Sondra Perry: flesh out
Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center
Buffalo, New York
January 20–May 6, 2017
Sondra Perry’s flesh out is a look at blackness through black history, the black present, and an imagined black future. It serves as an intimate sequel to her 2016 exhibition Resident Evil, featured at the interdisciplinary art space The Kitchen in New York City. Blackness isn’t often represented within technological interfaces, as if the “norm” of cis-gendered, straight whiteness even extends to something without race, sexual orientation or gender. Perry seems to actively counter this idea while exploring the harm regularly done to black bodies.
Perry’s netherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr video series, also featured in Resident Evil, captures this sentiment. Seemingly an examination of the Windows operating system crash, the “Blue Screen of Death,” it is interspersed with footage of white men in police training videos, Bill Gates and other white men dancing in celebration at the Windows 95 launch, portraits of black women killed by police and, Mickey Bradford (a black transgender woman and activist) voguing in front of police at a protest in North Carolina.1 Including these videos and images of black women in the midst of both mundane and violent whiteness serves as a form of protest, an immortalizing through technology. Perry refuses to allow blackness and the struggle of black femininity to be erased from past, present, or future.
Soyoung Yoon also points out in her 2017 review of Resident Evil titled “Figure vs. Ground, White vs. Black (Blue)” that the series is “superimposed with references to ‘the blue wall of silence,’ the unwritten code that police officers do not report on each other, via tactics of intimidation, harassment, false testimony, and silence—a fatal system error that is not so much an aberration as a constitutive necessity of the system as such.”2 While the series does explore the violence of the “blue wall,” the fact that both The Kitchen’s and Squeaky Wheel’s gallery walls were made to echo a similar blue coloring for the exhibition also positions the work as an invitation to the viewer to climb into the technology and also become immortal, to transcend a violent past and present.
We see similar themes in Wall 2 (2017) and Ashes for Three Monitor Workstation (2017). The former consists of an entire gallery wall covered by an altered video projection of Perry’s skin, and the latter is a video installation attached to a treadmill that uses the same image of the artist’s skin as a background for her digital avatar.
In a vaguer sense, this can also be seen in Wet and Wavy Looks–Typhon coming on: Fields (2017). This video piece, separated from the rest of the show in Squeaky Wheel’s window space, features a digitally altered image of J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying–Typhoon. It serves as a distorted look into representations of the black past. By manipulating the image to replicate the ripples of skin from Wall 2 and Ashes, Perry makes the piece intimate and attempts to take control of the narrative. The viewer sees this work before they enter the gallery space, setting a tone for what is to come.
flesh out confronts, examines, and criticizes the idea of black resilience through past, present, and future while actively confronting the idea of black life as infinite tragedy. The work shows the abuse of the black body, but provides a counterpoint— an imagined futuristic escape from the heavily criminalized/politicized physical person through technology as literal second skin, through immortalized videos and images of black women in protest and before violence. It presents a vision of the future where freedom of person and representation is finally achieved through technology. At the same time, with video series like netherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whose images and videos of blackness are literally hidden inside of, and between, images of benign and malevolent “white” technology, Perry acknowledges that there may never truly be a way to escape.
AMBER DENNIS is founder and director of the Schoolyard, a feminist curatorial practice and social space whose mission is to make everyone cool with contemporary art. Dennis is also co-creator of Feminista Social Club.
NOTES 1. Terence Trouillot, Sondra Perry’s Resident Evil. BOMB Magazine, 2016. 2. Soyoung Yoon, Figure vs. Ground, White vs. Black (Blue), Squeaky Wheel Film and Media Center, Sondra Perry: flesh out gallery literature, 2017.