SUPERCONVERSATIONS DAY 24: SHAUN DACEY RESPONDS TO DR. BEATRIZ BALANTA, BENJ GERDES, JENNIFER HAYASHIDA, CHRISTOPHER MYERS, BRIAN KUAN WOOD, & MARY WALLING BLACKBURN, “CHILD AS MATERIAL”
Photo: Getty Images (source)
In the late 80s a family takes a trip to Provincetown to go whale watching. They walk into a jewelry store. Their eight year old son notices a peculiar couple. An exuberant pair of men trying things on transfixes the boy. The couple acts differently than typical men, there is poise, comfort and joy in their movements. They giggle and show each other their rings. The boy’s mother notices him watching the couple, or maybe the boy asks her who they are, he can’t recall.
“Those are gay men.” His mother responds, although now twenty-five years later he can’t recall her tone.
The eight year old thinks he knows what she means or rather he kind of understands, but not fully. But he’s interested to learn more, maybe…
In retrospect, childhood is a mash of abstracted images and interactions, a collection of fractured memories of exciting, painful, and awkward experiences. Moments that at the time may not have made sense or didn’t really matter, but they stick with us throughout our lives.
A child is never just a child, never static in a subjective position. That eight year old boy is ever changing, growing at an exponential rate into adolescence and eventually to adulthood. That original event, a boy’s first sighting stays with him taking on more meaning as the years go by, a compendium of remembered ruptures in everyday life inform and evolve our being.
The child is not other, she is us. Childhood is part of the continuum that blurs into adulthood and vice versa. These experiences in our youth present potentials that may not be readily apparent in the instance but seep into our consciousness and grow with us.
An artist shares a plotline of a film at a Q&A. In the film a jazz musician lost for three years reappears on earth in 1972 to recruit African Americans to inhabit a new planet he’s discovered. The musician dressed in funky moon boots, an ornate gold headdress and a metallic silver cane enters a youth centre in Oakland flanked by two women wearing the golden masks of the Egyptian gods Bast and Horus.
“Greetings Black youth of planet Earth. I am Sun Ra, Ambassador of the Intergalactic Regions of the Council of Outer Space…” the mystical, other-worldly sight proclaims.
A burst of laughter explodes among the youth followed by rapid fire questioning. They’re sizing him up from head to toe.
“How do we know you’re for real?” One girl quips.
“Yeah, how do we know you’re not some old hippy or something?” Another chimes in. More laughter and bravado and tension released.
Sun Ra delivers his punch line.
"How do you know I’m real?
I’m not real, I’m just like you.
You don’t exist in this society.
If you did, your people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights.
You’re not real.
If you were, you’d have some status among the nations of the world.
So we’re both myths. I do not come to you as a reality, I come to you as the myth, because that’s what black people are. Myths.”
A moment of recognition. A rupture in the everyday. Some of the youth are stunned; others nod their head in agreement.
We hold on to fragments, hybrids between abstracted lived experiences, exaggerated re-enactments of stories retold colliding with imaginings of books, films, music videos, YouTube, etc. It’s our inherent ability to construct counter narratives, to rewrite the lived with the fantasy or nightmare of the imagined. This ability, this childhood imagination offers resistance to our formulaic daily lives.
So was it real?
Did Sun Ra escape the confines of earth?
Does it matter?
The imagined was a momentary escape, a potential for opposition.
“Fuck the Real!” The artist proclaimed in response to the film.
One way of thinking about the word radical is the act of growth, a plant or branch emerging from a root or stem. In this sense being radical is related to slow and evolving development. Childhood prepares us for the absurd, grotesque and perverse situations of adulthood. The coping strategies of the child—free play, open and visceral acknowledgement of emotions, embodied listening, lack of focus, boredom, embracing the random — all present alternative responses to the status quo of adult life.
We all know kids say the darndest things. Engaging the tactics of our younger selves and simultaneously creating space for children’s perspective, experience and ever changing subject positions are core radical and political acts.
Corporate Child’s Play
In 2005, a Japanese businessman decides to auction off his twenty million dollar art collection of European masterpieces. The two largest auction houses were competing for his business. To decide, he invites both to compete in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The auction houses spend a weekend strategizing, planning their one critical move. On Monday, the competition takes place. Entering a corporate board room, each house writes their choice on a piece of paper handing it to the businessman’s representative. Scissors beat Paper.
Shaun Dacey is a Vancouver-based Curator. He works at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver and holds an MA in Critical Curatorial studies from the University of British Columbia.