Noël W. Anderson | ‘Reflec / x / tion of a Black Cat Bone’ at the JDJ Gallery – Flaunt Magazine
Throughout the exhibition and in Anderson’s work, the source images of his distressed tapestries have been abstracted and blurred by layers of transmission. Black cat bone, with its promise of invisibility, is accentuated by Anderson’s formal obscuring technique, choosing what to make visible and what to obscure. The Matinique philosopher Édouard Glissant put forward the significance of the promise of invisibility as a process of understanding. In Poetics of relationshipGlissant writes that “if we examine the process of ‘understanding’ people and ideas from the perspective of Western thought, we find that its basis is this demand for transparency. To understand you and therefore accept you, I must measure your solidity on the ideal scale which gives me the bases for making comparisons and, perhaps, judgments. I must reduce. Recognizing the tendency to reduce and shrink the complexities inherent in social and cultural identification, Glissant resolves that, in the face of totalizing transparency, one must recognize one’s own identity as opaque, for it is the opacity that gives us permission to ‘envision new forms of relationship far from the Western bourgeois gaze.
Pulling on the threads of the media apparatus, which tends to flatten the image of black men on digital screens, Anderson works through a history of black aesthetics to understand alternative modes of representation. In an essay for e-flux, he identifies artist David Hammons as a pioneer in this endeavor, illustrating how Hammons rejects typical constructions of high / low cultural forms while criticizing bourgeois leisure. “In these rooms, the artist resuscitates the past aesthetic of the black masses – recovering materials discarded by the bourgeoisie – and presents them again”, he writes.
Anderson, likewise, recovers from the past. Resurrecting the tapestry of the confines of 15th century Flanders and the decorative arts, he fuses the cultural and institutional marginalization of the medium with the marginalization of its identity in contemporary society and media. He himself makes the connection between tapestry as a form of ancient media and the digital screens of today’s computers and smartphones very explicit. In fact, it was the Jacquard loom that played an important role in the development of programmable machines, such as the digital compiler used by IBM to develop the modern computer. French weaver Joseph Marie Jacquard invented his power loom in 1804 around the simple human-machine interaction of binary code – punched or unperforated hole – to order the machine (loom) to perform an automated process (weaving) . For Anderson, looking at a computer is looking at a tapestry woven from the millions of lines of code used to build the screens we use every day – for work, for news, for fun.
Using both old and new media – tapestry and digital image – and drawing these forms into states of undressing, Anderson challenges and destabilizes the image, questioning its veracity in light of marginalization and exclusion. (poor) representation of black men in the mass media, and how black men represent themselves. The biggest work in the exhibition, Reflec / x / tions cover (2021), uses a photograph of the Los Angeles Watts riots in 1965 as the source material. By cropping and reversing the original image, we are faced with a life-size tapestry pinned to the wall and framed with multicolored fringes. The scene – police assaulting a black man as evidenced by the hood of a car – is so obscured by Anderson’s interventions that it is almost unintelligible. He dyes and whitens the fabric of the tapestry, oscillating between clarity and abstraction, from the individual to the archetype, so that we have to visually reconstruct the image, like a painting by Seurat, from the fragments collected encrusted on its surface. Bottle caps, foil, metal foil, and magenta mirrors all reflect our own image in the work, complicating our relationship with what is depicted and with whom we are meant to identify. Are we destined to disappear, like a smile without a cat?