Kinstitutional Critique – Part 1

One of the first ideas I want to dig into in response to my thesis mentioned in my previous post is the notion of “kinstitutional critique.” For the uninitiated, this term plays on contemporary art strategies called institutional critique (IC), whereby artists critique the institutions which host creative and artistic practices and exhibitions such as galleries, museums, and cultural centers, usually toward exposing “hidden” levers or operations of power. IC is now well over half a century old. In my thesis paper, a 6-page primer to IC is provided. In short, it explores the 4 loosely-conceived “waves” of IC which have occurred since the 1960s. [Scholars cited in this section include: MTL Collective (Amin Husain, Nicholas Mirzoeff, and Nitasha Dhillon); Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray; Miwon Kwon; and Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen]

After my 6-page primer, another section of the paper begins to parse out a thread of my own art practice, situating my own family narratives and relations as they entangle with institutional power, often towards forming an institution in their own right. Transversely, family and kinship are also platforms for mediating other institutions. This became another rabbit hole for situating my own particular relations to family within specific historical and cultural contexts, while de-limiting what these contexts mean for larger interconnected projects of critique. The ongoing migration and reconsideration of “institutional site” is crucial to this argument. [Scholars cited in this sections include: Miwon Kwon; Andrea Fraser; Michael G. Peletz; Elizabeth Freeman; Lisa Lowe; Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson; Leela Gandhi and Brighubati Sigh.]

One question opened up by writing my thesis paper which was largely relegated to footnotes was how “family-as-institution” has been treated by contemporary art. If I were to write a contemporary art or other critical visual or cultural history of kinstitutional critique, Adrian Piper’s 1988 “Cornered” would likely be the starting place. Piper’s “Cornered” is an installation in the literal corner of a museum. On each wall are her father’s contradictory birth certificates – one listing his race as “white” and the other as “octoroon.” This family evidence becomes a springboard into a conversation about, no less a result from, the institutions of racism which are, by the same coin, the production sites of race itself. In a philosophical exercise about the social fact of her being Black, a video of Piper in a blue dress plays in a corner with an arrangement of seats for audience members to watch and listen, while a table sits flipped over in front of the video monitor, acting as a barrier between viewers and Piper, while suggesting the act of flipping it over. The critique of race as a racist anti-Black institution follows into whatever institution exhibits the video. Especially in 1988 and anticipated in her video monologue, the museum audience is presumed to be predominantly white, which creates a relational dialogue with Piper’s audience through her spoken exegesis, leaving multiple agents in the installation “cornered” (literally, spatially, farcically, soberly) by its architectural, social, and cultural conditions. What remains noteworthy to me is that Piper was working with aesthetic and conceptual strategies established within the legacies of IC, while introducing, weaving, or otherwise entangling kinship and family relations into this legacy.

A copy of video documentation of “Cornered” was removed from YouTube in 2014 by the Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation in Berlin, where the artist now resides after being placed in 2006 on the United States Transportation Security Administration’s suspicious travelers list. Piper has vowed never to return until her name is removed from the list.

Adrian Piper, Cornered , 1988 — Medium:
Video installation with birth certificates; single-channel video, color, sound; monitor; table; chairs –Dimensions: Dimensions variable — Credit Line: Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund (1990.4.a-p) — Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago — Original Source

While not all of these examples fold together IC and critical examination of family and kinship as neatly as Piper, other artists, exhibitions, and works to consider include — but are specifically not limited to — the following: Latoya Ruby Frazier, The Notion of Family, 2001-2014; Patty Chang, In Love, 2001; Danh Vō, Vo Rosasco Rasmussen 2002–present; Contemporary Art Museum, Saint Louis, Shoot the Family, 2007; Guggenheim Museum New York, Family Pictures, 2007; Brooklyn Museum, Extended Family: Contemporary Connections, 2010; Emily Jacir, At the Jacir Palace, Bethlehem, 2012; Wendy Red Star’s collaboration with her daughter, Beatrice, 2013-present; New York Times Style Magazine, “Thirteen Contemporary Artists Portray Their Own Children,” March 18, 2016; Sophie Calle, Sophie, Monique, 2014; Artsy, “For These 10 Contemporary Artists, Art Runs in the Family,” Nov. 22, 2015; Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., 2017; University of South Florida, A Family Affair, 2015; Casey Jane Ellis, MAD: Mothers and Daughters, 2018; Colin Self, Siblings, 2018; Jacolby Satterwhite, PAT, 2019; Suzanne Lacy, Dad Lessons, 2019.

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