CECI EST VENDRADI PAS NOIR
Ceci est Vendradi pas Noir
I really didn’t want to go this way, but I really didn’t have too much of a choice. Phil Pyle, that scoundrel, forced my hand. Threw me some linguistic bones and I had to respond. That’s the way it is with Language. Not simply words but signs and symbols, human beings, society and history. Sure there were photomontages and a real strong video but at the bottom of all of this I was forced to be concerned with how we communicate, the cataloguing of memory and the unconscious.
Pyle is hopscotching between structuralism and post-structuralism. I know what you’re thinking. Trust me, it is not going 12 rounds; I plan to stick and move. Don’t have a lot of time and Robert didn’t allocate that much loot. But it needs to be addressed. Because part of de-stigmatization of the BLACK imagination is its entry into places where historically it has been excluded de facto. Brothers and sisters don’t sit around talking about Lacan, Derrida, Foucault or Baudrillard; unless of course, you’re in those kinds of classrooms or happen to be on the peripherals of those kinds of conversations. The treachery of images, for real!
Yet here was an artist questioning the truth “behind” or “within” signs, texts and images; then hitching his wagon to the necessary interaction between reader and text in creating something new. Nothing passive in the way he consumes the product. For Pyle, the passive quality of reading has lost its power, performance rules the day. Convincing all, that cares to listen, that he believes in the stability of “the sign”. Then there he is, chunking a rock straight at the cohesiveness of that notion.
So is each word, text or sign really definable in terms of their doubles?
HUSTLE AND FLOW
Pyle’s employment of word and images is nothing new. His version weds words filtered through the hip hop vernacular with images that resonate of both the eternal and the ephemeral. Photographs of clouds, mountains, stretches of ocean, flowers, a snow drift in a forest and an opulent table setting are tattooed with CRACK, TRAP, SWAG,THUG LIFE, BASED and YOLO respectively. The position of the text lends a great deal of force to a certain dependency upon the image. Or does it? In these pieces, there is no common ground given over to language and text. The text had migrated from its natural place below the image, where historically it has supported, named, explain and sometimes decomposed it.
So the signifiers, the sound image made by the word – clouds, mountains, stretches of ocean− fulfill the same function as the signified, the concept of the image. I was hesitant to bite on the initial context reading. I wanted the pieces to immerse themselves in me, waiting for something to bubble up. Sometimes this worked and other times it dragged. This was the most uneven portion of the exhibition for me. These expressions, in their linguistic evolution, now move freely between Uptown and the Garden District, swallowed by the dominant’s culture’s current appetite for BLACK. Such consumption is seductive in its lure of the promise of recognition and fair play. More about this later.
His ‘blackspace’ photomontages were the pieces that caught my attention. Pyle presented certain moments within the scope of the Black Imagination. These were reliable ‘narrators’ to a readable authentic Black experience. (What the hell is an authentic Black Experience anyway? Shhhh…you are always acting up when company comes.) They dealt with issues of wealth and prestige, the avant garde, REVOLUTION, and the surreal.
Some were framed by the Black Press and carried with them a certain validity that could only be fully understood through it. One of Maya Angelou’s stories comes to mind where one of the characters says, “I didn’t read it in Jet, so girl, I don’t know if I believe that or not.” Others presented subject matters and individuals that had been commodified within the scope of the dominant culture as well as the Black imagination. Pyle then took the ‘blackspace’− the area occupied by the black participants− and photoshoped out the original signifiers and replaced them with an outlined black chex mix generated from the pile of smashed and shredded materials. Oh nooo Mr. Phil!
At first glance Pyle seemed to be conceding the blackness so as to release the image from the stigma of being what it is. Or rather what the society at large has largely commodified it to be. By extracting the original ‘cultural trope’ from the landscape, Pyle is perhaps making a play at the notion of image and concept as separate entities, right? Like a fate is not a punishment but a long standing obligation; wishful, wishful thinking. He is also addressing the idea of varying commodifications. Can a crosspollination of commodification produce a more thorough rendering of a situation?
Memory believes, before knowing remembers.
A larger question for me deals with how we collect and process memory. I am 9 years old when my father calls me, Bernard, Robert and Michael Plumber into our tiny den. My mother is seated on the edge of the naugohyde sofa, the one with the half wagon wheeled sides. This mother of mine had books by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, not to mention every SNCC, Black Panther and James Baldwin book in print. Mexico City flashes across the screen. Need I say more?
Pyle seemed to force feed at this juncture. To understand the montages you have to go back and sift through, google past the first 2 or 3 pages. In our instant gratification society, not gonna happen. Let’s be honest, America has never been too interested when it comes to Black, highly questionable to think that the larger community at large, will cotton over with anticipation and excitement to a Black Friday sale, all year long. A more essential question revolves around the individual exercises of leverage in the de-commodification process.
And trust me, exercise his leverage he does. Pyle is in his groove; reaching, reaching, reaching. Reaching past Foucault who proclaimed that “a day would come when by means of similitude relayed indefinitely along a length of series, the image itself, along with the name it bears, will lose its identity. Campbell, Campbell, Campbell.” So PSquared gives it a little boost. By coercing the ‘original’ image to give up its cross, it’s unique and indivisible identity, and follow this new path, Pyle releases it from all its baggage and stigmas. Pyle understands that these signs have been devoid of their political integrity and meaning for quite some time. He is symbolically igniting them with the collective energy of BLACK (this is a new element created on Nov. 16, 2012 at 1953 Montrose Ave. Houston, TX) sans the marketability and consumerism. No longer are they fashion statements, meaningless images or toothless slogans that have started the migration into the collective unconscious, black and otherwise. They are something new because the anime that informs them is new, aware and accountable to the possibilities of concrete political action. Like Beuys, Pyle looks to plant new trees to stand by the water.
Had never heard of 2 Chainz when Robert and Jamal showed me his ‘Birthday Song’ video. Kept returning to the Pakistani guy near the beginning, wondering how many takes were necessary for him to get his swerve on. Commodification, Objectification of Black feminine beauty, and the changing status of the Black family were broadcasted in loud neon tones. And cake everywhere. Jelly Cakes, pound cakes, bunt and 7-up cakes. As the camera panned through the house, we stumble upon a makeshift ofrenda, a pillow full of pancakes, next to a statue of the Virgin Mary and beneath the watchful eyes of some undisclosed saint.
So I attached this signifier to a long line of other signifiers= the grand dame of Pitchmen and women Aunt Jemina=down to the ‘Johnson Sisters’ played by Louise Beavers and Juanita Moore in both versions of “Imitation of Life”=Minnie and her scrumptious pie=Herb Albert’s Whipped Cream and other Delights= AWB’s Cut the Cake = John Witherspoon’s Winky Dinky Dog spiel=along with a Cartier-Bresson photograph of a French woman fortifying her pancake batter with Armagnac.
Never again will I approach IHOP in the same insouciant manner.