‘Situation’ Videos Address Social, Political Attitudes in 'Post-Racial' Relations

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Thursday, February 6, 2020, 4:30 pm
Sarah Spohn

John Lucas and Claudia Rankine, Situation 6 (Stop and Frisk) (video still), 2013. Courtesy the artists.

As part of the Artist Project Series, "John Lucas and Claudia Rankine: Situations" officially celebrates the opening reception at the Broad Museum from 6-8 p.m. Friday. Following the reception, the "Situations" exhibit will remain on display through May 2020.

MSU Broad Assistant Curator Georgia Erger spoke about the exhibition, which focuses on interdisciplinary work and provides artists with a space for exploration in the arts.

“Claudia, a poet, and John, a documentary filmmaker, are both renowned in their individual fields — however, they have been collaboratively producing the ‘Situation’ videos, which they describe as ‘multi-genre responses to contemporary America,’ since 2006.”

Subject matters range from social to political occurrences from recent history, including Hurricane Katrina, to the murder of Trayvon Martin, to stop-and-frisk laws. The videos and narrated scenes speak on “the everyday and institutional racism that frames its impact on individual lives,” according to Erger.

John Lucas and Claudia Rankine, Situation 7 (Making Room) (video still), 2014. Courtesy the artists.

While the videos have been viewed individually, this is the first time they are displayed in a single exhibit.

“This is particularly exciting as it will allow for sustained dialogue between the ‘Situation’ videos, and a consideration of the entire series, as in the words of Claudia and John, ‘a civic response to an archive of images of contemporary life that carries with them the legacy of the afterlife of slavery.’”

Even though the country is defined by some as being in a post-racial relations time period, many of the scenes shown exhibit the tensions and trials many races still face in this nation.

“When President Obama was elected in 2008, many Americans saw this as a sign that we as a country had become ‘post-racial’ — that racial injustice was no longer a major concern,” MSU Broad Director of Communications Morgan Butts said. “Through footage of the public and private experiences of black Americans, the videos expose continued daily and systematic racism, as opposed to the colorblind society we had supposedly achieved through the election of the first African-American president.”

The exhibit is relevant to the entire nation, and Butts is especially proud to bring it to East Lansing, with the filmmakers in attendance for the official opening reception. Future events will also include appearances from the contemplative creatives, including the Broad Underground Film Series partnership with the Capital City Film Festival.

John Lucas and Claudia Rankine, Situation 5 (In memory of Trayvon Martin) (video still), 2012. Courtesy the artists.

Butts said the museum is proud to promote conversations about topics, even tricky ones.

“One of our responsibilities as an art museum is to amplify the voices of artists, and in turn, provide space for people in our community to experience different perspectives and world views,” Butts said. “We’re thinking about this responsibility very explicitly when we’re generating public programming for our exhibitions.”

There is some violent footage included in the exhibit, behind a wall, to ensure visitor consent to experiencing that footage. This is not to say the exhibit is not educational for all ages, however.

“With families in mind, we have a space on the lower level called the Learning Lounge, presented in collaboration with the Youth Social Justice Reading Group at the East Lansing Public Library,” Butts said. “Families can engage with the ways race and bias impact us through conversation, reflection, and play.”

Collection Gallery to feature ‘Visual Citizenship’

Similarly, another conversation-starting exhibit to be on display is titled “Visual Citizenship”. As part of the Collection Gallery, the exhibit will be on display from February 22 to July 19. Gathering prints and photographs (ranging from the 17th century to contemporary), the collection depicts human rights violations, and encourages conversations on the definition of citizenship.

Erger spoke about the exhibit, which expands on the idea of fostering dialogue about important topics, much like those discussed in “Situations”.

“The exhibition poses expansive questions around our understanding citizenship — who defines what it means to be a citizen, and who is excluded from that discussion? We generally identify citizenship as a political status, but visual images allow us to expand citizenship into a more inclusive cultural category of belonging,” Erger said.

The museum is even pulling out some of its more significant holdings of the permanent collection of over 10,000 works — from well-known artists including William Hogarth and Francisco Goya, according to Butts. The images are made even more powerful, given the nation’s current state of affairs in 2020.

“This is also a major election year for us, so this exhibition is being presented at a time when we’re all already thinking a great deal about what it means to be a citizen, and our own civic participation,” Butts said.

“We hope that people consider the viewing of art, and all images for that matter, in a new light. The act of viewing an image isn’t necessarily a passive thing,” Butts said. “When you’re bearing witness to the expression or the experience of others through prints and photographs, you’re consuming cultural information that better informs you about the world you live in. That in itself is an act of civic participation.”

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