A Slight Denial

selected washroom portrait

A friend asked me who is this piece for, who’s my audience? And just what is my objective? Fair questions. To the first and second question my experiences, and, I presume it’s the same experiences for others, are when a racial slight occurs, it’s such a jolt that I quickly deny it. I think this denial is endemic. However, just because I dismiss it doesn’t mean I forget.   I just add it to an already unfathomably long and immense list; it’s as long as I can remember, but, to be sure, it’s even longer. Of course there are far greater, more direct, and, incredibly aggressive confrontations I’ve experienced but it’s the slight ones that gnaw at me, and they are most brutal because they happen most often, however, my experience is not to devalue the horrors the arrests, shootings and murders that have been chronicled over the past few years. But, what I’ve observed is that when a slight does happen, and it happens often, I ask myself if it actually does happen. I am so good at denial that afterwards, and this afterwards can be as short as a millisecond apart, I wonder if it’s happened at all. I do this each and every time, like, reality stops, when in fact, this is the reality. So, to respond to the final question, my audience is everyone who sees me. I want n00se to give clarity and shape to remembering.

UHO

UHO

I was just approaching Radnor when I saw this out my window. At first I didn’t know what it was, no, actually, I didn’t want to know what it was. It seemed unimaginable, yet, there it was. I looked at the other cars rushing by, even the road crew that was a few yards away, the cause of this morning’s congested commute and they all seemed oblivious. Driving on, the image stayed with me and I began to take inventory of everything else that was there. Was this some kind of crazy prank—after all, Villanova was just down the way—but they wouldn’t do such a thing or even allow it; would they? And who would tolerate that thing dangling in front of their business? I continued driving, trying to make sense of what I saw just hanging out. My rationale failed, that noose didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be. Rage was filling the car as well as fear. Just when my anger was about to spill out in the form of tears, I decided to turn around and get another look, never mind the construction, the commuters and my being late.

Conveniently there was a parking lot in which I was able to leave my car and get a closer look. Okay, okay, it’s a cable with a box attached that had come away from the rest of the cables—it wasn’t what I thought it was at all.

Yet, even close up it still looked like a noose; can I be the only one who can see the resemblance?

Close encounter at Target

It’s getting more comfortable wearing the noose. And I feel I’m getting better at positioning the camera to face participants. What’s more, and this may be coincidental, but, I’ve observed people usually approach me on my right, but, my camera is in the left pocket. By switching pockets I don’t have to be so obvious when facing people. The more I wear it the more it becomes a part of me. I also noticed that more and more, people give me a lot of latitude. Except for the women with a wry sense of humor I encountered at Target.

Beuys reflection

beuys reflection

One of the difficulties in this process of confrontation is that I forget I’m wearing a camera and that I have to consciously, assertively, pivot towards the folks who get up the nerve to approach me. I have to build up my nerve to face them as I miss the visual interaction as well as most of the audio, since, the mic is one-directional. Notwithstanding, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art today. There, I walked through my favorite galleries and discovered that there had been a rotation, of which, this piece, which I hadn’t seen for some time, had been returned to display. Here I am smudgingly standing in front of one of my favorite pieces by Joseph Beuys, a chalkboard replete with his annotations; he is one of the artists who influenced me. While there I was approached by a few guards, all of them black, most of them young. The young ones asked questions. But it was an older guard who was most curious and, at the same time, the most exacting. The interaction went like this:

“That is a protest.”

“Oh yes!” I exclaimed, thinking, the old heads know what’s up.

“Let me give you my card.”

Poring over the card, she countered, “ I think it’s clever.”

“Well,” I responded, “ I can’t wear the noose everyday.”

“We do,” she admonished.

“That’s right.” I made like she jogged my memory, because I didn’t expect so blunt a realistic assessment which was the reaction I was aiming for, but, it still shocked me when I heard it voiced.

Dolphin

10_04_lowes

On Sunday I went to Lowes for some home maintenance.  While there I realized, from time to time that I must remember to breathe. This action shouldn’t be something I remember; it’s the way we’re built that makes it impossible not to breathe. And yet I find myself having to force myself to breathe. The dolphin must also consciously breathe, which is one of the reasons they don’t drown. Which is why they can eat underwater, sleep, descend to almost 2000 feet underwater. It’s the way their lungs are attached to their blowhole, an evolutionary step that is so much more advanced than our breathing. But maybe it’s not about my affinity with dolphins. It’s the noose that’s forced against my neck weighted by the drag of its knot on my back.

The Ordinariness of it all

selected washroom portrait

Here I am drying my hands in the Penn bookstore washroom.  What I like about this piece, like the earlier Come Again series, is how ordinary it becomes. What I mean is, for instance, I wear the noose so that the knot is behind me not in front, and, in doing so, I go about my daily routine, but with this one detail. People only see the occurrence of a rope around my neck, the noose is afterwards. As it is, the piece hangs on the fringes. Eventually, it becomes unseen. Likewise, with Come Again when I dressed in overalls I affected the appearance of a laborer albeit one hoisting a large black and blue phallus up and down Philly streets. Similarly, I go to stores, buy gas, do the things everyone does in a matter-of-fact way. I really want the piece, the action to fade into the background and live on the fringes, much like dread and terror, foreign and domestic, has become so commonplace as to be a part of our lives.