Screens Series | The New Museum 2019
In Here’s Hoping a.k.a. The Blues (2013), Jackson’s alter ego Confuserella describes a fictional world comprised of four colors. During a voiceover paired with claymation sequences and collaged newsreel footage, she explains how the blues—defined broadly as a genre of music, a mood, and a color—persist despite tribulations with the other colors. Borrowing from the conventions of early PBS documentaries and radical children’s television programming, the series details a world similar to our own and peppered with zany sci-fi elements. In the seminal 1994 text “Black to the Future,” musician and writer Greg Tate argued that between the abduction of people from Africa and the horror of American racial violence, “being Black in America is a science fiction experience.” Nodding to Tate’s proposition, American history emerges in the video’s most colorful moments: as clay swirls, Confuserella details a levee break that allowed the blues to flood in. As she outlines how the blues attempted to stamp out all of the other colors, which are now in need of protection, the video cuts to footage of an environmental conservationist arguing for protected land dedicated solely for endangered species.
The blues return in Blue-American Gods (2017). Vibrant pink seeds flit and spin into different formations—almost like synchronized swimmers—roused through stop-motion animation, until blue clay envelops them. These blue cases bearing seeds ramble through the dirt and then lodge themselves deep in the ground. After a time lapse, they burst into flowers. The video features audio of the visionary musician, philosopher, and poet Sun Ra, as well as recordings of Jackson’s grandmother describing her own experience farming in the American South. Jackson learned that her grandparents acquired and then lost three hundred acres of land in Mamou, Louisiana, in the 1950s; this spurred Jackson’s body of work investigating the history of sharecropping and land ownership by black farmers in the United States.
Jackson’s most recent videos on view here—The Future is a Constant Wake (2019) and Its Extended Remnant (2019)—center soil and farm tools as tools to access to knowledge from the past. The opening line of The Future is a Constant Wake speculates on all that could be borne from sustained engagement with the important work of ancestors. Developed in collaboration with choreographer Michael J. Love, the video proposes a somatic way of forging connection with the past through touch and movement. Through this process, Jackson argues “palimpsests of previous systems will be a guide to seeing ourselves released” and move us to “futures that our bodies will inhabit, again.” She reminds us that the English word remember contains the word member, shorthand for a person, animal, plant, or limb that is a part of a complex structure. Etymologically, the Latin roots of remember and member reinscribe a mind-body divide—remember is derived from memor, meaning to be mindful, while member comes from membrum, or body part—a distinction that Jackson makes a powerful case for reworking. Only then, she argues, can the material legacies of the past be fully reckoned with, bringing us to a “point past pain and just upon bliss.”
“Screens Series: Ariel René Jackson” continues the New Museum’s Screens Series, a platform for the presentation of new video works by emerging contemporary artists, and is organized by Sara O’Keeffe, Associate Curator.