Kinstitutional Critique – Part 3

I continue to re-trace steps from my graduate thesis exhibition and accompanying paper. This post was going to focus on the rhetorical arguments which conjoin legacies of “critiquable” art institutions (which gave rise to institutional critique as a practice) and the family-as-institution from an Enlightenment genealogy. Maybe it’s more important that you know it exists rather than having me re-explain it to you. If you’re interested in reading the original argument, please feel free to email me about it. However, it’s also important to note that these genealogies are understood within their colonial dimensions while wrestling with the Enlightenment as a “botched” project. (Main sources: Miwon Kwon; Andrea Fraser; Michael G. Peletz; Elizabeth Freeman; Lisa Lowe; Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson; Leela Gandhi and Brighubati Sigh). I had a really good studio visit with Piper Marshall about these ideas in March, which was encouraging.

While working back to the artwork featured in my first blog post, a key work in the past was a video I made called “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” which premiered in January 2020 at ​Over Yonder​ curated by Luca Molnar at Hand Art Center in DeLand, FL. ​Sleep of Desire ​is a video elaborated from an interview with my father about his relationship to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he transferred in the 1970s following an unreciprocated confession of love from his gay male friend at University of Richmond. While my father generously and vulnerably reflects on his college experiences — an evangelical Christian studying music and composition with oblique and distanced relation to a newly semi-conspicious gay culture in the South — my own questioning and presence as visibly queer offspring produce an intergenerational and ideological tension (wearing my father’s vintage rainbow “Duke” polo shirt for our interview adds to this). The work’s title references Goya’s famed “Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” but invoked throughout is Duke University’s mascot – the Blue Devil – as institutional drag and ambiguous site for projection and embodiment of desire: repressed, monstrous, campy, or something else entirely. The video also incorporates photos and video footage of Duke’s campus to further haunt an interfamilial history of Southern space-time. A possible post-graduation sequel may be in the works, which would result from contacting the person who confessed his love to my father in the 1970s.

I became interested in the 1970s as a moment in American culture where postmodernism and poststructuralism allegedly became key features – rather, key frameworks or explanations – of contemporary intellectual, political, and social movements. Prominent re-retellings of the postmodern narrative indicate that, despite previous attempts, a consolidated-yet-fractured move to displace or interrupt the falsehood of Enlightenment continuity came to pass. bell hooks’ critique of postmodernism was that it was the state apparatus itself doing the “postmodern-ing” as the consolidating force of “difference” – hooks’ argument rooted in Blackness – not the aims of those who sought rupture, power, and liberation from new visibilities and movements built from different and overlapping positions of “Otherness.” While hooks refers to Civil Rights and Black Power of the 1960s and 70s, these are the bedrock of other interrelated social and political movements in the U.S. like the Women’s Movement and Gay Liberation. When Pandora’s Box opened, “postmodern” tried to stuff everything back inside.

While Sleep of Desire certainly looks to family as an institution, particularly the traumas which inform a white middle class Christian heteropatriarchal order, it also sought to fold in the institution of Duke University and University of Richmond as real and imaginary sites of critique. The university becomes implicated in its role of consolidating social and political order. This implication folds into the level of family intimacy as one of its kinstitutional effects.

Title still “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” digital video, 12:41, 2020
(Left) Still from “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” digital video, 12:41, 2020. (Right) Francisco Goya, “Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” 1799, from which the title was also inspired.
Still from “Sleep of Desire Produces Mascots,” digital video, 12:41, 2020

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