A new project. Following on.
A process of chance.
This is a perfect example of how my projects usually begin.
I was looking at the instagram feed of @ARTFORUM and the cover of their January 2016 edition interested me.
The cover contained an image of a bright-orange-red plastic paint skin. It is a work by Alberto Burri: Rosso plastica (Red Plastic), 1961.
The image caption listed a summary of the issue’s content and within that text the handle @devhynes interested me so I clicked that link, it took me to @devhynes (aka Blood Orange) instagram feed, (point of interest?; Blood Orange, rosso, red, blood, fire?…hmm)
The first thing that stood out for me whilst scrolling through Hynes’ feed was the image from the cover of Miles Davis’ 1974 Lp Get up with it. A grainy 70’s photo of Davis wearing excellent thin-framed hexagonal spectacles, I made a note of this and searched out the album on Spotify and played it instantly, I hadn’t heard it before and it’s great. I love getting music into a project and now i’ve also been introduced to the work of Devonté “Dev” Hynes through his various projects and guises, which i’ve been listening to on repeat.
The next thing in the feed that struck me was this image:
The cover of New York magazine featuring Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Headline “How do I live free in this black body?” I didn’t know who Ta-Nehisi Coates was but this sounded very interesting.
*note both these images refer to supposed ‘obsolete’ formats, the LP record and the Magazine, remember I came from ARTFORUM, also a physical magazine. This is an interesting point considering the method of their discovery, Instagram, these images are images of actual physical objects, things I could in theory then go out and purchase.
Back to Dev Hynes’ post though. I followed the @nymag link in his image caption and then searched though their feed for the Ta-Nehisi Cotes cover (Hynes’ image was a little pixelated and I couldn’t read the info on the cover), I found it.
This then led me to the article on New York Magazine’s website. I read this and followed the links in Wallace-Well’s article to more of Coates’ writing for The Atlantic. This and Toni Morrison’s claim that Coates’ book is “Essential reading” convinced me to purchase the book online, as I couldn’t find it here in the Book store. The formal comparison with James Baldwin’s 1963 Book The fire next time and Toni Morrison’s statement that she had “been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.” had me search it out, and a particular Penguin edition cover lured me in, and I bought that too, I never buy books online.
What i’m interested in here is the way of discovering new information using unconventional (and chance) methods, and in this case also coming into contact with physical objects. I often employ similar methods in my research for projects, and very often by just using the internet in what I call an ‘encyclopaedic’ manner, by this i’m referring to what I believe is simply known as ‘hyperlinking’ on the web, basically just following links. I used to do this a lot with encyclopaedias pre-internet hence why I call it ‘encyclopeadic’. Another method I use is something I call ‘reticulated thinking’, I’ll post about that at anther time.
Anyway whilst I waited for my books to arrive I read a lot more of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing online and listened to podcasts and interviews with him. It definitely seemed like required reading to me! I was shocked at how deep racism runs through the culture and history of America, and particularly when it comes to policing and control.
I also downloaded and listened to the audiobook of The Fire Next Time, (read by Jesse L. Martin).
On 11 February The Fire Next Time arrived. “God sent Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time”
Then Coates’ book arrived a week and half later on the 23rd.
Immediately in the book this paragraph on page 9 struck me:
” I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect. And you have seen men in the same uniforms pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone’s grandmother, on the side of the road. And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and it can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. All of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.”
Coates is writing to his teenage son Samori, and states that his son “saw Eric Garner choked to death”, had “seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice” and also “seen men in the same uniforms pummel Marlene Pinnock…”. How had his son witnessed these things? I Googled all of the names in the paragraph and there they were on YouTube. I saw Eric Garner, I saw Tamir Rice and I too saw Marlene Pinnock, I also saw John Crawford shot in Wallmart. The footage of these events ranged from mobile phones to street and store cctv cameras, but there it was. I was suprised what was there online, explicit examples of what Coates, Baldwin and many, many others have been telling us for years. This immediately made me think of Rodney King, known because a brutal beating he received from the LAPD in 1991 was videotaped by a civilian observer, George Holliday, from his apartment balcony.
Holliday had sent his tape to LA news channel KTLA after the LAPD said they were not interested in it, and within 24 hours of the incident the 81 second beating was seen by news audiences worldwide and it rightly caused outrage. Rodney King had lived and I didn’t know this, I assumed he’d been killed because of the weight surrounding his name, I only knew of King from those images, from Hip Hop and from images the LA Riots that ensued a year later when all the LAPD officers involved in the beating were acquitted by the LA court of any wrongdoing. I was 13 or 14 at the time and it didn’t really register until later.
The video footage, the images that document all of these acts of ‘destruction’ to use Coates’ term, have very particular qualities. Something struck me about their aesthetic, something integral to their power; the everyday, non artistic documentation. All the images were produced by cameras, either in the hands of an amateur cameraman or passerby, or by a disembodied surveillance camera. There is a term for street level civilian surveillance as opposed to state and private camera surveillance and that is Sousveillance. This term, this idea is extremely pertinent. I came across it on the Rodney King Wikipedia page.
The Rodney King tape has been called the world’s first viral video, its proudly emblazoned across George Holliday’s website. I don’t really want to go in to him just yet but check out Holliday’s site and ask some questions to yourself. It was on his site that I first found a second by second breakdown of the King footage, It seems that there is a fine line between detective work and sports commentary. Elsewhere on the web this second by second, or ‘blow by blow’ account reads somewhat like a boxing match commentary. This is very interesting to me.
The statistics, the evidence, the mug shots, the re-enctment, the repetition, the slo-mo. The techniques used by the LAPD’s defence court attorneys to reduce the image on the tape to kind of abstract ballet, in order to take the real out of it and implant some artifice, some artistry?
And there is a close connection with violence in the terminology of image making or image capture that is unique to photography and film, that the camera is analgous to the gun. The image is violence, memory is violence. We point and we shoot, we get the shot.
But who’s doing the shooting now? More and more the tools are in the hands of the citizen, and those tools enable the spread of images and information at an unbelievably fast and wide, any thing has the potential to spread like a virus, like wild fire.
I watched a VH1 documentary UPRISING: Hip Hop and the L.A riots. It clearly highlights the anger and the brutality on both sides of the story. The caption reads “The flames died out. But the fire still burns.” A possible reference to The Fire Next Time perhaps?
According to the people interviewed in the film the riots had a theme tune: N.W.A.’s Fuck Tha Police. (1988!)
Now for some fun coincidences and the tying together of threads…
The date of that NY mag issue is July 13 2015, the date this blog and project began, the date back in 1977 when the New York riots kicked off: 13-7-1977. There is a clear connection with subject here; Black uprisings in America. And also music, hip hop in particular.
March 3, 2016 marks 25 years since Rodney King was beaten. I feel that I have to respond in some way. This new project will be my response, and these pages will document my research. I started this research in February, black history month. I really must engage.
Notes on process
I’m very interested in this method of documenting; the blog, editing it, remembering what i did etc. Of course this whole thing could be a fiction, and indeed parts of it are, it’s impossible to actually remember exactly how and whan a thing occurred. This blog itself is a re-enactment, a recreation and a recollection of memories. The editing I do here is no more significant than the editing we do in any conversation and recounting of information. Details are often removed for nothing more than that they don’t flow, that they don’t fit an aesthetic. And this is not unlike the police re-enactment, or the reconstruction of a crime scene, and it’s also not unlike the book, the memoir.
What do I mean by Continuum Vacuum? Well i’m not 100% sure yet, but this as usual came about by chance, I just liked the uu in continuum, and that made me think of the only other word I knew with this double u, Vacuum (for some reason I find it hard to type vacuum without two cc’s, ‘vaCCUUm’ don’t know why–just an aside). The word Continuum kept coming up, whether it was in things I was reading, or just in my mind, I don’t recall but it was a trigger. The idea of a thing continuing, or being part of a chain of events, has been interesting me a lot recently, and that UU provides a very neat illustration of this. The vacuum though, has I think got very physical properties, namely because it is the opposite of physicality; the absence of matter. A continuum of the idea, or the environment that is without form or matter, an idea, ideology, the internet, the mind and the myth…? I look forward to finding out.
Podcast #83: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Theft, Atheism, and History. In conversation with Khalil Gibran Muhammad:
Ta-Nehisi Coates In Conversation With David Remnick:
Longform Podcast #168: Ta-Nehisi Coates:
UPRISING: Hip Hop and the L.A riots: