Revisited: "Pope L's Notes on the roll of the artist when the world has always been on fire?"

29 Sep, 2020

Revisited: "Pope L's Notes on the roll of the artist when the world has always been on fire?"

Recap by Jaclyn Tobia, the 2020-2021 Graduate Liaison for the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium

Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium, September 21, 2020

Pope L. “Notes on the roll of the artist when the world has always been on fire??”
Facilitated by Assistant Professor in Painting Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle. Event is presented by UC Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice, Wiesenfeld Visiting Artist Series, and Berkeley Center for New Media.

After many months of social distancing, academia seems to have become accustomed to communication occurring via Zoom sessions on our personal laptops. It was refreshing to witness renowned performance artist Pope L. take on the medium of a Zoom broadcast this past Monday evening, facilitated by Assistant Professor in Painting, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle. An incredible kick off to this year's ATC lecture series, Pope L.’s artist’s talk was also a performance.

Pope L.’s talk challenged the extents of space and surface within the technological confines designated by our pandemic circumstances. The artist’s Zoom broadcast took the form of a series of acts played out, each with their own shifting set designs. We were introduced to a portfolio of public interventionist art, through which the artist amplified the idea of coexistence.

Our computer screens offered a view into the physical space of the artist’s studio, where stage frames, colored lights, and plexiglass transparencies created an atmosphere that made obvious the creative potential of a new performance medium. The performance aspect was further activated by the use of props. One of the actions that I found most intriguing was the physical manipulation of a paint-like substance on a plexiglass surface propped in front of the camera. During an age when precise micro-movements dominate the way we consume media, get our work done, and socialize, the playful manipulation of a physical substance recalled the corporeal world we used to know.

The incantation and poetic use of suspense throughout his lecture, the long pauses between words, and repetition of various phrases like “I don’t know” and “ignorance is a virtue” brought us into a reflective state of mind. These semantic riddles almost seemed to slow the passing of time

Within this ephemeral envelope created by the artist we were asked to consider the question: “What is the roll of the artist when the world has always been on fire?” Pope L.’s expansive use of the reduced space of the Zoom platform allowed for a meaningful reflection on his projects, many of which make use of underutilized space in the public realm.

Places have significance. Pope L.’s interventions at the city scale bring glaring social contraries to the forefront, while offering imaginative solutions towards healing. We were introduced to three site specific projects during the talk:

Flint Water Project (2017) ​calls attention to the collapsing public infrastructure and contaminated water supply of the city Flint, Michigan. By bottling and selling the lead-laden water found in Flint, the artist both raises funds for the community while highlighting the lack of resources. The role of the artist in this instance is offering care to a community that has been ill-served and forgotten by those who hold power in this country’s governmental offices.

Whispering Campaign (2017)​ was a city-wide intervention in Athens, Greece that occurred via small speakers placed in public spaces during the summer of 2017. Live spoken text as well as pre-recorded sound scapes were broadcast 24/7 throughout the entire exhibition, which lasted multiple months. The recordings centered the stories of immigrants through the use of story, poetry, and non-narrative components.

For the 32​nd Biennial, Pope L. developed a pedestrian circuit for the city of São Paulo, Brazil in the performance ​Baile (Ball)(2016)​. For 72 hours masked performers danced and walked the streets of ​São Paulo​, dressed as manifestations and ghosts,​ ​through districts of the city with political and social disparities. This project was presented to viewers during the Zoom broadcast as a collage of video stills and sound.