . . . does not bind or implicate the viewer as a participant in the work. When the intentions on position is thoughtful, it leaves a generous amount of room that contains many different kinds of reads, a multiplicity of how it operates.
feeling . . . thinking . . . I have definite intentions. But I am not consciously aware of them until after the work is made. I often end up defining something without looking for it. Finding out, seeking.
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Altman Siegel Gallery will soon be relocating to Dogpatch, near Minnesota Street Project. For now, they are still at their 49 Geary address for the next two exhibitions, featuring Jessica Dickerson April 28 – July 2, 2016, and Nate Boyce July 7 – September 2, 2016.
All images: Glossary Magazine. Paintings, Liam Everett.
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