Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Between Knowing & Remembering (Part III)


I was drawn back to Kiang Gallery once more by the likes of artist duo Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry. Except this time ACP was hosting the party to announce a public art collaboration between the artists and the photography festival.


The temporary installation will take place on the interior and exterior of the water tower in the Old Fourth Ward. McCallum said the abandoned landmark caught his attention while they were driving towards the Martin Luther King Center in the same neighborhood.


I'm looking forward to seeing what transpires there in October. It's an interesting choice for McCallum and Tarry, because their work is so racially and historically focused, yet they are drawn to work with a structure which has no direct ties to the Civil Rights Movement but is located within an area of Atlanta steeped in its history.


While at the gallery I took the opportunity to watch again the video McCallum and Tarry included in their show, "Another Country."


Standing beside me were two woman who were watching it for the first time and I recognized their winces and squirming as the same reaction I had to seeing the blood and needles. "Is this for real?"
"Yes!" I said.


As a biracial couple, much of McCallum and Tarry's video work deals with the complexity of this relationship within the context of our country's weighty history. But unlike the previous two videos I have seen, this piece was stripped bare of aesthetic artifice, mystery and dramatics peeled away, to reveal something much more raw, more unsettling in its brutal honesty.


Previously at the artists talk, Tarry said the video was inspired by the "One Drop Rule" of the first half of the 20th century. According to this law, anyone of European ancestry with as much as one drop of African blood was considered "black." This was enacted largely to prevent interracial relationships. Tarry said there are dramatic stories from this time of interracial couples pricking their fingers and sharing blood in the very courtroom that had just condemned them to imprisonment for the crime of coupling.


In the video, McCallum and Tarry, through a slow, almost ritualistic practice, use IVs to have a blood transfusion, literally exchanging blood. The video itself became more of an instrument for documentation, while the actual act between the artists was a private performance piece, shared with the viewer through video.


The video, while in many ways very separate from the paintings in "Another Country," was a vital element to the show. The video grounded the issues of the Civil Rights Movement within an intimate dialogue, connecting the artists to the subject matter through their own personal story. The video seemed to represent a next chapter to the history which the paintings dealt with, as a sort of rising above, or a breaking down. Watching McCallum and Tarry exchange blood asked the question, are these two still an interracial couple or has McCallum's heritage suddenly changed? Has Tarry's changed? And the superficiality of racial labeling, the ridiculousness of the "One-Drop Rule" come sharply into focus.

"Another Country" has been extended at Kiang Gallery until June 7th 2008. If you haven't seen it yet, take advantage and GO!

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4 comments:

Cinque said...

That video is great, even as high as it is in the cringe-factor. Do you know if a doctor was at all involved in this?

Also, I'm glad to see what ACP is doing. I think this project is more interesting by an order of magnitude over some previous projects.

Jonathan said...

I don't remember them mentioning a doctor during the talk but there had to have been a nurse just behind the camera supervising the IVs - it could have been very dangerous if done improperly.

I agree, ACP is getting more ambitious with their public works projects. And I feel like the artists have chosen a particulary challenging location, they are not making it easy for themselves.

There were questions about possibly making it a permanent art piece but McCallum/Tarry made it clear they are only looking at this project as a short term artwork - only meant to last a few months.

Ben Grad said...

That video looks amazing.

I'm glad someone's doing something with that tower - it's such a strange piece of architecture in that neighborhood.

Jonathan said...

It did seem inevitable considering the empty tower looms over all the artists at studioplex - I imagine there are many artists itching to get access to that place.