Black One Shot stages brevity and precision in response to the art of blackness, contemporary and/or prescient. At 1000 words a pop, these pieces divest from academic respectability to inhabit the speculative, ambivalent, irreconcilable ways of black forms, and move through the fires this time. Seditiously, we are object forward, conjuring up the necessary intimacy generated between a critic and their object and keyed to the channels and frequencies of blackness. We hold fast to the given/taken works, the cultural productions without reduction, the condition of knowing all-too-well, and the imagining of something otherwise. Object love in the time of pandemics and insurrections.
b.O.s. will run the course of summer 2020, come what may. We invite you to follow and share hard. Thanks to all the contributors and special thanks to Abram Foley, Aurelie Matheron, and Irenae Aigbedion of ASAP/J.
– Lisa Uddin and Michael Boyce Gillespie (Editors)
Today I saw somebody,
looked- looked just like you,
walked-walked like you do,
I thought it was you…
The Stylistics’s “You Are Everything” (1971), begins with the staccato repetition of a slight off-key note due to a slowed down audio track. Although digitally altered, the refrain and the nostalgia it brings is recognizable. Blurred photographs of artist Sondra Perry and her twin brother Sandy as young children appear on the screen. The lack of focus heightens the animated figures that also appear, in Chroma-Key blue, hovering and rotating above the family photos. Like the soundtrack, these floating images create a dissonance, a rupture promised but never fulfilled. The sculptures, 3D printed reproductions, are a moai, a sculptural bust of a Roman matriarch, an Aztec Xiuhcatl fire serpent statute, and an Egyptian god. 3D printing technologies have recently been used to preserve cultural artifacts lost through age, natural disaster, desecration or theft. As the screen shifts to a 360-degree screenshot of simulated basketball players hovering in mid-air, THE MET logo transitions to two frames, one showing Perry and the other, her brother in visits to the Metropolitan and British Museums. Screen overlays, as well as the reverberating sounds of cheering crowds at March Madness, connect the pilfering of artifact with the theft of human likeness.
The trope of likeness, or of a likeness but not quite, is already raised by Perry and her fraternal twin, a familial connection foregrounded through the series of photographs that serve as an index of a sibling bond. However, the joining of the photographs and cultural artifacts prompts a further consideration of the aura of the now digitally-mediated object. Once used as conduit to a deity and for ritual or remembrance, the artifacts now manifest as data transferred via digital fabrication, an online museum collection, or a virtual avatar. In this case of love and theft, Perry’s work contemplates the conditions of ownership, self-possession, and subjecthood.
How can I forget,
when each face that I see,
brings back memories,
of being with you?
IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection takes as its starting point a class action lawsuit filed by former student-athletes, including Perry’s brother, against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for the sale of their names and likenesses to Electronic Arts (EA).1 The likenesses appeared in EA’s NCAA video game franchise without student-athletes’ knowledge, permission, or compensation.2 The disenfranchisement of NCAA student-athletes brings to the fore the conditions of black embodiment and dispossession, the history of chattel slavery, the commoditization of black athletes, and the use of biometrics to catalog and surveil black subjects. The gathering of name, likeness, body movement and player statistics creates a virtual composite that is almost the same but not quite. It is a “scrambling” of identity that is partial and dispersed, material and immaterial. While the networked distribution of self is a common trope of the digital age, Perry’s work is attentive to histories of racial violence and imperial conquest that undermine any notion of the possession of a unified and coherent self within the Western philosophical tradition. And as Soyoung Yoon argues, “What then of subjectivities – and bodies – that do not seem to possess the stabilized configuration of an ‘I’? What then for the figure that is diffuse, diasporic, both one and many, localized in neither a body or an identity?”3 This “game” is not new.
As you turned the corner
I called out your name
I felt so ashamed
When it wasn’t you…
In one segment, Sandy identifies the players in the video game lineup for the Georgia Southern Eagles. Their avatars appear on screen, and morph into one another through changes of skin tone, hair and height. The mirror gag, from the Marx Brothers’ 1933 film Duck Soup, is apropos for a game in which you try to determine if you’re seeing yourself or someone else. As Amy Cimini suggests, “Looking for a likeness disarticulates the embodied subject who’s doing the looking. In the mirror gag, looking for your likeness becomes a cycle of dispossession that produces a not quite a likeness and a not quite not a likeness.”4 Thus, Sandy is left to find himself and others in an attempt to re-embody those who already have a precarious relation to subjecthood.
A group of avatars appear as white figures cut out of a black screen, and soon, take the likeness of Perry’s brother. Suspended in their non-place, the avatars’ mouths move as though speaking, but their voices, like their movements, are out of sync. This lack of synchronization is further emphasized by the use of a white male Siri voice, who recites the terms of the legal settlement between the student-athletes, the NCAA and EA Sports. During this recitation in which they move in and out of negative space, their existence emerges somewhere between legal discourse and the game engine. In one installation video, the avatar is turned inside out, revealing eyeballs darting within a hollowed face, suggesting a macabre body snatching, a shell with no interior. The avatars struggle to find themselves, moving between appearance and non-appearance, trapped in a limbo.
You are everything, and everything is you…
Perry lingers in the non-space of the virtual realm, not to reclaim the illusionary mind/body dualism of the Western tradition, but rather, to reveal an assemblage of sorts. Her attention to both aural (the remixed Stylistics, the Siri voice) and visual signification (technological mobility and stasis) “dissolves the parameters of the coherent subject in such radical ways that human…desire can be represented only in the guise of the machinic.”5 Here, we come to understand that subjecthood has never been a stable possession for black subjects, but a vexed negotiation where the self is constructed through a maze of juridical and technological discourses, and of economic, social and political dispossession.
This is one of four essays from the eleventh transmission of b.O.s. (Black One Shot). Read the other essays here:
Lisa Uddin is author of Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), and has recent writing in the volume Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), ASAP/J, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Postmodern Culture. She’s here for the freedom.
Michael Boyce Gillespie is the author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Duke University Press, 2016). His recent work has appeared in Black Light: A Retrospective of International Black Cinema, Flash Art, Unwatchable, and Film Quarterly. He hopes that people are still outraged in November.
- The lawsuit, O’Bannon v. NCAA, was filed in 2009 by Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, on behalf of former NCAA football and basketball players against the NCAA, EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company. In 2014, a federal court ruled that the NCAA broke anti-trust law by disallowing payment to student-athletes based on the amateurism rule. The decision was in part overturned after appeal in 2015. See Ben Strauss and Marc Tracy, “N.C.A.A. Must Allow colleges to Pay Athletes, Judge Rules” in New York Times, Aug. 8, 2014: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/sports/federal-judge-rules-against-ncaa-in-obannon-case.html and Amy Cimini, “Walking to the Gallery: Sondra Perry’s ‘It’s in the Game’ in San Diego in Five Fragments,” Sound Studies Vol. 4, No. 2 (2018): 178-180.
- Ella Coon, “’Abstraction isn’t Neutral’: Sondra Perry on the NCAA, Subjecthood, and Her Upcoming Projects,” ARTNews: https://www.artnews.com/art-news/artists/abstraction-isnt-neutral-sondra-perry-on-the-ncaa-subjecthood-and-her-upcoming-projects-5922/ (March 15, 2016). Accessed May 8, 2020. Under current regulations, student-athletes are considered amateur players who receive compensation in the form of housing and full tuition scholarships. However, as Perry comments, “Because the majority of the players don’t go to the NBA, most of them wind up post-graduation getting a low-paying job or possibly playing overseas. Basically, it’s a civil rights issue.”
- Soyoung Yoon, “Figure vs. Ground, White vs. Black (Blue),” Squeaky Wheel: https://squeakybuffalo.tumblr.com/post/156322710951/figure-vs-ground-white-vs-black-blue. Accessed May 15, 2020.
- Amy Cimini, “Walking to the Gallery: Sondra Perry’s ‘It’s in the Game’ in San Diego in Five Fragments,” Sound Studies Vol. 4, No. 2 (2018): 193.
- Weheliye terms this process “feenin.’” See Alexander Weheliye, “’Feenin’: Posthuman Voices in Contemporary Black Popular Music,” Social Text Vol. 20, No. 2 (Summer 2002): 39.