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Sadie Barnette‘s exhibition Dear 1968 is an exploration of family and political history. Barnette uses sketches, family photos and selections from the 500-page FBI file on her father, Rodney Barnette, member of the Black Panther Party. Dear 1968 is an extension and reworking of her earlier show Do Not Destroy which focused exclusively on the COINTELPRO surveillance of her father Ronald over a ten year period.

“Barnette’s family story is not theirs alone,” says the press release. “Examining the fraught relationship between the personal and the political, the everyday and the otherworldly, the past and the present, she reveals that the injustices of 1968 have not yet been relegated to the pages of history, but live on in new forms today.”

Good stuff.

If you’re in or near Philly, catch the mainline out to Haverford and catch the show at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College.

 

 

Dear 1968 is in conjunction with the symposium “The Black Extra/ordinary,” which will be held on October 6th/7th at Haverford College, exploring the poles of black representation in historical archives, social media, fine arts, and other arenas.

 

 

 

 

 

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DOUBLE METAPHOR

“Being in the prison system is like you go into a maze and never come out,” said an incarcerated to man to artist Sam Durant in the months preceding Open Source, a city wide public art project in Philadelphia.

Durant has erected Labyrinth, a 40x40ft maze of chain-link fence, in Thomas Paine Plaza, across the street from City Hall. The public have been hanging personal responses on the maze fence using it as a stage to consider mass incarceration. Durant intended that the structure which begins as transparent will gradually become opaque with the publics additions.

Philadelphia is a sadly fitting venue. The prison industrial complex has had a particularly acute effect on Philly communities and Pennsylvania as a whole. PA has one of the largest and strictest prison systems. Philadelphia has a jail system with a history of beatings, discrimination and scandal.

It would be folly to think that politicians are going to correct the problems of a bloated, abusive system without the help of the citizenry.

“The maze functions as a double metaphor, symbolizing not only the struggle of criminals caught in the Department of Corrections but for how, as a society, we are all navigating the labyrinth of mass incarceration,” says the Open Source website.

During his recent visit, the Pope didn’t take the opportunity to publicly shame City Hall and those who work within, but Durant’s sculpture obliquely does.

I like this art.

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Sam Durant

Sam Durant is a multimedia artist whose works engage a variety of social, political, and cultural issues. Often referencing American history, his work explores the varying relationships between culture and politics, engaging subjects as diverse as the civil rights movement, southern rock music, and modernism. He has had solo museum exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany; S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium; and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand. Durant shows with several galleries, including Blum and Poe, Los Angeles; Paula Cooper Gallery, New York City; Praz-Delavallade, Paris; and Sadie Coles Gallery, London. His work can be found in many public collections, such as the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Tate Modern, London; Project Row Houses, Houston; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Durant teaches art at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

CREDIT

Photos by Steve Weinik.

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The high priest of street art just dropped half-a-dozen posters for use by your good selves against the prison industrial complex. #abolishprisons.

Made as part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts-organized Open Source project, they are classic Fairey, but the are free. And they are weapons in the fight.

“Open Source is a month-long, citywide celebration of innovation,” says Mural Arts. “Curated by Pedro Alonzo, the 14 projects of Open Source reveal aspects of Philadelphia’s urban identity. Open Source encourages artists to engage in community-centered explorations, addressing a variety of topics, including immigration, recycling, mass incarceration, the environment, community reinvestment, and displacement.”

The 14 artists at large in Philly are the Dufala Brothers, Sam Durant, Shepard Fairey, JR, Ernel Martinez & Keir Johnston, MOMO, Jonathan Monk, Odili Donald Odita, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Sterling Ruby, Jennie Shanker, Shinique Smith, Swoon and Heeseop Yoon.

Did I mention OBEY Fairey’s works were FREE? Download a PDF of the graphics here.

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People's Paper-Co-op

For the past 18 months, the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) and the People’s Paper Co-op (PPC) have partnered in creating client art as part of the PLSE’s Criminal Record Expungement Project (CREP) clinics. While CREP lawyers, grads and volunteers are pulling up criminal records, assessing eligibility and triggering first steps of expungement, the PPC has been taking physical copies of those records and with clients, shredding and pulping them.

New paper is made from old records, upon which clients write what they are and what their future is without the millstone of a record and its associated barriers to entry into work, housing and education. A Polaroid or digital snap of the client accompanies the testimony. Fantastic artistic strategy.

The result is a massive “quilt” of such testimonies — a detail is shown above and the collection is shown below hanging behind a speaker addressing a PPC event.

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NEW YORK, TOMORROW

The People’s Paper Co-op has been selected to be part of the New Museum’s Ideas City Festival this weekend. It’ll be displaying the quilt and talking about the project. Representatives of PPC and PLSE will be in the PPC Mobile Studio parked in front of the New Museum tomorrow, Saturday May 30th, from 12-6pm.

If you are interested in the intersection of art and legal advocacy on behalf of those with criminal records stop by!PPC and PLSE’s collaboration was one of 110 projects chosen to represent how artists are responding to changing urban spaces.

I’ve sung the praises of PLSE before. PPC was co-founded by friends of the blog Courtney Bowles and Mark Strandquist. Below is a small selection of images from the workshops and PPC events that Bowles and Strandquist have carried out during their SPACES residency at the Village of Arts & Humanities in Philadelphia.

PLSE and PPC’s work has been featured in Philadelphia InquirerWall Street Journal, NBC and City Paper, to name a few.

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G-LAW

Fight Hate With Love, a documentary film about Philadelphia-based artists and activist Michael Tabon (a.k.a. G-Law a.k.a. OG-Law) has been shortlisted for the Tim Hetherington Trust‘s inaugural Visionary Award.

The film made by Andrew Michael Ellis, director of photography at Mediastorm is about “one man’s journey to change the world and still be the guide his family needs him to be.”

The film looks inspiring, but as with any narrative arc, the protagonist faces challenges. It seems the stresses of Tabon’s art and activism upon his family is the emotive hook, Ellis is molding.

I met Tabon and his wife Gwen this time last year as he was embarking on his third self-imposed lock up in a self-built cell on the cold February streets of Philly. They did not display the tension as they do in Ellis’ trailer. Tabon was putting his un-prison cell together and Gwen was helping with supplies, PR, food & drink, and vocal support. It was clear they rely on one another to make work and to meet the silent, unending need for Tabon’s love-filled message.

Tabon’s manipulation of visual tropes is cunning and effective. He has reclaimed the cell, the orange jumpsuit and the shackles. He has jogged 10 miles a day for seven days around Philadelphia with a 40-foot banner reading FIGHT HATE WITH LOVE. He has walked with a ball-and-chain from Selma to Montgomery.

“Tabon has been caught in the revolving door of the prison system since he was sixteen years old. Incarceration became a way of life, seen as an inherited destiny for America’s young Black poor, until he had a revelation – that he could break the cycle of the womb-to-prison pipeline gripping marginalized communities across the country,” says Mediastorm.

It’s wonderful to see Tabon on the Mediastorm platform and Hetherington Trust’s radar. His unorthodox but unmissable approach to social change needs to go national.

Youtube trailer here. Follow Tabon on Twitter and on the web.

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Mom Were OK, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

STRAUSS AT HAVERFORD

If you’re in the Philly area and you’ve got any sense, you’ll be making your way to Haverford College tomorrow for the opening of Sea Change, by Zoe Strauss.

Strauss will be there too. Talking and everything.

Friday, January 23rd.

Do it.

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Drying Money, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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TV on Second Floor, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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This is my hometown, Toms River, NJ, 2012. © Zoe Strauss.

PRESS BLURB

In Sea Change, Strauss traces the landscape of post-climate change America. In photographs, vinyl prints, and projected images, Strauss treads the extended aftermath of three ecological disasters: Hurricane Katrina in the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2005); the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Southern Louisiana (2010); and Hurricane Sandy in Toms River, NJ, and Staten Island, NY (2012). Lush and leveled landscapes; graffiti pleas and words of encouragement—Strauss’s camera captures lives decimated and dusting off: the fast and slow tragedies of global warming, the damage we can repair, and the damage we can’t.

THOUGHTS

I had no idea Strauss was working on a survey of disasterscapes in America. Following her 10 years of photographing in Philadelphia and celebrating the colours and characters of her beloved home city — and then presenting her photographs annually beneath Interstate 95 — it makes sense that Strauss would gravitate to the realest of struggles for real people at a time when real (climate) change is unleashing real events.

Sandy, Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophes left millions of Americans floundering, thousands dead, communities torn from the ground. In the immediate aftermath of such events, attention focuses on the official and governmental responses, but Strauss is more interested in the long tail of disasters and of informal vernacular responses. Strauss seems hell-bent on reminding us that after the camera crews leave, there’s still generations of rebuilding to be done (especially ecologically).

In Sea Change we see Strauss’ usual dark humor and restless documentation of the frayed edges of our nation. She’s holding up a mirror to the inconvenient messiness that we like to think we can deal with quickly and efficiently, but Strauss’ world is in a state of constant entropy, and it’s the invisible, the workers, the poor, the animal kingdom and the dissenters that lose out most when the shit hits the fan.

We all know that we’ve permanently altered our planet’s climate systems; we all know we’re on the hook. But we also know we can look anywhere-else, any time we want. And we know we don’t have to live on the Gulf Coast, or in the path of hurricanes. And we know that when things go south, we can turn our heads to the news and make a distant appraisal about whether the clean-up is happening quick enough or not, or watch some talking heads, or wag our finger at some government official.

Strauss’ victory in all her work — and particularly in Sea Change — is that she marries the visuals in her inquiries and her work so that they sync with her experience of the world. She is keeping herself honest through her photography. Perhaps Strauss can keep us honest too?

Foundational to Strauss’ work too is a deep respect. Zoe is irreverent, for sure, but she is also respectful of people. Entropy is going to happen; change is constant. People are going to win and people are going to lose, amidst change. That’s life. The degree to which people’s fortunes differ … and the degree to which people win and lose … and the degrees to which those statuses are kept permanent, that’s not just “life” though. It’s for us to decide how disaster will effect our collective in the long term. It’s for us to decide on the most equitable distribution of resources when many have literally been swept away.

When people fall down, we help them up. Rebuilding is everyone’s business. In Strauss’ world, love is the response to entropy and its disruptions.

NUMBERS

Running: January 23–March 6, 2015

Reception and opening talk with the artist: Friday, January 23, 4:30–7:30pm

PAPER

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication designed by Random Embassy, Philadelphia, featuring essays by artist Zoe Strauss; The New Yorker contributing writer Mattathias Schwartz; Helen K. White, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Haverford College; and a poem by Thomas Devaney, MFA, PEW Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry, Haverford College.

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Oiled Water Coming Inland, Waveland, Mississippi, Early July, 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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Billboard, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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We’ll Be Back, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

ANY QUESTIONS?

Contact (my mate) Matthew Seamus Callinan, Associate Director, Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and Campus Exhibitions

mcallina@haverford.edu

Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA 19041

Tel: 610 896 1287

Go see it.

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Don’t Forget Us, Mississippi Gulf Coast, July 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss

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Art For Justice has a new exhibition opening in Philadelphia.

Free Library of Philadelphia, 
1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (Between 19th and 20th Streets on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway)

Jan. 12 – Feb. 15, 2015

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Artist Jesse Krimes stands in front of his 39-panel mural Apokaluptein:16389067 (federal prison bed sheets, transferred New York Times images, color pencil) installed, here, at the Olivet Church Artist Studios, Philadelphia. January, 2014.

The New York Times has a track record for high quality visual journalism. From experiments in multimedia, to its magazine’s double-truck features; from its backstage reportage at the swankiest fashion gigs, to their man in town Bill Cunningham. Big reputation.

NYT photographs are viewed and used in an myriad of ways. Even so, I doubt the editors ever thought their choices would be burnished from the news-pages onto prison bed-sheets with a plastic spoon. Nor that the transfer agent would be prison-issue hair gel.

In 2009, Jesse Krimes (yep, that’s his real surname) was sentenced to 70 months in a federal penitentiary for cocaine possession and intent to distribute. He was caught with 140 grams. The charges brought were those of 50-150 kilos. Somewhere in the bargaining it was knocked down to 500 grams, and Krimes plead guilty to conspiracy. The judge recommended that Jesse be sent to a minimum security prison in New Jersey, close to support network of friends and family, but the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) opted to send him to a medium security facility in Butner, North Carolina — as far away as permitted under BOP regulations. That was the first punitive step of many in a system that Krimes says is meant first and foremost to dehumanise.

“Doing this was a way to fight back,” says Krimes who believes ardently that art humanises. “The system is designed to make you into a criminal and make you conform. I beat the system.”

Last month, I had the pleasure of hearing Krimes speak about his mammoth artwork Apokaluptein:16389067 during an evening hosted at the the Eastern State Penitentiary and Olivet Church Artist Studios in Philadelphia.

The mural took three years to make and it is a meditation on heaven, hell, sin, redemption, celebrity worship, deprivation and the nature of perceived reality. Krimes says his “entire experience” of prison is tied up in the artwork.

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In the top-left is a transferred photo of a rehearsal of the Passion play at Angola Prison, Louisiana.

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Through trial and error, Krimes discovered that he could transfer images from New York Times newspapers on to prison bedsheets. At first he used water, but the colours bled. Hair gel had the requisite viscosity. As a result, all imagery is reversed, upturned. Apokaluptein:16389067 is both destruction and creation.

“It’s a depiction of represented reality as it exists in its mediated form, within the fabric of the prison,” says Krimes. “It was my attempt to transfer [outside] reality into prison and then later became my escape when I sent a piece home with the hopes that it could be my voice on the outside in the event that anything bad ever happened and I never made it home.”

ART AS SURVIVAL

Krimes says this long term project kept him sane, focused and disciplined.

Each transfer took 30-minutes. Thousands make up the mural. Krimes only worked on one sheet at a time, each of them matching the size of the tabletop he worked on. A notch in the table marked the horizon line for the 13 panels making up the center horizontal. He shipped them home. Not until his release did he see them together.

The enterprise was not without its risks, but Krimes found favour being a man with artistic talent. He established art classes for fellow prisoners in an institution that was devoid of meaningful programs.

“Prisoners did all the work to set up the class,” says Krimes.

Once the class was in place, guards appreciated the initiative. It even changed for the better some of the relationships he had with staff.

“Some helped mail out sections,” he says of the bedsheets which were, strictly-speaking, contraband.

Krimes would cut sections from the New York Times and its supplements, sometimes paying other prisoners for the privilege.

“In prison, the only experience of the outside world is through the media.”

The horizon is made of images from the travel section. Beneath the horizon are transferred images of war, and man-made and natural disasters. Krimes noticed that often coverage of disasters and idealised travel destinations came from the same coasts and continents. Influenced by Dante’s Inferno and by Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory, Krimes reinvigorates notions of the Trinity within modern politics and economics. The three tiers of the mural reflect, he says heaven, earth and hell, or intellect, mind and body.

One can identify the largest victories, struggles and crimes of the contemporary world. All in perverse reverse. All in washed out collage. There’s images of the passion play being rehearsed at Angola Prison from an NYT feature, of Tahrir Square and the Egyptian revolution, of children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School massacre, and of a submerged rollercoaster in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The women’s rights panel includes news images from reporting on the India bus rape and images of Aesha Mohammadzai who was the victim of a brutal attack by her then husband who cut off her nose. Krimes’ compression of images is vertiginous and disorienting. We’re reminded that the world as it appears through our newspapers sometimes is.

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The large pictures are almost exclusively J.Crew adverts which often fill the entire rear page of the NYT. Jenna Lyons, the creative director at J.Crew is cast as a non-too-playful devil imp in the center-bottom panel.

Throughout, fairies transferred straight from ballerinas bodies as depicted in the Arts Section dance and weave. Depending on where they exist in relation to heaven and earth they are afforded heads or not — blank geometries replace faces as to comment on the treatment of women in mainstream media.

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The title Apokaluptein:16389067 derives from the Greek root ‘apokalupsis.’ Apokaluptein means to uncover, or reveal. 16389067 was Krimes’ Federal Bureau of Prisons identification number.

“The origin [of the word] speaks to the material choice of the prison sheet as the skin of the prison, that is literally used to cover and hide the body of the prisoner. Apokaluptein:16389067 reverses the sheet’s use and opens up the ability to have a conversation about the sheet as a material which, here, serves to uncover and reveal the prison system,” says Krimes who also read into the word personal meaning.

“The contemporary translation speaks to a type of personal apocalypse — the process of incarceration and the dehumanizing deterioration of ones personal identity, […] The number itself, representing the replacement of ones name.”

PRISON ECONOMICS: THE HAVES & HAVE NOTS

One of the most interesting things to hear about at Krimes’ presentation was the particular details about how he went about acquiring materials. In federal prison, just as on the outside, money rules. Except inside BOP facilities the currency is stamps not dollars (something we’ve heard before). A $7 book of stamps on the outside, sets a prisoner back $9.

Access to money makes a huge difference in how one experiences imprisonment.

“People who have money have a much easier time living in prison but that is usually rare except for the white collar guys or the large organized crime figures,” says Krimes. 

“Prisoners who have money in prison gain automatic respect and power because you are able to have influence over anything really — most people without money will depend on those with cash to be the buyers of whatever products or services they need.”

Without cash to hand, a rare skill comes in handy. Krimes could make art. In prison artists are afforded much respect. Ironically, free society doesn’t treat artists with the same respect, but I guess we’ve already established that we’re dealing in reversals here?!

“We had to provide some kind of skill or service in order to receive money or books of stamps. Some people cook for others, do laundry, do legal work, or artwork.”

In FCI Butner, a high-quality photorealistic portrait would go for as much as $150. Or, 20 books of stamps. Krimes did portraits and tattoo designs, spending proceeds almost exclusively on hair gel and coloured pencils.

“The majority of portraits I did were for the guys who had money or else I did them for free, for friends or those going through hard times.”

The prison sheets came for free. Krimes smiles at the irony that these sheets are made by UNICOR, the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ factory and industries arm. UNICOR makes everything from steel frame beds to bedsheets; from U.S. military boots and helmets to plastic utensils. In 2005, UNICOR generated $765 million in sales — 74% of revenues went toward the purchase of raw material and equipment; 20% toward staff salaries; and 6% went toward inmate salaries.

I’d liken Krimes’ acquisition of bed sheets to liberation more than to theft. His image transfers are appropriation more than homage. The scope of the project reflects the sheer size of American prison system. The ambition reflects that of the individual to survive, not the system to improve its wards.

That such a large statement came out of the prison sytem (in one piece!) is a feat in itself. That Apokaluptein:16389067 is so layered and so plugged into contemporary culture is an absolute marvel. That the photographs of international media are the vehicle for that statement should be no surprise at all.

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More here.

All images: Sarah Kaufman

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One of the cardboard boxes in which Krimes shipped out a completed panel. The boxes are made by the federal prison industries group UNICOR which employs prison labour. The box is marked with “ESCAPE PROOF GUARANTEED.”

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