Monday, January 23, 2017

What We Want is Everything – Women’s March, Arthur Jafa at Gavin Brown Enterprises

I said I wasn’t going to watch the inauguration but I did and it made me feel queasy all day and night. I literally felt like I was going to barf. I went to bed. I woke up. I felt like there was some sort of psychic fog that made my eyes unable to focus. I laid in bed and listened to the radio.

I said I wasn’t going to go to the Women’s March but I did and it made me feel lighter and hopeful. Getting on the train at Dekalb in Brooklyn there was already a pulsating energy. It was Saturday at noon. The train was full and the closer we got to Union Square it became rush hour packed. But that was okay. Everyone was there for the same reason and there was a sense of camaraderie. The push of people spilled out and getting on the 4,5,6 to Grand Central was even more jostling. But it was okay because we were all going to the same place.

Outside of the station near 42nd Street you knew that you were there. There being the March. There being where everyone else was. The streets were moving at a snails pace. People were chatting, taking pictures and occasionally there would be a distant or nearby roar of the crowd. It felt like we were each cells of blood in the artery veins of this place called New York City.

The children. The signs. These were the delights that made me smile and laugh even in the face of the reality we were collectively facing. All sorts of people protest and although there are misbalances of demographics, I was happy to see a semi-balanced mix of ages, colors, religions, and genders. This was a Women’s March though and even though pink has been commodified to exhaustion it was something to see, this wave of shades of pink in the pulsing slow moving wave of human bodies.

Reading those signs and seeing all those people I had a Zen moment of understanding what we want and is everything. Women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, Education, Gender Equality, Environment, Health Care, Free Speech, Prosperity, Freedom, on-and-on. We want it all and that seems absolutely reasonable.

Then I had to leave because after two hours and nearly standing still I felt a bit dizzy from the crowd. So I headed up to Harlem to see a show that I felt would add to the spirit of the day.

Arthur Jafa is not your typical artist. He is best know for his film work (as in movie films vs. arty films) but his video, Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, at Gavin Brown’s outpost in Harlem is one of the best video pieces I have seen in some time. It is only 7 minutes but within it there is a packed mash up of African American history, virtuosity, trauma, hopes and existence. The edits are sharp but interwoven with music; both orchestral, pop and rap creating visual and audio cadences that create drops and surges of emotions in your guts similar to a roller coaster ride.

The subject of the bodythe black body is central. You see it conveyed, damaged, incited, and possessing the life and history of a people that is in constant attack and also the originators of exultation. The mixture of historic, internet disseminated, personal, and archival footage of weddings, police beatings, basketball dunks, dancing are treated like notes in a song, each one having just as much necessity and revealing a greater whole.

This video is heartbreaking and one you must see if you care about art and politics. It is something that makes you understand things. Things you know to different degrees. It’s made for the subject, black Americans, but also for the viewer, everyone else. This is honest because that separation of knowing, whether you are or are not, doesn’t take away the impact this 7-minute video has on your understanding of what is being shown or the feelings produced by them.

One of the tracks on the songs sings the chorus, “This is everything,” and as I was watching this alone in the dark I thought about the March as well. This idea of ‘Everything’ feels daunting and overwhelming but it is also cathartic in its completeness.

Jafa’s video stacks your emotional and visual sense to overload but you need to see this. You must.

What people are demanding and wishing for at the protests feels overwhelming and impossible but they all matter and they all must be acknowledged.

Open it all up. Expose it all. Only through this will we ever see what the hell is going on.