Wow. Last weekend my project, WHITE NOISE, was presented at GRAY SPACE, an artist cohort and micro mobile gallery. Check out GRAY SPACE at: https://www.facebook.com/grayspaceproject/
Everything went as planned—the weather was picture-perfect, the technology worked without a hitch, parking was a dream and my GRAY SPACE colleagues were an absolute blast and privilege to work with. Then there were the meaningful conversations I had about the project with numerous passersby. What a day, indeed.
However, the creative success of the day belies the gravity of the project’s content.
White Noise is a digital media and drawing installation that explores institutional racism in America. Projected static is interrupted by a half-second of black for each of the thirty individuals whose racially motivated or institutional death is remembered. Graphite portraits of each individual are layered and lay in front of the projection. Viewers are presented with the opportunity to consider and confront their own feelings about race and the benefits of white privilege.
One venue for the October 28th presentation—the Oak Grove Rest Stop on the I-5 corridor—referenced the long history of discrimination against African Americans that included separate bathroom facilities for non-whites.
Two other locations—the view of Skinner’s Butte, Eugene from Willamette Street and the view from atop the Butte, including the present-day war memorial—reference the oversized and electrified white cross that was erected in the middle of the night in 1964 and glowed for decades over our fair city until local lawyer, liberal firebrand and former two term US Congressman, Charlie Porter successful had it declared unconstitutional in 1997.Not only did the religious symbol blatantly thumb its nose at separation of church and state, but echoed in its DNA the white supremacist origins of the Oregon Territory, the influence of the KKK in Eugene’s history, the sundown laws still on the books into the early 1970’s and the numerous expectations and assumptions of white folk’s privilege.
The fourth location—the historic Mims’ Houses—stands in contrast to and as an antidote to the oppression and racial prejudice referenced by the other documented locations. The Mims’ Houses and their rich history stand as an example of dignity, agency and hope. For more information about the Mims’ Houses:
African Americans have been an important part of this seemingly-dominant white area for generations, it’s just that most Eugene residents were unaware of their presence and contribution. Was this ignorance willful in its omission?
Hey, I get it—we’re all guilty at times of assuming that the “norm” is just like us. However, in today’s fear-fractured and polarized world, that’s a conceit that we can not currently afford.
I often joke that having grown up in an urban, multi-ethic and racial environment, I’d never been around so many white people in all my life before I moved to Eugene. It was unsettling, but then again, I was white. I could navigate unseen through most situations unless I spoke. My New Jersey accent was, and still is, a dead giveaway that I’m not from here. Nope. Never. No way.
But, back to the beginning…It was a great day and I am grateful for the generosity of my creative GRAY SPACE cohort without whom my ideas for WHITE NOISE would have simply stayed in my head and not been realized. A huge thank you to Sally and Willie Mims for granting me permission to photograph the project in front of their properties and for a lovely afternoon of coffee and conversation discussing my proposal.