GRAZ.- HALLE FÜR KUNST
Steiermark presents the fall program 2021 with two large solo exhibitions of the work of the Afro-American artists Kevin Jerome Everson and Doreen Garner. These two exhibitions mark a further highlight for the new institution in its inaugural year 2021.
The artistic positions of Everson and Garner draw attention to political discourses in the US, and in particular to the lives of Afro-Americans past and present. While Kevin Jerome Everson (b. 1965, Mansfield, OH, lives in Charlottseville VA) accompanies various black communities, documenting their lives and places of work with his camera, the young artist Doreen Garner (b. 1986, Philadelphia, lives in New York) uses a specific approach to sculpture to address the fates of Afro-American women who in the second half of the 19th century were victims of operations in the name of medical research. Although both artists work very differently, their works each offer intimate insights into the social and cultural conditions of black lives in the USA.
Kevin Jerome Everson
In his films, for which he only uses a 16mm camera, Kevin Jerome Everson directs the lens at black people without enforcing any kind of specific representation. The film scholar and companion of the artist, Greg de Cuir Jr., describes his work as driven by the concern to record everyday black experience. The exhibition in Graz focuses on a depiction of Afro-American realities, and on the work of the filmmaker himself, looking at the materiality of analog film and its capacity to reproduce reality from a certain characteristic perspective. Recover, the first major solo exhibition of Everson in German-speaking Europe, combines poetic images from various Afro-American lives with observations of universal phenomena such as the horizon and the cosmos. This juxtaposition leads to storylines that inspire us to reflect on the different meanings of perspective. Everson makes no specific proposals as to how to interpret his works, and yet the exhibition again and again raises one and the same question: What is our perspective through which we see the world? A question that cannot be answered in just one sentence, and a question that is crucial.
Although Recover consists almost entirely of film screenings, it draws attention to the essential practice of sculpture making within Eversons work, which opens up the black boxthe cinematic space within the exhibitionand carries the narrative forward. It is thus not surprising that casts of everyday objects in multiples made of metal or plastic are a key feature in the artists practice.
The sculptures and performances of Doreen Garner explore the history of medical experiments on and the systematic exploitation of black bodies in America. By critically assessing specific historical events and phenomena from cultural history, Garner shows the problematic relations between medicine and race, which persist to this day. The artists figurative works consist of materials such as silicon, glass-fiber insulation, plastic, Vaseline, artificial hair, crystals and pearls, and they resemble fragmented or even amputated body parts and human remains.
In her first institutional exhibition in Europe, Steal, Kill and Destroy: A Thief Who Intended Them Maximum Harm, Garner presents three objects, including a new work commissioned specially for this show. The focus is on the depiction of dehumanized black bodies and also of the white bodies that are responsible for this dehumanization. The artists experimental and accumulative approach that combines very different materials leads to unique anthropomorphic objects between nouveau réalisme and Pop art, brutally showing the humiliation and objectification of black bodies and clearly identifying white bodies as those that caused this suffering. In a reflection on past and recent present, which has been shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, this exhibition addresses various aspects of modern medicine and unmasks it as a problematic discipline based on mechanisms of exploitation and repression.
With contributions by manuel arturo abreu, Greg de Cuir Jr., Mireille Ngosso, Carl Pope Jr., Morgan Quaintance, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Paige Taul
During the solo exhibitions by Everson and Garner the basement foyer of the institution will become a Study Room with custom-made furniture for this purpose. The idea behind this format is to create a physical and discursive space that connects the two exhibitions, and for which artists and theorists have produced new content.
The Study Room is also accessible via the website of HALLE FÜR KUNST Steiermark as a virtual space making the contents presented on site in Graz available to a global audience. The Study Room is characterized by contributions of varying durations. While the works of manuel arturo abreu are available on site and in the virtual space for the entire duration of the exhibitions, there are other works that are available for shorter time periods, such as curated film series and the presentation of purely digital works on the website. The Study Room aims on the one hand to provide the space for the large amount of material available, all with direct points of reference to Everson and Garner. On the other hand, there are also contents that bring the local context into the discussion, addressing the conditions of black lives in Austria. This includes the contribution by Mireille Ngosso, politician and activist, who critically examines the myth that Austria had nothing to do with colonialism.
By addressing these themes, impetus to a reassessment of the own history can be given. Gayatri Spivak, one of the most important founders of post-colonial feminism, writes about the right to speak of others from a position of privilege, noting that this must first be acquired by gaining and appropriating knowledge. For this, it is necessary to critically reflect the own position with reference to historical conditions. Many global institutions within and beyond the field of contemporary art are now in the process of this realization. The Study Room is a sign that this process is taking place and a marker of these discussions, and of the current status of our learning and results.