[-empyre-] Liquid Blackness- Week II: Aesthetics

Derek Murray derekconradmurray6719 at gmail.com
Thu Apr 14 10:22:31 AEST 2016


Since you brought up Fred Wilson, I thought I would mention his
installation 'Speak of Me as I Am' at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003).
His installation considered both the historical and present-day
presence of African people in Venice, Italy. Like much of his work, he
explored the ideological and visual meanings of blackness, which took
both literal and metaphorical forms. In some instances, reference was
made to historical paintings where black peasant and aristocratic
figures were imaged. In other instances, there were beautiful
figurative sculptures of blackamoors, carved in wood. With these stark
black sculptures, Wilson was drawing attention to the rather mundane
omnipresence of figurative representations of black subservience
throughout Italy: in museums, restaurants, hotels, etc.

The most powerful part of the installation consisted of conceptual
pieces playing with blackness as both object and as a kind of
liquidity. Wilson hired glassmakers to create a traditional-looking
seventeenth-century chandelier, constructed of black ebony glass. The
chandelier was installed in a kind of neoclassical pavilion—that, if I
recall, was adjacent to a room of sculptural black drips (entitled
'Drip, Drop, Plop') which were hung sporadically along the walls like
tears slowly making their way to the ground. On the floor beneath them
were black pools of fallen drips. On many of the drips and pools of
blackness, were little white and black eyes: cartoonish in rendering,
yet evocative of blackface minstrelsy. The entire exhibition combined
melancholy with whimsy, pessimism and optimism—albeit with a hint of

One of the reasons why I mention this was the way blackness was
presented historically and ideologically as a symbol of subservience,
beauty, marginalia, as well as metaphorically as a seeping, dipping,
liquid-like presence that is ever-present, even as it infiltrates and
flows through the cracks of Eurocentrism. I also think it speaks very
powerfully to the porous nature of culture and history—a reality that
productively undermines the essentialism that often expresses itself
through national and racial/ethnic identity.

There were many other dimensions to Wilson’s installation, but these
are some of the highlights. I recommend looking it up online, because
it’s quite striking.


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