NADA Conversation: American Artist & Terence Trouillot
By Sarah Sunday
On the evening of March 5th, at the Koenig & Clinton Gallery, American Artist and Terence Trouillot convened in an open conversation with a listening audience, discussing American Artist’s most recent exhibition “I’m Blue (If I Was █████ I Would Die)” to kick off the second day of NADA programs.
Based in Brooklyn, American Artist’s work centers around videography, installation art, written word and now, CGI dynamics, the latter of which has been implemented in “I’m Blue (If I Was █████ I Would Die)”. The room inside Koening & Clinton, where the exhibition is taking place, is stark white and resembles a strange sort of a classroom. Taking measures of simplicity, the exhibition features a few enlarged desks, an empty (blue) blackboard, and a television screen positioned at the front of the room, which displays the virtual CGI ‘teacher’. Atop of and underneath each desk sits pro-police literature, with titles such as The War on Cops, Black Lies Matter, Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense, and The Proverbs 31 Police Wife. Secured and attached to the front of each desk is an immovable police shield, working to protect/block. “We’re here to learn,” said American Artist, “but we’re not learning.”
In a stoic conversation, Trouillot and Artist discussed the quintessence of this discomforting project. The title itself is an astute play on words, taken from the 1998 original song by the Italian music group Eiffel 65. The five black boxes in the title suggest that the obscured word is ‘black’. The concept stems from the creation of ‘Blue Lives Matter’, a movement that stands adversarial to ‘Black Lives Matter’. Launched by police officers, ‘Blue Lives Matter’ was concocted in a way that suggests that the police group is an inherent social identity, as if it were something born into, rather than a career obtained.
In February 2013, a manhunt for Christopher Dorner began after he ensued on a killing spree of both civilians and police officers in Los Angeles. Dismissed from the LAPD for integrity issues, Dorner began posting a lengthy eleven-page manifesto declaring his intent to inflict revenge and clear his name from any flack created during his discharge. In the span of a few days, he was to kill four people, while the LAPD was to wrongfully injure two others who were mistaken to be him; a cataclysmic series of events that ended in a showdown and Dorner’s self-inflicted death.
For the exhibition, American Artist created a CGI creature which is intended to be an amalgamation of two different characters; the first being Christopher Dorner and the second being Doctor Manhattan, a blue superhero from the popular comic book and film adaptation Watchmen. In the pop-culture storylines, Doctor Manhattan is a weapon of destruction used by the US government and implemented to fight in the Vietnam War due to his super powers - until eventually, he escapes to Mars.
By combining these two characters, Artist showcases two narratives in one. When the character speaks on the television, it’s very subtle and unclear as to where the source of the dialogue is coming from, either Dorner or Doctor Manhattan; within the language and the art there is contradiction and unification simultaneously.
American Artist’s work is intentionally uncomfortable and creates unease in the individual experiencing the exhibition. He speaks of the power enveloped within language and of the chilling words written out in Dorner’s manifesto, “eloquent for a crazy black man”. Even with the heaviness present in the room, there’s some tongue-in-cheek humor with the subject matter of the pro-cop books, and some levity of focusing on a blue comic book character. Although there is great simplicity in the physicality of the exhibition, American Artist stated that if you understand the components, there is a lot to talk about. A thoughtful and far-reaching conversation, Trouillot and Artist did the opposite of what the ‘classroom’ is intended to do; they educated.
For more information on NADA visit their website here.
”I’m Blue (If I Was █████ I Would Die)” is an ongoing exhibition open until April 13th, 2019. You can find more information here.