Archive for November, 2021


Sunday, November 28th, 2021

I applied to the Guggenheim last year with a pandemic-specific project but it was rejected.

Against the Signifiers

I am proposing to undertake a project that aims to subvert the traditional use of the billboard, turning it into a platform of public art. The project will bring the voice of an immigrant woman into rural Wisconsin, to unsuspected patrons who do not encounter public art as commonly as people living in larger cities. This will also function as a sign of solidarity to the surrounding underrepresented communities where the billboards are placed.

It feels like 2020 hasn’t hit inland woods of Wisconsin. I have not been up here since August of 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and the research trip is leaving me feeling more isolated than expected. There are no people wearing masks in sight, no Black Lives Matter (BLM) signs while I drive through the small town of Kewaskum. I have the odd feeling of being the only person of color for miles around. This feeling, although familiar while living in Wisconsin as an immigrant, is of course not true. This section of the Wisconsin state park along Long Lake, one-hour north outside of Milwaukee, is where I frequented to camp and take hikes before the pandemic hit. The area traditionally belongs to the peoples of Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Myaamia, Menominee and Bodéwadmiakiwen (Potawatomi.) These are now marginalized communities around Long Lake, over the majority presence of privileged upper middle class families that maintain a weekend home.

There are 15 recognized active hate groups in Wisconsin, according to the 2019 data of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mostly categorized as “White Nationalist” or “Neo Nazi” or “Anti-Muslim”, all of these groups have a deep history and presence throughout the state. On June 12th, 2020 in the midst of mass protests in support of the BLM movement, CBS 58 reported: “a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, was seen walking along a highway in Conover, Wisconsin. The man was spotted with his dog on County Highway K at Monheim Road. Authorities noted he was drinking a beer and waving at traffic. The Vilas County Sheriff’s Office said multiple callers reported seeing the man.”

Billboards in the rural Midwest seem to largely consist of hospital, hospice and restaurant advertisements and anti-abortion ads. According to Lamar advertisement in Madison, a company with a large amount of billboards in rural Wisconsin, it is also not uncommon to run into advertisements of adult entertainment stores on the side of the road and religious banners calling to salvation.

“Signs of Times” is a 21-minute video from 1993, made by artist Portia Cobb who was also one of the few black female faculty members at UW-Milwaukee in 1993. Shot with the help of youth from the Midtown neighborhood association ages ranging from 7 to 14, Signs of the Times addresses widespread alcohol and tobacco advertising in the inner city billboards in Milwaukee. We watch as the kids interview people from affluent neighborhoods where no billboards exist. They continue interviews with habitants of the inner city in their own neighborhoods, where alcohol and tobacco use among children are statistically the highest. Mario who is 8 years old claims that it’s easy for him to buy cigarettes, if he just tells the clerk that it’s for his father. We watch Mario go into the store and shortly returning with a pack of cigarettes. “It was easy”, he says. It is evident that this is still the case almost 30 years later while driving through Capitol Street in Milwaukee, which runs throughout the entire city West to East. I see the countless smoke shops and liquor stores and associated advertisements as I enter back into the city and see their decline and eventual stop right before entering the affluent neighborhood.

Against the Signifiers aims to subvert these traditional uses of the billboard, turning it into a platform of public art where it could be a sign of solidarity to its surrounding underrepresented communities. The idea of turning the billboard into an exhibition space is not new. This project is not necessarily about turning commerce into art, or revolutionizing an exhibition space. And although I imagine this will be one of the safest places to view art for at least another year with the pandemic still unfolding, my concerns with this project have nothing more in common with the mission of previous billboard art initiatives (The Billboard Creative in LA and Save Art Space in Brooklyn, NY) as in exposing underrepresented artists in high traffic commercial spaces.

Against the Signifiers aims to bring the voice of an immigrant woman into the middle of Wisconsin, to unsuspected patrons who do not encounter public art as commonly as people living in larger cities. The project will take place in the summer of 2021 over 10 billboards in mid-Wisconsin for over a month. The locations will vary from interstate highways to more rural country roads. I’ve located a billboard between Eagle River and Conover where the man wearing the Ku Klux Klan robe was spotted back in June. I am planning to use this billboard for the project and other locations are to be decided.

The design of the billboards will feature original work created for the occasion, some including texts and some with only graphics. I imagine them to be mostly featuring text, and conveying very subtle signs of solidarity, as in immigrant rights, native peoples rights, pro-choice statistics and solidarity with the BLM movement. I anticipate an uphill battle with billboard companies, but I also believe in my negotiation skills to present these designs as art. If all else fails, the funds will support building a single billboard on a privately owned land (with highway views) that may have a longer-term function after this project ends, similar to the billboard art initiatives mentioned above.

I am planning to travel and document each billboard in order to publish the entire collection of signs as a catalogue, so the project can reach an audience beyond rural Wisconsin.

The Covid-19 pandemic has halted all of my in person visits and other opportunities that cinema brought in indoor enclosed spaces. This presents itself as an ideal opportunity to execute this project and shift into further radical acts. This is why I am not applying for the Guggenheim Fellowship with a film, but with an expanded proposal that engages with similar concerns as my filmmaking practice, outdoors. A Guggenheim Fellowship would help support my career in the arts, and I look forward to contributing to the expansion of diverse voices within the art community.

Nazlı Dinçel was born in Ankara, Turkey, and immigrated to the United Sates at age 17. Dinçel resides in Milwaukee, WI where they are currently building an artist run film laboratory. They obtained their MFA in filmmaking from UW-Milwaukee. Their works have been exhibited globally including the Museum of Modern art in New York, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Vienna Modern art Museum, Buenos Aires International Film Festival, Walker Art Center and Hong Kong International Film Festival. They were recently a 2019/2020 Radcliffe Institute fellow for advanced study at Harvard University, and a 2019 Emerging Artist recipient of the Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowship. In addition to exhibiting with institutions, Dinçel avidly self-distributes and tours with their work in micro-cinemas, artist run laboratories and alternative screening spaces in order to support and circulate handmade filmmaking to communities outside of institutions.


Sunday, November 28th, 2021

This century is a bicycle. We’ve got to learn how to ride it. May the good people balance; may the others fall.

Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7, 1943. Although she grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, she and her sister returned to Knoxville each summer to visit their grandparents. Nikki graduated with honors in history from her grandfather’s alma mater, Fisk University. Since 1987, she has been on the faculty at Virginia Tech, where she is a University Distinguished Professor.


Sunday, November 28th, 2021

It began with 4 days in Rome in Jimmy’s place drinking tons of red wine and listening to his great stories… he later met my Baba which was thrilling for me. I had a crush on Jimmie Durham, he was brilliant and tender… a great artist. May the Great Spirit absorb his light back into magnificent fold and condolences to Maria Theresa Alves and all whom he loved and loved him.

Approach in Love and Fear
by Jimmie Durham

For a long time there were only plants. Although in their initial ascendancy they killed most of the existing life on earth by releasing large amounts of poisonous oxygen, plants are not basically aggressive. They process sunlight and a few minerals.

When animal life developed its very definition was to move about and eat other life. Without other life to consume, animals die. Therefore animal life developed more and more proficiency in attacking and consuming. First, the mouth evolved; then, concentrated bunches of nerves better to direct the mouth; then, a sense of smell to help the mouth differentiate; then, senses of hearing and sight; then, a continual increase in complexity of the bundle of nerves, organizing into actual brains. Our brains are close to our mouths because their primary purpose is to serve those weapons of destruction.

When I was child, I grieved that we killed any animal which crossed our paths and ate its flesh. We would often pull plants completely from the earth, so that we could consume the roots as well as the leaves. And I saw that we were not the only ones. All the other animals had the same voracious cruelty, We had to cringe in fear. Any animal unable to fear would not be successful. You must kill, and fear death.

Mammals, then, as a strategy for survival, developed emotions. We might say that emotion is the secondary definition of mammalian life. But we cannot say that the emotion of fear is primary. Love and fear must be simultaneous. Because every animal, even your boyfriend, has a mouth with some sort of teeth, one cannot easily permit approaching.

Non-mammalian animals overcome the problem of reproduction by what we call “ritualistic instinct” — patterns of behaviour that automatically trigger certain responses. But mammals have overridden the instinct for reproduction with an emotional (and of course it is also physical – everything is also physical) desire to mate, to have a mate. We have developed emotions of love and of delight in the voluntary denial of fear.

Moreover, mammalian mothers can love and fear for their young. This allows us to produce fewer young so that the individual can be better protected. Those two kinds of love can easily be expanded into a phenomenon that is more important that survival. Recently I saw, on the highway to Mexico City, a stray dog risking her life to try to save another dog which had been hit by a car. Saint Dog – a Holy Dog, but not uncommon.

With humans, every individual is capable of what we call “motherly love,” and we can even extend it to the love of other species. We can love each other and the cat and the mouse. We also articulate it. A fox in a cage knows sorrow and grief for the dangerous freedom of her lost home, and I can miss individual hickory and black walnut trees and the little translucent salamanders of my lost home, even as I remember the constant death and suffering. We live under such a beautiful curse, all the more a curse because we find so much beauty here. What is there other than this physicality? Not “transcendence,” not “heaven.” but our knowledge of the intolerable situation and a love for all.

Anjalika Sagar was born in 1968, in London, where she lives and works. She studied social anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Her work includes curatorial projects, essays, films, videos and photographic works. She is interested in the relationships between sound, text and image, archives and the potential legacies of film. She has produced numerous projects that have been seen in museums around the world, such as the large-scale production NO ARRIVAL NO PARKING, with the composer Heiner Goebbels, for the Almeida Theatre, London. She is co-founder of The Otolith Group and founder of Multitudes.


Sunday, November 28th, 2021

In London, Heathcote met me at the door of their squatted house on Westbourne Park Road. He, Diana, and China, their daughter, lived there. I’d known Heathcote for about two years, but pretty well, and that was before I knew him with Diana and China, which is another story.

They offered me the airy, blue room on the second floor, mine except at Christmas, when it transformed into the Christmas room, because of its non-working fireplace, and, on Christmas Eve, Heathcote read us A Christmas Carol.

My adventures in London were different from those I had in Turkey and Greece, less dangerous, though often foolish and usually complicated.

There were no stairs to the first landing of the house, only a long piece of lumber, a plank about a foot wide. I had a debilitating fear of heights, so I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, and, also there was my suitcase to carry that first day, or maybe it was my shapeless, tree-green Italian Army backpack. Probably Heathcote brought it up. Somehow I walked the plank, I had to have, then I navigated it better and better, and lived on Westbourne Park Road for about a year.

Like the stairs, the toilet wasn’t working. Diana showed me how to use it: to flush it you had to fill it with water from the bathtub, there was a pail in the tub. Next to the toilet was a basket full of toilet paper and tissues. Diana didn’t say so but I assumed that paper couldn’t be flushed down the toilet, so I used the toilet and threw the dirty toilet paper into the basket.

One morning, maybe a month later, I went into the kitchen for breakfast, where Heathcote and Diana were already sitting at the table. Like English people of any class, they immediately offered me a cup of tea, and in no way out of the ordinary. Also toast and maybe an egg. But the quiet at the table was different, and there was an awkwardness.

Finally, Heathcote spoke.

Leonard, he said, solemnly. (Leonard was his pet name for me.)
What? I said.
Leonard, about this habit you picked up in Turkey.  
What habit?
In Turkey, those toilets ….your putting toilet paper in a basket….
It’s not something I picked up in Turkey.
Oh. But this custom, this habit….
It’s not a habit. You told me the toilet wasn’t working when I arrived, and the basket was full of toilet paper. So I did what you did.
Oh, he said, looking at Diana.
When I arrived, the basket was full. And it kept being full. I did what you did.
We only used the basket because you did. We didn’t want to embarrass you.
You mean all this past month you were throwing toilet paper into the basket because I did.
Because you didn’t want to embarrass me.
You couldn’t have just told me?

We finished breakfast, and it was never mentioned again.

Lynne Tillman is a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Her most recent novel is MEN AND APPARITIONS (2018); her latest story collection, THE COMPLETE MADAME REALISM AND OTHER STORIES (2016), was published in Spanish in Argentina (2021).


Thursday, November 25th, 2021

A moodboard/prep work of sorts.



P. Staff is an artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, USA and London, UK. Their work combines video installation, performance and publishing, citing the ways in which history, technology, capitalism and the law have fundamentally transformed the social constitution of our bodies today. Staff’s work has been exhibited, screened and performed internationally.