“This text originally appeared in ART PAPERS Fall/Winter 2020, Monumental Interventions, as part of a special dossier highlighting seven artists who have fought—and continue the fight—to transform their public spaces by uncovering suppressed histories, resisting oppression, and telling formerly silenced truths.
Beverly Buchanan’s practice referenced southern vernacular architecture to interrogate relationships between Black people, history, and the landscape. In 1981 Buchanan (1940–2015) placed a triangular formation of three sculptural mounds on the edge of the tidal marsh in Brunswick, GA. Titled Marsh Ruins, the large amorphous forms were made by layering concrete and tabby—a concrete made from lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash—and then staining the forms brown. This grouping is the most referenced work in the series of sculptural markers Buchanan placed in Georgia to memorialize sites of Black presence. Buchanan often explored the concept of ruination to uncover the transformative powers of distress and destruction. These markers symbolically bear witness to the 1803 mass suicide of enslaved Igbo people who collectively drowned themselves off the coast of nearby St. Simons Island. Although their exodus was forced by the traumatic capture and abuse of their bodies, their act of defiance made them free. The work remains visible to the public, though it is not clearly marked and blends in with its natural surroundings.
Tabby was used throughout the American South to construct shacks and quarters for enslaved people. This material functions as a protective shield for Marsh Ruins. Buchanan’s use of tabby, rather than such enduring materials as marble or steel, gestures to the material historically employed to construct Black people’s homes, which she revered. Vulnerable to nature and unstable marsh ground, these forms were intended to be lost to erosion. Buchanan welcomed nature to shift, fragment, and disintegrate her sculptures, knowing that, like the body, they would one day be completely obscured or forgotten. Succumbing to the earth, the materials live on in new forms. Marsh Ruins rejects the representational form of conventional monuments and memorials to speak poetically through the languages of materiality and ephemerality.” (credit)
“Your retrospective features a parade-sized balloon which was previously used in another performance at the Aspen Art Museum. Could you talk about the object in this iteration? Particularly your ideas around metaphor and repetition?
The balloon was originally created for a July 4th parade in Aspen, Colorado, and was based on a video that I made called Watch the Sky. In Watch the Sky, I used television footage of the Macy’s Day Parade and then superimposed a caricature of myself over top of a character named Little Bill (a Bill Cosby character). What ended up in Aspen was a Frankenstein version of this image from Watch the Sky. Aspen is not a town known for its racial diversity, so when viewers of the parade saw this Black figure—one they could not identify and had no particular reference or even affinity towards—they tended to fill in the gaps by associating this Black male with any popular Black male they could conjure up. Obama, Lebron [James], etc. In the [retrospective], I think the balloon will have a number of functions and refer to a number of things—it is beautiful and ugly, full and empty, present and absent. It’s my body, maybe, but certainly like my body it is already historical and preconceived. Still, if I had to put my figure on one thing it points to and addresses it would be breath.” [credit]
“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]
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.
Marsad Drâa (founded by Carlos Pérez Marin in 2013) is a transdisciplinary research group (university students and professionals from Morocco and abroad) studying lifestyles and cultures of desert regions as a way to better understand contemporary challenges related to sociology, architecture, agriculture, urban planing, visual arts, performing arts, history. Given the complexity of the disciplines, teams are usually multidisciplinary (architects, artists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, historians, archaeologists …) and they always work in association with local associations. Thus, they organize workshops (sometimes virtual ones on the Internet) in several regions of the Moroccan desert, with the aim of providing solutions to contemporary issues, based on tangible and intangible heritage.
“project Qafila is a (open) transdisciplinary research platform on Saharan caravans founded by Marsad Drâa that develops a series of practical researches on caravans with several aims: to learn about nomad ways of life nowadays, to walk through the routes used by caravans from the 8th to the 20th centuries, to analyze the caravan heritage and the actual situation from a contemporary perspective in the Sahara desert.” [credit]
“Beyond Qafila Thania brings together researchers from Sudan, Morocco, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands researching in architecture, sociology and the visual arts actively approaching the cultural, social and geopolitical space of the Sahara desert. Tracing back the stories of the old caravans, learning about its influence in current day cultures and societies.
Beyond Qafila Thania facilitates an inspiring frame to exchange and research further on the participants on going projects focusing on topics such as contemporary nomad culture and architecture, current immigration routes, history of slave trade, race issues [and the concept of blackness], and trans-Saharan book trade and the mobility of Knowledges within the Mediterranean, Sahel and West Africa.
Beyond Qafila Thania develops through different stages:
– Research and archiving.
– Site visits: Departing from Marrakech to Agdz with research visits to different oases, kasbahs and ksars between Agdz and M’hamid El Ghizlane (22nd to 27th October 2017).
– Attendance at the Taragalte Festival, a gathering of musicians from the Saharan region, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger (27th to 30th October 2017).
– A nomadic walking residency from M’hamid to Akka (30th October to 10th November 2017) and from Akka to Tighmert (11th to 23rd November)
– Beyond Qafila Thania Round table in Le18, Marrakech (13th November 2017)
– Presentation of the project as part of KIBRIT Final exhibition and publication event (15th December 2017).
The participant artists and researchers selected to be part of Beyond Qafila Thania are Amado Alfadni (Sudan), M’barek Bouhchichi (Morocco), Pau Cata (Catalonia), Carlos Perez Marin (Spain) and Heidi Vogels (The Netherlands). For the first stage of the project they will be joined by Olì Bonzanigo (Italy), Laila Hida (Morocco), Francesca Masoero (Italy) and Leire Vergara (Spain).” [credit]
This film depicts a combination of New York and Lisbon’s urban spaces via the artist’s wanderings, where she discovers past lives in the landscape. “The viewer seems to meander through the city alongside the artist. Walking in NYL distorts time and place by shuttling between New York and Lisbon – the hectic pace of the former cued by the honking of Midtown cabs, the latter’s ramble down steeply cobbled streets. The videos slow down when Green pauses to look at details, such as the tawny stone exposed by chipped paint.” [credit]
The work touches on issues of multi-layered histories and spaces, beginnings, home, senses of national or cultural origin, unstable identities, stories of past and present, individual versus collective, and crossings. Imagery focuses on water and the artist’s movements. [credit: Ana Balona de Oliveiera, Third Text, 2016. Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2, 43-59.]
“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]
“On Saturday 7th October, I led a walk as part of the Love Arts Festival 2017 programme.
The ‘Art, Access and Urban Walking’ grew out of the walk I led as part of Jane’s Walk Leeds in May. The idea was to create conversation around accessibility in urban and green spaces, and document it in a creative way through photography, writing, sketching, or spoken word. There were so many snippets of conversation I wish I had recorded, about the spaces we occupy, how we neglect visiting areas outside our neighbourhood; and once we hit the shopping park, conversation moved towards accessibility in public spaces.” [credit]
The Midnight Run is a registered social enterprise. Like traditional businesses we aim to make a profit but what sets us apart is that we aim to – reinvest or donate those profits towards creating positive social change.
The Midnight Run is a walking, night-time, arts-filled, cultural journey through a city and a typical Midnight ‘Runner’ has a healthy sense of adventure and seeks experiences beyond the mainstream. It is partially influenced by The Situationists – a political and artistic movement between 1957 & 1972 – started in France. Founders of the movement were tired of the commercialism of art and consumerism and wandered city streets in typical post-war bohemian fashion seeking REAL experiences.
Accordingly, The Midnight Run seeks to negate the frenzy and hysteria of mass media, pop culture, hype and reality T.V. for actual reality, for the simplicity and intimacy of walking and talking. Our idea is to reclaim the streets of a city, to dispel the idea of ‘danger after dark’ instead to ‘discover after dark’. It is to grow urban communities, situate meetings of strangers, for relationships to blossom, to inhabit the confines of glass, concrete, steel and structure as a child does a maze: with natural play and wonderment.
“During those early Midnight Runs, I’d run writing workshops and poetry exercise specific to locations we visited. After, I’d ask participants to share their writing and I noticed how it created new spaces for communication and conversation. Essentially, I stumbled across a simple way to deepen group dynamics and our appreciation and understanding of each other.”
“Over time I invited artists/activists of various disciplines to run workshops thereby widening the scope of this interaction. Artists/activists are often plugged into fascinating networks and know great spaces worth visiting for playful or aesthetic reasons. Searching for outdoors spaces to compliment their art forms made planning Midnight Run routes vastly more interesting… the artists work on several levels.” — Inua Ellams, Founder
But WHY JOIN A MIDNIGHT RUN?
50% of the world’s population live in urban environments. Despite growing population density we face issues of loneliness, depression and economic polarisation… because of global immigration and gentrification, many cities are rapidly losing their local, historical and communal identities in a land-grab for commercial space. These new paradigms favour younger, faster, richer members of societies, paradigms that are increasingly hostile to the youth and older members of societies.
The Midnight Run experience counters these issues by slowing urban life to talking, playing and creating within various urban spaces. Because the event is for one night only with strangers, participants are afforded anonymity and can attend without any danger of judgement or consequence. By inviting artists of diverse practices, we encourage participants to step out of comfort zones and exercise their creative muscle. By inviting local artists who inform the route, we ensure what is experienced on the night is specific and true to the locality, the inhabitants and their environment.
The ground-breaking idea behind the Midnight Run is a return to simplicity, to entertain without entertainment, to trust in community and conversation, to rediscover our essential creative selves.
Born in Nigeria in 1984, Inua Ellams is an internationally touring poet, playwright, performer, graphic artist & designer. He has published three pamphlets of poetry including ‘Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars’ and ‘The Wire Headed-Heathen’. His first play ‘The 14th Tale’ was awarded a Fringe First at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival and his third, ‘Black T-Shirt Collection’ ran at England’s National Theatre. In graphic art & design (online and in print) he tries to mix the old with the new, juxtaposing texture and pigment with flat shades of colour and vector images. He lives and works from London, where he founded The Midnight Run.
Inua hails from the Hausa tribe in Northern Nigeria, a people synonymous with a nomadic tradition. The Midnight Run came from this tradition, his search for a community to belong to, the transience and transformation of travel, and a belief in the bridge-building ability of arts and artistic interaction.
The Midnight Run was found in 2005 by award winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams. In 2011 The Midnight Run embarked on a collaborative partnership with CCT-SeeCity, founded by Elena Mazzoni Wagner in Prato, Italy. This marked the beginning an expansion across Europe. To date Midnight Run events have commissioned in Manchester, London, Leeds, Milan, Firenze, Barcelona, Madrid & Auckland.
WHO WE WORK WITH.
Midnight Run events speak to themes of enhancing group communication, making different art forms accessible, supporting local artists and exploring cultural dynamics within urban environments. Events are typically commissioned by arts organisations, cultural festivals, community groups and corporate organisations. Organisations worked with include Southbank Centre, Contact Theatre, PUMA, Tate Modern, The Royal Society of Arts, Bush Theatre, Lomography, Create Festival + many more.