It is difficult to write when so much is up in the air. We are preparing to leave Bristol as a consequence of our visa expiring in 11 days. We have had and continue to have visitors whose arrival is both lovely and disruptive to our daily life. I have been traveling which is both a gift of an opportunity (not to mention so easy here!) and also disruptive to our daily life. And we have a family-ful of feelings and anxieties about what we are leaving and where we are going. Each experience adds to our lives at a time when each of us may prefer to make time stand still.
dOCUMENTA was wonderful for me. The fact that we had just a day to spend there made the decision to spend more time with fewer works an easy one and it was the perfect way for me to approach such a massive show. William Kentridge’s opera, A Refusal of Time, used the space of the old train station beautifully. The black and white imagery danced and skipped along the walls as the music and text filled the space between them. It is a masterful use of multi-layered, pared down materials.
It was very important for me to spend time inside Theaster Gate’s Huguenot House. With all due humility, I have to say we share some of the same concerns about urban life in the States and its disproportionate hardship for African Americans. He has been able to do things in Chicago that I have found difficult to do in St. Louis and I have wondered why. Spending time in his space in Kassel and discussing how it felt and what ideas it brought to mind helped me to understand where he is coming from in his work. It is a different place than where I am coming from and the strength of the work is in his ability to own his perspective and create the work from there. I can’t be Theaster Gates. I can only be Ilene Berman. My desire to positively impact the racial history of St. Louis comes from my own sense of justice and humanity. I need to own that. Being surrounded by Theaster Gate’s voice, helped me to own my own voice.
In some ways I think Francis Alys’s small quiet exhibit of encaustic and oil paintings, although very different in scale, reinforced this idea of owning my own voice as did the tapestries of Hannah Ryggen. As we prepare to leave Bristol, spending time recommitting to my voice seems particularly significant. Transitions can be a time where things are lost or they can be opportunities to cement ideas that are important. I don’t want to lose what I have gained here.