Can art be a legitimate form of activism or otherwise an agent for social change? 

I don’t think art or at least my art should aim to be activist. All I can do is to express a relationship to my own conditions of being. Those conditions are historical and I didn’t determine them, but I can think about them. For me, that’s basically what art does…

What I’m saying is, my work is a kind of refusal of politics, as much as an affirmation of politics. But I want to take those things seriously. I’m not sneering at any of it. I ended up reading the neck as the idea of mediation, the impossibility of mediations between the image and the self, between a racial identity and the self, partly because maybe we don’t even know what’s really there, in the place of the self. I don’t think this follows the logic of activism at all. Those kinds of links are so insubstantial, they are almost arbitrary, something to do with memory, maybe, and I think they can only really happen in art or in a joke.

An artwork might change something I guess because of how it is received or how people carry the memory of it. When we’re talking about art changing anything, we’re talking about art changing a person, and what that person might do in response to this encounter with a work. There are definitely artworks that have changed me and not all of them were even works that I particularly liked.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure which is more prominent: my desire for change or my desire to give form to some kind of anger/sorrow. Those things are all mixed up: look at what’s been happening recently in the USA, the Ferguson moment, where anger and sorrow are politicized. But in terms of the direct concerns of my work, I don’t have anything to say about changes that might never happen.

– Hannah Black in conversation with Jesse Darling for Rhizome.


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