To follow up on the last post, I think it’s worth noting what this idea of kinstitutional critique looks like in my own practice. Before adding kinship into the equation, my history certainly has petty attempts at institutional critique. One that has stuck around with me is titled “White Cube Roller Rink: A Leisurely Act of Free Labor.” Working as an unpaid intern for an art gallery, I used the space as a roller rink by rollerblading through it while my boss was gone. I believe this impulse carries through in the architectures of the scale “institutional” models I have built in my thesis installation (see first post), longing for their purpose to serve the freedoms and abstracted democratic promises of leisure or fun. These abstracted promises necessarily exceed the institutions of democracy.
An early work of kintitutional critique can be found in Me n’ Skip (2016). It is an altered family photograph taken at my cousin’s 2012 wedding in Kentucky at a boozeless reception on a former plantation. The family photo is digitally blocked out with white translucency with two circles cut out around different faces in the group. I (right circle) can be seen in this family portrait with a distant relative and North Carolina supervillain, Skip Stam (left circle), who was a Member of the N.C. House of Representatives, 1989-90 and 2003-2016,
Republican Leader of the House 2007–2012, and Speaker Pro Tempore 2013-2016. Stam was one of the authors of North Carolina Amendment 1, which was an amendment to the state constitution that effectively banned same-sex marriage, despite already being illegal at the time. The amendment also took away protections for unmarried men and women in domestic arrangements. This wedding photo was taken right after the amendment passed in the same summer. Amendment 1 remained in effect until 2014’s General Synod of the United Church of Christ, et al. v. Drew Reisinger, Register of Deeds of Buncombe County, and ultimately nullified on a federal level with the 2015 SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. More recently, Skip was a major mouthpiece for 2016’s NC House Bill 2 (HB 2), which used trans bathroom panic to deny basic rights and services to the LGBTQIA+ community, while building in language to prevent raising the minimum wage. HB2 also prevented local and state courts from processing claims made on the basis of discrimination not only on gender identity or sexual orientation, but also based on race, age, and ability. HB2 was partially repealed in 2017. Stam claims part of a long line of evangelical “martyrdom”, taking up the torch of John and Betty Stam, missionaries who were reported to be publicly beheaded by the Chinese government in 1934. Members of the Stam family continue to work as missionaries to the present day. I extend a special thanks to my uncle, Mike Vandiver, for providing the original photograph.
As an early work of what I now call “kinstitutional critique,” I tried to reconcile family and kinship as a force that situates one’s sense of belonging while proactively working against its own members i.e. myself as a queer member whose civil rights were threatened by the political career of another. As implied by the literal use of white in the photo, the cumulative lies of whiteness remain part of what binds these harmful relationships together. The very definition of family and kinship, though, remain flexible in queer contexts….