Great artists like David Hammons are always imitating the gestures of the first cave artists, soothsayers, and healers; and in this sense we can say that they are always looking for the first painting. An important part of Hammons’ work consists in searching for art in a world that has lost its soul through an obsession with progress, technological applications, which are all subservient to profit. He is not trying to discover the newest brush strokes, beautiful color combinations, and other ways of redirecting our perception of art. Hammons is confident that we have simply lost the work of art in our rush to make it beautiful, to make it signify an identity or a political stance. We have destroyed the spirit and the energy of art by aligning it with consensual thinking and hegemonic solutions, academic exegesis and the artist’s desire to be admired and loved. We have buried its truth in the debris of progress and the technicization of human relations. And now, like Orpheus, we have to look for the painting, we have to retrieve it from the rubble of crumbling buildings, the simulacrum and trump-l’oeil of artificial intelligence. We have to engage in a search for the painting as if it were hiding behind a discarded armoire, in the garbage dump, abandoned and forgotten in nature. Hammons’s art is about stopping time so that we can all participate in rescuing what we are trampling under our feet; the art we lost a long time ago, because of our ego that only sees itself in every painting. The genius of Hammons resides in his ability to find the spirit-covered objects that, once put together, bring back the energy carried by the first cave paintings; and that still provoke our imaginary to momentarily ponder the mystery of life and the magic hiding in discarded objects (see here, the power of constellation in Spits and the Fly). Magic, energy, and spirit define Hammons’ work, which has a strong proximity to objects that had been in close contact with the human body and later abandoned. Hammons trusts his intuition to guide him in restoring the traces of the human - including the touch, the smell, and the spirit - to the work of art.
Manthia Diawara and Terri Geis
David Hammons Exquisite Corpse: Ted Joans 2019
In 1976, the poet Ted Joans began a collective project, Long Distance Exquisite Corpse. The piece was inspired by a game created around 1925 by the French surrealists. Folding a sheet of paper multiple times, participants would one by one create an image, leaving a line across the fold for the next player to link with their subsequent drawing. The resulting artworks often follow a humorous or violent logic. Tapping into surrealist notions of the unconscious, they exist in a tension between the collaborative and the individual, intentionality and chance, the drawing and the object. As Joans traveled the world over the years, he asked artists and writers - including European surrealists, Nigerian and South African writers, American beat poets and jazz musicians, Mexican painters and intellectuals - to add a drawing to the piece, ingeniously created on accordion-style dot matrix computer paper. As Joans recounted in interview, “Long Distance Exquisite Corpse is a continuous idea of a collective or collaborative authorship, in which an ongoing composite image is producing its own meaning undetermined by any single participant.” The innovation of Joans in the exquisite corpse process is the varying of distances between his participants, who at times knew each other and watched each other add drawings, or alternatively were separated by thousands of miles and connected only by Joans himself. In 2001, David Hammons filmed Joans unfolding the long artwork across the floor of the New York apartment of Robin and Diedra Harris-Kelley. Together with the artist Laura Corsiglia, they discuss each drawing and the creative and personal histories of the seemingly endless contributors. The camera follows the folds of the piece, emphasizing its physicality, the active process required to engage with it, the impossibility of viewing its entirety all at once. The artwork collapses into fragments but links its global participants, folding, unfolding, obscuring, revealing, passing on over great distances. Hammons adds his own drawing, continuing the long-distance transmission. As Corsiglia has reflected, Long Distance Exquisite Corpse is “a treasure map of friendship expanding through time, space, and disciplines.” With this special edition project, Hammons’ video is presented for the first time since it was shot, nearly twenty years ago.
Manthia Diawara and Terri Geis
Contributors to Ted Joans’ original Long Distance Exquisite Corpse, 1976-2005: Conroy Maddox, Gregory Corso, Simon Watson Taylor, Charles Henri Ford, Joyce Mansour, Alberto Gironella, Jayne Cortez, Georges Gronier, Malangatana, Milford Graves, Ted Joans, Papa Ibra Tall, Lamine Dolo, Younousse Sèye, Ajnakane, Mohammed Mrabet, Paul Bowles, Abdul Kader El-Janabi, Nanos Valaoritis, Marie Wilson, Laurens Vancrevel, Andrei Codrescu, Adrian Henri, Jim Burns, John Digby, Brion Gysin, Valery Oisteanu, LeRoy Clarke, Jack Micheline, Shel Silverstein, Michael Horovitz, Tuli Kupferberg, Edouard Roditi, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Taprah, David Gascoyne, Allen Ginsberg, Shirley Goldfarb, Peter Orlovsky, Robert Cordier, Kees Buddingh’, Kazuko Shiraishi, Natascha Ungeheuer, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Anne Waldman, William S. Burroughs, Enrique Hernández D’Jesús, David Henderson, Nancy Joyce Peters, Philip Lamantia, Thom Burns, Ishmael Reed, Ray Johnson, André Laude, Ron Sukenick, Ruth Francken, Alan Ansen, Dorothea Tanning, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Lou Laurin-Lam, Jim Amaral, Michel Leiris, Robert Lebel, Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka, Simon Vinkenoog, Seymour Krim, Cecil Taylor, Michael McClure, Gustavo Rivera, Ahmed Yacoubi, Erró, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Virginia Cox, Wole Soyinka, Romare Bearden, Jerome Rothenberg, Victor Hernández Cruz, Taylor Mead, Robert Lebel, Louis Lehmann, Robert Benayoun, Vincent Bounoure, Konrad Klapheck, Roger Cardinal, Roland Penrose, Woody van Amen, Alain Jouffroy, Roberto Matta, Breyten Breytenbach, Pavel Řezníček, Peter Wood, Bill Dixon, Ed Clark, Mel Edwards, Stanley William Hayter, Mário Cesariny, Inácio Matsinhe, Édouard Jaguer, Octavio Paz, Giovanna, Jean Benoît, John Ashbery, James Rosenquist, Hilary Booth, Larry Rivers, Merton Simpson, Robert Creeley, Suzanna Wald, Ludwig Zeller, Saul Kaminer, Lois Mailou Jones, Penelope Rosemont, Franklin Rosemont, Betye Saar, Tony Pusey, Jacob Lawrence, Eva Švankmajerová, Martin Stejskal, Ludvík Sváb, Philip West, Skunder Boghossian, Robert LaVigne, Mark Brusse, Homero Aridjis, Robert Colescott, Robert Farris Thompson, Quincy Troupe, Bruce Conner, David Hammons, Ron Sakolsky, Laura Corsiglia
David Hammons (°1943 Springfield, Illinois - lives and works in NY )
In 1963 Hammons moved to Los Angeles, to study art at Los Angeles City College and the Los Angeles Trade and Technical College, taking night classes at Otis Art Institute with realist artist and activist Charles White. Hammons was also part of a pioneering group of African-American artists and jazz musicians in Los Angeles, with influence outside the area. In 1974 Hammons settled in New York City. “Outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol.” - David Hammons. For the past 50 years, Hammons has created a vocabulary of symbols from everyday life and messed around with them in the form of prints, drawings, performances, video, found-object sculptures and paintings. Many of the results have indeed been outrageous, and most all of them have had a distinct kind of magic, derived from the transformation of everyday objects into metaphors of the experience of the outsider in the contemporary world, whether an artist, a stranger, a madman, or a person of color. Beginning in the late 1960s, he began to use his own body, greasing it, imprinting it on paper, and sprinkling the result with pigment and graphite to make Body Prints. These X-ray-like figures were punctuated with exacting details of skin, hair, clothes and body parts created by the process of one-to-one transfer. After relocating to New York in 1974, Hammons started his lifelong practice of making sculptures from the highly charged detritus of urban African American life, including hair gathered from barbershop floors, chicken bones, bottle caps, and empty liquor bottles. Public installations like Higher Goals (1983; 1986), a group of towering basketball hoops decorated with metal bottle caps bent to look like cowrie shells, or In the Hood (1993), a small sculpture made from a hood cut from a used sweatshirt and mounted on the wall like an African mask, are iconic examples of American Conceptual art. At the same time, they are sharply critical commentaries on the clichés of growing up African American in the US, from the nearly impossible aspiration of becoming a sports hero, to the danger of wearing everyday outfits that are somehow perceived as menacing. From his Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983), in which Hammons sold snowballs of different sizes on a New York City sidewalk, to his most recent paintings whose surfaces are obscured by tarpaulins, burlap, or old furniture, his work has contributed to an ongoing discussion about the role of the artist and the value of art in a world beyond the spoiled areas of the museum or gallery. Reluctant to participate in exhibitions of his own work, Hammons has fiercely guarded his status as a cultural outsider, while simultaneously continuing to produce work that reinforces his reputation as one of the most relevant and influential living American artists.
Manthia Diawara (°1953 in Bamako, Mali - lives in NYC) is a writer, filmmaker, cultural theorist, scholar and art historian. Diawara holds the title of University Professor of comparative literature and film at New York University, where he is the former Director of the Institute of African American Affairs. In Februay 2019, Diawara received the Martin Luther King Award for his Humanitarian Impact. Much of his research has been in the field of black cultural studies, though his work has differed from the traditional approach to such study formulated in Britain in the early 1980s. Along with other notable recent scholars, Diawara has sought to incorporate consideration of the material conditions of African Americans to provide a broader context for the study of African diasporic culture. An aspect of this formulation has been the privileging of ‘Blackness’ in all its possible forms rather than as relevant to a single, perhaps monolithic definition of black culture. Diawara has contributed significantly to the study of black film. In 1992, Indiana University Press published his African Cinema: Politics & Culture and in 1993, Routledge published a volume he edited titled Black American Cinema. A filmmaker himself, Diawara has written and directed a number of films. His 1998 book In Search of Africa is an account of his return to his childhood home of Guinea and was published by Harvard University Press. Diawara is a founding editor of Black Renaissance Noire, a journal of arts, culture and politics dedicated to work that engages contemporary Black concerns. He serves on the advisory board of October, and is also on the editorial collective of Public Culture. In 2003, Diawara released We Won’t Budge: A Malaria Memoir, the title a tribute to Salif Keita’s anthemic protest song Nou Pas Bouger.
Ted Joans (°1928 Cairo, Illinois - 2003 Vancouver, Canada)
“Jazz is my religion, and Surrealism is my point of view.” - Ted Joans
Joans was a jazz poet, visual artist, and trumpet player. He was a Surrealist who was also associated with the Beat Generation. But, Joans was a true original, and his work defies categorization. Joans’ artistic work was heavily influenced by jazz rhythms. As a young man Joans moved to New York, where he became associated with the Bohemian scene in Greenwich Village. He met, and maintained close friendships with, a number of Beat Generation figures, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Proclaimed a Surrealist by André Breton, Joans’ poetry and visual art are important contributions to Surrealism. His visual art work spans collages, assemblage objects, paintings and drawings including many resulting from the collaborative surrealist game The Exquisite Corpse/Cadavre Exquis. The rhinoceros is a frequent subject in his work in all media. He also created short Super 8 film works. Joans traveled widely, reading his poetry in nearly every African country, and living in various European and African countries, as well as in the United States and Canada. During the early 1980s Joans was a writer in residence in Berlin, Germany, under the auspices of the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst) program. He was a contributor of jazz essays and reviews to magazines such as Coda and Jazz Magazine. His autobiographical text Je Me Vois appeared in the Contemporary Authors Autobiographical Series, Volume 25, published by Gale Research. His work has been included in numerous anthologies. In the late 1990s Joans relocated to Seattle and resided there and in Vancouver, between travels, until 2003. He was the recipient of the American Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, from the Before Columbus Foundation.
© Photo credits: Kurt Deruyter