“The series of five hand-worked photographs that comprise The Mythic Being: I am the Locus conveys Piper performing a consciousness of otherness on a walk through Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An American-born artist of mixed racial background, Piper has articulated questions about the politics of racial identity in many ways throughout her work as an artist and philosopher. In 1973, Piper created an alter ego, the Mythic Being, who became the basis of a pioneering series of performances and photo-based works. For this 1975 Mythic Being performance, she sported large sunglasses, an Afro wig and mustache—chosen to blend in with the mid-seventies urban environment, and dressed in men’s clothing. This simple costume enabled her to appear inconspicuously as a black man to an unknowing public. In these photographs we can perceive the indifference of the crowd in Harvard Square to Piper’s performance: people brush shoulders with her, or look in the opposite direction.
Her subsequent intervention into the photographs with oil crayon and text helps to dramatize the scenes, and to express the tension between the artist’s inner experience and the invisibility of her Mythic Being performance to its live audience. Drawing directly on the photographic prints prevents the images from being seen as straightforward documentation of a performative event. Instead, by the final sequential image, most of the other people and surroundings have been obliterated by drawing, which parallels the text’s shift from philosophical meditation (“I am the locus…”) to existential shove (“Get out of my way…”). Piper intended for these photographs to be made into posters; she did not initially intend for these preparatory images to be treated as works of art unto themselves.” [credit]
“In 1973 Adrian Piper pasted a mustache on her face, put on an Afro wig, and donned round, wire-rimmed shades.
Dressed and acting like a man, she went out into the streets.
Muttering passages she had memorized from her journal, the artist was startling and weird, challenging passersby to classify her through the lens of their own preconceptions about race, gender, and class.
Who was this light-skinned black man, going on and on about how his mother bought too many cookies. Was he crazy? Was he dangerous? Why was he being followed by a film crew?
These street actions formed the basis of The Mythic Being, an influential work of performance art that helped establish Piper’s reputation as provocateur and philosopher.
At a time when Conceptual and Minimal art were mostly male domains that pushed to reduce art to idea and essence, Piper pushed back with confrontational work that brought social and political issues to center stage. And at a time when most performances were barely documented, Piper announced her project in ads in the Village Voice, arranged for it to be filmed by Australian artist Peter Kennedy, and created works on paper dominated by her aggressive alter-ego.
Footage from Mythic Being, borrowed from Kennedy, had been playing on a monitor in the Grey’s galleries until this week—when Piper requested the work be removed. The monitor was turned off and the gallery posted a note to viewers on top.
It explained that the artist had articulated her reasons in correspondence with Valerie Cassel Oliver, the show’s curator, which reads in part:
“I appreciate your intentions. Perhaps a more effective way to ‘celebrate [me], [my] work and [my] contributions to not only the art world at large, but also a generation of black artists working in performance,’ might be to curate multi-ethnic exhibitions that give American audiences the rare opportunity to measure directly the groundbreaking achievements of African American artists against those of their peers in ‘the art world at large.’”
The note responds with a statement of Cassel Oliver’s from the catalogue, arguing that the show’s mission is to resist “reductive conclusions about blackness: what it is or what it ain’t. What is clear is that it exists and has shaped and been shaped by experiences. The artists in this exhibition have defied the ‘shadow’ of marginalization and have challenged both the establishment and at times their own communities.”
In response to Piper’s request, Cassel Oliver added: “It is clear however, that some experiences are hard to transcend and that stigmas about blackness remain not only in the public’s consciousness, but also in the consciousness of artists themselves. It is my sincere hope that exhibitions such as Radical Presence can one day prove a conceptual game-changer.”
In depriving students and the larger public from seeing her work at the Grey, the artist, who currently lives in Berlin and runs a foundation dedicated to art, philosophy, and yoga, has chosen to make a larger point about marginalization and otherness, themes that have dominated her work throughout her career.
The question is whether separate exhibitions are still needed to tell the stories that were left out and continue to be absent from conventional tellings of art history, or whether creating these separate spaces amounts to a kind of ghettoization that prevents the artwork from being considered on the larger stage.
These issues are hardly confined to race, of course—curators of exhibitions on gender, nationality, and other aspects of identity routinely encounter artists who decline to participate because they don’t want to be considered in the context of “women artists,” “Jewish artists,” and so on. So, sometimes, do our contributors and photo editor when we run stories on these issues.
The organizers of “Jew York,” a show at Zach Feuer and Untitled galleries in New York last summer, were turned down by several artists who didn’t want to appear under such a rubric. Luis Camnitzer, a German-born Uruguayan artist, was so conflicted that he couldn’t decide whether to recuse himself or contribute a piece. So he sent a letter describing his conundrum, which became part of the show. It read in part: “Do I refuse the invitation on the grounds of feeling that it is an artificial and anecdotal grouping irrelevant to the work of most artists invited and therefore tinged by an aroma of weird fundamentalism? Or do I have to accept on the grounds of my need not to deny my Jewish connections bound by my ethical debt and beliefs? Maybe not totally pleasing to everybody, this letter tries to be my compromise.”
When “Radical Presence” opened at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, last year, it also included five works from Piper’s 1975 series I am the Locus, collaged and painted Polaroids on which images of Piper as the Mythic Being are inserted into scenes of a crowded street. The text gets bigger as the figure approaches the viewer, culminating in the warning “Get Out of My Way, Asshole.” The works, owned by the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago, were deemed too fragile to travel to New York.
Part II of the New York version of “Radical Presence” opens at the Studio Museum in Harlem on November 14. It doesn’t include any works by Piper. The show is scheduled to travel to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis next year.” [credit]
“Shoes with 1/4” diagonal grooves down the soles and heels were worn for three winter months. I was connecting the patterns of thousands of individuals… my thoughts were filled with marching diagrams.”
A more recent walking artwork highlighting the intersection of walking and race is In Between Camps (2012), which consisted of a group of six researchers and artists, Ismael Al-bis, Fabio Franz, Matteo Guidi, Thayer Hastings, Ibrahim Jawabreh, Saleh Khannah, Sara Pelligrini, Giuliana Racco, and Diego Segatto, walking across the West Bank from the springs of al-Arroub to Solomon’s Pools (three massive stone reservoirs) south of Bethlehem in search of an ancient Roman waterway, the Arrub Aqueduct. The project originated from the Campus in Camps program developed by Al-Quds University, an experimental education program in the Palestinian refugee camp of al-Dheisheh. The purpose of the project was to both reactivate the water system’s source, and imagine a time-frame before the contemporary apartheid-reality of walls, colonial land parceling, and occupation of Palestine. While they were hiking, the group was stopped by Israeli soldiers who were suspicious of the Palestinian participants due to their skin tone and dress. The international participants intervened and explained the trip, their search of the aqueduct, and showed them the map, engaging in a type of information overload tactic, not unlike the tactics Codogan described for minimizing the perception of criminality. After the walk, the group created a booklet (Booklet ) reflecting on the history of the site, their experience, and how the various layers of race-based rule and exclusion are projected on the land.
“Six photographs of unremarkable industrial landscapes in Passaic, New Jersey depict evidence of man-made history, yet the title of “monument” seems ironic. Stripped of any apparent artistic agenda, the images appear photojournalistic—without an accompanying news article to inform our perception. Smithson was perpetually intrigued by suburbia; in its sameness he saw a version of eternity defined by formal repetition rather than temporal longevity. By framing the mundane sites as “monuments,” Smithson challenges the conceptions of aesthetic merit and historical significance. Monuments of Passaic exists as three manifestations: a published article in Artforum, a photowork, and a photographic series.” [credit]
Alan Michelson (1953-, Mohawk) created a type of sculptural reenactment when he installed Earth’s Eye (1990) in lower Manhattan’s Collect Pond Park, outlining the now absent pond, a freshwater source that sustained Manhattan residents until tanneries polluted it and it had to be filled in during 1803. Forty cast concrete markers (22”x14”x6” each) referenced the natural and social history of the pond with low-relief imagery of plants and animals, and were arranged in the outline of the pond. Passersby walked around and within the installation, “bringing previous states of the locale into the here and now.” (Everett, Deborah. “Alan Michelson,” Sculpture, May 2007, Vol. 26 No. 4. Page 31.)
A Desire for Connection: “I began the project in LA out of a sense of frustration about the terms of everyday touch in America,” says Tighe. “I was having a massage, and as the massage therapist began working on my hand, all I wanted to do was hold her hand. Not out of a romantic impulse, but from a simple desire for connection.”
“What does it mean to live in a culture where people hug hello only rarely, almost never kiss each other on the cheek in greeting, and hardly ever take another’s hands unless they’re sleeping together? And what would it mean and feel like to hold hands in public with people who’ve volunteered to experience that connection? I decided I was going to hold hands and walk with as many people as I could.”
As they walked with Paige, her partners spoke of their dreams and aspirations, worries and plans while holding hands.
Tieghe also has an artist book documenting one iteration of the project.
“Philippe Guillaume’s Every Foot of the Sidewalk: boulevard Saint-Laurent (2010-2012) currently exhibited at the FOFA Gallery is a compilation of photographic cityscapes of the desolate Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Upon entering the FOFA’s main gallery, the viewer is immediately immersed in the eerie void created by these rarely captured moments of what is commonly the busy and populated Boulevard Saint-Laurent. One of the works, Working map of Every Foot of the Sidewalk: boulevard Saint-Laurent (2010-2012) displays a linear arrangement of photographs in parallel with a Google map image of the boulevard. The map is numbered, indicating the specific locations in which the photographs were taken. This work invites the viewer to participate by locating him/herself along this frequently visited and familiar street. In depicting this Montreal landmark, the artist is attempting to offer a new or perhaps different perspective of the space and street by removing its principal component of people. Guillaume’s work encompasses the act, art and history of walking and photography in order to explore concepts of space, community and a lack there of.
Among the books and articles left for consultation in the center of the main gallery lies Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Solnit seems to have played an influential role in the artist’s process and discussion of this work. The void captured in the photographs brings attention to a conversation common in Solnit’s work, regarding streets, people and shared spaces. Streets, such as boulevard Saint-Laurent, act as a space of congregation, a space for festivals, parades, revolutions and protests. They act as a place for voicing and displaying one’s citizenship, a shared and “unsegregated zone.”Particularly in light of the student protests last year in Montreal, Guillaume’s city of no citizens explores an interesting juxtaposition between the possible usages of space that touches on many social, political and spatial discussions relevant today. — Review written by Caro Loutfi.
 Solnit, Rebecca. Wanderlust : A History of Walking. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books, 2001.”
“I have always loved walking by the sea and was increasingly disturbed by the amount of plastic I was finding washed up on the beach. But in 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme reported that humankind’s exploitation of the oceans was ‘rapidly passing the point of no return’ and I was really shocked to discover that they estimated that on average there were around 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating on every square mile of ocean, leading to the death of over one million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals every year due to entanglement with or swallowing of litter.
We now know that over 12 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, travelling on ocean currents to every part of the globe. These plastics endure in the marine environment indefinitely: items from the birth of plastics are washing up on our shores, virtually unscathed. Scientists estimate that plastic can take 1000 years or more to degrade in seawater and even then will continue to pollute our environment with thousands of microscopic fibres: samples taken from a Northumbrian beach were found to have over 10,000 fibres in just one litre of sand… But disposal of plastics in our oceans isn’t just harming wildlife now. We are also providing a toxic legacy that may last an eternity. Moreover, plastics can be found throughout the food chain, even ending up in the food on our plates.
plastics, like diamonds, are forever…
I was so shocked by what I had learned, I felt I had to do something and resolved to ‘save’ one square mile of ocean by collecting 46000 pieces of litter whilst walking on the beaches near my home. Every time I visited the beach I picked up all the litter I could carry. My challenge took exactly a year to achieve (September 2006 – September 2007) and in total I walked over 200kms and carried away nearly a third of a tonne of rubbish.
But sadly my challenge will never really be complete. Scientists estimate that the amount of plastic in the sea is increasing at a rapid rate, doubling every 2 or 3 years. I’m still collecting (I can’t stop!). But this could be a lifetime’s work and I still might not save a single square mile of sea… My efforts may only be a literal splash in the ocean compared to the immensity of the problems are seas are facing. But what if everyone tried to do something about it? Luckily there is a lot more we can do – have a look here at the things we can all do…
Exhibitions The plastics I have collected have become my materials: I create huge installations with what I have found, ‘recycling’ it as art with potent message, playful but deadly serious. See photographs from some of my exhibitions.“
“Beginning in 2007, started photographing along the U.S.-Mexico border between El Paso/Juarez and San Diego/Tijuana. My project is organized around an effort to document all of the monuments that mark the international boundary west of the Rio Grande. The rigorous undertaking to reach all of the 276 obelisks, most of which were installed between the years 1891 and 1895, has inevitably led to encounters with migrants, smugglers, the Border Patrol, minutemen and residents of the borderlands.
During the period of my work the United States Border Patrol has doubled in size and the federal government has constructed over 600 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barrier. With apparatus that range from simple tire drags (that erase foot prints allowing fresh evidence of crossing to be more readily identified) to seismic sensors (that detect the passage of people on foot or in a vehicle) the border is under constant surveillance. To date the Border Patrol has attained “operational control” in many areas, however people and drugs continue to cross. Much of that traffic occurs in the most remote, rugged areas of the southwest deserts.
My travels along the border have been done both alone and in the company of agents. In total, the resulting pictures are intended to offer a view into locations and situations that we generally do not access and portray a highly complex physical, social and political topography during a period of dramatic change.” [credit]