Allora & Calzadilla
Gladstone Gallery - 24 St.
515 W. 24th St., New York, NY 10011
September 13, 2014 - October 11, 2014
Confrontational Aesthetics: Choirboys Sing Insults in Allora & Calzadilla Performance
by Art Vidrine
Posted by Art Vidrine
| tags: performance installation sculpture music
The Earth breaks along fault lines. Mountains are pushed up; buildings crumble. Active faults are sites of extreme subterranean tension that operate on an unpredictable timeline with potentially devastating environmental, economic, and social aftershocks. To live near a fault is to live with unending uncertainty. Entire cities and nations have suffered when the earth shudders along her lines.
All of this would seem like ample fodder for the socially and politically minded artists Allora & Calzadilla until one sees (and hears) their current exhibition, Fault Lines, which has little to do with the upheaval to the strata quo. Instead, the artists rely on their trademarks of subtlety, humor, and unexpected associations to communicate an apt and nuanced metaphor for our current political culture.
At first glance, Fault Lines seems quite simple. Two plain-clothes choirboys use ten stone sculptures culled from fault lines around the world to perform a score written by Guarionex Morales-Matos. The lyrics are comprised of insults that Allora & Calzadilla mined from literary and political history. Performances occur every hour, last about thirteen minutes, and entail a choreographed interaction between the daily rotating performers that they developed in rehearsals with the artists.
Allora & Calzadilla, Fault Lines, 2013, Ten metamorphic and igneous rocks; Performance by Carlos and Jorge Tapia, from the Transfiguration Boychoir, Dimensions variable, Installation view: Gladstone Gallery, New York; Photo: David Regen.
One may wonder what fault lines, choirboys, and insults have in common. Firstly, each of the uniquely patterned and colorful stone sculptures formally resembles a two-tier choral riser. Modeled after either a normal fault or a reverse fault, these partially rough but mostly polished sculptures become platforms on which the performers sit, stand, ascend, and level insults at each other. Part Minimalism, part Earthwork, they look a little like what Robert Smithson and Carl Andre might have produced if they had worked collaboratively in the late 60s. Without an apparent conceptual reason for their particular arrangement, the sculptures are placed spaciously throughout the gallery, allowing ample room for the performers to move among them and change platforms multiple times in a performance. Members of the audience likewise must alter their geography in order to follow the singers.
The openness of the work differs drastically from the enclosure Allora & Calzadilla built for Sediments, Sentiments (Figures of Speech) (2007), inside of which operatic performers sang fragments from political speeches. In contrast to that work, here the young singers’ voices fluctuate in their ability to maintain notes consistently, perhaps an effect of voice break—a kind of vocal equivalent to planar destabilization. Though the music is beautifully ethereal at times, it is also a little frustrating. The polyphonic delivery often overpowers the lyrics and prevents the two voices from coming together in harmonic unison for extended phrases. Because of this, only a literal linguistic association emerges in the work between the lines of a fault, the lines of a musical score, and the lines of performed speech.
The most opaque connection may be gleaned from the etymology of “insult,” which comes from the Latin word “insultare” (to assail, to jump or leap upon). The original use of the word appropriately relates to the violent nature of plate tectonic shifting that occurs along faults, while the modern use of the word to signify an abusive remark or action describes the humorous slander each performer is hurling at the other. What is significant about this is how these associations apply to current politics.
Allora & Calzadilla, Fault Lines, 2013, Ten metamorphic and igneous rocks; Performance by Brogan Donston and Charles Rosario, from the Transfiguration Boychoir, Dimensions variable, Installation view: Gladstone Gallery, New York; Photo: David Regen.
It is not hard to imagine the American political landscape as a fault with two opposing (ideological) forces clashing and creating destructive divisions in their wake. Politicians, pundits, and ordinary citizens all chime in, faulting the other party for the world’s problems and heaving insults along the way. This collective cacophony drowns out any singular voice, much the same way the choirboys’ singing tends to overwhelm the legibility of the lyrics. The performative power of the utterance is diminished. And this is not an accident in Fault Lines.
In fact, the work metaphorically points to the bloated, divisive nature of current politics and seeks to render it harmless and humorous. Like the stone sculptures, the damage is smoothed over, polished, and domesticated. When legible, the insults are silly and kid-friendly. The work functions like a mirror to political bickering: grown ups acting like children, children acting like grown ups.
(Image at top: Allora & Calzadilla, Fault Lines, 2013, Ten metamorphic and igneous rocks; performance by Carlos and Jorge Tapia, from the Transfiguration Boychoir, Dimensions variable, Installation view: Gladstone Gallery, New York; Photo: David Regen.)
Will Corwin, Neil Greenberg
Staten Island Arts
September 25, 2014 - December 7, 2014
What If Staten Island Seceded from New York?
by Charlie Schultz
Posted by Charlie Schultz
| tags: sculpture drawing urban planning staten island Maps
It’s late morning and the ride across the New York Harbor, from Manhattan to Staten Island, is brisk. Tourists crowd the starboard side, photographing Lady Liberty, as our ferry powers along. “Did you know that Staten Island voted to secede in the early nineties?” I slant my eyes at the artist, Will Corwin, whose artwork, The Great Richmond, is currently installed at the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
“It’s true,” he says, “but the whole effort got lost in bureaucratic paperwork. Imagine what Staten Island would be like if it had become the 51st state!”
Will Corwin and Neil Greenberg, Installation view of The Great Richmond at the Culture Lounge at Staten Island Arts, 2014; Courtesy of the artists
Imagining a different Staten Island is the core of The Great Richmond, which came to shape as a collaboration between Corwin and Neil Greenberg, who works primarily as a professional cartographer. They imagined four unique versions of Staten Island—Urban, Suburban, Seceded, and Agrarian—each of which Greenberg realized in the form of a map. These maps surround what might be called the game board: four tables color coded to correspond to each alternative Staten Island. Upon these tables participants place plaster sculptures, each one created and cast by Corwin, which correspond to municipal components such as housing, culture, government, transportation, and farmland. The basic idea is to think like a developer and use the pieces to create your own ideal Staten Island.
The work is entertaining and because every aspect of it—from the makeup of the sculptures to the details of the maps—are culturally relevant to Staten Island, it is also fundamentally educational. But you can’t know a game until you’ve played it and once I get the lay of the land, I got started.
Mike Ballou futzing around at The Great Richmond, 2014; Courtesy of the artists and Staten Island Arts
First, I built up some infrastructure on the Urban table. I stacked agrarian blocks on government buildings and thought how great it would be if every courthouse, every jail, and civic center had a garden. What if part of the bureaucrat’s job was to till a bit of soil or feed a prisoner fresh tomatoes? What would that do to our sense of shared humanity? In a sense the whole project is based off the profound, yet simple prompt: “What if?” Those two words have the tremendous ability to launch one’s brain into the unbound field of creative thought.
On the ferry ride back to Manhattan, I asked Corwin if he’d been surprised by anyone’s participation. Corwin smiled and nodded his head. Then he told me about a man who had used the pieces designated as “infrastructure” to build a bridge between two tables. It was a possibility that had never occurred to Corwin, or to me as I played with the artwork, and it brought us to a new round of “what if” curiosities.
Urban Utopia at The Great Richmond, 2014; Courtesy of the artists and Staten Island Arts
(Image at top: Neil Greenberg, Richmondia What If Map, 2014, Drawing; Photo: Oran Viriyincy; Courtesy of the artist)
Best Postcolonial Art To Celebrate Columbus Day
Posted by Joel Kuennen
| tags: digital conceptual performance video-art installation sculpture figurative abstract painting postcolonialism
In dishonor of the longtime US holiday celebrating the beginning of the colonization of the Americas, we here at ArtSlant thought it might be a good idea to round up some influential postcolonial artworks that interrogate and deconstruct the long-lasting effects of colonization on identity.
Props to the states that have opted out of Columbus Day:
AK, AR, CA, DE, FL, HI, MI, MN, NV, OR, SD, TX, VT, WA, WI, WY.
Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña - Couple in a Cage, 1992 and 1993
Kara Walker, A Subtlety, 2014
- Un Ballo In Maschera (A Masked Ball), 2004
Meschac Gaba, Museum of Contemporary African Art, 1997-2002
Alfredo Jaar, This is Not America, 1987, 2014
Danh Vo, installation view of The Encyclopedic Palace at the Venice Biennial, 2013
Mona Hatoum, from the Afghan Series, 2008
Mounir Fatmi, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, 2011
Otobong Nkanga, Filtered Memories 1990-92: Resistance, Lagos Roads, 1992
Kader Attia, Ghost, 2007
El Anatsui, Broken Bridge, 2012
Ousmane Sembene, Xala, 1975
Renzo Martens, Episode III (Enjoy Poverty), 2008
Samuel Fosso, Untitled, 2008
Seydou Keita and Malik Sidibe, A moi seul, 1978
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Something Split and New, 2013
Image at top from a performance of Couple in a Cage by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña.
Ten Hallucinations from Spaced Out
by Charlie Schultz
Posted by Charlie Schultz
| tags: surrealism conceptual video-art sculpture painting
1) A young woman in skinny jeans pauses outside the entrance of Spaced Out: Migration to the Interior. She pulls her cell phone away from her ear and peeks in at the pink shag carpet lining the floor and Fred Tomaselli’s Diary (1990). She tells whoever is on the other end of her phone call to hold on a minute as she turns her head toward the bouncer, “What the hell is going on in there?” she wants to know, “Is this some kind of surrealist circus or what?”
Jim Lambie, Zobop, 1999; Red Bull Content Pool // Greg Mionske
2) There is a Jim Lambie piece on the floor. It’s called Zobop (1999). Benny, the maestro who leads the installation effort, says that these Zobops aren’t usually in group shows. Most often they stand alone, because when they are in group shows they have a tendency to overwhelm everything else. He would know. We agree that it works well here. Plus the vinyl tape is reflective, which makes the floor radiate. If you stare at your feet and soften your focus you will experience a kind of vertigo. After a few beers this is not a highly recommended manner of engaging with Lambie’s Zobop.
Ryan Trecartin, A Family Finds Entertainment, 2004.
3) Ryan Trecartin videos are like twisters on the plains of contemporary art, swirling vortices that suck up everything in their path. But that’s not happening here. Trecartin’s video, A Family Finds Entertainment (2004), is screaming at me as I watch the adjacent flat screen. It’s got Takeshi Murata’s Shiboogi (2012) and it seems like a worm in the brains of Trecartin’s blitzed out family.
Sylvie Fleury, Later, Later, 2012; Red Bull Content Pool // Greg Mionske
4) This show is an example of what it means to go over the top. If a group of young curators decided to take some notes and move ahead with this insane style of curation, they might call themselves Maximalists.
Rona Pondick, Head in a Tree, 2006-08; Red Bull Content Pool // Greg Mionske
5) Here is a giant goopy metal head with bad teeth and a wicked smile. Could be male or female. The concrete plinth gives nothing away. Oh. I see. It’s Ugo Rondinone’s SUNRISE. east. january (2005). Why do you think it’s facing west? Well, it’s obviously waiting to see the sunset. And here, twelve paces to the left, is Rona Pondick’s stainless steel Head in a Tree (2006–2008), which is a very literal title. These two metal heads are like sentinels in front of the long dark bar where drinks are being made and slung like no tomorrow. Red Bull vodka seems to be the drink of choice. You start out feeling like SUNRISE, but in the morning you’ll surely feel like a Head in the Tree.
Image of the curator, Phong Bui; Red Bull Content Pool // Greg Mionske
6) Is the curator here? Yeah. That’s him over there. The short guy with the bald head. His name is Phong Bui. He runs the Brooklyn Rail. No one knows how he manages to do everything. He’s a publisher who is an artist who is a curator. They say he managed to install this whole show in a week and a half. Can you believe it? Well, just look at it. If you can see it, why not believe it?
Kazumi Tanaka standing with her installation, Insomnia, 2010; Red Bull Content Pool // Greg Mionske
7) Have you been downstairs? It’s insane. It’s like the B-side of the album, if upstairs is the A-side. What’s so crazy about it? Well, for one, the whole floor is covered in pink shag. For two, the walls and ceiling are painted Pepto Bismol pink. For three, there are lights on the floor and on the ceiling. For four, have you ever seen anyone use pink packing peanuts as a curatorial tool? No? Ok, just go downstairs.
Jon Kessler, Lost Boy #2, 2012
8) Two young women sit on the pink shag and watch a video being projected on an overturned dinner table. The remnants of a large Chinese meal are strewn all around the floor. The whole thing looks taken straight out of a Chinatown restaurant. In the video old, young, fat, skinny New Yorkers do hip hop dance moves to a generic beat on the city’s streets. It’s hilarious. Totally random. Everyone in the video is grinning. Cao Fei’s Hip Hop NY (2006) always makes people smile.
Artist Will Ryman standing in his work, Infinity, 2014. We prefer calling it the "sole room".; Red Bull Content Pool // Greg Mionske
9) Someone has brought a child. The kid is running in circles around the B-side of the exhibition, yelling “wheeeeee” as he goes. Daddy! He yells, you never told me art could be fun!
Fred Tomaselli, Geology Lesson, 1986.
10) There is so much texture to this show it’s like having your sense of touch scrubbed through your eyeballs. Dead space? What dead space? This entire place is throbbing with life.
Team Gallery - Grand St
83 Grand St., New York, NY 10013
September 7, 2014 - October 12, 2014
Carry Your Ghosts: Ryan McGinley, Dan Colen, and the Specters of Youth
by Charlie Schultz
Posted by Charlie Schultz
| tags: photography installation figurative painting fantasia portraitures nudes dash snow loss memory
When I moved to New York in 2007 one of the first things I picked up was a copy of New York Magazine with Dash Snow, Dan Colen, and Ryan McGinley in bed together on the cover. The image, shot by Cass Bird, has stayed with me. It shows a bird’s-eye view of three friends in their underwear, snuggled together like a small litter of puppies. The picture is intimate but it becomes oddly intrusive on a magazine cover, in part because no one is making eye contact with the photographer. Instead all three either sleep or feign sleep, creating a perceived lack of connection between the subject and photographer, which makes the image seem more like a voyeur’s one-way street. It kindles the fictional fires of nearness between the viewed and the viewer.
For me, it is an archetypal image of friendship. These three friends represented an effortless blend of life and art, and that was exciting because the lives that came through in their art looked dangerous and radical, loving and wildly alive, running on the highest-octane fuel one could imagine. They were friends who appeared to genuinely inspire one another. That seemed mythical, almost magical. Very few are lucky enough to have those kinds of friendships.
Less than two years later Dash Snow was dead in a hotel room. Dan Colen had sobered up and Ryan McGinley was out of New York leading epic photo escapades around the United States. I remember going to a memorial exhibition at Deitch Projects for Dash. I went a few times because I lived nearby. By the end of the run I’d noticed there were photos missing. They’d been stolen, I learned from the gallerist, and to me that seemed a fitting tribute to a man who ran with a crew notorious for kleptomania and general anarchy. That was the last show of Dash’s work that I’ve seen.
I dredge these thoughts up because they always come to the surface when I see shows by Dan Colen and Ryan McGinley, both of whom were given the opening exhibition slot of the fall season: Colen at Gagosian gallery and McGinley at Team gallery. These artists have come a long way from the rambunctiousness that ushered them into the art world. They’ve cooled off and leveled out and though their work has little in common, the conjunction of their two exhibitions felt like some kind of reunion, even if only coincidental.
Ryan McGinley, Installation view, YEARBOOK, team (gallery, inc.), 2014; Image courtesy of team (gallery, inc.), New York; Photo: Joerg Lohse
I’m going to start with McGinley’s recently closed show, YEARBOOK. This show was the third in a trilogy of exhibitions that have come out of McGinley’s studio portraits, and it may be the least photographic. For YEARBOOK the artist printed a few hundred portraits on vinyl and covered the gallery’s walls and ceiling. It was a rainbow-hued spectacle of fair skinned, pretty young people—all comfortably nude—shot against different colored paper. No single photograph was given any more weight than the others; what commanded one’s attention was the installation. It overwhelmed and engulfed and through sheer abundance removed any hint of the intimacy that may have formed between subject and photographer. The show was less about the photographs than the accumulation and display.
When McGinley first went into the studio he said it was out of a curiosity to see what a McGinley studio portrait might look like. His initial inspiration seemed to come from great predecessors such as Irving Penn or Richard Avedon. For YEARBOOK McGinley has come full circle and tapped into the banality of the nameless portraitists who travel from school to school, making yearbook photos. The emotional range is tightened up; detachment becomes a principle characteristic. The images start to function like mug shots, indexing a generation. No one looks worried, no one seems afraid, no one appears to be taking a risk by stripping for the camera, or even to be proud of the act. In short, there is no sense of vulnerability.
Over the years McGinley has proven himself to be a fantastic editorial photographer and I wonder if part of his genius may be an ability to capture outstanding instances, along the lines of Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moments.” Up until McGinley decided to test out the studio, his photographs were action packed. They exuded a wildness for the lived moment, and they made you want to go out and experience life more fully. McGinley’s photographs of American Olympians (for the New York Times) are currently on view in an exhibition at Aperture. Those photos have edge. They are graceful and gutsy. McGinley is excellent in the field. There is no doubt he can capture the raw energy of a fleeting moment in a way that is poetic and at the same time full of adrenaline. But in the studio, where things slow down, his work seems to flatten out and give up a lot of its urgency.
In YEARBOOK, McGinley makes up for this low wattage by blitzing his viewers with so many images their heads spin. The melee becomes the ultimate framing device, or perhaps the anti-framing device, for hundreds of photographs that have shallow depth of field and more or less the same lighting—like photos in a yearbook. The thing about yearbooks, though, is that their value is primarily sentimental and sentimental value is always private. And here lies the paradox of McGinley’s YEARBOOK: there is nothing private or sentimental about it.
Dan Colen, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, 2013, Oil and raw pigment, 67 x 102 inches; © Dan Colen; Courtesy Gagosian Gallery; Photo: Christopher Burke
Almost as if playing counterpoint, Dan Colen’s exhibition at Gagosian, Miracle Paintings, is comprised of a neat nine canvases. These oil paintings—all big enough to command a hotel lobby—masquerade as abstractions though they are actually representations of film stills from the Disney classic Fantasia. The stills are from transitional sequences in which abstraction and representation merge. That fact makes them more interesting on an intellectual level, but it adds little to their aesthetic character.
There are two points of interest in the choice of stills. The first is that the moments Colen has chosen come from the interstices of the film and in this way attend to the transient sense of being in-between two places. The other appealing aspect of this decision is that it gets to the idea of the unconscious spaces of a viewing experience. Neither of these points of interest are dependent upon Fantasia, yet they could both be related to Colen’s earlier series of oil paintings that drew from Pinocchio. Those paintings depicted the candle on Geppetto’s table with various words spelled out in the candle’s smoke. In both instances, the film stills represent moments of transformation.
Colen’s painting practice seems in constant transition, as if he is constantly trying to do something new. The writer and curator Neville Wakefield, who has been running with Colen for years, picked up on this in his catalogue essay for the earlier Disney series:
Perhaps it is not [a painting] of a dumb Disney still, but of creation itself, made by one for whom the injunction against the graven image provides the biblical ingredients of a more literal enlightenment.
Dan Colen, Ride of the Valkyries, 2013, Oil and raw pigment, 89 1/2 x 119 inches; © Dan Colen; Courtesy Gagosian Gallery; Photo: Christopher Burke
What is a literal enlightenment? It is to be informed. To learn. But also, somewhat archaically, to shed light upon something. One gets the impression from the range of Colen’s paintings that he is always testing, experimenting, aching for the next lesson on light. In most of the Miracle Paintings luminosity seems to come from deep within the compositions, like a soft glow emerging beneath the surface of a newly frozen lake. Layers of resin overlay washes of color and there is hardly a brushstroke to be found. Much of the paint looks poured on, permitted to puddle, and then pushed about.
Perhaps a chief irony in being a virtuosic painter—and Colen is one—is the compulsion to disallow the brush’s touch in favor of allowing the paint to act as it will, to let chance play a hand in the composition. Such a process routes in aspects of the unconscious through the unintentional, which is where the form of the paintings intersects with their subject matter. What we see in these paintings is like a form of hypnotism, a willful submission to the transient space of one’s unconscious. Disney is less the subject of the work than the pathway towards its creation.
Miracle Paintings and YEARBOOK both refer back to images that orient a certain age group to its youth, or more specifically to childhood (via Disney) and adolescence (à la the yearbook). These are ages latent with discovery, fat with potential, and short on personal tragedy. It’s a time when friendships start to take on real value and absolute meaning, only after which can the death of a close friend be truly wounding. Hanging out in the studio of Alberto Giacometti, Jean Genet wrote that beauty has no origin other than the wound. It’s a thought I couldn’t relate to until someone very close to me died. Now its truth feels real. You learn to carry your ghosts with you, because they’ll haunt you as they please.
(Image at top: Ryan McGinley, Installation view, YEARBOOK, team (gallery, inc.), 2014; Image courtesy of team (gallery, inc.), New York; Photo: Joerg Lohse)
An American Response on the Default Man
by Britt Julious
Posted by Britt Julious
| tags: race Grayson Perry default man otherness the other Privilege
Grayson Perry, Turner Prize winning potter, weaver, draftsman, transvestite and Brit wrote a poignant essay on the "Default Man" last week for The New Statesman. While he applied his critique of embedded privilege to England alone, this concept most definitely exists internationally and particularly, in Western cultures where white, straight, middle-class males are the dominant, benevolent rulers.
This, like any other western nation, is a country of the Default Man. The Default Man—white, middle-class, heterosexual and usually middle-aged—is so dominant and prevalent and foundational to the structure of the Western world that it is difficult to distinguish their cultural norms from those of the country itself. The Default Man’s identity is rooted in power and structure and because he has always had it (at least in our collected ideas of history), our society is still rooted in that stronghold.
And this Default Man culture was built and thrives under the idea of the Other, meaning anyone non white, non-middle or upper class, non-heterosexual, non-middle-aged and not a man. Perry writes, “The Default Male gaze... looks down on society like the eye on Sauron’s tower in The Lord of the Rings. Every other identity group is 'othered' by it.” And later:
Default Man feels he is the reference point from which all other values and cultures are judged. Default Man is the zero longitude of identities. He has forged a society very much in his own image, to the point where now much of what other groups think and feel is the same. They take on the attitudes of Default Man because they are the attitudes of our elders, our education, our government, our media. If Default Men approve of something it must be good, and if they disapprove it must be bad, so people end up hating themselves, because their internalized Default Man is berating them for being female, gay, black, silly or wild.
James Baldwin once described this idea in terms of blackness, perhaps the most othered human in the United States, when he wrote, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant stage of rage.” We have internalized and understood the structure of the system for generations, from birth.
James Baldwin in 1971
Whiteness as a concept exists strongly in the United States, but it can also be the most challenged here as well. Rooted in our legacy is a culture of disruption. The United States, a nation of birth and rebirth, is formed on the idea that the norm is not the standard. Even if, historically, our challenges were more greed-driven than anything else, the very structure of this country is founded on the possibility of change. Nothing is set in stone.
But the hold is not impenetrable. For one, to accept the structure completely is to give in to the power of it. One can’t penetrate something that they don’t believe is penetrable. For any one human, a structural wall is still a wall. How can we break through it? To break through requires thought that looks at the system of the Default not as if “same as it ever was” is the only truth, but instead as something that can be molded, smashed… even eradicated.
The easiest and most powerful method of disruption is the full and active acceptance of the self, the Othered community and the culture that community has built for itself.
Perry looks at communities with a critical eye. In the essay, he wrote:
"Communities" are defined in the eye of Default Man. Community seems to be a euphemism for the vulnerable lower orders. Community is “other”. Communities usually seem to be embattled, separate from society. “Society” is what Default Man belongs to.
But communities, regardless of whether or not they are structured on the standards of the default, are necessary in combatting the acts against the Other. Individualism is ultimately rootless in contemporary society. The one cannot speak for the many, and the successes of the one do not displace the insidious cultural structure that allows Others to be othered in the first place. The W.E.B. Du Bois way of viewing progress of the Other only works to a limit. If you are black or gay or poor or a woman, what you need most is a community of other others to support and help dismantle the structures of the Default and specifically, the Default Man.
The default can thrive so long as its identity is seen not as an identity but as the norm. The norm is a place of power because it is structured as a place without questioning. As Perry wrote:
...identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland.
Otherness is predicated on the dominance of the norm. Otherness is predicated on creating an identity for the other and automatically rejecting it.
The disintegration of the default comes not through challenge, but through the “Other” finding and building value through their otherness. Embracing Otherness is a radical, transformative act. To embrace otherness is to reject the shame and self-hatred the default works tirelessly to maintain in the other.
In James Baldwin's revolutionary text The Fire Next Time he wrote, “We, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.” And I, too, believe this is possible even now, decades and decades later. The power of change is found not in conflict or in theory, but in the embrace of ourselves. By embracing ourselves, we are rejecting the negativity, the Otherness given to us. To embrace ourselves is to weaken the Default Man, his legacy, and his future.
Radical self-acceptance is the true agent of change. Inherent in breaking down the default is transforming, bit by bit, those within the default. The transformation occurs with the biggest bang of all: the gaining and taking back of one’s humanity. The default thrives in withholding humanity. The other thrives in taking it back for themselves.
Baldwin’s words ring truer than ever right now for anyone Othered, for anyone facing the reality of the Default Man and the very real possibility of their demise. “Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality,” Baldwin wrote. “Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don't be afraid."
Let us welcome the threat of the default man to our public consciousness. Let us use this time as a chance to reclaim ourselves.
(Image at top: Grayson Perry, The Upper Class at Bay, 2012, Wool, cotton, acrylic, polyester and silk tapestry, 200 x 400 cm)