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robertogreco : gordonhall   1

Reading Things — Magazine — Walker Art Center
"I’m sunbathing on the beach on a cloudless August day in the Rockaways. It’s blindingly bright and I have a T-shirt draped over my eyes to block the sun. I am overhearing a conversation between some of the friends around me and someone new who has walked across the sand to us. Whose is this voice I don’t know? I think it is man, someone I’ve never met. I uncover my eyes and see that it is one of my friends—a woman, a transwoman whose female-ness I have never questioned, whose voice I had always heard as a female voice. Had I never heard her before? How can my ears hear two different voices, depending on whether or not I know who is speaking? As I puzzle over this, I start thinking of other instances in which two or more versions of reality butt up against each other, two contradictory sensory experiences that are somehow both real to me, depending on how I encounter them. What is going on here?"



"This winter I delivered an artist talk at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I’ve been teaching, about my investment in objects with open-ended or ambiguous function—things that cause one to ask, “What is this for?” I discuss the studio as a place where I aim to make objects that frustrate even my own attempts to know them, once and for all, as one thing and not others. I make things that ask for nuanced, open-ended forms of reading that can accommodate these objects of ambiguous functionality. Over coffee the following morning, one of the other faculty members in the department, Corin Hewitt, excitedly wanted to know if I had heard of a beloved object known as the “slant step.” I had not, but since then an image of it has been following me around—in the studio, on the train, in and out of bathrooms, while reading the news. The slant step is a small piece of furniture that was purchased in a second-hand store in Mill Valley, California, in 1965 by the artist William Wiley and his then-graduate student Bruce Nauman. Costing less than a dollar, this wood and green linoleum, one-of-a-kind handmade object struck these two artists as puzzling and fascinating, primarily because its function was a mystery. Though reminiscent of a step stool, the step part of the stool sits at a 45-degree angle to the floor, making it impossible to step up onto it, hence the name, the slant step. This unassuming ambiguous object resonated not just with Wiley and Nauman, but also with a whole range of Bay Area artists in the 1960s, inspiring more than one group exhibition themed around it, a catalogue, and numerous articles as well as extensive use as a teaching tool by the painter Frank Owen. It is now in the permanent collection of the University of California Davis.3"



"In the midst of all this urgency, the figure of the slant step comes to my mind. I feel embarrassed about it because what could this remote object have to offer when we are in need of such concrete changes? A useful object with no apparent use. A handmade thing of unknown origin, producing more questions than answers. An object that modestly requests a more effortful type of reading than what we normally engage in. We identify things in terms of their function and move on, reading passively. We learn only as much as we need to know. This object, compelling to so many in the past 50 years, is compelling to me as well, insofar as it encourages me to read more slowly. It makes me want to see it as more than one thing at once, or as many different things in quick succession. Looking to the slant step as a teacher, I want to learn what it seems to already know—I can’t always know what I am looking at. Clearly already well used in the mid-1960s but for an inscrutable purpose, the slant step speaks of bodies without being able to name them. It has always seemed wrong to me to say that we see what is before us and then interpret it, because the idea of “interpreting what we see” implies an inaccurate linearity to this process and suggests that the things themselves are fixed while our understandings of them remain malleable. Rather, we understand what we are seeing at the same moment we see it; perception is identification. Understood in this way, changing our interpretations is literally synonymous with changing the functioning of our senses, initiating a pulling apart of the instantaneous act of assigning meaning to what we see. This slowness to assign identification in the moment of encounter lies at the heart of the slant step’s curious appeal."



"On an overcast August day in 1995, Tyra Hunter, a hairstylist and black transgender woman, got in a car accident while driving in Washington, DC. Adrian Williams, the emergency medical technician at the scene who began to cut away her clothing to administer urgently needed aid, is reported to have said, “This bitch ain’t no girl… it’s a nigger; he’s got a dick!” Hunter lay on the ground bleeding as Williams and the other EMTs joked around her, and died later that day of her injuries at a nearby hospital. A subsequent investigation into the events leading to her death concluded that it would very likely have been prevented had treatment been continued at the scene of the accident.15

In the fall of 2014, a grand jury in St. Louis County Missouri decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. In the spring of 2015, the US Department of Justice also cleared Wilson of all civil rights violations, deeming the shooting to be an act of self-defense. In Wilson’s testimony in his grand jury hearing, he recounted looking at Brown in the moments before shooting him six times, and described him as having “the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”16

It’s hard to stomach these statements, but I write them here because I am noticing the ways that both of the speakers managed to transform the person they were about to kill from a human being to a thing in the moments before their deaths. By a probably less-than-conscious twist of verbal gymnastics, both killers shift from using a pronoun generally used to refer to people (he/she) to using a pronoun generally used to refer to inanimate things: it. If murder is the act of permanently dehumanizing another, then it is as if in order to give themselves permission to kill these two individuals Williams and Wilson had to preemptively transform them from people into things. “It’s a nigger…” “It looks like a demon…” Did these statements make it possible to turn a human being into a corpse? Maybe so, as a person turned nonconsensually into a thing is already a person dangerously close to death."



"In the 1966 slant step show, William Wiley, the artist who originally bought the step from the thrift store, made a metal casting from it that bore the following inscription: “This piece is dedicated to all the despised unknown, unloved, people, objects and ideas that just don’t make it and never will, who have so thoughtlessly given their time and talent to become objects of scorn but maintain an innocent ignorance and never realize that you hate them.”18 For Wiley, the slant step was both an intriguing object of ambiguous functionality, while also serving another purpose as the object of certain recuperations. To treat a discarded object with care, to focus on it, show it to others, make copies and homages to it—to, in a sense, treat it with love—had a value for him on its own account. A small act of treating an uncared-for thing with care as an articulation of an ethos for encountering one another. Frank Owen, one of Wiley’s friends and an original participant in the slant step show, used the step as a model in his life-drawing classes for decades—producing innumerable depictions of its likeness and encouraging his students to think deeply about it through the slow and close looking necessitated by drawing. “This was its job—to pose on a model stand patiently (which it is very good at) and be drawn while also posing its eternal question: What is this thing, what is it for and why do we attend to it?”19"



"In thinking about Mark and her succulents, I am wrapping myself around the sustaining potential of relations of care with non-human things. I wonder about the role that the cultivation, protection, and recuperation of things might play in the day-to-day processes of healing necessitated by living as a body that is objectified, misread, or unrecognized. Can attending to objects with care be a labor of self-sustenance for us as well? Can the things of our lives be our companions, our children, our comrades?24 What can we know or feel about our own bodies through the ways that we relate to objects? I want to propose the possibility that our relations with objects themselves might function as a means of remodeling our own often-fraught bonds with the materiality that is our own lived bodies. I sometimes joke that all I am doing in the studio is making friends. This joke is feeling more real by the day. I am thinking now about all the gorgeous non-traditionally gendered people I know coming back to their apartments exhausted from the daily labor of moving through the world and carefully watering their plants."
objects  kinship  objectkinship  care  caring  reality  perception  senses  gordonhall  gender  seeing  sculpture  art  artists  2016  functionality  corinhewitt  brucenauman  williamwiley  1960s  slow  slowreading  howweread  reading  knowing  howwelearn  noticing  observation  identification  bodies  naming  notknowing  meaning  meaningmaking  frankowen  ambiguity  mickybradford  race  markaguhar  michaelbrown  williamwitherup  mrionwintersteen  chancesdances  tyrahunter  northcarolina  housebill2  body 
august 2016 by robertogreco

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