6 seconds, 13 yards

I’ve been working on this series of pepper spray paintings based on the murder of black motorist Walter Scott at the hands of a white Charleston police officer that happened this past spring. They will be exhibited for the first time at Flanders Gallery in Raleigh NC, August 1 – 31. I had a studio visit with Chris Vitiello from the Indy during which we sprayed pepper spray, coughed, cried, and talked art. Chris wrote a pretty fantastic article about the experience and the work. It’s been hard for me to get my thoughts organized about this latest development in the pepper spray work, but when recently asked how I felt about potential accusations that I culturally appropriated Scott’s death, I found a voice and replied:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“6 seconds, 13 Yards” is an evolving project consisting of six pepper spray paintings based on stills from on an eyewitness video documenting the shooting of Walter Scott by a white police officer this past spring. Each painting represents one of the six seconds it took for Scott to flee thirteen yards, be shot six times in the back and collapse. I then reanimated these images into a short video loop, which will be added to over the next year as the paintings fade and video loop’s visuals are stripped away, leaving nothing but the sting behind.

This art is made with police-grade pepper spray and will cause harm if inhaled or touched. Chemicals in the spray oxidize and turn white, making the orange pepper oil pigments nearly invisible over time. Within a year, these images will be nearly invisible, and yet its chemical ability to burn, congest, and blind will remain strong long after these images become a memory.

This work is about memory and responsibility. It is about bearing witness to horrors and owning up to one’s role in them. It is about how we allow our memory of disasters to fade away, while their effects linger and ripple. It is about the the privilege of forgetfulness and the importance of being mindful. Walter Scott’s murder and the many other instances of racially-motivated violence are devastating events for the Black community, but it can’t be only the black community that is touched by them. We are part of a larger community together. These are civic events that must touch us all.

We all have responsibility of witness. Responsibility of engagement. Responsibility of representation. There is a white person in those images. He represents all white people; he acts in our name, with our sanction and according to our rules. He also represents an institutional racism that creates and maintains privilege for some at the expense of others. This has to be seen, understood, and reckoned with by those who benefit.

I’m an artist. It’s my job to make art about the things going on around me and to get audiences to engage with those events and ideas in new ways that might encourage deeper or new insight. It is wrong to stay silent about deaths like Walter Scott’s, or the system that causes them to keep happening. This work is meant to make the audience physically and emotionally uncomfortable, to jostle them out of just another safe art gallery experience. The art world is still dominantly white. We are exactly who needs to be challenging ourselves about our role in institutional racism. I’m not using these images to be sensationalist; I’m using them because they need to be looked at and thought about. Confronting racism isn’t just a job for black people.

And while I’m at it, I want to link to a couple articles I found helpful and poignant:

 

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obeast face-in-the-hole

This past weekend I hosted a 24 hour MOCS exhibit at Golden Belt in Durham NC, and it was a blast! Plus because GB is a different sort of venue for MOCS, it allowed me to try some ideas out- namely as many interactive components and performances as I could coordinate without sleep!

Visitors were greeted with an obeast face-in-the-hole (I can’t believe we haven’t come up with a better name for these) to pose with. Here are a few that folks have sent so far:

Obeast Mine + Kiss Me I’m O’Beast

Well lookie there! I designed obeast-y Valentines Day and St Patrick’s Day note cards! These holidays were a great excuse to get me thinking about small items I could make that would be 1) fun for me 2) purchasable. From the start, MOCS hasn’t been about selling the things I make, but let’s face it, that’s an unsustainable model. So here’s a start!

Both are available on Etsy as printable files, here. (Why printable files? This format gives good value to the customer with no trips to the post office for me- win win! Plus it’s more friendly to the ol’ carbon foot print.)

 

MLK on Stupidity

mlk-obeasts
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today my facebook feed started blowing up with conservation and activist groups (usually animal related because I am subscribed to a bunch of those for MOCS inspiration) using Dr. King quotes willy nilly to support their own agendas. There seemed to be no sense that this self-serving appropriation was distasteful or missing the point of the holiday. (What? MLK was all about saving sea turtles. It was his thing.) I get it that we can and should notice the universal wisdom of his words, but noticing them in the context of civil rights seems pretty important too.
Anyway, MOCS obviously needed to keep up with Joneses so I chose a quote that resounds with my philosophy as an artist. Prejudice and bad behavior take root in ignorance and stupidity. While the specific form of stupidity I focus on with my art is fat stigma, I think of myself as truly railing against stupidity where ever it is encamped–including in do-gooder activist types (who I even largely agree with).

O-Rex

I have the flu, so naturally I took advantage of my house-bound haze to do a little obeast animation. I like the roughness and awkwardness (plus potty humor) framed by the professional titles. That’s my idea of funny.

breath, breathing

IMG_5065Just before my seventh birthday I began to lose motor control of my eyes and couldn’t bend or turn my neck. I had headaches, the kind where the inside of my head sounded exactly the noise you hear during a sonogram. A rhythmic liquid pounding drowned out everything else for days and then weeks on end.

Growing up in a rugged farming family in rural Maine, there was generally a ‘rub some dirt on it’ attitude toward illness, but when it was clear that no amount of dirt was going to resolve this situation I was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, the same hospital where my brothers and I had been born. It was clear right away even to my little kid brain that the doctors thought something really bad was happening and that they had no idea what it was or what to do about it.

I was admitted, injected with blue dye and x-rayed. Blood was drawn and my mom promised me a Cabbage Patch doll if I was brave. I was driven to Portland and then Boston to be scanned with increasing levels of detail and expertise. Nothing was explained to me at the time, but I know now that they were looking for a brain tumor and couldn’t find one. All of the symptoms were consistent and worsening daily: I started to have trouble seeing at all; sounds and sunlight were excruciating; speaking became difficult. But none of the glowing images of my brain showed a cause.

One morning a tray of pancakes was delivered to my bedside in the Lewiston hospital, but placed out of reach on a nearby table. A bearded man named Dr. Belding came in with a small team of nurses and opened a heavy text book at the foot of my bed. I was instructed to lie on my left side, facing away from the window. With my future Cabbage Patch in mind, I did as I was told despite catching a glimpse of  Dr. Belding handling a enormous needle. He told me to pull my knees up to my chest, but I couldn’t physically do it. At his prompt, a couple nurses pulled me into a fetal position and I cried out. The extra pressure on my brain and spine hurt in a way that I don’t have words for even now. It hurt. It was scary.

I cried and tried to get away from the nurses holding my legs. My mom started yelling. From behind me Dr. Belding yelled back and she was pushed out of the room. More nurses came running in and he said. “Hold her down. Hold her still.” Four or five adult nurses piled onto me and did just that.

Under their combined weight I gasped “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

Without missing a beat, the nurse nearest my head snapped “If you couldn’t breathe, you couldn’t talk.”

Her logic technically made sense, and for one moment it shocked me still. In the next moment Dr. Belding guided his needle into my spine, and it was as if a cedar fence post was being twisted through my back and threaded out my belly button. In the next moment the pressurized spinal fluid caused a popping sound as it broke the equipment and spurted into the bed, floor, and wall.

The recently surfaced video of the NYPD’s fatal assault of Eric Garner has caused me to remember this childhood experience anew, mostly because I have shouted those same words to an authority figure and also had my physical and emotional distress ignored. It is inaccurate (and not my intention) to say that our experiences are alike; I did not die and my abuse did not occur as a culmination of a long and awful history of cultural mistreatment based on race. However the presence of class discrimination in both instances is worth noting. Throughout this medical mess my low-income, farming family was talked down to, disregarded, and outrightly harassed by the medical and administrative staff associated with my care. At one point DHHS threatened to take me away from my single mother after she cancelled an appointment for my fourth spinal tap so I could have a break and go to a birthday party like a normal kid.

The fear of not being able to breathe, of being restrained and harmed by authority figures has been with me for nearly thirty years now. My heart is broken for Eric Garner because I still feel a little of the fear he felt during that fatal choke hold back in July.

In October, before I was aware of Garner’s death, I began a series of pepper spray paintings, which I call my pepper spray affirmations. I originally thought of them as attempts to achieve well-being and trust in the face of abuses of power and the accompanying worries. They increasingly are looking like illustrations of PTSD to me– that feeling of conflicting, simultaneous flight and fight responses to everyday life.

I will just leave them here for now and see where this process takes me. Updates to follow.

obeast musth cycle

Nature is amazing, no?

Background:

While all adult bull obeasts experience musth, none do it as stunningly as Southern Obeasts. Their breathtaking annual displays made them prized trophies for poachers and recreational sportsmen in the 19th and 20th century. Happily, as populations start to rebound (especially in remote regions of the Appalachians), MOCS field researchers are observing these remarkable transformations more regularly. Scientists speculate that the bright coloring and swollen features brought on by musth act as both an attractant to potential mates and as camouflage, hiding any unsightly bruises or injuries received during competitive rows with other bulls (which are especially vicious with Southerns), thus preserving a bull’s appearance of virility.

First time visiting this blog? Wondering what an obeast is? Allow me to explain what the heck you’re looking at here.