After the horrific actions at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virgina yesterday and the president’s complicit equivocal response, today I turn to William Pope. L for words, images and objects of wisdom and resistance. I hope to write another time about his amazing Whispering Campaign, spread across Athens and Kassel (below is a shaky video of the piece installed outside the Fridericianum – I hope you can make out the mantra of the current US political leadership).
But today I take my lead from the sampling of his iconic “Skin Set Drawings”, which he started in 1997, installed in Kassel. Here is one that I found covered up in the Documenta-Halle:
Pope. L’s cunning use of language and imagery here is palpable: is God saying sorry for white people? Or are white people God’s gift to humankind to say sorry for something else? And what does it say about you if you read it one way or the other? (e.g. do white supremacists really believe that thy are God’s gift to the world?). A more direct, but equally ambiguous, reference to the racist ideology of white supremacy comes in Pope. L’s work called The Black Factory (here is the cover of a little booklet that was published to accompany the installation):
A traveling installation in the form of a white van, The Black Factory, according to the artist’s C.E.O statement ‘is an industry that runs on our prejudices…bringing blackness to the places that need it most!’. Pope. L also describes it as follows:
At once a mobile marketplace that trades in provocation and a nomadic laboratory for crafting consciousness, the Black Factory gathers, shapes, and repackages materials and experiences that challenge us to see the creative potential nested within the polarized politics of race in America.
Objects that are given to the factory that their givers somehow associate with ‘blackness’ are first displayed in the ‘Library’, then they go through the ‘Pulverizers’, ending up as other objects sold at the ‘Gift Shop’. In this way:
By collecting, recycling and peddling the ingredients for re-thinking blackness the Black Factory transforms the tensions and contradictions of race into a dynamic field of possibility.
There were two very difference book-objects sold at the Black Factory gift shop.
1. Blank Books – ‘every one made of our especially-pressed pulp, waiting to be filled in with page after page of your hopes and dreams!’
2The Yoda Bible – ‘one of our newest products (as of 2005). It is a plastic Yoda head (actually a large slurpee drinking mug bought at Seven-Eleven) shrink-wrapped to a copy of ‘The White Man’s Bible’ written by Ben Klassen, the founder of the white supremacist hate group ‘Church of the Creator’.’
Unlike the idealistic vision of the Blank Books, the Yoda Bible is an effort to edit and graft on an alternative message to a hateful and racist tome. At the same time, this hybrid object, like the “Skin Set Drawings”, offers a new form of truth by making a humorous commentary on any claims of racial superiority by placing the green face of fictional wisdom and spirituality on the pedestal of a Christian, white supremacist text. (Here is another of the series found at documenta 14):
In this process of corrective truth-telling there is a common rhetorical gesture used by editors, such as found at the opening of a letter that Piny the Younger sent to the historian Tacitus:
I have read your book, and marked as carefully as I could the passages which I think should be altered or removed, for it is my custom to tell the truth, you are always willing to hear it; no one accepts criticism so readily as those who best deserve praise.
The editor makes their changes and corrections, but frames them with praise of the original author, who accepts the revisions as a more truth than the corrected text, precisely because of their own wisdom. Do you think that our Twittering president would ever look back over his own statements and welcome their revision for a greater truth (i.e. that he is, in his equivocation, supporting white supremacist violence)? We shouldn’t hold our breath, but perhaps look to artists like Pope. L whose work offers a clearer possibility for pinpointing and then critiquing racist ideology and, for which, he truly best deserves our praise.