American Artist Lecture Series: Glenn Ligon

Art in Embassies and TATE Modern are pleased to announce the next lecturer in the American Artist Lecture Series. Glenn Ligon will be the sixth speaker in the American Artist Lecture Series, a partnership between Art in Embassies, Tate Modern and US Embassy London. One of America’s leading contemporary artists, he is perhaps best known for his now landmark series of paintings in which texts are written in black against white backgrounds. Ligon continues to explore subjects of race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity in his work while crossing borders of media from painting, drawing, print, photography, film or sculptural installations to his iconic neon reliefs. Throughout his career, he has doggedly offered sharp and perceptive examinations of American history, culture, identity, literature, and society.

Full Transcript

0:10DYER: Great. Good evening, everyone, welcome to Tate Modern. My name is Sonya Dyer and
0:15I’m one of a team of Public Programs curators working across the Tate and it gives me great
0:20pleasure to present tonight’s event, which is the 6th in the American Artist Lecture
0:24series, featuring Glenn Ligon. Previous discussions in this series have featured Brice Marden,
0:31Maya Lin, Richard Tuttle, Spencer Finch and Julie Mehretu. The series is a collaboration
0:37between Art in Embassies, the U.S. Embassy in London and Tate and it seeks to bring the
0:43greatest living modern artists, American artists, to the U.K.
0:49Before we begin, just a few acknowledgements to thank the people who made tonight possible.
0:53Firstly we would like to thank Matthew Barzun, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom,
0:58and his wife Brooke Barzun. Thanks to Virginia Shore, Chief Curator at the U.S. Department
1:04of State, Office of Art in Embassies. And to curator Welmoed Laanstra, from Art in Embassies.
1:10The series was initiated by Marjorie Susman, the wife of the former U.S. Ambassador to
1:15the U.K., Louis B. Susman. Now I’m sure we are all familiar with Glenn
1:21Ligon’s work. He’s one of America’s leading contemporary artists, perhaps best
1:25known for his now landmark series of paintings in which texts were written in black against
1:30white backgrounds . Ligon continues to explore subjects of race, language, desire, sexuality,
1:36identity in his work, whilst also utilizing a broad range of media from painting, drawing,
1:42print, photography, film and sculpture installations, including his iconic neon reliefs.
1:49Ligon’s work is characterized by a sharp examination of American history, capturing
1:55its complex, ever-changing identity. He has also curated and features in the exhibition,
2:02Encounters and Collisions, currently at Nottingham Contemporary and soon to transfer to Tate
2:07Liverpool, opening on the 30th of June. And if you get the opportunity to go to Nottingham
2:12or to Liverpool, I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful show, incredibly intelligently
2:17and sympathetically curated, with a brilliant catalogue.
2:21So tonight’s format is a conversation between Glenn Ligon and leading fashion designer,
2:27curator and his great friend, Duro Olowu, followed by questions from the audience. We
2:33are recording tonight, so we ask that, when it comes to the Q&A section, if you could
2:37wait for the microphone to reach you, that will allow us to record your questions as
2:41well as any answers. Otherwise it’s a bit strange in the recording. We are expecting
2:46to have quite a busy house tonight so you may need to as we move along, get closer together
2:51so we can get a few more people in. But I think that’s it for now. It gives me great
2:56pleasure to hand over to Virginia Shore, who will continue with the introductions, thank
3:02you. SHORE: Thank you, Sonya. Hi, my name is Virginia
3:10Shore, I’m the Chief Curator at Art in Embassies, which is a program within the United States
3:16Department of State. I want to thank everybody for coming tonight and thank the Tate, because
3:24this is our sixth our sixth in the lecture series which was supposed to be our final,
3:30but we’re already working on what the next few lectures are going to be so we’re going
3:36to extend the series. It’s been really incredible, working with the Tate and working with Marco
3:40and Anna and everybody here, so, thank you. I also
3:45wanted to say thank you to Brooke Barzun who’s been an incredible supporter of Art in Embassies
3:50and also helped us make realize this project. A quick soundbite about Art in Embassies,
3:57just to give you some sense. Our program began in the 60s, actually it began in the 50s with
4:03the Museum of Modern Art and in the 60s JFK made it a State Department Program. But what
4:09we really want to focus on is the evolution of our program and the last decade. In the
4:14last decade what we’ve been able to do is go from a loaned program of American art for
4:20all the ambassadors’ residences to a program about cross-cultural exchange.
4:26So our program now, we work we’re on a major building campaign after bombings in north
4:34Africa, we are rebuilding a significant number of our embassies and consulates and with every
4:39one of those new buildings, we now oversee a percentage of the building costs and those
4:45that money goes toward art. And what we are able to do is expand the mission of the program,
4:51not just to be about American art but to be about art from the host country as well as
4:56American art. So we’ve become a program about cross-cultural exchange and promoting
5:02artists from the host country as well as America. And I and you may have seen the construction
5:09going on in Battersea but in the next two years we’re, speaking about being in London,
5:14we’re going to have a new embassy opening here in two years so we are right now in the
5:19midst of working with some incredible artists from the U.K. as well as the United States
5:26and we have a lot more work to do, but in the next few years you’ll see some of your
5:31artists, as well as American, grace the walls and become basically the face of our embassy.
5:41The only other thing I wanted to say is we believe in the great quote, great civilizations
5:49are remembered for their cultural legacies. And that’s what we’re dedicated to doing.
5:54So on that note, what we’ve all come here for tonight, Glenn Ligon, a great partner
6:00to Art in Embassies, thank you, and Duro Olowu, thank you so much, look forward to hearing
6:06your talk. (audience applause)
6:09OLOWU: Hi, uh (laughs) Good evening everyone, it’s great to be here.
6:16LIGON: Thank you for doing this, Duro— OLOWU: No, I—
6:21LIGON: So above and beyond— OLOWU: Yes, but money will do anything.
6:26LIGON: (laughs) OLOWU: I know we’ve talked about an introduction,
6:30Glenn’s body of work, but I think it’s important to say once again that his work
6:36is represented in some of the world’s best museum collections—the Tate Modern, MoMA,
6:41Pompidou, the Whitney, and you know his retrospective in 2011 at the Whitney, traveled to LACMA.
6:51He has, his recent show is the curatorial show at the Nottingham Contemporary but he
6:57had a wonderful show at Camden Arts last year. So without further ado, I’m going to start
7:06asking Glenn questions about a bit about his work,
7:09background of his work over the last two decades but also about something which is very dear
7:15to me and which I discovered is very dear to him, which is fabrics and things that inspire
7:20him. So with, Glenn can you tell us about your artistic practice over the last two decades?
7:27LIGON: Well, we have this image of a coal-dust painting which uses a text by James Baldwin
7:33so many people might be familiar with this body of work. And I would say basically my
7:39work for the last … oh my god, I’m so old (laughs) I was just thinking, last twenty
7:46years but I have to add a ten to that, last thirty years or so, has been sort of a text
7:53based practice, in a variety of medium—painting, neon, prints, some film work—but all sort
8:04of centered around text in some way or the other.
8:09So this was an important series to me because, one because of Baldwin and his writings but
8:15two it was sort of a, it’s been an ongoing investigation. There’s these, this series
8:20of paintings that’s continued for a number of years so and it’s led to other ways of
8:27thinking about text. So maybe if we could have the next
8:30OLOWU: Next image, thank you. This is this is from the Come Out series.
8:36LIGON: Come Out series, exactly. And this actually had a sort of strange genesis. I
8:44was working with a group of students from the University of Pennsylvania who were doing
8:48a course, a curatorial course and the curatorial course is organized around picking one artist
8:54and studying their work and doing an exhibition at the ICA Philadelphia. And they approached
9:00me to do this and I though oh, okay, sure, but what are you going to talk about for the
9:05whole semester but (laughs) they somehow thought there was enough to talk about for a whole
9:09semester. And they did a studio visit and you know that
9:13sort of lull at the end of a studio visit where you’re kind of like not sure what
9:18to ask anymore and someone asks, well, what are you listening to? And I said, oh, I’ve
9:22been really thinking about Steve Reich again and I’ve been listening to his composition
9:27for 1966 called Come Out. OLOWU: Can you explain that, who is Steve
9:31Reich? LIGON: Yeah. Steve Reich, minimalist composer,
9:33though he hates that word, very very influential, sort of contemporary of Philip Glass, but
9:41fantastic composer. And in the early 60s he starts working with taped speech, so there’s
9:51a very famous song he did I think maybe in ’65 or ’64 called It’s Gonna Rain where
9:58he’s done a field recording, he’s recorded a black preacher on the streets of San Francisco
10:04and takes that recording and loops it so it creates this incredible kind of, almost like
10:11drumming, except with just his voice. So, in ’66, he’s asked to do a composition
10:19for a benefit concert, and the benefit is for a group of teenagers who are called the
10:26Harlem 6 who, in 1964 in Harlem were basically rounded up by the police, accused of a murder
10:34of a shopkeeper in Harlem, taken to the police station, beaten, held without access to lawyers,
10:43etcetera. And it becomes a very well-known case, lot of interest from the civil rights
10:49community around this case, James Baldwin in 1966 writes an essay called A Report From
10:58An Occupied Territory, it’s based on this case.
11:01So a benefit concert is organized for these kids, for their legal defense fund and Steve
11:06Reich is asked to do a song for this concert. And you know Steven Reich at that point doesn’t
11:13do songs, you know? (laughs) But he becomes very interested in the testimony from these
11:20six kids and there is a taped testimony, each of these kids has sort of told their story.
11:27And so Steve Reich listens to this testimony and he focuses in one particular kid, Daniel
11:33Hamm, who says, when he was in the police station he was he had been beaten, but he
11:38wasn’t bleeding so they wouldn’t take him to the hospital because he wasn’t obviously
11:43injured. So Daniel Hamm says in this testimony, I had to open the bruise up and let some of
11:49the bruise blood come out to show them that I had been beaten by the police.
11:53And Reich focuses on that little fragment of his testimony—I had to open the bruise
11:58up—but particularly he focused on “come out to show them”. And he puts those that
12:04“come out to show them” on two tape loops and sort of lets them run simultaneously but
12:09you know they’re running on tape recorders, it’s analog, and the tape recorders run
12:16at slightly different speeds. And the sound sort of goes out of sync, it starts in sync
12:23and then goes out of sync. And then he doubles that so there are four voices going and he
12:30doubles that and there are eight, so and because all the voices are going out of sync, this
12:35very clear sentence, “come out to show them, come out to show them” that’s being repeated,
12:40starts to overlap and turned into a kind of abstraction.
12:43So! A long explanation just to say, when these students asked me what I was listening to,
12:49I said that I was listening to this. And most of them hadn’t heard it before, so I played
12:53it for them. And then when I was thinking about it, I thought, oh this is so interesting,
12:57this is a voice from a particular sort of charged moment in American history, picture
13:05a moment sort of in our social history, political history, African-American voice, taken by
13:14repetition to abstraction. That’s my work. OLOWU: Yeah.
13:17LIGON: All my early paintings are about that. But it had never occurred to me to use a composition
13:24like that as the basis of work. And so that sort of launched that ship. So basically I
13:31decided to do these as silk screens, instead of using oil stick and coal dust which was
13:36the earlier painting. And just making silkscreens and doing a very simple thing where I take
13:42text and use one silkscreen that has justified text, margins are even on both sides, and
13:48one silkscreen that had left justified text so margins are ragged on one side and just
13:54screening them over top of one another and then by that kind of process of screening
13:59over and over again and misregistering and maybe we could have the next painting?
14:04OLOWU: Yes, could we have the next painting—this is, if I may point out, one of these works
14:08is actually part of the recent Tate acquisition. LIGON: The work on the right—
14:11OLOWU: Right. LIGON: But this was a view of the show at
14:14Thomas Dane Gallery, here in London, it was the first iteration of these paintings. And
14:22they’re twenty feet long and … so there’s a lot of things going on in these paintings.
14:26One, is the idea of using this repetition this silkscreen moving away in some ways from
14:32handmade, oil-stick paintings which I had been doing. The other was the size of, these
14:40were the biggest paintings I had made and it was really important to me in terms of
14:44the size to sort of surround, you know, in a weird way like the wall of sound, I was
14:51thinking about this sort of term from you know music produced, you know this sort of
14:56wave of sound that comes over you and fills a space. I was thinking about that, but also
15:02thinking about how do you talk about repetition and duration and sort of point to music—part
15:13of that is the scale of these paintings, you know.
15:18And so the one in the back is very very dense and it’s just been silkscreened many many
15:22times and so it goes to black. Maybe we could have the next—
15:25OLOWU: The close up. LIGUN: And this is a close up of the surface
15:29of one of paintings. And you can see that it’s a very handmade process, it’s, silkscreen
15:35is sort of semi-mechanical but you know I was there when all these paintings were made.
15:40This one actually was very funny because they misregistered the screens so that’s why
15:45it’s not quite straight, you know, if you see those two lines that don’t quite match
15:49up. And they’re like, oh, that’s a mistake but on the next pass we can fix that, cover
15:54that over and you won’t see it. And I thought, mm, like the mistake, you know? So a lot of
15:59my process is about sort of going with the mistake of something, and that was interesting
16:05to think about in relationship to Steve Reich because when he first started using these
16:11sort of taped speech things, realizing that the machines would go out of sync was a mistake.
16:19OLOWU: But it worked. LIGUN: But he understood it as something that
16:22could generate some really interesting possibilities. Could we have the next?
16:27OLOWU: Could I just ask, what do you think that this new process has lent to the visual
16:34density of your work, which I think has changed? LIGUN: Well you know what’s interesting
16:38about it is that density in my work was always about impasto about building up layers. And
16:44this is about building up layers too, except that these are very flat surfaces. So the
16:49building up of layers that happens is by the density of layering the silkscreen ink you
16:55know, image, text, over one another. But the surfaces the surfaces are quite flat you know.
17:04And it was a kind of a revelation to me to think about you know kind of visual density
17:13in that way, where it wasn’t about the sort of you know impasto of the surface, about
17:19the building up. And the impasto of the surface of the coal dust paintings was about using
17:23Baldwin’s text and you know the density of his words and having a kind of correspondence
17:30between the density of the text and the density of his sort of speaking style, writing, so.
17:35And this felt like it needed to be, at first I started actually thinking about these as
17:42coal dust paintings or oil stick paintings, and then I realized, no, it has to be a more
17:46mechanical process. And silkscreen is kind of old, you know, it’s kind of like digital
17:52has replaced it for a lot of people. So this is kind of old tech—
17:55OLOWU: Old school! LIGON: It’s old school, exactly, it’s
17:58artisanal. OLOWU: Is this an installation shot from Camden?
18:00LIGON: This is an installation shot from Camden Arts Centre show, so there were two big paintings.
18:04And this is a bigger painting, it’s made of four parts and it’s forty-eight feet
18:09tall by forty feet long. And you can see in the image there, there are things that happen
18:16across length of the painting because they were moving the screens around so on the right
18:25side of the image has this sort of moiré in it, sort of those dots are kind of this
18:30moiré. But when I looked at it I thought, it’s you know thinking about the Come Out,
18:37the original composition, I’m thinking that slipped between where he says bruise blood,
18:45I was thinking I was looking at these dots and thinking, oh, it’s almost like this
18:49sort of weird visualization of the idea of bruise but it sort of is really more simply
18:53a moiré pattern that’s set up by overlapping the—
18:56OLOWU: Well the other visual effect which at least which I the viewer notices is the
19:01real density of pattern coming through the painting.
19:04LIGON: Right. OLOWU: Which is interesting for me. And could
19:08you just explain if that was conscious or… LIGON: Well, that, you know, I think there’s
19:14always, like I said, we have there’s many areas of overlap but one of the areas of overlap
19:20is our interest in fabrics. You’re a scholar of fabrics and I am not, I just look—
19:27OLOWU: I wouldn’t say that… LIGON: No, I would say that, I, you know,
19:29I always get schooled when— OLOWU: Moving along!
19:32LIGON: (laughs) Moving along! But you know but I’m really interested in the kind of
19:37density that you can get in a flat textile. I’m interested in color cause very often
19:46most of my work does not use color and I’m always inspired by and thinking about color
19:51in these in the fabrics. I’m thinking about symbolism, particularly when you’re looking
19:57at African fabrics and how the abstraction is symbolic, you know? Because I always feel
20:05like I don’t make abstract paintings, I make paintings that have text that go towards
20:10abstraction. OLOWU: But more anti-twentieth, mid-twentieth,
20:12early to mid-twentieth century— LIGON: Right. But also this kind of repetition,
20:19too, pattern, fabric patterns are about a kind of repetition and a lot of my work is
20:24about a kind of repetition. Maybe we have the next I don’t remember what’s up.
20:29OLOWU: And it’s interesting because in using silkscreens to make a pattern, you do have
20:35to get to this point where there’s a repeat, an invisible repeat—
20:38LIGON: Right. OLOWU: So in your case the repeat is very
20:42visual, it’s obvious, but that’s part of the visual impact you want. This is a,
20:46you’re about textile, indigo textile. All with significant patterns on it, patters that
20:52signify various things. And it’s about early twentieth century indigo from (unintelligible)
20:59that really mastered the art of this textile and it’s interesting because of Japanese
21:06comparison but because it’s very interesting how that works. Could you tell us what you
21:11found useful or inspiring in a textile like this?
21:15LIGON: Well, first that it’s, it’s handmade, you know, and there’s an embrace of difference,
21:23you know. There are motifs that repeat in there, certainly, like that sort of sun/starburst
21:27but each panel is different. And that’s kind of the way I work too, you know, even
21:33when I’m working with silkscreen. It’s the same screen but the pressure changes when
21:39you’re printing it, it misregisters so each, you know, you can see every two-by-four-foot
21:47silkscreen panel, but the one next to it is going to be different, you know. And I sort
21:52of embrace that kind of difference in the work, how it makes it visually exciting. And
21:56also I just love the way there’s a grid, but it’s funky, you know, it doesn’t quite
22:01all line up. And that kind of embracing sort of, of the imperfect, the accidental, the
22:08improvisational. Yeah, exactly. OLOWU: Can we see the next image?
22:11LIGON: Yeah, the next? OLOWU: That’s another one.
22:13LIGON: Yeah. OLOWU: And maybe the next image? There’s
22:16a variation. This is woven, the other one is more, it’s printed and hand blocked.
22:23This is woven asoke fabric, (unintelligible,) silk and cotton, mid-twentieth. The thing
22:32about this fabric is it’s actually woven by hand usually by women on a very narrow
22:38loom, and then the strips are later sewn together by hand. Did that process, were you aware
22:44of this and did that sort of— LIGON: That, you know, that’s what I was
22:46thinking of in terms of the Come Out paintings, originally I was going to do this. You know,
22:51like literally make two-by-four foot sections, strips, and then put them together. And I
22:58thought, that was too hard, in a way, just technically. I couldn’t figure out quite
23:06how to do it. But also, I thought, well, Steve Reich is about these taking two voices and
23:16doubling doubling so these paintings that I was making that have these sort of four
23:20rows of the text were kind of like this idea. So they’re four strips, but they get joined
23:27together. But yeah I was looking very carefully at these. So there’s other work coming,
23:35that’s you know sort of trying to develop this idea—
23:38OLOWU: Develop this idea. But the other thing is, sorry if I’m butting in, but the other
23:42thing is, most of these textiles were made to be worn.
23:46LIGON: Right. OLOWU: So you get an element of movement in
23:48real life or in contemporary life or even at the time. You are creating canvases that
23:58are static and contained. How do you achieve the same sort of layered jacquard effect and
24:04get that contained movement in your canvases? LIGON: Well…I’m flattered that you say
24:11that (laughs) OLOWU: Why are you flattered, it’s true?
24:14LIGON: Okay. Well, it’s not something that I was thinking about consciously because the
24:18way… often the way that I saw these fabrics were flat as textiles, or museum displays.
24:25You wouldn’t see them necessarily as clothing, worn, exactly. But it was really interesting
24:33to me in terms of you know we talked before about imperfections, that sort of gives a
24:39sense of movement in these silkscreens from me.
24:42OLOWU: May we see some others, that are just. Again, this ewey(?) fabric, Cameroon, this
24:49is probably late 50s. Again you see the inconsistencies, and there’s another one that’s after this,
24:56which is more gridded but again that sort of perfect imperfection.
25:01LIGON: What I loved in this fabric is the color choices create this pattern but they’re
25:10not… you can’t figure out a system. It really feels like—
25:15OLOWU: Instinct. LIGON: Yeah. It’s instinct. But how do you
25:18sustain that over—this is a very large textile, you know, and so the genius of putting these
25:24strips together to create this overall sense of it’s one piece of fabric is kind of amazing
25:30to me, it’s something that I was thinking about in terms of making the paintings.
25:33OLOWU: Do you think it has to do with the reason for creating this fabric, do you think
25:37that adds to the intensity of the work and the artisanal skills involved. I mean this
25:43could be (French) or an English tapestry, it is of that quality. But most of these things
25:50were made for a reason—ceremonial or to signify something. How does that play into
25:56your work? Obviously we know the background to your painting, that you talk about, but
26:00is that always a consideration? LIGON: Not in a strict sense. I know what
26:05you mean in terms of like different fabrics had different functions, you know, a certain
26:11fabric was made for as you say a ceremonial function, a certain fabric was more every
26:16day, you know, there are different traditions depending on the country. So I was looking
26:20at that and I don’t know if I could necessarily have a direct translation between that intentionality
26:28and the paintings, but maybe as the work goes on. You know, maybe as, you know because I
26:36think the work that’s coming engages more directly with these fabrics. I’m not sure
26:42exactly how yet, you know, but it’s percolating. OLOWU: Does it does it allow for patience?
26:47Does it, is it necessary to be a patient artist when you’re working? When you’re thinking
26:52about these things and executing the work? LIGON: Well, yeah because I think for me,
26:58I’ve been looking at, thinking about African fabrics for a long time but the work didn’t—nobody
27:04looking at my work would think that, you know. And so it’s just about letting something
27:09percolate for as long as it needs to percolate. When the Steve Reich came along, I thought,
27:15oh this is a, a sort of strange, tangential way to sort of get into this more deeply but
27:21you know if you think about Reich, his interest in African drumming, he studied in Africa,
27:27there’s that but also the sort of notion of patterning in music in general. You know?
27:31OLOWU: So classical and… LIGON: So that’s a kind of correspondence
27:34between the textiles, you know. OLOWU: Can we see the next? Please. This,
27:39I know you love this image because we have again the interesting thing we discussed is
27:45that a lot of these woven textiles, a lot of these things that Glenn has reference or
27:51even used as inspiration are executed by women. Which is a very interesting thing to be because
27:59… is it something you can explain? These are the women, the Soninke women who are in
28:07Mauritania and Gambia and they are the ones that paint the houses and they also if we
28:12see the next image, they completely paint the indoors of their homes completely. And
28:18so the men build the houses and then leave. And there’s this idea that you’re not
28:22only surrounded, you don’t only see pattern on the outside, you live within pattern which
28:28is, I’m all for. (laughs)
28:31OLOWU: But in the context of your work, was that surround effect like sound again?
28:37LIGON: Right, certainly, I mean this is a fantastic image because you know imagine these
28:41are sound waves you know and you’re surrounded by this kind of visualization of sound. And
28:47that’s one of the things I was certainly thinking about in terms of the Reich. But
28:52also I think, look at how beautifully painted these are and sort of there’s a gap, there’s
29:00a doorway, but that pattern continues in such a beautiful way—
29:04OLOWU: The repeat. LIGON: Across that and so it’s super inspiring
29:08to see something like this and also sparks some ideas. But this, you know, the notion
29:14sort of this kind of surround I think has a relationship to your curatorial practice,
29:23you’ve curated two shows, can we have the next image?
29:26OLOWU: This is—okay, this is unexpected, I thought we were going to (unintelligible).
29:32LIGON: Oh, no. One, the first one was called material was in the gallery in New York and
29:39this sort of notion of the surround, of bringing all these things together, having a wallpaper,
29:45having a (unintelligible), a statue, photo crafts, contemporary painting, sculpture,
29:52Sterling Ruby, Kathy Bernhardt, you know, so maybe you could talk about surround, in
29:57terms of like thinking about curatorial. OLOWU: Well again for me it’s more to do
30:01with…I like things. You know, I’m a bit of a magpie. So (laughs) it’s more about
30:07just trying to get people to see what goes on in my head. And for you, what I think would
30:13be interesting to know is, how does—for me it’s easier to translate this into my
30:17work, you know. For you, because it can be a sort of—
30:21LIGON: You’re being modest. (laughs) OLOWU: Oh but it’s! Well, that’s what
30:24I do. It’s a collage of inspiration. But this idea of surround, if we could go to the
30:31next image, is very interesting. This is an Anni Albers, Anni Albers part of the Bauhaus
30:37movement which is another thing we both talk about a lot, etc. Which has links, you know,
30:43visually and aesthetically in certain ways to the African
30:46textiles and obviously other people were looking at other things and I think during that period
30:52people were a lot more open to that. That strictness of the Bauhaus, though, contrasts
30:56with the fluidity of some of the other fabrics we saw—what, which would you rather achieve?
31:03LIGON: (laughs) Well, I think a bit of both. I’m working within the tradition of painting
31:12that has some of its roots in this kind of material, thinking about it, but I’m also
31:18quite interested in like you know, other traditions, that sort of… and mixing them together.
31:24You know, that’s why I wanted to show an image of the curatorial projects you did because
31:30I’m always very inspired when I saw that show and the show you curated after that by
31:35your ability to mix together, not only in the curatorial work but in your clothing things
31:41from very different, supposedly disparate, you know traditions. And so to, and it was
31:49sort of a revelation and it was part of the inspiration for the show I did at Nottingham.
31:56Because I think, you know, you as a designer, me as an artist, we have a kind of you know
32:00virtual museum in our heads. Where things are very close together—
32:06OLOWU: Or in our homes, Glenn. LIGON: Or in our homes, where things are very
32:10close together. You know, but how do you manifest that? And I think you manifest that in the
32:18clothing but also in the curatorial projects. And my show at Nottingham…
32:21OLOWU: Manifests that. LIGON: Manifested that in the museum space.
32:25OLOWU: Having said that, though, with clothing like I said earlier, the movement aspect layer
32:29helps a lot. Can we just see the next images please? This is Gee’s Bend, quilts from
32:36Alabama, this is probably 1930s. Which again is something you were looking at.
32:42LIGON: Right, a whole group of, still going, of quilters in a very rural poor community
32:49in Alabama. So these are practical objects, you know, they were, you know—
32:54OLOWU: Scraps. LIGON: Scraps. But what a feast of scraps,
32:57in a way, like just thinking compositionally, about how these things are put together. And
33:04these are not people that were looking at contemporary art, they weren’t looking at
33:08they’re not going to museums they’re not looking at abstraction, you know, so they’re
33:11fantastic images when you see sort of older photographs of 70s of people going to Gee’s
33:18Bend and looking at these quilts and they’re hanging on clotheslines, they were used, you
33:22know. But it’s kind of like the best, you know—
33:25OLOWU: Compositionally. LIGON: Yeah, the most amazing compositions…
33:28OLOWU: Colors. LIGON: …And I know these were things that
33:34you were looking at, things I’ve certainly looked at, can we have the next—
33:38OLOWU: Yeah, can we have the next… we’re only using this to, Glenn, to illustrate the
33:45collage aspect, because in the earlier ones we, in the earlier images we’re really talking
33:51about the woven aspect and with my work, I do a lot of collaging of fabrics. Some of
33:56my prints, some old antique prints, mixed, European and (unintelligible) fabrics, etc.
34:02Could we go to the next image please? This is another Gee’s Bend, which you like,
34:07which you’re very fond of. LIGON: Because of those big elements, you
34:12know. Those repeating squares. But then they’re all off-center, they’re all unique, you
34:16know. This incredible kind of sense of improvisation to it. We haven’t talked about music and
34:21I mean we could have organized this—I know, that’s another talk, so next year when I’m
34:26back doing American lectures for the Tate part two—
34:30(laughter) LIGON: We can talk and we can just focus on
34:33music. OLOWU: But there’s a musical element to
34:35this. LIGON: Right, right. Could we have the next?
34:39Another one of Duro’s creation and its sort of mix of fabrics. And material. The second
34:47show that Duro did in New York. And again, a big influence on the project I did in Nottingham
34:54in terms of like bringing together all of one’s influences in the same space, so,
35:01you know, Nick Cave sounds to one of your capes on the right. Photography, Lori Simmons.
35:09OLOWU: Cindy Sherman, I think. But again, from my point of view, I felt freer to do
35:18this because I’m a designer so no one could accuse me of curating of placing things so
35:25close together or doing it wrongly. Was there that element of not fear, but were you cautious
35:31in your first curatorial debut? LIGON: Well I think in some ways yes, one
35:38does have a responsibility to the work, but in some ways I think I had to get over my
35:46inhibitions about how you know how these things fit in history and they’re and sort of talk
35:55about the show more in terms of how these things fit together in my head. So you know
36:00my idealized version of the show at Nottingham would literally be, all the work was touching
36:05because that’s what they feel like in my head! David Hammonds is juxtaposed with—
36:10OLOWU: Bruce Nauman… LIGON: Bruce Nauman who’s juxtaposed with
36:14Boetti and these things sort of you know the title of the show is Encounters and Collisions
36:21so it’s about this kind of butting heads you know, and so it would have been fantastic
36:27to literalize that, not possible in a museum setting, you know, because of various you
36:32know lenders and things (laughs) that just won’t let you put their things next to other
36:37things. (both laugh)
36:39OLOWU: Oh yeah. Which leads us nicely into what I think is an amazing show, really, I
36:46mean, it’s super. If anyone hasn’t seen this show at Nottingham, you really should.
36:51It’s a real feast for the eyes and for the soul. It is a very humble, I think, as an
36:58artist of your stature, a very humbling experience because you respect the work of these great
37:04artists, some of your work is in this show, sitting alongside a lot of these great artists—Boetti,
37:09Warhol, Beauford Delaney, Nauman, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye—I mean, people who would normally
37:17never be curated together… LIGON: And that’s one of the things, you
37:21know, this Boetti tapestry is the title of the show, Encounters and Collisions, and Boetti
37:29I think was an important figure for me there was a fantastic show here at the Tate, I think
37:32a— OLOWU: A couple of years ago. Amazing show.
37:34LIGON: A few years ago that Mark Offrey did, but Boetti was really interesting to me because
37:39he set up systems and then let people operate in those systems so there was always this
37:44kind of sense of like chance things could happen. The weavers who did these could choose
37:50the color. You know when, could we have the next image? So, the Boetti map there, the
37:57story, unless I’m getting it wrong, is that the weavers who did that map had never really
38:03thought about had never seen had never thought about the color of the sea? They had pink
38:09fed, so they used pink. OLOWU: And can we show where this was all
38:13done? It was done in Kabul, which Boetti, which Alighiero e Boetti would visit, he even
38:16had a hotel there at one point, at one point, and he would literally allow the weavers to
38:23he would guide he would show the outline, but they would be allowed to choose a lot
38:27of LIGON: So Boetti was important because of
38:29the show but in terms of sort of the notion of like you go some place you have an idea
38:33for something and then you collaborate on something, so things come together and they
38:38come together in unexpected ways. And so the show was really about saying, okay, these
38:44are all the influences I’ve had, looking at this room there’s a Cady Noland on the
38:50floor, can we have—can we go back, sorry, once? Cady Noland on the floor, a piece that’s
38:56based on … what’s her name, Patty Hearst? There’s a Richard Serra drawing, there’s
39:04Felix Gonzales-Torre, Candy Spill USA Today, the Boetti map, On Kawara. Could we have the
39:11next one? And then just going … Could we get the next one? Thanks. And then
39:16sort of going around the room, a David Hammonds body print, could we have the next image?
39:22And then, my America neon from the Tate, Joseph Beuys I Like America, America Likes Me on
39:30the monitor with the poster that was done in ’74 for that piece. So it was about sort
39:36of like putting all these things that are in my head together, together in the physical
39:41space. But we had to organize them around categories to make them make sense in some
39:46way for the viewer so it wasn’t just a nice group show with all these things in it that
39:52had no sort of underlying logic. OLOWU: And how… can we see the next image
39:59because I think it’s important. How for example do you think a lot of these… there’s
40:04a certain harmony in the rooms, which is very hard to achieve when you have such disparate
40:09work. How did you achieve that? This is one of your early door paintings and a Robert
40:14Morris… LIGON: Right, a Robert Morris, the felt piece,
40:17and a Robert Gober, the little drain piece in the wall. And leading into a room with
40:23Steve McQueen’s Bear. You know, honestly, I made a model in my studio of the exhibition
40:29spaces at Nottingham, I made scale models of all the loans that we had for the show
40:36and I placed them all very carefully in the spaces, trying to. And when I got there, I
40:41thought, well that doesn’t work, that doesn’t work, this doesn’t work, this doesn’t
40:45work. And so I really kind of had to find the rooms, you know? In a way that’s frustrating
40:52because you just, you had this sort of set of this is all going to work and then you
40:56realize, no, that’s interesting actually because things can be in different dialogues.
41:01Can we have the next image? So this is, I don’t know if this is a dialogue
41:06that was originally in the model but I thought it was an interesting to put this late Pollock
41:12next to the Morris next to Gober’s drain next to this text painting. Part of, you know,
41:20part of these juxtapositions are visual and part of them are formal in some ways but part
41:24of them are content-wise, you know, but I don’t, you know, I don’t know if as you
41:30said, these things would be in proximity, you know.
41:33OLOWU: But was there, were you cautious about, or respectful about what you placed next to
41:37each other? LIGON: Yes, I mean, there are certain kinds
41:40of readings of work that I didn’t want to, you know, over-determine by the kinds of juxtapositions,
41:46could we have the next… that’s a closeup of the …
41:49OLOWU: The door painting LIGON: The door painting. Could we have the
41:52next? For instance this piece is called Condition Report and it is a painting based on an image
42:03of a painting based on signs carried by striking sanitation workers in Memphis in ’68—
42:07OLOWU: So this is one of your pieces. LIGON: This is one of my pieces so I based
42:12the painting on a sign being carried by these striking sanitation workers and then I commissioned
42:19a friend who’s a conservator to do a condition report on the painting. So all those marks
42:24of you know smudges and fingerprints and cracks and stuff are his condition report on the
42:31condition of the this painting but by extension I think condition of our ideas about masculinity,
42:39about the Civil Rights movement or you know history, etc.
42:45Normally it would make sense, you know, there’s a part of the show that deals with, has images
42:51of Civil Rights protests and also images produced of and by the Black Panthers. This piece should
42:59seemingly go there. But, could we have the next slide? But I decided no, actually, this,
43:06let’s put this piece in juxtaposition with three artists—Lorna Simpson ,Lynette, Zoe
43:12Loenard… OLOWU: Lynette Yiadom…
43:14LIGON: Yes. OLOWU: Can I just say, is that, that was purchased,
43:19that’s a Tate purchase, the Lorna Simpson images.
43:22LIGON: Yes, it’s a piece called Photo Booth. Right. Zoe Leonard images from the early 90s
43:29of fashion shoots and then Lynette’s painting. And so the I Am A Man painting is there and
43:37so it gets read in sort of this meditation on masculinity in the space of these various
43:44mediations on sort of you know Lorna Simpson’s Photo Booth piece is mostly I think almost
43:50exclusively images of men. Zoe is… OLOWU: Black models, sort of 70’s…
43:55LIGON: Black models, yeah. And then Lynette, this sort of, I’m obsessed with this painting
44:03(laughs) OLOWU: She knows, Glenn.
44:05LIGON: Yeah. (both laugh)
44:06OLOWU: But it’s an interesting painting because of the fragility of the male pose,
44:11you know, it’s not a typical pose. Even with the old masters, that’s not a typical
44:16pose in that painting so. LIGON: Right right right. So, in terms of
44:20you know, I was willing to let my work read differently because of this kind of juxtaposition
44:25and it was kind of exciting for me to think about, you know, to sort of. Could we have
44:30the next maybe? This is another coal dust painting that’s in a room with … could
44:35we have the next? OLOWU: That’s beautiful.
44:39LIGON: A Boetti in the vitrine, a De Kooning, Valentine, the coal dust painting, a Jasper
44:52Johns painting with two balls, Bob Gober, newspaper stack, Nauman Flesh to White to
45:01Black, I’m probably getting the title wrong, Franz Klein from the Tate’s collection,
45:08and then on the side, two paintings by Beauford Delaney. Now this is a kind of an interesting
45:13room. Franz Klein was a huge influence on me when I was a younger painter, you know,
45:18as all were, as all the abstract expressionists were, so that’s why I wanted Pollock, Klein,
45:23De Kooning, fantastic loans to get. Could we have the next maybe?
45:28But I also wanted to think about that work in relationship to someone like on the right,
45:36Beauford Delaney, who’s working in the mid-50s moved from, he’s an American painter, not
45:43as well-known as he should be, but I think will be better known, black American painter,
45:48moves to Paris in the 50s, very, you know, friends with all the sort of American modernists
45:55but also friends with, when he moves to Paris, Jean Genet, Baldwin, Stein, you know, he’s
46:02kind of the, he’s a seminal figure. So the painting—could we have the next? So the
46:07two paintings I have in the show, on the left a painting from the mid-50s of James Baldwin
46:11and on the right a yellow abstraction from the same period.
46:15And I sort of wanted to put him next to Klein because you would never see him next to Klein,
46:19even though the time periods are similar. But also to say that, you know, Delaney had
46:28to leave America, you know, America was not a nice place, in the 1950s for an African-American
46:34artist, well, yeah, in the 1950s for a, not a happy time for our people right then (laughs)
46:41So, he leaves and goes to Paris to have a sort of autonomy, a sort of freedom, so I’m
46:47really inspired by that story but also inspired by the fact that he for
46:52me he doesn’t really make a separation between figuration and abstraction. They’re kind
46:57of the same thing. Can we go to the next image? So this portrait of Baldwin is a kind of,
47:03you know, you look at his color sensibility you look at the way, he’s not seated anywhere,
47:08you know, he’s in this incredible field and can we go to the next? And juxtapose that
47:13with these paintings that are about kind of all-over-ness and light. And I just wanted
47:18to put him there next to Klein but also put him next to a coal dust painting because the
47:23coal dust paintings use James Baldwin, you know, and the coal dust paintings are also
47:27about light so I’m looking at Delaney and thinking about light, even though they don’t
47:32look, my paintings don’t look like Delaney but Delaney and Baldwin are kind of these,
47:39you know, I don’t know, queer godfathers for me. So, it’s kind of nice to put all
47:45the relatives in the room. OLOWU: What do you hope—nicely put. What
47:50do you hope, what do you think the show allows the viewer to do?
47:56LIGON: Well, I think allows the viewer to see that artists don’t come out of a vacuum,
48:00you know, that artists are deeply influenced by work of, you know, other generations. They’re
48:07deeply influenced by the work of their generation. But also for me it was a way to bring in artists
48:12that I hadn’t really thought through so much and also wanted to be in dialogue with,
48:18so there’s young artists, Jennie Jones who’s done an incredible piece that’s using, what’s
48:23it called, it’s like, the cords that you use for headphones, you know, so it’s those
48:31things, black cords, as sculptural elements. And so and Jennie’s an artist that I’ve
48:37come to fairly recently but I thought, if I want to think more about her work, let me
48:42put it in this show because that allows me to think more about her work.
48:46OLOWU: It triggers something. LIGON: Yeah. It triggers something. Similarly,
48:48the Robert Morris. Not an artist that I’d really studied, thought through in relationship
48:53to my practice, but just thinking about his work and that sort of like sculptural things
48:59on the wall, you know, I thought, this is very in some ways related to my neon work
49:04which was also for me about trying to make sculpture, you know. It felt like neons on
49:09the wall and I kind of like that’s the only way I could approach it, it’s text, it’s
49:13not sculpture but, you know, I let the transformers for the neon always be present, sort of like,
49:22it moves it towards this three-dimensionality. Towards a sculptural thing. And so…
49:26OLOWU: And in Camden you had the color that was very interesting.
49:29LIGON: Right right right. Sort of thinking about Morris was a way to think more about
49:34this notion of things that are attached to this, you know, wall but also come out into
49:41space. OLOWU: So, just to give people an opportunity
49:44to ask questions, what do you, what would you like to get from the kind of things you
49:54take into consideration when you’re working on pieces or things that are around you, textiles
49:59like we’ve learned, work by other artists you respect. What is the, in the end is it
50:05to inform what you’re trying to communicate or is it to inform your technique? What’s
50:12the … LIGON: Well, I guess it’s about trying to
50:14be a better artist. You know, trying to see what has been said and see how I can, you
50:22know, move from there, move in a different direction or incorporate you know those ideas
50:28into the work or think more clearly about it through sort of thinking more clearly about
50:35other people’s work. But also, you know, there as I said in relationship to the Morris,
50:42it’s made me think differently about neon and what its possibilities are, because in
50:48some ways I’ve been very conservative and so when I saw that piece, you know, I thought,
50:53hmm— OLOWU: So the next neon may be …
50:55LIGON: Lying on the floor! OLOWU: Lying on the floor (laughs) In color!
51:00LIGON: I mean, that’s an idea I’ve had for years and I actually did a neon that lies
51:03on the floor for my last show in LA but it took me, you know, ten years to get to that.
51:09OLOWU: That’s okay. LIGON: If I’d seen that Morris and thought
51:11about it more carefully I would have maybe gotten to that faster. But it’s also about,
51:18you know, like, I don’t know, for me, to make an interesting artistic practice you
51:24have to keep kind of finding things that are surprising and keep expanding the range of
51:29your references and that’s you know whenever I come to visit you in London, come into the
51:35shop or you know we talk about art I’m just, you know, I find my references expand out,
51:42you know. I’m kind of like, oh, look at that textile, or you know, look at that pottery
51:46from the 30s or look at you know how that vintage couture fabric meets this other—
51:53OLOWU: But you know this was happened in the 30s, 40s with a lot of artists, you saw studio
51:58images and their walls would be filled with incredible things. And I think that freedom
52:03became a lot more conservative in the last decade, but, really, it’s been a pleasure
52:10for me to ask you these questions and just try to communicate some of the things that
52:14come into your thought process when you’re working.
52:17LIGON: Thank you. Could we have the next, maybe? Just as an ending image…
52:21OLOWU: Just as an ending. LIGON: Talk about encounters and collisions!
52:24OLOWU: Exactly! A great way to end (laughs) Is probably one of Glenn’s best known works,
52:30the Malcolm X uh… LIGON: But maybe since we’ve talked for
52:33almost an hour so maybe we should open questions? If there are questions, I think you have to
52:39wait for the mic because it’s being recorded, so … There’s one in the back, over there.
52:45AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Okay. Is it on? Cool. I was wondering about, because you’re using
52:58texts that aren’t your own, where do you see the role as yourself, are you almost like
53:04a translator in changing the medium or are you own sort of taking a new ownership of
53:10it? LIGON: Well I, sometimes you know I said once
53:14that I think of it as the movie adaptation of a book. It’s based on something, but
53:19it’s something else. You know, the text in a painting is not the text in a book, you
53:24know. But I think text allows that kind of re-reading, you know. I did a piece recently
53:33that had lots of quotes from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and a lot of anxiety because
53:40they were from all over the book, you know. And I was talking to Gregg Bordowitz, who
53:48has a fantastic essay in the catalog for Nottingham, about this sense of you know my responsibility
53:55to this text because I was using quotes from all over the book and they’re not, people
53:59will think they’re one after the other in the book but they’re not. And he’s saying,
54:05Walt Whitman is the poet most amenable to fragmentation, you know, like the mix and
54:12match, the slice, you know and Walt Whitman was a poet that revised his own work from
54:18edition to edition. And so I think it’s you know for me, I think there’s lots of
54:22different approaches to text so I feel like text is material in the world to be played
54:28with and manipulated and changed as long as, I do have a sense of responsibility to the
54:35meaning of the text but in a way a sort of sense of kind of trying to convey the meaning
54:44of the text is what the paintings are about. For instance, the coal dust paintings for
54:48me, the density and the abstraction in those paintings is about the density of the thoughts
54:58that Baldwin is trying to express about his relationship to European culture, about his
55:04relationship to black American culture, colonialism, dense, weighty subjects and it seemed to me
55:12that the paintings try to, the difficulty of those paintings, the parts where they go
55:17illegible versus the parts that they’re legible is about the difficulty of trying
55:22to convey these ideas that in his essays kind of escape talking about. They’re just things
55:29that are too hard to talk about, you know, language kind of fails. That’s one of the
55:34things that I like about Baldwin is that in some of the essays he acknowledges, like,
55:40I’m trying very hard to explain things that are very difficult but language kind of fails
55:45at moments, things can’t be expressed, you know. And so the paintings are, you know,
55:52if you want to read the essay, it’s there, in Baldwin, but my paintings are doing something
55:56different with it. With the text. AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Hello. I wanted to ask
56:11a question about the video piece that you presented at the Camden Arts Centre where
56:16there was a fragmented video of Richard Pryor. How does that inform your practice as you’ve
56:28presented it today? LIGON: Well, that piece came about because
56:35I was thinking about the body in language. You know, Pryor, Richard Pryor is a comedian
56:42who, his routines were so much besides, well, he’s a comedian so there are jokes you know,
56:52there are stories, there are routines. But he’s also very physical, all of his routines
56:57involve the body, he has a tremendous ability to mimic, you know. And one day I think I
57:05was just watching you know sort of on, a Pryor video on my computer screen but somehow the
57:13sound was off and I was just kind of became fascinated by his body language and the gestures
57:20and how gestures can speak in some ways. And so that’s how that video came about. So
57:27I just, for people who haven’t seen the video, it’s 7 screens and each screen isolates
57:33a piece of Pryor’s body from a particular concert he did in Los Angeles. So one screen
57:42has his left hand, one screen has his right hand, one screen has a close up of his head,
57:47one is a close-up of his mouth, one is just his shadow. And as those body parts
57:54appear in the video, they appear in the original video they appear on the screens, so one has
58:02to kind of keep moving around the space in order to “see” the video. And there’s
58:08no sound, too, so it’s all about the kind of gesture. And it’s brutal, in a way, it’s
58:14a difficult piece and I don’t know if I’ve totally kind of figured out exactly what that
58:21piece is about. I think, you know, artists make work to figure things out.
58:25OLOWU: Later. LIGON: Yes (laughs) Hopefully they figure
58:28out a little while they’re making it but often I find, you know, it’s a thought process
58:34and the pieces are thought processes and then you make other things, you know, so it’s
58:39not like I’m, I have this idea, it’s all fully-formed, I make the piece. No, I figure
58:45out kind of what I’m thinking about, what my concerns are, as I’m making the pieces.
58:50So that piece changed radically over the course of its production. Another question? In the
58:58back. AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: I was just wondering how
59:01conscious you were putting together the Nottingham exhibition that it was going to be shown to
59:05a British audience? Would this have been a different exhibition if you’d put it on
59:09in the U.S.? LIGON: Well, it would have been a different
59:15exhibition because, because we were partnered with the Tate and if it was shown in the U.S.
59:22we wouldn’t have been. So the loans that we got from the Tate collection, we got fantastic
59:28things which would have been very hard to get had we not had that partnership, so in
59:33some ways, you know, I wanted a Klein, there’s a fantastic one here, you know. I wanted a
59:39Pollock, there’s a—you know, things happened because of these partnerships. So the show
59:45certainly—the artists may have been pretty much the same, the loans would have been different,
59:51but I think the loans being different would have changed the character of the show.
59:55Well, because, you know, it was really important for me, there are a couple of ways that this
60:02show is organized. One is around the work of artists when I first encountered them.
60:10So Steve McQueen’s Bear is in the is in the exhibition, and Steve and I were in a
60:14show together very early on and that first that piece I think the first showing of that
60:20piece. And that had a profound influence on me, I mean that piece I thought was an amazing
60:26piece but before it even went up, I thought, who is this guy who has them polishing the
60:30floors in that room 15 times? And then the piece came on, it was installed, and I thought,
60:35I get it, brilliant, you know, the video’s reflected in the floor, brilliant, brilliant.
60:40So but I could have chosen a later Steve piece, but it was important for me to for some of
60:46the choices of the show to have work from the moment I first encountered you know a
60:53particular artist’s work. Same with Zoe Leonard, you know, those fashion photographs
60:56that we showed in the exhibition in the images of the exhibition, that’s when I first encountered
61:02her work and it was at a kind of crucial moment for me when I was thinking about sort of the
61:06politics of representation, photographic representation in relationship to a particular piece.
61:13So, but Bear is a hard piece to show because of you know because of the requirements for
61:19the room and the requirements for the projector so I don’t know if this show were in New
61:23York, I’m not sure, you know, we could have shown that, so—
61:28OLOWU: I think also maybe he’s also speaking of in the context of the message. Would your
61:36show have been differently curated for an American audience?
61:41LIGON: Well, um … yes, in some ways, I guess, because, but we made some decisions about
61:49the show in terms of for example, there are lots of images of the Civil Rights protest
61:57in Birmingham in the ’64, I think that is, and then images of the Black Panthers. So
62:06the decision there was, you know, I was I was very literal about that in the beginning,
62:12I thought, we have to have a selection of Civil Rights photographs, a sort of, as if
62:15one could represent the entirety of the Civil Rights movement by a selection of photographs
62:20that I could make and put in this show and I sort of gave that up and just thought well,
62:26you know, audiences here know about the Civil Rights movement, we don’t need to represent
62:30the Civil Rights movement, why don’t we just represent this particular moment? You
62:35know? Birmingham protest, police using water cannons on protestors. And just have one photographer
62:42do that. In terms of the Panthers, again, how do you
62:45represent the Panthers? And I thought, let me just focus on Huey Newton. So images of
62:52Huey Newton, you know, very charismatic leader of the Panthers, images taken of him and images
62:59the Panthers produced that used him, you know. And sort of think about how the Panthers were
63:06portrayed in the media but also how the Panthers portrayed themselves, you know. Focusing on
63:11this very, very handsome man, you know (laughs) And also focusing on, kind of, you know, the
63:18underlying thing of that is, you know, he was a pin-up, you know.
63:23OLOWU: It’s advertising. LIGON: It’s advertising. He’s, you know,
63:25there’s a reason he was on so many posters, smoking the cigarette, sitting in the chair
63:29with the sphere and the gun, you know, like, he was fine. You know, so (laughs) Yeah, next
63:37question! (general laughter)
63:40LIGON: Here. We have to wait for the mic. AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: I’m curious to know what
63:47inspired this representation of Malcolm, this particular piece?
63:51LIGON: That was a project, Malcolm X was done for a show at the Walker Arts Center in 2001.
63:57I had a residency there, in Minneapolis, and the mandate around the residency was to work
64:06with communities within a 3-mile radius of the building. And the Walker… Minneapolis
64:14has people from all over the world have come there, some as refugees a lot of sort of it’s
64:21a very welcoming city to people that have sort of fleed[sic] difficult situations around
64:26the world. But I chose to sort of think about communities not in terms of ethnic groups
64:33say you know go work with Cambodian people or you know, I chose to think of community
64:39in terms of age groups. I thought, I want to work with kids, whoever they are.
64:46And I decided to do this project using these coloring books that I found in an archive
64:52in New York, part of the New York public library. And the images are coloring books that were
64:58done in the late 60s, early 70s, created by black educators who recognized that in the
65:08public school the sort of like government schools, black history isn’t being taught
65:15in a systematic way, you know, people aren’t being taught, kids aren’t
65:19being taught about Martin Luther King or Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglas or Malcolm X.
65:25And so they create these coloring books as a way to sort of normalize these images of
65:29black heroes, basically. So the coloring books have these images of, you know, a little boy
65:37swinging on a tire or someone combing their hair, next to an image like Malcolm X.
65:43And so I take these images and I do these workshops with 3- and 4- and 5-year-olds who
65:48sort of like the age that these coloring books were pitched to and I give them to them and
65:52let them color on them. And then I made an exhibition based on how these kids have colored
65:58these images. So this is the most problematic image, you know, so you imagine, you know,
66:04I get back, I’m doing these workshops and I’m gathering up the drawings at the end,
66:07I was like, that’s an amazing image, you know, but I realize it’s also ilke, in some ways,
66:14like, there’s always this kind of an image of the father being feminized. You know, kids
66:19love to do that, you know. And this kid, 4 years old, 5 years old, he doesn’t, you
66:24know, as much as I can tell them about Malcolm X, it’s just an image to color, you know.
66:29So I thought what was interesting about it is that the political, social agenda behind
66:36the images is subverted by the kids that they’re sort of pitched to.
66:43That, but also I think this image is about how, you know, images and icons change over
66:51time, you know, at the moment that these images are being produced, late 60s, early 70s, Malcolm
66:58X is considered one of the most dangerous figures in American history, you know. Now
67:02you can go to the post office and buy a stamp with his image on it, you know. So it just
67:07tells you how icons and iconicity, you know, the meaning of images like this change over
67:13time. And so that project was about sort of like this lots of things. This gulf between
67:19my adult knowledge of what this image means, you know, the importance of Malcolm X as an
67:25icon, kids sort of disconnect with that image but also I think larger sense of how icons
67:34get made and remade over generations. So, that’s kind of how this came about. Maybe
67:45one question here and then we should? OLOWU: You don’t round up your talk!
67:47LIGON: What, what? OLOWU: The audience rounds up the talk.
67:51(laughter) AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: If you had to curate another
67:56show, of things that influence you, but you weren’t allowed to include artworks, what
67:59would be in it? LIGON: Well I think I would take a page from
68:06Duro’s book, there would be more textile work in it…
68:09OLOWU: Like who, for example? LIGON: Well, you know, it would be really
68:15nice to have, you know, some of the African fabrics that we talked about, you know, the
68:19British museum has lots of, you know, there’s many archives that I could have gone to for
68:23that. OLOWU: The Delaunay, or…
68:26LIGON: There’s a beautiful Delaunay textile upstairs, it was made as the covering for
68:32a cradle and incredible. It would be really interesting to think about that in relationship
68:37to Gee’s Bend quilts, you know, in relationship to abstraction. I’ve become really interested,
68:47you know, the funny thing to say these things is, I’m not a scholar, so a lot of this
68:51is about, in a way, giving myself license to be a little bit ignorant of the history
69:01of all these things so that I can do some things with them, you know. And I think, I
69:07sort of give myself a license as an artist to just remain a little ignorant and to go
69:12with instinct about what draws me to the piece than rather than read giant books about the
69:18history of this— OLOWU: Like a child.
69:20LIGON: Yeah, like a child, exactly. (both laugh)
69:23LIGON: No, but I think that, you know— OLOWU: It’s great!
69:25LIGON: That you have to in some ways for me, you have to follow your instincts first and
69:30then you do the research, you know. But it’s the instinctual draw to the thing for me that’s
69:36the most powerful. That’s how all the text in my paintings comes about, this kind of
69:41like, why is this still in my head. You know, Steve Reich, I’ve listened to this for twenty
69:46years, why is this still important, why is this still in my head? Let me do something
69:50with this, you know. And that doing something with it actually led me to do the research
69:57on the Harlem 6, I sort of vaguely knew the story but when I really read it and actually
70:02got a chance to meet Steve Reich recently, and he told me more information about this
70:07case, you know. But to, to go back to your question, you know,
70:12I got very interested in Korean pottery, there would be representations of that in the show.
70:18There’s a fantastic book I read that was called maybe Pictures of Sound and it’s
70:27basically a compendium of early ways that people visualized sound, so you know scrolls
70:35that were blackened with soot and then Neil’s(?) recording sound as it was being played and
70:44you know sort of these long strips where you’re sort of literally recording sound, you know.
70:50And those would be in the show too, so lots, there are lots of other things you know, but
70:55I’m still like kind of interested in this idea of making a show where things touch.
71:00No museum is going to let you do that— OLOWU: The insurance wouldn’t let you do
71:04that. LIGON: The insurance alone. You know, but
71:08anyway. But yeah I would expand the, it would be really interesting to do another kind of
71:12project like this that expanded into more sort of objects that don’t come from the
71:17art world. OLOWU: The institution of artwork.
71:20LIGON: Yeah. … can I, can I stop now? (laughter)
71:23OLOWU: There’s one lady up there, but I think you can. Are you going to give her a
71:32chance, a quick question. LIGON: Yeah, if there’s one more question
71:34it can be the last question. Up there. In the back.
71:38OLOWU: People have paid money, Glenn, this is a real gig. Right in the back.
71:45(laughter) OLOWU: It’s okay now, just one more.
71:48LIGON: Yeah, yeah. It’s drink time, though. Sorry.
71:50AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: In your Nottingham, in your show in Nottingham, I was kind of expecting
71:55as well as piece by Kosuth probably I might be wrong, so I was wondering if like Joseph
72:02Kosuth’s practice or more strictly conceptual art of the 60s in a way are referential or
72:09influential for your or on the other end, not at all?
72:12LIGON: Sorry, who was the artist you were expecting?
72:15AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Joseph Kosuth, or more conceptual like 1960s conceptual.
72:19LIGON: I don’t like his work. (laughter)
72:20OLOWU: Okay! (laughs) LIGON: Sorry.
72:21OLOWU: Sorry! LIGON: Yeah, I mean, he’s an important artist,
72:26I just don’t like his work. OLOWU: No, you don’t not like his work,
72:34it’s part— LIGON: No, I’m not interested in his work,
72:34I’m not interested. OLOWU: Glenn (laughs) It wasn’t part of
72:35your thought process at the time. LIGON: Yes, it wasn’t part of my thought
72:40process at the time. Exactly, Duro. OLOWU: This might be a good way to stop.
72:45LIGON: Yes, this is a good place to end! Thank you!
72:48(audience applause)

AuthorTATE Modern
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