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← Kevin Beasley's Raw Materials | Art21 "New York Close Up"

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Showing Revision 1 created 02/06/2019 by Amara Bot.

  1. [DRUMMING]

  2. [KEVIN BEASLEY]
    --There's not going to be a beginning...
  3. [DRUMMING]
  4. --I think that's enough to start.
  5. [DRUMMING]
  6. [CLAP]
  7. So right now,
  8. I've been putting a lot of energy
    into an exhibition at the Whitney,
  9. which is my first major solo exhibition
    here in the city.
  10. The project is multiple parts.
  11. There is a sound installation,
  12. that is rooted around
    a cotton gin motor,
  13. and three large sculptural works.
  14. The work really comes out
    of an experience I had at a family reunion
  15. in Valentines, Virginia,
    in the summer of 2011.
  16. I drove down from New Haven.
  17. The property has a meandering road
    that leads to the house.
  18. I look up,
    and I see the fields are planted.
  19. I stopped the car and I looked,
  20. and I was like, "Whoa, what is that?"
  21. And I rolled the window down,
    and I saw that it was cotton.
  22. It struck me in a way that I couldn't quite
    wrap my head around.
  23. Emotionally, it was too heavy.
  24. Mentally, it was too heavy.
  25. I felt like I hadn't reconciled something.
  26. I was like, "Why am I so mad at this plant?"
  27. This plant is not doing anything other than
    growing and being beautiful.
  28. I felt like, okay, there's a lot of unpacking
    that has to happen.
  29. --You know, I want to actually point to this
    cotton here.
  30. --This here has all been ginned.
  31. --This is all cotton from Virginia,
  32. --Valentines, Virginia.
  33. Using cotton, raw cotton, as a material
    is really important,
  34. because as materially-oriented as I am,
  35. it's all because there is a context
    for those materials.
  36. For the exhibition, there will be
    three large sculptural works.
  37. I've been calling them slabs,
    because of their relationship to architecture.
  38. They're made from wildly different materials.
  39. --This is a sweater.
  40. --It's a Yale cotton,
  41. --really nice, preppy sweater.
  42. --And then these are some durags,
    some blue ones.
  43. --For this they're going to represent a
    river,
  44. --or some sort of flowing water.
  45. Every material has some sort of
    history or life that it's lived.
  46. They become ways of telling stories.
  47. --This is a collar from my cap and gown,
    when I graduated from Yale.
  48. When I think about cotton,
    it takes me everywhere.
  49. You think about politics.
  50. You think about social relationships you have.
  51. You think about economics.
  52. Reparations.
  53. It all just unfolds and is laid out.
  54. These pages come from an
    atlas of the Transatlantic slave trade.
  55. It's remarkable that these records
    have been kept for so long
  56. and in such detail.
  57. But it's also indicative of trade and commerce.
  58. You keep track of every single thing,
    every movement,
  59. because there's money
    and there's capital involved.
  60. But these were bodies.
  61. Being a Black person in this current state,
  62. that’s what you're encouraged to do--
    is to move on.
  63. Like, "Ok, there's been time."
  64. "There's been space," right?
  65. It's a false narrative.
  66. But it also is one that you
    feel the pressure from.
  67. That to me is an essential aspect
    of making sculpture.
  68. You have to deal with its materiality.
  69. These works, I think,
    they demand that.
  70. They demand you to confront them,
  71. because they're confronting you.
  72. [DRUMMING]
  73. [DRUMS STOP, SILENCE]
  74. I was searching for a cotton gin.
  75. I had cotton, and I was thinking,
  76. maybe I could make t-shirts,
    or I can make garments.
  77. I went on eBay,
  78. searching for a small hand-held,
    hand-cranked thing,
  79. and the first thing I came across
    was an ad for this large cotton gin motor.
  80. I felt like it was telling me what I needed
    to do.
  81. The cotton gin was invented by
    Eli Whitney in 1794.
  82. What it does is it separates
    the fibers from the seeds,
  83. which was the most time-consuming part
    for slaves.
  84. People thought that it would decrease
    the number of slaves.
  85. But it actually had the opposite effect,
  86. because more land was acquired,
    plantations got larger.
  87. It actually increased the number of slaves.
  88. The cotton gin motor is encased
    in a sound-proof glass chamber,
  89. and primarily came out of this decision
    to be able to experience
  90. and see the motor running,
    and not hear it.
  91. That came out of a conversation
    with the former owner,
  92. where, when I asked him about
    what it sounded like,
  93. he couldn't articulate.
  94. He didn't have the words
    to really describe that sound.
  95. It was really something that
    you had to experience for yourself.
  96. --Okay.
  97. Sound has always been important to me.
  98. It has increasingly become a way
    for me to process the world.
  99. Sound is just as physical and tactile
    as any other material.
  100. [PROCESSED SOUND OF COTTON GIN MOTOR]
  101. [SILENCE]
  102. How do you deliver that physicality,
    or that tactility of something you can't see,
  103. or something that you don't feel
    in a traditional way?
  104. [PROCESSED SOUND OF COTTON GIN MOTOR]
  105. It shakes your insides.
  106. You feel the vibrations.
  107. Do people want to sit and listen to this?
  108. Do they want to take the time to consider
  109. what that sound is,
    and where it is coming from?
  110. I'm interested in people asking
    what their relationship is to this material--
  111. to see a wall of cotton
    that comes from a really specific place,
  112. the American South--
  113. just to think about
    what their relationship is to that,
  114. and how do they feel implicated,
    if at all.
  115. Are we really taking the time to process
    and understand these things?
  116. So I think setting up a scenario
    where people can take the time
  117. is as much as I can really offer.