The world isn’t your internet rhizome

I should say that the name of the piece is a reference to this drug called clefa. It’s a painkiller, but also you don’t feel hunger and a variety of other pesky things about being a person. I was also responding to this, I guess, visual cultural trend that I was seeing on Tumblr called “Trayvoning.” It was maybe a twist on planking, except done by cruel assholes.

People would imitate the way that they imagined Trayvon Martin looking after being struck by George Zimmerman, and oftentimes they would also be wearing a hooded sweatshirt and they would have a package of Skittles in their hands as well. There was already this talk going around like, “What if planking is actually a reference to the way Africans made slaves were stored in the Middle Passage?” So I was already in a weird zone about planking itself.

Then when I saw these images of “Trayvoning,” which was so much more directly anti-black and callous, I was like, “Wow, this is really intense.”

What you can’t tell from the documentation that I have is that it was a performance which started by me collapsing onto the floor. I had these two items in my hands, a big Arizona iced tea and a package of Skittles while wearing a sweatshirt, and I was frozen, not totally flat against the ground– I froze myself in a particular position. I fell, but I didn’t fall into a relaxed state, in other words. I was tense. My muscles were tensed for the duration of the performance, a centimeter or so above the floor for about 12 minutes, which corresponded with the duration of “Versace” by Migos feat. Drake. That song played three times.

I chose that particular song because there was a section of Drake’s verse which I thought eerily echoed some of the attitudes that were held by Zimmerman. There’s a line where he’s like, “This is a gated community, please get the fuck off the property.” When I heard that, I was like, “Wow.” Firstly, it’s interesting because that is something that someone in a gated community or a neighborhood watchman might say to a person. Secondly, it’s so far from earlier subject positions in hip-hop historically, that it stuck out to me.

But there was an experience I had while riding on a train to an art opening during rush hour where there was this kid who was just collapsed onto the ground on the floor of the train. I was like, “Okay, this kid doesn’t seem to be moving.” We went one stop. Then another stop passed, and then tons of people started getting on the train as they were leaving work, and I was like, “Yo, am I going to need to pick up this kid and take him off the train to try to find help, try to find a doctor or a police officer or something?” I was about to do that, and before I got a chance, these two businessmen almost stepped on him, and then one of them nudged the kid with his wingtip, and then the kid got up. He was totally still for five minutes. You couldn’t see his chest rising and lowering like he was breathing. He was either breathing very little or he wasn’t at all. I was like, “Is this kid just dead or something? What the hell?"

Yeah, so when doing the performance, I was like, “Non-American people are not going to get that it’s a reference to Trayvon Martin, but they might see it as a reference to people just being strung out on particular drugs or other kinds of prostrate or vulnerable persons on the street, which is a more common occurrence.” Undoubtedly, everyone has had some kind of experience seeing something like that.

AD: So much work that tries to comment on blackness, anti-blackness, police brutality, et cetera, is modeled as critique, including Untitled/Clefa. But rather than making a piece that says, “Hey, this is bad, don’t do this,” you’ve chosen to embody the object of critique. Revisiting the work this time, it reminded me of this photo series called Heroic Symbols that documented a performance series ( Occupations) by Anselm Kiefer. It appeared in this magazine, Interfunktionen, that came out in the ‘60s. Kiefer did these performances where he took photos of himself doing a Nazi salute in various locations as a critique of the lack of visual acknowledgment of Germany’s recent Nazi history in the decades following de-nazification. It was sort of this fuck you/criticism of German artists’ rush toward abstraction after the war as well as the somewhat unquestioned presence of former Nazis in regular society. Basically, Kiefer–along with students, leftist groups, and like, the Frankfurt School–were pissed at how the country was not-quite-dealing-with its own terrible stuff.

AD: Yeah, it was really hardcore, and people were really mad and pulled their contributions from the magazine and stuff. I’m not saying that the “Trayvoning” thing is the same, but it got me thinking about works that aim to critique a social or political phenomenon through an embodiment of the thing. I think in your case, I think it’s quite successful. To me, it’s maybe more powerful than, say, writing a think-piece about how it’s bad to kill black people.

Untitled/Clefa is a performance that’s responding to a piece of static media, and then it’s returned back to static media in the documentation. I didn’t have video documentation of it, and I decided that having this photograph would be a more potent way of trying to inform people about the piece than had I just had a video recording, which I think actually would be a little bit grotesque, the more I think about it.

Anyway, reflection as critique thing is something that I have been thinking about and working through for a little while now. I’m interested in this notion of implicated critique, where the critic tries to understand their place within the thing that is being looked at or analyzed rather than seeing themselves as being an entirely separate, objective entity.

AD: Another thing that the work brings up is the “semiotics of the hoodie.” The hoodie became such an emblem of the Trayvon Martin murder, and has taken on an over-determined position in relationship to blackness. Okay, sure, semiotically, hoodies have taken on some relationship, obviously, to black culture or something like that, but I think that they became, in the years following Trayvon Martin, this weird thing where hoodies and blackness and anti-blackness got really, really sutured together in this very strange way.

Then it goes into the hoodie being worn to obscure your face, like if you’re going to rob someone. I think that’s brought up in Wu-Tang videos. But at the same time, it’s also just straight-up a garment that keeps your head warm. It’s weird that wearing athletic apparel becomes a signifier of potential criminality if you’re black or brown, you know? It’s like, “Oh, you’re not really training."