Are you based in New York?
I’m based in New York but I’m from Los Angeles. My friend and I have this vague theory that everyone (Black) must pass through California at some point in their life or career. Most prominent Black figures who are doing or have done anything notable have passed through California at some point in their life.
[Laughter.] It’s so bizarre that you say that because I taught at Cal Arts in the 1990s.
Oh, you did?
Yeah, but not for long. I was there for a semester when Lyle [Ashton Harris] was doing his MFA. So, it would have been 1991 or ’92, something like that. At that time, the energies were very different. You know, everybody I knew who was trying to do anything interesting was in New York. You had to really search in LA to find your people, but just over the last two or so decades that’s completely transformed. Most of the people I know are now out in that part of the world. My oldest friend in the states, AJ [Arthur Jafa] pretty much lives in California. The idea that he would move to California was just strange because he was such a New York guy.
Right. There’s Kerry James Marshall, Charles White, Jared Sexton, Kara Walker, Octavia Butler, David Hammons, Saidiya Hartman, Paul Beatty, Frank Wilderson III, Sun Ra and Fred Moten—all have lived in California. I would classify them as historians more than anything because as artists and scholars, after a certain level of exposure you get saddled onto the mainstage and reproduced as a historian of your time. Saidiya and Frank were passing through Berkeley, Kerry and Charles were working in Los Angeles. Aria [Dean] and I were recently talking about this because it’s a theory that we’ve had and have been obsessed with for years, and she recently shared an article that details the inherent entanglement of Blackness, Black People, and California as a site of (capital) production.
You’re absolutely right. Listen, there was something about New York in the 1980s and ’90s, that made it the go-to destination at the time, whether it was the Bronx, whether going up to see Brim Fuentes and those guys, you know way up at the top of the city where you’re about to leave New York [laughter] or going to St. Mark’s to browse the bookshops, it was an extraordinary place. Then you had the Lower East Side vibe, which had its own kind of microaggressions [laughter], that’s all gone. You know that New York is pretty much gone now.
What made New York that New York?
For me, it was a mixture of proximity. Greg Tate, AJ, and I would meet and would know exactly what to say to each other. “Okay, I’m going to St. Mark’s street, so I’ll see you in the bookshop and if not, then I’ll be Kim’s video, or Natori or whatever that Japanese restaurant was called on the bottom of St. Mark’s street was, and then they’d say “Yeah, we’ll see you there.” You could spend a whole day together in those three spaces, either buying DVDs and LaserDiscs in Kim’s shop, scavenging for books, or having lunch, and we literally did. When I was in New York, this was one of the rituals I looked forward to. Now, two of those are now gone. Kim’s video is gone, and St. Mark’s books and that culture have disappeared. I’m talking about these places as kind of institutions that offered spaces of hospitality, which don’t exist anymore. I don’t feel protected in quite the same way. It wasn’t so unusual to walk down the street and see someone who was such a big influence in your life, where you say to yourself, “I don’t believe this”. I was walking down the road on one of the main streets one time and there was Ornette Coleman. He walked towards me and I was like, “Damn, that’s Ornette Coleman.” So, I wandered after him and thought, ugh, I’m going to do the fan thing, but I don’t care. I’m going to do it right now. I stopped him and told him what he’s meant to me and told how wonderful it is to just encounter him in the flesh. And he just looked at me with such kindness and sadness at the same time, we talked for a bit and then he wandered off again. I stood there for like ten minutes watching him disappear, you know. Because I knew it would never happen again. New York was a place for those sorts of extraordinary encounters to me. I guess what I’m saying is that those things don’t happen to me anymore because those people aren’t here anymore…
…or because you’re now one of them!
[Laughter.] No, I don’t feel like that.
I really like the way you describe this encounter because it makes me think of when I was in my first year of college and went to see Thelma Golden, Huey Copeland, and Hilton Als speak at the New School on the the twentieth anniversary of the “Black Male” exhibition. Or, when I was freshly graduated from college and was working at Artforum and went to see Arthur Jafa’s solo show at Gavin Brown and I met him at the opening. Both were such disorienting moments for me and overwhelming because I didn’t know what to do with the information that I was being given in that moment. Now I realize that those encounters have more to do with me having needed what they’ve all created than anything else. Lately I’ve been thinking about how one thanks someone who gives or gave part of themselves away to the world, like, how can I thank someone for sacrificing parts of themselves so that I can have more insight or the knowledge that I do.
It’s happened inside buildings for me as well. Certain places are now completely associated with people who are obviously gone now. I remember going to an apartment on the Upper West Side to talk to Max Roach. It was extraordinary, he opened the door and then we stood at the window for a while, talking and overlooking Central Park. I hadn’t seen Central Park from that vantage point before, yet there I was thinking, my god, I’m standing with Max fucking Roach, in his apartment, staring at Central Park [laughter], thinking I’m never going to forget this, and I haven’t. It’s changed my sense of the Upper West Side completely because before then it always felt like this slightly kind of bougie place, you know? [Laughter.]
[Laughter.] I may not be the right audience for this. When I first landed in New York almost a decade ago I stayed with a friend, a Black gay friend, who had just started undergrad at Columbia University while I was giving myself an informal college tour. I visited Sarah Lawrence, Bennington, NYU, and The New School. For years I had this vague infatuation with New York—my friend’s parents growing up had went to Columbia or NYU and I always had a feeling I was going to end up here though I don’t explicitly know why, I could just visualize it. I thought my New York experience was going to be like the Upper West Side. When I landed, I was like “Wow, this is like Los Angeles but it’s on the other side of the country.” A year later, I enrolled in the New School and realized that I’d be living downtown and that was a whole other version of New York that I was going to have to get accustomed to. A week or so ago I graduated from Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture and for me my relationship to it is more of a launching pad than it is an enclosure. I don’t think of what it means to be at Columbia in 2021 but think about being twenty years old having first encountered that campus. I can only ever know that Columbia. It’s funny how we are produced spatially and assign meaning to things.
Okay, but let’s do this, because I have some very serious questions.
I’m glad you are mentioning Ornette Coleman and Max Roach because they are the perfect threads of time that exist independent of each other. While wrapping up my thesis I was doing research in preparation for this interview. You’re essential for some of the scholarship I was able to produce. I wrote my thesis about Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris, The Blacks by Jean Genet, and I made a film essay called Watching Language. I realized after the fact that an interview you did with the Black Audio Film Collective in 1988 for Coco Fusco’s book Young, British, and Black was seminal in the final landing of my project.
Where did you even find that? [Laughter.]
[Laughter.] Deep on the interwebs. But the main takeaway for me was how you introduced the concept of [Immanuel] Kant’s concept of the Categorial Imperative in the interview.
Yes. Yes. Okay. Okay. Okay.
The categorial imperative makes me think of J.L. Austin’s concept of the felicitous/infelicitous speech act, which calls on speech not being rhetorical or dismissive but necessitating action. The terms expose the varying failures and potentials of language. I first encountered your piece “Unfinished Conversations” at MoMA in 2016, and I remember walking into the theater thinking, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” What’s most compelling about the film is that it shows you in real time how Blackness and knowledge production reinforce yet alienate each other cyclically.
Anyway, I’ve made this film essay where I’m trying to complicate the absence of the body and its register in the archive as a secondary source that renders a kind of sonic disposition. It features a sound recording, a play laid over a black screen/void and I called it Watching Language because I’m thinking in terms of how one assigns meaning to something they’re meant to see but can only hear. In terms of your encounter with Ornette, so many of your references seem to be musical and textual. What is that about?
I think it’s partly just to do with my age and growing up in the ’70s and wanting to work in what we now call the art world or doing cinematic practices of various kinds. The absence of models from those fields was very noticeable and striking. Whether you were a young person of color in the US, or the UK, if you were interested in visual practice there wasn’t a huge amount of it being produced by people who came before you like you. That’s why I think musicians became so important—the search for some form of charismatic example that might legitimize your practice was an urgent one. If you found someone who had a kind of iconic presence, you know Miles [Davis], [John] Coltrane, or [Billie] Holiday, you were attracted to all sorts of things in them which were intensely visual as well as sonic. You liked not just what they looked like but what they sounded like; the texture of what they sounded seemed important too and how they moved to…
Yeah, how they bodied the sound…
It’s the most intensely pleasurable, but it’s beyond pleasure. It’s almost like what you feel like when you stand next to a sacred object [laughter]. It was like watching the classic quartet or Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones playing live in ’64, I think. I mean, there was just this steam coming out of them, they were so intense, and they were so into this music that it became a kind of Jackson Pollock painting, all of them, steam coming out of them and all these people sweating, after a while it ceased to be an image, and became a series of patterns with arms flailing. A lot of the times when people I meet talked about trying to emulate jazz musicians it wasn’t just the music, in fact, the music was sometimes the last thing, but there was this kind of iconic performative dimension, which involved the body, sweat, gesture, and style that made them compelling for us. Seeing Ornette Coleman on the street, I’m just seeing all these albums and concerts that I both watched live as well as seen on television or bought albums, there’s all aspects of your past encounters with the sonic in all its visual and non-visual dimensions coming at you in the form of one figure made me feel like, “Oh this is just too much. It’s too excessive.”
To return to the interview with Fusco, you all touch on the term representation and what it signified in the ’90s and how you all were grappling with how to subvert it, which was compelling because it was based in citational discourse. The thing I enjoyed the most about that text is its architectural disposition, and how you stake your claim through the references and frustrations that you have with the critical and theoretical debate at the time. What are your thoughts on Peter Gidal?
I have been reading Materialist Film recently and he speaks about the difference between reproduction and representation, which I think would be useful as a framework to think through for the conversation we’re having…
Sure, sure. I hadn’t thought about Peter for a couple of decades until this year. Yeah, it’s weird, I wanted to return again to the questions of figuration and the roles that the nonfigurative might play in our practice. He came to mind again, but I don’t want to revisit that old debate about the two avant-gardes. I thought that was interesting for the time that it was happening. Malcolm Le Grice and Peter Gidal had this famous falling out over the question of the nonfigurative… and the discussion was precisely around this question of representation or the nonrepresentational and the role in which that might play. I’m revisiting that from the kind of vantage point of the present, in lockdown, trying to devise a practice that doesn’t rely on locations, characters, blah, blah, and that whole baggage of the cinema.
While reading the interview I was interested in everyone’s use of the term representation and what it would mean today in contemporary politics. All of you were like, “let’s live in representation, but also let’s denounce stereotyping.” And to me they’re all synonymous now, representation, stereotyping, but less so Black figuration because that terminology for the most part has been left alone. The conversation is mainly around the body and the maintenance, care, and reproduction of it.
There’s certain historical moments in which questions acquire a kind of order of urgency and aura of value, and certainly for me and my colleagues in the collective in the ’80s, representation was one of those. It was a key signifier, it had an epistemological, psychic, and cultural value on all kinds of levels. Because one realized there was a means and necessity for devising a set of narratives that displaced preexisting orders on narrative; stereotypical and mythological ones, and there was a need to intervene quite forcefully and say, this is us writing ourselves bodily, intellectually, physically into the present. You know what I mean?
You guys heavily cite Foucault, Gramsci, Kant, Lacan, Althusser, and Fanon throughout the interview…
What was the anxiety? Did you not feel you could stand on your own two feet?
I think one of the things I was trying to articulate in the interview that Coco did was that we were the quintessential products of a certain kind of higher education at that precise moment. When critical theory—or what was then called “continental theory”—philosophy, and cultural studies, when all these kinds of disciplines were converging in a way in the academy and colliding sometimes quite violently or beautifully. We were just standing there, in the late ’70s and ’80s, when these constellations start to form like stars above you and you’re like, wow. And as you look to them you thought, there’s a certain kind of impenetrability here, which isn’t allowing space to go into this, so we’re just going to have to force them into some conversations with each other in a spirit of vandalism really, [laughter] we’re just going to have to get Althusser to speak to Fanon.
[Laughter.] Yeah, you must phone them in. Why did this meeting of concepts or theories have to take place in film?
At the time, we were coming from a variety of disciplines, I think we wanted a space that allowed us to work together. To the extent that performance art allowed it, yes, we went into that a bit—but film was one of the few art forms that we knew venerated collective practice, though it didn’t always say so, it did. There were artist’s films and then there was cinema, as we knew it, but generally artist’s films meant people learning to use a camera and doing things by themselves, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to devise a practice that allowed us to work on each other’s stuff.
I’m still stuck on the Le Grice/Gidal debate concerning representation and reproduction. I also have been thinking about television versus cinema and how the two both engage Blackness. I think television can be more susceptible to house productive conversations around Blackness than cinema can. Because television doesn’t require a narrative necessarily, its episodic structure doesn’t necessarily have to resolve itself and isn’t explicitly concerned with resolving itself. It’s a durational issue, one that takes place within a durational arc, but cinema is trying to resolve or expose something in a short period. But I’m still not convinced either work?
What appears to be a sort of unchanging feature of those two is itself a relatively recent phenomenon. When I was a child, television was a space of the pedagogic; the ethnographic adventure was the space of the document and the documentary. If you wanted narratively-driven stuff, that was the cinema. And that’s changed quite dramatically now. There’s a sense that television has become impatient with the nonfictive, it doesn’t really want it anymore, so it was construct itself with shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s a proliferation of stuff like that get people onto Netflix or television, shows like The Crown, whereas cinema is sort of almost given up narrative. It seems at its best a space for which questions of spectacle and specularity are most being played out. The most successful things in the cinema are Black Panther rather than Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, not many people are making Killer of Sheep now.
I think for me part of it is not feeling necessarily bound by the rules of either anymore. For the last decade or so, I didn’t want to be owned or bound to the conventions, demands, or expectations of either. I’ve been much more concerned with questions of the post-cinematic, which for me is about trying to migrate the legacies, insights, and philosophies from both into other spaces. I get as much now out of doing something with locations and situations as I did try to make a documentary about Malcolm X in the ’90s. It’s a strange thing to say but it’s true, when we made the Seven Songs of Malcolm X we moved to New York and lived there for six months dealing with building sets in a studio, hiring actors, forming a crew. We lived there, the whole collective. When we work on film projects now it’s like you’re in New York for four of five days, so it’s not the same anymore. The pleasure must be had from working on something in situ, long form, or long duration is something I get from an art practice rather than film.
I was going to ask you about this because you mentioned it in the Blackness and Post-Cinema conversation that you had for Frieze with Kwodo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar of the Otolith Group, in which you talked about being engaged more in cinema now through your art practice than you were before. I think cinema used to be an experimental space where people were able to produce filmic essays, as in [Jean Luc] Godard and the more durational workings of dealing with a concept over time. I’m curious if experimentation in cinema is possible for Black people? Or is it just possible under the guise and in the context and categorization of art?
The questioning of naming and being blessed by being named as part of the cathedral of cinema was important. It seemed more than just symbolic. It was politically important because you can get resources. I grew up next to a repertory cinema and in the ’70s I saw everything from Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Black Top to other experimental films of that time. I was a child of the cinema and I don’t mean American cinema even though there was a lot of that too.
The absence of Black folks in the ’90s and early aughts seemed by design and like a designation, or annexing of the machinery, and then there was an allocating of a very particular 40 acres and the mule for you over there. It didn’t seem coincidental. It felt designed. This was the great chain of being, and this was your place in that great chain, [laughter] to sit in the space of, need, want, handicap, starvation, all these lacks…
Your work highlights the kind of failure of representation in that you’re not always trying to embody or explicitly communicate something that’s Black in a way that’s didactic visually or reductive. It’s more something that announces itself through a feeling or unspoken knowledge, than something that has come to be known as more announced in its reception or visual register. There’s a quote from Sagar in the text that I think really drives this home: “The work is complete if it’s alien to you,” which is to say that when you don’t know what you did, or what it is, that’s when you’ve made something. If you can name it, then you’ve made something recognizable to which you wish to assign meaning to.
Yeah. Well, that was actually something that they got wrong. The idea of the work becoming foreign to you was something I said.
How do grapple with existing in an enclosure where other people’s desires are projected onto what you’re doing? How do you make visible your process or reference points that aren’t exclusively bound to representing?
AJ did an interview recently and he talked about the reasons that bound him, Kerry James Marshall, and I together: it was this embrace of Blackness. I know what he means but I’m coming at it with something else too. The point was about liberating Blackness and placing it in a kind of transcendental zone, where you must embrace it when you come into contact with the work, but you don’t stop at the altar of it.
Right, you don’t stop at the threshold…
I would never be in a space of disavowal where it doesn’t matter to me whether a work is seen as Black or not, because it really does matter. It’s an important threshold to a kind of liminal beyond that I want people to enter and engage but, hey, don’t stay there! [Laughter.] There are other corridors leading off from it and I don’t want a space of racelessness, you know? That doesn’t feel very interesting. I can see why there might be moments when that might not be a necessity, you know? In many ways it’s either here or to come. It matters to me because the journey is much more important than the arrival itself. It’s important for me to see a child from Clarksdale, Mississippi, navigating their way our modernity, whether with film or sculpture. It matters to me that Arthur Jafa was born in Tupelo, but his family were from Clarksdale, that matters to me. It’s important that I know I’m traveling with someone with quite literally those bags and that luggage. It doesn’t define him as, you know, now or before by any means but it’s a kind of indispensable hammer in the toolkit. To come back to you again on this question of representation, and desires to self-represent [laughter], which is another thing that has become really important to me in lockdown. I’ve been musing a lot on self-portraits in art, on the history of self-portraiture and questions of mortality and death and what really animates a desire for them—on self-representation that states categorically that I want Blackness to be a consideration when people view the practice or the work, is part of that long journey with representation that you were talking about, sponsoring that long journey of trying to decide between reproduction and representation you talk about.
So then, what are your feelings on Afrofuturism?
Well, okay. You got me there. [Laughter.]
I was going through interviews that you did and watching your films and was just plagued by this question. How does the past/future binarized thinking situate your work and inform your thinking? [Laughter.] I was watching your 1996 film The Last Angel of History, which tackles Afrofuturism and metaphors of Blackness, through a documentary/fictional account of a data thief on a journey to compose legible history through collected fragments. As I watching I was thinking to myself, I wonder how he feels about this now…
[Laughter.] Okay, let’s put it this way. When we first saw the Mark Dery pieces trying to work out what might be called Afrofuturism, I wanted film and moving image to make an intervention in it. It was always clear to me that this was going to be a conversation between me and a range of people about what this thing could be. No more than that, I was interested in trying to come up with a canvas that functioned almost like a kind of civic space.
It’s so apparent to me while watching the documentary that it’s precisely a declarative moment in that you’re putting a stake in the ground as a sort of intervention in history and the way that you’re engaging it. Coming from architectural theory, I have come to think of architecture as a promise, to borrow the term from Brian Larkin’s The Promise of Infrastructure, in the chapter “Promising Forms: The Political Aesthetics of Infrastructure,” in which he talks about the structural implications of promise. The film reads to me like this grand statement of all these people working through their relationship to futurity and their understanding of what it means. I wrote a paper about Black Skyscrapers, Architecture, and Afrofuturism, with the skyscrapers being a marker of modernity and how some Black historians/writers associate that being a truth synonymous with Blackness, as a sort of totem of futurism. I’ve been thinking a lot about Afrofuturism and how we’re only always gesturing to the past or pointing to the future and the present is a thing that’s constantly overlooked.
Honestly, I’m so happy that you brought up the question of architectural practice. It offers so many models for how one could begin to talk about the Last Angel. One of the key models for that film was that it functions as a structure in my mind as a kind of Piazza, a civic space as an intervention. Just as an aside, one of the things that was so wonderful about making that thing was that everybody we asked to participate in it was in shock. Octavia Butler was like, “Yeah, wow, you think I could be a part of it?” Can you imagine that? Because there was a period when she didn’t feel important enough for something like this? Whether it’s Derrick May or any of them, they were all like, “Whoa, you want us to be a part of something?” It was about acknowledging our own square, where we wanted everyone to bring their banners and come down and just declare a New Republic right now. I mean you could make another fifteen Last Angels just from the interviews alone.
I’m happy the square exists but increasingly I don’t recognize it anymore because of all the adornments and embellishments. It used to have artisanal stores and now it’s got Saks and Amazon and has a lot of shit on it now. It’s not a square I frequent. I can’t afford to live there or to be owned by a corporation that has leased some of that square. I must go somewhere else.
Black thought always matters to me, various forms of Black thinking. Not necessarily all of it forms into a new square, to be interested in the work of Saidiya Hartman, Tina Campt, or Arthur Jafa. It doesn’t necessarily come together to form another kind of convenient tag. It doesn’t do that anymore and I’m quite happy with the peripatetic existence. I’m happy encountering the friends of mine whose thought I find interesting whether it’s Fred Moten, Saidiya, or Tina Campt. I’m just happy that we are on the planet that we’re thinking through shit. I don’t necessarily need it all to be embodied in a space. We don’t need another square.
What do we need?
The fugitivity is important. You know the itinerant and the peripatetic are all important considerations, which cannot be washed away. That’s not to say that the sociological entities that exist are unimportant, it’s important that there are Black spaces, queer spaces, they’re important because they are identities. The thinking need not be completely aligned.
In that interview with Coco Fusco, you mention speak to the concept of “identifying identity” and the usefulness of it. It mirrors the Gidalian argument of the representation/reproduction and reminds me of how everyone wants everything to be one-to-one. I read as Black so I should perform Blackness. How do I simultaneously reject that reading while also embody a legibility of Blackness? Identity is a performance—how do I subvert it?
Look, so much of the animating impulse of the previous generations was about saying, “Oh, look, we’re here. You know see us! See our humanity. This is the content of our character.”
See us! We exist. These are our references points…
That was built on absolute necessity. I don’t feel the need to be read or engage in conversation with Fred or Saidiya and I think people are chasing down the implications of Blackness, trying to understand its myriad epistemic forms and manifold psychic spaces. But not necessarily then to go and say that’s now created a program for a new Black person . . . [Laughter.]
[Laughter.] Check box. Now five new Black people can be admitted into the program.
The relationship to the theory and the form/theory and identity need not be straightforwardly symmetrical. We don’t need one to immediately lead inexorably to the other for one, because it then doesn’t include all sorts of other people. What if you’re reading Judith Butler and found that just as interesting or more interesting than Fred Moten?
The racial imaginary doesn’t necessitate exclusively citing Black people in the canon. Citation is work of legibility. As a person who works in the structure and framework of architecture, do I have to exclusively cite Black architects? Do I have to cite Black cultural theorists? No, I don’t. I can’t be beholden to this system of didacticism. Butler sometimes gets it right and then I need to bring her into the conversation with Fanon, Foucault, Sara Ahmed, and Saidiya.
Absolutely. I think for me, it has to do with trying to offload a certain kind of Hegelian baggage. There’s always this impulse to go beyond. But, you know, we don’t need to be beyond. Let’s just be in the moment, and as Fred would say, let’s be in the break. We don’t need to know whether this will make for a better Black person. Fuck that. That’s not interesting. We don’t need to go beyond Blackness. It’s not a before and after question, that is just a stupid teleological Hegelian nonsense that were straddled. There is no beyond Blackness, it’s a permanent phenomenological condition. It might change in intensity, variation, inside, blah, blah, blah. But there’s no beyond . . .
What makes something Black? How do you Blacken something? I always say this, but it falls on deaf ears, but per Fred’s theory of everyone Black possessing Blackness, I don’t think that’s necessarily correct.
Yeah, you’re right. That’s true.
But then what is Blackness? Is it an energy? It’s a vibe, but how do you name that vibe? How do you contain that vibe? How do you know when you’ve produced it?
This is part of the beauty of all those people you just named. They’ve asked themselves precisely these questions and that coming at it from very, very interesting disciplinary positions that are very different from each other. And they arrive at very different conclusions from each other. They’re not the same at all. Saidiya’s deeply infused historical parables have little to do with Tina’s art historical dirges, they’re not the same and yet, you can feel that they’re both animated by the same broadly overlapping sets of questions. This is, what it is to say something about young black women in the 1920s from the present. Wow. Okay. That’s interesting. I’ll take that, let me take that. You know what I mean? This is what it means to question the Black musical tradition in the US, codified by jazz at this moment in time. Okay. That’s interesting. And at no point do you get what I call the reductionist reflex, which is to Blacken the thing too quickly to name it as Black too quickly. We don’t need that.
Why do we saturate these things so quickly? What I really struggle with is when people or institutions try to assign meaning to objects just because a person is Black, or worse, the person tries to stake a claim at Blackness by announcing/declaring the object’s presence. If it was Black, you wouldn’t have to name it.
Look in a way, this is this is both easier and more complicated to do, to have this conversation, if you transpose it to the art world and you take Mark Bradford, for instance. Magnificent pieces; but are they Black? What makes them Black? In what ways are they Black? This is really what I’m saying, if you start from that reductionist point in your approach to Bradford’s work, you’re not going to get very far. Because there is no necessary, as Stuart [Hall] used to say, correspondence between the category of race and the practice and practices like Bradford’s and to try and collapse them is not helpful. Because in the first place, what is it that you’re trying to know anyway?
And what are you trying to capture? Why can’t people just let Mark Bradford just do the Bradford program?
You can bet your ass that if you speak to Mark Bradford there’s nowhere in his being where he’s trying to not be Black. Mark Bradford is not trying to not be Black. He’s not necessarily trying it in the painting. [Laughter.]
[Laughter.] Whatever it is that’s happening; is not taking place in the paintings…
The paintings are a space of a certain kind of dramaturgy that cannot be reduced to the melodrama of race.