Articles

Echo's echoes, or what to do with Vanessa Place

Above: a portion of Alexandre Cabanel’s ‘Echo,’ 1874, oil on canvas, 38 1/2 x 26 1/4" (97.8 x 66.7 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Echo repeats. Her practice, in eviscerating ecce, exposes the human. For her repetitions point to the obscene, that which we push off-scene, the refuse we refuse in order to make being — our human being — be. “Ergo, echo,” Vanessa Place has said of herself. But if, on the one hand, Echo adds to our artifacts, augmenting our understanding — Echo ergo sum — she does so through what she removes, withdraws, or lacks — Echo ergo subtract, so to speak. Through this double movement, Echo’s repetitions become the paradoxical indicator of excess. 

I wrote about poetics of radical evil,[1] and there must be an art of the same kind. Art that is willing to be affirmatively evil, not immoral exactly, but as a work of malfeasance, not for the polemic or didactic turn, showing that certain things are bad, stupid, etc, that’s easy enough, and sadly it seems one is expected to say these things, which is another form of obscenity, but for a more primal acceptance. This too is our artefact, this too, too human.

Stalling in 'Solidarity Texts'

“I am wont to join the collective that has the miracle and privilege of flowering. The unblooming, then, is the motion I sit with — this lag time that goes on.” Photo by Reginald A. Malby and Co., Southwark Local History Archive and Library, via Wikimedia Commons.

I sit with Solidarity Texts, and I am drawn to its states of motion: Anne Waldman’s metabolizing, M. NourbeSe Philip’s ruminating on what cannibalizes, Levi Bentley’s “Destroy them […] Keep moving,” everyone’s marching; and — yet — all the stall therein. What to make of ritual time, written and henceforth read; of the memorial, the eulogy, the flash obituary kept here.

Begin again

“Many knew that no matter what they did, if they moved through a public space, it would have to be deliberate, and their bodies would be read as a statement.” Above: image of a public square in Florence by Samuli Lintula, via Wikimedia Commons.

Think back to the last time you marched — when you moved deliberately through a public space, when you used your body not just to get from one place to another but to be a statement, when you had to be keenly aware of the larger body you moved within and the body you moved against. If you’ve never marched before, go out now and try it. Now think back. Begin again. 

Think back to the last time you marched — when you moved deliberately through a public space, when you used your body not just to get from one place to another but to be a statement, when you had to be keenly aware of the larger body you moved within and the body you moved against. If you’ve never marched before, go out now and try it. Now think back. Begin again. Be aware of your body in this public space. Are you cold? Are you hungry? Do you carry a sign? Is it heavy? Does it block the view of the people behind you? Are you walking?

The gifts her ancestors gave

The Women’s March and black erasure

“One marcher from Chicago, Cheryl Thomas-Porter, summed up the communitarian, participatory, and engaged nature of the march in an interview with CNN: ‘This march is us. We made this march. … The march is the contribution of every single woman of African descent.’” Above: marchers gathered on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on October 25, 1997, for the Million Woman March in Philadelphia.

Feminista Jones opened her speech at the January 21, 2017, Philadelphia Women’s March by reminding the crowd that the erasure of black women’s voices by white feminism is antithetical to feminism itself: “I am a black feminist, and they need to have at least one of them in this space, cause y’all don’t have feminism without us.”

Feminista Jones opened her speech at the January 21, 2017, Philadelphia Women’s March by reminding the crowd that the erasure of black women’s voices by white feminism is antithetical to feminism itself: “I am a black feminist, and they need to have at least one of them in this space, cause y’all don’t have feminism without us.” Jones — a Philadelphia-based activist, social worker, and writer whose work revolves around poverty alleviation, the fight against hunger, sex positivity, and mental health advocacy — had been early to point out that

Forms of solidarity

“The voice of the poem transposes Kruger’s feminist dissent to the context of Trump’s inauguration; the President becomes Kruger’s boy-child clenching his fist to flex his bicep, an unnecessary ‘hero.’” Above: Vanessa Witter at the 2017 Women’s March in LA, holding a sign in the style of Barbara Kruger’s protest art. Photo by Scott Witter.

On April 9, 1989, over four hundred thousand women marched on Washington in the March for Women’s Lives. Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989) is perhaps the most lasting image from the protest. Kruger divides a photograph of a woman vertically, half in black and white, half in negative, light and dark reversed; an aesthetic of conflict. It is a work made directly for the purpose of protesting for liberation from legislation that prohibited women’s reproductive freedom.