This is Freedom, Sam Durant's show at Blum & Poe runs through May 16.Sam Durant's This is Freedom? 2008
Sam Durant’s contribution to last year’s Sydney Biennale was a set of five massive-scale light boxes that reproduced handmade signs and placards from civil rights demonstrations and indigenous people’s protests. The work expands and recontextualizes Sam's earlier light boxes and pencil drawings of photographs to include aboriginal rights demonstrations, which parallel America's indigenous population's tragic history. Mounted outside museums and in public plazas, the glowing boxes appear to be rallying cries that fall on deaf ears. Inside Bum & Poe, Durant’s glowing boxes call to mind the history of artists painting their jumbo-sized take on current events, from the Third of May to the Raft of the Medusa to Guernica.Source Material: Civil Rights Rally, Selma, Alabama 1965
Beyond the formal qualities—light boxes scaled for museological space and pencil drawings scaled for individual collectors—and the context of source material falling under the umbrella of civil rights—there are the messages contained in the protesters' signs, and the demonstrators' vs. the artist's relationship with institutional power.Sam Durant's Illuminated Light Box, 2008 Sydney Biennale
In the recent group show my work was in, there was a photograph of Ferd Eggan, a comrade and past colleague from my days in behavioral psychology. Back then he was a commissioner while I was making a presentation to the LA County HIV Commission, the planning body that apportions funds for prevention, testing, treatment, housing, transportation, and the like. There were about 30 commission members representing various government agencies and the non-profit agencies receiving money. While I was there, a memo from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was read. It stated that the planning body's ethnic mix must closely represent the proportions infected and affected by the disease. At the time, commission members were mostly representative of the first wave of the pandemic: gay white men.Installation View of Drawings at Blum & Poe
After the memo was read, the mostly white group was silent until Ferd spoke. I can't remember his exact words, but he basically said that as a white male, he resigned his position of power, effective immediately, and strongly suggested that all the other white men on the panel do the same. He stood up, went to the audience, and took a seat. Through the rest of the meeting he used the microphone available for public comments to berate the members who talked about "hearing from a more diverse set of voices" while unwilling to make room at the table.
I'm reminded of this episode because the statement on many of Durant's light boxes: "Show some respect," "Ask us what we want," or "End white supremacy," are calls to action; messages that ask for a more equitable position of power. Durant provides these voices with a new context, but keeps his seat at the biennale.